Saturday, October 31, 2015

Korean "Dirt Spoon" Bingo


By now, you've probably read an article somewhere about a silly viral meme called "Dirt Spoon Bingo" (흙수저 빙고) which is meant to be a kind of satire on the poor economic condition faced by young Koreans today. It's a game to determine if you were born with, not a silver spoon, but a dirt spoon in your mouth. The Bingo card spaces are filled with situations most economically-disenfranchised young people would be familiar with. Check off a line of 5 and BINGO! Congratulations, you're poor!

흙수저 빙고
One common version of Dirt Spoon Bingo being passed around.
Cleaner-viewing versions can be found here.

It's part of a larger social issue on what many consider to be the dire economic condition facing young unemployed Koreans today. A nice English-translated introduction was on Korea Bang the other day [Korea Bang | Korea’s ‘Give Up’ Generation], and it got attention on the KT [Korea Times | Young vent frustration with 'Hell Joseon']. I thought it was pretty amusing, and figured I'd try my hand at translating it into English, so readers of this blog can play along too.

Please note that for some of these I tried to translate more the meaning or feeling behind them, rather than being literally exact. For example, as Westerners don't use jeonse I simply left it as "pay monthly rent". But I think overall these pretty accurately reflect the mood of the game.

영어 흙수저 빙고 English Dirt Spoon Bingo
English "Dirt Spoon Bingo"

Actually, while making this, I discovered that someone had basically beaten me to it. Reddit user u/monkeyshow has done a truly outstanding job not only translating the squares literally but offering some cultural background explanation. It's really a great analysis and deserves to be featured in more places than just a Reddit comments thread. I nearly missed it myself. I'll reprint it here.
[–]monkeyshow 12 points 2 days ago
i'm a noob at reddit formatting but here goes. starting from the top left and going down:

  1. 'has a plastic tub to collect water in the bathroom' (old apartments often have problems in plumbing so when they do maintenance and the water shuts off, people collect water beforehand)
  2. 'no bathtub in the house' (small houses often don't have tubs)
  3. 'there's a lot of frozen items in the freezer' (assuming you buy in bulk to save money)
  4. 'divorced parents'
  5. 'the house your parents live in is a monthly rent or the deposit money was less than 1 hundred million won' (전세 is a weird korean housing contract where you pay a lump deposit up front and live without paying rent for 2 years)
  6. 'lives in "연립주택"' (연립주택 or 빌라 refers to low cost houses, usually 2-4 stories tall, with red bricks. High rise apartments are preferred over these cheaper homes)
  7. 'floor panels in the house are damaged'
  8. 'parents nag you often to not waste food'
  9. 'wear only 1 or 2 pairs of shoes for the entire year'
  10. 'spend lots of time online looking for items with the lowest cost'
  11. 'never received new year's pocket money that was more than 100,000 won' (it is customary during lunar new years for older folks to hand out pocket money to children. usually high school kids would get anywhere from 50,000 - 500,000 won)
  12. 'parents do not have a hobby' (assuming they're too busy working to enjoy leisure)
  13. 'household debt'
  14. 'has vinyl tablecloths underneath the glass' (some dinner tables are topped with glass, but have a layer of tablecloth underneath for aesthetic purposes. clear plastic implies no nonsense, no spending money on beauty-type of mentality)
  15. 'no family members have a car or has a car that's more than 7 years old'
  16. 'has had a part time job in the past' (the word 알바 comes from the German word 'arbeit' which i think means work?)
  17. 'parents obsess over their children's education' (based on the korean dream of going to a SKY university that will automatically open doors to a better life)
  18. 'meat is often cooked with lots of water' (implying grilled meat is consumed too fast, so you stretch it out by creating stews and soups, etc)
  19. 'no bidet in the house' (a previous comment said this seemed like a first world problem, but in my humble opinion, it seems more like it's based on what you consider luxurious or 'first-world'. Bidets usually come preinstalled in most modern homes in Korea, so a house without a bidet would be comparable to say.. a house without air conditioning or a house that's referred to as a "fixer upper")
  20. 'lots of clothing in the closet from a previous fashion trend'
  21. 'parents do not receive regular check ups'
  22. 'the TV is a CRT or a flat panel under 30 inches'
  23. 'have done business over 중고나라' (중고나라 is like craigslist where people buy and sell second hand items)
  24. 'don't have an air conditioner or even if you do, don't use it often in the summer' (keeping the AC on during the summer can rack up quite the electric bill, especially during the summer. a lesson i learned the hard way..)
  25. 'fungal growth in the house' ('mold' would be the more common term, i suppose)
[Reddit]

This great info comes from a larger discussion over on Reddit, where you can also find an interesting sort of rebuttal to the whole "dirt spoon" generation idea. Overall, Reddit's been offering up some pretty interesting reads lately.

