Fatboy Island

The floors are hard here at our house; concrete even. Though I swear my daughters head gets harder each time she bumps into me with it we like to have as much bouncy cushions around as possible. For playing and relaxing on the floor the Fatboy Island’s look like allot of fun. If only they were cheaper than we could have many Islands. The possibilities are endless. Luckily for us it is quite easy to clean, just wipe it with a damp cloth and off comes whatever sticky peanut butter concoction my daughter had come up with.
$229US at Design Public.

Fleurville Capsule Lunch Pak

Even the little ones need cool bags to carry their essential stuff. The kids here use bags like this for their food and miniature carry-ons for books. They have to carry allot of books. This lunch pack is insulated with adjustable backpack straps scaled for kids. It has essential features like reflective piping for high visibility, machine wash, hidden name tag, and a built in beverage sleeve. It comes in 3 different colours that appeal to both boys and girls.
Available at Modern Seed for $33US.

Thirsty Tote

I’ve featured Built NY products before and it’s not just because they nice product photography. I saw these this past weekend and thought they were a better alternative to simply throwing the bottle in a bank to leak all over the place. These totes stretch to fit baby bottles and sippy cups, while insulating and protecting the drinks. The Thirsty Tote also soaks up all spills and are machine washable – which eliminates those sour milk smells. Each tote includes a convenient carry handle that snaps to strollers, car seats, diaper bags, or whatever else is handy. Comes in a dble. bottle version as well. Prices start at about $9US for the single version.
More info. on their site.

Duo Diaper Bag

Say good-bye to those fluffy flowered diaper bags that you wouldn’t dare bring to hockey practice, this is a diaper bag even a guy can love. This modernist bag is fashioned after the classic messenger bag and with 600 dernier poly-canvas can withstand the all the punishment you give it. Bountiful pockets keep all your bottles, cups, phone, supplies and changing pad close at hand. Changing pad is included with bag. It’s available in black, charcoal, and red for a reasonable $54US.
View more detail

My Chicken and Pork Adobo

I have been quite fortunate these past few months to have the time to spend on one of my favourite hobbies, cooking. Cooking is one of those activities that we seem to forget when you have to work late everyday and the lure of the corner “lunch box” seems so much more convenient. I’m not the best cook and my dishes seldom look pretty but I thought I would share from time to time the recipes I have enjoyed. The recipes are more likely than not, approximations … if you have some innate fear of failure and you aren’t comfortable winging it you might want to find other recipe with more exact instructions.
Here is dish I tried tonight which was taught to me by my Filipina friend Margie. Likely my version is no wear as good as what she makes but it tasted fine for a first attempt.

Chicken and Pork Adobo

aprox. 250 ml rice vinegar (or cider vinegar)
aprox. 250 ml water
peeled and crushed garlic (lots of it, maybe 3-4-5 tablespoons)
5 pieces of bay leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 package chicken (I used boneless chicken breasts cut Chinese style)
1 package pork butt ( a bit more than the chicken)
1 carrot thinly sliced
brown sugar to taste (I used quite allot)
soy sauce
Add oil, vinegar, water, garlic, salt, carrot, bay leaves and pepper into a large wok. Bring to a boil. Add the meat, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Liberally cover with soy sauce (taste as you go) and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I boiled to reduce liquid to a minimum). Let sit.
Serve with rice.

Yojimbo your life

I have been spending allot of time lately writing for weblogs and performing some general research for other projects that I am working on. It’s not unlike the the activities I performed when I was writing my thesis where I would want to record and create all kinds of data from many different sources. When I was writing my thesis I didn’t really have a great workflow and I am sure that I wasted a great deal of time as a result.
Currently I am using a workflow based on using simple text files and Quicksilver. But I don’t really find it as enjoyable a process as many do and I have been interested in finding a better tool that can save me some time. A wiki of some sort might even accomplish allot of what I need but it isn’t as efficient as many applications that integrate themselves with OS X. I might still take the time to set-up a wiki in the future for longer and more permanent bits of data.
Bare Bones software’s new Yojimbo seems to be a simple tool that will do what I want it to do and thankfully nothing more. And though I am sure that I have seen other tools in the past, they all suffer from offering a complex set of features that have no real use for me. From the Yojimbo site:

Yojimbo makes keeping all the small (or even large) bits of information that pour in every day organized and accessible. It’s so simple, there is no learning curve. Yojimbo’s mechanism for collecting, storing and finding information is so natural and effortless, it will change the way you work.
There are as many uses for Yojimbo as there are users of it. It accepts almost anything—text, bookmarks, PDF files, web archives, serial numbers or passwords—by dragging, copying or importing. You can get anything out of Yojimbo you put into it, in its original form—no lock-in.

Yojimbo allows me to tag and organize the type of information I collect sufficiently – and the search function works fine too. I particularly like the persistent tab on the side of my screen. I can drag and drop all kinds of data onto it and it will immediately organize it by type. I can then go in later and further categorize it. Yojimbo is a Tiger-only application because it relies on the latest Mac OS X advances. For instance, it’s a Core Data application, so that your items are kept easily and automatically in a SQLite database. Yojimbo also makes all non-encrypted items individually available to system-wide Spotlight searches, by representing each one as a stub in your Caches folder. All in all pretty cool.
Mac OS 10.4.3 or later is required to run Yojimbo.

