Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wake Boarding Taiwan

Wave rider

Nick had the genius to book a day of wake boarding in west Taipei, near Wugu. After incessant requests from my sister to go while in the UK, I finally had the opportunity to bite the bullet, and 'shred the rad', as we wake boarders say. It took a few attempts to get up on my feet, but after that it was fun in the sun. A perfect activity for an oppressively humid day in Taipei, and one that I would like to repeat in the near future. Add to that this morning's mountain bike ride, and I had a real 'action' weekend ... and my body aches to prove it.

The price of old rope

Sneak pics

Taipei Yacht Club

Beautiful clear water - just don't touch the bottom.

Rear view mirror

Views to the mountains / motor ways. It was nice to see Taipei from a different angle ...

... which I did. Several times.

Rocket man.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Fixed Gear Taiwan 2.0

2 wheels good. 4 wheels better. 6 wheels best.

... my third bike in Taiwan, courtesy of Ken, it's already been modded with white grips and new saddle. I still need to put some proper KM on it, but isn't it pretty?!

Checking the scene at PS Tapas in Taipei

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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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Monday, March 16, 2009

Down With the Kids - Mountain Biking in Taipei


We struck it lucky with the yesterday, and penned in an afternoon ride to make room for the previous night's activities (Japanese Rockabilly Punk, anyone?). As ever, Mark and I winched up for the climb and met the taxi crew at the top. Just before we got there, we passed a group of really rather young mountain bikers riding alone, and on quite decent wheels. This, quite simply, does not happen in Taiwan, so we were delighted to meet some young ones getting out into the hills, and jumped at the chance to guide them down some of our trails. These, dearest industrialists, are the future of Taiwan's chance of becoming a real force in sport and culture, and the best way it can maintain a lead in Bicycle technology. Take note.

It was quite clear that the kids were going to comprehensively smoke us on the descents after about five minutes of practice - indeed, they grabbed Georg's new super rig and schooled him in wheelies and bunny hops to his dismay / delight. We descended for over an hour together, managed to avoid getting any of them killed, but left them with Mark to take the easy route home after seeing them begin to get exhausted before the final section.

I have to show super respect to them - we were especially impressed with their flip-flop / body armour combo, and the non-stop hair-combing of one them when we stopped. I hope - really hope - that is is a trend. Really great day of riding again, and hopefully we bump into those kids again soon.

Latest aprés-slope style

Irony, in shoe form... thanks for the photos Georg!

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Open-Source Architecture

Open-Source Architecture in Taiwan

I am sure I could find some earnest academics somewhere postulating about Architecture 2.0, or some such thing, but the fact is that it is happening here in Taiwan right before your eyes.

Unlike in the West (see top layer of the image), where we tend to build something, and leave it as-is until it falls down, or at least when a new supermarket comes to town, Taiwanese people tend to view their buildings as a mere starting point for their own augmentations and addenda. When you first arrive - or at least for the first few years - it's easy to say that it is ugly and unplanned, and that clearly nobody cares about the big picture (see second layer of the photo). However, after some time looking and getting used to the pipes emerging out of every orifice, it does at least seem to make a little more sense. Why not, indeed, customise the building for its eventual use? Why not allow it to adapt over time? Is this not what we are talking about with Web 2.0, Democratic Design and Open-Source Architecture? (do forgive me if I am coining these trends, or at least give me a royalty cheque).

With a little more foresight, and accepting that this is going to happen no matter what the planners do, I reckon that there is a way to build these edifces with just a touch more grace and charm. Lord Rogers - do pop in, and I'll discuss my ideas with you.

Lloyds Building in London (with the Erotic Gherkin behind) - sometimes Taiwanese buildings remind me of this building, a little.
Photographed by Adrian Pingstone in June 2005 and released to the public domain.

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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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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cycle Lanes in Taipei

Cycle Lanes in Taipei

The incredible increasing interest in cycling in the last year is encouraging the city government to install cycle lanes along some of the major streets in the city. It's a great initiative, and I appreciate the spirit, but next time, how about guiding them away from fire hydrants, up steps less than 20 cm and out of the way of oncoming traffic? One step at a time, chaps.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Formoz Festival 2008

Markus, clearly pulling the wool over the eyes of his client in Seattle, chose the best weekend of live music on the island to return for a few days of business. It kicked off in fine style with an impromptu photo session with insane just-graduated Masters students in one of the local "Re Chao" restaurants, and ended with a ballistic scooter ride through Typhoon rain to return Markus back to his hotel.

