From iOS to Android: Problems and Solutions

It feels like not long ago that I was counting down the days to the iPhone 5 launch. (Actually, it’s probably not as long ago as you’re thinking; the iPhone 5 launched on December 7, 2012 here in Korea.) But when I finally had it, even though I had passed on the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 just didn’t feel all that different. I never could shake that feeling of being left behind, technologically, and in March I got a Nexus 4, and with it, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

Within days, I could already tell that I wasn’t going back to my iPhone. The Nexus 4, while certainly not perfect, is by far the best phone I’ve ever owned. iOS 7 and the next iPhone will have to make a huge break from their current trajectory to bring me back, and that doesn’t appear likely.

Coming from iOS, Android presented a few surprises at first, and the fresh-out-of-the-box experience is in some ways inferior to Apple’s. But now, a month into my Android experience, I’ve realized that it many ways, it is a superior platform. That phrase “there’s an app for that” is even more true with Android, often to a ridiculous extent. Like the day I pressed the home button and the system asked me which app I’d like to use to perform that action. Whoa! Or the time I was frustrated that the auto-brightness function wasn’t quite as good as my iPhone’s, but then discovered that there was indeed an app for that as well.

So I’ve written this post to detail some of the problems I had coming from iOS, and the apps and methods I used to solve them. Fellow iOS converts might find this post helpful. Veteran Android users, feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

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On Free Lunches

Seoul is currently all abuzz with what I’m told is its first-ever referendum: the issue of free school lunches. Problem is, I’m not sure people have considered even the most basic facts before forming an opinion.

Let me open by saying I am all for free school lunches. In both Korea and the U.S., there are some kids who, for various reasons, would literally have nothing to eat all day if they weren’t provided a lunch by the school. If we, as a society, can help these kids by giving them one meal a day, we must.

Now, in Seoul, where this issue is being debated, how many children are in this kind of situation, or something remotely close to it? I’m thinking 5% would be the absolute high end.

Here’s the thing: Seoul already provides free lunches for the bottom 35%.

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DMZ Tour Notes

Annie and I went on a DMZ tour this past Saturday, June 11, which was hosted (and likely subsidized) by the Yeoksam Global Village Center, which I am quite familiar with because I attend Korean class there twice a week. And likely because of this familiarity, the center staff asked me to do a short writeup and share my thoughts.

I originally intended to write a paragraph or two, but got carried away and wrote a bit more than they probably expected. Since I spent some time on it, I thought I’d post it here as well.

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Honolulu’s Doomed Rail Project

Honolulu’s rail project is in the news again today, which prompted me to think about it yet again. And the more I think about it, the less sense it makes to me.

My first thought, when I heard about the project, was that the image of an elevated railway snaking along Oahu’s southern coast is really not the image of Hawaii that I carry in my head. (At-grade crossings would be a disaster, further snarling the traffic rail is meant to alleviate, and I am not sure a subway is even possible given the physical properties of the island and the proposed route, so elevated seems to be the only option.)

The original $4 billion budget seemed outlandish, and that budget later evolved to $5.5 billion. And even with that kind of budget, the project is expected to take decades to complete.

It may be hard to digest these kinds of numbers without some kind of comparison. Happily, I happen to live right next to a good example of rail done right.

Seoul’s Metro Line 9 was also a $5 billion project. Let’s see what Seoul got for its $5 million investment. (Well, to be fair, this cost was not shouldered directly by the citizens, as Korea’s governments often utilize public-private partnerships, but let’s not think about that for now.)

Line 9 is a heavy rail, all-underground line that includes both all-stop and express trains, with 25 stops over 27km (~17 miles). It was completed in 7 years (or 3, depending on how you count). The line is operated by a private company, France-based Veolia Transport, with construction and maintenance handled jointly by Veolia and Korea’s Hyundai Rotem.

50 days after opening, Line 9 reached the 10 million rider mark. By the end of its first year (July 2010, about the time I started riding it), total ridership had reached 80 million.

Fares are the same for all Seoul subway lines. That is, the fare starts at about $0.82 and increases by 9 cents every 10km, up to $1.18 if you ride the line end-to-end (30 minutes via the express train, 51 via all-stop). It is my understanding that the city prices subway fares such that the system as a whole operates at a slight loss; however, since Line 9 was designed from the start to operate with a lower cost structure compared to earlier lines, it is possible that Line 9 itself operates in the black.

Fares are paid using prepaid transportation cards that can be bought and reloaded at any station (via vending machines) or at convenience stores. (These cards can also be used to pay bus fares, buy things from vending machines and at convenience stores, etc.)

So, that’s what a successful $5 billion rail project looks like. What do you think of Honolulu’s rail project now?

Can a non-native speaker achieve native proficiency later in life?

This is a question to which I am dedicating a significant portion of this lifetime.

I’ve been studying Korean for well over 7 years now, but as any English native attempting to learn Japanese or Korean quickly discovers, these languages are as different from English as one could imagine.

Admittedly, in those 7+ years, I still haven’t taken a single class. That is, I’ve been largely studying on my own, off and on, in my spare time. I’ve used a mix of books, podcasts, iPhone apps, web sites, language exchanges, and three trips to Korea. Additionally, for the past 6 months (!) I’ve been living in Seoul, and the daily exposure to new words, concepts and situations has accelerated my learning and has provided a constant source of motivation.

