Under construction (aka my blog)
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Under construction Also passes as my blog

Construction work in China

Welcome to my blog! Aka 'under construction'.

There are two ways you will have ended up here. The first and more confusing way would be if you had clicked on a link which didn't exist. As the title here suggests, the page you wanted, like half of China, is still under construction. Unlike China, there is no horde of workers toiling away night and day to get things done. There is just me. I've found that if I work fast enough the laws of special relatively kick in, time dilates, and I can squeeze more hours out of the day than are actually there. But even working 25/8 there still isn't enough time to get everything done.

Hence this page, though it is not simply a dead end. One purpose is to catalogue changes to the website, so it can be used to navigate to areas of the site that have been updated mostly recently, and which you may have missed if you have visited the site before (hi Mum, thanks for coming back!). The updated list is chronological, and has comments as well as links (i.e. a blog). Although construction of the website will dominate the blog's commentary in the initial stages, other aspects are also included, such as writing, teaching, travelling, and living in China. As the website matures, these aspects will come more to the fore.

You can also use the navigation bar (right) to go directly to active areas of the website.

Travels in India side bar 1
Word clouds for Delhi Deadlines 26 November, 2012

I've been playing around with some websites to create word clouds for the novel Delhi Deadlines. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the most popular one, Wordle, didn't work for me (the Javascript failed), so I looked further afield. The two I lighted on were TagCrowd and WordItOut, which both provided some nice clouds, with some customisable tweaks. TagCrowd is nice for me as a web developer as it enabled source code copying, so I could play around with the result, versus just having an image as with WordItOut. See:

Images of Singapore, Burma, Iran, and Pakistan 9 September, 2012

More images added to the Gallery section, this time of my birthplace, Singapore, as well as some beautiful images (taken using slide film) of Burma (Myanmar). I also finally got round to adding images of Iran, a favourite place, and Pakistan, which I don't hold in such high affection. Seeing these images makes me long to go back, especially to Singapore: it's been too long since I last visited. See:

Festivals, Food and People sections of Travels in India 5 September, 2012

Although the Travels in India section has been coming along nicely, with many entries added already (see earlier blog entry for details), there were still a few sections which had no articles. Now rectified. See:

Glossary for Travels in India 30 August, 2012

I've been sporadically adding more articles to the Travels in India section. It occured to me (long ago, actually) that a glossary of terms would be useful (and generally edifying), so I've added one. Very much a work in progress, as words will be added each time another article goes in that section. There are also one or two words there such as tykhana, which crop up in my novel Delhi Deadlines. See:

Images of Guangxi and Guangzhou 28 August, 2012

I thought it was about time I added more images to the barebones Gallery section, which I had previously set up but without (due to time constraints) a full compliment of images. The China section seemed the most urgent place to add to. Despite the time - a decade now - there weren't really the range of images in my collection I might have liked, so a future project will be to go about armed with a camera and the forethought of finding archetypical images of China to add the website. In the meantime, here are casual photographic observations, chance encounters during some of my many wanderings. See:

Honourable mentions [more technical stuff] 20 August, 2012

This is a companion piece to the earlier blog on the origins of this website, written on 6 July. This is a little less technical, and is mainly a way to acknowledge some of the sites that have helped me in my struggles to build a website, a breadcrumb trail that will doubtless also be of interest to myself later, as I start to lose track of how and where things began (quite a few elements have already been changed so much since they were incorporated that I've almost forgotten how they started life).
     One of the things I put out early was extracts from my book Delhi Deadlines (followed later by Virtually and Dead Men's Fingers). These extracts were quite huge, spilling onto several pages, so something I found myself in need of was a pagination bar at the bottom of each page. The site Webdistortion had a lot of nice styles. I ended up using the one at the top called Digg: simple and effective, though I've tweaked it on all the pages, changing the colours to match the style of the section.
     Something else that I also found myself in need of was a zoom function for images. Mostly, the images were fine, but when I put up maps of my travels through India, the names were too small, so I needed a way to magnify. This page from Dynamic Drive did the trick. The zoom proved useful on some panoramic shots of Liuzhou I added to the Gallery section later.

