Sunday, August 27, 2006

Watched a recent Hong Kong film called Election yesterday. The story is about the fall out within a triad from its election of its new chairman and the battle between the two candidates to gain control. It was really good. The film is very naturalistic, with no guns, so is very different from the normal HK fare. In fact the triad leaders spend most of their time in the film locked up as the police try to force them to work out a truce while the gang's factions fight amongst each other to deliver the baton of the chairman's authority to the leader they support.
It does have some faults. Some of the themes and characters aren't developed quite as well as they could have been, including the main theme of the battle between tradition and the need to "modernise" their gang activities. There is an Election 2 which apparently isn't quite as good, or at least is really just a kind of re-run of the original but it's supposed to be still watchable. If I see a copy with english subtitles I think I'll get it.
Today is the school's open day in preparation for the start of term next Friday. I get to meet parents and give a speech which is all a bit scary. I probably shouldn't have had tha second tequila last night but actually I feel fine. This lunchtime I listened to Just a Minute to help me relax.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Today I met one of the richest men in China, the owner of Hua Mao group and my school. He came to see how the place is looking and generally give his blessing for the future. The school itself is really starting to look like a real school, with classrooms and everything.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More playing about with Google, but this time with googlepages. My old website has been moderately popular, mainly because of the cut-up machine, but has been in a considerable limbo since UKOnline disabled the facility to upload changes through any mechanism except directly logging on to their servers. This always seemed to me a shame but at the same time I moved onto Blogger and found that maybe I didn't need a website anymore. However, with Google's new service I decided that maybe it was time to have another look at what a personal website should be.
I did take a quick look at googlepages when it was first announced but found the lack of javascript (an essential for the cut-up machine) and no abiliy to create your own template a bit too limiting. This time around there are still no personalised templates but there is the addition of google widgets, exactly like those used on the Google homepage, which can use javascript. So I spent Sunday evening playing with that and created a cut-up machine (which you can add to your desktop by clicking here: Add to Google).
That evening I fell ill with some kind of nasty food poisoning and spent most of Monday and Tuesday in bed. This morning, not really wanting to get on with very much else, I've been playing with the site and have now created a new(ish) homesite. So far it's just content from the old one and I haven't moved everything yet. But not bad for a morning's work.
Not that it has all been that easy. The lack of templates means that I am stuck with the scheme that Google has created and cannot modify it at all. So, if I want to change something on one page I have to go through all of them and change each one. It also means that it is impossible to create a generic menu system. To get around this I had to create another special widget and add it manually to each page. This seems ridiculous when compared with the functionality that blogger already offers and hopefully will be fixed soon.
Aside from that it works quite neatly. The page editor is simple and allows anyone to create a website. You can also upload pages and images (up to 100MB) so if I had wanted I could have used that facility to create a carbon copy of my old website without much fuss (except for the lack of folders).
So now I just have to decide what the website is for. Afterall I do have my blog so what's the point? I've yet to really decide. I think I want to look at the site as a platform for my writing, another plank on the muddy path of treating it as a career, and so there will be content and organisation changes over the next few months. Much of the older content will, I think, be archived off to the side to make way for other stuff. Now that I can. Unless the changes announced to Blogger today change my mind again.
The new home page can be seen at:
Setup your own pages at: (you'll need a Google account)
Information on creating Google Gadgets:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Well, I survived the typhoon. Actually we didn't even get any rain here in Ningbo although it was pretty bad in the south of the province. This week I've decided to finish with my part-time work with Web English School as it was just taking up too much of my time. My new job as Dean is really starting to take off and I want to be able to focus on that, and write, and the money isn't so important. It paid for my phone and got me a little extra, so that's ok.
As a writer I like to collect news articles, bits of science and odd words that I uncover on the internet. Previously this meant adding links to your favourites (and, latterly, delicious and bloglines) and forgetting about them. Then, almost inevitably, when you came back to read the article it wold be gone, moved or deleted, meaning extra wasted time searching Google for some remains of a half-remembered idea. Scrapbook for Firefox is a plugin that allows you to select a piece of text or even a whole web page and save it to your hard drive. It also has the ability to categorize your snippets into folders, add notes of your own, search and highlight text. All very useful, until you move to China and leave your computer behind.
Recently Google announced Notebook, an application that does pretty much the same as scrapbook but with the advantage that all your information is stored at Google, can be shared with others, and accessed anywhere with the internet. It also integrates with Firefox so additions can be made quickly simply by right-clicking on a selected piece of text or page, just like Scrapbook...
I've been using it a lot to collect articles and research information but I feel I haven't been using it all that effectively. Sure, it's a repository of information I want to be able to read when I want but what else can it do? This week I started using the enhanced Google homepage again and rediscovered the wonderful Word of the Day. I decided to add a word from the list to the Google notebook and realised that I may be able to use it more effectively. This morning I went into it and set up four different notebooks: Inbox, Words, Inspiration and Novel. Inbox is the default. Everything added goes in there. This saves me having to continuously alter which Notebook I'm adding to which is not an easy or intuitive process, especially from the pop-up window. Now, once a week I can go through the Inbox and file things into the correct notebook. Interesting articles that may be a starting point for an idea in Inspiration, words I like into Words, and research for my novel, well, you get the idea. Each notebook can also be divided into sections, which can be useful fo separating out specific information further. So now I can spend even more time on the web "researching" ;)
Google Notebook is still a labs (beta) product and does have some flaws and some omissions. There is AJAX implementation to create a nice interface but it can be a little unwieldy at times. Options such as collapse all are only available through a drop-down menu and they should really have instant access icons. You can create sections within a notebook but notes added just seem to be thrown into the latest section instead of at the top where they can be filed easily or, ideally, asking you which section you want the note in when you drop it onto the notebook. There is also no "tagging," a concept so integral to Gmail which would also work really well here as it is impossible to have notes in more than one section. The option to be able to quickly highlight text would also be useful as would being able to view the note full page or as a pop-out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Well, people travel for new experiences so last week I went bowling for the first time. It was an event organised by Web, the school where I'm doing some part-time teaching. It was a lot of fun although I didn't score that highly. I think it was around 80.
I have had another busy week. The work for the new school is starting to really pick up. Lots of forms and policies to get sorted before the start of term, new parents to meet, and new teachers to recruit and fix up with their visas. And when I'm not doing that then Web are asking me to do extra classes, which I am now having to turn down. I haven't had a day off for a few weeks now; so much for my long holiday... Spent yesterday afternoon in a teahouse working through some stuff in a meeting. The teahouse was pretty nice; quiet and comfortable. You pay about 50 or 60RMB for a cup of tea but you get endless refills and free food so it's expensive but a good place for go spend a couple of hours.
I downloaded Office 2007 Beta last week as I do miss having One Note and I wanted to test Outlook's iCal features. Seems pretty stable and I do really like the new interface. It's such a simple but powerful change that it almost seems a wonder no-one thought of it before. Now, instead of lots of drop-down menus and obscure icons the two are combined into a single "tabbed" interface. For example, the Home tab includes all the basic editing and style functions which are divided up into specific boxes and labelled with what they do. And if an option isn't there, or you are not quite sure what you want to do, many of them can be extended by clicking on the bottom of the box to provide more information. There is also a big Start button type thing in the top-left which opens out into the standard save, etc, but just, well, looks good. If I could be bothered I would post some screenshots but there's probably plenty out there.