Street View in Seoul Subway

After a couple of months waiting, finally here is the solution to the “Life Changes” mystery:

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The Seoul Subway “DigitalView”.

It is all about some cabinets that have been installed at the the line 1, 2, 3, and 4 Seoul subway stations (what about the other lines?). These cabinets have an interactive map of the surroundings of the station, and a touch phone that allows paying phone calls using the T-money card.

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A different view.

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Touch phone that allows paying using T-money.

I am not sure whether or not this will change anybody’s life, but I think it’s a great idea. These new booths have, on one side, a public telephone (during the testing period you can make free national calls, including cellphones!). On the other side there is room for an advertisement that I guess they will use to finance all the operation. In the center there is the main device, a huge touchscreen that very much reminds on an iPhone, showing information about the subway station’s emergency exits, nearby restaurants and interesting places, news, and even a Google Streetview-like interactive map of the subway station’s surroundings. They have called this map “Digital View”. I recorded a small video so that you can view the “device” in action:

Korean Websites and ActiveX Controls

Today I am going to tell you a sad story, a very sad story. In South Korea, 94% of households have Interne access, the highest index among the countries in the OECD. Over here 100 Mbps speeds are common (in fact, I have 100 Mbps at home for around $35 per month). However, in this country, there is only one choice when it comes to web browsers: Internet Explorer.

¿The reason? The evil ActiveX controls, enemies of any browser different from the one that comes “imposed” by the Microsoft Windows operating system. Basically, any Korean website involving secure transactions (bank websites, e-shopping, e-government, etc.) requires ActiveX controls. This has specially affected Mozilla Firefox, IE’s main competitor, which has already presented this subject to the Korean Fair Trade Commission.

Sadly, in South Korea, most people just don’t know that there are alternatives to IE. IE’s market share in Korea last month was 98.66%. Mozilla Firefox and the new Google Chrome together hardly reached 1%, Safari had 0.17% and Opera 0.04%:

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Source: TechnoKimchi, Logger.co.kr

Just as example, I have bank accounts in four Spanish banks, one american bank, and one Korean bank (not because I have a lot of money, but because I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket). I can access all my bank accounts online from (almost) any operating system and/or web browser, but the one in Korea. The only account that requires IE (and hence, Microsoft Windows) is the Korean one. And what happens if I try to access this bank account from Firefox in my Ubuntu Linux? This:

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A little window suggests me (in perfect Korean) to install Windows XP SP2. And we are talking about one of the main banks in South Korea. It’s the same with ALL OF THEM. Sad, isn’t it?

For those who what to know more about this topic, the root of this problem is perfectly explained here (warning: only for freaks).

By the way:

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Politicians, Candlelights and Mad Cows

Since several weeks ago, we are having demonstrations at the area near our office almost everyday. The reason is that the new president,Myung-Bak Lee (former major of Seoul and also known as “the bulldozer” because of his aggressive political decisions, has signed an agreement in the context of the free trade agreement that South Korea wants to establish with the United States by which imports of American beef (blocked since 2003 under fears of mad cow disease) without limitation in terms of age to South Korea. South Koreans didn’t like this at all, and they have interpreted it as a betrayal from the new president (who won the elections by a very high margin for what is common in South Korea).

These demonstrations against imports of American beef have been called “Candlelights Cultural Festival” (literal translation of 촛불문화제, Chotbulmunhwaje)”, a very pretty name that stands out the philosophy of the demonstrations: thousands of people sitting down holding candlelights in a peaceful way.

As opposed to other countries, in South Korea, due to government’s control of mass media, as well as the penetration of the Internet in Korean societey, these concentrations are called via the Internet, through Internet forums, portals, chatrooms, etc., in a movement without precedents that some have called “digital democracy“. There is quite good an article about this here, from which I will extract the following paragraph:

The mainstream media and the government ignored them at first. But protesters stepped forward as “citizen reporters,” conducting interviews, taking photographs and, thanks to the country’s high-speed wireless Internet, uploading videos on their blogs and Internet forums. One video showing the police beating a female protester caused outrage on the Internet and prompted even more people to join the demonstrations.

In fact, some of the demonstrations ended up in a quite violent way, like the one held on may 31st, in which policemen had to use violence to control some (probably many) protesters. One of the videos that the last article is talking about can be found here (among other things, you can see how a policeman steps on a young female student’s head, and another policeman leaves a man deaf after attacking him with a water cannon).

There are more protests scheduled, in theory with more people and consequently more likely to cause violent incidents…

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A picture a took during one of the first demonstrations.

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Many people also take their children to the demonstration.

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This picture was taken right in front of our office.

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Signs against the president. “2MB” is how they call the president (number 2 in Korean is pronounced like the president’s last name, which in Korean goes in front of the name, 2MB = Lee Myung Bak).

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The biggest demonstration until now, held on June 10th, which also commemorated the 21st anniversary of the defeating of the military regime in South Korea soon after the Gwangju Massacre. The day after this demonstration, the Prime Minister and all his cabinet offered their resignations.

More information: wikipedia, NYT article, more (and better) pictures.

Launch of Online Free Expression Day

Today, march 12th 2008, has been the first Online Free Expression Day. This initiative has been organized by Reporters Without Borders, a French NGO which, among other things, has published a list of Internet “enemies” countries. In this list, there are countries where the severity of the situation is knownby all, such as China, North Korea, Cuba or Vietnam.

The truth is South Korea, a country that regards itself as a developed country and that wants to be among the technologically most advanced countries in the world, also censors the Internet. This censorship mainly affects pornographic or North Korea related websites (not all of them, only a few actually). Obviously, there are always methods to access these websites through web proxies. 😉

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When searching google.co.kr for the keyword “sex” no pornographic links are shown (besides, coincidentally I hope, the first link is a documentary about comfort-women used by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II).

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To see all the results from the search, you have to prove you are over 19 by entering your Korean name and ID.