I'm not going to comment much on how well scoring a Bingo in this game proves your poor status. One the one hand, you can't help but feel the burn when reading stats like this:
The top 10 percent of the richest South Koreans, in terms of assets, own 66 percent of total wealth, a study shows. The 50 percent on the lower end, on the other hand, own a mere 2 percent. [Korea Times]
But then again I certainly do notice a kind of, not entitlement, but just a kind of looking-down on the idea of thrift, especially when appearances are at stake. Gotta have a good-looking phone/suit/car, anything people see, even if it means eating ramen twice a day (privately). The worst attitude, I think, is the idea that spending beyond your means now is going to somehow ensure your prosperity in the future. I had a chat just last week with a friend who just left his job to open his own business. His first step? Buying a brand new high-end car. The guy is 27 years old, recently married. I know his family history and know for a fact he cannot currently afford the payments on that car. But he assures me that he "needs" this car to be taken seriously as a businessman, and that projecting this image of success will help him in the long-run.

Hey, I get his logic, I really do. And it's not like this is a uniquely Korean problem. I don't know. Maybe I'm getting old. But I can check-off most of those "dirt spoon bingo" spaces, and I turned out not so bad. In fact, my parents used to pride themselves on the thrift and frugal tactics implied in this game. IMHO, these are lessons the current generation's grandparents already learned. Maybe it's time to teach the younger ones.

Apologies for this becoming just a Reddit copy-paste-link post. I had meant to just post that dumb English version of the Dirt Bingo thing and be done.

And finally, in case you haven't got your fill of Bingo mania, check out Expat Bingo to see how many stereotypical foreigner experiences you can claim. I definitely have been guilty of a few.

Happy playing.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Naver Maps updates North Korea imagery (but Google's is better)


In a recent blog post cataloging their latest updates to their map imagery, Naver Maps included a bit about a big update to their North Korean satellite imagery, which was previously only available up the regional-level of zoom. Now, thanks to imagery released by the Korean National Geographic Information Institute (국토지리정보원), you can zoom to a level of resolving individual streets.

From their post:

Naver Maps imagery from before this update, which was unavailable beyond zoom level 5.

Naver maps imagery after the update, reaching current maximum of level 12. 

Naturally I was curious, and went to see how this new imagery compares with what other major portals offer. As the highlight in the Naver Maps blog post seems to be Yanggakdo, a small island in the Taedong River that runs through Pyongyang, that seemed like a good spot for comparison. Let's take a look, after the jump...

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

KAIST students biggest night owls, says Dropbox


So Dropbox apparently crunched the numbers to see which university's students are working on their Dropbox documents latest at night. The Asian winner? KAIST. Relevant parts:

By looking at all universities with students using Dropbox late on weeknights — between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am in the school’s local time — we identified the top 5 universities in every region getting work done in the wee hours.
 - Asia: Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (South Korea)
[University Insights: Night owls and social butterflies | | Dropbox Blog]

Who knows if they're really doing work or not, of course. Tip for KAIST students: if you're not already, you really ought to be saving your "19 movies" in Dropbox and sharing with friends via shared folders. Good way to keep Hyeong's* eyes a bit more in the dark.

In my experience, Dropbox does seem fairly recognized and utilized here, more so than other foreign services that are more common back home. I see a good amount of Naver N-Drive utilization also, though for me 9 times out of 10 it's in the form of extra-large e-mail attachments being automatically stored for 30 days on N-Drive, sort of how G-mail will store your e-mail attachment on Google Drive if it's too large for G-mail's defaults. Of course, even with all the high speed internet access here, just passing around USB memory sticks is still surprisingly popular. Sometimes simplicity is best.

Also see my post about KAIST, and Korea generally, being #1 in terms of Dropbox syncing.

