Future Leaders Forum

A few weeks ago I spoke about my trip to New Orleans to participate in the newly formed Future Leaders Forum, which brought close to 300 students together, from across the country, to learn lessons from a world class panel of speakers.

I’ve been excited for this trip since I was still in Shanghai; It was the grand finale of the IEEE SPA (Student Professional Activities) re-branding that Jonathan and I have been working on since 2013. The SPA-Committee has been hard at work for over a year to pull this event together, and the line-up of speakers was truly world class. So when Guru and Jonathan asked me to present at the forum, I immediately took their offer.

It was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t a typical IEEE conference; Keeping with the themes that the team has been discussing for the past 3 years, Guru and Nicole created the event from the ground up, incorporating design thinking at every level. By thinking from the perspective of the students, the event was engaging, diverse, and most of all, a complete experience.

The idea of a complete experience is worth expanding on. Many conferences from professional groups tend to be a very dry affair; You fly into whatever hotel the conference is held at (typically the hotel next to the airport, if possible), and spend all day in meetings and talks. There’s a few breaks in between, and if you’re lucky, there’s a nice dinner included with it. Seldom do you get to actually see the city (despite the fact that you’ve traveled), or have a chance to experience the local culture (since the food will be safe and generic to accommodate everyone).

The Future Leaders Forum achieved what many of these conferences don’t do; It incorporated the location as a meaningful addition to the event. Over the course of the weekend, I had the chance to experience a steam boat ride, eat plenty of New Orleans food at Mardi Gras World, and even got to hear an inspiring talk by Chris Washburne on Jazz Leadership. How cool is that?

Chris Washburne and his band performing during their talk on Jazz Leadership

Over the entire course of the event, I couldn’t help but think that this really was something special and spectacular, from the students that attended, to the many awesome speakers that attended the talk.

Tenaya Hurst from Rogue Making, who works for *gasp* Arduino (As I’ve found out)

One of the most exciting things I got to do at the Forum was to work with Jonathan again on a talk. After a long Shanghai-Induced hiatus, I was itching to get back into presenting to eager students state-side, especially with Jonathan at my side. We spoke about the Circles of VICtory, and how to incorporate creativity into engineering. We had a fantastic turnout of over 60 students at our talk!

Overall, I’m super, super glad to have attended the FLF, and excited to attend again when/if another one is planned!


So it’s been a few weeks since this happened, and I finally got around to talking about this having processed it all.

I’ve left Walt Disney Imagineering since early June.

The whole thing came as a surprise since I was actually expecting to be put on a new project, based on what I’ve heard from management at the end of February when I asked what I was going to be doing Shanghai.

The official wording is that my contract has been completed and my role no longer is needed. While technically true, I did wish that there was a little bit more warning.

I’ve been asked whether I hate Disney now that I’m no longer working for them; I still think that working for Disney, particularly at WDI, was one of the best jobs I’ve ever worked at. The things I’ve learned there will assuredly be of use for the rest of my life; Working at WDI taught me the value of ideation, and the skills and mindset that allows for that to occur.

Things are never as bad as they seem. I took a week off after my time with Disney was over and started looking at other opportunities, not just for work, but what I want to be doing next. I started planning for things that I never had time for while I was working at WDI. It’s been refreshing being able to fully commit myself to whatever I wanted to do. Having played victim to the “I-wish-I-had-more-time-but-work-is-in-the-way” syndrome, now I really have no excuse.

The day I left Disney became the day when I started to hold myself fully accountable. It’s a scary and confusing road, but one that I’m okay with going down.

My new life with Virtual Reality

Jonathan and I were eating at the Indian place that we like near our work when I got a call from my landlord.

A large package was sitting in front of my door. “A Large package?” I pondered, wondering what exactly it was that I bought that could’ve been described as large.

Surely it wasn’t the HTC Vive that I bought? It would’ve been a few days earlier than expected. Nonetheless, Jonathan and I quickly finished our meal and headed  back to the apartment.

Much to our surprise, it was indeed the Vive. Without exchanging a word, we both knew what we’d be doing for the rest of the day.

