Caveat: Blogical Purity

So this is my 31st post in a row, on the last day of October.  Thus I have achieved a high blogical purity for the month!  Boo.  (Happy Halloween.)

School's been a bit chaotic, lately, as yesterday, the 30th, was the day of major exams for a large proportion of the students who are applying to the prestigious residential high schools.  I can't imagine it's particularly ego-boosting – they were telling me last week that most of the schools end up accepting under 5% of applicants.  So any news of positive performance on the exams is celebrated with much nodding and bowing and congratulations.

Anyway… the kids are also, therefore, dead on their feet (if they come at all, which they didn't, today), and the ones not participating in the exams seem to pick up the exhaustion via a kind of social osmosis.  Kind of a strange atmosphere of pent-up frustration and tiredness.

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Caveat: Starbucks

I went to Starbucks today and had a 4 dollar caffe latte.  This is notable because this is the first time I've gone since arriving in Korea, despite there being three Starbucks stores within easy walking distance from where I live.

Why did I do this?  Well, the pat answer is that I happen to own stock in Starbucks, and lately the share price has been languishing.  Obviously, this is because they've lost my frequent patronage, since my coming to Korea to live and work.

So, to help boost the company's fortunes, I resolved to spend more of my own hard-earned cash on 4 dollar lattes.

They don't seem to have gotten the message, however.  The stock market's been open an hour or so, now, and SBUX is down another 16 cents.  Oh well.  At least my Bombay Stock Market Index Fund is doing quite prettily.  And Nissan's perking up, lately.

Caveat: 제목없음

On Sunday, it was raining again.  I thought it would be a good day to ride the subway to a random location, so I got onto the orange line here at Jeongbalsan, and rode it all the way through downtown and past the river to the southeast, and got off at Dogok.   I have this idea that I will try to visit every single subway station in the Seoul Metro – not for any particular reason, except that I tend to do such a thing wherever I'm living:  explore the public transportation system far beyond mere curiosity.  The only subway system I've really done that with is the one in Mexico City – and since I lived there 5 or 6 new lines have been added, meaning that I can no longer even say I've been in every subway station there.

I'm wondering… perhaps if I set it as an explicit goal, and made a task of taking a picture or two at each subway station and documented my visits here. 

So I wandered my way to the Daechi station, next down the line, and then proceeded to go to the Youngpoong bookstore, where I splurged and bought myself a detailed atlas (on near-street-level scale) of South Korea.  I also found a quirky trilingual edition of Le Petit Prince (Korean, English, French) for only six bucks, and bought that too.  I have now successfully deciphered the Korean version's first paragraph, with much help from a dictionary.

Today, we had a Halloween party at the school, for the younger kids.  A few went all out and brought costumes, but, unlike e.g. Mexico, the Koreans haven't really bought into the commercialized, American-style holiday, so it's a bit of a novelty, though you do see the inevitable displays in large stores and suchlike.

One reader of this blog has observed that, based on my descriptions, Korea sounds like a gray, overcast and cloudy place.  That's not really true – at least not since the start of October, when the summer rainy season ended.  But, since I dislike sunny weather, I tend not to write about it much.  So what you see here is my commentary on the weather I enjoy.  Regardless, to remedy:  today was sunny – but it was also a cool 10 degrees (C).

Caveat: Rurality

Perhaps I was inspired by my previous post.  Yesterday afternoon I took the subway to Daegok, and boarded one of the regional commuter rail trains, bound for 임진각역 (Imjingak station).  Imjingang is basically the end-of-the-line to the northwest of here, and lies just about 3 kilometers from the DMZ (North Korean border). 

I had in mind the idea of actually seeing Camp Edwards – but I couldn't find it.  My geographic memory clearly isn't perfect – I had a recollection of it sitting right on the railroad, near the main highway.  But two factors intervene:  I don't know which railroad it sat on, but I don't think it was the commuter line, as I remember having to take a taxi into central Munsan when I wanted to take the train into Seoul;  also, Camp Edwards may not actually exist, now – the US Army has been significantly rearranging its Korean deployment over the last decade, especially moving away from major towns (such as Munsan or Dongducheon).

So I didn't find Camp Edwards.  But I walked through territory that was more than a little bit familiar, and covered the distance from Imjingang to downtown Munsan on foot (about 8 kilometers, given my roundabout route).  I enjoyed the scenery.