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* I say we start using "Hyeong" (형) to refer to the NIS, aka Korea's "Big Brother." Get it? Sorry, it's late. 
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

KakaoTaxi experience, revisited


This post includes some commentary on the KakaoTaxi service. These are just my personal opinions. I have no interest or stake in KakaoTaxi, and bear in mind I am no expert on taxi services or logistics or the Korean app ecosphere. I am just a man in Korea who occasionally uses KakaoTaxi. So please take all my thoughts with a grain of salt. They reflect my personality and are not an objective analysis of the service.


Tonight I came across a nice post over on Kojects, where Nikola talks about his experiences with KakaoTaxi, and gives a good description and opinion about the service, complete with lots of app screenshots. Readers know I'm a big fan of screenshots. The post gives you a good idea about how to use the service. Be sure to check it out. Anyway, the part that really got me was this:
The taxi driver in Ulsan said that he doesn’t see the destination when he receives the call. After he picked me up, then his phone showed him the destination [KakaoTaxi Revolutionizing Korea's Taxi Service - Kojects]

That is just crazy. And it also explains a lot about the complaints I have with the service.

You may remember my review of the KakaoTaxi service from a few months ago. After reading the Kojects piece, I felt like sharing my feelings about the service now, after having used it more. I don't take taxis every day, but I'd guess maybe once or twice a week. I actually prefer just going out to the street and hailing one the old fashioned way, manually. But if I'm in an unfamiliar or sparsely populated area, I'll whip out my trusty KakaoTaxi app. All in all, I've used the service maybe 20~30 times now. Here's what I've noticed.

Regarding the whole driver-doesn't-see-destination-until-fare-is-picked-up thing, I'm going to assume it is a well-intentioned move by Kakao to prevent discrimination from drivers. If they know beforehand where you want to go, and that destination is (1) too short a distance, or (2) not in an area they want to end up at, then sure, they'd just ignore the request and leave you high and dry. I've experienced that plenty of times with normal taxi use. At least if they've already driven out to you when you hail via KakaoTaxi, theoretically they'd be less likely to say "nah" if your destination turns out to be unfavorable to them.

Of course the flip side of this is that, when you hail a taxi, of course your current location is sent to the driver. Even after you hit submit to make the hail, it actually makes you reconfirm that the location is right. Of course sending your location to the driver is necessary. No one can argue with that. The problem though is that they don't have to respond. I've had a few experiences now where it brings up that screen saying "1... 2... 3... x number of drivers is in your area" but then the service shuts down, saying no cabs are available, please try again. In other words, the hail was successfully sent to x-number of nearby cabs, but none accepted. Admittedly, those times have been when I'm a fair ways out of town. But still, for a taxi hailing service, you expect it to be able to hail a taxi for you. Now I'm not faulting Kakao directly with this. The same happened even with the Call-taxi (콜택시) services before. Drivers just plain don't want to go too far out of their way. Luckily, there was only one time I can recall when no taxi would come and I had to wait 30 minutes for a bus. But several times I had to try hailing 3~4 times, spacing out the attempts by 5 minutes or so. Not ideal.

Since I'm in bitching mode apparently, here's another thing that grinds my gears. For some reason, 60% of the time I hail a taxi, the driver calls me on the phone just before he arrives. Again, I get the point of this. He's just trying to confirm which schmuck on the street I am. But that gets real old, real fast, when you combine a hot-tempered, bbali-bbali middle-aged driver with a honky with less than ideal Korean speaking ability. Sometimes I answer the phone and just get an immediate "WHERE AT?" blasted into my ear drums. Then I get the back-and-forth experience of trying to describe what's around me. Bear in mind, I made certain my exact GPS location was already sent to him. Look, I've got no problem with his phone call in a busy area, lots of people trying to grab cabs, and a certain GPS spot could be in a dense urban core. I get it. But this stuff happens even out by the golf course near the airport. Not a car in sight but for the cab on the road, and me and my partner near the course entrance. And the guy calls me wanting to know where we are. I can see his taxi about 20 meters away, no joke I see him on the phone. He is not looking around. He's looking straight forward driving slowly. I have to walk into his line of sight and point to my phone, and his taxi, a couple times, before he realizes I'm not some hobo, I'm his fare.

Am I annoyingly picky? Yeah maybe. But again, I think this is one of the limitations of the KakaoTaxi service. Ideally I'd like to see it better integrated with the drivers themselves. As I wrote before, KakaoTaxi is great as a middleman, but it doesn't go that last mile, and that's usually where customer service is weakest.

