Final meal at 福樂 in Hsinchu

We’ve been wanting to return to this restaurant since our last visit, this time was to quietly celebrate my birthday and both kids graduating school. And with only two days left before I land in Charlottetown, it is the last meal out will have time for. The meal was great as always and to say I am going to miss this kind of food is an understatement, 鮭魚丼飯 or whatever other name it is called is one of my favorite foods. But that’s one the reasons to travel – to taste each regions food. Excuse the non-instagram worthy photography.

新竹美食禧樂 – 丼飯,刺身,炭燒


Give your children the gift of creativity.

If you want your kids to be able to think freely and creatively, then you’ll need to combat the messages they get in school. Give them space to do and want things that are “unrealistic.” Let them paint outside the lines and let them fail so that they can use that experience to develop their own novel solutions (Creative Confidence).

I can’t say we have succeeded, but we have tried to do this during our kids studies at local schools in Taiwan. It was extremely difficult this year for our daughter as everything was about the endless tests, but they have always been involved in activities outside of school, that the schools don’t believe in, or aren’t able to provide.


Pilot Juice Up Pens

My daughter has been raving about these pens for the past few months so I broke down and bought a few. They aren’t really promoted as anything special but they write really well – especially suited to filling out disembarkation cards. The 3mm would be perfect for teeny tiny Chinese text. They turned out to be a bit pricey at Amazon or other American/Canadian online shops, but fortunately extremely cheap here. Also included in the picture is a Nokumori mechanical pencil, a gift from my daughter for fathers day.


Goodbye old friend

This isn’t the best photo of her but it’s indicative of her patience for silliness. Other photos of her.

I lack the ability to express what it means to say goodbye to Lulu, our lab of over 10 years. We first met her as a stray in Taipei, and we rescued her by the time she was already about 2 years old, with all kinds of disagreeable habits learned. She didn’t immediately get along with our lab mix Elsa, which was also a rescue from the streets of Taipei, but they fast became sisters and have never been apart since.

She was the most gentle dog you would ever meet, she would gently suck peanut butter off your finger or gingerly take a piece of food off your hand. Never a growl. Never a bite. All she wanted to do was to be constantly by your side or at your feet.

She was playful, cuddly, and full of love. No matter my mood she would be there. She was my daughters companion too, and would wait eagerly for her to come home or wake in the morning. She had many annoying habits, but they seem irrelevant now.

A few months ago she started walking with a limp and after a couple days I took her to the vet, thinking it was a problem with her paw. I couldn’t see anything but perhaps she had a sprain, something she had experienced in the past. As it turns out she had a growth underneath her shoulder where right where all the nerve endings meet. As luck would have it this growth turned out to be a rare form of cancer with a terminal prognosis. We could operate and go through chemo, she would lose her leg, but it might give her another year or it might not. No one ever knows. Partially the decision was practical, the prescribed treatment was very expensive, with no guaranteed outcome. But mostly it seemed extremely aggressive, I didn’t want her to struggle and be in pain, so perhaps it was best to just to accept that this was her time.

We have given her 3 months of the best treatment we could give her. She ate her favorite foods and was pampered like a baby.

Today I had the unfortunate task of helping her “cross the rainbow bridge”. She was nervous at first but she trusted me to the end, following me into the doctors office where we said our final goodbyes before she went to sleep.

I think we will all miss her forever.


When a noun is actually a verb

I swear that on AirBnb’s mobile app. I read that you can get a full refund within 48hrs of your, or the, booking. Meaning 48hrs before.

Unfortunately it appears booking in this case is a verb, meaning 48hrs after my booking.

With a whole team of lawyers at their disposal I doubt AirBnb has made this slip up, and it surely shows that either my level of English comprehension has decreased while in Taiwan for 2 decades, I really do need good glasses, or I was just reading what I wanted to read.

Either way I’m out a booking fee and AirBnb gets to keep my money for 2 weeks, to do with as they see fit.


