Archive for the Technology Category

Avatar

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Music, Personal, Sound, Technology, USA on January 3, 2010 by Elephant Talk

We’re not immune to entertainment hype over here in Korea. We may not get the same deluge of advertising, or have our faces shoved into the trough of the ‘next great thing’ — for which I’m grateful — but hype travels across oceans. It seeps through internet tubes, it buzzes through Facebook status updates. I could feel the hype about Avatar. But I intentionally closed it off. I never saw a trailer, never (intentionally) looked at images, shunned interviews, shut people up during dinner conversations. I did everything I could to wait until it was real. Because I could feel it. I didn’t know what it was. But I could feel that something amazing was coming.

When I finally sat down in the theater and fixed those 3D glasses on my nose, I was going in blissfully ignorant. So I’m not ashamed to say this: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this movie, for that experience. We’ve gotten close in the past 30 years, but nothing got to that place that Avatar got to. All during my childhood, I stared at images of otherworldly places in the pages of Heavy Metal, in the art of Vallejo, Giger and Dean. I’d stare at them and imagine a culture within and beyond the frozen image. What’s beyond this moment? What happened before and after, what’s going on outside the margins? That’s the great thing about geeky fantasy art. The static images allow your mind to fill in the rest; they free you to wonder and imagine. It’s the reason I started drawing pictures, making up stories in my head. But all the time I’d be frustrated because my imagination wasn’t good enough. I kept thinking, “dammit, when’s it going to MOVE?!”

Now it has, for the first time ever in my life, in the way that I’ve been waiting for. I saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977, but I was too young to get it. I soaked up every frame of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. But Avatar, in 3D, was the first time that cinema took me there. I almost cried a couple times and I’ve never cried in a movie in my life. When they first started flying on the dragon creatures, oh my god. Many times in the movie I let out little unconscious, unintentional sounds, little tiny orgasmic sounds. I couldn’t help myself. They finally did it, and I lived long enough to see it. I’ll never get my own personal space ship, but I have this.

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아이폰

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Technology on November 20, 2009 by Elephant Talk

The iPhone is coming to Korea. This isn’t really that big of a news flash, because it was expected to happen. But now it’s pretty much official.

The speculation on that article up there is about how much it will penetrate the market here. I expect it to be pretty much a status symbol. In South Korea, Apple is an image thing. Microsoft is so ubiquitous that people gravitate to Apple things to present status (a very important thing here). It’s big at my workplace. I know one Korean colleague who has a Macintosh in his office, but it just sits there. He doesn’t actually use it; he’s got his Windows machine for actual work. But damn, it looks good. I know another who bought a Mac and only runs Windows through Boot-camp. And I’d say there are about five or six people in my department who have Apple monitors running Windows machines. That nice bold Apple icon oozes coolness.

It will be interesting to see how the iPhone does. It’s not really needed here, because while it might be a big technological breakthrough in the U.S., it’s not that big a deal here. Through Samsung and LG, people already have phones with huge hard drives to store and play all their music and a bunch of quirky apps. And because of DMB broadcasting, people can (and do) watch TV on their phones, something the iPhone doesn’t allow (at least I don’t think). The Samsung phones are pretty sweet, with touch screens and a bunch of cool features.

It will be interesting to watch how app development goes. I’d like to see some Korean-based apps come out. But again, from what I’ve seen, the interest in Apple is in the packaging (the hardware). Few people use Macintosh software, and I would suspect there are only a tiny number of people who could program for it.

If it does well, I suspect it will be because of the Apple brand more than the actual product. I probably won’t get one. I have a new iPod Touch that I’m happy with. Also, the iPhone requires a two-year contract and I don’t know whether I’ll be here that long. I’m not a bleeding edge kinda guy anyway. I’ll wait for the other foreigners (who are ready to make the leap) to test drive the situation before I consider it.

Document

Posted in Academics, Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal, PIFF, Technology on October 21, 2009 by Elephant Talk

If a blog has its own identity then this one is in an existential crisis. I say this because 1) it’s an exercise in free will, and 2) I’m wondering what the point is. To put it another way, I’m considering committing blog suicide. Ending it, putting it out of its misery, sending it off to the big sleep.

I’ve been in Korea for two years and eight months. I’ve had this blog for all but four months of that time. I’ve used it primarily as an opportunity to share my impressions of living in this culture. I have a particular audience in mind when I write, that being my family. Actually, when I write, I usually have my mom in mind, because I know she reads all the time and I know she enjoys it. But there are two reasons why I think it’s time to end it…
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Enefel

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Personal, Sports, Technology, USA on September 16, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Another September, another NFL season begins. The NFL is one of the very few indulgences that I miss dearly from living in the U.S. It was an important part of my weekend routine: wake up Sunday, make coffee, turn on the 10 am game, relax on the couch, let the caffeine kick in, do some chores around the house as the games continued, etc. Football means nothing to the vast majority of Koreans, who are primarily interested in baseball, with progressively receding (can I say that?) interests in soccer and basketball. When I first got here I couldn’t find it anywhere and lived through nfl.com highlights.

The next season, last year, I found one place playing games over the internet, but only live. 10 am Sunday Pacific time is 2 am Korea time. That doesn’t work. But when the playoffs rolled around, a brand new foreigner bar in Haeundae got the NFL Sunday Ticket thingy. They broadcast them on a delay, showing Saturday and Sunday games the following night. An ethical code was born: If you know, don’t tell. Simple as that. And it worked. Either everyone averted their eyes from internet news for the whole day, or no one spilled the beans. I saw five playoff games in a crowded bar and didn’t know the outcomes until I watched them unfold on the screen.

