Monday, February 26, 2018

Pyeongchang Olympics commemorative Lego sets

Two special commemorative Lego sets were released for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Not actually "LEGO™" brand but the completely compatible Oxford blocks (made in Korea). They were available for a short time at the official Pyeongchang Olympics online store, and apparently from select Lotte Department Stores and Outlets. But not surprisingly they sold out quickly.

Here are a some pictures of the sets. One is a "Gift Truck" set, which folds open to reveal lots of cute pieces for "sale" and the other is a model of the official store.

The photos here really don't do justice to just how many pieces are in these sets. Most of the little "merchandise" in the store/truck are actual block parts themselves; not just stickers. Adorable!

Olympics Gift Truck set

Olympics gift truck set, closer view

Olympics store set

A blogger managed to snag a set each before they sold out. As you can see, the prices were very reasonable. 38,000 won is about $35.

Those are much better prices than they are being hawked for on eBay:

Same block sets selling for ~$140 on eBay

The pictures of the sets came from the following blog post, where you can see more photos of the sets:
🔗 평창굿즈 평창올림픽과 레고의 완벽한 조화 : 네이버 블로그

I searched the official store, but I couldn't find the listings for these blocks anywhere. Maybe they were removed. They seem to have been here.

But you can still buy an official Pyeongchang Olympics fidget spinner! (Edit: sold out!)

Here is a photo of both sets from someone's Instagram too:

And if you really want to get a sense of these sets (400 pieces!), here's a nice unboxing/assembly video:

And finally, if you need even more cuteness, check out my other post with various other Korean block sets:
10원 Tips: Cute Korean Lego sets

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Papago adds Papago Kids multilingual vocabulary flashcards mode

Naver's translation app Papago now has a new feature called "Papago Kids" which shows flash cards with vocabulary words and cute illustrations.

Flashcards from Naver Papago. Image: Naver Facebook

The cards can be shown in one of four languages (Chinese, Japanese, English, Korean) with the Korean alongside. This makes not just useful for young Korean children learning other languages, but also decent for foreigners wanting to learn Korean and just starting out. Could be good for multi-cultural families too.

Flashcards from Naver Papago. Image: Naver Facebook

There are lots of flashcards apps, but if you're a Korean language learner/speaker, you've probably got the Papago app already. It's already baked into the app (just tap 키즈 or Kids in the main pop-out side menu aka hamburger menu). Tap the cards and it will pronounce the name. Swipe for more.

Here's a promo video showing it in use.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Lunar New Year 2018

Today is Lunar New Year, and as usual Naver has some cute doodles and neat onebox results for 설날 which you can tap through. They include recipes, lists of family titles (what to call your cousin's wife's sister, etc.), travel info, and such.

But my favorite is this guide to 상차리기 (setting up an honorary table) for your 차례 (ancestor memorial rites). Not only is the picture cute, but they go into detail showing the correct placement and ordering of all the items.

Naver onebox results for 설날 showing 상차리기 table setting instructions 

Meanwhile, Naver's doodle for yesterday featured some dogs frolicking around to celebrate the Year of the Dog.

Naver doodle for Lunar New Year 2018

This is part of a series for this holiday which will include this set:

Naver doodles for 설날 2018. Image: Naver

Today's shows what I'm guessing are red-crowned cranes. It looks like they all were drawn by an artist named Kim Han-geol (김한걸) and more of his work can be seen here:

And just for fun, here's this year's official Kakao Friends image. The dog Frodo rises as the sun, as the year of the dog begins, and all his friends have dressed up as him.

Kakao Friends celebrate the Year of the Dog

I don't know about you, but I find this new illustration style creepy. They were cute when they were bright bold simple colors. Their recent appearances have some creepy uncanny valley thing going on.

Next up, just because I think it's funny, here the ever meme-worthy Gabe Newell of Valve 'shopped into wearing hanbok. I assume it's a 'shop anyway, but who knows these days.

Gabe Newell looking good in hankbok

Finally, some light reading for you:

Happy new year folks. Hope you got some of that sweet new year's cash.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Search noraebang song numbers on Naver, get onebox results

Naver now returns immediate onebox results (only on mobile, oddly) for noraebang (노래방, karaoke singing room) song number codes. No more using a dedicated app like a chump, or that greasy old songbook like a gramps.

