Caveat: At Cave…

Today is one of those typical middle-of-the-week one day holidays: Korean independence day (which is to say, on March 1, 1919, Koreans declared independence – but they didn't achieve it until 1945 when the Americans nuked Japan).

I celebrate my own potential for independence by sitting and lurking in my little 9th floor cave, spending far too much time "hacking" on my computer.

I guess I see the value in doing this, in that I keep up an alternative set of skills, should this current "career" as a teacher ever become unsustainable for whatever reason.

So… I have been installing some development and deployment tools: I have both PostgreSQL and MySQL databases running, I have the mediawiki instance running, and now I have the nice Ruby-based open-source GIS web package up and running: the OpenStreetMap architecture, with both presentation (website with google-style "slippy map", but just on my desktop so far) and back-end (map tile generation – very rough, but working), though I haven't yet figured out how to customize or personalize it in any way – I have literally NEVER done anything with Ruby (website development language) before today. But… well, a website is a website, right? How hard can it be to figure out?

I think the next step is to install some kind of IDE. So far, I've just been doing everything with the linux terminal and gedit (a text editor like Windows' notepad).  I have never been fond of IDEs, but I doubt it's possible to work with anything of this level of complexity in the old, "hacker" style. I did use IDEs for my SQL dev work in the 2000s (mostly Visual Studio).

[daily log: walking, from directory to directory on my too-small hard drive]

Caveat: my banggwang is endless

Most students play around during the short breaks between class periods. Then, when the second bell rings, they ask earnestly if they can run to restroom. This is perfectly rational: they want to maximize their fun-with-friends time and minimize the painful class time.

Two minutes after class started, Soyeon asked if she could go to the bathroom.

I said, "Really? You couldn't do it during the break time?"

This is such typical and irrelevant teacher-talk, she didn't even deign a response. And of course, she had to take a friend, because girls are constitutionally incapable of going to the toilet alone, as far as I can figure out. This seems to be some kind of human universal, at least based on the four countries I've had a chance to live in. How did it arise? How is this behavior gendered and socially constructed? Well, I digress…

So they went, and took their sweet time. And then, less than forty minutes later, before the bell was about to ring the end of the period, Soyeon announced that she needed to go to the bathroom again. I said, again, "Really? Are you OK?"

She didn't even wait for my approval – she took it as a given. I'm too nice, I suppose. At least this time she didn't need to take her friend – perhaps she'd seen another friend going by in the hall. Going out the door, she laughed dismissively.

"My banggwang is endless," she offered by way of unidiomatic explanation. "banggwang" is 방광, which is Korean for bladder. This was sufficiently amusing that I forgave her transgression.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Count Your Legs

Statistical thought for the day:

The vast majority of people have more than the average number of legs.

The above thought is useful for pointing out the difference between mean (average) and median.

[daily log: walking, on legs, 7km]

Caveat: Poem #575

I put slices of bread on a plate.
They're better if I heat them some.
Coffee, just instant, is fine.
There must be some water.
It's pretty boring.
But my taste buds
were removed:
food's not

Caveat: en es ko

Well, it took me more than six months to get around to it, but over this past weekend I finally resurrected my Linux desktop. I had managed to break it while trying to expand the size of the linux OS partition on my hard drive, and had been too lazy to go in and rescue all the old files and resurrect it. Instead, all this time have been unhappily limping along with the Windows 7 "Korea" edition that was native to my home desktop PC. I guess from a day-to-day "surf the internet" functionality, it was fine, but lately I've been wanting to get back to doing something more productive with some programming (er…  really just hacking around with things) in support of my moribund geofiction hobby. As such, having a functional Ubuntu Linux desktop is pretty much indispensable.

In fact, once I'd backed up all my files to an external drive, which was merely tedious, the re-install was mostly painless. As before, the most painful thing for me with Linux is language and keyboard support issues. I cannot function, now, without having Korean and Spanish language keyboard options – I still do some writing in Spanish, of course, and although my Korean remains lousy in qualitative terms, it's nevertheless a ubiquitous aspect of my daily existence, and being able to type it comfortably is essential.

Each time I try to get the Korean keyboard and language options to work on a Linux install, it goes differently. It feels like a kind of hit-or-miss affair, where I keep trying various gadgets and settings in all possible combinations until I get one that works. This inevitable confusion was not helped by the fact that unlike last time, where I used Ubuntu's native "Unity" desktop, I opted this time to try the so-called Cinnamon desktop (part of the "Mint" distro, a fork of Ubuntu). This was because I'd heard that Unity was not much longer for this world, and that Canonical (the creators of Ubuntu) intended to go out of the desktop-making biz.

Linux (at least these Ubuntu distros) make a distinction between "language setting" (which is fundamentally useless for controlling how the system reads the keyboard, as far as I can tell) and "input method" – which is what you need. But these two subsystems don't seem to talk to each other very well.