A Siri debacle

Without going into too much detail, our labrador Lulu is having problems related to having terminal cancer. While giving her a bath in our tub she lost control of her bowels creating an awful mess. After I got her cleaned up and out of the tub, she proceeded to urinate on the floor and on my foot. That’s the ugly sad scene.

During all this I was communicating with my wife, asking her to bring home new bandages (Lulu also injured her foot and it’s bleeding profusely) via Siri on my iPhone. I didn’t want to touch my phone with the potential of poopy hands.

I sometimes use colorful language.

Well, as it turns out Siri made a mistake, but only when I sent the messages to my wife that had colorful language.

Though I have a number of contacts named Sheryl in my contacts app., the mistake wasn’t in sending to the wrong Sheryl. The mistake was in sending to a contact named Carol, which has a similar ending sound to Sheryl.

Unfortunately, Carol also happens to be my former director who I haven’t talked to in 2 or more years.


Common UX problems to challenge and inspire designers

There are a few design problems floating around the internet, but nothing very extensive. I thought it might be useful if I collected some together and put them in one big list.

The examples here come from all kinds of places including personal experience, but I take no credit for any of them. I’ve included links when I know I saw it someplace else. I’m pretty sure a few came from my own imagination, but somebody else probably had the same idea first. It’s just the way ideas work. Still, if you want to be credited with one of these, let me know and I’ll happily link to the original.

You don’t have to look far to find some problems to fix. You could spend hours and hours finding problems with the Apple TV alone. Just walking down the street you can find issues due to poor design. ATMs, elevators, language selectors (“every” service in Canada adds an extra step due to language), parking meters, parking lots (they have really upped their game here in Taiwan with sensors and license plate recognition), and public navigation for the visually impaired.

But this list is a great start and features some problems that have a little more sex appeal than optimizing elevator keypads.

I plan to go through the list, creating sketches, storyboards, and prototypes. When I was in China I did a similar exercise, I had to come up with 5 ideas a day. At that time my focus was entirely on solving existing problems and thinking of something new helped exercise my mind. It should be fun.

100 example UX problems


The next chapter

In 10 days I’ll be leaving this island for another, thereby closing a chapter in my life, the life of my family, while opening another. I’ve lived here for just shy of 20 years, longer than any other place.

To say that I am reluctant to leave would be an understatement. For the past number of weeks I have been analyzing the decision from hundreds of different perspectives, have been filled with self-doubt, and anxious for the future. Taiwan in general, and Hsinchu in particular is a good place to live, but most of what I am feeling is just the normal resistance to change that many of us go through, especially after making such a significant investment in time as we have had here.

For my kids, Taiwan is the only home they have ever had. For them I think Prince Edward Island will be just about as different an experience as you could hope for. A bit like moving from Earth to Mars. Thats the point though, I want them to experience this contrast and learn to adapt in different environments. They have stood out for the entirety of their lives, with both good and bad effects, now they must endure the monotony of sameness. To stand out in the crowd will require more effort on their part.

Of course, Prince Edward Island is just a great place to spend your youth.

This isn’t my first time leaving, I left over 2 years ago to pursue work in China, which is why many people leave. Taiwanese included. China is the new America, without the freedom and open internet, and there are an enormous amount of opportunities there. It’s an exciting place where many things seem possible.

With my new home being in Charlottetown, I’ll be taking my excitement in smaller doses, maybe one to twice yearly to start. Well, if I remember my high school life correctly, I’m sure the kids will provide all the excitement I need.


Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
Fred Rogers

The more time I spend observing children, my own and others, the more I come to the conclusion that we are born with the ability to do much correctly. Learn to walk by constantly trying and failing, climb-fall- and try again, we breathe and sit properly, our curiosity and creativity is unmatched, and watch kids run on a track and you will learn more than from a coach who is trying to undo decades of bad form. Adults distort the natural abilities we have to grow. I’ve seen it in teachers, parents and myself.