In between? Another great Formoz Festival, underlined by 1976 in the final, main stage headliner slot - totally wonderful, since they were the first band I got into when I first landed here those four years ago. Is it really four years?

They, or rather the weather, got their timing perfect, with showers arriving on queue to launch the crowd into raucous displays of solidarity, under umbrellas and spot lights. My phone has only just recently switched back on, in fact, after it drank too much. Much like me, in fact. A super night - come back more often, Markus, and bring Michwel next time!

Not very impressed by local microbrewery slops

I managed to flex some contacts and blagged my way into the event for free, claiming I was a journalist for Taipei Times (it's true!), which I feel bad about and all - well, a bit. I did manage to get chucked off stage by security, though, which makes me feel cool and smooth.

Blurry night

1976 rule the roost

Clearly abusing my photography pass, I capture Markus back in his natural environment.

Antagonising the security staff, who were clearly not as enthused by the music as the crowd.

And the afterparty - held at one of the old cabaret clubs in Ximending, and just the coolest, coolest venue in Taipei. The crowd boogied their butts off to the grooves of Public Radio and the best dub band I have heard in years.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The wheels of steel

One of my unguilty pleasures in the last two months has been the move to cycling to work. My estimation that the DEM office was the same distance from my house as Dell was slightly off, and a 30 minute walk in the Taipei morning heat is not an awful lot of fun.

It didn't take too much persuasion from 'New Yorker in Taipei' Nick to persuade me to part with 3500 NT$ (about 60 quid) for a brand new fixed gear bike. Yes, it's a bit of a clunker and needs tightening weekly. Yes 60 quid means it must be very dodgy. But who cares? There is a certain nobility in riding a bike that costs about the same as my seat post on my mountain bike ... and if it's raining? I just leave it outside and don't worry about it too much.

The fixed gearing without freewheel means I don't need a brake on the back, and instead braking is now harder work than accelerating. Sounds stupid, eh, but it makes for a wonderfully involved ride, judging the traffic, maintaining momentum, staying smooth and in general staying out of trouble. Taipei is Taipei, so I did pussy out and stick a brake on the front - sorry Nick and the courier purists, but I don't want to die.

It's a trend from the streets of NY, London and Berlin that I am happy to import here, but I hope, or at least expect they will not be as popular as the folding bike craze sweeping the island at the moment.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The End of the World

Oh my god. Is this the future? This makes me feel sad.

Soon, everyone will have an MBA

Time to take some pictures of reflections to cheer myself up!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jack Magazine

I was contacted by the good people at Jack Magazine in Italy last year - they look for 'influential bloggers' in obscure locations around the world to contribute articles. The angle is in the T3/Stuff orientation, featuring a flotilla of gadgets, babes and other manly things ... and I was rather surprised and flattered to have five full pages dedicated to me, and a mention on the cover!

... it's all quite surreal to not be able to understand the final version in Italian though!

Update: I have added the English text below for the people who have asked me for a translation. I am also assured that the Italian is a direct translation of the original.

“Made in Taiwan”

Jonathan Biddle

16th November 2007

Somewhere off the coast of China, floating at the far end of the Eurasian subcontinent is the small Pacific island of Taiwan. Dubbed 'Formosa' by Portuguese sailors as they passed by, the island had an inauspicious early history, inhabited by little more than a few tribes of Polynesian settlers. Indeed, the Portuguese did not even think to stop.

Since then, the island has been run by the Dutch, Chinese and Japanese, and in the melee after the Second World War, no one was quite sure who owned the place. Sadly for the Taiwanese, the situation persists to this day, and its identity is still hotly disputed; especially by their old friends across the water. Depending on who you ask, it's either the most lively, dynamic democracy in Asia, or the dangerous 'renegade province' of southern China.

As a result of this rather turbulent history, the island has an entirely unique set of cultural characteristics. Nowhere else in the world can you find a blend of South Pacific, Chinese and Japanese cultures, topped up with influences from Europe and America. Travelling around the country you'll be confronted with Buddhist temples and transported on Japanese bullet trains, all set against a backdrop of lofty four thousand metre high mountain peaks, shrouded in mist.

And it's this amazing set of features that punctuates the country at its most northern point in the capital city of Taipei. Nestled in a bowl of mountains and dormant volcanoes, home to the world's tallest building and the epicentre of the globe's high-tech industry, Taipei is wealthy, hard-working and developing with a pace that would leave any European city out of breath by comparison.

