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Yeo Kheng Meng

Maker, Coder, Private Pilot, Retrocomputing Enthusiast

9 minutes read

So another year has passed for me. It really didn’t feel that long ago that my previous birthday just passed. As many older people have told me, once you hit your 30s, one does not bother counting their ages any more. I can concur with this.

I think it’s more important to measure things now by what was done and learned and my goals going forward rather than just counting numbers.

Main events of the past year

On my previous birthday I set several goals to try to complete them before my next birthday which is today.

Aviation achievements

I shall start with aviation as that is what most people find interesting.

Under the aviation category, I set 3 goals for myself last year.

  • Get proficient in night flying
  • Fly more advanced aircraft
  • Do some cross-country flights

Get proficient in night flying

All my prior nights flights were always made in the presence of a flight instructor, I never made a night flight with myself as the pilot-in-command.

Well, I achieved this goal and I finally managed to accomplish night flights by myself!

Video of challenging night flight landing with my family

Although I can’t make night flights again for now due to lack of recent currency, it was still an eye-opening experience for me and definitely a step-out of my aviation comfort zone.

Fly more advanced aircraft

I initially wanted to earn my complex and high-performance endorsements however I did not manage to accomplish this due to a combination of factors some out of my control.

However in place of this, I learned and flew on my first glass-cockpit aircraft!

Short video of takeoff and landing video of a recent flight on Seletar Flying Club’s C172N with Dynon glass-cockpit.

I wrote on my training experience here.

For complex and high-performance endorsements, this is not forgotten and is something I can forsee myself getting in the near future.

Do some cross-country flights

I did not do any cross-country flights due to the pandemic restrictions however this goal is definitely still in view! Kept on hold until the Covid-restrictions are relaxed.

Miscellaneous aviation stuff

I didn’t plan for the following but somehow those fell onto my lap.

Getting the rarest local pilot certificate

Basically I obtained a rare CAAS pilot certification so I could fly a Singapore-registered aircraft as pilot-in-command for at least once in my lifetime.

This certificate has since expired but still achievement unlocked!

More details on this validation can be found in this post.

Helicopter ride

Out of the blue, a helicopter ride was presented to me, so I took it! Even by miniscule local General Aviation standards, helicopter flights in Singapore are still very rare.

Thanks to a helicopter pilot from Seletar Flying Club for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

More details of this helicopter ride in this post.

Hardware projects

Contrary to a common misconceptions of many people who know me, I do not have formal academic training in electronics as I only studied Computer Science in university.

This has caused me a lot of problems when it comes to my role as an IoT/embedded systems engineer and past job interviews that have chewed and spat me out.

I elected to aim for some hardware-related side projects to improve my skills in this area.

Hardware teardowns

I managed to complete 2 hardware teardowns the past year. All in all, I feel pretty proud of these teardowns as I did make best effort to research and document them.

Communication Radio Teardown

The first is an aircraft communication radio which I obtained from my flying club.

Comms radio teardown blog post link.

Distance Measuring Equipment Teardown

The second one is an aircraft Distance Measuring Equipment:

DME teardown blog post link

Hardware projects

I wanted to do some hardware projects including one on FPGA.

Due to time constraints I did not manage to complete them but trust me when I do have some in the pipeline so this has to be pushed to the next year.

In place of this, I have completed some retrocomputing projects which took significant time and effort to do. Retrocomputing projects may seem like useless obsolete projects on the surface but when one does things closer to the metal with reduced abstractions, you actually learn more in depth how computer systems work that are still very relevant today.

Just like learning from human history, when you know more about the past, you understand more of the present.

If your interested to know more, I have documented my efforts so far in these links:

486 PC Setup

A 486-class PC can easily fit the category of a retro-computer.

I set this up to run DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1.

Blog post link on 486 PC

Tweener PC

A Tweener PC is a retro bridge computer that is neither to old nor too new.

This one runs Windows 98SE. Link to system details

Chinese blog posts

I did not manage to write as much as I wanted to. I did only a grand total of one post! However this is a start.