Double click speed setting

Using our old iMac has been a pain of late as it was impossible to open files, folders etc with the usual double click of the mouse. I don’t use the Mac very often so the problem just festered for months as everyone else just used right-click to open a menu, or a key combination whenever they needed to use the command. The old Apple mouse with a click wheel somehow received the blame, perhaps due to it’s reputation for being the worst mouse after the hockey puck.

As I was using it today to access old Firewire drives, of which I have bought far too many over the years, I grew annoyed and found that the problem is easily fixed by simply adjusting the double click rate in the mouse preferences pane. I didn’t dig deeper, but this seems like an ill advised feature, and one which is not immediately obvious as to it’s implications. As far as I can tell, the speed of the double click is tied to your finger and mouse’s ability to click fast enough. Which I guess the supplied Apple Mouse and a child’s finger are not able to map to.

But, problem solved, and we’ll file this UI oddity for use in some conversation later.


What’s in my pocket: 12yrs ago vs. today

This is what I could be found carrying ~12 years ago

What I commonly throw in my pocket these days.

A little Wednesday banality. I received an email from Flickr yesterday stating that someone “favorited” the first photograph above. I suspect that during the time I took the photo there was some kind of group share where you take a photo of the things that you were carrying in your pocket at that moment, or what you usually carry on your person. I think “Everyday Carry” or “What’s in my bag” series is still popular on some websites. Looking at the 2 photos above nothing much has changed; I don’t drive in Taiwan so my car keys are gone (thanks Uber) and tech has progressed a great deal. I still like smaller phones, this is my 2nd iPhone SE, and I still don’t carry a large wallet. The Bellroy leather wallet pictured was sent to me from them as a gift before they became the larger company they are today. I loved that tiny Panasonic phone, which I paid about $25 for in Thailand, but it was absolutely impossible to use for anything other than phone calls. A mini-flashlight and whistle are the only new additions, added due to the swarm of earthquakes we had earlier this year.


Oh dear Aeroplan

Last year when I was in Charlottetown I applied for and was given an Aeroplan Visa card as a means to start reintegrating myself into Canadian life. I’m oversimplifying, but considering I have been a non-resident for 20 years with no debt, and also no history, I saw this as a way to start saying hello again to the credit bureau. It also made paying certain recurring bills more convenient.

I didn’t chose the Aeroplan card for any particular reason other the promise of “miles” and the possibility of using them for something Air Canada related in the future. I hate loyalty programs in general, as the benefit always seems too heavily weighted towards the program vs. the consumer. And I don’t find the game all that fun.

Since I did have all these points, some seem to have expired already, and have an upcoming flight from Tokyo to Montreal, I thought this might be a great opportunity to see if I could upgrade my way out of the back breaking economy to something affording more wiggle room.

I called Air Canada here in Taipei, but was told I need to take care of it online or phone long distance to Montreal. So off I went to the Air Canada website. As it turns out you can’t use your Aeroplan miles through the AC website but must call reservations which redirects me back to the same number I called in the first place.

Going to Aeroplan’s website I entered in my flight data in a “not confidence instilling” form to find out that while I had plenty of points to upgrade to business, upgrades weren’t available for this flight. In fact they wouldn’t give me an upgrade on any of my upcoming flights.

For fun I thought I would have a look at their “great deals” section and see what aeroplan could give me otherwise. I’m alone for a few weeks in July, a cheap trip might be fun. The most interesting I could find was a flight to London for ~13000 points plus taxes. But when you pay the taxes on the flight you end up saving just $200 off Air Canada’s regular fairs and likely less if you looked hard elsewhere.

At this point I don’t exactly know what the point of Aeroplan is.

Years ago I was a member of EVA Air’s frequent flyer program and used to enjoy regular upgrades, preferred status and lounge access. Perhaps I need to learn the rules of this game in Canada, but I think over the summer I will be cancelling this Aeroplan branded card for something that offers tangible value.


In bloom

靜心湖

Woke up with less than a clear mind this morning and decided to take a short walk around 靜心湖 near our house. I’m glad I did as I was able to see the flowers in bloom inside the temple that is on one side of the lake.


