About Taiwan, FotoZon and lots of other stuff

Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in Review

Rainy Day at Guard BoothAnother year in the bag and its been an eventful one! I suppose the obvious thing is to list all the accomplishments and events for the year. However, first I will dedicate this post to our trusty guard man - Mr. Jhang - in the picture in the left. He'll be "forced" into retirement at the end of this year because the building we live in wants to go with a youth movement - like under 55 years old! His hobby is studying English so he would be sure to quiz me every time I went outside. We spent some quality time last night on his very last night shift while he was showing me a long letter he wrote to presidential hopeful Ma-Ying-Jeou. He's also the one who introduced us to our apartment here in Yuanlin. I nick-named him "Mr. Clean" because he was always cleaning up the guard office, watering the flowers and sweeping the sidewalks. What a guy - we'll miss seeing him.

Year 2007 in Review

* My biggest accomplishment this year was launching the FotoZon online photo galleries web site. It's hard to believe that it was only just this year in March when I re-registered the domain name and set up the web site. It's become a time-consuming but rewarding hobby. It's also one of the main reasons for starting up this blog.

* The second online accomplishment this year was the launch of the Taiwan Picture of the Day. It is doing pretty well and getting some great links, reviews and presentations. I've been steadily adding more features and increasing the distribution of this feature.

* Last week I got reviewed at my main employer and had to come up with a list of accomplishments for the year. I told them I had learned a lot of new skills including Javascript, CSS, php and facebook. Of course I didn't mention that most of them were for my own projects.

* Some general stuff that happened during the year:
- Our little daughter learned to walk in February and now she's learning to talk.
- Learned how (mostly how not to) invest in the stock market .
- Saw the president of Taiwan
- Went on a trip back to Seattle in July just in time to see fireworks
- Experienced Crazy Chinese New Year Traveling to North Taiwan
- Met a lot of new friends here in Taiwan.
- Rekindled my interest in photography.

Thanks for visiting and I leave you with a few of my favorite shots from the year:

Sweater Scooter 2
Sweater Scooter Near Tainan

Jiu Fen Market Taiwan
Jiu Fen Skinny Market Street

Ghost Money Show-Off
Ghost Month Burners

Lion and Budha
Giant Buddha near ChangHua

Jong Gan Road - Another Mitsukoshi shot
Taichung Night Shot

Bar Beer
Enough blogging! Time to go out and get plastered!

Take care - and we'll see you next year.

Joseph Gray

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Schmap and the New World Wide Web

I'm feeling older these days... like the world has passed me by. All sorts of new-fangled web applications are coming out these days, and I'm not sure if I can keep up. Recently I was selected on Flickr to have one of my photos featured in "Schmaps". This new-fangled web site has all kinds of stuff on it with a mish-mash of maps and photos and events and who knows what.. Nevertheless, I'm proud my photo of the fireworks shot from my knee at Gasworks Park was selected. It's not the one on the left, although I think that one is actually not too bad. I should have set up hours ahead of time with a tripod like a guy in the front of us. Mabye next year, although I wonder who they are going to find to sponsor the fireworks next summer since Washington Mutual is having so many problems with the massive credit explosion.

Anyways, back to the Schmapp... it seems to be an interesting outfit in some sort of beta pre-launch and they have some interesting tidbits about some of the various sites, mostly on the west coast USA for now. Here's a widget I downloaded from their site and you can see my http://www.schmap.com/seattle/events_fremont/#r=none&mapview=Map&tab=Places&p=196207&topleft=47.65182,-122.33662&bottomright=47.6417,-122.33063&i=196207_14.jpg (I took off this link because they removed their link to my Flickr page!) -- picture of the Seattle Fireworks there too.

*** UPDATE January 21, 2008 ***
For some reason, all of the links and attributions previously on the Schmapp Site have disappeared! I'm not sure if it is deliberate or an "accidental programming change". However, I have contacted them through Flickr and I hope they fix it as soon as possible. Otherwise, I plan on contacting Flickr to Complain about this abuse and try to get them banned.

Ok, there you have it... Somehow I made that widget using their web site. However, it's just another one of those technological advances where I am just going with the flow. Here's the photo that got me into this mess in the first place:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lotto Fever!

The Littlest GamblerI got to find a new investment strategy, because this buying lottery tickets is not working out so well. Yesterday, five lucky people in Taiwan split the massive jackpot of 1.2 Billion NT Dollars. This little gambler in the picture still has hope that his ticket will win. Of course, our tickets were not even close.

I had quite a lot of fun taking pictures at the luckiest lottery shop in our home town of Yuanlin. There were so many good shots, it was almost tough to pare it down to 13 of the best. I hope you enjoy as much as I did taking them. I was almost ready to leave and I passed the traffic light, but something told me I should turn back and get a few more shots. I told myself "No Regrets" and I'm glad I did, including the one you see there to the left. Of course it was almost a spectacle there, despite my low profile, so I leave you with this posed picture on the motor scooter.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

New Application

I'm happy to say I finished the application for Facebook and it seems to be working great. Check it out here. It didn't actually take too long to install the API kit, and get a basic application up and running, however it took about a day to figure out how to automate adding the new pictures everyday. I'm excited now that its done and I am going to start working on fixing up a "Google Gadget" with the same functionality. Exciting stuff.

