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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Today In The AA [#8]: Failure Driven Development

I'm quickly approaching a week of being in Taiwan now. Guess it's starting to sound weird that I've only slept on about 2 of them.

Preparation for the Taiwan Hurocup

Good'ol Murphy's law has met with me again (refer to post here). I almost consider it a skill, having such misfortune fall upon me when it is most unwelcome. Upon arrival, the Darwin-OP decided to Darwin nOPe on me. Realized on day 1 here that I was unable to ssh into the machine (connected via ethernet wire). When I attempted to use an HDMI connection into the robot, I couldn't establish a display either on any external monitor. Oh great, hardware issues, just what I've been preparing for...
Jacky is gone from Sunday until Wednesday evening (tonight) on a short trip to Taipei, so aside from hounding him via tech support online, I've been approaching this by myself, albeit with much-guided assistance from the NKFUST team.

Fast forward Sunday: 4 hours later:

First 2 days here were all-nighters, followed by attempting to fix this connection issue on the bot. Together with the NKFUST team, we did a voltage test on one of the Mx28 servos and somehow managed to blow it up.

Oh god... How am I going to explain this to Jacky? He has been gone for less than 48 hours and we've caused smoke to erupt from his robot! On top of that, let's not even worry about the competition, firstly I need to have the robot turn on...

Slow-forward 12 hours:

Throughout the process, I had the pleasure of learning how to use several new tools. One I found interesting was the Oscilloscope. 

Following Jacky's instructions essentially takes the following steps:
1) Read the instructions given to you 
2) Ask the Taiwanese students what half the words mean, in which case they have no clue either since they know minimal English. Thus, spend 10-20 minutes translating something you don't know into something that doesn't make sense. 
3) Spend a couple hours figuring out how to execute said instructions after figuring out what they mean. 

Zoom forward 2 more days... 
It's Wednesday, May 11th, 4 days after the initial issue. I've taken apart the whole thing, a couple times, replaced the servo motor we blew up, and have spent about 30 hours total reading through documentation and board schematics. 

It's now around 9pm Wednesday, as I'm writing this blog post, and I get a message from Jacky exclaiming he's got a backup Darwin Robot for me to use. 
O_O . . .
... I learned a lot in the last 4 days or so. An incredible amount. From how to do voltage testing, to how to manage deadlines with little sleep, a new environment, and in other words everything against you. I feel in less than 1 week I'm getting a really solid taste of what being a researcher is all about. 

We don't know everything. At least I don't know everything; but what I do know, is that I'm capable of failing in every way possible, in order to obtain that sliver of success at the end. Each time I mess up, is one thing less to mess up in the future. There may be only 1 right way to do something, and a million wrong ways; but with each wrong way you stumble over, you're slowly closing the gap to your goal: success.

The next 3 days will be a trial of my ability to swiftly put together a competition bot, training it for events, and have something competitive and presentable for Saturday. I have no idea how complex the other teams in my division will be, but I know I'm capable of being more hardcore. If they crush me with a group of several masters students, I'll demonstrate just how damn intense I am by myself, as an undergraduate. No matter the outcome, I'm giving it my all.

These next 3 days will be a good way to test just what "my all" really is.

My Warm Day

Ok so the title of this section sounds a bit out of place and awkward, that's because it's the name of one of the Restaurants out here in Kaohsiung. Most of these places have corny English translations, but names aside I'm wanting to give a shoutout to this place due to an event that took place there for me just this Tuesday.

Originally when I came out here to Taiwan, I was expecting some cash in the bank from NSERC, who claimed that my pay would begin on the 2nd. Unfortunately, this meant my pay actually starts a week following the 2nd, since you know, you have to work first to get paid. 
This left me dead broke by Tuesday, May 10th. 

I woke up and looked over at my alarm clock that wasn't there, because I don't use one. 
I got up, it was 4:30am, and I was thankful I didn't need to use an alarm.
My laptop was left in the lab for the night as I planned to go there early the next morning. 
My phone is dead, completely out of charge. 
I decide to follow my routine and head out to grab a bite to eat, walking a kilometre or so until realising I have absolutely no Taiwanese funds on me...

 The struggle begins.

