Friday, July 31, 2009

Photo by a friend:

Charlotte hanging out in the ball pit.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

From our apartment in Zhangjiang High-Tech Park, after a rainstorm:


A close-up of Lujiazui, to show the clouds gliding past the World Financial Center and the Pearl Tower. Wonder how it must be to have an office above the clouds.


Over the past few weeks I've been hearing reports by people on ShanghaiExpat and Twitter that they couldn't access certain sites even through a proxy or VPN. I ran into the same problem recently over my SSH tunnel to a server in California: strangely, I could load Facebook and Twitter on my home machine but my eeePC couldn't get through.

Trying to get to the root of the problem, I opened the puTTY console and looked at what the SSH tunnel was doing. On my home computer, it was opening connections to the websites that I wanted. But on the eeePC it seemed to be opening connections to random IP addressed, regardless of what I typed into the URL bar. For example, I would type "", hit Return, and puTTY showed a connection being opened to some IP address; I copied the IP address and did a reverse DNS lookup in the shell, and found that it was some residential IP in New Jersey — definitely not Twitter!

So I suspected that it was a DNS problem. Typing "about:config" into Firefox's URL bar and then filtering by "dns" showed me the network.proxy.socks_remote_dns option set to false, which told me that Firefox was doing DNS lookups domestically before trying to open the webpage itself (accessing a website is a two-step process: ① finding the IP address of a URL, and then ② asking for the page itself from that IP address). Toggling that option to true fixed the problem and I was back on Facebook/Twitter seconds later.

I began to suspect that all of the people I heard complaining about access were having the same problem as me, though I don't know if the same solution will work for everybody. My suspicions were further confirmed today when I followed a tweet by shizhao to a blog post in Chinese by Antonio (yeah, me too) showing how the GFW is now hijacking DNS queries to a certain subset of sites that it wants to block. Before, the GFW had been blocking sites on step ②, returning the correct IP address and then resetting requests for the webpage. Now, it has been upraded to block access on step ①, returning random, incorrect IP addresses for blocked sites!

Confirming Antonio's post, here's a critical example:

See explanation below.

You can see that the first two DNS lookups, "nslookup", return different IP addresses for Twitter. The third command asks for a reverse DNS lookup on the second IP address, and the result is that this is an address that doesn't actually exist. If you continue to run nslookup over and over (just hit up arrow and Return) you will continue to get random, incorrect IP addresses. If you were a web browser, you would try to connect to one these addresses and get nothing.

Let me translate the conclusions to Antonio's post:

This new upgrade contributes to the worsening state of the Chinese domestic internet:

  1. When you surf to a blocked site the browser will show a "connection has timed out" message, which is even more deceptive than before.
  2. Right now the GFW doesn't use this method for all blocks (for example, the Chinese BBC site still gets the right IP) but it's clear that as this method gains acceptance it will be used more and more due to its effectiveness.
  3. This method trumps OpenDNS, making it even harder to reach blocked sites; you can still edit the /etc/hosts file manually but it's a pain, and setting DNS queries to happen through a proxy makes the process even more complicated:
    • HTTP and Socks4 (except Sock4/a) don't support DNS lookup by proxy, so that's out.
    • The IE family of browsers (including Maxthon and The World Browser) do local/domestic DNS queries by default, even with a SOCKS proxy configured. [This doesn't match my experience —Micah] DNS over the proxy can be forced with software like Sockscap.
    • Firefox also does local DNS queries by default; the solution is to set network.proxy.socks_remote_dns to true. If you've installed FoxyProxy and are using a Socks proxy you can go into settings and check "Perform DNS lookups over proxy" [Or something like that; translating back from the Chinese. —Micah].

Back to my own commentary, as far as I know this upgrade happened a month or two ago.

UPDATE: Commenter Nart has been seeing this happen for a while now. It must have only recently been applied to the more popular sites that caught my attention. See his weblog:

Friday, July 24, 2009


No explanation needed! Ikea for dinner and Tudou housewarming party tonight.


People I met at the 29 Giraffes opening last night: Ben, Jutta, Lisa, Lindi, Shane, Michael. Ice creams consumed in the post-show father-daughter soiree: 1 (Baskin Robbins Rocky Road). Note: if you go see the exhibit, the directions say 796 Julu Rd, but you should enter through 786 and turn left.