As an indication of how quickly things change here, there are now three bars (at least) showing not just playoffs, but regular season games, using the same model. There’s the original in Haeundae (Sunset Lounge) and two in Kyungdae (HQ and Evas, which both opened only a few months ago). All three bars have the NFL Sunday Ticket, which is far from perfect, but for the most part it works.

Eva’s is a great bar with the best pub food in the city, so I went there for the season opener on Friday night (what was in the States the Thursday night game). There was a good crowd and the Steelers won, so I was happy. Monday night I went back at around 7 for the Sunday games. I was the only one there that early, so I got to pick the game: Chicago at Green Bay. At first, it was just me and a bartender girl, who had no clue what was going on. I taught her the best I could in simple English words. Keep the other team out of your area, move into the other team’s area. OK, now that there’s a safety. The quarterback got tackled in his goal. That’s two points. There’s a field goal, that’s three points. See that quarterback for Chicago? He keeps throwing the ball to the other team. That’s bad. What’s second and seven mean? Um… OK, they have to make 10 yards (you know yards? like a meter.) in four plays. Then they get another four chances to make another 10 yards. Oh, OK. I don’t think she got it. But she seemed mildly entertained. Every time there was a close up of a player showboating after a big defensive play she’d laugh and say “So cute,” which, in itself, was cute.

Eventually, toward the end of the game, regulars started flowing into the bar. After Aaron Rogers threw that beautiful bomb to Donald Driver to win the game, we tried to launch another one. But the site stopped working. It refused to load another game. HQ and Sunset have apparently had the same problem. From what I hear demand is higher than bandwidth supply and it’s created a logjam. Making matters worse, nfl.com doesn’t have any support, so there’s no way to get answers or solutions.

Hopefully things will get worked out, they’ll clear the tubes, and we’ll be able to see all the games we want. It’s still not the same as waking up to morning football. But what I lack in that regard, I gain in the communal aspect of enjoying it at the neighborhood pub with a few friends and regulars.

Go Steelers.

Friday film links

Posted in Academics, Culture, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, Technology on July 17, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Just a brief post here to highlight some interesting websites. I’ve been blogging quite a bit about movies lately, something I hope to do more of in the future. I’ve been particularly obsessed with Korean movies. They have the dual effect of giving me interesting stories about the country I live in while also giving me a hint of how well my language studies are progressing. (The answer to that second part: not very fast.)

I’ve also been looking at more film blogs lately. A while back I was nudged in the direction of this blog, which I finally spent some time perusing today. Her site is very nice on its own, but it also took me to some other excellent places, such as the now defunct Film Studies Journal, which has a collection of downloadable articles. I’m in research mode these days, so I’m looking forward to digging into that. Her site also led me to, of all things, the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies—specifically, an excellent article on my favorite Korean movie, A Tale of Two Sisters. And something I can’t believe I haven’t come across before: Koreanfilm.org. (While I’m at it, I should point out one more I came across by accident a few weeks back, The Foreigner’s Guide to Film Culture in Korea.)

Koreanfilm.org in particular is outstanding, with a ton of good content. Just like that, I spent the next three hours reading essays, reading reviews, researching films, and getting completely lost.

And now I see that the day’s over. Time for dinner. And then, probably, watch another Korean movie.

Busan online

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Technology, Travel on July 3, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Here it is, Busan expatriate, your new website.

It’s a brand new government-sponsored website designed to help foreigners. I spent about 15 minutes looking through it, hoping I might find some nugget of cynicism to spice up this post. But nope, nothin’. Looks like a pretty good site that does a good job covering the basics. The searchable FAQ section is excellent.

I guess my one beef with it is the same as with all Korean websites — you can’t link to individual pages. But I’m happy to see that it works in Firefox, on my Macintosh. Most sites in Korea are Windows-IE only.

“Computer…”

Posted in Academics, Korea, Music, Sound, Technology on May 19, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Wolfram|Alpha was unveiled today. I’d heard about this a few weeks back — a search engine of computational knowledge. No banner ads, no “supported links,” no… capitalism. Ask it a question and it will do its best to answer.

Google, for all its power and reach, is great. But you usually have to sift through a lot of crap to find what you’re looking for. To me, the two best things on the web are Wikipedia and Youtube. The former is, of course, a communal encyclopedia of just about everything. The latter is a treasure trove of media, letting you see and hear just about any kind of content, from obscure songs to drum lessons. The nice thing about both is you can go in there and find what you’re looking for very easily.

Wolfram|Alpha appears to be trying to take the next step, not beyond Google or Youtube, but beyond Wikipedia. It compensates for Wikipedia’s weakness, in that it can extrapolate what information you’re attempting to seek. Wikipedia’s good when you enter a specific subject. Wolfram|Alpha handles questions, comparative data, events, computations, etc. It’s more like the computer in Star Trek. Ask a question and it will compute from its knowledge database and provide an answer. What’s creepy cool is that it makes assumptions based on what you’re trying to ask.

So it sounds great. Unfortunately, my first attempts didn’t lead to much success. I tried “Korean language outside Korea” and various other combinations, trying to find out how much Korean is spoken outside Korea. It sort of gave me an answer. Ninety-three percent of Korean speakers are in Korea. So that means 7% are outside Korea, but it didn’t tell me where. I also tried “sample rate” and it just gave me an equation without any additional information. “All major scales” returned no results. “D# major scale” did, complete with sound, but I already knew it could do that.

Its creators admit this is a work in progress. I’m excited about it more for its potential that what it is now. Check out the excellent video introduction, and you’ll get a sense of what they’re trying to do.