The peculiar result I achieved after a few hours of dinking around, this time, is possibly unique in the entire world. I have my Ubuntu 16.04 with Cinnamon desktop, where the "system language" is English, the "regionalization" is Korean, the "keyboard" is Spanish, and the "input method" is Korean. This is pretty weird, because my physical keyboard is, of course, Korean. So for my regular day-to-day typing, the keys (except the letters proper) don't match, since all the diacritics and symbols and such are arranged quite differently on a Spanish keyboard. But I've always been adept at touch typing, and I know the Spanish layout mostly by heart. Then when I want to type Korean, I hit the "hangul" key (which the "Spanish keyboard" can't "see" since Spanish keyboards don't have "hangul" keys) and that triggers the Korean part of the IBus input widget, and I can type Korean. It sounds bizarre, but it's the most comfortable arrangement of keyboard settings I've ever managed, since there's never any need to use a "super" shortcut of some kind to toggle between languages – they're all running more-or-less on top of each other in a big jumble instead of being segregated out.

I hate to say it, but I didn't take notes as to how I got here – so I can't even tell you. I just kept trying different combinations of settings until one worked. I messed with the "Language Support", the "IBus Preferences", the "Keyboard" (under "System Settings), and the System Tray.

Anyway, I took a screenshot of my system tray, where you can see the whole resultant mess in a single summary snapshot.


I now have a full-fledged Mediawiki instance up-and-running on the desktop (you can visualize a sort of "empty" wikipedia – all the software, but no information added into it). I've even configured the OGF-customized "slippy map" embeds for it (I managed that once on this here blog, too). I'm currently trying to get a PostgreSQL database instance working – MySQL is running but PostgreSQL has better GIS support, which is something I'm interested in having.

So there, you see a sometime hobby of mine, in action once again after a sort of winter hibernation, I guess.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Don’t tell God your plans

I finally got motivated to repair my linux desktop that I broke about 6 months ago. So… I'm obsessively messing around with config files and various arcana of Ubuntu Linux.

What I'm listening to right now.

David Bowie, "No Control."


Stay away from the future
Back away from the light
It's all deranged – no control

Sit tight in your corner
Don't tell God your plans
It's all deranged
No control

If I could control tomorrow's haze
The darkened shore wouldn't bother me
If I can't control the web we weave
My life will be lost in the fallen leaves

Every single move's uncertain
Don't tell God your plans
It's all deranged
No control

I should live my life on bended knee
If I can't control my destiny
You've gotta have a scheme
You've gotta have a plan
In the world of today, for tomorrow's man

No control

Stay away from the future
Don't tell God your plans
It's all deranged
No control

Forbidden words, deafen me
In memory, no control
See how far a sinful man
Burns his tracks, his bloody robes
You've gotta have a scheme
You've gotta have a plan
In the world of today, for tomorrow's man

I should live my life on bended knee
If I can't control my destiny
No control I can't believe I've no control
It's all deranged

I can't believe I've no control
It's all deranged

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Mr Butts

I present my student Mark's composition, with excellent accompanying illustration, without extensive comment. I only will suggest: 11 year old boys all over the world may have some similar interests and obsessions.


Meanwhile, what I'm listening to right now.

Béla Bartók, "String quartet No. 4 in C Major Sz 91," performed by Quatuor Ébène.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: The View From Over Here 🔫

Currently I am a long-term expat. I observe my home country, the US, from a distance both psychological and physical. The whole "gun thing" seems both tragic and absurd, from my perspective. I currently live in a country with one of the lowest incidences of gun violence in the world – a cursory examination of a list of countries by incidence of gun deaths shows South Korea as being the 3rd lowest, only after Hong Kong and Japan. 

Anyway, it's pretty safe here, from gun violence. I have sometimes wondered if there exists any kind of "gun culture" in South Korea. Actually, I speculate that there does, in fact, exist such a culture – but it would be inextricably linked up with the military. Since military service for males is obligatory, that means that, in theory, at least, every Korean adult male in the entire country has fired a gun at some point in his life, and the vast majority have probably qualified with a rifle. That's interesting, vis-a-vis the non-military culture, right? It makes it a far different situation than either Hong Kong or Japan, where military service is, in the former instance non-existent, and in the latter instance, extremely rare and utterly voluntary (given Japan's relatively small military, in per capita terms, compared to South Korea). What it means is that any Korean man who wants to "play" with guns in a safe and responsible manner has an easy way to do so: he can continue to serve as a "reservist" – which many Korean men do. Then he can go out on the range and shoot as much as he wants, several times a year, I can imagine. 

My own experience with guns is broader than you might expect, given my liberal white privilege. I qualified with a rifle during my Army service – as an expert, even – though I sometimes felt I had simply had some very lucky days on my qualifying days. I had even gone on to take the first steps on qualifying with a pistol, as well, before I mustered out.

Further, despite having avoided seeing any actual action in the first Iraq war (1991) – which took place during my military service, and which I watched on the barracks televisions while stationed here in South Korea at that time – I have nevertheless had the experience of having been shot at, directly. I was lucky, in that the man shooting at me was too drunk to aim well. I was not hurt. There is no doubt I might have died – I consider it one of the several times in my life when I have had to look death right in the eye.