Other things, pretty much the same. Some drivers can't figure out how to use GPS navigation, or apparently how to use the KakaoTaxi Driver app, and want me to explain to them where to go. Or argue with me about how to get there. Or, no joke, try to convince me out of going to my destination. Look I'm a friendly guy, usually, but after a day at work, sometimes I like the faceless automation of an app like KakaoTaxi. I don't want "the human touch" in my transportation options. I like the subway because nobody talks. I can relax, read great blogs like Kojects or 10원 Tips, and rest.

KakaoTaxi is a great app, super simple, and saved my ass a few times. Like I said before, the problem, if I can call it a problem, is that it relies on the same old drivers, so once you actually step foot inside that cab, you're at the mercy of that driver. There's no Kakao to come rescue you. You can't just press his face like a phone screen and double-tap on where you want to go. You can't mute him, or his radio, or keep his eyes from wandering over to the girl you're with. But until KakaoBots* start driving cabs, I'll just put up with it**.

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* No joke, I had a discussion with some coworkers about robots doing work like cleaning offices, driving cabs, collecting trash, and one guy goes "yeah but how will we handle sexual assault cases?" 
Robots sexual assaults. As if this crazy world didn't have enough to fear already. 

** I'm not anti-driver by the way. Most do their job respectably well. I think it's more an issue of me using taxis at weird times or weird locations, so perhaps I end up getting the more desperate ones, because the discomforting trips tend to happen less often by the old hand-wave hailing method. Then again, it's possible a driver who stops on the street for me is already predisposed to feeling cheery enough to pick up a foreigner. On KakaoTaxi, he wouldn't know, just as on the internet in general, no one knows you're a dog
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Saturday, October 3, 2015

My review of Swing Browser (스윙 브라우저)


Today I'll take a look at a Korean home-grown web browser that I had seen a coworker using, called Swing Browser. Swing Browser (스윙 브라우저) is basically Google Chrome but surgically altered to support IE-only plug-ins. Why might one need such a browser, and is it worth using? Let's take a look.

Swing Browser [VentureSquare]


TOC:
Introduction
Part 1: Search & New Tabs
Part 2: Browser Settings & Extensions
Part 3: Swing Extensions & Tools
Part 4: Banking & IE Mode
Final Thoughts

Introduction


First, some background. Korea's internet banking security regulations often lead to a weird state where many use Chrome for their average web browsing, but open up Internet Explorer when it's time to make online purchases or use online banking services. A trick I've seen many coworkers do is to add all their online shopping items to their cart, then either log-in over on IE or switch to their smartphone to complete the purchase. Or, of course, many still just use IE as their one-and-only browser. Why switch when you know you'll need to come back to IE anyway? It isn't just banking either: many older sites, especially governmental sites, depend on older script-rendering engines to function. If you ever tried making a reservation on some government websites, or downloading files from some "cafe" sites, you'll know what I mean. Click all you want, friend; that link isn't going to click. Come back in IE and try again.

It it isn't ideal, and as anyone who lives here dealing with the hassles of the older Active-X plug-ins and their newer security software executables will tell you, it's also fairly unreliable. The need to uninstall and reinstall these small security apps (anti-keyloggers, site-specific firewalls, etc.) comes up often. Perhaps the most disconcerting part is that these mini-apps require elevated Administrator permissions. As a result, IE is still king.

Market share of web browsers in Korea, July 2015.
Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Browser Market Share


Into this ecosystem comes Swing Browser. In theory it's an interesting concept: a custom-build from the Chromium open-source leads to a Chrome-like browser with better speed and rendering than IE, but that is also compatible with IE-specific security programs such as those banks and online transaction sites require. No more switching browsers! Let Swing Browser automatically switch "modes" for you when necessary. I have to admit, the idea sounded great, and led me to install it myself on an older Windows 7 machine, and give it a go.

To be fair, it does perform its stated duty. But after testing it out for a few days, I decided I'm better off doing my main browsing in Chrome, and switching to IE when necessary. Anyway, let's take a tour of what Swing Browser has to offer.

Swing Browser in action


Part 1: Search & New Tabs


Screenshot 1: new page, WebKit rendering engine
Here it is: Swing Browser. You'll immediately notice that it looks just like Chrome, and if you're already a Chrome user, you'll have no difficulty navigating around. You'll also notice that, yes, the browser is essentially entirely in English. A few settings or tooltips seem to have been, how can I say, perhaps translated by a non-native speaker, but overall I never felt unsure of how to use it. Don't let the language issue put you off. Some text is in Korean, but overall this is an entirely comfortable browser for English speakers.

