I’ve been back from ACTFL for a while, but immediately upon returning I discovered that a bunch of my websites (all hosted on the same shared server) had been infested with malware. So I had that to deal with, in addition to a mountain of other pre-Christmas things.
The server was likely infected because an old WordPress install (that should have been deleted) was exploited. The best fix was a clean wipe: change passwords, export WordPress content via mySQL database dump, re-install WordPress, and re-import each website’s content. Fortunately, my web hosting service, WebFaction, was really helpful. They detected and alerted me of the malware in the first place, and provided useful guidance helping me clean it up. WebFaction is not the best service for anyone relatively clueless about tech, but if you can handle SSH and, like me, don’t mind Googling Linux commands occasionally to get stuff done, it’s really excellent.
But back to ACTFL… It was great to talk to the teachers I met there, and although I was there representing Mandarin Companion this time, I also met teachers familiar with Sinosplice, AllSet Learning, and ChinesePod. It was invaluable to get this rare face-to-face teacher feedback.
Here are my observations from the conference:
I was last at ACTFL in 2008, when almost all Chinese teachers in attendance were university instructors, with a sprinkling of teachers from cutting-edge high schools. Now there are plenty of high schools, middle schools, and even primary schools represented. So one unexpected piece of positive feedback was that even middle schools can use Mandarin Companion’s graded readers, and the kids like them.
In 2008, pretty much all Chinese teachers in attendance were ethnically Chinese. The only exception I can remember was my own Chinese teacher from undergrad at UF, Elinore Fresh (who was a bit of an anomaly, having grown up in mainland China). But now many of those non-Chinese kids that studied Chinese in college and got pretty good at it have become Chinese teachers themselves, and are also attending ACTFL. I’ve always been a proponent of the learner perspective in language pedagogy, so this is a fantastic trend to see. Chinese and non-Chinese teachers can accomplish so much more by collaborating.
There’s a strong TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) faction at ACTFL, the lead proponent for its application to Chinese pedagogy being Dr. Terry Waltz. I got a chance to talk to her about her methods, as well as other practitioners such as Diane Neubauer, who contributes to a great blog dedicated to TPRS for Chinese called Ignite Chinese. It’s very encouraging to see classroom innovation in this space, and I am researching TPRS more.
Boston is a pretty cool city. I regret that I didn’t have the time to check it out properly.
When I attended ACTFL in 2008, I met the guys behind Skritter, which went on to become a world-class service. I didn’t make any similar discoveries this time, but there’s no substitute for direct communication with all the teachers back in the USA working hard to prepare the next generation of kids for a world that needs Chinese language skills more than ever. I expect to be attending ACTFL pretty regularly in the coming years.
I continue to get questions about how I do the pinyin tooltips (popups) on Sinosplice. Well, let me remind you that anyone using WordPress can easily add this functionality to his blog. Just keep in mind that the tooltip content is manually added, not automatically generated.
The latest version of the plugin, 1.2 is available here:
You can also search and add the plugin through WordPress itself, and instructions on how to do that are here.
The plugin went through a rough patch recently due to some changes to WordPress’s edit screen code, making it difficult to add new tooltips to blog posts through the edit screen (although old ones continued to display fine). Now the editing screen “pinyin” button is working like a charm again.
There’s a new version of the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin out. With the help of Mark Wilbur’s pinyin tone mark conversion code (see it in action on Tushuo.com), version 1.1 added the ability to convert numeral pinyin (like this: “Zhong1wen2”) to tone mark pinyin (like this: “Zhōngwén”), and add that pinyin as a tooltip to text within WordPress, producing a nice little tooltip effect on your WordPress blog or site (like this: 中文).
Installing and using the plugin is by no means difficult, but in case you’re new to WordPress, to blogging in general, or to the idea of tooltips, this is the post for you! Here I’ll just go over quickly how to install it on WordPress 3.0.5 and what exactly you need to do to produce the effects above.
The Sinosplice Tooltips WordPress Plugin is now downloadable from the public WordPress Plugin Directory. I’m not sure why it doesn’t yet show up in searches (either on through WordPress site, or through the WP admin plugin section), but you can still download and install it. I’d like to thank Andy Warmack, the developer, for his time and dedication to making this plugin happen and helping me to provide it for free.
