Extra! Korea

June 17, 2011

American Airlines to offer Samsung Galaxy tablet as in-flight entertainment

Filed under: technology, travel — extrakorea @ 9:28 am

In-flight movies and music aren’t enough to relieve the boredom of long flights? American Airlines is offering passengers the use of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1″ tablet. AA isn’t the first to offer a tablet computer to customers, as Australian airline Jetstar has been letting customers use iPads since last June, for a $10 (Australian) fee. AA will offer their tablets for free … for business class or first class travelers. It’s not clear whether or not unwashed peons will have to cough up money for the privilege.

May 12, 2011

Restaurants, companies pay for positive reviews & repress negative ones

I’ve explained the concept of “reviews” to my students. I would always add that in foreign countries, reviews are useful because people write both good and bad reviews. In Korea, however, they are not, because every restaurant that is reviewed on TV gets a thumbs up and an enthusiastic “Wahhh! Mashisseoyo!” (“Wow! It’s delicious!”).

I’ve always figured that it was either because the TV station didn’t want to make anyone lose face, or because of Korea’s ridiculous libel laws. (In Korea, you can sue someone for libel even if they tell the verifiable truth. For example, let’s say that Mr. X is a thief who robbed you blind, and you write in your blog, “Watch out for Mr. X. He’s a thief.” Mr. X can successfully sue you for libel, even if you present documents showing that he was convicted for theft and served prison time.)

It turns out that restaurants pay TV companies for positive reviews.

In order to make the documentary [“The True-Taste Show”], Kim [Jae-hwan, a former MBC producer] opened a small restaurant of his own in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, and recorded his attempt to get featured on television shows.

Kim’s restaurant was featured on ‘‘Live Show Today” on SBS earlier this year. In return for that, he had to give 10 million won ($9,090) to a broker and the broadcasting station. It took 9 million won for the restaurant to be featured on another show “Find! Delicious TV” on MBC, and all true-life incidents are described in the film. Kim shut down his restaurant after it was introduced by a couple of shows.

According to the documentary, food shows are no more real than television dramas or comedies. People are hired to sit down and show two thumbs up when asked how the food is.

Remember those ridiculous libel laws that I described above?

Broadcasting stations are considering suing Kim.

Fortunately, Kim is not backing down.

“I’m ready to be sued because I think it’s better to bring this issue to court,” Kim said.

“The True-Taste Show” will be released sometime this month.

Now that is a documentary that I would love to see.


What do you get when you cross a multinational conglomerate with the mafia? Samsung. Just ask Michael Breen if you don’t believe me.

A Mr. Ham bought a Samsung Galaxy 2 smartphone with his own money and, after using it for two weeks, he posted a negative review, “Nine Nasty Flaws of the Galaxy 2,” on his blog, which is hosted by Naver (which itself seems to be a bit of a bully). Samsung demanded that Naver remove the blog post, along with the over 1,400 comments it had received, which it did.

The same fate befell another blogger, Mr. Kim, after he wrote a post entitled “Three reasons why the Motorola Atrix is better than the Galaxy 2.” Ironically, Mr. Kim had been planning to write another post called “Three reasons why the Galaxy 2 is better than the Motorola Atrix.” According to Samsung, looking at two sides of an issue or having balance is unacceptable.

How dare they write negative reviews of Samsung products! Don’t they know that Samsung is Korea’s royal family? Bloody peasants!

An official from one portal site said, “Of the thousands of temporary deletion requests we receive per month claiming defamation, many are from corporations and politicians.”

This indicates a system adopted on the justification of blocking invasions of personal privacy are also used more insidiously as a means for powerful groups to control online opinion.

So what does Samsung have to say for itself?

Regarding this, Samsung Electronics’ public relations office said, “The matter was in many ways a communication failure that arose due to insufficient understanding of the particularities of the Internet at the Galaxy 2’s marketing sector.”

“It’s a misunderstanding. You must understand our special situation.”