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Above is the Imjingang bridge.  In typical South Korean fashion, they have placed a major amusement park ("recreation park") here up against the DMZ – sort of this weird institutional tendency to pretend it's not really a major, militarized international border.  So right behind me from taking this picture, on the north side of the river, there were zillions of families on Sunday outing, a little amusement-park train going around some veterans memorial statue, a ferris wheel….

The concrete pillars are the old railroad bridge, and I remember these pillars vividly.  But just beyond, there is now a new railroad bridge that wasn't there in 91, and there has been much talk in the press of the new workable (but not currently actually working) rail connection with Pyeongyang.   Not to mention the talk of eventually hooking South Korea's KTX (high speed rail) with Russia's!  That would be cool… you could take the train from Seoul to Moscow!

Looking down, there were lots of men lazily fishing in the Imjingang (i.e. Imjin River)

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Walking south, I saw lot's of lovely trees, changing with the fall weather.

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Above, these are some scarecrows I saw in a field. I had this weird feeling that I spent a cold April day in this field, or one nearby, fetching a Humvee that some insane G.I. driver had flipped like a turtle into the mushy muddy rice.   I worked in "vehicle recovery" here… which is to say, I had a large green tow truck (named – not by me, but appropriately – "Rocinante"), and one of my jobs was to go out and rescue stranded Army vehicles from various spots.  This flipped Humvee was one of the most memorable, as it was the only instance where I was personally involved where there had been a major injury – the G.I. who'd flipped his vehicle had a broken back or something.  Made me somewhat paranoid about cruising around at too-high speeds in the soft-top Humvees that were so popular then.  Not so common now, since they're mostly "hardened," based on experience in Iraq, etc.

These are some flowers I saw.

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I saw a man on a tractor, and he waved to me.

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Later, as I walked farther south, I saw the man again, working with some others unloading a rice-threshing gadget from a truck.  He hailed me, and I discovered he spoke extremely good English – he'd lived and worked 8 years in Dubai, and also in mainland China, more recently, and wanted to talk politics.  It was interesting.  He was worried about the "red menace" and was extolling the virtues of George Bush's hard line with North Korea.  Perhaps typical of his generation in South Korea, I think.

He observed that given how South Korea is a U.S. client, geopolitically, and how the Chinese still viewed North Korea as "theirs," the DMZ was, interestingly, the place where the U.S. and China had a common border.  This was fairly sophisticated thinking for a Korean farmer.  I wonder how typical it is?

I kept walking…. I passed the 운천역 (Uncheon rail station), and this sign.

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As the sun set I got into the outskirts of 문산읍 (literallly Munsan village, though it's clearly outgrown what we would call a village), which appeared much grown from my recollection.  Here is a fairly typical sight everywhere in Korea:  cranes building high-rise buildings in the middle of nowhere.

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Now I'm listening to a streaming Mexican radio station from Estado de México, and thinking about the commonality of rural lifestyles, all over the world.

Caveat: “Set adrift on memory bliss”

The hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn (the Cordes brothers of Jersey City) had a 1991 hit single "Set adrift on memory bliss," which prompted me to buy one of only 3 albums I acquired while stationed here in Korea with the US Army's 296th Support Battalion at Camp Edwards, up towards Munsan (about 15 km north of here!).   I bought the album, entitled Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, in cassette form, at the Camp Casey PX Store (Camp Casey was the 2nd Infrantry Division's HQ at that time, and about 30 min. drive inland from Munsan, straight east).

Naturally, since I owned so few albums, it was on heavy rotation, with the consequence that I have very strong memory-associations of my year here when I hear songs from this album.  I recently was set to thinking about it, and so I broke down and bought the album, in MP3 form.  It's actually quite different from a lot of rap – an opinion I'd formed early on – as the group make lots of complex references to everything from religion and philosophy to broad aspects of popular culture from the 80's.

I was thinking of this partly as I was fishing in my brain for examples of rap music from the genre's formative period (i.e. late 80's / early 90's) that weren't entirely focused on violence and "gangsta" culture.   I have been wanting to see if I could combine sharing some aspects of popular culture and rap music (which interests one demographic of my students) with sharing a more literary approach to poetry and literature (which interests an entirely different cross-section). 