If you're unfamiliar, noraebang are the private singing rooms where Koreans go to let off some steam by crying out their favorite songs (and sometimes by ordering in some hanky-panky room service). There's a large screen that plays generic emotional scenes while the words scroll by and you sing into a microphone with reverberation set at 11. But how do you input the song you want? In my day, we scan through a giant crusty old binder in the room to find the 4-5 digit code that corresponds to the song. Clearly this is a slow process, and you had to share the binder with others, and of course it wasn't always updated with the latest tunes.

About a million years later, Naver has saved you the hassle and built this feature right into their search box.

Search 노래방 (or click here) and a special mini-search box appears. Type in an artist or title, and boom, the correct number code is there. Here's an example.

Naver search results for "Hotel California" noraebang song number

Punch in the right code for that machine's brand (pro-tip: they're almost all TJ) and you'll be on a dark desert highway, cool wind in your hair, in no time.

Funnily enough, I hate the Eagles. But if this song doesn't come up in rotation at least once, then we're clearly not drunk enough.

Yes, I know a million websites and apps already had this feature. In fact that was the first official post on this blog (total link rot there). But this is the first time Naver's provided the info directly. It demonstrates how both Google and Naver are absorbing other sites/apps functionality for our convenience. Good for personal productivity, but I worry about the future of the open web when we end up with no reason to ever leave Google/Naver's own provided and contained results. It's a safe harbor, but the more we stay in it the less we explore.

Boy this post was going to be a quick single link dump with pic. Then I got wordy. Maybe I need a visit to a lovely place, with a lovely face.

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Naver Map testing beta service for multi-language web interface

Naver Map is testing a new beta version of their desktop map website. I mentioned before that it still uses the older imagery rather than the new multi-lingual imagery from the app. Well that's changing.

The beta site clearly uses the same map imagery as the app, including a sidebar that (looks just like Google Maps) will be familiar to you if you already use the Naver Map app.

Naver Map beta site English version. Screenshot.

I switched it to the English view and tried searching "Seoul station" but that didn't seem to work quite right. The colors and UI is more intuitive now though.

Naver Map beta site. Local info. Screenshot.

They've also brought over the "popular in the neighborhood" feature from the app. Tap that top button to see what keywords are popular searches in that area.

Naver Map beta. Right side sidebar. Screenshot.

Here's the important part. Under the Layers option, you'll find the little language boxes at the bottom of the pop-up. Tap "A" for English or the others for Korean, Chinese, Japanese. You can see that right now it only switches the underlying map imagery to the translated version. All the UI interface is still Korean only (but it's just a beta after all). 

People on Twitter, when not complaining that the new map generally is terrible, note that the beta site is very slow loading. I couldn't get the 3D view (the raised polygonal buildings) to work. But it's a neat start. 

I hope they eventually add back the links for embedding maps. And yes, I know objectively this is a step in the right direction, but I like the 1995 gray washed out style of the old/current Naver Map. Call me crazy, but this blinding bright white style that's in vogue these days drives me crazy. I'm here to work, not to have fun. Don't try to "fun up" my experience, websites. 

Check it out for yourself here, but be aware that it only works on desktop. Opening the link on mobile will redirect you to the current Naver Map older style mobile site.

🔗 네이버 지도 - 베타 - Naver Map beta

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Kakao Map new "ETA by Time" feature predicts best driving departure time

Just in time for long Lunar New Year drives back to hometowns, Kakao Map has a neat new app feature called "Future Drive Info" (미래 운행 정보). When you input your destination, it can automatically predict when the best time to leave would be, based on combing big data from traffic levels and Kakao Navi usage. 

Kakao Map "Future Drive Info." Image: Yonhap

So for example, it will assume you want to leave right now, but it will also calculate the total driving time if you were to wait 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes before departing. In some situations, such as with rush hours or holidays, you could potentially shave an hour off your drive by waiting a while. Sounds good to me. You can also specify a different time/date for departure and it will recalculate. 

It works when the app is set to English too, though it calls this feature "ETA by Time." To test it, get some driving directions, and tap the map screen's top-left icon. You'll get this kind of screen back.

Kakao Map "ETA by Time" screenshot

My sample didn't show much different in drive times. Looks like it's best to just leave right now. The UI could use some tweaking because it really draws emphasis on leaving in 1.5 hours, which if you're not paying attention is clearly a few minutes longer than leaving right now. As an aside, does it really only take 2.5 hours from south of Seoul to Gangneung? And on the day before 설날? Wow. 

I haven't used Google Maps for driving directions in so long, I wonder if it has this feature too. Anyway nice to see Kakao keep pushing forward with features that work in other languages. 

