Taipei week 1 – arriving

Heping/Roosevelt intersectionI arrived in Taipei the evening of February 17th, after almost 24h on planes and airports. I only slept 4-5h on the plane, to try to adjust my body to the new timezone (7h before). I also tried to eat almost nothing during the trip, and when I arrived in the evening, I had a big burger meal. This also helped to adapt to the new daily rythm.

The morning after I showed up at the Yahoo! offices. I had woken up quite early, feeling well rested. I had a nice breakfast, and crossed the street to the Yahoo! offices at my usual arrival time of 9am. A bit too early, it seemed, as there was nobody from the Search Team around 🙂 But I asked at the reception desk where I was supposed to sit, and found my place.My cube, first day After a short while the search team started arriving, and several people were quite helpful in getting the practicalities sorted out, with network connectivity and stuff like that. So I soon got settled. My cube looks a bit barren at the moment; all the other people have a multitude of little trinkets and personality items decorating every square inch of their walls and desks. But give me a few weeks, and I’ll try to catch up 🙂

I was lucky enough to arrive in the Yahoo! offices on the day of the yearly Search Team Spring Banquet. I was invited to this fabulous event, which consisted of a fantastic dinner at “A Cut Steak House”, and a Lucky Draw event afterwards. To see photos of this event, go to Hsu Ming-Yen’s Flickr Photo Set from the Spring Banquet. Lots of good food, delicious meat and happy people!

Thursday was registration day at the Mandaring Training Center, where I am enrolling as a student. I had gone to the area the day before, just to make sure I could find it. And thanks to the availability of online satellite images I knew pretty well what to expect from the area. Registration started at 08:30 and I was one of the first people in line. The registration started at a desk where you were assigned a student number.Mandarin Training Center registration desk The lines where divided in two from a total of 500 students, but this covered all levels and both the Regular and Intensive courses. After the initial handout of papers, it was standing in line for copying and validation of passports, and paying tuition. Then it was onto sitting in line for an oral interview and the written placement test. Given that I have never studied Chinese before, the actual interview took only 10 seconds, and I skipped the written test. But I still had to wait half-an-hour in line 🙂 No problem, though, as I got to talking with the guy before me. His name was Jim, from Chicago, but he had been a history teacher in Taiwan for 20 years, and in his retirement he had finally decided to get formal Chinese training. So the waiting in line was definitively not wasted for me, as we discussed a lot of interesting topics about Chinese and Taiwanese culture in general, and language in particular. I just hope that some of my fellow students in my beginner class will be half as interesting to talk to 🙂

Some random culinary events from the week. During “fruit day” at the Yahoo! office, I was served something I at first believed was some kind of apple.An apple? It was very crunchy and not as juicy and sweet as a typical green apple, in a good way. Turns out it only had a single big seed inside.A jujube It was in fact a date fruit called a jujube, or to be more specific: 蜜棗 (mìzǎo). In Norway, I think we are more familiar with the aged, dried variety, called “daddel”, which I have never liked. Just goes to show that you should not judge the dog by its (dried) skin.

Taiwan BeerI also got reacquainted with Taiwan Beer, which was a fond memory. The price in the hotel minibar was actually quite reasonable, at NT$30, or about NOK 6.

Fried RizeI can also report that the lavish lunches enjoyed while at the Vespa summit last year is not the normal kind of lunch in the Taipei office. Thank the Gods! I’ve joined a few of the guys going to a some of the local backstreet family restaurants for simple and tasty dishes, such as the “fried rice with mixed stuff” shown here. This particular lunch also included side orders of snails boiled with spinach, and pig’s intestines with ginger strips; wonderful small dishes, but I was too busy eating to take photos 😦

Apple Wireless Keyboard with aftermaket Dàyì layoutOf other notable events in the office, I bought a new Apple Wireless Keyboard with Chinese character layout. Unfortunately, Apple has chosen to not include the 大易 layout that is included on most Taiwanese keyboards. I have decided that this one is the best to learn for me, as it is based on decomposition of characters in stroke order, so most closely resembles the way characters are written. But it turned out to be less of a problem, when I got help from one of the guys in the search team to find a small shop specializing in laser engraving keyboards. So I got the Dàyì layout added to the keyboard. Now, some may say that it is sacrilegious to point a laser at any Apple product. And I would definitively not laser engrave the outside lid of my aluminum MacBook Pro. But in this case I found it acceptable, not in the least because I already own an American layout Apple Wireless keyboard, which is even cleaner looking 🙂