I have always held that rap music is our modern American culture's closest equivalent to the ancient forms of epic poetry, whether Homer's works or medieval creations such as El Poema del Mio Cid or Le Chanson de Roland.  And I believe the equivalence is perhaps even stronger than the obvious superficial resemblances of topic – both ancient forms and modern ones overlaid rhythmic music with repetitive and formulaic poetry.  Both treat extensively subjects such as war (or gang violence – same thing, right?) and questions of male honor and reputation.

I've often fantasized about trying to craft a "ghetto" reading of the original El Cid (in its archaic 11th century Spanish) to a modern drum-machine and sampled soundtrack.  I think it would prove quite interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to KCRW (streaming).

Interesting (almost poetic!) English du jour:  "We will be the invisible motivation of link South Korea into one." — from Korean National Railway's website, English version.

[Update: youtube video added retroactively, 2011-08-03, part of the background noise.]

Caveat: Strange Markings

pictureAlways the anthropologist, I find myself intrigued by the graffiti that the school’s students leave on desktops.  My Korean is much too poor, and my knowledge of Korean pop/youth culture too limited, to make sense of of what’s written, but I nevertheless wonder.  And occasionally I get paranoid and think, oh, they’re writing bad things about me.  Or one of the other teachers.  And maybe they are.  But mostly, I’m sure, it has nothing to do with anything but the tribal fascinations of youth, as expressed in graffiti anywhere.

Caveat: K-Smog into Drizzle

Over the last several weeks it's become steadily drier, and the last couple of days have even been marginally smoggy – though nothing like Mexicopolis versions 1 or 2.  Perhaps the smog would be more intense if I went into the city proper – out here on the western edge of the Korean megalopolis, with the breeze off the Yellow Sea (oh, wait, a breeze laden with pollutants drifting from north China's industrial heartland).

So I walked to work today, looking at the sudden appearance of little piles of leaves under some of the trees that are beginning to change color.  It was sunny and vaguely hazy, and as warm as it's been for a while.  Yet when I looked out of the windows of the school a few hours later at dusk, it was drizzling.  First rain we've seen for quite some time.  I walked home on the shiny wet streets, and watched a cat attempting to get into a garbage can for a while.

I thought about how big the world is, and how small our minds are.

Caveat: 김치 찌개 (Kimchi soup) via text-message

Sometimes for lunch (at work) I have 김치 찌개, which is a pretty tasty soup based on kimchi, and the kind I have also has tuna and other bits and pieces.

Windows Vista crashed twice for me this morning – I was using it to download some music from a site where I have a membership (emusic.com) that doesn’t seem particularly adept at supporting Linux.

And every time Vista does something, it asks me to approve each little step:  “continue,” “allow,” “yes,” etc.  It’s like working with an insecure 3 year-old.  I can figure out no way to deactivate all these little notifications and requests for approval.  So… just to reiterate: I’m so glad I’m doing most of my work in Linux nowadays.

I finally have got the hang of typing hangeul into my cell phone.  It’s not really straightforward at first – the “consonant” elements of each syllable-glyph are letter-keys, just like in an English-based cell phone keypad – e.g. touch ‘4’ once for ㄱ, twice for ㅋ, etc.  However, the “vowel” component is a composition:  to get ㅒ I have to touch 1-2-2-1, which is to say, vertical bar, dot, dot, vertical bar.  Like drawing a little picture.  So, to key in “김치 찌개” I touch:  4-1-0-0 -> 9-9-1 -> 9-9-9-1 -> 4-1-2-1 ->.   Compare this to what you have to do for English to type “kimchi soup”:  5-5 -> 4-4-4 -> 6 -> 2-2-2 -> 4-4 -> 4-4-4 -> 0 -> 7-7-7 -> 6-6-6 -> 8-8 -> 7 ->.

pictureNot sure if anyone really is interested in this.  I would note, however, that to say essentially the same thing, the Korean method ends up being much more efficient, in terms of the number of times your thumb has to hit the little touchpad on your phone.  I’m guessing this would pan out under broader statistical analysis.  So, is this why text-messaging is so much more popular in Korea  than in the U.S.?

Now all I need is someone with whom to exchange text messages in Korean.  Uh… oh, and I also have to have something I know how to say in Korean.  I’m working on that.

When I need to look up a word, there’s a little dictionary in my phone.  Still haven’t got very good at looking things up in Korean – the search function is “alphabetical” (which is easy if I’m looking English-to-Korean, since I’m really good with alphabetization in English) i.e. there is a “hangeul order” that you have to be comfortable with, to be able to effectively use the search.

