Whoops! Almost forgot to put up my annual summer break post! The grades are in, now go relax. I’m revising a book, so no breaks for me. I am still on campus this summer, if you see us out for a stroll say hey. Maybe I’ll even post a few notes at the Warren if time permits.

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The final final

Today is the last day of finals week, congratulations to everyone for making it through a challenging semester. The last four or five weeks online were especially challenging for me, hopefully my online-teaching skills are now considerably sharper than they were before!

Grades will still take a few days. I expect these will be done sometime next week, so please be patient a little longer. In the meantime, I hope you all have a relaxing summer break, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for regular classes next semester. For our overseas students who are sort of stuck in Taiwan, keep in touch, I’m still on campus too, so don’t forget to wave hi and let me know how things are going!

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The mysterious read-only vim file

My standard text editor is Vim (now 8.X). When Vim is set up correctly for my language environment, it is a reliable workhorse that does pretty much what I want.

However, there is one glitch I have run across more than once: I open a text file in the usual way, and Vim insists that it is read only, despite any and all tricks I try to turn back into a regular writeable file.

Today, however, I noticed that the read-only file had what Vim calls an “illegal byte” in it. My understand is that this is a byte appearing in a string which Vim is unable to interpret using the fileencoding it is set for. People who mess with Chinese in more than once flavor (Big-5, GB, Hong Kong etc) can easily run into this situation. I noticed this because “illegal byte” appeared in Vim’s status line, including the line number. Despite the hint, however, “illegal bytes” are sometimes hard to spot: look for a question mark where there shouldn’t be one.

It seems that an illegal byte is at least one cause for a file to persistently open in read-only mode. Get rid of the cursed thing and save the file using -w! This resolved my problem for several files.

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The first week of online classes

A big thanks to my Chi Nan students for their enthusiastic participation in our first week of online classes. And an even bigger thanks to my TA Hsin-yi for her help in setting up the Big Blue Button on Moodle and monitoring my classes to help out with some of the problems that popped up.

Taiwan continues to work its way through this outbreak of Covid-19. Stay safe, everyone!

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New and improved Xampp cannot create file xampp-control.ini

A new computer running windows 10 and lots of updated software, what more can you ask for? A bottle of aspirin to go with it.

The headache today is perhaps not the fault of windows 10. It is due to the general drift in computer operating systems toward screwing down permissions until the user begs for mercy. To this drift, windows 10 has given a hard, vigorous push.

The primary responsibility for my headache, however, is with the Xampp control panel. Xampp is a handy multi-platform version of a LAMP distro: Linux-Apache-Mysql-PHP. Xampp is now my daily bread and butter. Without it, I would have trouble running my weekly class assignments. In addition, I have decades of research in my database tables; I would probably jump off the humanities building if I lost these.

Because it has been so important, I have been very slow to update Xampp. Having spent bucks on a new computer, however, it was necessary to update in order to get my money’s worth out of it all. The headache began when I finally installed a recent version of Xampp and immediately started getting error messages, just by turning Apache and Mysql (actually now MariaDB) on and off.

For the message, see the title of this note. If you search for this on google, there are over 100,000 hits, so I’m not the only one who got bit by this.

The secret to fixing this bug is to put a shortcut on the windows desktop that is configured to run as admin. This may actually be asking for trouble, but whatever it takes. The Xampp control panel does important things like installs apache as a service and so on. I guess that is the reason the control panel now requires you to be a superuser to fiddle with it.

It still strikes me as an unnecessary bother; it was also undocumented in the version of Xampp I installed. Not very user-friendly: the first thing new software does after you install it is give you an error message.

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Windows 10: My 19th nervous breakdown

My old computer (5+ years) now shuts down without any warning every 5 to 20 minutes. There may be a fix for this, but I have decided to bite the bullet and get a whole new system. The old system is off to purdah in my school office as soon as the new one can do all the work the old one used to do.

Setting this up is not a simple job, however. The new computer is Windows 10, and there are multiple issues installing the software I was using on the old system and updating to the latest versions. Have not yet reached my 19th nervous breakdown, but give it a week. Uh-oh, here it comes!

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Welcome back! Spring semester 2021

Hope all my Chi Nan students had a good break and have signed up for the classes you need. Make sure you add before the deadline!

It was a busy week for me, I’m still setting up the moodle pages for my classes. That should be done soon, so check back on Monday, March 1st.

In the meantime, enjoy your three day weekend!

