GF American Food in Taiwan

Chocolate Sin CakeOne of the great things about Taiwan is the unlimited amount of excellent food that there is to eat. You could literally design a vacation in this country exclusively based on food. Unfortunately for me because of the celiac, 90% of it is all off limits to me, mostly because of the prevalence of soy sauce which is loaded with wheat for flavoring, and other unknown sources of gluten contamination. So Last night we went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House – a very GF-friendly restaurant chain that just so happens to have a branch right here in Kaohsiung. (Taipei and Taichung also have locations.)

That isn’t to say that I haven’t found a ton of good food to eat here in Taiwan so far – I have. The roasted chicken from Dongshan was excellent, and tonight we’re going to a local restaurant that is owned by a family friend where they are preparing just for me a gluten-free banquet. But I can’t just go out to any old restaurant or street food cart and pick something up to chow down on, and celiac is almost unheard of in Taiwan.

And hence, an excursion to Ruth’s Chris: A a gastronautical vacation from the vacation. Everything on the menu is made with simple ingredients. Gluten-free in SD has a good list of GF recommendations and pretty much all the good stuff is safe. I had a salad with the remoulade (so delicious!) a 12 oz fillet mignon, mashed potatoes, a few glasses of Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and finished it with the Chocolate Sin Cake.

Yes, I did say “cake.” The Chocolate Sin Cake is made with no wheat flour or gluten-containing products of any kind. Just chocolate, eggs, and sugar apparently. It is unbelievably good. It is especially good considering that it it is gluten-free without even knowing it. This is how all food should be.

When I searched on Google for gluten-free dining options in Taiwan, restaurants or otherwise nothing really solid came up. And so, there is at least this one now: A little taste of home far away from home, gluten-free.

PDF Rant

PDF is a poorly-understood medium for most developers. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that 98% (not scientific – you get the picture) of the PDF creators out there have any idea of what is going on underneath the hood when they produce a PDF. I’m talking basic information, like image compression, readability, usability, who is reading this, etc. Typically when doing usability studies for web sites, the process stops abruptly when the PDF is encountered. The user usually backs up a step, and the usability professional shrugs and says “let’s move on.” 😐 Never mind the issues with optimizing vector data, embedding fonts, and so on. Typically, people pump out their 6 MB files without a thought. “That’s OK – they’ll download it and print it.” Yeah right – did you test that theory? I thought not.

This is not really acceptable, is it? I mean, I know that PDF was created for portable printing output, but nowadays I suspect that the primary delivery and consumption of the PDF format is electronic and screen based – not print/hard copy based. So something needs to change in our attitudes towards PDF documents as web designers and developers. And that does not include pumping in more features into our PDFs like hyperlinks and embedding video – it can be done, but that is probably not a good idea. OK hyperlinks are good – but think it through. These work differently than they do on the web, and that is not the primary workflow for web consumption of PDFs.

The primary workflow for web documents is however to read the document. If someone is going to go through the trouble to access a PDF, they already are confronted with in the best cases a change in their browser user interface – an Acrobat plugin, or maybe native rendering in the browser (as in the Safari browser.) In worse cases, the PDF opens up in a separate application such as Acrobat or Preview, and just as commonly, the file doesn’t open up at all but just downloads onto the users’ computer.

So give them something to read already. Here are my recommendations for the next generation of usable, web-ready PDF design:

