Monthly Archives: May 2011

So Begins the Return to Normal Life

A man can only wander the world with no paying job for so long. I’ve been travelling since August last year, spending most of this time living in Beijing and studying Mandarin, while volunteering part time. It’s been quite an experience, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

As you might expect, before I go home, I’m starting to put feelers out for jobs and contracts. I hope to hit the ground running when I arrive. Since networking is the way we all find jobs, and since nobody knows you’re looking unless you tell them, I’m telling everyone who’s been following my travels for the past few months, that I’m in the market for a job as a software developer. Take a look at my resume (linked above) or my LinkedIn profile, and pass them on to anyone you know might be hiring. Both are current, containing details of all my work experience, including the work I’ve been doing as SEO Project Manager here in Beijing.

In addition to my technical skills, what I’ve learned about SEO through this job, and the fact that I’m an all-round swell guy, here are some other skills I’ve picked up while in China:

  • Mandarin proficiency: Of course, this is why I came here, so I better have something to show for it, right? While I’m by no means fluent, I am conversational and I’m adding new vocabulary and characters to my repertoire every day. I can conduct any everyday business I need to in Mandarin.

  • Negotiating skills: Seems like there’s a lot more negotiating going on in China than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I’ve managed to negotiate better deals for my work & living arrangement, at every step, despite my own bargaining position getting weaker every time. This is still an area where I could grow a lot.

I’m focusing my search on software development jobs, but I’m also keeping my options open. You can see my primary areas of interest listed at the top of my resume, but I’m always eager to try new things. I’m open to full-time work as well as contracts. Right now I’m quite interested in working in Quebec or Taiwan. That probably sounds kind of random, but those are the languages I speak (French & Mandarin) in addition to English. Obviously China is on my radar too. Willing to relocate is the main thing, and I’ll go anywhere there’s an interesting job.

As an aside, I had an interesting dinner meeting last night. I made a contact with a local start-up, working on a Chinese-made version of something like ChromeOS. I was invited out to dinner with a couple of the founders, another potential job candidate, and one of the managers. I’m not entirely sure whether this was an interview, or just a friendly meeting. Nor am I really sure what their intentions are, but it was an interesting experience nevertheless. Guanxi (a kind of networking on steroids that I’m at a loss to explain) is extremely important in Chinese culture. Sometimes I’m not even sure why I wind up at certain dinners (especially when party secretaries are involved) and I’m not sure whether I’m there to meet them, or they’re there to meet me. The relationships (i.e. guanxi) are all very complex.

My travels aren’t over quite yet. I leave Beijing on Sunday, headed for southern China. I haven’t seen as much of the south as I have of the north, and it’s going to be an action-packed three weeks before I get home. First I’m heading to Hangzhou, Huang Shan and that neighbourhood near Shanghai. Then I’ll fly to Guilin and after a few days there head down to Guangzhou. I’ll wind up my trip with a few days in Hong Kong before flying home. I will meet up with some friends and acquaintances along the way. When I travel I love to meet people, so I can get to know the culture and understand a bit of how ordinary people live, and thus see more than just the sights. As usual, stay tuned to this blog for all the details.

Travelling with Desktop Linux / 在旅游把Linux带走

This is a post for the geeks in the crowd. At the outset let me say, I don’t want to start an operating system holy war. It doesn’t matter to me what operating system anyone uses, I just thought I’d tell you about my experience carrying a Linux netbook with me on my travels.

I’m using a Dell Mini 10. It’s a fantastic machine, I highly recommend it. The successor is even better, with a much longer battery life. The only thing I had to add was a bluetooth adaptor as it doesn’t have bluetooth built in. It came with Windows XP installed but I decided I would install Linux instead. The reasons for this choice are now irrelevant. It turns out that I didn’t do what I thought I’d be doing with my computer, but that didn’t hurt me. I’m running Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) 10.04. This is a version of Ubuntu with a modified desktop, meant especially for netbooks.

While I’ve been running Ubuntu at work for several years now, at home I run Windows 7. Because I’m focused on software development at work, I don’t use the machine in the same way I do at home, so I don’t know how suitable Ubuntu is as a home computer operating system. On the rare occasions when I have installed Linux at home, I never really used it seriously, because I always went back to my Windows install for my daily work. Since I’ve been on the road since August, and this computer is all I have access to, I’ve been forced to make it work for all my daily needs. Now I have a better idea of how Ubuntu works for a home user. The quick summary: I’m impressed.

