What is retirement to me?

My mother retired at 55 and most of her generation dreamt of early retirement like hers. Unfortunately by the time many of her generation made it to retirement, including my mother, they were so riddled with health problems that living the life they dreamed of became impossible. People I know in Taiwan and China are much the same, but at a different scale. They work insane hours, sometimes for great money, in the hope that in the end they can have enough money to have the freedom to walk away from the pressures of killing themselves.

I never shared this dream of working towards an arbitrary date, a date after reached that you could start living a life worth living. I had different ideas of how I wanted to lead my life, and by my parents definition, I’ve been retired for years now. It’s not been unicorns and rainbows of course, I don’t have a pot of gold, and have little interest, nor the ability, in buying the trappings of wealth like my peers. I’ve failed more times than I can count, I really wanted to work for a select few companies in China, but life has a way of changing your path. Their have been many challenges over the past few years and with a move to Prince Edward Island the greatest challenges are yet to come (how to survive in a region with little possibility of employment), but at least the battles I face are of my own choosing. And the things I have experienced!

I’m copying the following verbatim because I think it expresses much about my ideas of retirement. From Jan Chipchase’s great newsletter:

So what is retirement?

In the Bay Area, the topic of fuck-you money comes up a lot as a retirement goal. In part it’s because the conversation around income, stock and finance is so tied to the mythology of the area, and that most people know of a social or work peer who has achieved the freedom to step away from their job. What I don’t like about the phrase is that it’s a reaction to a negative, it implies earning good money and being happy cannot coexist. I’ve been around corporations most of my life, and understand what they, and the society at large, values financially and why. Not all jobs are intellectually rewarding or provide space for personal growth, but there are many that are — if you’re in the right place at the right time, skillful, and lucky.

Back to sitting on the verandah in Mill Valley — my colleague defined retirement as “doing only what you want to do”. She acknowledged she was part-way there, and suggested that I was fully retired.

So what is my retirement?

Four things provide the freedom that she described:

  • The first, and most obvious is in knowing the cost of living and having the savings to breathe.
  • The second is that Studio D passion projects have diversified our income streams to the point where we no-longer require consulting clients. The Handbook, SDR Traveller, retreats, expeditions, plus a few other things bubbling up, all generate relatively predictable income streams; and while revenues ebb and flow, they complement each other well. It means that every consulting client project is taken on for the right reasons.
  • The third is in maintaining a light footprint, including no offices or full time employees. This might change if the right opportunity came up, but there’s no rush.
  • The fourth, and most important, is in recognizing how little money is required to be happy, fulfilled. I start each year with a figure in mind for the year to live comfortably; after which everything, including whether to take on more work, is optional. We achieved this year’s baseline by the end of February.

If you know me, you’ll appreciate the hours I put in to bringing these things to life, and that it always takes a team. But for all of the past four years, it has not once felt like work. Is that retirement? You tell me.


Remove business risk through testing

The old world of business was one of trial and error; sometimes ideas worked out and sometimes they went belly up. The only way people learned in this context was through painful failure.But today there are other options. Now business people can remove the risk from their ideas, while reducing the costs incurred in the event of failure.They do this by verifying products through user testing. In other words, rather than assuming you have a great idea that will solve your customer’s problems, why not just put it into action and see what happens?People often have great ideas that don’t correspond to the desires of the market, and by testing these ideas on a selection of users and gathering feedback in the process, one can fine tune them so they fit market demand. From there, a revised product can be rolled out, its success can be measured and further feedback can be incorporated.

UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want. Source


The future of content, in my opinion, is all about creating context. We are bombarded with so much information from so many channels every single day, that people crave editorial that can actually help them make sense of everything. We get so much of our “content” in these little bursts now — be it an email, a tweet, a blog post. But it’s always this little bite-sized, isolated bit of information. We rarely understand how it actually fits into our lives.

Given this, I think what’s needed are curators, editors, writers, filmmakers, etc who can really zoom out from that narrow perspective and take the long view. Who can do some of that sense-making for people so that they understand how this political development fits into the long arc of history, or how developing this particular habit will give their life more meaning in the long run. The future of content is about creating a rich, well-thought-out context that makes it possible for people to really process and synthesize ideas in depth — not in this surface-y way we’re all accustomed to now.
Jocelyn K. Glei


Disciplines of Product Design

I’m taking a break from the monotony of the work I am doing this week to take a short course on Product Design with May Kim. Below is her definitions of each discipline contained within product design, a common first step in introductory courses. As time goes on these type of labels have less meaning and in some ways too restrictive – but people like identifying themselves in a certain way and organisations like formal roles.