The box was some of the most beautiful packaging I’ve seen

The packaging of the Vive is quite well designed. The box exudes a sense of luxury, with ample packing foam. The box is actually much larger than needed, but it’s cool looking enough that I would consider putting the front up on a wall.

The unit itself is the centerpiece of the whole thing. It’s not an elegant design as compared to its competitor, Oculus Rift, but then again, it’s more about the functionality over the aesthetics when it comes to prototype/developer stuff, in my opinion.

Setting it up was not terrible, but it did take us about an hour. I had some tools available, so getting to work making a hole in the wall to screw the lighthouse sensors on wasn’t a huge issue. I would imagine that someone with no tools or not allowed to make holes in the wall would find this step more challenging. It was easy sailing for the rest of it; As the Vive Setup took us through all the steps of setting up the room, pairing with the sensors, and creating measurements. I had the games downloading while Jonathan and I finished the hardware setup so it would be ready as soon as we finish the calibration steps.

The workstation, converted into a VR system.

The first game we had to try was The Lab by Valve. Online posts tout this as the definitive “First” VR experience, and they were absolutely right. Stepping into the Lab, I was immediately enthralled by the lush landscapes of Vesper Peak, a mountain range near Valve’s headquarters. A portal-esque puppy approaches on the horizon, and I bend down to touch it. It reacts. The feedback was immediate and it all felt very natural. I’m not arbitrarily pushing a button to interact with the dog, I’m simply interacting with it.

Soon it was time to try something more active. I loaded up Longbow, another mini-game from The Lab that has you defending a castle from a Viking horde. The bow mechanic had the player nock the arrow into the bow using both hands, and move their arms to aim and shoot the bow. Having used a bow before, it felt immersive and intuitive.

Jonathan and I tried a few more experiences before the day was done, but I knew that this was the beginning of something special.

New Orleans – Food, Music, and Culture

This weekend, I spent a few days in New Orleans to participate in the future leader’s forum. Of course, no visit to New Orleans can be complete without experiencing the food, music and culture that the city has to offer. After arriving at MSY around 6AM, I rode an airport shuttle that took me directly to the Intercontinental Hotel, which was a convenient location to visit the French quarter.

Our first stop took us to Mother’s, an restaurant that locals call an institution of New Orleans. They are most famous for their Po’ Boys, which is a traditional sandwich from Louisiana that contains sloppy roast beef with some history. Originally known as a “Poor Boy”, the sandwich uses french bread and roast beef that has been seasoned with beef stock for several hours until it falls apart, then simmered some more to absorb the flavor.

A Po’ Boy at Mother’s, near the French Quarter

Of course, I also got a chance to try some real southern grits, which is hard to come by in California:

A southern breakfast isn’t complete without some grits!

The flavor of the grits reminds me a little of cornbread with a neutral taste; It’s meant to be used as a vehicle for other flavors and condiments. Typically, salt, pepper, butter, and hot sauce is provided to allow patrons to enjoy grits to taste. I ended up using copious amounts of their in-house hot sauce on mine. Definitely not my go-to, but I can certainly appreciate.

Walking further into the French quarter, we pass into the Marina and ended up at Cafe Du Monde, an icon of New Orleans and the uncontested place to get the best Beignets. This was when I began to understand the style of the food here in New Orleans; The powdered sugar stacked high screams of a decadence that few other cuisines can boast. The dessert was merrily enjoyed and the coffee was a great pick-me-up amid the hot summer day.

The original cafe du monde
The original cafe du monde

During our trip, the conference also provided a dinner party on a boat; we had a chance to enjoy a trip down the Mississippi river on the Natchez, an authentic steamboat that has been repurposed for entertainment. We were able to visit the engine room, as well as take in some of the local Jazz music while on the boat.

Jazz Band on the Natchez, going down the Mississippi river

The conference also took its attendees to Mardi Gras World, the warehouse where all of the parade floats are kept each year, and where some of them are made.

Not creepy at all if you don't have a fear of clowns
Not creepy at all if you don’t have a fear of clowns

There was actually a venue at the back of Mardi Gras world that is very reminiscent of the Blue Bayou; A southern night scene with a faux plantation style house in the background.