Still, I feel like I should be further than I am. It’s a struggle, and I’ve discovered there’s much more to it than just vocabulary and grammar.
Native speakers are distinguished not only by their language, but also the culture and customs in which they have been steeped since birth, as well as the events that shaped their lives. I do my best to pick up on the various cultural elements that Koreans allude to in everyday speech, I try to read up on past events, and I am even trying to learn a little Chinese (Chinese is to Korean as Latin is to English) but there may well be limits to how much I can absorb and imitate.

Koreans, in particular, use simple words in their everyday speech and writing, instead preferring to color their language with a dazzling array of idioms. I am thankful that I can get by using the tiny set of words I have memorized, but in order to understand what the heck other people are talking about, I bought a book a couple years ago containing nothing but idioms. I have mastered some of them (such as, “May you have a son like a fat toad,” encouraging words for pregnant women), but it’s still going to be a few more years before I can get through all of them.

Still, I am encouraged somewhat by Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. In essence, he says 10,000 hours (20 hours/week for 10 years) can be sufficient to put you at the top of any given field. I am hoping this applies to me as well, since I am essentially attempting to become an expert in Korean language and culture.

I don’t have 20 hours a week, but I do have 1 hour a day. To achieve 10,000 hours at that rate, it will take me 27 years. And that is okay by me.

So, can I achieve my goal of being indistinguishable from a native Korean speaker? I don’t know, and I hope my goal is not “a rice cake in a painting” (something I can never have), but ask me again in 20 years and I should have an answer for you then. Hopefully in fluent Korean. And if you’ve also been studying an hour a day, you’ll understand!

Health Care Reform: yet another perspective (part 2)

Now that the final bits have been signed into law (including student loan junk… how is that related to healthcare again?) it’s a good time to finish this thing, finally. This is part 2 of my response to the monstrous healthcare reform bill. Read Part 1 first if you haven’t already.
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Losing weight the lazy way

I have been described by my family and others as lazy and easily distracted. I do not dispute these claims. (The evidence is overwhelming anyway.)

In the past, I have rebelled against my lazy self and have tried my best to become a fastidious workaholic. The rebellions are generally quelled within 3 days, and the recovery process involves more laziness and more distractions.

Recently, I have found ways to channel my natural inclinations toward increased productivity. As an amusing and unintentional side effect, for the first 10 weeks of this year, I lost about a half-pound to a pound each week.

The effect has been noticeable enough that I’ve now got people asking me how I did it. Hence this blog post, my best guess at the changes that made the biggest difference.

As with most things of this nature, these methods won’t work for everyone, and I can’t even be 100% sure that what I describe here is what’s responsible for the weight loss (hey, maybe I just have a tapeworm). Please read on anyway.
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Health Care Reform: yet another perspective

The passing of the health care bill in the House and subsequent signing by President Obama has predictably generated a lot of chatter. Including this post, I suppose, in which I hope to present a viewpoint that differs from most of the responses I’ve seen so far.

This is part 1 of my response. I originally intended to make this a single blog post, but it turned out to be so lengthy that I’ll need to split it up to keep it readable.

I don’t think there is anyone out there who is truly ecstatic about the present state of U.S. healthcare, so I believe the participants in the great debate fall into two categories: those more or less happy with the current state of affairs (at least, happy enough to believe that the bill should be voted down), and those calling for change.
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Sending out a big announcement re: Bigger Bird…

About to send out a BIG announcement to our Bigger Bird clients and partners, as well as friends and family who, for whatever reason, aren’t connected via Facebook. We have been researching and planning for two months (and on-and-off for the past few years) to make sure the plan is sound, and we are finally ready to announce it to everyone (drumroll):

We are moving to Korea!

We plan to live in Seoul for a year, starting in June. We bought our plane tickets last week, so we are committed.

How will all this work? Why are we going? Read the full announcement here:

The announcement will go out to our email list tomorrow. Then, I anxiously wait to see what our clients think of our plan…

P.S. If you are interested in receiving emails like this re: Bigger Bird, by all means please join our email list. (Very low volume… I’d like to send out 1 email per month, but the reality is closer to 1/quarter or 1/year.)

Making bilingualism and biliteracy the norm

Could we retool our primary education system to produce bilingual, biliterate children who outperform their monolingual counterparts, in both languages? Amazingly, it seems we can, and it doesn’t even sound difficult or expensive.

First, a little background. You probably already have a fixed image in your mind of how language education works at the primary level.

There is ESL, where kids are pulled away from their peers for half of the day to attend what are looked upon as remedial English classes. Since ESL students divide their attention between learning English and keeping up with what their peers are learning, it is inevitable that there will be a disparity.

At the same time, for the native English speakers in the class, foreign language exposure is minimal, consisting of learning to introduce yourself, say a few phrases, and sing a cute song or two. This despite the fact that their classmates may be native speakers of these languages.

While there is a vague sense that there are some untapped synergies, English is Priority 1, so the system is not often questioned.

Every child deserves a chance to succeed. But how can a child with seemingly so much more to learn ever be on equal footing with native English speakers? And as some English-speaking taxpayers like to complain, is it even worth spending extra tax dollars to meet these foreigners at their level?
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