Planet Google


I have just finished reading this book and it presents an interesting look at the growth of Google, as well as explaining how some of Google’s technical algorithms work. Below is a brief summary of some of the key points that I found interesting:

Google was founded in 1998 and plain text ads are its main source of enormous profits. However when it first started it was ad free which made it stand out from sites that had banner ads and pop ups. Even in 2000 85% of Google searches had no ads (this is due to the ads all being targeted based on search terms).

Google is based on the opposite premise to social networking sites; like facebook.Whereas google aims to catalogue and organise all the worlds information in an open format, social networking sites aim keep the information behind closed doors and shareable only between friends. Its page ranking system, a key part of its search algorithm relies on openness; if major websites refused access to google’s spiders it would make its page ranking system unworkable.

Google’s strength lies in the data it holds; for example the data collected for Google news also makes Google translate more natural. Google was able to develop a Chinese-English translation algorithm without the help of any Chinese speakers.

Arguably one of the best products produced by google is Google Earth (possibly biased as I am a Geography Teacher). However Google Earth which is now linked with Google Maps provides an opportunity for data to be organised spatialy using a maps and satilite imagery. Google Earth does not provide any new information but simply organises the information in a more effective way.

Nanjing Metro


After being in Nanjing for a week and a half I had my first opportunity to go on the Nanjing Metro today. The Nanjing Metro is relatively new; first opening in 2005. There are plans to open a second line in May 2010.

The metro is very similar to Shanghai metro in terms of signage and trains.

Travel is either by an IC Card (similar to London’s Oyster Card but can also be used in Taxis) or a single use ticket. The ticket is a reusable plastic token with the journey and payment information embedded in it.


Tickets can be brought from either ticket machines or ticket desks.


The trains are clean and air conditioned though do have interesting prohibition signs on them:


(I have just re-read this post and realised it makes me sound like a bit of trainspotter!)

Solar Eclipse of July 22nd 2009

solar elcipse

On 22nd July there was supposed to be a full solar eclipse for about 6 minutes in the area of China (Nanjing) that we were in.

Unfortunately we saw nothing. It  was tipping it down so with rain so all we had was it was dark for a bit. There was full cloud cover so we could not see anything.

This was especially disapointing as our host school had gone out of their way to arrange this so it was a positive experience for us. They had arranged the trip to the purple mountain on the same day so we would be out of the city and get a better view; they had also brought alonng one of their Geography teachers to explain what is happening. In China Earth Science is part of Geography. Kan (our host) had even ordered special glasses on the Internet for us.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

On Wednesday 22nd we went to the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum. This was a really interesting place to visit as the person burried there is one of the founders of modern China.

The Mausoleum is set in the purple mountain area on the North East of the city of Nanjing. It is located within a National Park however on the day we went the weather was awful so we could not see anything else as we were already soaked. It is classed as a ‘5 A’ tourist resort and the official website is here.

The design of the Mausoleum is spectacular having to climb 392 steps to reach the Mausoeum. One step represents a million people – linked to the population at the time the Mausoleum was built. If it was built now there would be over 1,000 steps!

View from the top of the Mausoleum

The image above is the view from the top of the mausoleum looking down. What I found impressive about the architecture is that you could not see the steps of the mausoleum until you had gone through the entrance gates after going down a tree lined boulevard. The entrance gates were similar to those of the forbidden city being styled after them. Like the entrance gates at the forbidden city entry was only by the two side gates; the main gate is shut; reserved only for the emperor.


This is a brief summary of how the Swine Flu Risk has been dealt with at the Chinese Immersion course that I am attending with students from my school. It is not a criticism of the Chinese government / HANBAN (organisers) as I think they are dealing with a very difficult situation in the best way possible. The situation of the groups with students who were positive for Swine Flu were taken away and dealt with as described in news reports.