Here were some alternate logos I was thinking about:

And the First Canvas Page Image:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting Cold!

More Night ShotsI like to remark to my compatriots back in the USA that it's "getting cold" over here in Taiwan - you know - like below 70 F ! Still, I think they fail to understand that without any heaters, when you're riding around on a motor scooter, it's friggin cold man!

Anyways, I suppose it has been a fair bit of time since I last wrote here in my blog, and I apologize to my faithful readers that it has taken this long to get an update. Well, to make a long story short, of course I've been busy at my day job righting the wrongs and fighting the good fight. When I'm not working and I still have time to spend on the computer, I upload a few pictures to my own personal Fotozon Page.

A few days ago, I had some pizza with our neighbors from S. Africa and they told me they were involved with Facebook. Well, I've been following the facebook story for some time now, especially when my hometown company, Microsoft, dropped a quarter billion USD$$ on them a month ago. I was meaning to create an application for facebook to add the Taiwan POD to their pages, and I'm proud to say it's already done! If you're on face book, you can use this link to sign up for my application!
Night Market Peanuts Ling Jiao
It was actually really easy to get started, but the biggest hurdle was figuring out how to update the user's profiles automatically every day. I believe this part is finshed now, and I hope if you are on facebook, you can add my app. Much to my surprise, there are already 19 users . Apparently this new medium of distrubution has its merits. All I need to do now is create a 75 pixel logo and I will submit the Taiwan Picture of the Day application to the Facebook directory.

Thank you all who have supported this application and project through the months and I hope it will take off big time now. After this is done, I will start looking into the "open social" project over at Google just so we are covering all our bases.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just Working

Red Scooter with CoverNot a lot to report these days, as I have actually been super busy at my day job. The company I work for now merged one of their divisions with the old company I used to work for up until July of last year. So, I've been called upon to do a lot of extra programming tasks that had not been done since I left. Its almost like I went on vacation for 14 months, and nobody covered for me. Better busy than unemployed though in my view.

As far as Fotozon goes, I've actually been working on a whole tagging and search function this weekend. After "auto-tagging" my 500+ pictures taken in the past year since I arrived in Taiwan, I went through each one to add tags describing the content of the scenes. Check out the search on the bottom of my Taiwan Photos page. While I've been planning on adding these functions anyways, I was kicked into gear after a newspaper displayed some interest in my photos, but they wanted a list of the categories and a way to search them. In the near future, I plan to make the auto-tagging, the one by one function and the search available to all of FotoZon after I finish working out a few details.

I leave you with a few links:

Hot new blog by Ashlin: Tumbling in Taiwan I especially his article about creator of the top level .cm domains

Face recognition technology in digital cameras?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Losing Money and Other Thoughts

Checking My InvestmentsThat's me in the picture checking my investments... Not really, it's just for effect because there weren't really many people at the market center. I was told that there aren't nearly as many investors visiting these days because who wants to invest in this scary volatile market? Obviously they are much smarter than me, because while I own no Taiwanese stocks directly (I think some mutual funds do own shares of Taiwan Semi-Conductor) I am invested in some US Stocks and funds, and they have taken a considerable beating this week. Of a greater concern than the lackluster performance this year is the incredible slide of the dollar against all other currencies. Even the NT, although somewhat tied to the US Dollar, has become relatively stronger in the past month. WeNight Cooks are all feeling the pain inflicted by this mess. Just last night I was ordering some fried up stuff and the lady told me that the price of her cooking oil has gone up from 450NT to 750NT per can since the beginning of the year. Of course all the other food costs are going through the roof. Corn is not only expensive, you can't even find it - I was lucky to get the last one and she said there would be no more.

There are all sorts of theories on the inflation and dollar slide. I believe these two situations are strongly related. It can be blamed on the the weak US Economy, the rise of other strong currencies like the Euro, or the fact that holders of US Dollars are giving them up and putting them back in circulation. My favorite for most plausible is that the US of A is s debtor nation and owes every other country in the world a boat-load of money. Just look at all the money spent in Iraq for the benefit of fat profits for the oil companies. The nation cannot possibly pay back the trillions in debt and is slowly (or quickly?) creating more and more money to pay it back. After all its just a bunch of numbers and they're not even on paper any more, most of them are stored electronically. Of course it may be too late to buy gold or move all our cash to Canada. Like they say in the investment prospectus "past results are no guarantee of the future results."

Flogging the FireA few more Random Tid Bits

Related to photo gallery sites like mine, here is an interesting piece about the incredible Web Shots yo yo story. First, right before the .com bust in 2000, the founders sold the site to Excite for $83 million, then when Excite went bankrupt a year later, they bought it back for only $2.4 million. In a few years they sold it AGAIN to C-Net for $70 million. Now C-net decided they don't want it any more and sold it to American Home Greeting for $45 million for a net loss. That web site apparently is jinxed and should definitely cary the "Buyer Beware" label.