Note also here one of the main features: that "SPEED" icon in the URL bar. It glows purple as you can see above, when the browser is using the WebKit rendering engine. In other words, it's in Chrome-mode, and webpages will render exactly as they should in real Google Chrome. 

You'll also see several extensions in the upper toolbar that come pre-installed. I consider these bloatware, and totally unnecessary for the average non-Korean user. We'll get to those in a minute.

Screenshot 2: omnibar search results
Being vain, the first action I took was to search for myself "10wontips" in the URL/Omnibar. Rather than utilizing Google, the default search engine is "Zum", another product of ESTsoft, makers of the ALTools suite of utilities. You may know them as the makers of ALZip, that bulky version of 7zip, and ALyak (알약) (sorry, don't know how they choose to Anglicize this one), the antivirus on your girlfriend's computer that looks like an egg holding a pill.

I hope you're a fan of Zum and ALtools, because the integration runs deep here. Where Chrome is clearly immersed in the Google ecosystem, Swing Browser wants you immersed in their world.

Screenshot 3: Swing Browser login box
For example, you cannot "login" your Chrome Swing Browser session into your Google account like you can on regular Chrome. Trying to log-in will bring up this request to sign-in with your ALTools or Zum account. It seems to sync your history/passwords/extensions all the same, but of course that data is stored in their cloud, so unless you're using Swing Browser on multiple devices, or the ALToolbar on your other browsers, this is not going to be real helpful.

This is also an example of needing to read some Korean. You can actually log-in to Zum using your Facebook account, which simplifies the process a lot, but if you want to create an account normally you'll need to join in Korean.

Screenshot 4: new tab page
Once you've started using the browser, your new tab page will look something like this, with "recommended sites" up top and your most frequently visited sites below. 

One interesting thing to note here, though I took this screenshot beforehand and now don't have a photo to show you of it, is that certain sites seem to get promoted to those top "recommended sites" bars. For example, you can see that right now the 은행 ("bank") bar is grayed-out. But after visiting KEB-Hana bank's website, that bank's link and favicon started occupying that space. That's actually a nice touch. I find that actually typing URLs is incredibly rare in Korea. A lot of people I know just search Naver for the name of the bank, then click the first search result. This may seem silly, and I've seen Koreans getting flack for it online, but I don't think it's a bad practice, because:
  1. It's always possible you could make a typo and end up at a cleverly designed phishing site. Less likely Naver/Google/etc. would return the wrong listing.
  2. It's only recently that non-Latin characters could be used in URLs, and in fact is still not very common. Remembering a precise set of foreign characters for each site is more difficult than just Googling the name. Go ahead, try to remember (and type!) http://правительство.рф. I'll wait. 

So overall, I think auto-filling those new-tab buttons with the user's preferred banking site is a smart move, consumer-wise. It also does things like auto-correct some typos.  

Part 2: Browser Settings & Extensions


Screenshot 5: browser option menu
Here's the menu you get when clicking the gear icon. Pretty standard Chrome-like menu. Maybe the only difference is that "Always use speed mode" option, which forces WebKit rendering on each page. But that would make no difference from using normal Chrome. Hey, whatever floats your boat. 

Screenshot 6: browser settings
Getting into the settings menu. You can see that you can login to your ALTools account here. I didn't try this, but based on the wording, I'm guessing that any passwords you save in Swing Browser might also be synched up to the ALToolbar via the Auto Login feature, which you may have noticed is a preinstalled extension on Swing Browser. That could potentially be handy if, for example, you were using the ALToolbar on your Internet Explorer browser, so all your saved IE passwords would automatically be available in Swing Browser, and updates in either location would sync through. Not too shabby. If you're not immersed in the Google ecosystem, this could be a viable resource, especially if, God forbid, you would still from time to time need to move back to IE. 

I often hear complaints of how un-tech-savvy Korean internet users are, but when you dive into features like this, you start to see that yes, it's entirely possible to live fairly productively online, even without Google, and even under some outmoded government regulations. 

Screenshot 7: advanced settings
The advanced settings. Note that if you haven't logged in to ALpass, Swing will still save your passwords locally. Everything else seems pretty standard.

Screenshot 8: browser extensions
Here's where the fun starts. Hold on to your butts. Swing Browser can make use of normal Chrome Store extensions, but can also run extensions from its own special extension store. 

