Hsinchu HSR station and bling

I arrived by car at the Hsinchu HSR station yesterday to two full parking lots. I thought at first that somehow the concept of driving to a station at least 20 minutes from anywhere in Hsinchu had at last caught on. After parking on the street two blocks away, I discovered that someone had the brilliant idea of sectioning off a 1/3 of the available parking spaces to store construction materials for a building going up next door. I guess the open fields adjacent to the project weren’t suitable.
I missed my train but luckily still managed to arrive in Taipei for a meeting with a minute to spare. Once you get to the station and get on the train it’s the most convenient way to arrive in the city.
Post meeting I had a spare hour and decided to roam around the streets of Shi Da. We lived on the lower depths of Tungan St. for our first year in Taiwan and like a million other people had many of our first food experiences in the Shi Da market. Since I hadn’t had lunch I was anxious to try something from one of the restaurants I used to frequent. Unfortunately mid-afternoon isn’t the best time of day to go shopping for food so I decided to try the old foreigner haunt Grandma Nitti’s. I’m happy to report that the place is still a dump and the food still somewhat a health hazard. I guess when I arrived ten years ago it seemed quaint – we didn’t have a real kitchen and wanted to eat the familiar but it now seems like a waste. I ordered a burger and it arrived rare and squirted blood all over my pants. They did have a beautiful overweight dog laying around which I guess makes it feel more bohemian. He seemed interested in my raw hamburger but I didn’t want him to get sick too.
Though it came too late, I did get a nice twitter message from Steve Leggat with advice: ‘ … good pizza and pasta over the road at Peacock though. Or KGB across from Wellcome. Mo!Relax cafe is good too, but smoky’. I might try those next time.
After lunch I made a hasty exit to the bathroom to wash the evidence of my carnivorous ways. My server breathed a sigh of relief when I met her on the stairs – she thought I left with out paying. I smiled and paid my bill.
Next stop ATM machine and the MRT which I think doesn’t have enough strategically placed route maps. Those of us who don’t ride the system everyday need a little reassurance that we are lining up for the right train. They line-up to get train tickets on the HSR was long and hot. I stared in disbelief at the two ladies wearing far too much cheap bling discussing on their mobile with someone who seemed to be standing off in the distance somewhere just how many tickets they need and for what time. This decision seemed to be of the utmost importance and very difficult as after 30 minutes of multiple calls and running back and forth they were still standing there.

[Bits] 15 Interface design resources

10 Futuristic User Interfaces
Good user interfaces are crucial for good user experience. It doesn’t matter how good a technology is — if we, designers, don’t manage to make user interface as intuitive and attractive as possible, the technology will hardly reach a breakthrough. To gain the interest in a new product or technology, users need to understand its advantages or find themselves impressed or involved.
10 Best Application UIs of 2008
Many winners employ dashboards to give users a single overview of complex information and use lightboxes to ensure that users notice dialogs. Also, the Office 2007 ribbon showed surprisingly strong early adoption.
History’s 5 Best Interface Designs
Modern interface designers hate you. With few exceptions, the modern gadget is as impossible to navigate as were the seas before the sextant and the marine chronometer. The reason? The internal functions bear no relationship to anything we might encounter in the real world, so arbitrary abstractions are needed to bridge the gap between microchip and brain. Add to this the fact that the UI is often an afterthought in most devices and you end up with something like the RAZR, hated far and wide for its labyrinthine control layout.
An introduction to using patterns in web design
The biggest challenge for web designers is the unthinkably huge number of possible ways to solve any given problem. We usually don’t think of this because we have our habits and traditions to fall back on, but there are literally billions of possible pixel combinations for each page we make. There is a better way to manage this vast complexity than by making big decisions up front and hoping for the best. To make better sites–sites that are functional, beautiful, and “usable”–we have to break our design problems up into small independent chunks based on the real issues within our requirements. Christopher Alexander, who came up with this stuff, calls these chunks patterns.
IA Summit: Design patterns in the real world
“James Reffell and Micah Alpern presented eBay’s evolving body of solutions to Design Patterns in the Real World at IA Summit 2006. As their business and design teams grew exponentially over the past few years, eBay began to have problems maintaining design consistency within their products. Once the number of designers at eBay grew past “a number that could effectively coordinate amongst themselves” the complexity of the eBay platform and the rate at which products needed to be delivered contributed to lots of unintentionally inconsistent design work. People were reinventing the wheel and lots of information was being lost. To address these issues, eBay’s design team tried several approaches.”
User Interface Design Patterns
It has long been common practice to use recurring solutions to solve common problems. Such solutions are also called design patterns. Collections of software design patterns are standard reference points for the experienced user interface designer. This website seeks to better the situation for the UI designer, who struggles with the same problems as many other UI designers have struggled with before him.
Pattern Tap is here to satisfy and encourage the inspiration needs of my interface design peers and peeps. We aspire to be the one stop pattern shop for your next inspiration need.
Factory Joe’s Design Patterns. This collection captures findings of consistent, unique or interesting interfaces and design flows from across the web.
AJAX & Interface Design
In order to communicate content updates to users, many AJAX applications have adopted attention-getting techniques to highlight interface changes. Color change and animation are two of the most common approaches.
And The Yahoo Design Pattern Library, Webpatterns.org, Guspim’s Design Solutions Collection, Ten Usability Heuristics, First Principles of Interaction Design, Introduction to Apple Human Interface Guidelines.

