The Saturday Ramble

Waffle with everything.

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of my rambling, ephemeral Saturday-morning posts, but for the first time in a while, I don’t have to concern myself with other business – typically something school-related.

The monthly tests were last week, although it feels a longer time has passed. A week ago I was marking AS1’s reading tests; on Wednesday, I ploughed my way through A2(1&3)’s reading tests; and on Thursday, A2(2)’s got the same treatment. Because we had students away doing SATs during the tests, there were a couple of strays to be dealt with, but unlike quite a few of my less fortunate colleagues, I don’t have these things hanging over my head this weekend.

However, lest it be thought that this situation is all silver lining and no cloud, I had the A2s write their embedded interviews yesterday, and AS1 write its reviews of The Social Network. The former had had all week because it was the last round of the interactive orals this week and I’d set them the task of writing the embedded interview while I was otherwise engaged. Some had completed the task, and quite a few had rewritten the transcript interview, which is a text type we did last year; but I insisted that they should finish the writing partly because they’d had all week to do it. I had AS1 write their reviews immediately after they’d watched The Social Network because when last year’s AS classes did the same exercise as homework, they plagiarised other reviews en masse and I abandoned the whole thing. However, these things can wait. I’m having my weekend.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the trial of the Grillo sisters, who have just been acquitted of committing fraud against Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. This is not because I have any particular interest in the case, but because the embedded interview was part of the food-themed section of English class. The task for the A2s was to write up an embedded interview with a celebrity chef. Lawson comes into the story because I happened to use a couple of interviews with her as additional examples.

My contract has been renewed and I’m even getting a modest pay increase. I thought that those days were over because I’d hit the top of the pay scale.

The new toy.

After Linda replaced her stolen phone recently, I decided that it was about time I did the same. This was not because the phone was ailing, but because it was ageing. Since Linda had bought a Nokia Lumia, I decided to do the same, and headed off to Suning Plaza, which is just across the lane from Parkson. They may have been having a sale because the phone I bought, a 920, was ¥2,399 here, but in the shop in Chengdu, Linda said it was ¥3,000.

The Lumia 920 is a WindowsPhone running WP8, and where I think W8 (or its derivatives) is a dumb idea on a laptop or PC, it works on a phone or tablet, although not everything is obvious. For example, there’s a screen view which shrinks the screen and allows you to swipe through recent places. According to the manual, you hold down the left arrow key, although I have no idea how I’ve done such a thing because I’ve only managed to bring up that screen by accident on previous occasions. The screen also rotates from time to time, but that seems to be a matter of holding the phone in the upright position and turning it sideways. It does happen at odd moments, though. Nothing in the manual about this function, which I assume is a more recent addition to the device.

The phone came with the usual Nokia apps such as maps, music, etc. Because of the link with Microsoft, the phone came with the mobile version of Office home and student edition. One Note has a separate tile, which is probably sensible since it’s apparently the phone’s notebook. As far as using Office productively goes, I’d say that it’s wishful thinking. It’s all right for reviewing documents in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but the size of the screen and limited functionality of these programs makes creativity awkward – something done out of necessity. In addition to these apps, I’ve also installed Adobe Reader, Kindle (hurrah! And the text is much better on the phone than it is on my Kindle), and Google, which seems to have some kind of built-in browser although I can’t get Chrome without being redirected to the Chinese Nokia website – any attempts to get Chrome from elsewhere get blocked. I’ll just have to tolerate IE10.

It was fortunate that I already had an MS account when I got the phone and that I happened to have the password with me. Office comes with SkyDrive, which is not a service I use half as much as I ought to, although there are still quite a lot of pictures there from the days when my blog was on Spaces.

The phone also forced me to buy a wireless router about which I was a little wary because I expected to find that I should be coughing up more money for a second connection to the outside world. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case. Nor was the router exactly expensive. I was expecting the price to be several hundred 元, but it was a mere ¥100. The first problem to overcome was the installation because the instructions were only in Chinese; but after a little guesswork, I found that the first part was irrelevant because it was to do with setting things up through Control Panel. The other part involved going to the router’s IP address and setting things up through a page which, I assume, it embedded on the device. This, too, is solely in Chinese, but I overcame that as well, and have had WiFi ever since. It became clear that I needed it after I found that the Nokia Suite software for my old phone didn’t interact with the new one.

There was also an app allowing PCs and laptops to chat to the phone via a USB connection, but it has very limited functionality. For once, Bluetooth seems to be a better option.

I opted for the 920 over the 925 because the reviews suggested that the former was better value for money while the latter was expensive and added little. So far, I have no real complaints about the phone apart from its occasional bursts of quirky behaviour when I do something with it that I wasn’t intending to do.

0 to the far side of the intersection faster than an Audi R8.