Overall I had an amazing trip this summer to New Orleans; I was very glad that the conference incorporated many of the city’s offerings, and have found the people there to be quite friendly and the food delicious. I’m looking forward to visiting again during the food and wine festival in February!

Cardboard VR Project – Squishy Toad

I’ve been progressing through my Unity VR tutorials and wanted to share a game that I’ve been working on:

My First VR Game, Squishy Toad

Squishy Toad is an extension of the Unity VR tutorial I was doing, where the players play as a Frog/Toad and must cross infinite lanes of traffic while escaping from the unyielding advance of the fire behind them. The player keeps hopping forward, watching out for traffic, until the Toad is squished by a car or burned by the fire.

View while in game
View while in game

Integrating VR content is actually fairly straight forward. For this project, the target device is for mobile, so Google VR (previously known as Cardboard) was used. After downloading the Github GVR library and importing it into the Unity Project, I was able to utilize a Google VR “Prefab” (Which describes a set of GameObjects and their associated properties) to replace the traditional camera. After that, I was able to get the stereoscopic display seen above. The overall experience was quite smooth, allowing a designer to focus on creating gameplay as opposed to struggling with the ins-and-outs of getting VR working.

Besides learning about Google VR, this was also the first time I had the chance to learn about procedural generation. Although this was a one-dimensional algorithm, I did get some insight into how this can be extended into multiple dimensions. I also learned about some VR specific philosophies as it pertains to UI, as many of the traditional UI concepts do not carry over when the player has full control of camera movement at all times (One of the core tenets of VR). Therefore, most of the UI is in the World Space (Vs. overlaid on top of the screen), left for the player to discover.

I also learned about some VR specific philosophies as it pertains to UI, as many of the traditional UI concepts do not carry over when the player has full control of camera movement at all times (One of the core tenets of VR). Therefore, most of the UI is in the World Space (Vs. overlaid on top of the screen), left for the player to discover. I find it quite natural, as the concept requires some level of world building built in to accommodate the idea that words are not just floating in thin air.

I plan to continue developing for Squishy Toad until I’m happy with it, after which I’ll put it up on the App store. Stay tuned!

Topics in Leadership – Circles of VICtory

Got something I’m super excited to share about!

So Jonathan Chew and I have been collaborating on a speaking engagement for IEEE in a new event they’re calling the Future Leaders Forum. In it, we were tasked with creating a “Lab” on creativity, particularly as it pertains to leadership. Having had experience in both from our roles in IEEE and Walt Disney Imagineering, this was the perfect role for us to stretch our creativity muscles in a positive way.

We started brainstorming about the idea of Creativity and Leadership and soon delved into the relationship of what Leadership is made out of. Soon enough, we came up with this awesome diagram:

Initial concept of VIC
Initial concept of VIC

We realized that Leaders can be described in two ways; The things they do, and the things that are.

The diagram above succinctly describes the relationship. To become a better leader, you must first become better at the individual components, then do the various things that leadership requires.

We’re super, super excited to be debuting this new concept very soon at the FLF conference in New Orleans…stay tuned for the Prezi!

Learning Blender – Week 2

After learning the basics of blender the previous week, I started delving into some of the really cool aspects of the blender; Rigging and animation. This was a particularly long section that involved numerous new concepts, such as creating an armature to build a relationship between the different limbs of an object, in this case, a lamp:

A lamp consisting of a base, a stem, 2 arms, and a lamp-shade.

The lamp is designed with different pieces in mind so that when it comes time to animate, we can utilize Blender’s IK (Inverse Kinematic) feature to automatically pose for us.

Lamp, with a timeline below to show motion

The section also explored the shader models, which allowed for complex representations of an object. In this case, a gem was added including a glass-like, translucent property.

Using the node editor to create complex shaders
Using the node editor to create complex shaders

All of these things together create a scene that was photo-realistic, with the correct lighting and reflections. This was achieved using a method called Ray-Tracing, which is computationally very expensive, but produced very good results.

Rendered Scene. Note the reflections of the light on the plastic base of the lamp, as well as the diffusion of the light through the back of the gem and the mirrored look of the front.