There is also debate about the fairness of review marketing. Most review marketing takes place with compensation exchanging hands. The problem is that this is rarely revealed, so the objectiveness of the review is easily lost. Some firms even filter out critical posts from the very beginning by getting prior confirmations. Recently, one mobile phone community was conducting a user review event for the Galaxy 2, with the phone being provided for free or at a discount based on the favorableness of the review.

[ … ]

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States has since December 2009 required bloggers to reveal if they received corporate support or payment when they write product reviews.

August 31, 2010

Many tablet PCs to be available soon … except for the iPad

Filed under: technology — extrakorea @ 1:34 pm

I’ve been wondering why the iPad has not been allowed into the South Korean market. Now we know why: To give Samsung, LG, TG Sambo, and even KT time to get their clones high-quality similar products into the pipeline. Samsung and LG were caught flat-footed by the iPhone, and so they’ve decided to strike back by keeping out the competition until they’re good and ready.

KT on Monday introduced the nation’s first tablet PC. Called the Identity Tab, it runs on Google’s Android operating system and is produced by Seoul-based gadget maker Enspert.

[ snip ]

Samsung Electronic plans to debut its Android-powered Galaxy Tab at the IFA consumer electronics trade show opening in Berlin this weekend. It will hit the Korean market through SK Telecom later in September. LG Electronics will also release an Android tablet PC within the year, and TG Sambo is developing a similar device.

(Chosun Ilbo)

KT plans to offer the tablet PC for $23 under a two-year contract. Without a contract, the device will sell for $411.

“Compared to the iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which will cost around $600-$700 in Korea, KT’s tablet PC is rather cheap,” said Hong-seek Kim, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities.

While it will sell its own device, KT says it’s still open to offering the iPad to South Korean consumers.

KT “is definitely thinking of launching the iPad in Korea, but I can’t tell you the exact timing of the launch,” said Sung-chul Kim, a KT vice president.

Apple spokeswoman Jill Tan declined to comment.

(Wall Street Journal)
(emphasis mine)

I would be at a loss for words, too, if my company were being ganged up on and its products kept off the shelves.

July 18, 2010

There goes my plan to save a lot on a Blackberry …

Filed under: economics, technology, the Internet — extrakorea @ 11:45 am

Unlike most people, I’m more interested in buying a Blackberry than an iPhone. I went into a shop with a Korean friend and found out that the latest model costs about a million won (roughly a thousand dollars!). Through the Internet, I discovered that the same model sells for about $500 in Canada. Since I’m going to Canada tomorrow for vacation (so expect light posting for a while), I thought I’d buy one in Canada and bring it back here, thus saving myself 500 bucks. Well, it turns out that I would have to pay 300,000 won to have it unlocked. I’d still save about 200 dollars, but still, bummer.

No surprise that South Korea is a country that will not get the latest iPhone at the end of July. Government approval wasn’t given because Samsung doesn’t have a clone in the pipeline extenuating circumstances.

July 14, 2010

Hopefully, these robots shoot better than Engkey teaches English

Filed under: North Korea, science, technology — extrakorea @ 7:09 am

According to the Chosun Ilbo, robot sentries are now manning the DMZ and other areas that border North Korea.

“We’re going to deploy such robots at all posts along the DMZ by year’s end if the trial operation is successful,” the officer said. The military authorities could also deploy them on the five islands near the maritime border in the West Sea.

Equipment consists of a camera, a K-4 high-speed machine gun, and a central control system. Each robot is said to cost about W400 million (US$1=W1,212). The surveillance camera sends images to the command and control room in real time. If it detects an approaching enemy, the robot is activated to fire 40 mm rounds at high speed.

Hopefully, they’ll be better at shooting North Korean invaders than Engkey is at teaching English.

Another Seoul National University scientist caught fabricating data

Filed under: science, technology — extrakorea @ 6:29 am

You might remember Hwang Woo-suk, who was caught fabricating data. Now Shin Kyu-soon, another scientist from his alma mater, Seoul National University, has been caught fabricating scientific evidence (Joongang Daily, Korea Times).

