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Unclassified

This blog previously used tags instead of categories to organize content. As such you'll find absolutely everything listed here until I refile it somewhere more appropriate.

Opening another blog for web development and technical writing

When I started this blog my aim was to share anything and everything that piques my interests, no matter how trivial or arcane. This is my personal blog, a place for me to express myself, to share my experiences, and to showcase my creative work in the fields of design, development, and photography (among others).

Mixing different types of content in one place has been fun—but it is time to make a small change to this approach, particularly as my readership grows. I am hereby dividing this blog along technical lines. Anything to do with WordPress, PHP, HTML, CSS, Sass, JavaScript, Node, open source software, and web design in general will move to Synaptic/Dev, a new blog where I plan to write more about technical matters of interest to web developers. This blog will continue pretty much as it was only with a renewed focus on content potentially of general interest to the public. Hopefully this will create a better experience for readers—as well as encourage me to publish more technical writing!

Flickr’s Creative Commons licensing imbroglio

Flickr recently announced plans to sell Creative Commons-licensed photographs as prints without compensating artists at all. This is less scandalous than it initially appears for the licenses in question—any Creative Commons license without the “non-commercial” (NC) term—allow for this kind of usage, but still… this is not really what most of us had in mind.

I release most of my work under a Creative Commons BY-NC license (as noted in my terms of use) for precisely this reason. I’m not interested in my work being just another datapoint on the long tail of some corporate venture like this. There are some drawbacks to locking up my work behind the “NC” term, however. Most notable is that my work won’t qualify for Wikipedia. I really wish there weren’t a need to make this sort of decision.

The real problem here is that noncommercial usage is poorly defined. Everyone knows what it means on paper but nobody can really figure it out in practice. Some forms of usage just feel permissible—and others don’t. Flickr’s announcement is more the latter. It feels, as Jeffrey Zeldman states, somewhat desperate.

Update: perhaps unsurprisingly Flickr has backed down from their previous plans to sell Creative Commons licensed imagery.

Guanghua Digital Plaza 光華數位新天地

Guanghua Digital Plaza 光華數位新天地 is the place to go for cheap computer, camera, and phone parts and accessories in Taipei 台北. If you know your stuff there is no need to do any advance research or planning—just wander in and explore. Most vendors are small-scale operations with a limited selection of popular consumer electronics. As with most other Asian computer malls you’re more likely to get a better deal on higher floors. You will also find more obscure products and services as you ascend. There are six floors in all and the first floor is mostly just a showroom. My advice is to head for the elevator when you arrive and work from top to bottom.

A relic in front of Guanghua digital plaza
This archaic statue in front of Guanghua Digital Plaza really captures the 1990s personal computer aesthetic.

How to eat like a local in Tainan

Tainan 台南 is known throughout Taiwan 台灣 for its food—but deciding where to eat can be somewhat daunting, especially for anyone who doesn’t very much Chinese. There are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from—in addition to the many night markets scattered around the city. Taiwan, like any highly digital and developed nation, has a vast number of restaurant reviews online, but it isn’t practical to sift through all those reviews without some degree of fluency (or a lot of patience with the shoddy state of machine translation). And, to be honest, I would much rather know how to find good food than read specific restaurant reviews. I didn’t know much about Tainan’s cuisine when I moved there for three months last spring—so with this post I mean to give you the benefit of my experience as a mostly illiterate foreigner attempting to hack the system and eat well in Taiwan’s historic old capital.

The entrance to Harry’s fast food in Tainan
The entrance to the newly renovated Harry’s fast food, my favourite breakfast shop in Tainan.

Vanilla Garden Minsu 香草園民宿

Rural lodging in Guanziling
An abandoned hotel in the mountains of Guanziling, Tainan.

I was out riding a scooter from Changhua 彰化 the hot springs resort town of Guanziling in rural Tainan 台南 when I noticed a rundown, seemingly abandoned building by the roadside in the mountains of Zhongpu, Chiayi 嘉義. Stopping to investigate, I discovered a mínsù 民宿 (essentially a bed and breakfast) in the early stages of decay. Initially I had no luck finding out any information about this place but more recently I uncovered its formal name: Dòngzǐjiǎo Vanilla Garden Minsu 凍仔腳香草園民宿. Dongzijiao, apparently famous for its betel nut crop, is the name of the nearest village.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋

The distinctive red steel trusses of Xiluo Bridge in Yunlin County, Taiwan.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 spans the mighty Zhoushui River, the unofficial boundary between north and south Taiwan 台灣, and connects the counties of Changhua 彰化 and Yunlin 雲林. Construction began in the late 1930s under Japanese colonial rule but was put on hold during the war. In 1952 the bridge was completed by the incoming Kuomintang government with help from the USA. At 1,939 meters in length it was one of the longest bridges in the world when it was finished and formerly appeared on Taiwanese bank notes.