  • Use a readable font. Just because you can embed some crazy font like Edwardian Script ITC doesn’t mean that is a good idea. Garamond looks great in print, and looks very thin and weak on the screen, so maybe you want to rethink that one. I’m not saying cave in and use Verdana and Georgia for everything – my god. Just give some consideration to the fact that this document is going to be read on screen more than on print, and choose your fonts with this consideration in mind.
  • Taking your InDesign or Quark files for your hot layout that went to the printer for that 2-fold brochure with the die-cut and bleed margins and exporting it as a PDF with the “For Web” setting does not constitute a web-ready document, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Consider that the people who actually print this thing are going to be printing this thing black-and-white on a low-quality stock from Staples or Costco on white 8×11 or A4. And that’s if you’re lucky. As I said before, the screen will be the primary reading format. Reformat the document to be optimized for “Screen + A4” format or something.
  • Compress those images with care. Use simple vector-based illustrations whenever possible, and use small but clear versions of the bitmaps that are higher than 72 dpi so the printer treats them well, but less than 300 dpi so that you won’t force the viewer to have to wait an hour to read the content.
  • Embed fonts. This is the default nowadays, so don’t override it or do something silly like convert all the fonts to outlines just because you want things to look “exactly the same.” Outlined fonts look way worse on screen than embedded font type.
  • Use newer versions of the fonts. Don’t use some old wingding font from 15 years ago. It will cause errors. Better yet, use a standard and well regarded font from a foundry that is respectable, such as Adobe or Agfa, and not that bonus disc of 5000 fonts that you got with that subscription to Microsoft Office Noob Magazine.
  • Actually test your PDFs as if they were part of the site they are being deployed on. This means having a variety of setups on hand, from an up to date Windows, Mac, and Linux box on hand, maybe having a crippled machine ready that lacks a PDF reader or just downloads straight to the desktop. This will wake up your senses like peppermint in your cappuccino.
  • Recognize the fact that screen font size and print font size are going to be two totally different things, and find an acceptable middle ground. Do not deliver paragraphs of 6 point text and expect that screen reading users are going to be happy about that.
  • My final one for tonight, and this is the biggie and perhaps the most controversial: Format your PDFs for landscape, not portrait. It is time for portrait layout in PDF to die. Portrait layouts must be scrolled in page-wide PDF sizing on screen. Screens are in landscape aspect, not portrait aspect. In landscape, the page fits neatly on most screens. If this is too much horizontal space, use columns for your text. Yes, those things you weren’t allowed to use in web design. Two columns should do nicely. Remember that most users will still have the 3:4 aspect ratio on their screens and not be enjoying those sexy new MacBooks with the 17″ cinema-style displays. Again – readable font size, no microprint.

Well, there’s some ideas. I think just the main thing to remember is to just consider screen output for PDF to be as important as print, if not more. I know that sounds sacrilegious to the essence of PDF, but we live in the modern world and things have changed. PDFs are shared as files over the web and via email, and people want to read them. Laptop users – ones running around offline in coffee shops doing homework or business folks on travel in airplanes and subways – with no access to a printer. Give ’em a break.

Dongshan

Dongshan clay ovensToday we took a drive out to Dongshan (±). The trip involved two elongated stops at some impressively maintained rest areas and a final stop at this little shop run by a friend of Yingwen’s mother, where we bought some chicken for later. Apparently the area is famous for roasted chicken, and they cook ’em in the ovens pictured here. With apologies to the vegetarians who are reading this, the smell of the global barbecue was incredible. Both sides of the street were lined with chicken ovens. The chickens were generally GF – just coated with garlic and salt.

What I found most interesting on this trip is that each onramp to this highway, I think it was Highway 3, had a policeman or several policemen standing at the intersection. I was informed that they were there to monitor the number of persons sitting in each vehicle, and that you were not allowed to enter the highway unless you had three or more persons in the car. I then asked what one would do if they did not have enough people in the car – how would they get to where they were going? Nobody could answer that one, but I could see no alternative route – no frontage roads or other highways passing through the hills. It seemed like it would cost a lot of money to place this many cops on the road for this one single, somewhat questionable purpose.

The rest areas were also interesting in that they were probably the main part of the trip. Each one had a well-designed mall with food courts and shopping inside, washrooms, parks, picnic benches, and a place to get gas. There was particular attention paid to the architecture, especially on the bridges and walkways, and one had an incredibly huge banyan tree that was serving to shade about a dozen picnic settings. American rest stops are all business – and not that attractive I might add. These ones make the journey just as fun as the destination – a lesson to be learned I think…

University of Denver Recommends Against Vista, Office 2007

I received this email today from the University of Denver. The essence of it is: Don’t upgrade to Vista or Office 2007. I thought I’d repost it here, with my own emphasis added for flavor:

To: University of Denver Students
Fm: Ken Stafford, Vice Chancellor for Technology
Re: Microsoft Vista and Office 2007

As most of you know, Microsoft has now distributed the new Vista operating system. Vista has a completely new and different look and feel than Windows XP. It has been designed to look much more like the Apple Mac interface. UTS has been testing Vista for several months. At this time, UTS is recommending that you NOT upgrade to Vista. UTS is NOT supporting Vista at this time. There are many incompatibilities and many computers are not able to run the program. Currently, Vista does not work with the following:

Symantec Antivirus
The Wireless VPN
Blackboard
DU Webmail
Pharos public printer system

There are many other programs that will not work with Vista without updates if available. If you install Vista, you will not be able to use the DU wireless network, Blackboard, the public printers and other systems. We are working with the Vendors of these systems to get compatible drivers, but at this time, we strongly recommend that you not upgrade.