And now a little bit of clarification on what the plugin does, for those that are interested.
What the plugin does:
– Adds a quicktag to the HTML mode of the WordPress post editor, allowing you to add tooltip content as easily as you add a link
– Provides settings so that you can control the color and content (to a limited degree) of the tooltip
What the plugin doesn’t do:
– Automate the addition of pinyin to Chinese words (it’s all manual at this point, for full control)
– Draw on any kind of dictionary data
– Convert numerical pinyin (pin1yin1) to tone mark pinyin (pīnyīn); I recommend my friend Mark’s Pinyin Input Firefox Extension for that, which works fine with the WordPress HTML editor
Download away! If you install the plugin and decide to keep using it, please leave me a comment so that I can see how it looks on other sites. Thanks!
So the pinyin tooltip WordPress plugin I mentioned before is slowly but surely coming along. We’re alpha testing now, and discovering weird discrepancies between versions of WordPress. Hopefully those won’t be too hard to fix.
One of the options supported by the plugin is choice of tooltip background. Sinosplice currently uses plain white, but the script it’s based on uses a nice blue color. Here are some of the options I’ve put together (note: tooltip boxes and text are not actual sizes or proportions):
If you’re interested in using this tooltip, is there any default color you’d definitely want? If so, please let me know. As things stand now, I think I’ll go with the first four below (dropping the black one).
Anyway, now that Sinosplice has been redesigned, it feels like it’s time to do the tooltips right: as a WordPress plugin. That way WordPress upgrades will be (mostly?) unaffected, and I can easily share the tool with other bloggers. I’m working with a developer now to create the plugin, free and opensource.
Basically what it will do is:
– Add the CSS you need, giving you a few options
– Add a quicktag to the HTML text editor to facilitate addition of tooltip code
The good part is that the effect is general enough that it doesn’t have to be pinyin-specific, meaning it could work for regular English blogs, blogs about Japanese, etc. I know there are a few WP tooltip plugins out there, but none of them offer quite what I want, as a blogger frequently writing about Chinese for learners.
I’ll be presenting the idea at Shanghai Barcamp tomorrow; maybe I’ll get some good ideas there. Good ideas are always welcome in the comments, too, of course!
I haven’t been blogging much lately because I’ve been looking for a new web host in my spare time. I’ve been with DreamHost for years, but recently their service has become unforgivably bad.
My main complaints are:
My site was hacked while at DreamHost once. (One time is forgivable)
My site was later hacked again, which was probably due to outdated web app installations (and not the previous hack). But DreamHost proved amazingly unhelpful in shutting out the hacker. I thought I had shut him out once, but I was wrong. The best solution in this case, then, is to back everything up, make sure it’s all clean, then wipe the original installations and start anew. But if I’m going to do all that, I might as well move to a new host that offers better service and better security.
Last weekend my site was down for three days, and DreamHost support never replied to any of my tech requests. I eventually got the attention of a tech support person via live chat, and that person let me know that the security team had actually just moved my site to a different location on the server. Moving it back was trivial. They did it because DreamHost’s WordPress automatic upgrade script creates a backup of the old install (good), but it has a bug which places that directory in a predictable, public location, leaving previous versions’ security exploits online and vulnerable to attack (bad). I was a victim of this bug when I upgraded my WordPress installs, so DreamHost pro-actively (for once) took security measures by moving my entire site’s public directory. They just never told me, and refused to answer my questions. Amazing.
I understand what’s going on here. Basically, I’m the victim of the 80/20 rule. I’m one of those demanding customers who runs multiple sites, and has special needs. It makes a lot more sense for the business to focus on the “easy” customers who have one website that consists entirely of a WordPress install. (Never mind that I’ve brought in lots of referrals over the years, which means more business.)
Anyway, I’ll soon be moving on to a host that still cares more about customer service, and that will be happy to meet my needs. I think I’ve found a good one, but if you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.
(Incidentally, the first one I tried was Media Temple. The server they randomly assigned me was blocked in China, and when I asked to be switched to a server not blocked in China, the support staff promptly directed me to the refund page. Unbelievable.)