That post is on the comparison between Flight Simulator and an actual flight in SG

Book reviews

I did not managed to do any book reviews although I did read some books this year. Again something to carry over.

Volunteerism

Contributing back to society using skills I’m good at is never at a back-burner for me.

I still volunteer extensively at Repair Kopitiam over the past year although the pandemic has reduced our activities significantly. Contributions to conferences and meetups have also taken a back seat in this pandemic.

The reason I do this is because I always believe we humans never exist in isolation. We have taken lots from society and the environment so one should always do one’s part to give back at least some of what is taken.

When things open up again, I will still continue to do my part in this aspects.

Work

My current job

I have been in my company Envision Digital for 1.5 years now. In that time, I have been given very interesting work. I have worked with extremely driven colleagues both based in Singapore and overseas.

Things indeed move very fast in this private company. I have been driven very hard to produce and deliver the results. In the process, I have worked extremely long hours. These long hours are part of the reason I did not managed to hit all my none-work goals last year.

Right now there is lots of talk of the pitfalls of working 996-type hours.

I look at it this way. With the rise of work-from-home and remote work, the international competition is brutal and relentless. If one does not wish to put in the hours and deliver the results but someone else does at lower wages, then it’s an automatic disadvantage.

The only way to attain work-life balance is to boost your productive efficiency such that you can deliver more results in reduced amount of work-time compared to your competition. However attaining this level of productive efficiency does not drop from the sky. It has to come from gaining skills and knowledge precisely by putting in the necessary hours in the first place in work or school when one is younger.

So work life balance for most people early in their careers like myself is a privilege, a privilege that has to be earned.

I was admittedly late to recognise this problem hence I’m doing what I can over the past years to catch up before my youthful energy and time start to decline significantly.

Despite putting in many hours at work, I still can barely hold a candle to many of my extremely hardworking colleagues especially those in China. They are similar working experience to me yet are more driven, skillful, innovative and have reasonable technical bilinguality. And that is just those in China…

No other way around it, continue to gain more skills to boost my productivity as much as possible. We have to sprint just to barely stay still in this global competition.

Whenever I go to work now to complete a task, I always ask myself these questions. How much value am I delivering to my company and how will that improve my future employment position? Is there anything extra I can squeeze myself to do more today that will help?

Potential airline career

Lots of people have asked me about my thoughts on considering aviation as my primary career.

Well given the pandemic, many airlines are still in bad shape. It could be several years before the airlines are in a good position to hire again.

By then I’ll probably not be in an optimum place to make a mid-career switch given the huge disruption it will be to my life and I have to start from the bottom again.

I have to be realistic and not delay certain life milestones to hang on to a possibility of an opportunity that may never come or come in a time I may not be in a good position to receive it. After all, a tech career can be just as fulfilling and is rising in importance over the coming years.

Then in my spare time, I can always rent a plane from the flying club to bore holes in the sky.

Goals for the future

I set ambitious none-work goals for myself last year. Regretfully, I did not manage to achieve all of them due to varying reasons like heavy job load and other distractions. However I still did my best effort to do as much as I can.

Therefore, I decided to carry over and realign some of personal resolutions for the upcoming year.

Short term goals

  • Finish up some hardware projects including an FPGA project
  • Complex and high performance endorsements
  • Do cross country flights if feasible
  • Maintain my volunteering activities
  • Some book reviews

Long term goals in my lifetime

I don’t have a specific timeline for these goals as it is hard to estimate at this time but what I have done so far is to try to make incremental steps through my short term goals to reach them.

  • Be among the top in the embedded systems field which means an all-rounder in both of hardware and software fields
  • Earn a flight instructor certificate and everything else in between like instrument and commercial
  • Get a basic helicopter PPL
  • Get a bike license
  • Speak at a Chinese tech conference

Conclusion

It was an interesting past year despite the pandemic. I have accomplished a lot but yet fell short of many goals. If there is one major takeaway, it is to set more realistic goals and better manage my time.

Although work occupies the majority of the time of a working adult, the jobs may come and go and even my career path may change, but what I do on my own time and my contribution to society is what defines me.

Let’s hope by next birthday, I will have done much better in both work and my personal development.

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