Top Floor Circus Show coming up August 9. It's now 9:30am, time to take Charlotte swimming.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Tonight Jodi, Charlotte and I went out to dinner at a little Vietnamese place behind Longyang Rd (would go back again!), then to visit the home of the prof for a class that Jodi finished up this last semester. On the way home we stopped in at Coldstone for desert. They're doing a 2-for-1 deal for customers with a student ID. Jodi had forgotten to bring hers, but we didn't want that much ice cream anyways. We got a frozen yogurt with blueberries and chocolate chips.

Friday, July 17, 2009


IT’s not only about me carving out a niche for myself, but somehow creating and maintaining that kind of environment.

"Falling" into a community that suits you is lucky, boring and unsatisfying.

Tonight I made my first trip to the Boxing Cat Brewery for a meetup with some blogger friends from around Shanghai. Topics of conversation included airplane disaster near-misses, environmental horror stories, and Dan Washburn's hotel room.


Then I hopped over to Yuyintang to hear Lindi/Miyadudu's collaboration with the French duo Lost Data. Most of her/their songs were new, moody and awesome, but they also did a "cover" of a Cold Fairyland song with added digital effects and it blew me away. Too bad I had to leave halfway through the set to catch the metro back home! That was disappointing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Since John shared his summer reading list and I'm also doing a lot of reading this summer, I thought I'd join in with my own.

First, a bit of background. Back in May near the end of the schoolyear, I came across a link to Paul French's weblog and read his commentary on The Independent's "Black and white and red all over: Left-wing reads". Since I have socialist sympathies (China, Christianity, etc), I decided to check out a few of those. By the end of the schoolyear I had finished Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" (great book, it's now on my list of books to give to Charlotte to read when she turns 16) and had read almost all the way through Tressel's "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" (by 2/3 of the way through this monster I was wishing for an abridged version).

At about that time, the AskMetafilter post on the Great American Novel caught my eye because it overlapped with Paul French's recommendations and because I like to read book recommended to me by people I know (or "know," in the case of internet communities). From these sources, and from an off-hand remark by Adam Minter, I built my summer reading list:

Of course this summer I'm also completing 4 intensive week-long Masters courses in Education, so I'm reading and writing a lot for those. Otherwise my list would be longer, trust me.

The interesting thing is that not one of these has been a paper book: every single one was downloaded to and read with Anyview on my un-smart Samsung cellphone. I've read more books in English in the past few months that I've had Anyview installed than in the last few years I've been in China.

When I was first in Shanghai I used to do these cellphone photo posts where I would dump all of my cellphone pics onto the computer and describe each one. Now that it's summer and I have time again...

The other day after Jodi's classes I took Charlotte downtown to go out to dinner with Jodi and some classmates. We got there first, so we had some time to walk around the Jing'an Temple area. I knew there was a Baskin Robbins up the road, so we stopped to spoil our dinner. It was the first Rainbow Sherbet I've had in years, and it was delicious. Charlotte agreed.

This was our dinner. Lisa, one of Jodi's classmates that we both know from back when we worked together, is from Lanzhou and insisted on taking us out for Western food. When we reached the Jing'an branch, we found it closed, so we taxied over to the shopping center at Xietu Rd and Tianyaoqiao Rd and dined at 敦煌小停. Lisa ordered some snacks and the rest of us ordered main dishes, and it was delicious. Instead of making nebulous statements about the quality of restaurants, Jodi and I always phrase our judgments in terms of "would we go back again?" and the answer for this place is a resounding yes. Jodi had the Lanzhou lamian, I had lamb paomo, and we snacked on fried spiced potato slices, spicy cummin lamb sandwiches 羊肉夹馍, lamb skewers, doughy corn nuggets, and white translucent wheat noodles in peanut sauce and chili oil 凉皮. Prices were reasonable, too, probably about RMB 40 pp.

The 张江环线, one of two buses we can take from our house to the nearest subway station, just got a makeover. The "yellow bus" is now the "blue and white bus", with seats that feel a bit cleaner and wider, but otherwise about the same as the old buses: same layout, same station announcements, same saucy drivers.

Good news. The screen in taxis are starting to get off buttons, some in hardware and some in software.