Taiwan bicycle tour: Donggang to Kenting

On the outskirts of Donggang
On the outskirts of Donggang.

My ride from Donggang 東港 to Kenting 墾丁 was a blast! I started my day in Kaohsiung City but my bicycle was already in Donggang 東港. I left it there the night before when it started raining on my way back from the lovely little island of Liuqiu 琉球. That meant I had to take public transit for about two hours before hitting the road for real.

After a small but expensive Western-style breakfast near Kaohsiung Arena 高雄巨蛋1 I went underground to Xiaogang MRT to catch the bus, route 9117, back to Donggang, with all my stuff. Since it was a holiday I had booked a hotel in Kenting 墾丁, about 80 kilometers down the road. I also arranged to meet a friend of mine down there later in the evening. So much for going with the flow: on this particular day I had a specific destination and a schedule to stick to!

Miaokou Night Market 廟口夜市

Miàokǒu Night Market 廟口夜市 in Keelung is one of the largest and most famous night markets in all Taiwan 台灣. I have now visited Miaokou several times and can attest to the incredible size of the crowds that descend on the market on weekends and holidays.

The most iconic stretch of Miaokou night market 廟口夜市
The most iconic part of Miaokou night market.

Taiwan bicycle tour: Kaohsiung to Donggang

I didn’t plan my tenth day on the road very well. I woke up in Sanmin 三民 on the north side of Kaohsiung City, got ready, and went downstairs to find breakfast. I had only a vague idea of where I might go and what I might do. The plan was simply to see a little more of what Kaohsiung 高雄 had to offer—and maybe make a small detour to Liuqiu 琉球, a small coral island off the coast of neighbouring Pingtung 屏東, but I hadn’t really thought it through.

Industry outside of Kaohsiung
Bland, boring industry outside of Kaohsiung.

Canadian telecom rant

I’ve been shopping around for prepaid mobile here in Canada, home to one of the most corrupt telecom industries anywhere in the developed world. Everything costs far too much money and you don’t get very much for your trouble. Most companies still deal sparingly in minutes and finite numbers of SMS messages. Data is almost an afterthought and it’s never truly unlimited despite what marketing claims are made. I mean, it’s not “unlimited” if there’s a cap, is it? The new definition of unlimited is “about as much as you’re likely to use if you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary” (i.e. pirating movies).

Anyway, all this makes me wonder why people aren’t adopting messaging apps like LINE to get around all the byzantine restrictions that afflict Canadian consumers. All we’d need is a decent data allowance and a critical mass of people using such apps and nonsense like “anytime minutes” would be a thing of the past. It isn’t presently possible to overthrow the Canadian telecom oligopoly but we can use technology to alleviate at least some of the suffering caused by their boundless avarice.

After an exhaustive search I eventually settled on Koodo, whose service I have never before considered using. I did a survey of the cost of data per gigabyte and was not surprised to find that every company I can actually get service with charges CAD$30 per Gb with the lone exception of Bell, who charges CAD$35. How’s that for competition! Mobilicity and Wind both provide much more but I don’t own a phone that can access their networks—and both seem to be going under anyhow. Koodo, at least, allows minutes and data to rollover each month. The others charge you the same rate whether you use it all or not—and I don’t even want to know what happens when you run out before the month is over.

This is quite a change from paying approximately CAD$25 per month for genuinely unlimited data access in Taiwan. I understand that geography and density considerations contribute to increased competition and lower prices in the Taiwanese market but still—everyone agrees that Canadian telecom companies suck (just read the comments). Come to think of it, I’m actually surprised this isn’t more of an election issue. Along with repealing our draconian alcohol laws (especially here in Ontario) I’d gladly vote for someone vowing to break open the telecom market in this vast country of ours.

You might think this is some strange permutation of reverse culture shock but I don’t think so. I’ve always been unhappy with the quality of service and value for the money of telecom offerings in Canada. I can’t say I expected anything different but I am still disappointed that the situation hasn’t improved at all in my absence.