Taiwan home office soundtrack

I started working from home on a new project this week and am aiming for a good 6 week effort before heading to Canada to finish. There I hope to spend some time at the beach and bathe in the fresh clean air. I was supposed to be in China but with all the delays that’s been put on hold until the fall. This past Monday was spent cleaning my workspace, setting up a new monitor, and planning out the week.

This is the sound I was greeted with yesterday morning.

Naturally as this is Hsinchu, the Science Park working crew decided to schedule 2 weeks of tearing down walls, thereby producing what is for me the most irritating noise imaginable. Spend any time at home and you are bound to be greeted with similar noises, as it seems the tile walls they use in homes here seldom last for any great length of time. Below was the sound track to our Christmas one year.

In fact if there was a soundtrack for urban Taiwan it would have to feature the concrete drill as it’s main instrument.

But few people seem to complain. My last company moved into a new building months before it was even finished. They were practically building the place around us.

It looks like the nearby Starbucks might be my new home for the next week or so.


Moshi Clearguard

I bought a new MacBook quite awhile back and now that I am in between projects I finally am finding time to outfit my workspace at home.

Looking at the other keyboards in the house I thought it would be wise to invest in a keyboard protector of some kind. After a short burst of research I settled on Moshi’s Clearguard product, for both the fact that it was readily available and its reasonable price. A quick order on PChome and it was here within 24hrs.

Prepping for its’ use I realised one of the reasons why I wanted one in the first place, as the white cloth I was using showed the telltale signs of the poor air quality in Taiwan, black soot.

Unfortunately I don’t like typing with it on top of the keys. Despite being only .1mm thin, it feels entirely too different, and my already atrocious typing has taken a turn for the worse. I’m going to give it a week but I have a feeling that I’ll be removing it and passing it on to someone else.


The Sound Of China

Though recorded in China, it’s such common part of Taiwan’s soundscape I often call it Taiwan’s National Anthem.

It’s so common that I’ve given up considering spending any extended time at home, be it for study, work, Christmas or recuperation, because without fail someone will start making this or similarly aggravating noise.


Interesting interview by Om Malik:

Om: If you were to give advice to younger designers, web developers, web app makers, what would you tell them?

Erik: Learn as much about our culture as you possibly can, by reading, by traveling, by involving yourself in things that go on. But don’t become an artist. Don’t think, “I’ll do it intuitively.” You have to learn if not to code at least to appreciate code, to understand code. Because code is what nuts and bolts were a hundred years ago.

If you don’t know anything about mechanics, you can’t survive in this world. If you don’t know anything about how a computer works or code works, as a communicator, which is what a designer is — the interface between machines and man, that’s what we are. We are the interface, we interpret what the machine says into visible language. If you don’t understand how the machine works, you’re going to be laughed out of the room by the engineering guys, because you can’t communicate with them.
Find the full text here


Inconsistency causes confusion, because things don’t work the way the user expects them to. Forcing users to memorize exceptions to the rules increases the cognitive burden and causes resentment. Attention to consistency is important for instilling confidence in the product, because it gives the impression that there is a logical, rational, trustworthy designer behind the scenes.

For desktop and mobile applications, you should aim to understand and conform to the user interface guidelines for your operating system or platform. Consistency with these standard conventions reduces the number of new things a user needs to learn. Donald Norman


I walk around the campus where I work and see a vibrant mix of races and cultures. Every one of those people has a different voice … a different perspective … a different story to tell. All of that makes our company an exciting and special place to be, and allows us to do great things together. We are urgently working to become much more diverse, because it’s so important to our future success. I firmly believe that whether you’re building a company or leading a country, a diverse mix of voices and backgrounds and experiences leads to better discussions, better decisions, and better outcomes for everyone.
Sundar Pichai talking about a far more serious topic, Let’s not let fear defeat our values

This is how I feel about teams and who would we should have in them. The conflicts and differences between us bring about greater ideas and ultimately better work. unfortunately it’s not an idea often shared by many companies in Taiwan.


Comparing Taiwan and Prince Edward Island

After living for 17 years in Taiwan it’s interesting to come home to Prince Edward Island, see the changes (or lack of), and do some comparisons between the 2 places. Some of the differences I’ve noticed during this visit home.