Graspable User Interfaces

George Fitzmaurice on Graspable User Interfaces in his thesis of the same name:

“A Graspable UI design provides users concurrent access to multiple, specialized input devices which can serve as dedicated physical interface widgets, affording physical manipulation and spatial arrangements. Hence input control can be “space-multiplexed.”
That is, different devices can be attached to different functions, each independently (but possibly simultaneously) accessible. This, then affords the capability to take advantage of the shape, size and position of the physical controller to increase functionality and decrease complexity. It also means that the potential persistence of attachment of a device to a function can be increased. By using physical objects, we not only allow users to employ a larger expressive range of gestures and grasping behaviors but also to leverage off of a user’s innate spatial reasoning skills and everyday knowledge of object manipulations. These physical artifacts are essentially “graspable functions” — input devices which can be tightly coupled or “attached” to virtual objects for manipulation, or for expressing actions. These artifacts need to have spatially-aware computational devices.”

An old definition of Information Design

Information design is concerned with transforming data into information, making the complex easier to understand and to use. It is a rapidly growing discipline that draws on typography, graphic design, applied linguistics, applied psychology, applied ergonomics, computing, and other fields. It emerged as a response to people’s need to understand and use such things as forms, legal documents, computer interfaces and technical information.
Information designers consider the selection, structuring and presentation of the information provider’s message in relation to the purposes, skills, experience, preferences and circumstances of the intended users. To do this they need specialist knowledge and skills in graphic communication and typography, the psychology of reading and learning, human-computer interaction, usability research and clear writing, plus an understanding of the potential and limitations of different media.
A definition from seemingly one of my most popular articles.
Years ago, I used to eat and breathe information architecture but alas it’s hard to live in theory forever. This kind of design practice had been and still is a hard sell in Taiwan. The evidence of which can be found in just about any government website or intranet.

Singapore MOE vs. Taiwan MOE

One can only be amazed (or perhaps disgusted) at the differences between Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) website and Singapore’s.
While I could nitpick, Singapore’s MOE site gave me the information I needed quickly and clearly. It looks like it was built with a goal of actually helping people find the information they need.
Taiwan’s MOE is a confusing mess of political and organizational data of interest to only those who wrote it. Their English site is useful to no one. It’s the type of masturbatory exercise so prevalent in many government information dissemination efforts here.
If you believe that what and how an entity communicates is an indication of the organization itself, by using their websites which organization do you think has their shit together? Which do you trust?
The signal to noise ratio is so out of whack, it’s no wonder people try to circumvent the system. One could spend their whole life trying to find accurate data (or do as we do pick up the phone and ask directly).
These problems have little to do with the lack of knowledge or practice in usability, design, or simple customer advocacy. There is talent here. It’s politics, poor organizational management, and lack of vision that creates these black holes.

