The layout of things have changed quite a bit since the previous desk diary and there is now more to cover - my workspace at the office and home and now also our first ever retail store.
It's been rather hectic of late - since we last spoke, we attended and rolled out booths at Anime Festival Asia Thailand, Anime Expo in LA, SMASH in Sydney and I'm off again to Taipei this week for Fancy Frontier.
Apart from meeting our fans, event participation is also important marketing for Smart Doll but trying to do both production *and* events has furthermore engrained an unfortunate truth in my life - "living a life of passion means living a life of sacrifice."
Sharing my life through my writing and photos is something that I enjoy but the truth is that I need to choose between writing or growing the business.
For the many years that I spent writing, I felt that my life wasn't going anywhere. While I did have a large user base, a fairly popular mascot character called Mirai Suenaga and a few clients who I made websites for - I was barely making enough to pay the server costs and wages. I may have portrayed that I lived a glitzy life in the anime industry but in reality it was more grim which at one point nearly lead me down the road to depression.
I then made the decision to let go of my writing schedule and focus more time on the Smart Doll business which took me from working out of home with a couple of employees to the beginning of something that changed my and the lives of people around me.
Its not that I dont care about writing - its that I cant physically care about everything while trying to stay mentally sane.
For many moons I felt I was living the lives of my readers afraid that if I stopped writing that I would lose them. After making the decision to live my own life - while I did lose some readers, I created something that I had always dreamed of - a self sustainable growing business platform that now enables me to create the things that I want and change people's lives.
I always see sacrifice like being at a table full of good food - your stomach is only a certain size that can take so much - trying to eat everything will do damage - one has to sacrifice either the Penang Prawn Mee noodles or the Siew Yook Rice.
Anyway, I actually got a whole post about the importance of sacrifice in building a career and want to talk about how I pulled myself back up before I fell into depression - will post that soon as I feel it's an important message to share.
First photo - my desk snapped a couple of days ago after rearranging the lounge area.
This is where my desk used to be against propped up against the window - I liked it for a while but then started to hate it. I think it was because I was staring out at a huge wall outside the window and also because the main door was facing my back - this gives me 0.5 seconds less to turn around and block the shuriken thrown by an assailant.
Colleagues to my right also sat facing the window. Actually, taking a look back at the previous Desk Diary, I see that there were 3 of us at the beginning but now there are 4 - the tables lined up in a row meant less space on the left of my table which probably miffed me or something ^^
By April of this year we started to max out the space we had - I thought that 200 square meters would last a couple of years but I was wrong - which is a good problem to have I guess.
At this point in time the lounge area was now being used for fulfillment of orders taken on our online store.
We decided to clump tables together in little islands - a better view of the office and now I could keep an eye on the door to see any shuriken throwing assailants.
One of the great things about my job - I get to have as many Smart Dolls as I want ^^
Well its not just me - all employees (full or part time) also get our dolls and accessories for free too.
I'm going to try to optimise the remaining space as much as possible before we either take the 3rd floor (if they move out) or move to a bigger office. We only have two fashion doll products Mirai Suenaga and Kizuna Yumeno but when Ebony, Ivory, Eiji and Chitose are released over the next 6 months, we will definitely need more space.
I'm going to avoid completely packing out the available space too much as I prefer folks to have enough space to breathe. Most of our employees, come into work on packed trains and I don't want them to continue the sardine experience at work.
Attached to the mac is a breadboard with the Arduino Nano and a Bluetooth module. While the Automatic version of Smart Doll ended up being twice the size, the manual version still gets "Smart" functionality - like the notifications you would get via a Pebble watch - the difference is that we need to make all communications via a voice.
We plan to make a custom board instead of buying and assembling components which will all fit into a casing which in turn will slide inside the torso and head of Smart Doll - folks will be able to buy the Mirai Genesis unit separately which will be pre-loaded with voice recordings from the voice actress/actor of that character.
The first prototype version should be ready later this week with a release later this year. How many of you are Arduino gurus?
The desk of our Creative Director with a fancy wide monitor by Dell - I kinda want one too.
This is the new printer corner - the gray box on the far left prints ice, the two tall black Delta printers are the ATOM of the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) type, the orange printer on the floor is of the Stereolithography (SLA) type and the two printers on the far right print coffee.
We used the Form1 to print our masters but now use the ATOM which is just as good as the SLA printing quality. While the FDM printing method is slower for fine prints, its less messy and can be pulled off the platform straight after the print.
How many of you dabble in 3D printing and what printer do you use?
Back when we was working out of my house we didn't have space for a lunch table and had to eat at our workstations. Times have changed.
We will keep using the original color spine even for Ebony and Harmony (a much darker skin color) for now but will eventually unify the color to be orange - the spine is not visible from the outside of the outer shell so I felt that a single color is fine.
In the middle of a Mirai Frame Challenge - on average, only half of the contestants make it through to the end. I will be needing more frame builders towards the end of the year - if you think you are interested in working with us then come and take the challenge! But wait until I announce openings first.
From time to time we get schoolgirls come to visit the office who wear our T-shirts and smile.
I may change my views in the future but I feel that shelves are not scalable - once in place they are difficult to move and are restricting in terms of what can fit on the shelves.
For now, we continue to use Ikea containers which can be stacked and moved around with ease. If we need to take stuff down to the 1st floor shop - we just take the whole container. Logistically, these containers work extremely well for what we need.