I was just learning to turn the volume off and throw a coat over the headrest when summer arrived, so this is good news to me.

A morning at Jodi’s ECNU continuing-education Preschool Psychology class


The classroom
A long, air-conditioned, flat classroom, 15 rows of desks split by a central aisle, four students on each side. A projector screen behind the professor, a microphone system, big south-facing windows with closed curtains to block out the sun. Double-door at the very front and very back of the classroom. The prof sits at a desk on a slightly raised platform at the front of the class. The class is about 70% full.

The teacher
Middle-aged woman, speaking Mandarin with a Shanghainese accent and breaking into Shanghainese for examples of a sentence or so, about half the time repeating the words in Mandarin (I think). Likes to repeat phrases: “不一样的,对不对,不一样的,啊”. Teaching style is pure lecture, guiding students through the book/reading, supplementing it with examples. Points out definitions and explanations that will be test questions and gives students time to write down or underline. Occasionally asks questions of the whole class, students answer quietly to nobody in particular or among themselves.

The students
About 100 students, 2 male and the rest female. Median and average age pretty similar, probably about 24-25. Most students have brought some sort of drink in a bottle or tuperware, mostly tea or water. Back 5 rows are visibly more restless and chatty than the front rows. The teacher will occasionally in the same lecture-monotone remind students to pay attention, but generally leaves us (we’re 4th from the back) alone. Chatting is loudest in the early morning, gets quieter in the period before lunch. Most students are following along in their textbooks, underlining or taking notes in separate notebooks. Students are also (without the teacher caring, sometimes even commenting on): texting, sleeping with their heads down on the desk, working on sewing/crafts, chatting, absent-mindedly flipping through the textbook, snacking, staring through the window out across Changning district (oops, that was me).


A friend just e-mailed me asking about my plans for the eclipse. Although the article in Shanghai Talk said I'd be at the Yangshan Deep Water Harbor (and I still think that's the ideal viewing place), I'm changing my plans to just stick around home and be on time to my Masters class that afternoon. The most common question I get is, can we go up to the observatory? The answer is that you could, but the fact is that the eclipse will be just as impressive with a small scope and the naked eye (and that the observatory computer is acting up and I don't know if it will be in working order by then).

I'll be back behind the elementary school from ~8am-10am with a telescope, camera, binoculars, and hopefully a pinhole setup. I ordered some eclipse glasses and filters for the telescope that should be arriving today. Maybe I'll send out an e-mail about that…

So if you want to join me out here in Zhangjiang, keep your ears open for more details. I'll post any info on the weblog too. Eclipse is next Wednesday!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hi girls!


And happy 3rd anniversary, sweetie!


Saturday, July 11, 2009


This is a pretty typical lunch by Jodi's mom. The top dish is a favorite of mine: green peppers, dried tofu and fatty pork fried up with spicy black bean sauce. It's especially good when you mix the dribblings with rice to finish off the meal. The other dish is simply stir-fried cabbage. Jodi's mom made a variation the other day and mixed it with sesame sauce, which was delicious. But then again I'm a sucker for sesame sauce.


Charlotte and Maryann out on the playground. Maryann is more mobile than Charlotte was at that age, but Charlotte made the transition from sitting to walking a lot faster than Maryann. The little one still needs somebody to walk her around or else she gets fussy. There's some things she doesn't mind just standing around hanging onto, like the springy whale on the playground.

Lots more recent photos on Flickr, and our trip home from Carrefour (Chinese).

Taken at Carrefour:


Friday, July 03, 2009


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Two quotes from recent reading material. First, from Tressell's "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists":

Work, boys, work and be contended
So long as you've enough to buy a meal
For if you will but try, you'll be wealthy—bye and bye
If you'll only put your shoulder to the wheel.

And from a recent Southern Weekly article, 《科教书:删得掉的文字 删不掉的“机密”》:


Reading this article on the "uncensoring" of public school textbooks since after Deng Xiaoping took over in the late 70s post-facto compounded my frustration at watching an obviously-censored version of Transformers 2: cut scenes and garbled words that interfered with the plot made the movie even less enjoyable than it would have been in its original complete form. Near the end of the article, another paragraph that puts Transformers into perspective:


That last line speaks to me the hidden prejudices that handicap us.