Additionally, I once witnessed a man being shot dead. This was during my time traveling in El Salvador, in 1986 – which was during the civil war. It was not clear to me if I witnessing a crime or an act of "enforcement" – there were plenty of uniforms present but it wasn't clear to me if the uniforms were military or rebel forces, and how it all worked. I suspect that during the Salvadorean civil war of that era, the line between crime and military enforcement was pretty blurry. My main reaction was to get away from the situation as quickly and as unobstrusively as I could manage. I boarded a bus and let it take me away. 

In the end, my view of guns and gun violence is complicated. I think I have no issue with the type of allegedly draconian gun laws as exist in Japan or South Korea. I think it hardly makes these societies "less free" – there may in fact be ways that these societies are "less free" than in the US, but I don't think the relaxing of gun controls would impact that in any positive way. My libertarian tendencies are undeniable, however. In principle, I have strong sympathies with the "2nd ammendment types" who will brook no infringement of individual rights. My biggest concern with those people is that they are, almost without exception, utter hypocrites – they are libertarians on gun control, but if you ask them to opine on issues like women's rights or immigration, they are all about control and restrictions. This is "libertarianism for me but not for thee." It makes me much less sympathetic to their position – when I find mostly hypocrites holding a given political position, my gut-level response is to assume this is strong evidence of some kind of flaw in that political position.

I will conclude with a humorous video I ran across – a tongue-in-cheek "European perspective" on the American gun problem, which could probably just as easily represent the typical (informed) Korean position.

"A small country on the coast of North America."

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: So it is written on the thin paper


There is an immense epic poetic tradition in Tibet and Central Asia about a mythical King Gesar. There are thousands of variants in dozens of diverse languages and cultures, and the King seems to not really have been a specific historical person, although the name, at least, has been linked to the adoption among some Turkic peoples of the steppes of the title "Keser" or "Gesar" from the Byzantines, who continued using the title "Caesar" until their downfall, and who had many contacts with Mongols, Turks, and other Central Asian peoples through their long history. This has parallel in the Slavs' adoption of the same title from the same source, which became the modern word 'czar.' 

I found an interesting translation-in-progress on this website, of the Gesar epic, by a scholar of Buryat shamanism. Buryat is an ethnic group from northern Mongolia and the Baikal region of Siberia. As far as I can figure out, the scholar, Sarangerel Odigon, is working directly from some oral source – that is, the English translation is just a running translation of the oral tradition. That seems pretty cool, in itself. 

In case you haven't noticed, I've been quite 'into' Central Asian cultures, lately, especially their literary production. So here is a tiny sample of this fascinating epic poem, one of the few which still has an active performative tradition in multiple cultures. For reference, I found a Russian translation of some version of it, here. I'm sure there are interesting original-language versions out there on the web, somewhere, but my google-fu is not strong enough to find it.

From the beginning of the section entitled "Abai Geser: The First Branch":

In the earliest of early times,
In the most ancient of periods,
In the first of first times,
In the time of the beginning;
When the highest bright heaven
Was swirling with fog,
When the earth below
Was covered with dirt and dust;
When the grass had not yet begun to grow,
When the broad long rivers had not begun to flow,
When the great Milk Sea was but a small puddle,
When the world mountain Humber Ula was a hillock,
When the sandalwood tree at the forest's edge
Had not yet put out branches,
When the greyish deer was but a fawn;
When the giant yellow snake was but a little worm,
When the giant fish were only little minnows;
When the earth did not have any continents,
When the center of the universe was not yet finished;
When the great giant bird was small as a crow,
When the first horse was the size of a foal;
When the khan's many roads were not built,
When the people's many roads were not laid out;
This was a good age,
This was a beautiful time
It has been said!..

When the many gods of the heaven did not compete with each other,
When the many tenger of the skies did not quarrel with each other;
When the many tenger of the west were not arrogant,
When black and white were not different from each other;
When the many tenger of the east did not argue,
When appearance and color were not differentiated;
When Esege Malaan Tenger was not an old man,
When Ekhe Yuuren Ibii was not an old woman;
When Han Hormasta Tengeri did not brag of his strength,
When black and white were not estranged;
When Atai Ulaan Tengeri did not boast of his greatness,
When hatred and jealousy did not sow discord;
When those of Oyodol Sagaan Tengeri had not yet gathered,
When those of Oyor Sagaan Tengeri had not yet flowed over;
It was a time of beautiful things!
So it is written on the thin paper!

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Listening files links

Listening files links!


HtMSftTOEFL Intermediate







말하기 쉬운 한국어 2


Caveat: The worst possible gift

The below is paraphrased, because the level of English is a bit lower than is easy to quote directly – there are a lot of re-phrasings and "do you know what I mean?" from me, and from the student, a lot of false starts and "teacher guesses at student meaning with requests for confirmation". Actual classroom conversation at the lower levels of ability are pretty complicated and drawn-out negotiations of intent and semantics. But the spirit of the conversation is accurate, after we worked out our meanings.

Teacher: "What is the worst possible gift you could receive?"

Jack: "An English book!"

Teacher: "So if I gave you an English book, what would you do?"

Jack: "I will give you a Korean book."

My students are sometimes quite adept at detecting my anxieties.

[daily log: walking, 7km]