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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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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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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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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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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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pure Insight - Innovation in Asia

Last night, working with Mark Stocker at DDG, we conducted a second online seminar with Pure Insight. Unlike the bulk of their presentations (far more McKinsey in style, with lots of graphs and metrics and other things to lean on) we kept it much more conversational and anecdotal. Unlike the previous session, this 'Members Only Call' allowed people to call in with their questions. It really felt like a radio show!

Pure Insight - Innovating in the East: Managing Teams and Partnerships in Asia

... and the good news is, that's the last of the major commitments I have made in the last few months coming home. I think I will give myself a bit of a breather, and allow some space for some more Chinese homework!

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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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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Love & Money

Government support for exporting design in the UK is pretty strong, and the efforts landed in Taiwan last week, with the 'Love & Money' show rolling into town. Basically, a show case of the British creative industries, it showcased work from, among others, Zaha Hadid, Sam Hecht, Thomas Heatherwick and Jamie Hewlett. The work was supported by the de-facto embassy, British Council, British Trade & Industry and Design UK.

The two week event culminated with a Pecha Kucha show and I was invited to speak alongside Sam Hecht of Industrial Facility and Benjamin Chia of Elemental Eight - previously Designafairs USA.

The basic format is, 20 seconds for each slide, with a total of 20 slides, creating a total of 6 minutes 40 seconds - and you have no control over the slides. Believe me, a badly rehearsed presentation makes the 6 minutes feel like an eternity, while a good show flies by in a flash. The rock and roll of presentations!

Pecha Kucha night Taipei

Keeping the ladies awake - what are you looking at, David?

It's all just hot air, really

I had some important points to make - and thanks to Abe for the great photos!

I am trying out the Slideshare service, in order to publish the results. See what you think!

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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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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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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Design Week - Inspired

I got asked back to do a second piece for Designweek magazine this week, in the 'Inspired' section of the magazine, next to the letters.

They asked me for an interesting story related to design in Taiwan, so I had no choice but to select my legendary wedding ring design - check out the old posting here in 'Lord of the Rings'.

Sadly, no direct link to their web site, but here is the text below:

Inspired - ‘Lord of the Rings’

Working in Taiwan, I deal with some pretty strange design briefs. My boss - great grandson of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek - appeared on a TV talk show and managed to lose a bet with the host. The forfeit? We had to design her a wedding ring.

I am sure it seemed logical to assign a Brit Industrial Designer with zero jewellery experience, so I had a frantic two weeks of forging a concept. I met the celebrity couple and for the whole time they held hands, so I suggested that we cut a diamond in two and give half to each. I went one step further and mounted it on the inside; to show off the rock the ring had to be removed.

Half the media were aghast at the concept - ‘cut a diamond in half?!’ - but the rest loved the irony that the reduced value of the jewel of course mattered little if they spent the rest of their lives together.

Arriving at the workshop to inspect the pieces, I was a little shocked to meet camera crews from five TV stations and eight newspapers. “The cameras go live to Asia in one minute - please tell us about your concept…"

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cracking the Chinese Puzzle

My first article for Design Week in the UK is published:

Design Week - Cracking the Chinese Puzzle

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