Office 2007

Office 2007 has a completely different interface. There are no longer drop-down menus. Menu choices are offered in “ribbons of information” on several rows at the top of the screen. Office 2007 files are also not compatible with previous versions of Office. While there are patches of Office 2003 that will allow people to read 2007 files, you will probably need to save files created by 2007 as 2003 files before you send them to faculty or others who do not yet use Office 2007. At this time, there is no patch for Mac users, so if you are sending a document to a Mac user, you will need to save the file in the 2003 format.

At this time, we see little advantage to installing either of these products.

Please see http://www.du.edu/uts/software/newsoftware.html for more detailed information.

Couple of things. First of all, this illustrates the uphill battle that Microsoft faces in convincing people to upgrade. The features are generally all there for the average to advanced user, so a few extra bells and whistles for some exorbitant sum of money is not going to convince a lot of users to upgrade.

The comment about Vista being more “Mac-like” was just hilarious, especially in the context of how self-concious and testy Bill Gates got when this issue was pointed out.

And here’s one for the University. How long do you think they can hold out on this recommendation. What about all the new machines that students will be buying on their way to school in the coming quarter, all pre-loaded with Vista and Office 2007?

Finally, here is yet another glaring example of why any organization should absolutely without fail focus on building their enterprise architecture on open standards. Things change. The only way to be prepared for such changes is to base things on open, widely-accepted standards, so that when you decide to change your VPN system or everyone upgrades to a new operating system or web browser, things will continue working. The incompatibilities for web sites are inexcusable in this day and age – standarads-based web design is cheaper and easier to implement than bloated, junky, proprietary markup practices of the days of yore. Fix it. Stop paying people to build non-standard websites that will break in a few years.

Transformations

Four DragonsTonight we blew off a bunch of fireworks and gave out tons of hong bao to our cousins. There were about a dozen little kids running around with sparklers and pockets full of red envelopes as the rest of us drank tea and attempted to blow our fingers off. This shot was my favorite – tried a little camera toss to catch the trails of the sparks flying around.

Earlier we went up to a place called Lover’s Harbor (։∫∫Ȇ≠) which was north of Kaohsiung on the way towards Tainan. It’s a little resort area with a harborside theater and restaurant, places to walk around and enjoy the scene, and tons of stalls selling everything from barbecued squid on a stick and lemonade to kiddie rides and Taiwanese puppets. There were several Binlang Xi Ci along the way, but alas no good opportunities for a photograph.

Two things I’ve found remarkable on this trip about Taiwan. One is that the city transformation of Kaohsiung from a polluted, industrial city to becoming one of the world’s most attractive and exciting metropolises, is truly an amazing feat. When I first came to Taiwan, I was told that the Love River was a cess pool of filth running through the city, and now after an enormous cleanup it is a gorgeous waterfront lined with parks and high-rise condos, and it is dotted with sailboats. The city streets are mostly in good repair or getting there, and some very interesting storefronts are springing up. Rail improvements are the most interesting improvement, with the HSR connecting the north and south parts of the island in less than 2 hours, MRT system to bring commuter rail to the entire city, and major renovations in many of the rail stations. Also highly interesting are the huge number of incredibly nice-looking high-rise condos going up all over the city. They look majestic.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a clear increase in the number of persons who are seriously obese. Ten years ago, everyone I met was either burly, svelte, or as skinny as a toothpick. But now, skinny is no longer the norm, and expanding waistlines are commonplace. The encroachment of McDonald’s, refined flour products, and the like is on it’s way to doing the same damage that it has done to America. We were talking about this today – it is definitely a phenomenon that is diet-related and definitely a recent trend. One thing that I have to say I actually appreciate about my celiac disease is that it forces me to avoid most junk foods and keeps me from incessant snacking. Especially in a place like Taiwan where there is absolutely no gluten-free labeling on anything, and you can assume that there’s wheat-based soy sauce on just about everything. They have never heard of celiac for the most part, so everything I eat here is homemade. Yes it sucks in that Taiwan is one of the best gastro-tourism countries around, but I like at least that most of the unhealthy stuff is off limits to me anyway…

Speaking of food – we stopped by this organic fruit stand near our house today and bought some fresh-squeezed orange juice. Oh my god it is so delicious. If I ever move here, I’m buying a place as close to that shop as I can.