Themes of the novel Virtually 12 August, 2012

Some of the main themes of the novel Virtually (the nature of reality, the question of what is real) have been added. There are mostly just musings, with some quotes from the book, which serve to add some background and depth to the novel. See:

On writing novels 3 August, 2012

I originally intended this site to support my novel Delhi Deadlines. This book, and my travel book A River of Life, were all there was going to be. I wasn't planning on adding any other books. But there are now 4 books listed in the books section. What happened?
     All told, I've written 6 books: five novels, and one travel book. They were written at a time in my life when I had more time, because I made time: no wife, no kids, no steady job, just the odd temp job to support my travels, otherwise scrounging on the dole and living out of secondhand shops. The first two novels I wrote, Shadows in the Mind, about a nebulous evil menacing a seaside town, and The Giotto Crucifix, about a schizophrenic who finds a body and sets about trying to find the killer, were simply a writer learning his craft, though some of the places and themes would recur in later novels. My third novel, Dead Men's Fingers, which revisited the seaside landscape of my first novel, was the first book I wrote that I considered to be a good book. The first section of the novel is included in this website. Although there has been a lot of writing since, and there are some flaws in the style, I'm not ashamed of it: I still think the writing is good. My fourth novel, Virtually, was a return to my roots, inasmuch as it is a science fiction novel. I read widely while writing novels - classics ancient and modern, literature from the UK, the US, and other countries - by I survived my teens reading Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick et al (an ABCD of sci-fi). The first stories I wrote, as a teenager, were sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories. To this day, Ray Bradbury and P.K. Dick are among my three favourite authors (Raymond Chandler rounding off the list). The novel Virtually owes a considerable debt to PKD, especially the brilliant Time Out of Joint, which I love for the way much of the novel isn't sci-fi at all, simply a vivid depiction of smalltown 50's America. While I wasn't intending to include the novel Virtually (or Dead Men's Fingers) in this website, as it doesn't fit my original remit of 'creative stuff about Asia', on re-reading the books in the summer, I was struck by how strong the writing was, how much energy it had. It seemed churlish to omit either of them.
     All of these books belong to a past epoch of my life. Work and family, previously shunted out of my life during my travelling bachelor days, now intrude far more on my writing. This website is a way for me to rekindle that part of myself, and serve as a prelude to future novels, stories, and other forms of writing, doubtless set in China, as that is now my home and has been for over a decade. Watch this space.
     New areas of this site to check out, relating to the above, are:

Gallery images 28 July, 2012

After setting up the basic gallery section, I finally got round to writing about each country that was there, its significance to me, the reason for travelling there, and other oddments of interest. All sections of the gallery now have images, though many (most?) still have only one, just to set the page up. But the hard work is done. Just a question now of optimising images, and adding short descriptions for each. New pages therefore include:

Travels in India 21 July, 2012

I've spent some time added articles to the Travels in India section. Most of the material has been culled from my travel book, A River of Life, though modified (usually meaning abridged) for the web, with images added - makes the writing more interesting - and reorganised. In a way, I think it works better like this, with, for example, the snippets on history collected together and unified, rather than being scattered haphazardly through the book according to the places with which they are associated. New pages include:

Some areas remain unfinished: food, festivals, people. In due course.

More tussles with images 7 July, 2012

More hours spent tussling with images. Found quite a few nifty ways to display images. The one I liked best was from Stu Nicholls excellent website. Quite a few nice image display ideas here, this one without using JavaScript (thank God!), but still fiddly to work with. In this case, the issue was with portrait images: the original was only set for landscapes. Worked it out in the end, and learnt more about CSS in the process, which can't be a bad thing. After all that time fine tuning the way the gallery section looks and works, there was only time enough to add images for one section. Not sure why I chose Jakarta first. It's far from my most loved place in the world. Indonesia had some great places, but its capital wasn't one of them. Be sure to drop in on:

How SheldonCHSmith.com came into being [some technical stuff] 6 July, 2012

Time to backtrack a little. The blog entries below (and doubtless many of those to come) are all about 'here is my website, this part is new'. But I thought it might be nice to write a piece on how the site came to be. I'm quite surprised at how far I've come in a short space of time.
     My original intentions for this site were quite modest. I just wanted a simple site to support my writing. In truth, I didn't really have time to get deeply involved in web design. So I did some research, and decided the way to go was with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get or WYSIWYG editor (pronounced 'wizzi-wig', I later learnt). Dreamweaver would have been nice, but I didn't want to splurge (although as I live in China, I could have bought a copy in any of a score of computer plazas for under US$1). I settled for Mozilla's Sea Monkey, which got a few good write-ups, and was free. One of the nice things about it was the ability to toggle between the WYSIWYG editor and the html code. But quite quickly, I found myself spending more time with the html. Html is fairly easy to pick up, once you've spent a few dozen hours tooling around with bits and wondering why they aren't working. But I didn't much care for Sea Monkey's way of coding, often overly bloated. So I transitioned to a pure html editor, the excellent Notepad++. I especially like how it shows where code elements start and finish, which Sea Monkey doesn't do. I now do all editing straight into html, which is a lot simpler, though the lack of a spellcheck is a pain.
     But where to begin? I had the tools to create a website, but how to go about it? As I wanted a site to support my writing, I Googled 'author website' and browsed some of the ones that came up. There were a lot which looked good at first, but after a while palled for being too fancy, confusing, and not really focused on the writing, which should have been the main thing. After some time, I lighted on Ian McEwan's website, and thought it was a good starting point. Now, I'm not sure why: I don't really like his writing, and the website is pretty dour, unlikely to help sell many of his books. Anyway, I downloaded the home page, changed the content and the links, monkeyed around with the style. That would have been my site, ugly and basic, but for a chance read about how tables are out, and CSS is in (the format behind Ian McEwan's website is all tables). I didn't even know what CSS was at the time (short for 'cascading style sheets', essentially a way to set up the layout of a page). Again, I cut corners. The great thing about the web is the huge array of open source material that people are willing to share, including CSS style sheets. I searched, found a good site and a style I liked, downloaded it, and began from there, learning, tweaking, adding.
     So, my original plans have gone awry. No simple WYSIWYG site this. I'm no longer even sure if its aim is to support my writing. It would be nice if sales of my books (current and future) could cover the modest costs, though I'm not particularly bothered. It is a nice end in itself, a hobby I guess, interesting for the skills I've picked up along the way without really trying or intending to.

Delhi Deadlines pages added 5 July, 2012

This was one of the main reasons to get the website up and running, so it's a wonder it's taken me so long to get round to putting up these pages in support of my novel Delhi Deadlines. Kind of lucky that I'd already done most of the spade work earlier, while tinkering around with the design of the site. A neat 'reveal' function keeps the page sizes minimal, but might be overkill: originally I envisaged putting all this on just the one page, so the reveals made sense. Anyway, spunks things up with a little interaction, never a bad thing. First use of the Guardian style breadcrumbs across the top too. The CSS and javascript were downloaded from the Lend me your ear blog. Spent quite some hours adapting them, especially to make them work for differing lengths (the original only worked if there were four crumbs in the trail) and creating a left pointing 'back' arrow. Changed the colours too. The blue matches the main colours. The mouseover colour is saffron, one of the colours in the flag of India. Check out:

Gallery home page and Contact page added 4 July, 2012

After hours tussling with javascript, I finally managed to bang out a home page of the Gallery section. If only I had the time to get the images ready.... The following pages are new today:

  • The Gallery home page. The js still isn't right, but patched up and working. Fine-tuning can wait. Hope it works in your browser.
  • A bog-standard Contact page, which might be a bit premature: not enough content for anyone to send me anything other than a short 'wtf?'.

SheldonCHSmith.com is launched 3 July, 2012

Registered the site name and bought a domain hosting account with Zen Internet. Quite straightforward. Still tweaking the site layout to get it as close as I can to what I want before I commit to too much content. The site is now up and consists of two pages:

SheldonCHSmith Home Page

Delhi Deadlines by Sheldon Smith

A washed out journalist, posted to India to cover a bloody election campaign, uncovers truths about his son's life - and death - in the country, truths that test loyalties forged in the war zones of Bosnia and Rwanda. A fiercely evocative narrative of modern-day India, filled with the clamour and hot stinks of its capital, this is a novel of death woven through with life.

"The writing is very very good... the mysteriousness of Wyndham's death and the narrator's involvement will entice the reader to keep reading." - 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Expert Reviewer

SheldonCHSmith Home Page

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Feel free to contact me, about the website, writing, life in China, or anything that takes your fancy. You can reach me at contact@sheldonchsmith.com

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