That link in the top-right, "Get more Swing extensions" leads to http://advert.estsoft.com/?event=201307039650026 which in turn redirects to the Swing browser extension store at http://swing-browser.com/Extensions.  Note that if you visit their extension store on another browser, say, authentic Google Chrome, you'll see this message:
Basically alerting you that you cannot use these extensions on your current browser, and encouraging you to download Swing. 

Note that all of the extensions you see above came pre-installed. I'll talk more about these extensions in detail below in Part 3. 

Screenshot 9: browser "About" page
About the browser. 

Part 3: Swing Extensions & Tools


As I said, the Swing browser can make use of both Google Chrome Web Store extensions and extensions from its own homepage. There's not a huge amount available, but I'll write out a quick description here of what's available as of time of writing. All of these can be browsed at the Swing Extension Store.

Screenshot 10: webpage sharing tool "QuickSend"
QuickSend is a simple no-login-needed tool to share page items, powered by Send-Anywhere.

Screenshot 11: Scheduled surfing tool
The Scheduled Surfing Tool is basically a scheduled auto-site-opener. You pre-set the websites you want the browser to open (or to remind you to open) at dates/times you specified and it does the rest. Definitely one of the Korea-peculiar extensions, useful for things like semi-automating your Chuseok train ticket purchase, your Maroon 5 concert tickets purchase, or your online university course registration period. Basically anything online that can only be done in a very specific/limited time window, and is guaranteed to sell-out or fill-up almost immediately. You do not want to forget that.

Screenshot 12: Server time tool
Server time clock is a simple tool to find the clock time of the server you're connected to. Another weirdly Korean thing, but it goes hand-in-hand with the Scheduled Surfing tool. Tickets for the concert go on sale at exactly 5pm from Interpark. Sure, your watch says 4:48pm, but Interpark's web server clock is two minutes ahead. So by 4:58 you're getting in that last game of Clash of Clans while all the "real" fans are making purchases. You log-in two minutes later to discover that you are SOL. If only you'd known what time Interpark thinks it is! Well, now you do. 

I don't think we need screenshots of each and every extension, so here's just a quick list of what else is available:
  • Mouse Actions - To do things like open a new tab when you move your mouse in an L shape while holding the right-click button. Seems 10x more bothersome to me than just Ctrl-T but to each his own. 
  • Right-click Unlock - To let you right-click on sites that forbid it. 
  • "Compensation" aka Hacking Protection and the Anti-Phishing tool - Anti-phishing protection. Verifies that the URL you're at is the site you really want to be at. Of course, this type of service is already built into Google builds of Chrome, but remember, there's no Google integration in this Chrome build. OK you got me, I don't know what the difference is between the two, and don't care enough to investigate further. 
  • QuickLink - Oh this is great. Say you're got, um, 32 tabs open to some "19" sites, and your boss/mom/wife/dog walks in. What do you do? Hit the "esc" key, and boom, harmless legitimate page appears. God, that this is included by default could speak volumes about Korean office work ethics and efficiency, but I'll leave that to other authors. You can also customize the key to press, and the URL that it directs to. So in theory it could have totally legit uses, but come on, we all know what it's here for.
    Be sure to check out the hilarious illustrations, showing a disgruntled employee stirring-up shit about her boss, when the boss walks in! F*ck! Thank God she thought fast, hit that QuickLink key, and looks like a model employee. Looks like. Because that's all that really matters. 
  • ETC. - OK I'm not going to talk about all of them. There's also a screen capture tool, quick access to Daum's online English/Japanese/Chinese - Korean dictionary, memo pad, cache/cookie cleaner, etc.
And yes, eagle-eyed readers will note that most of these extensions are in fact built into the ALToolbar

As a foreigner, some of these don't really have any usefulness to me, but I can see why they're included. Sure, I dislike companies preloading apps/extensions in my software too, but even Google Chrome comes preloaded with offline Docs/Sheets support, and I don't even use those tools online, much less offline. They're the first thing I remove in a fresh Chrome install, and similarly, any of these extensions you don't like in Swing can be removed easily. 

Screenshot 13: Apps page
Not many other apps are included. There's Zum news, and another Zum service, the green one, Timetree (타임트리 ). As far as I can tell, it's basically just a news/sports/entertainment online magazine that tracks progressing stories chronologically. But I didn't give it much look. 