Wei Ya

Michael Turton sums up beautifully the one aspect of the impending Chinese New Year holiday that I forgot to mention and won’t miss, the end-of-the-year banquet, called a wei ya.

The basic idea is similar to the office Christmas party familiar to every American, with the importance difference that the wei ya is not fun. I have successfully evaded the wei ya every year so far, but this year the Chair, who is a friend, asked me to go, and I couldn’t say no. So on warm monday night in January I found myself far from wife and children, and having a cross-cultural experience, which is a polite way of saying bored to death and eating bad food.

The View from Taiwan: The Banquet

Trying to keep Mobile

There seems to be some strange goings on today on the Inter-web here in Taiwan which is making me doubt my decision on signing up with Strongspace for offsite back-ups. Uploads seem to be a problem lately with even the smallest of files – it took an hour for me to eventually upload a single 50k image file through ftp or browser client. If I have problems with small images it makes me wonder if nightly multi-gig backups will be feasible. Taiwan generally has great consumer level broadband service which is usually only hampered by poor “last mile” infrastructure (if you would see the lousy job done on phone and electrical installations here you would understand). Luckily Strongspace is cheap, very cheap, so giving it try is basically no risk at all.
I was once a .Mac subscriber but the amount of storage and lack of good customer service has driven me to using Strongspace and Gmail. It will be interesting to see how my increased reliance on web applications plays out as I travel and across the various hinterlands of Asia.

The Approaching Holiday

Chinese New Year (CNY) approaches and brings with it a nationwide holiday giving most people in Taiwan a deserved break from work. It has been my favourite holiday of the year as it has meant a one week vacation and the money to go where you please. The beloved CNY bonus is one of the main highlights of working your ass off for a successful company in Taiwan. Alas as I am not working at the moment, this will be my first year since coming to Taiwan that I don’t receive this influx of cash.
Since so many people are walking around with a little extra weight in their pockets you see the police out in even greater numbers doing just about the only thing they are effective for here – handing out tickets to scooters and motorists. While I have been lucky to have only good contact with the local police they have a reputation for being rather useless for anything other than this quarterly cash grab.
I was told that the plainclothes police are out in great numbers around the Hsinchu area – hanging out at the train and bus stations, getting on buses, and any areas that great numbers of people congregate. This is not in an effort to catch young enterprising Taiwanese looking to grab money from unsuspecting cash laden shoppers but to nab illegal foreign workers from the Philippines (and from other countries in Asia). These foreign workers do the work that few others will do and their forced departure leaves opportunities for others to take their place. And they will. Foreign labourers are worked hard here and usually under less than ideal conditions (indentured slavery?). The cycle continues year after year.
For those of us staying in Taiwan this year we enjoy another benefit. Peace and relative quiet. Many people who live in the north of the Island return home for the holiday leaving Taipei as a sort of ghost town. It’s the perfect time to visit public places, the Taipei zoo is on my list for the week.
The wikipedia has more info on holidays in Taiwan and Chinese New Year.

Jazz Club in Hsinchu?

Yet another format for a restaurant at this corner near minzu rd. This time it seems like we might get a venue presenting some jazz and blues. I couldn’t be more hopeful or pleased at the thought. The last time I lived near a jazz/blues club was in Toronto back when the Bermuda Onion venue was open on Bloor street. That was over 12 years ago I think. While I would rate the possibility of having a beer with the likes of Freddie Hubbard pretty low at this place in Hsinchu, we can only hope that they will have a small stage for some local musicians to play some music that old folks like me like to hear.

Mobile Phones and Cameras – Evidence of Social Change in Taipei

I’ve been meaning to share this since I first saw these panoramas a little over a week ago. Go to the Panoramas.dk, a truly wonderful site, and have a look at the panoramas for Taipei City on News Years Eve 2005. These pictures are great pieces of evidence of social change on a grand scale.
On New Years Eve 2005 the shopping centers and department stores in the Hsinyi district of Taipei extended their hours, keeping the area lit, for the reported 400,000 people who were present to watch the spectacular fireworks display coming from the Taipei 101 building. I really wish I could have been there.
What is remarkable about these images, and the panoramas are nice in their own right, is how it illustrates something in which we take part in and witness on a daily basis – but we never see it to this scale or degree. A high percentage of the people in the image are all recording the event via their pocket sized or cell phone digital cameras. Technology in this case has become a remarkable enabler, allowing a large group of people to record a special moment in their lives and potentially sharing instantly with an expotentially larger group of people via mms, services like Flickr, blogs, and old fashioned in person photo sharing.
This is pretty special and powerful. If the services remain available and open it goes beyond simply recording and sharing special events. The people become the big brother watching over the “powers that be” with the ability to record and report transgressions – that’s allot of eyes on the ground.
None of this new of course. It’s just seeing it on this scale that blew me away.
It’s a terribly academic sounding title – it’s all that came to mind at the moment.