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Links: 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics edition

A bit overdue, but here's a special #Pyeongchang2018 edition of links for your information and pleasure. No fluff about sports or events. Just certain things I found useful or noteworthy.

Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic official emblem.gif
Image: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games -, Public Domain, Link

Live streams of the Olympic events

Within Korea, both Naver and Daum are offering free live streaming coverage of events. To me this is easier. Although the commentary is in Korean, you don't need to bother with a VPN or dodgy stream. Plus don't have to hear a lot of hot air.

Note that for Naver's feeds, the lower resolution is provided with no login/plug-ins necessary. Good enough for me to cast to my Chromecast and keep it on in the background. For the higher resolutions, you'll need their provided plug-in (desktop) or else the Naver TV app (mobile). Daum feeds need Flash player.

Other useful links for streaming:

GenieTalk: the app that just won't die

Useful Travel links

Some tech stuff

Wholesome Olympics stuff

Awkward Olympics stuff

This guy

Winter 2018 PyeongChang

 Plus you can see all my own Pyeongchang Olympics related posts here:

I'll keep this post updated if anything else catches my eye.
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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Google Street View highlights Pyeongchang area imagery (and greatly expanded Korean street view imagery generally)

Google is promoting their Street View imagery of the Pyeongchang area and key locations for the Olympics events. They've released a special highlights gallery of sites around the Gangwondo area that you can browse in full 360° glory.

Gangwondo Highlights gallery on Google Street View

Browse the imagery here:
🔗Google Street View – Gangwondo Highlights | Explore natural wonders and world landmarks

This follows their previous highlights of Seoul and Jeju. This imagery can be a nice way for travelers unfamiliar with Naver Map or Kakao Map to get an idea of where they're going or where to go.

But what really caught my eye here was just how massively expanded the Google Street View imagery in Korea is now. Google's blog post shows a few blue lines of spots covered by street view, but actually, the entire area is blanketed in imagery coverage.

For example, here are the areas around the Olympic Stadium and Athletes' Village:

Google Street View availability around Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. [screenshot]

Google Street View availability around Pyeongchang Athletes Village. [screenshot]

Essentially every road is blanketed. And remember, this is a pretty rural area. By the way, someone left a Google review with photos of the Athletes Village. If the name is right, he's a Russian hockey player named Nikita Borisov. Thought they were dopped out of this year but who knows.

How about over in Gangneung where most of the events are actually being held?

Google Street View availability around Gangneung. [screenshot]

Blanketed. OK, I just had to check then. How about Seoul?

Google Street View availability around Seoul. [screenshot]

Wow. The last time I tried using Google Street View in Korea, it was literally just pockets of coverage. Seoul had maybe 70% coverage, but outside the capital area you saw glowing islands of coverage only in certain touristy or promotional areas. It seems Google has quietly expanded their coverage on a large scale. You can still see some non-covered areas there, mostly mountains and airport. If you look at where I left pegman dangling, someone contributed their own panorama of the interior of Gimpo airport.

I tended to use Daum Maps Roadview in the past (it was easier, and I liked their 'pegman' icon of the little white camera) and now still use Kakao Map. But it could be worth revisiting Google's coverage. They even apparently drove by my place several months back.

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Twitter emoji for Pyeongchang Olympics (plus Naver doodles)

Twitter PyeongChang Olympics emoji

Twitter is including a special emoji when you use one of the Olympic hashtags, including:
  • #PyeongChang2018
  • #2018평창

I can't tell exactly but it looks like a snowy mountain beside the waves. Appropriate for Gangwon-do. Here's how it appears in the tweets.

Snowy mountain by the sea emoji on Twitter

Here's the emoji image that it's triggering:

Image: Twitter

I tried to find an official announcement about this image, but couldn't find any articles in either English or Korean. Weird. Update: Twitter posted about it here.

Twitter also shows a few other emoji during the Olympics period, as you can see here:

Tweet showing the various Pyeongchang Olympics related hashtag triggered emoji. Image: @Twiplomacy

The two Korean flags are just normal emoji you can copy/paste: 🇰🇵 and 🇰🇷

The others are special Twitter emoji for this Olympics period:

#Olympics hashtag triggered wreath logo. Image: Twitter

#OpeningCeremony hashtag triggered logo. Image: Twitter

#COR hashtag triggered unity flag of DPRK/ROK team. Image: Twitter

#국가대표 (National representative) and  #가자평창 (Let's go Pyeongchang) triggered emoji. Image: Twitter

And finally, I missed this, but a few months back they also showed a peace sign for the old Olympic truce, as well a torch icons during the torch relay.

