Drupal sucks!

Actually, Drupal is a pretty nice CMS and you certainly can’t complain about the price.

A CMS (Content Management System) is supposed to be a simple way to post information online. A blog is simply one form of content management. A CMS usually supports many types of content including blogs and forums.

Drupal is pretty nice and does pretty much what I need, though there aren’t many very good-looking themes and I never bother to spend the time to make my own. However, there is just one “quirk” that I cannot forgive.

If you are filling in a whole bunch of content and you navigate to another page by accident or your internet connection goes down, you will lose all your work! It doesn’t matter whether you’re pressing the back button or reloading the page, you will be greeted with a nice blank form.

When WordPress and Blogger.com has auto-save, this is simply unforgivable. The freakin’ browser will even remember your form data as long as it doesn’t crash! You have to actually go out of your way to physically clear out the form data to do what Drupal is doing! It’s probably dynamic HTML or some AJAX bull-crap from the Web 2.0 kool-aid that’s causing the issue. I don’t care, just don’t wipe my data for a simple navigation error! 6 versions of this software and I write in Notepad so I don’t lose my work. It’s simply ridiculous.

You think Japanese is hard, try LaTeX

I haven’t been posting lately because I’ve been trying to focus on my book which I’ve decided to call “Tae’s Complete Guide to Japanese”.

I’m having some hiccups because TeX, LaTeX, XeTeX, whatever the hell you want to call it SUCKS! The fact that you can’t even come up with a single name to identify what you’re talking about is a perfect example of the ass shit this monstrosity has become. This whole hodgepodge of crap is what you get when you have absolutely no API, no architecture, nor any sort of standard and instead have a bunch of people do whatever the hell they want. There’s all sorts of packages doing god knows what to each other with no sort of hierarchy, inheritance, black box protection, or namespace. Don’t even think about a single source of documentation. Documentation? Whoa, don’t get ahead of yourself with this fancy pants documentation. We ain’t gonna tolerate no stinkin document-thingy round here, boy.

Here’s what I’m struggling with. I can’t get bloody italics to show up in a Japanese font!

I’ve posted more details on my dilemma on a programming site here.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to reinstall my Tex package because I could have sworn my italics were working at some point. Was I seeing things again? Or did some other package just break it?

At least it’s not docbook, thank god!

What obstacles in online colloboration?

I had a couple online lessons during the weekend as well as one face-to-face.

The online lessons went amazingly well except for when my stupid, stupid Comcast connection died and didn’t come back for 10 minutes. I would even venture to say it worked out better than the real-life meeting because the place we had arranged to meet had already closed. (What kind of large coffee chain closes at 7pm??)

We have the technology

Here’s the technology I used to set this up, in case anybody is curious.

Skype with webcam: Of course you need some kind of chat program. One person suggested MSN Live Messenger, which I will try out but Skype with video works amazingly well. It’s almost as good as talking face-to-face!

Drupal: I use Drupal to manage my lessons, conversation notes, and any other content related to the lessons. If you’re not familiar with Content Management Systems (CMS), it’s a generic platform to manage content in different formats whether it’s a blog, online book, forum, etc. This was used to setup the main lesson site.

Google Calendar: I added a new calendar on my Gmail account to manage my lesson calendar. You can embed the calendar for others to share and sync as I have done in this page.

Yuuguu: I researched around for screen sharing apps and this was the first one I tried. It was very simple to use and works great so I’ve stuck with it. At least, it seems to work great for me since I’m the one sharing the screen. I don’t know how slow it is on the other end but so far, there seems to be little trouble following along. I can run Google searches and show how to find interesting information pertaining to your interests in Japanese.

I have screen sharing on my laptop and I converse on Skype through my desktop. I have the laptop on the side for demonstration mostly because my desktop monitor resolution is far too large for sharing.

Lang-8: I setup a separate account on Lang-8 exclusively to correct my student’s writing. I ask them to setup their own account and add me as a friend. This way, I can easily correct their writing and also allows them to find additional friends and input from the awesome Lang-8 community.

Google Checkout: I haven’t tried this out yet but it allows sending out email invoices so you don’t even need a website with a shopping cart. You can however easily embed one in your website if you so choose. I plan to send emails out at the end of every month for lessons already done to save myself the trouble of tracking amount purchased, amount remaining, and all that junk. The transaction fee is 2% and $0.20. Not bad at all!


Drupal is great if you already pay for a domain name and have a provider with PHP and database support. But you could probably do most of what you need with a free blog from blogger. So really, there is no overhead cost at all except for your internet connection which I assume you already have since you’re reading this.

My setup probably isn’t going to work for most people. If you need help finding students or don’t want to bother with managing billing and payment, you’ll probably just want to pay the 15% and go with eduFire. But I doubt their flash app can beat having screen sharing where you can show the student whatever you want, whether it’s the lesson, searching for their favorite author’s works in Japanese on Amazon.co.jp or showing them show to use wwwjdic to find example sentences of something they just learned during the course of the conversation. You can even give them control briefly so they can have their hand at it.

Update: I’ve been checking out some videos and it does look like eduFire has screen sharing as well so it’s actually a really impressive little app they’ve developed.

