Speed

In Hsinchu if you want an Uber or a taxi one comes seemingly instantly. Want furniture? It will be there tomorrow. Any item you need for your home, you can expect it the same day. Food is everywhere. Getting your car fixed doesn’t require an appointment and they come to collect your car. Movers can be found quickly and scheduled to your needs. That part of the world is far from some Jetson’s like utopia but services are built around peoples long working schedules. And it’s convenient and fast.

Here in the old country things work at an entirely different pace. Furniture and mattress shopping has taught me to in some cases to think in terms of months, not days. What people sit and sleep on in the interim is not clear to me. Trucks are available for rent 6 weeks from when you need it and Maritime Electric never answers their phone. The selection of goods locally necessitates buying online where your items “usually ship in 5 business days” and then arrive sometime later. Why it takes a business 5 days to put something in a box I don’t know.

One thing that does come quickly is mystery charges. A recent car inspection featured $24 for grease, they must be usually a lot of grease or it’s laced with titanium. Maritime electric charges a $40 “transfer fee” and because I am a stranger a $100 deposit. And I used to complain about ChungHwa Telecom in Taiwan with their foreigner deposit tax. Activating a SIM costs $30 and on and on.

Of course this change of pace also means a frequent dispensing of directness. In looking for some furniture the sales person first wanted to know all about me, what my last name was, who my father was, and what I had been up to these past 20 years. The conversation quickly reached the depths of discussing China’s socio-economic problems and his feelings about the recent wave of immigration. Its good for the furniture business apparently. This is a good thing, as relationships are important here, and it’s also entertaining. I think I have had more conversations with strangers here this past week than in a year in the new world. Thats a benefit of a slowing down.


The unknown restaurant at the Confederation Court Mall

I landed here in Charlottetown late Sunday night and luckily the trip was uneventful. I flew Taoyuan to Narita to Montreal and finally to Charlottetown.

Narita airport was a delight but suffers from a strange lack of snack buying options. There is a wonderful public lounge hidden away at the far end of the terminal that only compares unfavorably to the airline lounges in that you must bring your own refreshments. Montreal was a mess. The transfer to domestic process feels like a deliberate attempt at accessing your cognitive ability after a day of no sleep. It’s long, maze-like and involves picking up your luggage and lining up to put them back down on another conveyer belt. The terminal itself feels crowded, designed for another age I guess.

Charlottetown always feels timeless to me but my taxi driver insists that the past year has turned the Island upside down. Taxi drivers are a great source of information so I’ll take this for what it’s worth.

While I have been pretending that I am not suffering from a bad case of jet lag I have been enjoying the varied food options available here — primarily at a friends house but I’ve made a couple trips to a restaurant owned by a Chinese family in the Confederation Court Mall. Nice people and food that reminds me of what I might cook in Taiwan. I’ll keep returning I think.

Charlottetown would be better served if they gutted the malls interior and turned it into a green space or farmers market but I guess these kind of experiments are hard here. The place is depressing.


Recharge stations at Taoyuan International Airport Terminal 2

In all the areas that matter to me, Taoyuan airport favors very well when compared to the other airports I’ve flown to, especially large North American centers. Customs I find especially good, transportation options unfortunately not so good.

Which is why I was a bit surprised to day to notice that paucity of charging stations for mobile devices. With mobile devices being such a major part of peoples’ lives here it seems like a big oversight.

Usually I travel with a big battery but left it home this time due to it’s heft and borrowed my sons card sized.

There are two spots I notice which had a place to charge your devices. One was the Tokuyo chair display just before the “T” intersection which leads you to your gates, and the other were repurposed public phone installations right at the gate.

This is in contrast to Tokyo Narita where I am at present, able to sit in a comfortable chair, charge my devices, drink nasty Starbucks coffee, and write some email.


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. A reliable and experienced company that distributes high-quality remedies. Phentermine-Med.com is the guarantee of high-quality and effective Phentermine (Adipex) at reasonable costs. It was the third time I ordered Phentermine there and every single experience is better than previous.

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.