I crashed a helicopter over 100 times. This is why…

I thought I’d take a moment to share how I began my journey into hardware control. As crazy as it seems, I dove into the pool of hardware electronics as a result of a dream. Not a Martin Luther King Jr. dream, but a real dream. I’ll spare the details, but after combing the internet for ways to make that dream reality, I stumbled onto the Arduino, and had my first foray into hacking hardware—namely, an infrared controlled helicopter.

The first time I read about the Arduino, my imagination went wild. I mean, I knew how to make some cool things with software, but based on what I was reading about the Arduino, it seemed I could make all sorts of gadgets—a clapper to control the lights, or a mind-controlled deadbolt, or a tweeting plant, or an intruder alert system—the possibilities seemed endless. What was this?! And how could I, too, use it to make amazing things? Without hesitation, I ordered an Arduino starter kit, and proceeded to play around with sample LED control projects to get myself familiarized. For what felt like the first time in my life, I beheld an electronics gadget that wasn’t completely consumer prepackaged; I created and controlled it myself. It was awesome.

The starter kit came with a few crash course projects, but when I ran out of those, images of bits and bytes danced through my head like Christmas sugarplums to fill the void. I had to do more. I had to tackle the helicopter next. How did it work? How did moving the joystick controls actually change the flight path of the helicopter? I felt so naïve, but eager to learn. Armed with that mentality, I tore into the helicopter controller in seconds, demanding that it yield its secrets. And it yielded. Among other things, I discovered that the infrared signal sent from the controller was a surprisingly fast but long string of on-off combinations.

It was all so incredibly fastrating (fascinating + frustrating). I don’t think I’ve banged my head on a wall so many times than I did trying to understand how to control the signal (think 100+ helicopter crashes, some into the ceiling fan). Night after night I received a cursory education on the helicopter’s electrical and infrared behavior, captured the actual on-off signals being sent, interpreted those signals, and ultimately replicated those signals.

And the helicopter flew, no longer controlled by the helicopter joystick, but by my laptop keyboard. It was rough, but effective, and victoriously satisfying. First independent lesson in hardware + software complete.

Not that I’m wholly satisfied with this small victory; since the completion of the helicopter hardware/software project, a mix of curiosity and challenge has kept me near obsessed with making real what once could only be dreamed. I’m discovering that there’s a wonderfully blurry line between imagination and reality, and I’m in awe to be able to say that my journey in it has only just begun.

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What did Steve Jobs Ever Do? (Written 8.25.2011)

This was originally written on August 25th, 2011, one day after Steve Jobs’ resignation as Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc.

While I know most people are writing near-eulogies of Steve Jobs’ resignation, I too felt the need to pile on the bandwagon. It’s the general consensus, including my own, that Steve’s role and influence will be exceptionally difficult to replace—mainly because his performance was driven by something greater than management roles and CEO duties; it was driven by who he was as a person. The latter half of Apple’s existence is an expression of who Steve is as a person—deeply ingrained values forged through fire—fire that the majority are not willing to endure. There are not many who get sacked from their life pinnacles and learn credible character and life lessons. The common response, rather, is embitterment toward institutions associated with the inconvenience. It is the blaming of others and the abdication of personal responsibility to discover and rectify the problems caused by oneself.

Without having read much commentary on his leadership ability, I surmise that Jobs’ trials helped him do away with debilitating remnants of self-defeating and interpersonally-handicapping views. And while it’s true that he was quite a developed thinker with uncanny foresight—before his first departure as CEO—I would go so far to say that, without his trials, Apple would still be viewed as the early-1990’s-odd-school-kid’s-fetish, if not viewed as fatally hobbled.

But clearly, that is not Apple’s fate, and as much as it was in his ability to choose, it is not Jobs’ fate. He learned the discipline and courage to creatively harness and express beauty, nuance, and technical knack to create products that many people undeniably love to use.

A prevailing question being asked now is how Apple (or Steve Jobs) changed the world. From what I’ve read, the answers to this question seems rather underwhelming:

“Apple lets people download music from a store”

“The iPad revolutionizes browsing the internet”

“The MacBook Air is the slimmest netbook ever created”

If these are our common responses, we’ve missed the forest for the trees. As a large result of Job’s prior hardship, Apple gave us an incredible story—a modern day narrative of boldly pushing beyond known potential, shattering the standards of excellence, and conquering adversity.

And it is in this story that I see parts of God. I’m not saying that Steve’s life was perfect; but the upside aspects to this narrative reflect, in part, how God has made us in His image. The potential He’s placed in us to accomplish great things, and the ability to undergo tremendous hardship and prevail, are not accidental. The desire to create, influence, and prevail are purposefully and wonderfully built into every person by God Himself, and are fully realized in believing the person and work of Jesus, His Son.

To help illustrate this narrative, I’ve strung together several quotes from Steve that were not necessarily spoken in the same context. They have more punch this way, and could only be done because of how Steve’s life had an overarching, singularly consistent theme.

Excellence

“The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay…Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected…Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

Innovation

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament…Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it…Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations…If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”

“The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.”

“We’ve gone through the operating system and looked at everything and asked how can we simplify this and make it more powerful at the same time…It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

Discipline and Determination

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully…It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much…I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

“Our DNA is as a consumer company … we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simple…That happens more than you think, because this is not just engineering and science. There is art, too. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of one of these crises, you’re not sure you’re going to make it to the other end. But we’ve always made it, and so we have a certain degree of confidence, although sometimes you wonder….I think the key thing is that we’re not all terrified at the same time. I mean, we do put our heart and soul into these things…And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

Character

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

“I’m the only person I know that’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year…it’s very character-building…I was worth over $1,000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money…Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me…I want to put a ding in the universe.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?…Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

“Life is brief, and then you die, you know?”

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True Art

For most, the concept of art is vague, ethereal, and reserved for people with European accents. In my view, the best art is not vague and wishy-washy; the best art strongly articulates what our own beings long to express, yet have not, or cannot, express with colloquial means of communication—it is both produced and apprehended on a deeply intuitive, qualitative level. It exists beyond paintings and poems, and extends even to gizmos and gadgets.

Over the past eight years, I’ve harbored a passion to combine the technical with the artistic, but previously that’s just meant aesthetics. In a very real sense, I’ve been afraid to open myself up to the experience the depths of true art. I’m afraid because once I experience those depths, I might find it very difficult to be satisfied with anything else; I feel that some aspects of this life would seem profoundly deeper and richer, but a profound crust of monotony would sweep over almost everything else I’ve known. Maybe, though, that’s truer to reality.

It’s this reality that turns my attention toward the technical fields. It’s saddening that, though art can exist in any industry, true artists are rare, particularly in the technical fields, where bulimic left brains bumble around and anorexic right brains languish. I aim to change this, and along the way, maybe, just maybe, in some small sense, create oases for others to also experience and create true art in an industry where many seem to have disregarded it altogether.

Left and Right Brain Personalities

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Purposica

I took up residence in this little corner of online space in order to articulate my deeply evolving fascination with robotic reality + profound human identity, and the mind-blowing design that connects both worlds together. It’s a space in which pondering bits and learning bytes make up inspirational bots that beget new realities.

Thanks for dropping in.

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