So far, it’s easier to wait till I can go online, and go to naver.com’s online dictionary – then I can key the hangeul in using my keyboard (which I more-or-less have the hang of, though on my Linux system I still have to use a hack of keying it into a text-editor and then pasting into the browser, as I haven’t been able to get the browser to allow me to type non-western input methods directly).

Caveat: Gary’s Ghost

It's been two months since I replaced Gary at this school, and still students (not all, but more than a few) clearly miss him and leave me feeling dull and mediocre in comparison.  This is discouraging.  I am not the same sort of "funny," dynamic personality as he was, and although I have my strengths (e.g. my breadth of knowledge and experience, my linguistic training, and at least some pedagogical theory), these are not strengths typically appreciated by teenagers.   I learned only on the 3rd week here that I already had a nickname among some of the students, which was, roughly, "the professor."  This is almost eerie given that was also my nickname when I taught at Moorestown in 97-98.

Well.  So this whole "take on the teaching thing again" is not feeling like a good move, just at the moment.  What should I be doing different?  Being "the professor" is not all bad, but it may not be what Korean teenagers want or need.  That leaves me struggling to define and then fill a more appropriate role, but one which no doubt will come less naturally to me.

Caveat: I dreamed I was blogging

Really.  I woke up this morning from a dream in which I had been writing all these excellent posts to my blog.  Of course, I couldn’t quite make out what the these fabulous posts were about, regrettably.  So instead, all I have to post about is the dream.

The weekend was a pretty lazy one, as weekends go.  I had this huge ambition to try to go somewhere new, but I didn’t.  I did a lot of reading, and although I’m not feeling sick at all anymore, I decided I had been stressing too much about my efforts at teaching, so I resolved to not push myself to do anything I didn’t feel motivated to do, this weekend.  The consequence was that although I did quite a bit of walking, it was completely untouristic in nature – I just explored bits of my neighborhood and the larger Ilsan area.

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Caveat: Seoul

Not feeling in a writing mood.  But I promised to post something everyday.  I’m listening to some new music I downloaded – LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great” which reminds me a bit of a kind of hyperactive Magnetic Fields song, actually.

Here are a few pictures.

This is Seoul, looking north across the Han river from Yeouido Island toward downtown, Yongsan and Namsan – see the tower, right horizon?

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This is the main south gate of the old city – the walls no longer exist, and so it’s just a gate in the middle of a giant traffic circle.  It’s called Namdaemun.

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This is the infinite stairway in my building, looking down.  I often take the stairs, as it’s more exercise that way.

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What I’m listening to right now.

[Update: I added this youtube video 2011-08-03 as part of background noise.]

Caveat: Listless Chilliness

Well, the high today was about 10 c.  That's about 50 f – which makes it the coldest day so far, this fall.  And a chill wind blowing, so that the weather news here for the first time decided to mention the concept of windchill.  I was walking around my neighborhood, not feeling motivated to go into Seoul today, and felt cold for the first time since coming to Korea.

It was a listless day and I ended up coming back and reading the afternoon away, losing track of time.  I'm reading Henry George's Progress and Poverty.  Pretty dry, and radically out-of-date, from a politico-economic analysis point of view.  But… I still think some of the argument may have merit.  Not sure.  Will have to get back to everyone on that question.

In other news: I'm thinking that Mr. William B. Ide may be a candidate for holding the record as the person who dropped furthest in a single demotion.  In June of 1846, he was the elected President of the de facto sovereign California Republic.  In July of the same year, he became a private in Captain Fremont's California Battalion.

Caveat: More Nonsense, or Immanent Cybersoul?

In other news:  I found a blog that is stunningly bizarre.  Go take a look at it.  I dare you.  [Update:  the link is dead.  The strange blog has disappeared.  Which supports the spam theory, below.]

OK then.  I’d like to hope that it is some kind of strange inside joke.  Or the product of a random text generator of some kind, like that Kant engine I found some time back (see my blog entry from 2006.05.02).  Or, at the least, I hope it is the output of some weird automated translation engine, from some profoundly syntactically un-English language.

Actually, I think it must be the output of some kind of automated, text-spewing tool: a database-driven textual abstraction engine of some kind?  a spider-phisher (meaning a tool for attracting the attention of automated internet indexers, such as Google)?