Update 2: Actually, the app I think is from Adobe so it’s a nice big app that they’ve licensed or bought.

Next time, I’ll talk about the most important part which are the actual lessons themselves.

WordPress 2.7 First Impressions

Finally, threaded comments supported out of the box! The plugins available to do this were incredibly difficult to setup and changed the database more than I was comfortable with. Of course, my theme doesn’t work with this new feature so I’m back to the default theme for now. The default theme is horrible and really needs an update. This is important since your favorite themes are often unmaintained and will not support newer features. I’ll be hunting for another one in the coming days.

As for the new admin interface, it’s OK but I don’t really care too much as long as I can get stuff done. The old one worked and so does the new one. It’s more customizable, which is cool. I don’t like the bulk action dropdown since I’m forced to choose an action instead of just hitting the appropriate button. It adds two more clicks: 1 to click the dropdown and 1 to select the action.

Time will tell whether the automatic upgrading will work ok without having to fudge around with chmod and directory permissions.

Link: WordPress 2.7 Demo Site

Update: Couldn’t stand the default theme anymore. I don’t really much like this one either but it seems to work. I hate fixed-width, it’s such a waste of valuable screen space. The theme search continues…

Update 2: I’ve decided to drop the threaded comments stuff. Personally, I don’t like how it’s difficult to figure out which comments are new since it’s no longer sorted by oldest first. Can’t do much about the fixed-width. It seems to be all the rage with the better looking themes.

Hacked and mangled but still standing

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog but what you haven’t seen (or maybe you did briefly) is all the stuff I had to do just to keep it the same.

Some of you may have briefly seen the navigation menu oddly placed. That was because of countless invisible spam links inserted into one of my posts. Since my WordPress installation is always up-to-date, I’m thinking it’s probably a sql injection vulnerability in one of my plugins. I’ve been reactivating them one by one and now I’m reasonably sure which one was the culprit. I might reactivate it and combine it with the bad behavior plugin to see what kind of shady logs I get. Maybe later.

Or maybe it was a mysql security hole. I haven’t had any more attacks since my provider recently applied a security update to the database. But that somehow managed to mangle all my non-English text so I had to rebuild the blog from scratch with an export from the old database. As a result, you might have experienced a brief period of complete 文字化け.

So I’m finally in the last week of my online class for Project Management and assuming that I pass the final, I’ll be free at last to pursue other interests! I have a special project in mind which I’ll write about very soon.

Do you like moola? Here’s an idea…

I was brushing up my Kanji skills lately with a couple of those Kanji Nintendo DS games like 200万人の漢検 (crap, they have a newer version already). In the process, I thought about why the DS was such a great platform for learning Kanji because of the stylus touch screen. The idea then hit me that there was a completely new touch screen platform ripe for the picking: the iPhone!

When the iPhone was originally announced, there were many skeptical on how Apple’s very first phone would do especially with the radical touch screen interface. With millions already sold and a new 3G version selling like hotcakes, I’m sure nobody would contest the fact the iPhone is a screaming success even in Japan where people are already used to highly sophisticated phones.

With the new App Store, it’s even easier to sell software for the iPhone than it is for the DS which requires a physical cartridge. With the iPhone, people can simply download your app and send you the cash! This is a boon for small and independent developers because they don’t have to worry about packaging and distribution. It’s just pure $$$ for every copy sold (minus Apple’s cut). Super Monkey Ball is already making millions!

Here’s what you would need for a great Kanji game.

  1. Handwriting Recognition Technology for Kanji and Kana
  2. Lots and lots of example sentences and 四字熟語 converted to Kanji problems
  3. Some kind of reward/review/SRS system and various levels of difficulty
  4. Some cool graphics
  5. ???
  6. Profit!

So there’s an idea for you guys. Good luck! It’s only a matter of time before somebody makes a Brain-Age game for the iPhone and starts raking in the dough.

But I beg you, whatever you do, please DO NOT make yet another kanji flash card program especially one solely based on 常用漢字!

Elliott also pointed out that you can buy stylus pens for the iPhone. The software could be a great opportunity for up-sell or you could even make a deal to package it together somehow!

These SnapShots are going to make me snap!

Ok, I have to vent a little bit here on something that’s been annoying me lately.

Dear Internet,

Please stop using Snap Shots for your links. When I’m moving my mouse cursor over a link, it’s because I want to actually click on the damn thing. I do not want an annoying pop-up preview box that is completely useless to me and too small to actually see anything. What is the preview box for? So that I can admire the general theme and color scheme of the website?

Also, do you know why the CSS tool tips built in most browsers wait until you hover a bit before showing up? It’s to prevent them from ambushing your cursor when it’s trying to go somewhere else!

Internet, people built pop-up blockers for a very good reason and I don’t think it was so we could descend to the level of mini pop-ups that jump out as you’re trying to move your damn mouse!

Tae Kim

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily install this thing on their site. Is there some kind of ad/affiliate revenue generating scheme in there somewhere I’m not aware of?

SexyBeijing, better than real TV!