I walk for about 10km over the next hour and a half looking for somewhere to use my CIBC visa card, but nowhere is accepting it. This is no tragic story of some poor man starving for days and crawling across the desert, I have things pretty well off; but nonetheless I was in a bad situation.
No money, no one to contact, no water anywhere nearby (because Taiwan), and a solid 10km to walk back to the University. 

MyWarmDay Diner
I decide to check out one last place called "My Warm Day". It had an English name so hey I thought it's worth a shot. 

I walk on in and it's a breakfast diner by the looks of it, but no one speaks English. 
I go to the cashier and show them my card, expressing that I'm hungry, by taking a bite out of my hand. The cashier gestured that they don't accept the card... 
I'm hungry...
I'm hungry!
That's all I'm thinking about at this point. 
Like I said, I'm no poster child for starvation; but I have needs, I have gains, this body doesn't run for free, in fact I'd say it's more demanding than most because I never give it a break. 

An older gentleman walked out from the storage area of the diner and talked to the Cashier, then smiled at me and said "we get money"
You'd think a warning alarm would go off in your head when an older man tells you "get money" in a foreign country and you're just walking around alone. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of genuine desire to help, so I followed him. I hopped in the passenger seat of his old vehicle and we drove for a few minutes as I listened to some Chinese folk music on his stereo. Eventually, we reached a local store called "Family Mart", in which he said "go, go find.". Alright boss, I'll go check under the counter for cash...

I knew what he meant. I saw the ATM. 
Unfortunately it didn't take my card either. I realised this when my card was jammed into the machine and not being ejected, and I definitely realized it when the store clerk came over and called the support staff (by the sounds of it). Picture some bleach white dork in a neon orange running top standing there blank faced at a jammed ATM with a line of busy Chinese men waiting to use it (likely so they could head to work). That was me... 

After a solid 10 minutes, I got my card back; but I still feel like I left some of my dignity there...
I go back outside wondering where the hell I even am at this point, and there is the same gentleman pulled up again. 
"hah hah, sorry sorry" he said. 
We began driving again.

10 minutes later, we approach a 7-11, and oh man I feel almost like I'm at home. I head on in and he helps me use the Chinese ATM, finally withdrawing funds successfully. 

He drives me on back to the restaurant he runs, and of course, I'm starving at this point. I express my thanks to the gentlemen and take a seat in the restaurant to order some food. 
I attempted afterwards to give him a small tip to show my appreciation, but the whole staff team refused. 
The older man had a wide grin on his face, bowing profusely saying "no no no no its ok take", to the point where I had to pick the money off the ground because he wouldn't accept it into his hands. 

This gesture may have been simple, but in the larger sense I took it to heart. I've never had a business owner take the time to drive with a single, potential customer, for over 20 minutes as they fiddle around with ATM's, just to bring them back and let them have an omelette. I won't forget this gentleman, and as a thankyou, I plan on going to this location for breakfast each day until I depart from Kaohsiung, as my way of expressing gratitude for his kindness. 

Flash forward to Wednesday morning: I head back in as planned and I receive a warm welcome and smiles. I sit down in the restaurant and order a small omelette as before. 
This time the lady serving food comes out with 3 trays, one featuring my omelette, and 2 others featuring these different omelette types. 
She says "Here, for you no charge". I didn't even bother denying because they wouldn't let me as before. I had been essentially given a free breakfast, I didn't deserve this kindness.

People often talk about the business attitude, and that warm feeling a business strives to deliver to a customer. These guys really live up to the name "My Warm Day". For each time I visit, I leave feeling like my day has been lifted up just a notch. I'm writing about them here as a blog segment for anyone planning to travel to the NKFUST campus or Kaohsiung region of Taiwan. Take a moment to locate this place just near the Taisuco residence and say hi, they are some of the kindest people I've had the pleasure of meeting, and really put forward what this whole city is all about.
In Conclusion
it seems the theme of this week has been: failure driven development. I didn't really test the waters, I more-or-less just jumped on in, and found myself in a bad situation. 
The amazing part is that through doing everything I could to make it through, I received such unexpected acts of kindness from around me. Whether it was debugging a robot, or walking for miles on end needing food, things always seem to fall together no matter how awful they appear to be at the time. 
If you're working in research and you can't fathom how you'll finish a task, never give up, just like you wouldn't drop dead walking the streets of Taiwan alone. 
Work your hardest, and put forward everything you've got, and things seem to have a way of falling together, so long as you don't fall apart. 

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