Seoul National University’s Research Integrity Committee said yesterday that Shin, who specializes in nanoscopic molecular engineering, was unable to provide proof to back a paper published in Nature Materials journal in October 2007. A school spokesperson said they are planning to inform the journal of the false information soon.

Shin’s paper, “Enhanced Mobility of Confined Polymers,” stated that polymers gyrate faster if confined in an area as small as a few nanometers. When first published, the paper drew attention as scientists previously believed that polymer mobility was enhanced in larger areas.

Polymers are a type of large molecules composed of repeating structural units. DNA, proteins and plastics are polymers.

[ snip ]

The school said it will soon officially inform Nature Materials, a U.K.-based monthly journal, of its finding that the professor’s paper used manipulated data.

The latest fabrication is expected to deal another blow to the credibility of papers written by South Korean scientists, which was tarnished in 2006 with the cancelation of two stem cell-related papers by Dr. Hwang Woo-seok.

[ snip ]

Shin has denied the charge and says the original experiment results were deleted from his computer by mistake.

What kind of an engineer doesn’t have a backup? He should have stuck with those old standby excuses of ajeosshis, “I was drunk … You have to understand my unique situation.”

July 13, 2010

Konglish-teaching robot is an epic FAIL

Filed under: education, idiots, languages, technology — extrakorea @ 9:35 am

The New York Times brings us the story of Engkey, a robot with a Konglish name.

Enter Engkey, a teacher with exacting standards and a silken voice. She is just a little penguin-shaped robot, but both symbolically and practically, she stands for progress, achievement and national pride.

She won’t stand for progress or achievement if she’s a failure.

“Not good this time!” Engkey admonished a sixth grader as he stooped awkwardly over her. “You need to focus more on your accent. Let’s try again.”

“Accent”? We all have an accent; which one depends upon where we’re from. While “accent” can also mean “stress” (as in syllable, not syllable), the word “stress” is used more often, especially in pronunciation text books. And also, what is the student saying wrong? A good teacher should be able to give feedback so that the student knows what they’re doing wrong and can self-correct.

Engkey, a contraction of English jockey (as in disc jockey), is the great hope of Choi Mun-taek, a team leader at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology’s Center for Intelligent Robotics.

So that’s why the robot has a Konglish name.

“How can I help you today?” Engkey said.

“Do you have any fruits on sale?” the student said.

“Wow! Very good!” Engkey exulted. She sounded a fanfare, spun and raised her left arm for a high-five. A screen on her chest showed stars grading the student.

Uh, Engkey? How about actually answering the student’s question (e.g. “Yes, apples are 20% off today.”)?

Still, Engkey has a long way to go to fulfill her creators’ dream. The robot can help students practice only scripted conversations and is at a loss if a student veers off script, as Yang did during the demonstration.

“I love you,” the boy said to appease Engkey after he was chastised for a bad pronunciation. Engkey would have none of it; it was not in her programmed script.

“You need to work on your accent,” the robot repeated.

So the robot responds to everything that’s not in its programming with the same stock answer? It responds to grammatical errors, incomplete sentences, inappropriate responses, etc., with the same criticism of the student’s pronunciation? That is so inadequate as to be almost criminal.

And anyone who’s worked with kids, or even just has been a kid, can see where this could go.

* * *

Engkey: How can I help you today?

Student: I’m just looking, thanks.

Engkey: You need to work on your accent.

Student: There’s nothing wrong with my accent.

Engkey: You need to work on your accent.

Student: You not a very smart robot, are you?

Engkey: You need to work on your accent.

* * *

Actually, one kid was thinking exactly the same thing as I.

When Yang said, “I don’t like apples” instead of “I love apples,” as he was supposed to, Engkey froze. The boy patted her and said, “Hello, are you alive or dead?”