The campaign, exclusive to Twitter, was launched to commemorate the United Nations resolution on the Olympic Truce, and users who tweet the hashtags listed below in six languages will unlock a special hashtag-triggered emoji:
  • Korean: #평화올림픽, #나에게평화란
  • English: #Peace4Me, #OlympicTruce
  • [etc.]
Another hashtag-triggered emoji depicting the Olympic Flame can be activated by tweeting the following hashtags:
  • #TorchRelay
  • #OlympicTorchRelay
  • #OlympicFlame
  • #성화봉송
  • #올림픽성화봉송
  • #평창올림픽성화봉송
  • [etc; more at link]

 - The Olympic Truce Comes to Twitter as the PyeongChang Games Approach – Adweek 

That Adweek article lists the games as taking place in Pyeongchang, China. Ouch. Not sure if that's better or worse than saying Pyeongyang. See some other Korean Twitter emojis here.

Olympics mascots KakaoTalk stickers

Anyway, if you want to share some of these emoji type stickers yourself, you can also download a free sticker pack of the Olympic mascots Soohorang and Bandabi (수호랑 and 반다비) for Kakao Talk by adding the official PyeongChang Olympics "Plus Friend."

Kakao Plus Friend sticker pack of Soohorang and Bandabi

Naver doodles

And just for the fun of it, here were today's Naver doodles celebrating the Opening Ceremonies:

Naver's Pyeongchang Olympics Opening ceremonies doodle (desktop)

Naver's Pyeongchang Olympics Opening ceremonies doodle (mobile)

[Ha, I just typed "Olympics" in the Blogger location tag field and it brought up the right place. Neat.]
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Google conducts KakaoTalk focused study on news and chat apps

Over on both their main blog and Korean blog, Google has put up the results of a survey looking at how news articles get spread and modified through chat apps. They looked at a few regions where people use chat apps for news more than traditional SNS, but focused especially on South Korea and KakaoTalk.

Park Sang-kyu (박상규) as highlighted in the report. Image: Google.

Park Sang-kyu (박상규) of SBS News and Channel A is highlighted in the report as a freelance journalist who has succeeded in crowdfunding his stories through personal connections with readers. Links for him: 박상규 기자의 '셜록' 프로젝트 | 스토리펀딩 | 스토리펀딩 and 백수 기자에서 10억 기자로

If you want to jump right to the good stuff, their report is available as PDFs in both English and Korean. I skimmed through the English version and looked for some good quotes to give you an idea.

On why they chose South Korea:
Our case study also gives a window into how chat apps are used for news in a low-trust environment.
South Korea is one of the world’s populations least trusting of news. Only 23 percent of Koreans trusted the news in 2017, the lowest of the 36 countries surveyed ... [with] widespread concern about the role information disorder within KakaoTalk specifically played in the political scandal and subsequent election. 

On how they conducted the survey:
... in-depth interviews with eight users ranging in age from 17 to 31, including a female high school student, a 20-year-old male serving his compulsory time in the Korean military, and a self-described “feminist citizen journalist.” ...  We also interviewed nine experts across journalism and technology in Korea, including a government spokesperson, a mentor to Korean media startups, an expert in AI policy in Korea and China, local journalists, and foreign correspondents. 

Mandatory analysis of "pali pali!":
Korea’s culture is built on efficiency and speed. “Pali pali”—a ubiquitous phrase that means “Hurry up!” or “Faster!”—has come to define the Korean way of life. Today’s youth have a sense of urgency that permeates all aspects of life ... a Korean university student told us that Koreans “do not tolerate slow transportation, long lines, and long articles.” 

On screenshots:
Screenshots are a favored medium for everything from organizing social meetups to submitting work to a boss. It’s common to share screenshots of calendars rather than text back and forth when scheduling study sessions or drinks. This practice has carried over to sharing news in KakaoTalk, with people circulating screenshots of articles or chats rather than links.

That last part is interesting. I hadn't thought about it, but it's true. Koreans do seem to prefer sending screenshots of news. I always assumed it evolved from memes, or else the pre-Unicode days. But there is something to be said about sending the raw info, free of links, load times, pages filled with advertisements, etc. Whereas I'd be more likely to copy/paste the text, they prefer screenshots.