But part of me enjoys imagining that there is a real, human author of the blog, who is actually sharing the poorly edited contents of his/her actual brain.  I mean… what a remarkably strange brain that must be, to be inside of!

Actually, another thought occurs to me:  this is an emergent symptom of a new, global, incipient cybersubconscious.  Immanent (imminent?) oversoul of humankind.  I’m sure some of you will be quite skeptical… but let’s think about it.

The internet today is an almost unmeasurably large text.  Borges’s infinite library, maybe.  But it is not just a passive text, sitting there for all of us internet-connected readers to read.  It is also inhabited by a seething, swarming plethora of text-reading and text-generating machines (e.g. google-spiders and spambots, respectively).  A vast ecosystem of predators and prey, living and dying, battling and fortifying, all in a text-based universe.  The word made virtual flesh, but not incarnate.  There be dragons.

So it is an unmeasurably large text in constant dialogue with itself – if not particularly self-aware dialogue, if not particularly meaningful dialogue, it is nevertheless a huge babbling demon.  A giant idiotic infinitely schizophrenic mind.  Grendel ruminates incoherently in his deep.  The internet becomes humanity collectively dreaming.

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Caveat: “리케티”

The above hangul reads:  "riketi."

At the school, when students take their daily vocabulary quizzes, they are required to write glosses into Korean of the words on the quiz (among other things, e.g. on my quizzes I have them "use the word in a sentence").  Obviously when I grade these quizzes, I don't pay much attention to these Korean meanings written off to the side, given it would be time-consuming to "translate back" from Korean and try to verify they'd gotten it right.  So normally I don't really look at them – if something's written, I'll give a point.

But the above leaped out at me – because the English word on the quiz was "rickety."  And the sentence that was given was one of those "empty" sentences, e.g. "I like rickety" (these are very common when the student doesn't know the word: they're gambling that they can say something that makes sense by plugging the word into something common and generic). 

So what the student had done was merely transliterate the English word back to Korean.   I love turning things like this into subjects of classroom discussion – I wrote the answer on the board (without revealing the student's name, so as to avoid embarrassing him) and asked the class generally what this meant:  "리케티".

I think the students are still not used to the idea that a foreigner knows any Korean at all.  They seem newly amazed each time I reveal my ability to sort out the hangul syllabary.  So there was a collective gasp of admiration as I wrote the word on the board.  But then several students burst out laughing.  I felt relief – they found it funny, too.  The clever student's effort to "slip one past" was appreciated by his peers.  I wasn't putting it on the board to shame anyone – I just thought it was funny and clever and that's what I said.

Well, after that, class went on.

Caveat: Lady Sovereign

So I finally set up a wifi network at the school, yesterday.  I took my laptop to my classes, with varying results.

The school has an odd schedule on Wednesdays – I don’t teach till slightly later, and it’s the one day that I migrate into other classrooms besides #5 – which is sort of my homeroom.  So I started with my 경기외고 cohort at 6.10, but I think this is too early relative to their normal Monday-Friday time, or something, so the class often fills up gradually over the 45 minute period:  Richard and Jun Yeong always wander in around 6.20, and Fred (Mr Sleepy!) inevitably comes in, headphones blaring, with 15 minutes left in class.

So.  Yesterday, there were only 5 girls at the start of class:  Amy and Sunny (both named Da Hye, both very smart, but they have diametrically opposite personalities), along with Clara, Jenny and Jane (“Queen Jane of the wide grin and blank stare”).  Oh, and Wayne (Ho Gyeong) was there – Wayne’s always there, trying to be invisible, but really quite smart, and the only student who’s doing two cohorts at once:  he’s in the 경기외고 cohort for both MWF and TThSa.

Since I had my laptop, and with the reduced classroom population… although I hadn’t really planned on it, I decided it would be a good time to do something “different,” and so I played a few songs from my massive collection on my laptop (currently approximately 3300 songs – 100’s of ripped CD’s, plus what I’ve downloaded).  I waited until something “clicked” and, perhaps not surprisingly, they seemed to like Lady Sovereign, a contemporary British rap artist whose recent album Public Warning I bought last spring.

pictureSo while they listened to her song “9-to-5” I ran to the office and printed out the lyrics (the internet is so cool – you can find the lyrics to any song in the known universe in a matter of seconds and have 15 copies spewing out of your printer).

So we had a fun time, running through the song again with the lyrics in front of us.  Uh-oh, there’s a few bad words there – well, aren’t there always, with rap songs?  But hey, that’s English too, right?