Creating that frame took my GTX960 GPU about 2.5 minutes to compute. Combining the animation feature with the render enables someone to make short films using this method. I created a 6 Second Video of Lamp and Gem , which ended up taking about 7 hours for the computer to create (I put the computer to work overnight to crank this out). It is possible for it to be faster using multiple computers or a better GPU, but for something simple like this, it’s good enough. It was a joy to see the finished product as I woke up the next day!

There’s definitely a lot of fun to be had with 3D modeling using Blender. Although the tool took a little to get used to, once I understood the quirks I was able to make things happen very easily. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in 3D modeling to take the course that I took (Search Ben Tristem and Blender on Udemy).


The story so far: My Journey as a public speaker

Coming back from Shanghai, one of the things I was looking forward to was getting back into doing more public speaking. Although I’ve had the chance to speak in China, I’ve generally found the audience in the US easier to engage, especially since language is not an issue.

Volunteering as a public speaker has really been a fantastic experience. It has helped me come to grips with navigating adulthood and have pushed me to learn new concepts so that I can be more effective as a speaker. Although I started out exclusively speaking with college level engineers, I soon found myself being invited to speak at other audiences, which required me to adapt to different styles to keep the audience engaged. In April, I was asked to speak at a TEDx hosted by a Shanghai international school, where I spoke about following your childhood dreams.

Having worked with IEEE-USA through and beyond UCLA, I have been invited to host a “Creativity Lab” with my friend, Jonathan Chew, at the newly formed Future Leader’s Conference at the end of July. This will be the first time I had a chance to speak in the US since 2014. Looking at the lineup of speakers they’ve booked, it’s shaping up to be the most prestigious event that I’ve had the chance to participate in. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this event and am looking forward to the new ideas and inspirations that’ll come from my time there!

First steps in VR

Lately, I’ve been putting alot of time and research into Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. My first experience with VR was at a showcase a few months back, where I was able to demo a few different experiences at various price ranges. Of the experiences I had, the Vive stood out to me as the most developed solution at this time.

I was able to try the Vive with an application called Realities.IO, which is an app that sends users to various real world locations. After a short spiel by one of the developers, I don the headset and transported into space, with the earth in the center. I was able to walk around the earth and pan it around using the Vive’s hand controllers; Once I’ve found a location I liked, I was instructed to zoom in.



The location was at a Mayan temple in South America. The scene faded into view and I was instantly awed; I was able to walk short distances around the temple, and was also able to teleport short distances to places beyond the reach of the room I’m in. I couldn’t get over how real it all looked; Coming from software being in a flat surface of a monitor, this experience was able to encompass in my entire view, and my movements matched the movements on my ethereal character, standing on the steps of a Mayan temple I may never visit in my life. At one point, I kneeled down to get a closer look at some rockwork, and without thinking, reached out to touch it; A short moment of immersion that was broken because that rock was never there in the first place, but it seemed real enough to at least try.

Where I was; At least, where I was transported to in VR

The experience was over as quickly as it had began; The headset and headphones were taken off, and I was back in the conference hall, familiar with the murmurs and chatter of the space. But for that short moment in time, I could’ve convinced myself that I was somewhere else entirely.

Learning Blender – Week 1

Having been interested in designing and making games my whole life, I’ve finally had the time recently to delve into some of the aspects of what it takes to make games.

Although I’m primarily interested in the design of games, I believe it’s critically important to at least understand the core aspects of each discipline so that I can at least be competent in the subject. Since 3D modeling has been a major obstacle for me, I decided to dig in and purchase Ben Tristem’s Complete Blender tutorial in order to learn the ins and outs. I’ve used Ben’s course before with his Unity course (also on Udemy) and admire his excellent pacing and structure in teaching.

Having gone through the first week, I was able to go from knowing just basic CAD design from my AutoCAD courses in college, to making this:Bowling Scene

which covered creating complex geometry from both solid extrusion and bezier curves, and then this:Chess Scenewhich was a great tutorial on building low poly shapes using reference material, as well as rendering a scene using textures and lighting.

Moving forward, I’m really excited to see how I can use Blender to empower my future projects!