Tourism is hardly big, and perhaps it is a little unfair that the island shares a similar name with the more well-known Thailand. Most people who do arrive come for the huge technology trade shows, usually in the cavernous halls surrounding the ‘Taipei 101’ skyscraper. From there, they are shuttled to shopping malls, hotels and plazas that seem to come from the same Lego set of any other Asian downtown municipal ‘urban’ area, sporting the usual brand names from Milan, Paris, London and New York.

It’s a shame, because Taipei offers some of the warmest people you are likely to meet, astonishing scenery, and food that offers the best of Japanese and Chinese elements. Moreover, as Chinese culture becomes increasingly dominant, and the tide of Globalisation turns, it will be places like Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing that increasingly inform Western popular culture. With every year that passes, the city becomes more and more relevant.

The kids in Taipei are fluent in global urban style, and happily absorb, assimilate, re-mix and restyle other countries’ trends just as they breathe. This often results in all too naive fads as they spew out hip hop without the attitude, rock and roll without the rebellion and see punk as a mere tartan blip in the Vivienne Westwood boutiques. It’s unfair to judge too harshly, however, as The West has been cultivating an underground culture for many decades, with a foundation built on centuries of ‘bucking the system’. In many ways, the youngsters in Taiwan are the first, or perhaps second generation of teenagers, and as such sometimes the uncool enthusiasm on display is more akin to a British youth in the late 1950s hearing Elvis Presley for the first time.

Where it really gets interesting is when they begin formulating their own cultural concoctions. Wait at a traffic light near one of the universities on a Friday night and within a couple of minutes the front box will have filled up with dozens upon dozens of scooters, guys desperately attempting cool on the front, impossibly hot girls hanging precariously off the back, all the while chatting away into their cell phones - themselves a testament to the invention of the LED.

Any time you stop at lights it feels like a steroid-enhanced Vespa owners club rally, and it’s no secret that the highest motorcycle ownership per capita in the world is on the roads of Taiwan. The scooter is where young families of five are transported, dogs surf with tongues flapping in the air, gas tanks are delivered to the restaurants, and the old guys go to die, cigarette forever burning and firmly glued between withered lips.

Taiwan has been making things for other people for fifty years ago now. Of course, it has become synonymous with the phrase ‘Made in Taiwan’ and the association of poor quality and knock-off goods, but this is rapidly becoming a faded memory. The fact is, Taiwan is losing its jobs to the main land and has exactly the same anxieties about manufacturing and innovation as we have in The West.

As companies such as Apple and Sony come to Taiwan for their manufacturing, so the expertise and knowledge has filtered across. The iPod may have been designed by Apple in California, but the accumulated innovations of a thousand Taiwanese technology vendors has allowed it to become ever more thin and dense. Bicycle companies too come to Taiwan for their skill in manufacturing world-class frames and components. Visit the carbon fibre production facility of Giant in the middle of the island and you’ll see frames from the very best of Italy and America passing by. For a cyclist like me, it is like being a child in a (very expensive) sweet shop.

Taiwan is the first and last stop for those creating the latest innovative gadgets. Indeed, in my role, running the industrial design team at DEM (, we work with clients such as Intel, Sony and Motorola to access and exploit this local expertise, and we assist local companies like Giant access global markets with products that are tuned for Western tastes.

Walk through one of the bustling technology markets in the city and you can sense the shift from purely Western companies providing the advertising spaces. Taiwanese companies are now also becoming increasingly ambitious themselves, and their brand recognition is growing rapidly, as companies like HTC, Acer, Asus and Mio take on rivals in Europe and America. They are increasingly leveraging their potent mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Western cultures to make devices that taking on the very best in the world.

People back home often ask me what I think about the threat of China. Of course, it is ever present, and the thought of hundreds of cruise missiles aimed at my back yard is of course a little disconcerting. However, while the two countries continue to make money - Taiwan is the biggest foreign investor in China, after all - the threat of conflict is slim. In many ways, the posturing between Japan, Korea and China is more worrisome.

Taipei, capital city of the country that at once refuses to fit in, and yet yearns for recognition and ‘normal’ status is a thrilling, bustling, multi-cultural hub that stubbornly remains off the radar of even the most hardened traveler. Don’t make the same mistake as the Portuguese traders; come, and you’ll pleasantly surprised.

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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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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ride 2 Live...

After rather too much alcohol from the night before showing the British design delegation Shilin nightmarket, I got up early and met up with the team of riders from Asus as they attempted the ascent up the deadly Yangming Mountain.