And on schedule, Richard (“Ricardo”) and Jun Yeong showed up, and Cristine and Becky came in (although Becky immediately fell asleep face-down on her wrist; and after some class discussion, we decided unanimously to let her continue her nap, having just heard a song by Lady Sovereign about the hazards of not getting enough sleep!).  Fred (Mr. Sleepy!) never showed up at all, though I found him sleeping on one of the benches in the lobby of the school a little later.

These 경기외고 cohorts are my most most difficult, in some ways.  They have the highest proportion of what I might term, diplomatically, as “differently-motivated” students.  I’m not sure if listening to Lady Sovereign was any help or not, but it was a nice change of pace.

Another day in the life of “Jeredeu-Ticheo,” (this is Konglish: “Jared-Teacher” i.e. Jared-seonsaeng cf. parallel in Japanese: Jared-sensei) – I guess I’m still the “mediocre new guy” at Tomorrow Language School!

[Update: I added the youtube link 2011-08-03 as part of the background noise effort.]

Caveat: Fear of…

I certainly will concede there is a self-destructive aspect to this constant throwing-away / self-reinvention of myself, that I do.  I quit one career – the whole database programming / computers / business intelligence reporting thing – that in some respects was going quite well.  I take up another – teaching – which at the moment isn't feeling particularly successful. 

Some people who know me have characterized this process as a manifestation of a sort of "fear of success."  What this means… might be true?

I feel like I'm being a pretty bad teacher, right now.  There's that aspect, which I was never in denial about, where the students all seem terrifyingly ungrateful for (not to mention, existentially uninterested in) what I'm trying to do.  No, I never forgot about that.  Little ungrateful twerps, they are – not so much as a "thanks for your efforts."  Of course not.  Did I ever properly thank my excellent teachers in high school?  Not really.

And so as I walked home last night, for the first time since being here feeling a little bit underdressed for the chill in the air, I meditated on this:  do I deliberately sabotage my successes so as to make my life more difficult?  Why?  Because I deserve difficult things?  Because I feel I will only grow and become a better person by confronting difficult things?  Working for HealthSmart was plenty difficult – I could have stayed there.  Why do something differently and newly difficult, diving into an alien culture and language and taking on a job I was never sure I was very good at, anyway, only because I feel I "should"?  Why deliberately revisit old ghosts – the "Korea" ghost of my military service here, the "teaching" ghost of my epoch in Philadelphia – which will present unpleasant challenges and memories? 

The last question is easiest to answer:  I can only assert a positive ownership of my own historical narrative by revisiting these old ghosts and putting them properly to rest.  This was a central, conscious component of the choices I've been making for the last year or so.  And it may be all the answer that's needed.  Still…

Is this changing of contexts and situations really just about running away from myself?  Lots of people would say, oh definitely.  I would say it myself.  But it's not that – I really don't think so.  Or… not just that, anyway.  We all have a fear of failure.  But I think I may also have a different fear which is even more compelling:  fear of boredom.  Honestly, I may prefer serial failure to boredom.  Obviously, success would be great – I don't know that it is really right to say, simply, that I fear success.  But given the option between "failure and interesting" versus "success and boredom," I will always opt for the former over the latter.  This is probably a defect?

This whole little blog entry is a meandering, repetitive failure at meditating on what I'm trying to do with my life.  Plus, it's boring.  So… argh.

Caveat: Emotionally Attached to your Roomba

I was listening to the radio (a Canadian radio show called "As It Happens"), and heard about people who become emotionally attached to their Roombas.  A Roomba is a robotic vacuum cleaner – you put it into a room, and it navigates around using a low-level artificial intelligence, and vacuums the floors.  These Roombaphiles name them, attribute to them a gender, give them little bits of clothing (some kind of cover), and have even taken them on road trips.  A woman interviewed had named her 3 Roombas Nigel, Basil and Clyde.  The question arises:  is it possible to love a Roomba too much?

Maybe I need a Roomba?  To be my friend?

Caveat: Wandering Around

I didn’t really do much yesterday.  I wandered around the Sinchon district, a university neighborhood that has that same feel of university neighborhoods anywhere – lots of young people, trendy stores, interesting hairdos in multiple colors, individuals toting musical instruments to gigs, people standing on streetcorners preaching damnation or salvation or other stopping places in between.