In other photo news from my hometown of Seattle, comes a story about a photographer who received an apology and $8,000 from the police after he photographed an arrest and was hauled down to the station and thrown in jail. The police had no official account of the incident and did nothing until the ACLU stepped in on the poor photographer's behalf.

That's it for this weekend's installment of the Foto-Zon Blog and I urge all those affected by the inflation and the souring economy to keep their head up and focus on the positive things in life. Family, Health and inner well-being. Later..

Monday, November 5, 2007

Jong Shin Village Trip - 中興新村

Jong Shin Scooter Ballons TwoIn keeping with Today's Selection of Scooter Balloons for Taiwan Picture of the Day I have dedicated this entry to the trip to the Jong Shin Village in Nantou County, Taiwan. To get there is an easy exit from Freeway #3 just south of Taichung and slightly north of Nantou.

Jong Shin Village Gate
The Gate welcomes you to Jong Shin Village

Jong Shin Village Tree Lined Street
This tree lined street is not something you would excpect to see in Taiwan.

Jong Shin Village Houses
Houses on cute little streets complete with front yards and hedges.

Winding Path
The paths, fields and parks here are quite impressive.

Kids Park
Kids enjoy playing in this park with a sand pit, maze and lots of other kid activities.

Toy Seller
She will gladly sell you some scooops, trucks and shovels for the sand-pit.

The village and the parks are quite established with many old trees and lots of roots.

All Da BusThank you for visiting and you can find all my pictures of the Jong-Shin Village 中興新村 here

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

October Ending

101 BuildingOctober is winding down. It's been a busy month -- just like all the other months. Red Sox won the world series in impressive fashion blowing away the up and coming Rockies. The season for the NBA is almost here giving me some TV to watch in the morning in Taiwan instead of working.

I'm happy to report that recently I convinced Craig to feature me on his "Featured Photographer" series. That makes three features this month so I can't help but feel a little bit of a glow from the attention.

It is tempting to just sit back and enjoy the "glory" but I am now more determined than ever to continue my quest for web stardom and continue development of FotoZon and a few other ideas up my sleeve. I just can't keep working for the man forever...

Of course I continue to enjoy picture taking for fun. Recently after I dropped our 5 year old off at school, I took a drive around town to see what I could see.

Lanterns Detail
Lanterns outside a new sidewalk.

Selling Fish
Selling Fish

Temple Blue Truck
Temple with Blue Truck and Camper

Drying Plums
Dried Plums

Bird House
Bird House

This house had a lot of decorations on it. I think it used to be a Kindergarten.

Woman of the Budhist House
The owner of the well-decorated house.

All for now. catch you next time.


Monday, October 15, 2007

FotoZon Links

Temple DetailHere are some links for recent developments and coverage on the FotoZon.com Site.

Recently, a web site devoted to cultural ties between Australia and Taiwan did a piece on our web site entitled Brilliant Window on Brilliant Taiwan. I must admit the article is very flattering and paints a great picture of our web site and the progress we have made so far. It even looks like a real news piece with quotes from our interview and web site statistics to boot. Christine Sun, the editor of the web site has a degree in journalism and did a great job on the piece.

With help from a translator, I have published a page in Chinese entitled 台灣每日一照. If you can't read that text, you couldn't read the page anyways, so I will just say that it is a Chinese version of the Taiwan Picture of the Day page.

Finally, I have re-done all of the Taiwan Daily Archive Pages as well, using Light Box which is a JavaScript library for showing photographs on a web page. It is much better than the old version which used my own cooked up JavaScript that displayed the picture on the bottom of the page, rather than a cool overlay. There is one more kink to work out in Internet Explorer 6 where the previous image flickers for a second before the new image appears. To top it all off, I also added navigation menus on the side, and a listing of all the titles for the month with links to their respective pages.

Drying Plums Lots

That's it for a busy weekend working on the web site. Next installment will be a photo tour around our town, and a trip the the Jong-Shin Village in Nantou County.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Trip to Checheng

Just south of Sun Moon Lake on the road to Jade Mountain National park is the town of Shuei-Li. North of Shueili on a lightly travelled road is the terminus of the Ji-Ji railroad line formerly used during the Japanese occupation for logging. Originally we had planned to drive up to Yu-Shan national park, however after taking one look at the dark menacing clouds up that way, we took a left not knowing where we were going and ended up in the little town of Checheng. The locals are busy there building a logging museum and other attractions for tourists. A fine time was had by all.

First up on the trip was a stop in Shuei-li to visit the river and watch some rafters:
River Rafting in Taiwan

And also some river rescues

River at Che ChengAfter that we continued to drive onto CheCheng and saw the little tourist railroad town including this little tea-house on the pond:

Pond at Checheng:

Pond at Che Chang

Resevoir behind Town:


After driving around the Resevoir, we came to this washed out section of the road, which is a common occurence in Taiwan:

The strangest thing in this case were the steel I-Beams in the road, presumably
to keep out the bigger trucks from driving on the weak road:

Well, those are all the updates for our trip to Checheng, tomorrow is double 10 day, Taiwanese "independence day" even though the "country" is still not really independent. More updates coming soon on the recent photo trip around our town to the plum drying factory, the lantern array and the small budhist