A city that works

Bar in Central

When I was in Hong Kong for the day recently I was struck by the number of people who were in bars at midday drinking and how all the cafés were full. I’ve often found Taipei to be much the same, at least as far as cafés are concerned, where you will find people checking their investments on their laptops. I often think to myself when I visit these places, don’t people work?

It’s an interesting difference between cities. Hsinchu, like downtown Ottawa on the weekend, is largely quiet during working hours, which can stretch into the night. It’s a place where people work. In fact, outside of the young and other foreigners, most people I know have 3 “places”: work, home and wherever the whole family is going. There is little time during the week for any activity outside of work and home.

Much of Hsinchu has been designed this way, the districts are poorly connected, and public transportation poor. Driving between districts at rush hour or on the weekend feels like madness.

While I’m fairly accustomed now to the way life is structured here, and I’ve had my share of time working out of cafés this past year, I do look forward to experiencing a city with a more balanced work culture.


A visit to Buddhist Tzu Chi Hospital in Taipei

Buddhist Tzu Chi Hospital in Taipei

One of the final major items on my “before I leave Taiwan” todo list was checked this past Tuesday when I booked a half-day physical at Buddhist Tzu Chi Hospital in Taipei.

Since they wanted me there at 8am in the morning I decided to stay over in a nearby hotel, as the possibility of our car dying on the highway due to these extreme temperatures we have been having was very likely. I hate driving in Taiwan anyway. Unfortunately the hotel, though cheap, was noisy as hell, they only installed those cheap single pane windows that many apartments have here, and as such I arrived at the hospital half asleep.

As far as I know, you can get a physical at any hospital in Taiwan, at a time of your choosing. National Health Insurance covers the basics but the “extras” are the responsibility of the patient. Generally, most employers of a reasonable size arrange yearly physicals for their employees which include tests that go beyond what is provided for by NHI. I chose Tzu Chi because the last physical I had at a health center in China was laughably lax, especially the psychological evaluation, and while any hospital can give you a check-up, most can’t match the convenience of a dedicated facility. Tzu Chi offered the best range of tests for the most reasonable costs.

It’s very interesting being a consumer of medical services and receiving all the data from the tests so that you can make your own informed decisions about your health. It’s a shame that we will not have access to anything near equivalency when we move to Canada, a fact that was very surprising to all the staff at the health center.

The only improvement I wish was available was the ability to have this data off paper and into a device of my choosing. Coupling this data with whats available in HealthKit would be a pretty powerful tool for giving a decent overall picture of your health over a long period of time. Taiwan has digital records but I believe has yet to bring this to the patient.

I arrived early on Tuesday, signed in at the desk, and was given a key to my locker which had a comfortable tracksuit for me to wear through-out my stay. The health center is a bit difficult to find as like many hospitals TZU has a labyrinth of different places to get lost.

When I arrived there were approximately 20 or more other patients beginning the day of health checks. The nurses were joyfully complaining of being too busy but everything was handled courteously and efficiently. You generally just sit and wait for someone to come and take you to the next test, all of which were in close proximity to each other.

One pain point which might have been a concern. No one on staff spoke English. Though I haven’t been communicating in Chinese much at all this past year, I was fine, but things would have been much easier if their staff would learn to use terms outside the medical dictionary. But there was only a couple times that I had to get them to rephrase their explanations.

Some of the results from the battery of tests I received were available when I had my doctor consult, some blood work will take an extra day, with the full report sent to me within 4 business days. The doctor consult was like many doctor visits in Taiwan. Brief and as much a conversation with their computer monitor as one with the patient. They are willing to talk with you if you disagree with their recommendations, which I did, and if you have some questions, which I had a few. They are good people doing the best they can within the system that they operate, just like doctors in Canada.

As I have been informed that getting regular physicals in Prince Edward Island will not be possible, we hope to make regular trips abroad for similar check-ups. The price is reasonable and the quality comparable to what you might experience elsewhere.