  • I’ve always enjoyed a good cup of coffee but with great Cafés like Ink in Hsinchu, and great small roasters seemingly everywhere, drinking and brewing cofee has taken on an obesession for me. Not a morning goes by where I try to perfect my pour over method. Hsinchu, of all places, has a rich coffee culture. Coffee culture in Prince Edward Island unfortunately consists of Tim Hortins and Keurig machines.
  • Running is all the craze in Taiwan at the moment, and with the Taiwanese penchent for looking the part, there are lots of places to gear up. I’ve yet to see another runner, yes it’s winter, and the sports stores I have been to have little in the way of gear – with the exception being underarmour. I’ve never seen some much of that brand in my life.
  • Groceries here are generally expensive and it’s difficult to find cheaper options, like cheaper cuts of meat. It’s winter so all vegetables are imported. But just like in Taiwan, it would appear that most people fill their shopping carts with crap processed food.
  • No PM 2.5 air quality warnings here. Often times being outside in Asia is a hazard to your health, not so here. You haven’t seen clear skies or breathed fresh air until you’ve been here, at any time of the year.
  • Clothes are ridiculously cheap here. Or at certain times of the year and if you are willing to be behind a season, ridiculously discounted. Levis jeans can be a quarter of what they are in Taiwan. Even Taiwan/Hong Kong brand names aren’t as inexpensive. I’ve been told that young ladies wear is cheap in Taiwan but I’ve no experience.
  • Going to the hospital here is a pain in the ass, unbelievable waits, but at least in my recent experience the care when you finally get it stands in stark contrast to Taiwan. Lots of questions, smiles and empathy abound. I love Taiwan’s easy access but it’s a factory model and the feeling is they either don’t have time to care for you as a person or just don’t care. While I would like to have a relationship with a family doctor, at this point in my life I prefer Taiwans easy quick access.
  • People in Prince Edward Island greet each other and are friendly to strangers. Taiwan is often characterised as an extremely friendly place, and I have met some the nicest people there imaginable, but I could go months there without a single person saying hello or sharing a smile. And it’s no due to my scary face, people in Prince Edward Island are constantly striking up conversations with me wherever I go. Imagine as a Chinese language learner how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to make herculan efforts to get someone to speak to you in Taiwan.
  • People talk to each other on the job, laugh even. They also work regular hours and sometimes take breaks. I’m sure there are problems here in the workplace but the feeling is it is far different from workers being treated like cattle in Taiwan. (I’m treated well and have been treated excetionally well, but I’m the exception and I still put in 47+ hrs week as a minimum with no holidays except cny.)
  • People give you an enormous amount of space when driving by pedestrians vs. not seeing/caring or lets see if we can hit that guy behaviour in Taiwan.
  • I’m walking far less, driving far more. It would depend I guess on your location but I’m walking very little here. The distances are too great. In Taiwan I tried to walk everywhere and due to the horrible driving conditions took transit to and from work. I could see living outside the city in Prince Edward Island would force me to set aside time for walking, in addition to my regular runs. Easy to see how easy it is to be sedentary here.
  • I’ve been conditioned from years of living in Taiwan to ask for a discount or a special price. It’s possible in PEI but people seem to get embarrased.
  • Thus far I have noticed that people take lines far more seriously here. I made the mistake in Toronto of accidently standing in front of someone in a line when I was told in no uncertain terms that they were ahead of me. Even seniors need to wait. Lining up in Taiwan is much more ordered affair that years past but people tend to be far more gentle in their reminders.

Dialog boxes

Perhaps due to the influence of Windows based software poor UI design, I often come across the common mistakes superfluous and poorly thought out dialog boxes. In addition to the maxim below, I believe we should avoid creating error dialogs when an undo will do. Unfortunately the essential undo function is still often forgotten.

Dialog boxes should be action-oriented; they should help guide users towards what their next step is likely to be and it should provide them with the information that they need in order to be able to accomplish that next step.


Discoverable UI

WordToolbars

Discoverability is one of the distinct advantages of the GUI, and lately I’ve found it to be an often fought for concept. There is a trend in the UI I see lately to either hide all functions in places most users would not easily find, or obscure them behind difficult to recognise icons. But this wonderful discoverability of the GUI has a dark side when you bring all of the possibilities to the forefront, which is often the strategy with Windows UI, you run the risk of leaving no work space for the user or turning your productivity app into nothing but a large piece of chrome.

In the exaggerated example above, is this interface discoverable? Certainly! All of the functionality is right there. But you pay a cost in terms of screen real estate.