User Research: User research places people at the center of your design process and your products. It is used to inspire and inform your designs, to evaluate your solutions, and to measure the impact of your design.

User Experience (UX) Design: User experience design, or UX design, is a human-first way of designing products, putting the user at the center and creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences to users. This involves improving a product’s usability, accessibility, and the pleasure people will get from using it.

User Interface (UI) Design: User interface design, or UI design, is about translating a brand to a product’s interface, visually guiding the user with interactive elements across all sizes and platforms. This includes a mix of visual hierarchy and interface elements — the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a product.

Visual Design: Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent and it aims to shape and improve the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, color, shapes, typography, space, and layouts on the usability of products and their aesthetic appeal.

Interaction (IxD) Design: Interaction design, or IxD, is concerned with the way people interact with products and services. It considers how the user is interacting with the product, how the product responds to the user’s input.
May Kim

Further Reading:

User Research: What it is and why you should do it, by Ditte Mortenson
A Process for Empathetic Product Design, by Jon Kolko
User Experience (UX) Design
The Definition of User Experience (UX), by Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen
The Difference between UX and UI Design – a Layman’s Guide, by Emil Lamprecht
The Building Blocks of Visual Design, by Teo Siang
Visual Design
Interaction Design
What is Product Design?, by Geoff House


Learning something new

We all begin our lives with a limited amount of practical knowledge, so it’s our job to teach ourselves as much as possible. Those who fail to do so will quickly fall behind! So, set yourself the goal of learning one new thing every day, even if it’s just something you heard on the radio. Then put this new piece of knowledge to use as soon as you can. By learning new things within the area of your specialty each day, you’ll be one step closer to achieving excellence.

You can also learn from those around you. Find your reference group – a network of people who share your values – and spend time with them. Their accomplishments will lift you up, too.

From The Psychology of Selling


Taichung Port Hero’s Marathon Results

Results from last Sunday’s marathon. Generally I am more than pleased with the results.

It had been over a year since I ran a marathon, the last one was in Xiamen and while I managed to complete with body intact I suffered due to heat and pain in my feet. I haven’t been able to run seriously in any races since. The winter I spent training for a race in Thailand, but understandably my training was lackluster and I backed out at the last minute. Other races scheduled throughout last fall had to be cancelled or trotted through due to injury.

I started running a bit over 4 years ago, run 4 marathons and numerous other races, and have consistently suffered through a host of injuries ever since. My mind, heart and lungs have been willing, but the rest of my body not. This summer past with extremely painful feet, and pain near my knee (platter fasciitis and IT band injuries) I decided to stop running and fix my problems once and for all. I developed a program after consulting a physiotherapist and after over 6 months of almost daily training it paid off.

I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for race day – cold at start, clear skies and a generally flat course. My goal for this race was simply to finish without injury or pain, and it went exactly as planned. Slow pace but it was comfortable until the last 5k which required some mental gymnastics. Unfortunately I had my first bought of stomach issues forcing a 5+ minute pitstop at a normally I wouldn’t enter toilet.

Otherwise I didn’t experience the common lack of energy that occurs during the tail end of a long run. The whole race was fueled by fat and I wasn’t hungry after the race. Carb loading not required. Recovery time was quick.

Now that I know what is required for me to get strong and continue running faster and longer events, I’m looking forward to participating in other races. The challenge will be to try and pair down the often 3+ hours of training into something more manageable with my upcoming schedule.


In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run.
Seth Godin


Street Food in Hsinchu

A street side shop specialising in lamb with noodles, rice or as soup.


I’m not a lover of lamb so would not have eaten at this street side shop in Hsinchu but it’s a very typical scene in the downtown area at night. Taken about 14 years ago when I used to still have my street photography hobby.


Science Park Life Hub to Taipei Bus Station Schedule

新竹竹科至台北轉運站

I’m posting this as a reminder that the bus from ZhuKe to Taipei leaves every hour, not half hour as I had thought. In the past couple of weeks I’ve arrived at all the wrong times to catch the bus to Taipei. The last time I arrived in time but I had the misfortune of being behind someone who was buying tickets seemingly for the next year at specific dates and times, and naturally would think to ask if I would like to purchase a single ticket before him. With this schedule now firmly in my mind, I hopefully wont make the same mistake again.

Otherwise taking the bus to Taipei is far less stressful than driving and more convenient than trekking out to the HSR.