Prepare to feel vulnerable during the learning process

From chapter 3 in The Art of Learning

When we’re in a learning phase, we often feel weak, exhausted or hopeless, and this is something we can also experience physically. A boxer with a great right hand but a weak left hand will take plenty of punches and go through some tough rounds while learning to use his left side more skillfully. Although learning through trial, error and slow improvement is tough, we should be careful not to doubt ourselves. This can quickly lead to a downward spiral, in which we berate ourselves for every mistake, and the possibility of achieving our goals seems to shrink at every turn.

An idea I didn’t take to heart while learning Chinese, what a trial that was, but am trying to while I gain some rudimentary skills in programming with Swift.


BeOS Preview Release 2

Found amongst copies of every Mac Release CD from OS 8 to 10. I used to love UI of this operating system and would skin my Mac at the time to mimic it’s appearance.


Calling my inner Jocko

Since finishing my last marathon 3 months ago I’ve had an almost impossible time getting up and out the door for further training. I still get on my feet and move, but it’s nothing like the commitment of the past.

In preparation for the marathon, and to overcome injuries I seem to consistently suffer through, I was training in excess of 3 hours everyday. Despite plenty of work and study, exercising would seem to have been my primary focus over the winter.

No amount of listening to the non-dulcet tones of Jocko Willink’s voice, or his commands to “go get some” seem to set me in motion. It could be a lack of sleep, change induced anxiety or a shift in focus, but I’m suffering from some kind of aversion to physical training. I’m hoping the clear blue skies and fresh clean air of Prince Edward Island might reenergize me.


Kubrick Cafe

Nice spot in Kowloon but unfortunately too cramped as most independent shops like this are in Hong Kong (I tried to get a seat in Urban Roasters in YauMaTei and they said to come back tomorrow). Food and coffee is good but not exceptional. The theatre looked interesting but I had no time to see a film.


Good software is uncommon because writing it is hard

From Writing software is hard by Signal v. Noise

Software frequently fails to be good because its creators simply aren’t competent enough software writers. There are many qualifications to that charge, many alleviating circumstances, and a very broad definition of “competent software writer”. But it is a helpful start to accepting responsibility. And accepting responsibility is the first step to improvement.

I write poor software. I hope that someday I won’t but that is the current state I am in.

I completely understand how we ended up here. With good intentions, of course. Learning something new, like programming, is daunting. Imposter syndrome is rife. We have all sorts of reasons why we want to encourage and support everyone trying to entice grumpy computers to dance.

And we’ve succeeded to an astounding degree with those intentions. Getting started programming today has never been easier. From open source to superb books and tutorials to bootcamps, it’s a splendor.

This is in sharp contrast to the fact that programming has also never been harder to master, in both depth and breadth. There has never been more languages, more concepts, more frameworks, libraries, tools. It’s impossible to know, let alone understand it all. What an odd dichotomy.

Learning to program feels like the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s so often boring and frustrating. The resources are there to get you started – too many resources perhaps. But the feeling I have after understanding the most fundamental aspects is one of being lost. Finding a good map is difficult. Writing software that you would actually want to use is difficult.

A friend once said that learning php for him was much like learning Chinese. I see the similarities and I certainly struggled for years before I could claim fluency, but I don’t think the experience is as similar as he claimed. With Chinese you can put to use what you have learned almost immediately, which is fun, and it builds upon itself. Of course there is Hello World in Chinese as well, but that is almost useful while in iOS development at least, it is not.

Originally one of my goals was to try a career change, work remotely for someone as a junior engineer, but that idea might have been naive, at least in the time frame I had set forth. Which is just like my experience in studying Chinese. I thought just over 6 months might be enough, then 4 years went by (including almost 3 full-time), and I was only then becoming functional. Maybe programming will be the same.


My daughters weekend

This past weekend was the entrance tests that determine which high school grade 9 students can attend in the fall. The 1 1/5 days of tests are the result of close to one school year of preparation. The short video above is of all the kids waiting to enter the examination room.