2016 Update: I later switched to WebFaction, and have been very satisfied for years. I recommend it!
Earlier this year, my Dreamhost webhosting account was hacked. I’ve been dealing with it for months, but I’m no programmer. The information provided by Dreamhost customer support, while helpful, has been far from sufficient to actually resolve the problem in a satisfactory way. That’s why I’m writing this blog post: to help others than might be in a similar situation.
How the Hacker Got In
I’m pretty sure the hacker got in through an old abandoned WordPress install that I had forgotten to delete. (It’s essential that you either keep all web apps up to date, or delete them. To do otherwise is to ask for trouble. Hackers will eventually discover the old installs with security vulnerabilities.)
After gaining access, the hacker uploaded a PHP backdoor script which allowed him to get back in easily and upload or edit any files he wants, even after I deleted the old WordPress installation that had the vulnerability. The backdoor script he used is called PHPspy, and is freely available on the internet. (Interestingly, it’s also Chinese.)
While some of us have been slaving away on a stupid never-ending masters thesis over the CNY break, others (David Lancashire) have been updating their “open source natural language processing engine for Chinese text” (Adsotrans).
Dave started up a blog for Adsotrans (again), and he’s got some interesting news to share:
Despite all the dire warnings against it, I just upgraded to WordPress 2.3 without disabling any plugins. And it went fine! Whoo-hoo! Don’t try this at home, folks. I live on the wild side.
It didn’t work for my Chinese blog, though. I had Ultimate Tag Warrior installed, and the upgrade totally broke the blog. I had to go in through PHPmyAdmin to manually deactivate that one plugin to get the blog working again. Then after running the upgrade script, I got two errors (which I plan to just ignore, reckless fool that I am). Shouldn’t matter much, considering how seldom I update that blog these days.
Regular posting (not about WordPress) to resume this weekend!
The Great FireWall of China (GFW) is quite a nuisance, but I haven’t been thinking about it much lately. That’s because all Flickr pictures display fine for me when I have the Access Flickr! Firefox plugin installed, and Wikipedia, Blogspot, and others display fine for me since I started using an automatic proxy trick for Firefox which I first discovered on Lost Laowai. The combination of these two tricks satisfies most of my regular browsing needs. They most likely won’t work forever, but they work for now.
This attitude is a little self-centered, though. A lot of visitors may not have these tricks at their disposal, and if they’re in China, they can’t see the Flickr-hosted images I use regularly on my blog.
I contacted Yee of Ya I Yee, the blog which tipped off Lost Laowai about the proxy trick. Yee seems to be quite the knowledgeable guy, and he pointed me to:
– a WordPress plugin which makes substitutions in Flickr image URLs, rendering them visible in the PRC (I am now using this plugin on this blog)
– a site which discusses the Flickr block in some detail (in Chinese), including a manual workaround
– a site which shows how the Access Flickr! Firefox plugin works
I upgraded to WordPress 2.1.3 lately. Since then, my RSS feed doesn’t seem to be working. I’ve been pretty busy at work lately, so I won’t have time to try to fix it until next week. I’m running the Feedburner plugin. Anyone know anything about this?
Gotta work all weekend, and then the May holiday starts on Tuesday. I am so looking forward to it…
Update: OK, I think I fixed the feed. Please let me know if I’m wrong.
My web host, DreamHost, offers a really great one-click install feature through its control panel. Using it, you can install the latest version of WordPress ridiculously easily. Even better, you can upgrade any WordPress install with a simple click… as long as that WordPress installation was installed using the one-click install system.
So here’s my problem. I have recognized the awesomeness of the one-click install/upgrade system, but if I want to take advantage of it, I have no choice but to export my entire blog — entries, comments, theme, plugins, modifications and all — and then re-import them all on a fresh one-click WordPress install. I’m doing this today. I think it will be worth it.
A while back I wrote about adding pinyin tooltips using a little CSS and a span HTML tag. I later mentioned that I had worked a “quicktag” into my blogging interface. Today I’ll tell you how to easily add this button to your WordPress “Write” page.
The pinyin quicktag in action
After installing WordPress 2.0, it took me a while to get around to uploading my custom quicktags.js file which includes the “pinyin” quicktag button. Since I add pinyin to words quite often, I was really annoyed by the loss of the button. It really makes adding pinyin so much more convenient.
Some of you may have noticed that the URL of my weblog has changed. It’s now /life/ instead of /weblog/. This is not because I think “Life” is a great name for my weblog, or because I think this is not a blog or something. I actually liked using the name “weblog” because it’s the simplest, most accurate description.
