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Showing posts from October, 2010

The Foreigner Nod

It's not ground-breaking to report that Korea is an extremely homogeneous society. Very often I'll be the only foreigner on the subway, and people, especially old people, will just sit and flat-out stare at me. Every now and then an old person will try to talk to me as if I'm a representative of the entire ex-Korea world, and recently in Incheon, I had a long (albeit one-sided) conversation with a really drunk old Korean guy about what I presume to be the Korean War. He kept quoting MacArthur in broken English, but I didn't recognize the quote (am I a bad American?), so I just politely smiled and nodded as his wife tried to get him to stop talking, stop drinking soju, and eat some food.

In any case, the closed and homogeneous nature of the society here has engendered what I like to call the "foreigner nod". You know in Fight Club how everyone who's in a local Fight Club nods knowingly at Edward Norton? Same exact thing, except here the club is being a non…

Fix Default Search in Chrome to Use Rather Than Localized Google

I set up a new computer recently, and after installing Chrome, I was incredibly frustrated that searching from the address bar went to rather than, presumably because of IP-geolocation. Took awhile to figure out how to fix it, but here's what you do:

1. Click the wrench, go to Preferences.
2. In "Basics", "Default search", click "Manage".
3. Add a new entry:

Keyword: google

Name and keyword can be whatever, the important part is the URL. Then set this as the default, and you're good to go. If you want, you can copy all the other URL params and stick those in the URL too, but it's not critical.

This is also explained here, but it's kinda annoying that it involves this manual tweaking that most people won't know how to do.

Honorific Rudeness

The Korean language is filled with honorifics, meaning there are different ways of addressing people according to rank and seniority. Additionally, like the other main Asian languages, there's a word for "foreigner" that you hear over and over again. In Korean, it's 외국인 ("oegugin", sounds like "way-goo-geen" with hard g's). It's impossible to go anywhere in Korea and not hear this word. Just like the word "foreigner" in English, it can be used in different ways. It's often a non-malicious way of talking about Westerners, since it's slightly shorter than 외국사람. But it can also have the negative connotation of calling someone a foreigner, an outsider.

On an unrelated note, Koreans often address each other by title, like "Teacher", and they add 님 ("nim") to the end as an honorific (e.g., 선생님, or Teacher).

Which brings me back to my story. I went to a coffee shop the other day, and as I'm paying, I coul…

The iPhone May Save Korea (from Internet Explorer)

Korea's technology infrastructure far outshines the US, but one area where Korea is stuck in a tech quagmire is browser support. The whole freaking country is stuck on IE, many on IE6. It's not that people love Microsoft. The problem (I think) is that many Korean sites require "Real Name Verification", and back in the day, Microsoft made an ActiveX control that took care of it. As a result, every new website used that control, and all web development centered on IE.

Nowadays, many, many sites only work on IE, which is incredibly annoying. Case in point - I got my internet hooked up a few days ago, and they needed IE in order to set up my ISP username/password. They assured me that once it's set up, I'll be able to use it in any browser, but I'm not holding my breath (thank god for my virtual machine).

But all hope is not lost. Despite its numerous flaws, especially the fact that it doesn't work as a phone, the iPhone is slowly helping to change the la…

Passion and Intellectualism

I recently read The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, by William Deresiewicz, and was struck by how perfectly he captures the thoughts that have grown louder and louder in my head over the past year or so. One of his main premises is that elite education is not designed to produce visionary, independent thinkers, but instead is a system designed to reward people who know how to play the system. It pulls people away from their passions and pushes them instead towards those fields and endeavors that society deems as "successful". It engineers apathetic mediocrity.

As a simple example, when I was in college, it was considered a fine and admirable result to end up with a job at Oracle. I look back on that now and shake my head in disbelief. No offense to Oracle, which has built a quite sizable business, but here I was at the institution that helped invent the friggin' internet, and they were encouraging computer science students to work on billing systems at Oracle. Seriou…

Yep, I'm Unemployed (and we're still in a credit crisis)

My first time I really felt unemployed was two days after my last official day at Google. I went over to Stanford Federal Credit Union to open an account, because I found out that they have a Visa card with no foreign exchange fees (unlike most American credit cards, which charge 2.5-3% on top of the crappy exchange rates they offer). I opened a Savings Account, and then applied for the credit card. The loan officer told me I couldn't get it, cause I have no income. I told them I could show them proof of assets, or even deposit money as collateral in a secured account, but she said no, ain't getting no loan (she actually used the word ain't). The very nice associate helping me said she'd submit the application anyway, and we'd see.

A couple days later, I get an email from SFCU saying the same thing the loan officer had said. We had a back-and-forth exchange which basically amounted to me trying to give them my money, and them saying no. I even suggested that I assu…

Open Letter to Bank of America

Dear Bank of America,

For the last four years, I have been your loyal customer and graciously lent you my capital. However, after yesterday's events, I'm strongly considering finding another bank, because I am incredibly disappointed with how you have treated me as a customer.

Issue: I am outside the United States, and needed to wire money to a foreign bank account.

This is a quite common banking transaction, and one that could reasonably be expected to be supported by the namesake bank of the United States. But alas, if only things were so easy.

First problem: Upon attempting to initiate the wire transfer, I was told I needed to sign up for SafePass. I'm all for two-factor authentication, and clicked to sign up, only to discover that Bank of America believes that only Americans own cellphones, and only a 10-digit American cellphone could be used as a SafePass device.

No problem, I thought, I can use my Google Voice number, which I've set up to email me upon receipt of…

Decline of Productive Interfaces

I own an iPad. It's a pretty device, and it's great for consumption. Browsing the web, watching videos, even reading email - all fun experiences with the iPad. But anything involving typing frustrates me to no end. I hate the fact that the iPad (and on a broader note, touchscreen typing interfaces with no tactile feedback) downgraded me from an extremely fast touch typist to a shitty hunt-and-peck typist. I'm actually faster on my Nexus One than my iPad, because the iPad is too big to use thumbs, but too small to get both hands on like a real keyboard (at least if you have lats), so I end up basically just using my middle fingers.
In the iPad's defense, I don't think it was ever meant to be a productive device. You don't see the people on the billboards reclining with one knee up, typing the next great economics manifesto on their iPads. You see them consuming. Possibly about to raise a finger for a solitary tap, maybe to see another video, or read another email…

Devices from the Future

Cell phones in Korea are pretty awesome. They've invented some sort of futuristic device that is attached to many phones. I'm not sure if I can describe it in my primitive language, but it appears to be a telescoping metal protrusion that extends out of the top of the phone. From observing the future people using the device, it appears to be correlated with watching streaming tv in the subway (yes, in a metal box, underground), so I'm guessing that it is related to improving reception and receiving transmissions. But I could be wrong.
However, I can't get over this nagging feeling that this is a technology that once died but was serendipitously rediscovered. Probably just a technological deja vu, though.