I don't know how much we can glean from a survey of less than 50 people, and all people who already are deep in the KakaoTalk chat world. I mean most older guys I know still prefer a visit to Naver for news. This study is supposed to be "future" oriented though. It sort of reads like an advertisement for Google's products though. Their conclusion "solutions" all seem like increased use of apps, AI, translation bots, etc.

But what do I know. Here I am some guy passing on the news (with cherry-picked quotes) in his blog.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Black Panther on Naver Maps

Naver Maps is running another film promotion. If you search for "Black Panther Filming Location" in the app, you'll see results from around the Busan area where portions of the film were shot (more on that here and here).

Actually, I had to do the search in Korean (블락판서 촬영지) to bring up the results, but the results are in English. If you want to find it via English, you need to search the uncomfortably Romanized phrase "Black Paenseo".

Black Panther filming locations in Busan, on Naver Map

You can see the various spots around Busan (such as this bridge) where filming took place in the screenshot above. Click on them, and if you have the "panorama" layer enabled, a small street-view window will appear in the bottom-right. Tap it, and browse the 360° street view coverage in that spot.

At one of the locations, you'll find an image of the Black Panther himself. Screenshot it, leave a comment on the Naver Map Facebook page, and you can win free movie tickets. Contest runs Feb 7 - Feb 12, 2018. Winners notified Feb 14th (Valentine's Day, aww).

I had to browse a few of the locations before I found the Panther. And it doesn't seem to work on desktop; just the app.

Recall that Kakao Map did something similar with the Star Wars release.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Daum Map updates color scheme

Daum Map has updated their website/desktop version of their map with a new color scheme to match the version in their Kakao Map app. But don't get excited. It's basically just colors and clearer labels. The imagery and interface are all still Korean-only.

Here's a sample of the new look.

Daum Map desktop site with updated colors [screenshot]

Daum Map desktop site with old color scheme [screenshot]

Animated gif comparison of color change. Because oh why not. 

I'm a bit disappointed, since when they announced this website update was coming, I expected we'd get the same map tile imagery that Kakao Map uses, including the English place names. After all, a lot of people still plan vacation itineraries, destinations, routes, etc. on desktop. The app is good for when you're already here; the site could be good for when you're planning to come. But whatever. 

Personally I always prefer to use the English version of things (when the features aren't severely limited), not only because I have to think less, but I like to support those internationalization efforts. But I too am starting to join the crowd of those finding it a bit of a hassle to have everything on the map Romanized or translated. Reading "Gyeongui" takes my brain at least 3 seconds longer to process than 경의. It's how I imagine English speaking Koreans must feel to visit 노스캐롤라이나 or 서스캐처원. Naver will add a language setting option to the app soon if you prefer Korean. Kakao already has it. 

Anyway, the comments over on Daum's announcement post are hilarious. People complaining that they liked the old look of Daum Map, now it looks too much like Naver. And here I was complaining that Naver now looks too much like Kakao. We've reached the map paradox where every map looks like every other map. And both now look more like... Google. 

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Recommended: "What does Strava data tell us about North Korea?"

Over at the North Korea Tech blog, they've got a very interesting post up, looking at pockets of fitness tracker data in North Korea from Strava's worldwide heatmap.

Strava heatmap fitness data, North & South Korea. Image: Strava, via NK Tech

🔗 NK Tech | What does Strava data tell us about North Korea?

I never would've thought about looking there, but they did, and found some interesting results. It's amazing the kind of unofficial insights you can get from a place just by looking at something as simple as fitness tracker data. They highlight some obvious foreigner wearers around the one hotel you're allowed to stay in, and the course of the Pyeongyang marathon, but also some other interesting outliers.

Hey, maps, screenshots, and (North) Korea. No wonder this post was right up my alley.

In fact I took at look at this Strava heatmap a few years back to point out the interesting result of using an older basemap with current heatmap data for a neat look at the Incheon Airport island's filling-in (back before it was a single piece of land).

🔗 10원 Tips: Heatmap contrasts old/new Incheon geography

See also this look how this kind of tracker data can reveal secrets about not just them but us too:

🔗  Fitness Devices Cause Concern of Revealing Secret US Military Bases – ROK Drop

Anyway, North Korea Tech is a fascinating blog, and if you're not following, you really should. Great to see them back online unblocked in South Korea. Protip: I was reading their posts anyway via RSS.

By the way, check out those cruises around Dokdo on the heatmap.

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