Part 4 - Banking & IE Mode 


Finally we come to the main reason why anyone would consider Swing Browser: online banking and purchasing. Cleverly, the browser knew when I had navigated to my bank's website (KEB-Hana bank), and you'll notice that the purple-glowing "SPEED" icon in the URL bar now dims to gray, and "IE rendering" mode is started. 

I'm going to be honest with you. I am not a web browser expert. Clearly, Swing is doing something more than simply changing the user-agent ID. It's not just pretending to be IE. Somehow it reverts back to the older IE model of page rendering (Trident, I assume). But I'm no doctor, so I cannot tell you how it does this, only that it does seem to do it. Take a look.

Screenshot 14: installing bank security software
Here you can see the KEB-Hana proprietary security software being installed in an in-browser pop-up. Notice also the Veraport icon in the toolbar, and the elevated permissions prompt icon. It works. It bloody works. You saw it here, folks. Korean banking software actually working/running without hassle, on the first try, in "Chrome".

Side note:
Veraport20-2,5,2,2 is a software program developed by Wizvera....Relative to the overall usage of users who have this installed on their PCs, most are running Windows Vista (SP2) and Windows 7 (SP1). While about 71% of users of Veraport20-2,5,2,2 come from the United States, it is also popular in Korea. [source]
Really, 71% of users are from the US? That strikes me as very odd. I've never seen this security program in the US, and I can't imagine so high a number coming from just expats with English-language installs. What gives?

Screenshot 15: online banking in IE mode
Here I just wanted to highlight the "IE rendering" module. That warning on the page, by the way, is telling me that if for some reason the security software module isn't loading right, basically just refresh. Thanks.

Screenshot 16: list of plug-ins
And here's the list of Swing Browser plug-ins (not extensions) after letting the KEB-Hana security software do its install thing. All the banking security software looks good. Oh and look, our old friend AhnLab is there too. 

Final Thoughts


I was hopeful that with the introduction of Microsoft Edge, which uses a newer, updated rendering engine, would spur the Korean government to ease the requirements for banking security software. But it looks like Microsoft made a wise choice to include IE 11 alongside Edge in Windows 10, as these legacy services look to remain for awhile longer still. 

To be honest, while writing this review much of Swing Browser grew on me, and I suddenly started regretting having deleted it a few days ago. But the fact is, I did. It's gone, and it's not going to come back. Why? Well, a few reasons:
  1. Most of my online life is, for better or worse, tied into Google.
    My bookmarks, passwords, extensions, history, life is all synched through Google. I'm not about to move all that data to a third-rate search company that might not even be around next year. Honestly, if Naver had released this browser instead, then there'd be a decent argument for sucking me in. But Zum? Makes me think more of Mazda than reliable cloud services. 
  2. There's no guarantee that this compatibility will remain.
    Yes, it's very convenient not to have to switch to a different browser all the time. But most of this security software was designed for real IE. I don't know how wise long-term reliance on a third-party company is. Heck, even despite the Open Banking movement here, which was supposed to make Chrome/Firefox/Opera banking possible, I still find that it's often not worth it. Just open up the real deal: IE 11 (or God forbid, sometimes, IE 9 or 10). Better than getting in a stressful fight with Chrome flags
  3. Swing still uses those Active-X-esque security tools.
    Don't forget that Swing browser is like a doctor carrying a scalpel in one hand and a saw in the other. Sure, it has modern features, but at least part of the time it relies on the same old technology that we expats love to bitch and moan about. And with potentially good reason. These apps requiring elevated Administrator privilege doesn't sit right with many people. These "security" apps are making deep changes to your system, including to port openings/closings, firewall rules, etc.; changes which can remain even after standard uninstallation. This leads some to recommend doing all your banking/purchasing activity in a virtual machine. That's certainly the safest of available options.
So there you have it. For me, it's still Firefox or Chrome for daily browsing, IE 11 for the times that need it, though I've started loading that in a virtual machine. So far so good. 

Give Swing Browser a try if you want. They even have an Android version, which will sync up to your desktop version and surprisingly has many of the same extensions as its desktop daddy. 