With the Olympics going on in Beijing, I’m finally seeing some programs about China on the major TV networks. It seems like it takes a big event like the Olympics or major disasters to get traditional TV to actually take even a cursory look at anything outside the US borders. However, a lot of the stuff is rehashed and almost seems like a collection of whatever they had lying around that had the word “China” in the title.

The problem with TV is that it needs to cater to a large audience and hence the lowest common denominator. With the increasing number of stupid reality/game shows and absolutely no in-depth coverage of any issues that actually require thinking (for example, telcom immunity), the intellectual level of TV seems to be getting lower and lower.

Fortunately, with buzzwords like Web 2.0 and the Long Tail, decentralized media can cater to people even like me who are interested in getting a candid look at China and maybe even a little listening practice from Chinese speakers. With subtitles, that means you might have to actually read something. OMG! Real Americans don’t want to read!

For comparison, watch SexyBeijing.TV’s video about McDonald’s in China versus CNBC. The first difference you’ll notice is that I couldn’t embed the CNBC’s version so you’ll just have to go to their site.


CNBC’s Big Mac in China

The CNBC’s version is only about a minute long but I watched a longer program on TV (I don’t remember which channel it was) about China and McDonald’s and it was pretty much the same kind of deal so I think this is a reasonably good comparison.

While traditional media has much more influence and can talk to, for example, the CEO of McDonald’s in China, they seem to avoid talking to anybody who can’t speak English. I don’t recall having to read a single subtitle in the program. Even if they did interview a local, you’ll get the customary and absolutely horrible dubbing they do for any foreign language speakers.

In contrast, SexyBeijing’s version has some very funny dialogue with real people such as asking a fat kid whether he thinks eating at McDonald’s makes people fat. The one guy who is stuffing his face and goes to McDonald’s everyday is absolutely hilarious. Since his mouth was constantly full of food I had trouble making out what he was saying but the translation is a riot!

Thanks K and safarinew for helping me figure out what he said. Native ears sure are awesome!

你最喜欢吃的是什么? – What’s your favorite thing to order?
汉堡啊。大个巨无霸跟我体型差不多。 – I like the Big Mac. It’s big, like me.

Personally, the SexyBeijing’s version seems more entertaining, informative, and real rather than some American dude narrating a digested version of the story on a background of related images from China. The CNBC’s version might be more informative with statistics of this and that but I don’t really care how many billions or dollars McDonald’s rakes in every year in China or how many hundreds of stores they recently opened.

The traditional media will be around for a while but I’m glad that the internet has allowed new and decentralized channels for content distribution. Let’s just hope they don’t take control (Net neutrality) or shut it down (Usenet) with scary tales of pirated movies and child porn lurking everywhere.

Check out SexyBeijing.TV for more interesting videos! Let’s hope Youtube starts rolling out the higher quality versions. Here’s the Youtube page.

WPtouch, cool but sounds kind of risque

I just installed WPtouch on this blog for you iPhone users. Personally, I would never spend that much money on a phone every month. It would definitely fall under the “Latte Effect” on my budget. But I thought it would be a nice touch for those of you who can afford it. Now you can read my pointless ramblings with ease wherever you go! Yay!! \(^〇^*)/

So if you’re reading this from an iPhone, how’s it look? I tested it out using iPhoney (OS X only) but it only works so-so. Maybe I’ll try it out on an real iPhone the next time I visit the Apple Store.

The plugin seems to work pretty well but I don’t know why Pages don’t have comments despite the fact that they’re enabled (this has now been fixed). Also, I wish there was a way to get the Archive Page on the iPhone version only and without having to manually hack the Theme. Finally, it doesn’t work with WP Super Cache yet so I had to disable it. Oh well, it’s not like the meager traffic on my blog is going to put any kind of strain on a server that also runs Groklaw and Project Gutenberg (both directories are next to mine under “g”). 🙁

Google, what will they think of next?

I don’t know when this was released (couldn’t find any announcement on the Google Japan Blog) but it looks like Google finally introduced street view for Japan. I suppose it was only a matter of time once they figured out how to censor people’s faces automatically. They covered an amazing range of streets for Osaka and Tokyo and partial areas near there such as Kyoto, Saitama, and Chiba. Smaller areas are also viewable in Sendai, Hakodate, and Sapporo. I can’t even imagine how many hours it took to drive through all those tiny little streets!

Hopefully, with the ability to actually see where you want to go, this will become another tool in our arsenal to navigate the crazy no-name streets of Japan. Although without any street names, it’s almost impossible to even know where to put the little yellow guy. But with a little bit of searching, you can at least use it to show your family where you lived or are living in Japan!

For instance, if you work for Hitachi, you might end up in their 第二志村寮 like I did. And here’s the crappy old building I used to work at before they moved their headquarters to the fancy and new ダイビル in 秋葉原. Before that, I worked briefly at the ironically named 新丸の内ビル near Tokyo station just before it was torn down to be rebuilt. (I wonder if it’s already been rebuilt and reopened?)

If you have never been to Tokyo or Osaka before, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the never-ending spans of concrete with the occasional tree or bush here and there. It gets pretty hot once all that concrete and metal starts baking in the summer. Who says we need nature? Ha!