Interview with Albert You, cyoubx
Albert You, cyoubx, is a speedcuber, engineer, and content creator. Different from the rest, cyoubx combines his expertise in engineering and speedcubing to deliver intriguing content like building a beautiful levitating cube stand. He also managed to turn a smartcube into a game controller and played some Pokemon with it. Also, he has a PhD in bioengineering. Pretty cool.
Q1: Hey, thanks for doing this interview with us. How’ve you been doing recently?
Thanks for having me! I've been great.
Q2: Cool. So you’ve been speedcubing and doing YouTube for quite some time now. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest things that have changed?
A couple things. It feels like cubing has gotten younger over the past decade, which I think is exacerbated by the fact that I've gotten older. But more importantly, despite this change, cubing feels a lot more mature now, and I see this in all facets of cubing. Of course, hardware has matured substantially since when I started cubing in 2008, but competitions have become more professional and content creation has developed beautifully. I think this is a huge testament to the growth of the community but also would not be possible without the hard work of experienced cubers such as yourself.
Q3: Awesome. I’m from the same time period, so I can relate too. I think we have to credit the growth of the community to social groups like Cyoubx’ Friends as well. How does it feel to have a group like this?
Oh, it's absolutely something I take for granted far too often. I think it's arguably the part of my cubing journey I've worked the least hard on. When I started the group, I just wanted a place to hang out with close cubing friends. I never expected it to be such an important part of the speedcubing community.
Q4: Cyoubx’ Friends is definitely a cool place to be. So onto some hardware stuff. You’re well known to be the principal designer of the Maru CX3. What was it like to design your own speedcube and get it mass produced?
It was surreal. Looking back, it was a transformative year of my life. Actually designing the cube wasn't too difficult since back then, there were many "gaps" in hardware that could be filled. But I learned a lot about networking, talking business, and patents that year - skills my engineering degree never taught me. In my opinion, the whole process was extremely fast. From day 1 of design work to mass production took less than a year, and that's all thanks to Maru. They were incredibly easy to work with and are clearly good people.
Q5: Aha, an educational journey. That’s amazing. In your personal opinion, which speedcube in today’s market has the best design?
This is a tough one; it really depends on which lens I put on. I think the Gan 11 M Pro is very, very impressive. The parts are quite complex (such as the internals of the corner pieces) and the ability to not only make everything function, but also keep the cube so light, is no easy task. That being said, there is a difference between impressive engineering and good engineering - there is such a thing as overengineering, and I think the 11 M Pro (along with many other cubes in today's market) is guilty of that. Good design is something that is easy to use without excessive complications. A term commonly used in software is "feature creep". Feature creep is essentially the excessive expansion of features for the sake of making a product seem more marketable. In the last couple of years, speedcubes, (especially 3x3's) have fallen victim to feature creep. All of this is to say that to me, the best designed cube is the one that has all the important features without introducing overly complex features that drive up costs for the consumer. The MoYu RS3M 2020 is a shining example of good design, and for those who like adjustable magnets, the YJ MGC Elite is a well-designed cube as well. In both of these cubes, every design choice has a purpose and every decision benefits the end-user. Nothing has been designed for the sake of adding in a new feature; all the features actively attempt to improve the user experience.
Q6: Ah yes. I knew about the idea of “feature creep” but didn’t know it was called that. Very interesting. Nothing gets by you. Super theoretical question: do you think pulling back on feature creep would be against manufacturer interests? Say a bunch of manufacturers actually did this, reducing their allegedly overengineered products to prioritize utility. Naturally, this would make more cubes significantly more similar. This, in turn, may cause individual products to be less distinctive. Would manufacturers go for this if there wasn’t a lot of pressure to do so? Do you think, at some point, the feature creep bubble will burst and companies will suddenly believe, “ok, now it’s time to commit to simplification”?
Whether or not pulling back on feature creep is against manufacturer's interests is more of a marketing question, I think. The immediate intuition one would have is that by having fewer features than competitors, the product is potentially less marketable. But, I don't think that has to be a case. I would love to see a manufacturer produce a product that is so finely tuned that no adjustment features or other gimmicks (for lack of a better word) are needed. Furthermore, I often compare Rubik's cubes to mechanical keyboard switches because I think they share a lot of similarities. Both industries have companies working to differentiate themselves on a relatively simple product. The difference is that in the world of keyboard switches, people have understood that while certain features like the actuation force are important, consumers care a lot about how the switches feel. I think cubing should go in this direction - diversify the feel of cubes without introducing unnecessary features.
Q7: Right, right. The jump to publicly thinking like that could be tough as it may undermine years of differentiation-based marketing. We’ll see. This sounds like it could be an episode of My Personal Onion. How’ve you liked doing that show so far?
Yeah, it's definitely a difficult task to change marketing strategies and also a huge risk for any company should they choose to attempt it. I love MPO. I think it's a unique way of discussing cubing topics that otherwise may not be covered. I think oftentimes content creators shy away from making strong statements due to conflicts of interest, fear of backlash, or just lack of interest. MPO opens up topics for discussion that people might generally not consider. On top of all of that, being able to do MPO with you is a gem. Together, we've seen a lot of how cubing has changed on all frontiers, be it competitions, online content, or product development.
Q8: For sure. I think we both hope that more content creators can freely express their opinions without the burden of thinking about conflict and backlash. Let’s do another episode soon. What do you like to do on your down time? Any interesting hobbies outside of puzzles?
Well, pre-COVID, I was really into badminton and climbing. Unfortunately, I did both of those primarily indoors and gyms have been closed. I've been spending a lot of time thinning my wallet out on mechanical keyboards.
Q9: Ah yes. I also play a racket sport, tennis. Unfortunately, it can only be played indoors during the winter here so I’ve had to take a break as well. I remember you likened speedcubes to mechanical keyboards just a few moments ago. Do you have a favorite mechanical keyboard?
I don't! That's why often in my videos I'll have a different keyboard on my desk. Just depends on my mood and what I'm feeling. Similar to cubing in a way.
Q10: I see. I suppose that’s why your wallet’s been thinning out lately. Here’s a question I ask everyone. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think most people don’t know?
Sure! The first time I met you in person was at World's 2013 and you lubed my original plastic ZhanChi for me 🙂
Q11: Haha, that’s really touching. Last question, can you describe your cubing style using three words?
Very old school
Great. I can relate to that. Good to see you and I are still in the game. Thanks so much for doing this interview with us!