Chunking data

Most who have done any study or practice in Information Architecture or design understands the importance of proper chunking of data. This relates to UI elements as way, and has brought forth the often cited chestnut that people cannot hold more than 4-6 items in working memory at one time. You need to break down information and have a thorough understanding of memory to make a good product. From 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People:

Every second of every waking moment, your subconscious is dealing with roughly 40 billion pieces of information. However, only 40 percent of this information makes it to your conscious brain. What makes certain knowledge stick, then? Your brain is only capable of processing information in bite-sized chunks. Therefore, if you’re ever conveying information – whether in a presentation or an ad – make sure you don’t provide too much at once.So how much should you provide?Studies have found that four is the magic number. Obviously, it’s not always a viable option to provide information in chunks of four, but it’s always a good idea to split up whatever you’re trying to communicate into groups that contain no more than four elements.
Source

The above is obvious, but I don’t remember seeing this issue as it’s framed below:

Your brain routinely decides what to remember and what to forget. Human forgetfulness is especially helpful when it comes to product design. If you design with forgetfulness in mind, you’ll make sure to include the important information, weaving it into the design or making it easy for people to look up.

Designing with the knowledge that your customers will forget, seems like a good UX strategy to think about when you go about creating your product.


Chunghwa Telecom vs. Rogers Data Plan

“All you can eat data for 699”

I got the above ad in my emailbox last week and with an impending move to Canada, comparisons ensued.

The offer from ChungHwa is par for the course in Taiwan, all you can use data, a countrywide wifi network, plus a free Android tablet for 699NT$ ($30CAN). Voice calling is available for a fee in the plan but few would use such a service as many prefer to using apps to for voice. This offer uses Chunghwa’s 4G network which would might be the slower of their networks offered here, but comparable to what you would find in Canada.

Rogers has a confusing array of plans so I recorded those which seems to be the most comparable.

The above is the current offer(s) from Rogers. All of the Rogers plans focus on complex rules in order to gain more revenue from fees, which are already the highest I have ever seen anywhere. No simple flat rate pricing. With Rogers you get 100mb for $10 CAN, which would should cover those who check email once a month, and $20/2 Gig afterwards. I assume like parking lot swindles, they charge you for the full amount even if only slightly over. You pay for a tablet or device separately. The second plan gives you 5 Gigs for $60, with a similar over use fee. Particularly amusing is their framing of the light and heavy plans.

When I move to Canada this summer I am expecting a 3 fold increase in fees on my mobile plan. The plan itself will be on a slower network with severe data caps. I’m going to miss the freedom that mobile plans in Asia provide.


Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?
Quick or smart? by Seth Godin


An engineer who founded the popular bulletin board system PTT said that current working conditions in Taiwan, especially in the tech industry, stifle innovation.

“Once people are bogged down by work, they lose their creativity,” Tu said, pointing to the long hours, low wages and hierarchical structure at many Taiwanese companies that prevent people from having real life experiences which are the key to being inspired to create software.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s education system does not foster innovation, Tu said, saying that such a system emphasizes the right, standard answer instead of being more critical and asking questions.
Therefore, most of the engineers he has seen at local companies are rigid, afraid to voice their opinions and do whatever their bosses tell them to do.
Artificial intelligence could be Taiwan’s niche in the world


In user experience design (UX) research, we think a lot about mental models — how a user believes a process works vs. the system model of how it was actually designed; and framing — the context in which an interaction is interpreted. In essence, your satisfaction within an experience can depend a lot on your initial expectations.

For new employees, the expectation we need to set is that while the initial learning curve is steep, the on-boarding process actually never ends nor does it move in a predictably straight line.
The UX explanation for why you hate your new job after three months

Companies should approach new hires with the same vigorous approach they have, or wish to have, with product development. People aren’t software but understanding each new hire, and their needs and expectations, to the extent that you know the users of you product would go along way to producing happy talent. And happy talent has a whole slew of side benefits. Unfortunately, to my knowledge this is seldom done in Taiwanese or Chinese companies.


Making it hard

As someone who has decades of experience on the web, I hate to compare myself to the tortoise, but hey, if it fits, it fits. Let’s be more like that tortoise: diligent, direct, and purposeful. The web needs pockets of slowness and thoughtfulness as its reach and power continues to increase. What we depend upon must be properly built and intelligently formed. We need to create space for complexity’s important sibling: nuance. Spaces without nuance tend to gravitate towards stupidity. And as an American, I can tell you, there are no limits to the amount of damage that can be inflicted by that dangerous cocktail of fast-moving-stupid.