Wretch Girls 2009 CalendarMy main project for the first week, was to acquire a set of “The Girls of Wretch 2009” calendars. With the help of mr. Fix-It on the search team, I got a few calendars for free from the Wretch representative. I will send a few to the Trondheim office as promotional material, but will keep one for myself as the start of my cube decoration. Shown here is a picture of the front page of the Wretch calendar installed on my cube shelf.

I also started looking at apartments for rent during the coming 3 months. There is a wide variety of apartments on offer. Some are very cheap, but old; some are very nice, but small; some are very big, but pricy. I’ll spend the weekend looking at a few options, but I also have all of next week to find somewhere to stay. The sooner the better, though 🙂

Saturday I also managed to attend the start-up of beginners classes in Taekwon-Do in ITF Taipei. The resident Sa Bum Nim is Daniel Obon. There was about 12 people attending the session, at the Taipei Mixed Martial Arts center.Taipei Mixed Martial Arts Most of the people seemed to have previous experience in MMA, as their fighting style was somewhat accomplished, but much more “boxing” like, and “mixed”, than ITF TKD. The session was mainly to give the class an introduction to ITF TKD, and Daniel talked about the differences between ITF/WTF, and also presented the different diciplines of TKD, such as basic techniques, self-defense, forms, and sparring.Sparring at ITF TKD TaipeiI guess I will continue training there, just to keep up with the TKD, but let’s hope the sessions become more focused once we get going; I need to practice for my yellow belt graduation!

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The Brasserie

The Brasserie, Schiphol AirportMy goto place at Schiphol airport is The Brasserie. Not necessarily because it is exceptionally good, but because it is a step up from the fast-food/bar/cantina food found elsewhere, and it is right on the path I usually take.

Today’s selection is Pasta Pesto with pine nuts and basil.Pasta PestoThe pasta was definitively not home made, but it was still ok, because it was not cooked to a pulp. Pine nuts and basil add much wanted texture to the dish. The sauce is rich and tasty, although a bit fatty and prone to separate in the bottom of the plate. Topping it all of, is a generous helping of Parmesan cheese, although it is powdered, not freshly grated.
All in all, a simple, filling, but ultimately unimpressive meal.

For dessert I went with the Dutch cheese on rye with apple syrup.Dutch Cheese It is very difficult to screw up the taste of cheese, when served pure as this. The order and progression of cheeses is acceptable. I don’t know a lot about cheese, but I know what I like :). The selection was a youngish cheddar-like cheese, followed by very good and mature edition of the same. The crown jewel was a nice, salty Parmesan-ish cheese, with huge crystals making the entire block both crunchy and savory at the same time. The last cheese was a white, almost tasteless goat cheese, served with red berries.

Having looked at the cheese selection in the delicatessen next door, I would guess the good cheese was a Reypenaer XO Reserve. I was missing some kind of blue and/or soft cheese, but overall a good selection, perfectly complemented by the juicy rye bread and apple syrup. The dessert was not fantastic, but a better experience than the pasta.

With a large beer the total bill was €32.60. Not cheap, even by Norwegian standards. But I figured that this would be my last meal for 24h, so it might as well be a double meal…

I’m Leaving On A Jetplane…

… but I do know when I will be back again.

Fokker 100Today, I’m spending 24h travelling, going from Trondheim, to Amsterdam, via Bangkok, and ending up in Taipei around this time tomorrow. The first leg is KLM’s cityhopper on a Fokker 100. The overnight flight is a KLM Boeing 747-400 Combi.boeing747

Actually, it is quite relaxing. I have a long enough stop in Amsterdam to avoid having to run to keep my connection; instead I can have a comfortable dinner break. And the plane going east leaves at a convenient time for me to have a good night’s sleep, instantly tricking my body into accepting the new timezone (UTC+8).

