As a huge fan of William Gibson I feel a little guilty in confessing that I’m having a hard time working my way through his latest novel, Agency. Although the writing is of the usual high quality, it lacks the sharp edge and raw energy of the prose in his earlier works. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here, but I can’t help feeling as if it’s a gentrified Cyberpunk. Sure, in places the book is clever and witty, but it tastes more like a cup of caffeine-free latte than a mug of freshly-roasted coffee.
Or, to borrow from 6.18 of the Analects of Confucius, it has a little too much cultural refinement (文/wén) and not enough native substance (質/zhì). For all his love of ritual and propriety, even the great sage himself believed that it was better to err on the side of the latter rather than the former lest you become too fake and foppish. Continue reading Notes from the field: gentrified Cyberpunk in Agency?→
There’s been a bustling air pervading Taipei’s street markets this weekend as people flock to get their provisions in preparation for the forthcoming Lunar New Year celebrations. Forget the city’s luxury shopping malls; the streets where the real action is: the cut and thrust of the haggling over prices and the excited voices and smiling faces of vendors and shoppers alike who both think they’ve got the best of the bargaining.
Will people still go out on the streets to shop when they can order everything they could possibly want or need using their smart phones and have it delivered to their doorstep – or perhaps even neatly placed in their refrigerator or closets? A lot of investors and entrepreneurs are betting that this will be the case by pouring billions into last-mile on-demand grocery and meal services. Continue reading Notes from the field: bustling Taipei street markets→
I’m not sure why it took me nearly three decades, but this was the year I discovered the pleasures of hiking in Taiwan. Isn’t it amazing how easy it can be to ignore things that are right on your doorstep? That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
On your doorstep isn’t exaggerating too much either if you live in Taipei. In less than half-an-hour by bus and MRT I can go from home to my favorite stomping ground of Tiger Mountain in the Four Beasts Scenic Area (四獸山). This offers a huge variety of routes to choose from depending on your fitness and lots of great views to enjoy – not to mention lots of interesting temples to stop by at. Continue reading 2019 highlights: discovering the pleasure of hiking in Taiwan→
A pleasure to return to the Four Beasts Scenic Area this morning, even though my lungs and legs took a little time to readjust to the demands of climbing after a couple of weeks of pounding along flat fenland lanes.
One reason I enjoy hiking at the Four Beasts is the strong community spirit among the people who hit its trails. It’s always nice to be greeted by a friendly smile from someone I meet along the way and fun to watch groups of friends and neighbors exercise together at various spots on the hillside. The community spirit is even stronger at the nearby Yucheng Park. This morning the place was packed with people doing Taichi together. What a perfect way to start the day! Continue reading Notes from the field: a morning hike in the Four Beasts Scenic Area→
It’s great to see the government in Taiwan step up its efforts to promote the teaching of AI in its elementary and high schools through its latest educational policy initiatives. At the 2019 Start! event held last Saturday at the Jiangcui Junior High School in New Taipei City, I had the privilege of witnessing some of the early results of these efforts when sixty-seven teams from schools throughout the island came together to put their driverless vehicles through their paces and compete with each other in various autonomous driving tasks.
Talking with the Commissioner of the Education Department of New Taipei City and the school principal, I was deeply impressed by their enthusiasm for giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in AI development from an early age. The sooner students become familiar with technologies like computer vision and deep learning, the more comfortable they will be in using them in the years ahead and the more likely they will be to come up with new AI applications of their own. Continue reading Notes from the field: promoting AI learning in Taiwan→
I’m glad that I managed to get back home from an afternoon excursion to Guandu before a big thunderstorm hit the city. Compared to southern Taiwan, Taipei has got off reasonably lightly during the recent spate of monsoon rains, but the one we had today seems to have tested the limits of the city’s drainage system– though perhaps not quite a severely as the intrepid reporters the TV stations send out into the streets might want us to believe!
After my bus ride home this evening, I can’t help thinking that autonomous vehicles can’t come soon enough! Don’t get me wrong, the public bus service in Taipei is excellent for the most part. I have a choice of three nearby lines that can zip me down Dunhua South Road, up on the elevated highway to Xindian, and down to a stop nearby office in less than half-an-hour at rush hour – all for the princely sum of NT$30 ($1).
The streets near our office in Xindian were packed this afternoon with people making offerings to mark the impending arrival of Ghost Month. This officially starts tomorrow on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar (中元節), upon which all the ghosts and spirits are believed to emerge from hell to haunt the earth.
Time to go back to the office after a relaxing break over the Chinese New Year Holiday. One of the highlights was a visit to the Mazu Temple in Jinshan, a popular seaside town on the Northeast Coast of Taiwan.