As is often the case in Taiwan, there are trends in the air ... and in this case the trend is small-wheel bikes. Folding bikes. Moultons. Bromptons. All totally unsuitable for the climb, and all completely, immaculately clean.

None the less - a great ride, and I had the pleasure to show off the opening trail of the Graveyard mountain bike run to Markus. With the cool, sunny weather, it was a fantastic chance to say goodbye!

... Live 2 Ride. The boys are back in town!

Some more Flickr photos here

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pure Insight - Outsourcing Innovation

Last week, amongst trying to relax with the family, I hosted an online 'Webinar' for a company called Pure Insight. The title? "The Next Logical Step? Outsourcing Your Innovation to Asia"

I have used online meeting tools a fair amount in the past, but this was the first time I was driving a session, with a group of listeners around the world, and with no feedback except an MSN Messenger-style window.

It was quite a tense build-up, but the session went pretty well, and I'll be back next month for some more in-depth discussion with a few members.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Marks & Sparks

Marks & Spencer comes to Taiwan!

I was surprised to see the advertising panels covering what used to be Armani Exchange on Zhongxiao East Rd. They are moving in between Diesel, Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, so they are clearly targeting a premium market in clothing, though sadly I do not expect any of the sandwiches or ready meals this time round.

I am really interested to see how they do, not least because buying 'normal' clothes here is such a pain. It's all either night market rags or Louis Vuitton riches, with not a whole lot in between. Those times you just need a nice shirt, or some trousers.. forget it.

Marks & Sparks

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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


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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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Simple Life

This weekend I went to 'Simple Life' - an urban music festival at my new top location, The HuaShan Arts District. Somebody is clearly doing their job exceedingly well, as I have written about that place several times of late.

The term 'Simple Life' applied to this festival is perhaps pushing it a bit. Sponsored jointly by Muji and 7-11, well over half of the site was filled with a craft market, a Muji museum, food stalls, mini 7-11s and clothes shops. It really hit the sweet spot in that Birkenstock-clad, excessively worthy yet cute style that is such the rage here. Why brave the elements when you can do what you love best - buying cute crap.

Cute crap mart at the Muji stand

Strangely, there was also a reading room. An entire hall of the exhibition was taken up with the real Camper warriors all nodding in agreement at the speakers extolling the virtues of 'sustainable' lifestyles, all while munching on their 7-11 boiled snacks.

But I did get to see my favourite Taiwan rockers, 1976, bring the house down, even though everyone behind me (several hundred people) could not see over my shoulders. They'll learn.

1976 - notice all the blinky camera and phone screens as people record the concert ... when do they expect to watch this again?

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Urban Underground

Some pics from the weekend...

A walk in the park - Rich and I have a beer in Sun Yat Sen

A pretty cool street art exhibition in Shilin Night Market - very nice to see, since the guys here have a shop, exhibition space and dance studio over three levels. I have been waiting for an underground movement to begin to claim these places as their own ... and it is a theme that continues.

Rich, Nick and I rocking it up at Luxy - our first night out together in ages, since we have all been jet setting off around Asia for the last couple of months.

Campo - this is really developing as a very nice design / art / music conglomeration. I was delighted to see they were using the HuaShan arts district - Taipei's old cigarettes and alcohol factory. The design style is very Taiwanese and over-cute, but it is developing ... but the most pleasing thing to see is the way they are renovating the buildings, but without completely polishing it.

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Grafitti in Taipei

For me, Grafitti is not simply defacement of public property, but an intrisic part of urban culture - a reflection of the city, and a barometer for its political climate, sense of humour, tolerance and a thousand other things that people feel the need to express when paint hits wall.

One of the things that I miss in Taipei is having this barometer. The kids simply do not seem to want to express themselves in the ways I am used to. However, it seems the times they are a-changing, and quality artwork is appearing on the streets. Moreover, it seems to have a style not completely borrowed from New York, London, Berlin or Melbourne - and is developing in a subtly Asian way.

The highest quality work has been, without a doubt, the stencil work. Though not up to the standards of Banksy, it is pleasant, and infinitely preferable to visual pollution in the form of adverts, neon and the further commercial hijacking of our environment.

Tree frogs appearing to brighten up the concrete

Rather nice flowers - definitely asian style.

Also, one of the things I really love, is the municipal stencil work - I just spent a few minutes looking for some photos - but these will have to wait for next time.

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