I’ve already had one run-in with a tardy Audi R8, and now I’ve had another. I was waiting to cross the intersection to Baoli. On the other side was a black Audi R8 Coupé oozing coolness. The light went green and I dashed off. It was not until I was nearly on the far side of the intersection that the wide boy in the Audi decided to rev his engine, which made a considerable amount of noise, and out-accelerate everything else – embarrassingly late. Perhaps it was turbo lag.

While we’re on the streets of Wuxi, the 中山路-县前街 intersection remains a mess. The road surface is wet and uneven, and heavy metal plates, which bob up and down as vehicles pass over them, remain strewn across the road. There’s no sign of anyone doing any work on it at all.

The winter solstice.

Today’s Google doodle claims that it’s the first day of winter. Where? Where is it the first day of winter? It sounds like a Hallmark anniversary. It is the winter solstice, though, and bloody cold to boot.

The Great Game

By Peter Hopkirk.

The Great Game was played out in central Asia between Britain and Russia throughout the 19th century as the former, fearing that the ultimate prize for the latter was India, sought to counter Russian expansion. It was set against a background of brutal terrain, a brutal climate, and brutal people in a remote part of the world which was largely unknown to either Britain or Russia.

In many ways, it was another part of the Age of Discovery as British and Indian surveyor-explorers surveyed the regions north of India to assess how easy it might be for the Russians to send army through the passes to invade the Jewel in the Crown. Very often such ventures ended in death in a violent, duplicitous, and deeply xenophobic part of the world.

The British government vacillated between forward-thinking policies and masterly inactivity while the Russians deceitfully nibbled away at central Asia, often extending their borders as a fait accompli about which their opponents could do nothing. But whether the Russians really had been a threat to India is another matter, and it is incredible that apart from the Crimean War, the two sides avoided all-out war.

There was plenty of heroic derring-do which led both to terrible slaughter (Afghanistan) and close-run victories (Chitral).

Hopkirk tells an interesting tale which occasionally feels dated by references to Soviet historians and their dubious interpretation of the events of the time. His account focuses on the British side, but he does so without waving the flag directly. There is, though, plenty of implicit criticism of the Russian Empire for its duplicity as it typically denied any interest in further expansion before it did exactly the opposite, and the British government for its apparent naivety (which may just have been masterly inactivity).

Everyone smokes here

The Airpocalypse continues.

A picture of a smoggy day in Wuxi, China, December 2013.The air quality in Wuxi has continued to be vile for a third day, having risen by a hund­red points to an AQI reading of 352 at 4.00am this morning, since when it’s per­sist­ent­ly been above 340 all day. I assume that this is the consequence of an inversion layer sitting on top of China causing the smog to build up. (As I write this, some thoughtful person is making things just that bit worse by setting off some fireworks; but in­tel­lig­ence and consideration are not really qualities of the average imperial citizen; in fact, if Descartes had been Chinese, he would’ve eaten the dog after killing it so brutally, and would’ve said ‘I pollute, therefore I am’.)

Yesterday, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 readings were over 300, but at the time of writing, they’ve dropped to a less lethal 239 and 272. I should take up smoking since I’m sure that would be less injurious to my health than the stuff thickening the air like lethal cornflour.

Now that the temperature has dropped, wearing a mask while I’m riding my bike is not such a trial as it used to be. In fact, I notice that quite a lot of people have been wearing masks today, including many of the pupils at school.

I see the PM was in China recently. He complained about a Bloomberg reporter being excluded from a press conference, but I assume he phoned his boss (Li Keqiang) who phoned the emperor, who said it was all right for Cameron to complain so that (to a domestic audience) it would look like Britain was standing up to China.

The Smogpocalyse drags on. (06.12.13)

Smog in Wuxi, China, December 2013Things have got worse. At the time of writing, the AQI is 354, PM 2.5 440, and PM 10 545.

Meanwhile, outside, there’s some sort of student market. Instead of the school banning such a thing and telling children to remain inside, their lordships seem quite happy for all of them to breathe the vile and unbreathable air. Of course, the students aren’t helping themselves by opening the windows of their classrooms.

In fact, in any reasonable country, we would all have been told to stay home. On the other hand, if we were told to stay home, we’d probably end up having various weekends stolen from us.

As far as I’m currently aware, there’s no end in sight.

Today’s picture was the scene looking east at about 5pm. At the current time of writing, the AQI is 387, PM 2.5 379, and PM 10 494. What is being done about this?

Shuffling off this mortal miasma. (10.12.13)

Yesterday morning was very dull and grey, and the AQI had started rising again after hitting a peak of 387 about 24 hours earlier.

It was, though, the arrival of a cold front from the north that has finally seen off the smog, and this morning, the air is comparatively less filthy in that I can see the buildings in town clearly, although I can’t see the line of 锡山 to the east. Still, this is a vast improvement over the view out of my window for the past week.