Rock Island Blues Band



Found these photos on Facebook of a band I played in during/before college. Facebook always makes me feel old.
In these photos: Joey Kitson (vocals), Ron LeBlanc (drums), Barry Sorenson (tenor), Julian Spears (guitar), Colin Standfield (alto), Tom Easley (bass), and Clark MacLeod (trumpet). More info on Joey Kitson’s site.

Elementary school morass

There is an increasing sense of panic in our household this week as we come to terms with elementary school enrollment rules in Hsinchu.
Until earlier this week, we thought we had our daughter’s education under control. She’s had a good nanny who has helped make her completely fluent in Mandarin, we chose a small kindergarden in a great location with an emphasis on the kind of learning we value at her age, she goes to dance twice a week, and we plan on sending her to a math class on Saturdays. We want her to go to a local school and we had a few picked, both public and private, but what we completely glossed over was the age requirements for entering grade 1.
Our daughter, Catriona, was born on Sept. 25th but the rules state that a child must be six before Sept. 1st in order to gain admission. In order to attend ‘early’ a child must take an exam, an exam that reportedly only 10% pass. Of course the date to apply to take the exam has passed as well. One gets the impression that you start planning your child’s entrance to elementary school before they leave the womb.
Of course this is pretty critical. I cannot accept having her wait another year to attend elementary school and be the oldest child in the class.
So now we have to start getting favours from our network here, writing letters, and making phone calls in the hope that she can be allowed to write an exam. An exam that she will have prepare for daily. That’s allot of pressure for all involved and it seems insane to have to study for an exam at age 5. But that’s the system here.
Photo is from March 2007 of Catriona checking out Ming Fu elementary – one of our choices.
Update: We were told by the one private school in Hsinchu City that Catriona could attend ‘early’ without exam but not if she was going to stay for the full 6 years of elementary school. Also, she wouldn’t be able to transfer out of the private school to another local school. So they are able to bend the rules but if we plan on sending Catriona to elementary school in Taiwan longer than 3 years we are sol.

Ambient wants to make the world calmer

With Ambient the physical environment becomes an interface to digital information rendered as subtle changes in form, movement, sound, color or light.
Current information interfaces are either interruptive or too detailed. For the first time in history, ubiquitous wireless networks can affordably deliver digital information anytime, anywhere. The result for most of us is cacophony. Ambient wants to make the world calmer. Ambient Devices.

From an old ambient interface project of mine called unoriginally, Girls Ambient Room.

A bell is a bodhisattva

During retreats Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) encouraged participants to give calm, bright-eyed attention to each daily activity, whether eating a meal, drawing a Buddha, or just walking quietly, aware of the contact between our foot and the earth which supports it. In order to encourage this kind of mindfulness, a ‘bell master’ sounded a large bell regularly, and everyone stopped their activity, breathed three times, and recited silently, ‘Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.’ ‘A bell is a bodhisattva,’ Thay said, ‘It helps us to wake up.’ Peter Levitt, 1988

Sounds of Taiwan

This morning I registered the domain soundsoftaiwan.org. The .com, which for some reason I like more, is in use by Ring of Fire Music, a company commited ‘to searching out and bringing the best and most authentic traditional and modern musical currents of Taiwan to the world’. I like their catalogue.

Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways. Luigi Russolo

Five years ago or more I started to pay more attention to the sounds around me as I went about my daily routine and when I was on my frequent explorations around Hsinchu for 35togo. As odd as it may seem I started to enjoy the noise of my neighborhood and thought of all the mechanical sounds as music of sorts. ‘Too make a long story short’, this interest lead to a number of sound art installations, one of which featured hundreds of sound samples (or field recordings to use the proper parlance), but though wanting to continue the work I have as yet not had the ‘itch’ to do so.
If I can afford the some digital recording gear, I hope to create a library of sounds of Taiwan. It will be interesting to se where it leads.

Approaches to the design of sounds

In his thesis ‘Auditory Information Design‘, Barrass (1998) describes 7 types of approaches to the design of sounds that in particular support information processing activities – syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, perceptual, task-oriented, connotative, and device-oriented.

The syntactic approach focuses on the organization of auditory elements into more complex messages. The semantic approach focuses on the metaphorical meaning of the sound. The pragmatic method focuses on the psychoacoustic discrimination of the sounds. The perceptual method focuses on the significance of the relations between the sounds. The task-oriented method designs the sounds for a particular purpose. The connotative method is concerned with the cultural and aesthetic implications of the sound. The device-oriented method focuses on the transportability of the sounds between different devices, and the optimization of the sounds for a specific device”. (Barrass 1998).

It’s great reading if you are interested in Audio Interfaces.

Catriona and Hsinchu Bikini Girls

On early Saturday morning LuLu and I were out for an extended walk along Da Hu rd. and across the train tracks. It’s a nice walk but one I try to avoid as people, including tricks laden with flammable liquids, treat it as their own private race track.
LuLu and I came across a celebration of some sort (my 20 character vocabulary didn’t cover the titles on the sign) in a stage area just off Chung Hwa Rd. Seeing as there was to be dancing and an abundance of balloons I called Sheryl and she brought the kids. The mayor was there, who we seem to meet often, but I left before Catriona started asking for candy or gifts from him.
The only way I get to meet girls in bikini’s is via Catriona and she unabashedly agreed to have her picture taken with these two groups of ladies.

Read more

[Bits] On work, work, and working

Startup, Inc – What You Need To Know Before Starting A Company
Often people start a company without any clear idea of what a company is. Entrepreneurs closet themselves in the garage and start writing code. While the modern tech world could not exist without obsession, artistic inspiration and crazy engineers, there’s more to a startup than passion. Alex explores the basics behind corporate entities, stock, financing, and the key non-technical infrastructure every company should have.[via Swissmiss]
Walking the Line When You Work from Home
Working from home as a freelance contractor or remote employee can be a great thing, particularly if you live alone. But what if you have a spouse and/or children at home with you while you work? Every work environment offers distractions, but those who work from home with their families face a unique set of issues—and need equally unique ways of dealing with them.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Managing Multiple Jobs At Once
Some of us take on second jobs to make ends meet. Some do it for a chance to do the work they actually enjoy. And some of us create our own second jobs to build a business or create our own projects. No matter what the reason, though, juggling more than one job is guaranteed to be a crash course in time management. If you’re not careful, the word ‘crash’ could become more than figurative
Tim Ferriss interview
Whether you are a musician, entrepreneur, employee, or all three, everyone has too much stuff you have to do, and not enough time for the stuff you want to do.
If you have something that you would like to make and you just don’t know how to test it, make sure you’re scratching your own itch. Like Twitter: Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey created it in two weeks as a way to scratch their own itch. He said, “At least that way you know that one person is interested in having it.” It’s amazing how many otherwise smart, well-funded companies will use awful statistically-invalid focus groups, then say, “Well, no one in this room likes the idea, but our focus groups tell us that we should make it,” so of course the product comes out and it fails.

Political blogs vs. Obamedia

I just spent a couple hours procrastinating by reading a number of American political blogs with leanings toward the Republican political spectrum. I won’t say conservative because though many label themselves conservative, the values and opinions they express are anything but.
With the exception of Drudge (which I think is funny like the Onion) and the Huffington Post (which i guess is ‘liberal’ and funny like the Onion) I never read sites such as these.
It’s their community’s which are especially illuminating. So here off the top of my head a short list of memorabilia:

  • Russia wants Obama to win the election so they can run all over him
  • Obama is a pussy. Anyone not tough enough or who doesn’t advocate war is a pussy
  • If off-shore drilling will save me 2 cents a tank where is the downside? (unless you live on the coast of course)
  • Hummer’s seem to be a necessary accessory
  • Liberals all want to spit on the constitution
  • Lots and lots of tough aggressive talk – like I remember conversations in high school or while drunk
  • Lots of black and white thinking. Us and them. Liberal or Conservative. Against us or with us.
  • The media is run by liberals who are against ‘us’
  • Though proven ineffective torture is ok and desirable
  • The Republican leadership can do no wrong
  • It’s not the administrations fault ‘things’ (always see this word and never clear points) have gone the way they have
  • Obamedia
  • Liberalism is a mental disorder
  • There is a fight to take America back … from Americans (wtf?)
  • It seems anyone with an education is branded dumb and elitist. Especially if they went to an ivy league university

My uncle back home, who is one of my favourite people in the world, had similar thinking. He never voted on the issues or the person on the ballot but has fallowed the Liberal party religiously for as long as I can remember. But he was neither aggressive, nor violent, and was generally very kind to people regardless of their political or racial make-up. The kind of thinking I read was so utterly narrow that I can see how fractious debates in the have become.

User illusion

My main complaint (about modern interfaces) is that metaphor is a poor metaphor for what needs to be done. At PARC we coined the phrase ‘user illusion’ to describe what we were about when designing user interfaces. There are clear connotations to the stage, theatrics, and magic, all of which give much stronger hints as to the direction to be followed… should we transfer the paper metaphor so perfectly that the screen is as hard as paper to erase and change, clearly not. – Alan Kay

Certainly I need more data

Dailylit is an interesting service which I am giving a try. It delivers books in installments, via email or RSS. One per day. They have over 950 titles available, of which I am struggling to find something I am interested in reading. Many are free or available on a Pay-Per-Read basis.
Since I unfortunately spend most of my day in front of a screen this might be a good way to read something of value vs. the shit I read on blogs and news sites.

Seven Secrets for Better Brainstorming

  1. Sharpen the focus
    Good brainstormers start with a well-honed statement of the problem. This can be as simple as a question. Edgy is better than fuzzy. The session will get off to a better start-and you can bring people back into the main topic more easily-if you have a well-articulated description of the problem at just the right level of specificity.

    We’ve also found that the best topic statements focus outward on a specific customer need or service enhancement rather than focusing inward on some organizational goal. On the other hand, a series of more specific, customer-focused brainstorms on topics like “How can we accelerate the time-to-first-result for customers searching via dial-up modems” could uncover innovations that might ultimately yield the competitive edge you are looking for.
  2. Playful rules
    Don’t start to critique or debate ideas. It can sap the energy of the session pretty quickly. You need a way to turn aside critiques without turning off the critiquers completely. At IDEO many of our conference rooms have brainstorming rules stenciled in six-inch-high letters on the walls, for example, “Go for quantity,” “Encourage wild ideas,” or “Be visual.” Not willing to mark up your walls?
  3. Number your ideas
    Numbering the ideas that bubble up in a brainstorm helps in two ways. First, it’s a tool to motivate the participants before and during the session (“Let’s try to get a hundred ideas before we leave the room”) or to gauge the fluency of a complete brainstorm. Second, it’s a great way to jump back and forth from idea to idea without lasing track of where you are.
  4. Build and jump
    Watch for chances to “build” and “jump.” High-energy brainstormers tend to follow a series of steep “power” curves, in which momentum builds slowly, then intensely, then starts to plateau. The best facilitators can nurture an emerging conversation with a light touch in the first phase and know enough to let ideas flow during the steep part of the ideation curve. It’s when energy fades on a line of discussion that the facilitator really earns his or her keep.

    Try building on an idea. Encourage another push or introduce a small variation. Or take a jump, either back to an earlier path you skipped by too quickly or forward to a completely new approach. Whatever you do, try to get into the next power curve and keep the energy up.
  5. The space remembers
    Write the flow of ideas down in a medium visible to the whole group. There are many emerging digital technologies for group work, but we have had great success with extremely low-tech tools like Sharpie markers, giant Post-its for the walls, and rolls of old-fashioned butchershop paper on the tables.

    Cover virtually every wall and flat surface with paper before the session starts. And you may find there’s a certain synergy in physically moving around the room writing down and sketching the ideas. As you rapidly capture the team’s ideas, make a mental note of ones that are worth coming back to during a build or a jump. When you return to the spot on the wall where that idea was captured, spatial memory will help people recapture the mind-set they had when the idea first emerged.
  6. Stretch your mental muscles
    People are busy. Time is short. Is it worthwhile to “burn” some time at the beginning of a brainstorm doing some form of group warm-up? Maybe. But that “maybe” rapidly becomes a “yes” in certain circumstances:

    • When the group has not worked together before
    • When most of the group doesn’t brainstorm frequently
    • When the group seems distracted by pressing but unrelated issues

    One type of warm-up we practice is a fast-paced word game simply to clear the mind (Zen practitioners call it “beginner’s mind”) and to get the team into a more outgoing mode. Another warm-up is to do some content-related homework.

  7. Get physical
    Good brainstormers are extremely visual. They include sketching, mind mapping, diagrams, and stick figures. You don’t have to be an artist to get your point across with a sketch or diagram. Leave your performance anxieties at the door and jump in with whatever visual tools you have available.

    But the best brainstormers often get physical. We move beyond two dimensions and push for three. The first way we do this is to bring in everything but the kitchen sink (and we’ve brought the sink, too, when it was relevant). The second way we get physical is to have materials on hand to build crude models of a concept: block, foam core, tubing, duct tape, whatever might be useful. The third physical approach is “bodystorming,” where we act out current behavior/usage patterns and see how they might be altered. We’ve bodystormed on products ranging from vending machines to car seats, where our skits and scenarios pointed to all kinds of opportunities for improvement.

Excerpted from Art of Innovation, Kelly, pg. 56-62.

Time keeps on slipping into the future

Dates seem to be playing a larger role in my life than at any time in the past. The past is something that I spend far too much time thinking about as well. Perhaps this is a symptom of my advancing age or more likely I have allowed myself to settle into the boredom of ordinary life.
Either way the next few months seem to represent a number of milestones:

  • this month I have been married for 12 years
  • this month marks my 10th year of living in Taiwan (9 of it in Hsinchu)
  • next month my daughter turns 5
  • the month after that marks 19 years that I have been with my wife (we lived in sin for 7 years)

Writing it down makes it seem less auspicious. I’m not convinced that having spent 10 years on this rock is something to be proud of. It feels like an endurance test more than anything.
The title comes from Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle (songza) which for some reason started playing in my head when I was jotting this down. Perhaps Daniel Levitin’s book has an answer as to why.

[Bits] Food and reading

Peak Energy and What That Means For Food
The rising cost of energy could be an opportunity to address big problems- a catalyst for positive change. With that in mind we must frame this not as ‘the end of the world’ but as the beginning of something better.
Food Sovereignty and the Collapse of Nations
Here in the United States about 40% of our population farmed for a living around the turn of the 20th century. By 1950 that number had dropped to 12%. Today fewer than 2% do the work of growing food in America as we too have industrialized and urbanized our population. The other 98% of us work at a job which provides us money that allows us to buy food from a small number of domestic producers and from others who grow it abroad. We have given up our own food sovereignty as a people and instead rely almost entirely on an economic system to provide us with meals.
Louise Fili design
Restaurant identity & food packaging. Beautiful typography.
Online, R U Really Reading?
Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among educational policy makers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.
What the Internet is doing to our brains
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
A different approach to reading RSS feeds
Instead of treating news like email (as most RSS readers do), Times presents you with headlines and photos from a variety of sources all in one place, letting you more easily discover the news you want to read. Like your own personal newspaper, you can put feeds into separate areas, create pages for different subjects, and more.