It’s a complicated process, one in which I don’t quite understand, picking which high school you want to go to. The school zone you live in has little relation to the result, you could live across the street from a high school, but due to choice, poor test scores, or enrollment levels a student could end up traveling across the county for 40 minutes each day to attend class.

My daughter didn’t have to write the test, as she will almost assuredly be attending high school in PEI in the fall, but being “mean” and wanting to hedge our bets I pushed her to participate.

Taiwan’s education system at the elementary level is quite good, 7 – 8th grade marginal, and from 9th onward largely a farce. The educational outcomes for these years are largely tests, which produces excellent abilities in rote learning, memorization, following orders, parochial thinking and fixed systematic approaches to doing things. It doesn’t encourage free thinking, creativity, collaboration and a love of learning.

A plus is that there are some vocational opportunities for those kids smart enough to realize that an academic education is not for all. Unfortunately these opportunities are largely frowned upon and framed in a failure to achieve mentality.


Doctor Day

I stopped into one of my favorite places this afternoon enroute to the eye doctor. The coffee has been pretty consistent at Ink Café over the years and I am going to miss dropping in occasionally. Though I am sure a place exists, I have yet to find any equivalent in my travels throughout Atlantic Canada. Fueled by a couple latte’s and a piece of cheese cake I managed to be productive for a couple hours before I had to leave for the eye doctor.

Being of the age where its common to require reading glasses or progressive lens, I’ve been driven insane by the constant need to take my glasses off whenever I want to read something near to my face. What generally happens afterwards, is a mad scramble around the house whenever I need to go out or watch TV due to not remembering where I placed them.

Hopefully progressive lenses will eliminate that hassle. Without health insurance the visit cost more – ~$30 CAN for prescription in hand. Another reason I will miss Taiwan, cheap near immediate access to quality health care.

Next up was a visit to the “iPhone doctor”. These repair places are everywhere here and they offer all kinds of upgrades. The place I went into smelled of greasy KFC but the owner and his wife seemed nice enough. My daughter goes through phones like others go through tissue. A new screen for her old iPhone 5s is going cost $60CAN for non-factory original. I might update the battery for an additional $30. BYOD seems to be the best way to go in Canada with the exorbitant fees, so this price certainly beats purchasing through a telecom, or buying off Kijiji.


Infected with malware

There is a first time for everything. One of my WordPress sites had malware installed which caused the homepage to redirect to some spam site. Things were much simpler when I used Moveabletype and delivered flat files.

The problem is solved for now, but I still have no idea how “they” managed to get access, nor do I care much to go down the rabbit hole that is exploring all the ways to securing a WordPress install. I already do the most obvious.


Short lived sneezes

For the past 15 years or so I’ve kept a diary of sorts, this blog and others also serve as a diary but I haven’t really been able to utilize them as such. I first started just keeping audio recordings, a lazy way of record keeping, and for the past 4 years have been using Day One to write short notes, rants, goals, photos etc. as a form of cheap therapy, and to serve as a record of the days events. I’m not religious about it, but my memory being as it is I find it valuable to look back at the events and mistakes of the past. Day One has a great “on this day” feature that helps with that.

Going through past entries I see that we were all much sicker in the past. My recent bought of sneezes were extremely short lived, all of a morning, and it was truly an anomaly as outside of gastro intestinal issues I seldom get sick. Whether this is due to my relative isolation, better diet, exercise or a combination of all I don’t know. But on a number of occasions in the past I was complaining about bad head colds and other maladies.

Some problems repeat themselves. 10 years ago one of our dogs had me up through the night due to her crying and I was knee deep in doggy poop as a result. Just the other night Sheryl, who does have a bad cold, was up through the night with our other dog who was crying because she needed to go outside to relieve herself.

Lastly, it seems now, as then, I get stuck in these productivity sucking deep dives that take up the better part of the morning. Things like reading past diaries and the resulting introspection.