Learning from experience, I will stay away from the half-cooked airline food. The only challenge is keeping my iPhone sufficently charged to stay entertained. But in any case I have brought a few magazines/books, sudoku, and my freshly aquired Chinese grammar.

What’s on my iPhone – Part I: Most useful apps

In this series of post I will show what apps I currently have installed on my iPhone. I have tried a lot of apps, and have ended up with a set that is quite stable. My overall organization is divided into screens as follows:

  1. Most Used Apps – 2 screens
  2. Chinese and Oriental Languages Apps – 2 screens
  3. Games
  4. Artistic/Creative Apps
  5. Utilities
  6. Try-out apps
  7. Digital Clocks…

In this post, I will discuss my most frequently used apps.

Dock

iPhone Dock

iPhone Dock

In my dock, I have Phone, Mail, and iPod. The stock apps are, of course, some of my most used apps, and the backbone of the whole device. I have chosen to kick Safari from the standard dock, and replace it with Things. I have tried several todo/GTD apps (such as OmniFocus), and have found that Things is the easiest and quickest to use, while staying powerful enough for my needs. It syncs on the local wireless with a desktop client on my laptop.

 

Screen 1: Most Used Apps

Most Used Apps

Most Used Apps

This is the home screen, and it contain my most frequently used apps. The top two rows are all apps that shipped with the iPhone. SMS and Calendar I use a lot, and the Camera app is very handy to have in a top corner on the home screen for quick access (you do know that pushing the Home butten takes you back to the first screen, right?). Photos belongs with the Camera, and then the suite of Safari, Maps, Clock and Contacts nicely matches my familiar environment from the laptop mac.

The standard Calculator is very good (especially in landscape mode…), and I have coupled it with the best units converter, Units. Yr.no is a quick, no-frills UI for the Norwegian weather service.

The final row is communication apps. BeejiveIM is “expensive”, but the best IM client, in that it looks good, supports all my services, and keeps the connection while the app is not running, handing you chat messages in email instead (works best with push IMAP, such as my MobileMe email…). TwitterFon I have found is the best, quickest and slickest twitter app, and Brightkite is actually the most convenient for updating my location, i.e. I don’t use the social aspect much, but maybe some day? Colloquy is an IRC client, that perhaps most people these days will find completely foreign and useless…

Screen 2: Frequent Apps “spill over”

Frequent Apps - part deux

Frequent Apps - part deux

The second screen is for apps that are in frequent used, but have “spilled over” from the first screen.

I often find myself browsing the App Store and iTunes on the phone when I am on a wireless connection. So these are nice to have there.

Shopper is a shopping list app, for writing down, and carrying out (mainly grocery) shopping. I have tried a few others, but this is good looking, flexible, and does the job.

Spend Lite is the free/lite edition of Spend, but has enough features for me to track my bus-card usage. This is designed to track expenses in different categories, with either a periodic refill, or manual deposit. The lite only supports daily or weekly cycles; I have no cycles, so…

Line two has my connectivity part 2 apps; Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace Mobile and WordPress. These are all stripped down compared to the websites, but works well for quick checking (haven’t written a blog post on the phone, yet, but…) And, they are free 🙂

The next apps are Keynote Remote and iTunes Remote. Using your phone to control a presentation is always cool, and since I have a set of Airport Express basestations at home with AirShare music streaming, the iTunes Remote gives me control of music around my house.

Then, my most expensive app, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. It is comprehensive, and works off-line. Not as well integrated in the operating system as the dictionary on my mac, but…

Next, is the best news/RSS reader, Byline, offering tight integration with Google Reader, and a workable (but slow) off-line mode.

The page is rounded of with MobileFiles, which really is for accessing my MobileMe files, but I use it for storing/syncing files to my phone; WriteRoom, a better Notes with usable font, landscape mode and LAN sharing; and Classics, which is a Delicious Library like ebook reader with high quality visuals, and convenient handling for short stints of reading. It has a select set of public domain books. So in my spare time, I am re-reading “Alice in Wonderland”, “Dracula”, “the Metamorphosis”, “Call of the Wild” etc…

That concludes my list of most used apps. Stay tuned for more specialized apps…