Ubuntu has everything I need for my daily use on the road, which is not that much different from how I use my computer at home. I have the usual Thunderbird for email, Firefox for surfing the web, for word processing, working bluetooth (sometimes a challenge with Windows) and of course, Tetris., really annoys me, though it does the job so I can’t really complain. Also, it can read .docx files without any trouble, which is more than I can say for MS Office XP.

To help in my Mandarin study, I have a pinyin input system, so I can write in Chinese, and StarDict, a handy Chinese-English dictionary that I can use to translate words in any application simply by highlighting them with the mouse pointer. I also have a Linux version of Anki. Anki is a flash card program with the ability to calculate the best time for the next review for each card. It’s fantastic and I use it for all my Mandarin reviews as well as job interview preparation.

The software I have is pretty handy for maintaining my blog too. I have Audacity for recording and editing my audio posts, the Gimp for editing photos (that has way more features than I could ever need), and a tool to batch re-size my photos before uploading them.

I have Rythmbox for listening to music. Rythmbox includes a good podcast client, which I’ve never found for Windows. I have various chat clients, including Skype, QQ (a popular mainland chat client) and Pidgin for logging on to MSN and Gtalk. Yes, I have too many chat accounts. Logging on to MSN with anything other than the native Windows client is rather a nuisance, and logging on to QQ with anything other than the Tencent-produced client is, as far as I can tell, impossible. But the Linux QQ client isn’t maintained well by Tencent, so it crashes all the time.

For security reasons my user directory is encrypted automatically and only decrypted when I logon. With a netbook, since it’s portable, it can easily get lost or stolen. That means information that’s usually secure because it’s on your home computer, inside your house, is more vulnerable than usual.

Most of these applications are available, for free, from the Ubuntu package repository, so I don’t have to go looking for anything. Think of the package repository as something like Apple’s App Store, but for your desktop computer. It has everything. In addition, since Ubuntu is probably the most popular Linux distribution, there are plenty of online resources for those times when I run into trouble. In this regard I’m also impressed with the support networks that Canonical (the company that produces Ubuntu) has set up and maintains. Unlike a lot of documentation and support forums, it’s relatively well organized, up to date, and free of clutter.

One thing that does drive me nuts about Ubuntu is the software updates. I hate software updates. I like to get the system working, and then only install updates if I absolutely need them. Especially at work, I don’t need some random software update messing up my build system, for example. So I run the Long-Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu. That way I have access to the package repositories for a period of three years, before I’m forced to upgrade. Regardless of this, the update manager still bugs me regularly about installing updates. On Windows you can turn this off, on Ubuntu, you can’t. So I wind up installing a lot more updates than I really want.

In my estimate, Ubuntu is put together pretty well and it’s easy enough to use that you don’t have to be too tech-savvy to run it at home. It doesn’t have any more bugs than Windows, so it shouldn’t be that much more of a hassle to use. If you’re usually able to figure out computer problems on your own, then I’d say you can use whatever operating system you want. That could be Ubuntu or Windows. If you usually have to find someone else to help you figure out problems, then you should probably use an operating system that most of your friends are familiar with too. That will probably be Windows for most people.

I don’t know what I’ll do with my computers when I get home. I might switch my desktop over to Ubuntu, or I might switch this netbook back to Windows. We’ll see, I could go either way. Both are quite usable, and both have irritations and drawbacks. I guess it depends partly on what other projects I wind up working on when I get home.


Sounds of Beijing / 北京的嘈杂声

Here are some recordings I made with my cell phone of various daily sounds in Beijing. The quality is quite poor, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway:

  • BEIJING-CHANT is a group of monks and retreat participants chanting at Longquan Temple.

  • BEIJING-FIREWORKS is the sound of fireworks going off inside the fifth ring road, where they’re apparently banned, during the Chinese New Year holiday.

  • BEIJING-STN is the sound of announcements at Beijing Railway Station two days before the start of the Chinese New Year holiday.

  • BEIJING-SUBWAY is the sound of public announcements on line 10 of the Beijing Metro.

这些是我用手机录音的声 音,都是在北京生活的声音。品质很低,不过你们可能觉得有兴趣:

  • BEIJING-CHANT是几个学佛的人在龙 泉寺诵经。

  • BEIJING-FIREWORKS春节放假的时候是在北京五环里的鞭炮(五环里鞭炮是不可以的)。

  • BEIJING-STN春节两天在北京站的通告。

  • BEIJING-SUBWAY在北京地铁10号线的通告。