Pop Wuping Launch

I haven’t been that busy around this site of late as I have been devoting a significant amount of time over the past couple of months developing a new site which is linked in the footer and on my contact page. It’s called Pop Wuping.
I think we all have our minor product obsessions or idiosyncrasies (some call it an object fetish); some people collect sneakers, others buy too many shoes, some have to have all the latest gadgets, while others may have the luxury of buying a new car every year. For me it’s always been bags and t-shirts (to a much lesser extent sneakers as well). So I created Pop Wuping as an online buying guide for people who might share my interest or who might benefit from having someone find the best bags and t-shirts available on the web. It also serves as a research tool for me as I have had a dream of having my own line of bags and apparel – as farfetched an that idea may be. It still being developed but have a visit and let me know what you think.
Now that I am getting into a groove I hope to learn to enjoy managing all the blogs I have created (and am creating).
Pop Wuping

(Garret IA) 描述信息结构和交互设计的图示词汇表

I don’t think I have linked to the Chinese version of JJ Garrett’s Visual Vocabulary in the past. Though not set in Big 5 this could use some promotion as more Taiwanese designers start to understand and utilize the fundamental building blocks of building web sites that IA is. Using a shared visual vocabulary such as this saves us time and effort.
“图表是网络应用开发团队(Web development teams)在沟通信息架构和交互设计方面最基本的工具。本文所讨论的是使用图表来描述系统时所要考虑的事宜、信息架构和用户交互设计时使用这些基本元素的要点,并且介绍这些元素的使用方法。”
Jesse James Garrett: Visual Vocabulary for Information Architecture (Chinese)

A Form Usability Checklist (ALA)

I’m a bit behind in hitting my usual reading material haunts but from my favourite web development magazine comes this fine article:

“Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, not more difficult. As usability-conscious designers, we can make our users’ lives easier by thinking about the way people interact with our websites, providing clear direction, and then putting the burden of sorting out the details in the hands of the computers—not the users.
It’s that last part that we’re going to focus on here. We’ve all heard and read about big usability mistakes time and time again: “Don’t use images or flash for navigation,” “Don’t use Javascript for links,” and I certainly hope we’re all applying those lessons in our work. It’s often the smallest usability quirks, however, that create the biggest annoyances for users, especially when it comes to HTML forms. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be off to a good start.”

Read: Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist

Camino Browser revisited

While visiting Chientai at his beautiful new office in the Creativity Lab I noticed his new browser of choice Camino. I hadn’t seen or used this browser in quite some time and quite happy to see it’s development continue. For me the greatest improvement since I last took time to use Camino is the visceral changes to the UI. I like it allot. I’ve never been a fan of the pinstripe look found in many earlier examples of Apples software interfaces and I am one of the few who probably likes the brush metal look of supposed Apples media software. I do join the chorus in my disappointment that Apple seems to lack consistency through-out it’s software UI. Perhaps the rapid changes apparent in web interfaces are affecting the software development culture.
If you haven’t tried Camino in awhile go have a look. It’s works really well.

Christmas Books on IA and Teams

I received a number of books for Christmas and I thought I would share a couple. I’m not one for book reviews but I’m sure some of the thoughts contained in these books will make it into later posts. I have hard time getting through my library of texts pertaining to Information Architecture, Experience Design, and the like. You have to be pretty dedicated to read from the beginning to end George Lakoff’s “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” or even Sorting Things Out. These books just seem very dry. I have high hopes for Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability which at first glance looks well written with an easily digestible format similar to Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”. Amazon describes the book better than I will as follows:

“How do you find your way in an age of information overload? How can you filter streams of complex information to pull out only what you want? Why does it matter how information is structured when Google seems to magically bring up the right answer to your questions? What does it mean to be “findable” in this day and age? This eye-opening new book examines the convergence of information and connectivity. Written by Peter Morville, author of the groundbreaking Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, the book defines our current age as a state of unlimited findability. In other words, anyone can find anything at any time. Complete navigability.”

The other book, Ricardo Semier’s “Maverick” might also prove to be a good read and it’s a topic I’m quite interested in – how to transform your workplace. Here’s a long passage from the end of the book:

“To survive in modern times, a company must have an organizational structure that accepts change as its basic premise, lets tribal customs thrive, and fosters a power that is derived from respect, not rules. In other words, the successful companies will be the ones that put quality of life first. Do this and the rest – quality of product, productivity of workers, profits for all – will follow. At Semco we did away with strictures that dictate the “hows” and created fertile soil for differences. We gave people an opportunity to test, question, and disagree. We let them determine their own futures. We let them come and go as they wanted, work at home if they wished, set their own salaries, choose their own bosses. We let them change their minds and ours, prove us wrong when we are wrong, make us humbler. Such a system relishes change, which is the only antidote to the corporate brainwashing that has consigned giant businesses with brilliant pasts to uncertain futures.”

Ambient Findability : What We Find Changes Who We Become and Maverick : The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace