Monday, June 22, 2009

Travelling Dick

A rather unfortunate choice of font ...

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Playing with Wolfram Alpha

Taipei to Cambridge

Spending an hour or so playing with Wolfram Alpha - the new darling of the internet world. Google's intellectual cousin? It doesn't seem to impressed by many of my questions ...

Comparing Apples to Apples

Hmmmm ... will play with it some more some time.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Laos & Cambodia - Predux

Getting some headspace on my 'Data Holiday' in Laos & Cambodia - and watching kids messing around in the Mekong River

I just got back from ten days of exploring and generally running around Laos and Cambodia, and am feeling all the better for it. My self-imposed ban on all feeds digital, 'e', 'i', 'www' and mobile worked pretty well, and I will be doing this activity on a more regular basis in future - it's just too easy for me to get caught up in all the pace and excitement of a thousand trillion bits of information all vying for your attention - and most of those bits being things I set up for myself.

I have a big pile of photos to sort out, and some architecting (if that is a word) of my images. I took the plunge and bought a new camera ('finally!', I hear you say) - a Canon 5D, allowing me to gain free access to the lenses and toys of my flat mate's 5D MkII - and have been shooting in 'digital negative' RAW. I am quite excited about the extra options this will give me, but a little unsure of how I want the workflow to operate, since iPhoto does not really help me too much in that respect. I am messing around with Adobe Lightroom, and I suppose I will be spending the next few weeks working out how I want my data to exist. One thing is for sure - my spacious 250 Gb internal hard drive that I bought six or so months ago is now 40 Gb from becoming full up, and shooting in RAW is going to knock that space out in a jiffy.

Anyway - I'll aim to pump out a bunch of images in the conventional fashion using iPhoto for the time being so I can get a full blog post up, and then perhaps use Flickr more for my artsy fartsy messing around with images. All very exciting.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Dopplr 2008

I have been amusing myself over the past year with Web 2.0 darling - essentially a set of tools to help plan, track, analyse and prod your travel, and allow you to see where fellow travelly friends are likely to be. It has taken quite some time to find anyone I know that uses it, but it has slowly grown into a nice thing that I believe has some potential, with a similar amount of interaction and intensity as Linked-In. This is actually an advantage in my view - I have a suspicion sites like Facebook that demand your everyday and immediate attention will fade as quickly as they appear. But I might be drastically wrong about that.

My raumzeitgeist. Whatever that means.

Along with the 'social' aspects of the site, it has some nice tools to make you feel guilty about the amount of carbon you are using (about 7500 kg for me in 2008 - oops!) and one or two fun toys, as you can see. We'll see how it goes, but do connect to me if you can find me.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Taipei Taxi Accessories

Taipei Taxis usually have some surprises up their sleeves, with multiple DVD players, karaoke systems, and imaginative nicotine delivery systems. Here are a couple of recent ones that made me smile sitting in the back listening to wailing Chinese pop music.

This one was great - the guy had two cell phones that perfectly squeezed into the space between the steering wheel and the airbag (now that would really be speed dialing if he crashes). The fact that the other phone was a Sony Ericsson made me question which came first - the car or the phone? And what was on the screen when I got in after landing? - a 3G web site of flights landing at the airport.

Slightly less practical, I admit - but why bother about being able to see out, when it is just so pretty!

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Not Made in China

There is quite a backlash against Chinese produce at the moment, and it is affecting the well-known scare stories like eggs and milk, but also spilling over into other products that I suppose the marketers believe can get some traction with. Hence, batteries; the sticker says "Not Made in China" (非中國: fei zhong guo).

Made in Singapore, none the less - I didn't even know they had any factories there.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Taipei Times - Dictionaries for Learning Chinese

This month, I review two electronic learning aids developed for people learning Chinese. This time, however, they are produced by Asian companies.

Read the reviews here:

XCome Dictionary for Asus EeePC & Dr Eye Han Easy (html page) (pdf)


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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology 2

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

It's two in two weeks, as I am introducing the mobile section of my Chinese language review series.

I do aim to catch up with developments in my new job but I have barely had a moment to think thus far - it is making DEM seem like a holiday, so far. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

Taipei Times - Chinese Learning Technology

It's been a wee while, but I am back on the writing bandwagon after a 'sabbatical' - or rather, a break while I got my head around changing jobs and going on holiday.

But here it is - and this is something I want to make regular - a focus on learning Chinese technology for those of us not blessed by having Chinese parents.

Tune in next week for mobile products!

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Friday, February 01, 2008

2D Barcodes - QR Codes


QR codes are big in Japan - you'll see them everywhere, from posters, to concert tickets and even the stamp for your passports. As a kind of 2D barcode, they are doing the thing that RFID tags were supposed to a few years ago, albeit in a rather lower tech form. Just point your QR code-enabled phone at the graphic, and you can grab a hyperlink, phone number or simple text string.

And my prediction? With the imminent Google phone, they will use this as a Trojan Horse to roll out QR codes in Europe.

Make you own: QR Codes

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taipei Times - Asus Eee PC & HTC Touch Dual

Here's the latest installment of my monthly technology review for the Taipei Times. This month, I take a peek at the Asus Eee PC and the HTC Touch Dual. Take a look here!

Taipei Times - Technology Review - Asus Eee PC and HTC Touch Dual

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Chinese Burn

After many months of almost getting my backside in gear, I have finally got round to creating a blog in Chinese. Finally, I hope that this provides me with an easy way to enjoyably prepare written work for my Chinese teacher!

I want it to be a dynamic document, so if you are a Chinese speaker and have problems with sentences (which you will!) do let me know and I will keep it updated.

Let's see how I do!

Link: Chinese Burn

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Coldcut in Taipei

Coldcut came to Taiwan as part of HP's 'Art in Motion' tour, and totally blew me away. I was asked to provide the write-up for the Taipei Times, so rather than say the same thing again, here are my words from the newspaper:

Taipei Times 'Weekender'

Last night saw the Taipei instalment of the HP-sponsored ‘Art in Motion’ tour at Luxy, featuring British legends Coldcut, Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark and VJ support from Berlin crew Pfadfinderei. Ostensibly a fusion of music and live visuals, early on the show seemed like an extended advert for HP’s personal computers, and with guidance from the most irritating emcee in Asia was beginning to unfold into some kind of hip-hop-themed ‘wei-ya’ end of year party.

However, things began to improve quickly when Nu-Mark took to the decks and wowed the crowds by mixing sampled beats with a selection of increasingly unlikely musical children's’ toys. Innovative, and unlike the local beat-boxing warm up act, not a bit self-indulgent, the crowd responded with a mixture of laughter and butt-on-the-floor boogying.

With the audience now suitably warmed up, Coldcut entered stage right and took no prisoners with a ballistic delivery of hip-hop, dub and electronic beats, all synchronised with nine projectors beaming video and images around the room in an awesome display of digital showmanship. Jumping from the more obscure references of their own back-catalogue, they never allowed themselves to alienate the newcomers and regularly dropped in samples from sources as diverse as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, Run DMC and AC/DC. Taipei barely knew what hit them.

With Nu-Mark resuming control, the entire room bounced the rest of the night away to the sounds of a thousand house parties, and the best music Taipei has heard in several years.

Colcut - to the limit

Nick keeps it nice and sleazy

And some other words from Tom, as featured in 'The Vinyl Word' last week:

Taipei Times - 'The Vinyl Word'

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Trippin TV

Hello to the folks at Trippin TV that featured my blog in their reviews - very kind words!

Link: Trippin TV

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Taipei Times - Mac v Vista

My latest article for the Taipei Times is out, and hopefully this gives me a few weeks of relaxation - the last couple of months have been rather overloaded (in more ways than one).

One thing I hoped to do was introduce very briefly some of the changes to the Chinese input systems on both of the product - but this is potentially an entire article in itself - now there is an idea! Enjoy.

Taipei Times - Mac OS X 'Leopard' v Microsoft Windows Vista

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Taipei Times - GPS

Here is my latest article for the Taipei Times.

This month I have mostly been testing ... GPS

Find it here.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Apple Web Gallery

I have taken the plunge. I needed / wanted to give myself some more space for photos, so after weeks of deliberation (just ask Jade) I have opted to use Apple's Web Gallery.

In many ways, I preferred Flickr, but with a potential move to China this option would be pretty inconvenient. It's not perfect - images uploaded are not full size and show signs of compression, managing the photos is a little primitive, and sometimes it behaves a little strangely, but for a no-brainer, super fast image upload system, this has to be a great option.

Check out my pictures here:

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Chinese System

I think it is worth talking a little about the technology I use, on a day to day basis, to learn Chinese. Some of it definitely does not work, some of it I think is very effective, and some is just fun. Also, after a while, I begin to forget what the actual systems are that I use when people ask, so writing this I hope could be useful!



I have been using Palms for the last two and a half years or so, and this is certainly my main centre of learning Chinese. Starting with a Sony Clié PEG-SJ35, and moving on to a Palm Tungsten T3, I am now using a Palm Treo 680 that is able to do everything I think I need, day to day.


Chinese IME: CKJOS
This is the system that allows the Palm to view and write Chinese. I can type using PinYin or ZhuYin or write with the stylus, but it does lack some of the predictive text capabilities of PalmDragon that I had installed on the Clié.

Dictionary: Dr. Eye
I use this everyday and this is one of the most important pieces of software that I own. With it, I can translate from English to Chinese, or vice versa. It only does one word at a time, so it is a little inconvenient, and it seems to be missing words quite often. Sometimes, things like copy and paste are a little esoteric, but on the whole it seems to work.

Flash Cards: Supermemo
This is the most used piece of software in my arsenal of Chinese learning tools. It drives me up the wall, is completely inflexible, but I have so much invested in it now that there is no turning back - and being honest I really enjoy it, treating learning cards more like a computer game. Using the intelligent flash cards each day, it ends up that it only ever tests me on the characters that I find really difficult - the way it should be, of course, but why not flatter me a little more?! On average, I get about 75 cards a day from a total pool of 3700 at the moment.

Other software: I have tried loads of other pieces of software over the years and in almost all cases I have been unimpressed. Please let me know if you have any more additions to the pile because I would be delighted to learn more!


Mac Software

Chinese IME: QIM
This seems to be much slicker than the standard PinYin input mechanism that comes as standard with OSX. You don't need to be so accurate with your tones, which is great some of the time, and completely infuriating the rest of the time when you are trying to learn. It's pretty decent, overall, and allows you to look at nice, big, smoothly rendered characters.

Dictionary: WenLin
I have yet to completely get to grips with this monster of a program, but I have been assured by several people that this is the way to go. I'll probably do another entry, specifically on that, when I do get around to learning it properly.

Dictionary: Wordlookup
This is a nice, simple dictionary that Markus showed me, and I use this most of the time for quickly looking up things. I like the way that returns the results, compared to some of the other products out there like Atomix Dojam (horrid).

Dictionary: TranslateIt
I tried this for a little while, but in the end I went back to the simpler Wordlookup, while waiting to get moving on WenLin. Seems okay though.

There is also an excellent summary of Mac software (along with some others) at the Yale University Council for East Asian Studies.

PC Software:

Chinese IME: Google PinYin
I love this. It's the best input system so far that I have found. I am pretty sure it is constantly checking with a server online to make sure the sentence is in context, and it really allows me to write entire swathes of text without needing to select a character from the list. It sometimes seems to be missing the most basic characters, though, hiding them deep within the selection list. Very impressive, overall.

Dictionary: Dr Eye
I have not used this in a while, due to the annoying little popup menu, but this is certainly the most popular system for Taiwanese people. I should reinstall it, really, and give it another chance.

Firefox Plug-Ins and Online

Dictionary: ChinesePera-Kun
I just installed this today and I am quite impressed so far. The basic idea is that it displays a wee little popup when you hover over a Chinese character on a website. There seem to be some neat featured, such as export.

Online Dictionary: Systran
I have not used this site in a while, because sometimes it bugs me to register, but it's not bad for those times when you need to brutally translate an e-mail or section of text.

Dictionary: Google Toolbar
There is an auto-translate function in here, but it only seems to go English-Chinese, so I got bored and disabled it today when I got ChinesePera-Kun up and running. Google being Google, I am pretty sure they will get it all up and running soon enough, and tie it all in with the IME - here's hoping.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Taipei Times - Back Up

Latest Article in the Taipei Times, this time talking about different back up hardware. Enjoy!

Taipei Times - Technology Review

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Taipei Times - Lamborghini V Ferrari

My second piece published for the Taipei Times, evaluating the Ferrari Acer notebook and Williams Optics binoculars, versus the Asus Lamborghini notebook computer.

I am rapidly running out of cool Taiwanese technology to review, so if anyone has any ideas do let me know!

Taipei Times Review

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Taipei Times - Technology Review

I have not been posting much of late - mainly because I have been writing more for print, and today I have my first newspaper article to write home about!

It's a piece about Taiwan's response to the iPhone, and you can read it at the Taipei Times - the biggest English language newspaper in Taiwan, and one of the largest 'native Chinese' newspapers in the world:

Taiwan Times - Technology Review

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I have visited dozens of factories in my time, but I never lose my enthusiasm for seeing new ones. We were visiting a client's supplier to ascertain their capabilities, and I was just fascinated by the machinery. I never knew how fabric tubes were made before, but I do now - anything from about 10mm wide, up to over a metre wide ... though I am not quite sure what for.

Squared circle

The machinery was a funny mix of new kit and apparently reconditioned Japanese aparatus. There were alarmingly few safety barriers or guards, and for a gangly Westerner this proved to be quite hazardous - especially when dealing with rows of spinning needles and winding fabric.

In-house temple

Ta Ting Tumbler

I really liked their storage system, which reminded me a bit of some libraries that store books on mobile shelves. And their colour scheme was rad!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

I am playing with quite a few Web 2.0 thingies at the moment. is a British-based community audio site. It automatically uploads your tracks, decides your listening habits and makes recommendations based on that data. It is still early days, but I keep finding myself skipping tracks I don't want people to 'hear'!

You can find my profile here: Jonathan Biddle's profile

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

3000 Words in Chinese

I just learnt my 3000th word in Chinese! Kind of a magic number for me to reach, because they say I should be able to start reading basic newspapers now. We shall see.

I know this because I tap every word I learn into my trusty Palm, and use Supermemo software to give me daily tests. Strictly speaking, I guess I know 3000 English words; I am not sure exactly how that transposes into discrete Chinese characters but it is probably about the same when you average it out.

Out of interest, you can see when I passed the 2000 mark at the end of last September, here: 2000 Chinese Characters

So, over this 6 month period, that is over 40 new words per week going into my head! I just wonder what must be being shoved aside to make space. My French, that is for sure.

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The new new hot new hot thing is Twitter. Not quite sure what it does yet, or if it is important, but all I know it is the hottest site on the internet and I have to have it set up before anyone else I know!

Jonathan Biddle's Twitter Page

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Saturday, January 20, 2007


Geoblogging really getting much easier ... just stumbled across Wikimapia which is an amalgamation of Googlemaps and Wikipedia ... exceptionally easy to add GIS information to your web page.

I live here

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Camera

Last night I bought a new Camera.

I have been yearning for a camera with more manual control so I can have a bit more fun creatively. My little Canon Ixy is great, and I can take it everywhere but I do miss taking time to compose photographs. I do still have my venerable Olympus OM10 SLR from the 1970s, and I would continue using it, were it not for the hassle and price of film processing. I looked at quite a lot of digital SLRs, but they were both huge and I always had the feeling that the technology was much smarter than me. I wanted something compact and with proper manual controls - so I opted for a second-hand Panasonic Lumix LC1. You can read about it here, should you be so inclined.

Incidentally, the photo below is taken with the web-cam built into my new MacBook. I kind of overlooked this gimmick, but it has been really great. I had a fantastic full screen video chat with Dad last night, and the software Photo Booth is hilarious fun and great for taking ad-hoc photos on the fly.

Anyway, I had a nice walk through Taipei today. The weather is just perfect at the moment. Cool and breezy, lowish humidity and clear skies. The folks back home will hate to hear me writing this but we are still walking around in t-shirts. Indeed, the first time I wore a thin jacket was this week. This will change in the next few weeks as Autumn and Winter catches up with us.

On the way I enjoyed taking plenty of photos and I am looking forward to playing with it more. The manual focus is not all it could be, but it has been lovely to really have full control over aperture and exposure.

In my room last night playing with the exposure

Walking past the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation today ... I saw this rather charming sign ... not to self: visit the Taiwan Beer Bar ...

I love coming across old Japanese colonial buildings. It is an architectural heritage that Taiwan more or less ignores, even as the country scrabbles to find and define its national identity. I have this hope that one day these dwellings will become as desirable as a loft in the Docklands of London, but I think there is some way to go yet.

Sticker near Main Station ... the mood has changed in the last few weeks as people seem to have lost their interest in trying to depose Chen.

On my way to Ximen

Sushi Express has turned into a safety net for me ... and I love the way I never eat too much. Just pay for each mouth full

Local old lads discussing gambling

And some feet further along the same street


Thursday, September 28, 2006

2056 - Supermemo

Yesterday, I passed rather a milestone - I have now learnt more than 2000 characters!

I have not spoken a great deal about my learning Chinese, except for the occasional moments of frustration or amusing anecdotes. But, it does consume an enormous part of my free time here in Taiwan.

Six hours tutoring after work each work - strategically placed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 o'clock - plus about four hours again at the weekend, have slowly but surely raised my Chinese skills to a level at which I could perhaps compete with a five year old. A very stupid five year old.

I have been here for more than two years now and I can conclusivly say that learning Chinese has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is ridiculous. And I am positive that if if you were designing a language system, this would absolutely not be the way to do it. And yet... billions do. Amazing.

The other weapon / toy in my armoury is my trusty Palm. I went for 18 months with my old Sony Clie, and recently upgraded to a much cooler Tungsten T3 - with Bluetooth and higher resolution. On this is a piece of software called Supermemo, and into this I place all my vocabulary, including that from the text books. It gives me daily tests and turns the tedious process of learning thousands of characters into something more akin to a computer game, its algorithm intelligently learning which characters I am good (or more likely bad) at. Some relentlessly return every day, and will be tested again in over two years time!

So, every day over breakfast I am doing flashcards as I eat. Usually, I will have about 70 cards in total, but from the first book (about 950 words) I now get tested on about 10 per day - pretty cool. Furthermore, I have added almost 500 of my own characters - mainly related to work, design ... bike, babes and beer.

Palm T3

The geek factor - but we all know how much we love stats in sports. Same here.

An example flash card, showing the answer.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Web 2.0

I have been messing around with the Web 2.0 stuff recently - good to be on the wagon, as it were.

Anyway, the two sites below maybe show my professional, and my personal sides. If you find me there, do look me up.

Linked In

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Great Firewall of China

I have set up e-mail blog posting because I have a strong suspicion that I will not be able to post directly to my blog while in China - bypassing the firewall put in place by the authorities. We will see if it works!

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