When our plane landed in Beijing two medical official boarded the plane and moved through the plane taking everyone’s temperature. The did this using thermometers that looked like guns zapping your forhead. There were a couple of people on the plane whose temperateture was rechecked by an oral thermometer. On the plane as well as filling in an immigration form we also had to fill in a ‘H1N1 declaration’. H1N1, as far as I am aware this is the medical term for the strain of swine flu and how it is referred to among the Chinese. Before going through immigration everyone had to pass through a health check. This invovled handing in your health questionnaire and walking past some heat sensitive cameras. Some people were taken off to have their temperature rechecked.

We then arrived at the summer camp and enjoyed the programme as scheduled on Thursday and Friday. Every morning our temperatures were taken going into breakfast and some of the Chinese staff were wearing masks but not all. The temperature was taken by a thermal gun type device.


However on Friday evening two coach loads of students were escorted off the campus in coaches after having medical samples taken.


At this point it was there was discussion between staff and students wondering what was going on. At this point some of the Chinese volunteers began handing out face masks to the students. At this point we were told a meeting was going to be held with all teachers who based on the campus (some teachers were based at a hotel approximately 10 minutes away). In this meeting we were briefed on the situation so far and the precautions that were going to be taken were explained. When I woke up there had been a summary of the situation and what we were told at the meeting produced and put under our door (click the small image for a larger version).


On Saturday 18th July we were kept on Campus all day; the main issue with this was it was boring for the students as they wanted to be in the City (and many of the students wanted to go shopping). That being said the Campus is large with a number of activities for the students to do. In addition cleaning has been increased and there has been someone going around spreading bleech on all surfaces. Throughout the Saturday there were largely mysterous commings and goings of the swine flu ambulance from the centre of disease control.


On Sunday 19th as no more cases of H1N1 had been detected were allowed to leave. As we boarded the bus we had our temperature taken one more time. The image below shows me with one of the school guards; he has a thermometer in his hand not a gun!

Guard in Beijing Foreign Language School


I have seen these used on websites and reports of other people using them in the classroom. I have been spending a little while now playing around with them and I think they have a number of potential uses.

I have produced a couple of Wordle’s using ‘geographcial’ documents.

The Bruntland Report ‘Our Common Future’ – report in 1987 that is often credited with developing the concept ‘Sustainable Development’.

Wordle: Our Common Future (The Bruntland Report)

An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798 – Thomas Malthus

Wordle: Malthus' Essay on Population

In September I will get my sixth formers to put their essays into Wordle. Hopefully that will help them see if they have stayed on topic or not as it will identify the key terms that they have used the most.


Spitalfields Market

On Saturday I spent a couple of hours walking around Spitalfields; this is an area of London that I have never been to before dispite always going via Liverpool Street when I go into London.

I followed ‘Trail 1: Spitalfields: the changing face of the City’s backyard’ from Discovering Cities: Inner London: Spitalfields and the South Bank by Andrew Williams, published by the Geographical Association.

It allowed me to experience London in a very different way looking and thinking about what was there rather than passing through on the way to a destination. By using the guide book it gave me an oportunity  to find out more about the geography and history behind different locations.

A some of the pictures I took are below and there are more on flickr.

IMG_1957IMG_1956IMG_1953Graffiti on NewspaperDonavan Bros BagsSandys Row SynagogueElder Street, Traditional SignIMG_1949

KS3 Programme of Study

Some people find this time of year in Teaching relaxing because the examination groups have left and people are winding down.

I actually don’t like this time of year, particularly this year as I only gained 3 periods over a two week cycle. My examination groups, and my form are either Year 10 or Lower Sixth so I have to keep going with them. In additon to the normal day to day stuff there is the added pressure of confirming arrangements for next year.

I have spent a couple of hours this afternoon looking at our Key Stage 3 programme of study and tweaking it for the upcoming year. It did not need any major changes as it was overhauled all at once last year.

The main addition is a unit on Glaciation. This is a topic that we used to teach at GCSE but don’t anymore, in addtion on the Geography Teaching Today site there is a new unit of work on Glacial Environments that will be a source of inspiration.


I now need to spend the next month going through and amending schemes of work based on feedback (and if I’m honest in some case writing them).