And look at this public relations spin:

Even though they are little more than fancy toys, experts say, these robots prepare children for a fast-approaching robotic future.

If they “are little more than fancy toys,” as they admit, then how do they prepare children for the future? You prepare kids through education, and toys don’t educate.

Here is the most damning bit:

An independent evaluator of the trial noticed that Engkey required the constant presence of a technical operator.

If it requires the constant presence of a technical operator, then that means that there has to be two people working the classroom, just like now. The only difference is that instead of two teachers, there’s a teacher and a robot operator, which brings me to something earlier in the article:

Over the years, this country has imported thousands of Americans, Canadians, South Africans and others to supplement local teachers of English. But the program has strained the government’s budget, and it is increasingly difficult to get native English speakers to live on islands and other remote areas.

Since you will still need two people who will have to be paid, then how do these robots help ease the supposed strain on the government’s budget? Instead of paying a foreign teacher, you’ll be paying a Korean robot operator. This reminds me of a great quote by a guy (his username was Billybrobby) who used to post on Dave’s esl cafe (before it became pretty much useless).

“It’s no coincidence the Japanese and Koreans are working hard on building robots now. Their aversion to co-existing with people from other countries is so great that they’d rather co-exist with robots.”

Here’s a honest evaluation:

“Engkey has a long way to go if it wants to avoid becoming an expensive yet ignored heap of scrap metal at the corner of the classroom,” said Ban Jae-chun, an education professor at Chungnam National University.

You said it.

Dr. Choi said his team was racing to improve the robot’s ability to recognize students and to discern and respond to a student’s voice amid noise. It is also cramming Engkey with more conversational scenarios.

That’s all? How about programming Konglishbot to respond to not respond to grammatical errors with admonitions about the student’s pronunciation?

This all reminds me of this teacher’s comment:

I’m currently teaching in South Korea (and yes, there are always job openings… though less than usual, with the recession on). I teach at two public elementary schools, one of which is on the extreme outskirts of the city and only has 46 students. For some reason, this tiny school got an English robot called the Cybertalker, which uses voice recognition and some kind of face recognition to tailor pre-made conversations to students. The only time I’ve seen the thing turned on was in the frantic lead up to a school inspection, when my English classes were cancelled in favour of registering all the students in the system and trying to make it perform for the school board officials. Even with days of practice, the students couldn’t make it respond – even the almost fluent teachers couldn’t make it recognize their English. These are the crappiest teaching robots in existence. A Speak and Spell would be more useful.

Read the blog post by Brian that I got this from. It has a lot of information, links, and thought.

This makes me think of a post that I saw over at the ROK Drop blog regarding how to make an efficient army. (What follows is a paraphrase from my recollection, so it could be very inaccurate.). The priorities should be: training, then leadership, then fancy equipment, not the other way around. Give fancy guns to poorly-trained soldiers, and they’ll panic when they’re under fire, rendering the fancy toys almost useless. By contrast, give mediocre guns to well-trained solders, they’ll keep cool under fire, know what to do, and do it. In the same way, give fancy toys to poorly-trained (or untrained) teachers, and they’ll just waste the students’ time in an amusing way with lots of bells and whistles. Give a well-trained teacher something that’s not so sexy (e.g. textbooks), and they’ll be good to go. Unfortunately, the Korean public school system is trying to save money by letting go or hesitating to hire the most-qualified foreign teachers, and keeping, hiring, and seeking the least-qualified foreign teachers. Back-asswards.

April 5, 2010

(Updated) iPad has Samsung microchips and LG liquid crystal displays

Filed under: technology — extrakorea @ 2:10 pm

The iPad has arrived (in the United States, that is), and a company called iFixit Inc. wasted no time in taking it apart. What did they find? Among other things, Samsung microchips and LG liquid crystal displays. Hopefully, this will help alleviate the worry that is probably accompanying the coming of the iPad, considering the success of the iPhone here. No wonder, really, considering that its strength lies in something that the Korean education system strives, from elementary school to university, to crush: creativity.