For me, eh, thanks but no thanks, I'm good. I'd rather we all (Koreans and foreigners both) just do what we gotta do to get by for now, while keeping up the pressure on the banks/government to update themselves rather than downgrade us. It's a tactic that worked, more or less, with smartphones and mobile payments, thanks in part to Korean consumers' love of the iPhone. I think Apple's refusal/inability to concede to Active X several years ago, combined with ordinary Korean consumers' preference for iPhone, forced the hand of banks, online retailers, and government agencies, to create alternative methods for smartphone-based purchasing. If consumer use of Edge and Chrome continues to grow, we might see the same happen on the desktop, which in many ways still lags far behind mobile. 

It's weird, really, to come to check-out and have to either fire up my top-of-the-line Android 5 Galaxy Note 4, or my Windows 7 VM with IE 9, to make the purchase. You're either at the bleeding edge, or you're ten years behind everyone else. 

Welcome to Korea.



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Friday, October 2, 2015

THE's Korean university rankings 2015~216




The Time's Higher Education supplement has released their yearly world rankings of universities. This information is very easy to find at their website. I just felt like making it simple by just taking the rankings for just Korean universities and sticking them in a simple table. That is literally all I did here.

Pretty fascinating to see that the SKY monopoly (triopoly?) is essentially intact, but spaced out by industry-supported schools focusing on science, technology, and engineering; Korea's export bread-and-butter. I suspect that has to do with the financial backing they have from conglomerates, and the volume of scientific academic journal citations, both of which were factors in the rankings. Seriously, I set-up an alert on Google Scholar and got so many medical/chemical hits, I had to shut off to stop flooding my inbox. Here's the bit on Industry Income as a factor of methodology:

A university’s ability to help industry with innovations, inventions and consultancy has become a core mission of the contemporary global academy. This category seeks to capture such knowledge-transfer activity by looking at how much research income an institution earns from industry (adjusted for PPP), scaled against the number of academic staff it employs.
The category suggests the extent to which businesses are willing to pay for research and a university’s ability to attract funding in the commercial marketplace – useful indicators of institutional quality. [THE]

If you want my two cents on that, I'd say it's actually a very useful factor to measure by. Private companies have their bottom lines to consider, and likely wouldn't pour funding into schools that don't churn out practical, useful, marketable materials/processes, unlike say government-sponsored public schools or wealthy alumni-funded private schools, which might have different agendas. But what the hell do I know. 

Anyway, here's the list:


World RankingName
85Seoul National University
116Pohang University of Science and Technology
148Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
153Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)
251-300Korea University
301-350Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology
301-350Yonsei University
351-400Hanyang University
401-500Ewha Womans University
401-500Kyung Hee University
401-500University of Ulsan
501-600Chung-Ang University
501-600Pusan National University
601-800Ajou University
601-800Chonbuk National University
601-800Chonnam National University
601-800Chungnam National University
601-800Inha University
601-800Konkuk University
601-800Kyungpook National University
601-800Sejong University
601-800University of Seoul
601-800Sogang University
601-800Yeungnam University 

It looks like below 200, they start grouping the rankings, so you'll have to click-through to see how each one fared. Even though the "Overall ranking has been withheld" on these grouped-rankings, you can get some idea of relative comparison by seeing THE's page on each individual school itself.


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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Amazon now requires 5 digit Korean postal code


Earlier I wrote about the new 5-digit Korean postal code system that came into effect last month two months ago (August 2015). Time flies. Anyway, if you like to order from Amazon, just a heads-up: you're going to need to start using those new codes. Here's an email I got from the 'zon:
We recently learned that South Korea will change the postal code from six digits to five digits. As a result, we will no longer be able to deliver items to any South Korean shipping addresses with a six digit postal code.
In order to ensure you receive your shipments without delay, you'll need to update your shipping addresses to reflect the updated five digit postal code. You can do this by following these steps:
1. Go to Your Account (www.amazon.com/your-account).
2. Click on "Manage Address Book" in the Settings section.
3. Click the "Edit" button to update the affected addresses.
We apologize for any inconvenience. If you have any questions or issues updating your addresses, please contact us:
No problem. You can easily look-up your 5-digit postal code on the Korean Post Office's site, in English, here:


For example, I did a search for some place in Jeju. Luckily even not totally knowing the lot number, just hitting "search" brought the full list of results. You can even have it show you the address in Korean and copy the plain text with your mouse, like the normal internet should be, no special plug-in needed

Korean ePost
So next time you start smelling like a stinky foreigner, ease the stress sweat with a 10-pack of your favorite red-blooded American deodorant. And for more on the postal codes and what they mean, check out my post here

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