Programming Taiwan

A personal finance data pipeline project

I had received a (family) project brief recently. In Taiwan many credit/debit cards have various promotions and deal, and many of them depend on one’s monthly spending, for example “below X NTD spending each month, get Y% cashback”. People also have a lot of different cards, so playing these off each other can be nice pocket change, but have to keep an eye on whether where one is compared to the max limit (X). So the project comes from here: easy/easier tracking of where one specific card’s spending is within the monthly period. That doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Except the options for these are:

  1. A banking website with CAPTCHAs and no programmatic access
  2. An email received each day with an password-protected PDF containing the last day’s transactions in a table

Neither of these are fully appetizing to tackle, but both are similar to bits that I do at #dayjob, but 2. was a bit closer to what I’ve been doing recently, so that’s where I landed. That is:

  • Forward the received email (the email provider does it)
  • Receive it in some compute environment
  • Decrypt the PDF
  • Extract the transaction data table
  • Clean and process the tabular data
  • Put raw in some data warehouse
  • Transform data to get the right aggregation
  • Literally profit?

I was surprised how quick this actually worked out in the end (if “half a weekend” is quick), and indeed this can be a first piece of a “personal finance data warehouse”.


Five weeks of no-caffeine

Five weeks ago, I’ve started on a “no-caffine month“, well, it wasn’t a month indeed after all. Yesterday was the end of my target, thus let’s see how things worked out!

I’m glad I have managed go all five weeks without caffeine – no coffee, no tea, no dark chocolate to be on the “safe” side… That’s all nice, but looking at the purpose of the decaf period, did it make any material difference? And was it any different compared to the previous two times when I did this? The result is not totally clear cut to me, it definitely was much clearer in previous times. No experiment running for five long weeks in real life can really just change one parameter (me with/without caffeine in this case), while keeping everything else the same. Thus changes or lack of change is harder to interpret.


Starting on a no-caffeine month

This is the third time I’m embarking on a quest to decaf. It is usually triggered by observing the effect of all the coffee and tea that I’m drinking: jumpiness, difficulty getting up in the morning, generally being an arse… The signs are pretty unmistakable, that I’ve had a bit too much…

The first time it was a very special experience, many aspects really stayed with me. The most important memory I carry over is the expected way the caffeine withdrawal should play out, based on this first time. The first week is kinda easy. The second is harder. The third was really rough, I reverted to pretty much to be a manchild, (figuratively) banging on the table and shouting “I am a grownup, I can have coffee whenever I want!” Then the last week was very good, much better mood, much more balanced physical functions too. It was bliss. Was almost strange to stay in that state for only a week, and resuming having coffee .


My London Theatre Season Highlights, 2016-17 Edition

Last year I’ve moved back to London after living eight years in Asia.

No Man’s Land

(2016 December) I was reading a few volumes of Pinter’s collected plays, and was feeling very envious of New York, that they had Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen putting a dual production of Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land on stage there. But then I was lucky enough to catch  No Man’s Land in London, and that was a really intense kick-off for my theatre season.

Stage shot of No Man's Land
Let’s change the subject, for the last time

Theatre of the absurd is maybe my favorite, and this one makes a really good watch. The play is not perfect, though, the long monologue towards the end made me switch off, regardless how good the delivery was. But it was superb setup, superb acting (though Sir Ian had the better part), and very memorable. I think it’s a pretty good introduction to British culture as well, I’m definitely drinking much more since (alcoholism is one of the central elements).

Computers Life Taiwan

Taiwan Citizen Digital Certificate

Taiwan has a very interesting attitude towards technology (for better or worse), and it is fun to try out anything new that comes up here (for a certain definition of “fun”). When the news hit late last month, that the National Immigration Agency opens Internet ID application to foreign residents, I was there to get mine as soon as it was available. The “Internet ID” refers to a “Citizen Digital Certificate”, also called MOICA, a smart card that supposed to make a lot of services available through a web browser or other government-produced software (e.g. filing taxes online). For Taiwanese citizens MOICA seems to be available at least since 2003 (according to the news report I’ve managed to dig up), but this is the first time it available for us foreigners living here.

In this rather graphic post I try to summarize the process of getting a MOICA card as a foreigner in Taiwan, setting it up, and some (opinionated) lessons to learn from it.

The Process

The process of getting and setting up the card is outlined in this leaflet that I’ve picked up.

MOICA Application English
Click to see large scan. Wow.

Though – not surprisingly – in practice everything is a lot more complicated than these 8 bulletpoints.