It’s due to be released in Korea later this month. It will face some limitations, both in the U.S. and in Korea.

It doesn’t give you most of the things you want to do online, for example — Hulu.com, Netflix, because it doesn’t support Flash. These are things that Apple has chosen to do that I think hamper its ability to have the impact that it really could have otherwise,” he [Industry analyst James McQuivey] added.

(Chosun Ilbo)

“I think the impact of the iPad in Korea will be limited, at least at first. Many Korean Web sites are built to work only on Microsoft’s Web browsers, with all those Active-X tools and all, and that may prevent users from a smooth computing experience with the iPad,” said an official from a Web technology firm.

[ snip ]

The iPad model featuring Wi-Fi wireless connectivity will be available in Korean stores sometime this summer, industry sources say. Although Apple will release another iPad that offers both Wi-Fi and third-generation (3G) cellular connectivity in the U.S. later this month, it’s hard to predict when this model will be available in Korea.

KT, the wireless carrier that provides iPhone here, and SK Telecom, the largest carrier that controls more than half of Korea’s mobile phone users, both say they have yet to engage in serious negotiations about releasing the 3G-capable iPad here.

(Korea Times)

The phone companies screw the Korean consumer again.


The Marmot’s Hole now has a post about how 500,000 iPhones have been sold in Korea, and how its success has locals wondering why companies like Samsung and LG, the largest and second-largest electronics companies in the world, don’t seem able to keep up with Apple’s innovations. Here are excerpts from an article, quoted by them and re-quoted by me.

“Why can’t Samsung Electronics make an innovative product like the iPhone? The answer may be found in the company’s dated and rigid top-down approach in decision-making, which seems ripe to invite another crisis in the current market environment,” said Kim Sang-jo, a Hansung University economist and head of the shareholders’ activist group, Solidarity for Economic Reform.

All companies have hierarchies. They must, or nobody will know who does what, who is responsible to whom, etc., and nothing would get done. What makes a Korean company different, different in that they crush innovation more than others?

* If a subordinate (“hoo-bae”) has a good idea and presents it, it will embarrass his superior (“sun-bae”) and cause him to lose face. Since face is more important than logic, efficiency, or even profits, you can expect said hoo-bae‘s life to become very unpleasant in the future.

* If a hoo-bae has a good idea and his sun-bae learns about it, the sun-bae will steal it and present it on his own idea. What can the hoo-bae do about it? Two things: jack and s***. His options are to suck it up, or to quit. You say, “But that’s so unfair!” Welcome to Korea.

To improve the company’s software capabilities, Samsung Electronics is attempting to steal talent from elsewhere, but industry watchers wonders whether the company still lacks a clear direction for its software-based rebuilding plan.

Stealing talent from elsewhere won’t do much unless the corporate culture changes. If it doesn’t you’ll have talented people not presenting their innovative ideas, either because they don’t want to embarrass their sun-baes or don’t want their sun-baes to steal their ideas.

April 3, 2010

Couple who let baby die while raising virtual baby plead guilty to negligent homicide

Filed under: rapid cultural change, technology, the Internet — extrakorea @ 12:02 pm

You might recall the story about the couple who were spent so much time playing an online game that their neglected baby starved to death. The biggest irony in the sad story was the fact that the goal of the game was to raise a virtual baby.

The couple was charged with negligent homicide, and they plead guilty. Sentencing will be on April 16. By the way, the CNN report features Andrew Salmon.

March 6, 2010

Government plans to develop uniforms that are “undetectable by radar”

Filed under: technology — extrakorea @ 12:23 pm

The government plans to spend 500 million won to develop uniforms for soldiers that are lightweight, waterproof, antibacterial, and breathable. They also want textiles that are keep soldiers warm in cold conditions through the use of “electrical conductive polymers,” whatever that means, and “stealth fabrics” that are “undetectable by enemy radar.” I was under the impression that radar is used to find aircraft, ships, and motor vehicles, not human beings.

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