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A Chinese controversy at USC

[I will continue adding links to this post as I find relevant material on-line.]

This is a post about an unusual controversy in the United States over the use of the Chinese language in teaching. The controversy occurred at the University of Southern California (USC), in the university’s Marshall School of Business. Ironically, it concerns a class on Business Communications. The class was taught by Prof. Greg Patton, a scholar with years of experience in China and U.S.-China relations. Here is a link to Patton’s page at the USC US-China Institute, and another link to his page at the Marshall School of Business.

A brief segment of Prof. Patton’s class illustrated how the problem of inadequate preparation for speech or presentations may prompt one to use meaningless “filler-words”, confusing or blocking the flow of speech and ideas. As an example, Prof. Patton gave the chinese word ‘nei-ge’ 那個, usually translated in English as ‘that’, but also often used in a non-directional sense close to English ‘the’. As a filler word, it is more like English “um”, “er”, “ah”, having no real meaning at all, except “I’m thinking … I’m thinking …” and is usually said several times in rapid succession. Prof. Patton’s example was: “nei-ge nei-ge nei-ge”.

As anyone who lives in a Chinese speaking country knows, this is a good, clear example of a filler, extremely common in casual, un-planned speech. Unfortunately, however, despite Prof. Patton’s clear statement that this was an example from Chinese, some students in his class interpreted the phrase as a racial slur in English. They promptly wrote a letter of complaint to the business school. As a result, Prof. Patton was removed as instructor for the class, and the dean of the business school, Professor Geoffrey Garrett, sent an email apology to the class.

I’ve been following the controversy as more has come out about what the exact nature of the students’ complaint was, and how USC has handled it. As of now, I am deeply concerned about the consequences of the controversy for Chinese language teaching in America, and more generally for the Chinese speaking community in America. I’ll have more to say about this in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’ve put together some links to various statements and letters from a variety of people. A lot of this material comes from The Volokh Conspiracy, a law blog run by Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA. Prof. Volokh’s field is freedom of speech, hence his interest in the controversy.

Links on the controversy

  1. A clip of the class at USC Marshall School of Business in which Prof. Patton gives nei-ge as an example of “filler words” (youtube)
  2. A post on Professor’s removal from the class, from U Penn Professor Victor Mair’s ”Language Log” blog with many interesting comments from several American academics specializing in matters Chinese. Commenting here has been ongoing until the last couple of days. (I have some comments here myself) (Mair 8/28)
  3. The first post at ”The Volokh conspiracy” (volokh 9/3)
  4. The initial letter of complaint from the students, a letter sent to all students in the 2020 class by Dean Geofrrey Garrett, and a response to the students’ letter from Professor Patton were posted at a website run by USC business students (Quants 9/04)
  5. Post from Volokh on some of the news coverage of the students’ complaint and Prof. Patton’s removal (volokh 09/05)
  6. A little joke from Prof. Volokh about “homonymophobia” (volokh 09/06a)
  7. Prof. Volokh’s response to the students’ claim that Prof. Patton’s lecture ‘affected our mental health’ (volokh 09/06b)
  8. A letter from Chinese and East Asian graduates of USC Business School in support of Prof. Patton (volokh 09/07)
  9. Letters from USC president and provost to the Chinese students who wrote to support Prof. Patton (volokh 9/9)
  10. A letter from the Business School Faculty Council to faculty members (volokh 9/10)
  11. Volokh’s comments on the implications and long-term effects of the controversy (volokh 9/12a)
  12. Volokh post on the USC students who complained and earlier incidents in China and Taiwan (volokh 9/12b)

More links

  1. How one word led to an uproar“: A long article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the story, with comments from Patton and others. The CHE article is paywalled, but Eugene Volokh has excerpts so try there first (Volokh 09/17)
  2. Two more articles on the story, both discussing USC faculty reaction to the business school handling of students’ complaint against Prof. Patton. One, based on an internal survey of USC business faculty, appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The other appears in this month’s issue of the Atlantic. Links and brief excerpts can be found again at the Volokh Conspiracy blog (volokh 9/22).
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Welcome to Chi Nan’s fall semester 2020!

At last an update, just in time for the beginning of the new semester! Welcome here to the new students, welcome back to the old.

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Made it through the mid-term

Finally reached the halfway point in this tricky semester. We have been lucky to keep meeting in class as usual, except for our classmate who has not been able to come back from winter break in Macau. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you! This week we are all supposed to be wearing face masks. A hassle, but working through it. Stay well, all!

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