I finally got the gumption up to dive back into the subway and work my way over toward the area where I had heard a lot of electronics stores were (thinking in terms of shopping for a new mp3 player, among other things) – but I decided on a whim to a rather roundabout route, and by the time I got there, I was feeling listless and unmotivated.

So I came back home and have been tinkering with solving my photo-archive problem online.  My photo database that I’m hosting on my own server has run into size-maximum constraints, and I’m looking for alternatives.  I recently discovered that the typepad website that hosts this blog also hosts photos, and so I’m going to see if that provides a workable photo-hosting solution.

I did succeed in finding a conveniently placed bookstore where I can buy my magazine fixes – better placed than the one at Itaewon I’d found a few weeks ago.  I also bought some stickers and pencils for my nephews, and will try to post that today or tomorrow.

This picture shows the doorway to my humble apartment.  Looks like a prison, eh?  But it’s workable.  Has a snazzy electronic lock so I don’t have to use a key to get in, though I carry it around just in case there’s a power failure or something (not that I’ve seen one yet).

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This picture shows what I see when I step out of my building to walk to the subway station at Jeongbalsan.  There’s a parking lot space right to the east, then some buildings.  In the distance between the buildings, down the street, is the large Lotte department store.  The main subway entrance is behind that building, but it’s possible to enter the subway station from the basement of the department store, where there is also a very upscale grocery store.

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So soon I go off to work.  I’m having a little lunch of instant noodles and drinking nice cold boricha.  Outside is sunny but with the coolish bite of fall in the air.  The trees have finally begun to change.

Caveat: A Walled Garden

Not what you think:  I'm going to talk about closed technical standards and the fun I had with them, last night.

Last Monday, after my trip into Seoul on Sunday, my mp3-player broke.  Not sure what happened to it – it still turns on, fine, but it refuses to interact with me except to display its boot screen.  I tried connecting it to my laptop with the USB cable, and it refuses to recognize the connection.  Anyway… I'm kind of annoyed, as I've only had about 6 months of use out of it.  And I was thinking, crap, so I've got to buy a new mp3-player.

I realized that, among other things, my new cell phone claims to be able to play mp3's.  It's tied into a music-distribution website run by KTF (Korea Telecom something-or-other, who is my service provider).  The service is called Dosirak (도시락).  So, in my naivety, I thought to myself, well, mp3 is mp3 is mp3, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

I spent about 4 hours yesterday messing with my phone.

First, I realized that if I was going to be putting music on my phone, I would need some supplemental memory.  So I went to the shop where I'd gotten the phone, and shelled out 20,000 won for a 1GB memory chip – hey, 20 bucks, no big deal, right?

Only after I got home did I realize that I had no USB cable to go with the phone – I had been thinking it was in the box I got the phone in, but no… there's a little notice in the manual (in Korean, but I got the gist, anyway, it was in bright red hangul) saying something to the effect of "USB cable sold separately."  I was about to hoof it back to the telecom shop, but then I thought, wait, this phone speaks bluetooth – and so does my laptop, right?  (Bluetooth is a wireless data-transfer protocol for very short distances, i.e. less than 100 meters).

So I spent about 30 minutes trying to get my phone to read my laptop.  Under Ubuntu linux, forget it!  There's an acknowledged bug with the current Ubuntu distro, with respect to reading bluetooth clients where the client requires passkey-enabled pairing – which my phone apparently required.  So, after about 30 minutes of dinking around and online research, I rebooted the laptop to the despised and innately nefarious Windows Vista Business to see if I could bluetooth to my phone from there.  Still it took another 30 minutes of messing around – there was a not-to-be-found-anywhere Wireless Device icon missing from my systray, and when I finally found it and ran the gadget, the phone was more than a little bit stubborn about reading the PC.  I had to lower the security levels on the PC to zero, shut down the firewall, all that.  Not sure what I was doing, just monkeying with switches till I could get it to work.

So.  But finally, I was moving an mp3 file to my phone!  I opened up the Dosirak player on the phone, and it couldn't see the file!  Hmm….  turned out, after another 15 mintues of poking around, the file had been moved over to the phone without any .mp3 extension on it.  And for some reason, the file-rename utility on the phone won't let you insert non-hangul and/or non-alphanumeric characters – crucially, the desperately needed "dot" in front of the .mp3 extension couldn't get typed in on the phone.  So, with a heavy sigh, I went back to the PC and renamed the file to something very short, thinking maybe the filename had been too long, and retransfered it to the phone.