The reason for the change is Google. I had the word “weblog” in both the title of the HTML document as well as in the URL, and as a result, almost all the Google ads going on my archived pages were for blogging services instead of something related to the actual content of the entries. This means I was losing out on potential ad revenue, and possibly that Google search results in which Sinosplice turns up were skewed as well. All because of my stupid title tag and weblog URL.
So I did the practical thing and changed them. Hence /life/. All I had to do was change the directory and make a few changes in WordPress. Then I was able to avoid dead links with a bit of code in my .htaccess file (which normally all fits on one line):
I think my ads are doing better already, but it’s hard to say this early.
I also finally redid my /china/ page, so now the five sections of my site (as listed in the top nav bar) have a uniform look and feel. (Next up: the sorely outdated /network/ page. I’m glad to get this stuff done; it helps pave the way for new content.
I have a presentation on Noam Chomsky in one of my linguistics classes coming up in early December that I’ll be working hard on in the next two weeks, but more (non-blog) content is coming soon after.
Just in case the second paragraph didn’t get through to you… If you’re thinking of coming to China, do not use Blogspot. It is blocked in China. Do not use Blog-City. It is blocked in China. Do not use Blogsome. It is blocked in China.
I’ve been getting reports of difficulty submitting comments. I’ve been having them too, and in the WordPress interface as well. The commenting difficulties go something like this:
– IE users get a “page cannot be found” error after clicking “submit comment.”
– Firefox users get absolutely nothing after clicking “submit comment.” It looks like it’s working, like a new page is loading, and then it just dies.
I’m not sure what’s causing this. It’s not a China issue, because it’s happening to people outside of China as well. That means it’s either a hosting issue or a WordPress issue. I’m guessing it’s the latter, probably caused by a plugin. I’ll try to fix it soon, but I don’t have a lot of free time on my hands.
In the meantime, you can still submit comments. IE users, hit back and submit again. Repeat as necessary. Firefox users, just click and wait for it to go through. Repeat as necessary.
Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you for your patience.
I’ve been writing this blog for over three years. It has become my hobby of choice. A lot of bloggers burn out or get bored, but I find it easier than ever. Most days, there are about ten potential entries I could write if I felt like it. Granted, a lot of those entries would be “filler” entries. The other type of entry, which I like to think of as the “quality” entry, requires inspiration and more time to write. I haven’t written a good “quality” entry for a while, but there will be more. (This is another “filler” entry.)
The point of this post is to announce that, starting today, I’m following a blogging schedule. There will be a new entry every weekday morning. This is pretty easy to do, because I’ll have the entries written ahead of time and scheduled in WordPress to be posted at a certain time. I haven’t decided what exact time is best to post, but I’m starting with 7am (China time).
There was a time when I would have thought that a “blogging schedule” was ridiculous. However, I no longer feel there will be any problems thinking of topics, I still like writing, and writing entries to be posted at a later date helps me manage my time better. While I was visiting home, I loved being able to neglect my blog for a whole week while new posts continued to appear every day. It’s a better way to blog.
So that’s the news. Sinosplice Weblog: Monday through Friday, one new entry a day.
As you read this, I am already onboard an airplane with my girlfriend bound for the USA. We left Pudong International Airport around 1pm today, flew to Seoul, and are currently bound for L.A.
Now, I’m not blogging from first class or anything so fancy-pants bourgeoise as all that. I’m using WordPress’s scheduled posting feature. It’s pretty cool! I decided I didn’t want to waste precious time at home blogging, so I put up some posts ahead of time so that my site doesn’t go un-updated for all that time.
In L.A. we have a five-hour layover before flying to Tampa, so I’m meeting up for dinner with two friends I know from China who live in L.A. One of them is none other than the infamous “Da Xiangchang.” He posts a lot of over-the-top comments here (and a lot of good ones as well), but before any of that we were friends in China. I haven’t seen him for a while.
While I’m in the States I won’t be working on my website much, but I hopefully will be doing some work on Adopt a Blog. My original page for it is being combined with the work that some other people have contributed this year and it will all soon be online at a new location. I finally found an overseas sponsor! I’ll have to save the official announcement for when it’s actually done, though.