The web also needs diligent people so that the idea of what the web is and what it does remains legible to everyone. This applies to being able to read the systems and social environments the web creates so we know what’s real and what’s not, but the call for legibility should also humbly apply to writing legible code and designs systems that are easy for nearly anyone to interpret thanks to their elegance. That important work has a place, too.
Everything is Hard Again, by Frank Chimero

I got my start 22 years ago crafting together websites using simple bites of mark-up language, dollops of drop shadowed graphics, and later simple interactions, readable typography, and fluid layouts.

Welcome to my corner of the WWW


I’ve spent the last number of years far more focused on software, in roles more akin to user research than design, and as I plan a return to designing for the web sometime this summer, I am surprised at the complexity that confronts me. The similarities to developing for iOS are too striking. It feels like the days when I alone could deploy a website without the help of an engineer are gone. Or at least without the talents of said engineer. The consummate web designer must be rarer professional today than in the past (does the title even exist any more?). I thought a self initiated project would suffice to bring me up to speed, with maybe time for a short course on PHP, but to my surprise I may need to devote serious effort to just creating what I thought would be far more straight forward by now. To manage this complexity I’ll likely follow a path similar to Frank Chimero and forget the dazzle dazzle and just focus on clean simple communication.


Analog still works best

My desk is usually filled with paper and pencils. Using a computer is a last resort.

Despite the preliferation of digital devices which attempt to mimic analog tools I still find no interface as immediate and friction free as pen and paper. I find the computer, no matter if PC, Mac or iOS presents too many barriers and distractions which inhibit productivity. I use my Mac as a tool of execution, not as a tool for thinking, visual or otherwise.


What The Screen Time Experts Do With Their Own Kids

For the kids, since they started school, the rule is “no media on weekdays.” They unplug at family dinner and before bed. They have a family movie night on Fridays, which is an example of the principle Radesky touts in her research, of “joint media engagement,” or simply sharing screen time.

On weekends, they allow the kids cartoons, apps and games like Minecraft. But more than just limiting time, says Radesky, “I try to help my older son be aware of the way he reacts to video games or how to interpret information we find online.” For example, she tries to explain how he is being manipulated by games that ask him to make purchases while playing.


Interruption is Not Collaboration

Hey, are you busy? Can you listen to this real quick? It’s an episode about interruptions in the workplace. You’ll hear from academic researchers, Basecamp’s head data wrangler, and the CEO of a remote company about how they’ve tackled not just the disruptions themselves, but also the workplace culture that allows those intrusions to flourish.


Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacrum and Simulacra


Old Pay Phone UI

Old payphone. I love the lack of balance and spacing affects the key input. Bad typography in this case adds character.

The introduction of a new payment method added a whole other layer of complexity to an already learned interface. The solution was a lots of labels and instructions. Missing from this view is the coin payment slot which is at the top.


On working out

I wrote this in a locally themed forum in response to some discussion about using machines or free weights for resistance training. As is often the case the person who posted the topic hadn’t wanted this discussion, but people wanted to educate her to the proper way to gain strength and form. As is also often the case my response didn’t directly address the topic at hand, was uninteresting, and was more suited to a personal blog post.

I think it’s great to do any exercise routine using whatever tools you feel comfortable with and/or have at your disposal. In terms of time and effect, I think most people I see in gyms would be better served with body weight training, but perhaps they like having a place to go and hang out.

I’m 50 and recovering from injuries due to over-training. I’m thin, “in-shape”, but certain areas of my body are far weaker than the others due to age and the effects of sitting at a desk for 20+ years. At the time of my injury one side of my body reportedly was stronger than the other – out of balance in physiotherapy parlance. I constructed my current training regime on the advice of my physiotherapist and consulting with coaches. I currently spend about 2 – 3 or more hours everyday training.

I spend the majority of this time running, followed very closely by body weight training, then flexibility and weight training.

When I started with weight training I focused entirely with machines. I wanted to take things slow and be cautious. Free weights bring in to play a whole range of muscles which I chose to focus first with simple body weight movements. Yoga moves strengthen stabilizing muscles far better than any machine I have at my disposal. Now as I have spent the past months focusing on technique I spend my time at the gym with the bar, or adding weight to BWM. When doing leg presses with a machine I was moving a tremendous amount of weight. With correct form I was getting a decent workout with little or no weight on the bar with squats. For me, I can instantly feel the difference. Doing a simple squat feels almost like a complete workout for me, and in many ways is the perfect exercise. I started working out at the same time as another group of people. They took it slow and supported each other. Their gains are impressive, with some of the women squatting serious weight. They look great.

I still use machines, one gym provides equipment for a decent hip abduction/adduction set, but most machines I find provide for completely unnatural movements. Natural movements are key to achieve my goals.