This area used to be filled with workstations but is now filled with stock as we have increased our production capacity. There is stock of outer shell (the skin part of Smart Doll), wigs, eyes, apparel and so on. Soon I need to introduce barcoding for inventory management which is still done manually. Any recommendations?
This is our line of Smart Doll apparel and accessory packaging. I wanted something that looks Smart and reusable - this is the result. The two packs on the left are resealable and the one with the oppai is tied up with a cord.
Folks have requested that the package be sold separately so I will register them on the online store this week-ish ^^
We have 1 person dedicated to robotics. Previously we spent time on Smart Doll Plus but have shifted focus to the Smart functionality for the current manual version. These are the sort of decisions that I need to make on a daily basis and are based on the current focus of the company which is to continue to be self sustainable and grow.
This concept is difficult for many consumers to grasp who would prefer that manufacturers exist to make stuff just for them and that money grows on trees. You see these consumers complain about how a developer is charging 1USD for a mobile app that took the developer spent a year to make.
Progress on Smart Doll Plus on the left, previous casing version for the 1/3 scale in the middle.
This is the Smart Doll production area where we do many things like quality control, assembly, quality control and quality control.
A closer look at some of the workspaces. The white arm is a magnifying glass used to check the surface of the outer shell for blemishes. If you read my post on Design Philosophy, you will know that I intentionally factor a certain amount of blemishes into the design (which is inherent of the slush casting method) but it has to be a balanced amount - too many blemishes must be rejected.
Eiji Rensouhou version in the background.
More preparation of Ebony.
Me deciding on the optimum length of the straps for our Satchel bags which will be released this week at the Culture Japan Online store. I need to take into account the various bust sizes and how much adjustment to allow for the strap.
Guess what important measurements are being carried out here.
I like to drag my monitor around the table - when I don't use it I push it back and when I need to scrutinize something I pull it forward - but the rubber pads make it difficult so I peeled them off.
For a while it was problematic for staff trying to communicate with each other between floors. That was until I was inspired by long time reader Cyberchaos to get some walkie talkies. I have zero knowledge about transceivers so went for the BaoFeng ones which turned out to be a good buy. We now have a few of these dotted around the office which has improved communication between floors tremendously.
We change the frequency every day and use internal code words to confuse the enemy if they were ever trying to listen in. Which reminds me - have you seen the Imitation Game? Great movie.
Finally got the Sony Xperia Z3 tablet that I've been wanting for quite a while now. The Lollipop update never came though so I had to root it and do a force install.
With Hiroaki Yura-san and comrade who I met at SMASH in Sydney. Hiroaki-san is a musical entrepreneur who has directed recordings on titles such as Diablo III, SOULCALIBUR IV & V, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Steins;Gate and more.
Two hentai kings - Toshio Maeda-sensei and Jacob-sensei.
Now its time to take a lookie downstairs on the first floor but before we do here is the second floor entrance complete with pressure pads and trip laser security.
Our first floor feels more like a creative space than a shop. While customers can walk in to buy Smart Doll & accessories and T-shirts for humans, we also do a few things down here including frame assembly, apparel development and order fulfillment.
And here is where all the apparel development goes on. Both of these ladies have worked in the human apparel field for many years which is completely relevant for our roadmap - while they work on Smart Doll apparel today, they will work on the human line of apparel in the future.
For the security and safety of our employees and customers, we use cloud cameras to keep a log of what goes on in and outside of the company.
Unfortunately there are many bad assailants out there who want to do damage to our business. Our cams are configured in a way so that they start streaming live feeds to the Internets on various social networks.
Before we used Dropcams but their service went kaput after they were aquired a few times. While these Foscams are a complete pain to configure and require deep knowledge of routers - you don't need a subscription to keep recordings as you can do so to a local SD card. We have scripts which compile those recordings and save them in a central server ready for streaming.
Now we are back at home up on the 3rd floor again where everything began. I have a good excuse as to why Kizuna is in her semi-birthday suit on my table. As the designer, I need to constantly look at the birthday suit and think of improvements to make to the sculpt and design ^^;
I have been thinking about the knee pit and whether I want to make it deeper so that the knees can bend more than 90 degrees - it will mean sacrificing form for functionality though but I've been more focused on striking a balance - I don't want to design a doll with great poseability but look like...some of the other products out there.
At home I have the same headphone mount vice.
Been wanting to get a PS4 for ages. I was appalled at the lack of games for it though ^^
I got Tomb Raider with it which I really liked - each time I played it I was thinking to myself "I'm going to make a Lara Croft Smart Doll." Now looking forward to the Rise of Tomb Raider but not going to get an XBOX just to play it before the PS4 release.
I'm also sad about the lack of games for the Vita too ^^ I find myself buying the old psone games for it like Metal Gear Solid. I do wonder about the future of console games. These days game manufacturers would rather make mobile games that millions of people can play straight away - if only a small % of them pay for in-app purchases then they can already start to cover costs.
I'm not sure if it's public knowledge but game manufacturers need to pay console manufacturers a % of sales for each copy sold too.
I still prefer console games as the experience with the native physical controls can't be beat - I guess its only a matter of time when console platforms will be open like iOS and Android.
News just in - this photo taken this morning. Smart Doll 007 Ebony & 008 Ivory is now 100% production ready - the last part was the eyes that arrived this morning. I'm incredibly excited about their release later in September.