That worked.  Now I had a .mp3 file on the phone.  Once again I opened the Dosirak player, but the Dosirak player still couldn't see the file.  I looked around some more, and noticed the 3 sample songs on the phone (all lovely K-pop pseudo R&B compositions) had .fmp extensions on them.  Uh oh…

What the heck was .fmp?  Extensive research on the web turned up exactly zero on .fmp as a music format.  Something related to Filemaker Pro, but, for sure, that wasn't what these were.  My heart was beginning to sink.   In a fit of desperation, I tried changing the extension on the file from .mp3 to .fmp in hopes of tricking the Dosirak player into seeing the file.  This actually worked – but the Dosirak player immediately complained that the file was corrupted.  Clearly, .fmp wasn't just a secret renaming of standard mp3 format, but something different and/or proprietary.

I did some more web research, and finally found – in a PDF published in Europe, on international music encoding standards – a footnote that said that KTF (i.e. the parent company to Dosirak) had rolled out a proprietary encoding standard that included DRM (digital rights management) for its music-selling service.  Heh… this must be the .fmp, right?

And there you have it.  And I've been thinking about this in the broader context, on and off:  this business of creating "walled gardens" using proprietary standards, and how annoying they are.  One of the reasons why I refuse to jump on the Apple bandwagon – as everything they do is pure "walled garden" from a technical standpoint.  Basically, I can play all the mp3's I want on my phone, as long as and only if I buy them from KTF.  And thems the rules.

And some of you, reading this, will be saying:  "I understand exactly zero of what he just talked about."  And others will just shake your heads quietly in grim commiseration.  Whatever.

I guess I'm going to go shopping for a new mp3 player today.

Caveat: Radiohead

pictureI’ve had a fondness for the musical group Radiohead for many years now.  A kind of dark, complex, introspective, idiosyncratic pop.  I hadn’t been thinking too much about them, lately, though as always they’re on my regular play list among the mp3’s.  However, recently I read about them in, of all places, a business website.

Recently they’ve produced a new album.  However, rather than release it through a standard record company distribution deal, they’ve simply posted the mp3 tracks to their website and allow people to download it, for a price that the individual user is allowed to set – any price at all.

Of course, this alternately alarms or exhilarates all kinds of economic commentators.  It’s so… chaotic, democratic, “new economy.”  They ask, is this the future of IP (intellectual property) distro?  Just a fluke?

I would be one of those people who would be fascinated and excited to think this is some vision of the future of intellectual property – but I’m actually inclined to believe this is, more likely, a fluke – at least for the short and medium terms.  Radiohead (and Thom Yorke, their leader) have always been very savvy with respect to both technology/internet stuff as well as the issue of marketing/merchandising/publicity.  This is very much in that vein.

Nevertheless, I confess I did exactly what so many are apparently doing.  I went to their website, gave them some money, and downloaded the album.  I could hardly resist, just to say I’d been a part of it.  And, I’ve learned, I paid quite a bit more than most did – but then, I was always a sucker for “pay what you think it’s worth” pitches – same as I always tip too much at restaurants, right?  I paid exactly what I thought I’d pay if I’d gone down and bought a new Radiohead at the big store – say, around 13-15 bucks.  Yorke and friends are, in fact, getting an average of about 8 bucks per album download, and everyone’s remarking that, even so, they’re getting more cash in the bank than if they’d gone through a standard CD distro deal, since there’re no middlemen whatsoever. 

Ah well.  Hey, it’s a pretty good album – as Radiohead goes.

Still, I still think my favorite is probably Hail to the Thief – I bought that CD at a Target store in suburban Sydney, Australia, when I’d realized I’d just set out to drive 2000 km to far north Queensland and had absolutely nothing to listen to except Australian radio – which makes US radio sound pretty damn good.  Consequently, I had this CD on constant repeat for the whole drive north up the coast, and I associate its songs with vivid blurs of endless streams of Ozzian countryside, broken up by repetitive snippets of eerily tiny Target stores, cheap motels, Hungry-Jack restaurants (=Burger King, in Oz) along those two lane roads, and the sleepy moments late at night, driving, when I would start to forget which side of the road I was supposed to be on. 

In particular, one of my favorite songs of all time:  “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere).”

What I’m listening to right now.