Archive for October, 2010

Early Hallowe’en festivities

October 31, 2010

WordPress doesn’t allow video uploading without paying for an upgrade, and Youtube has “voluntarily disabled this functionality [ the uploading of video] on because of the Korean real-name verification law.” *

So, to see the terrified teachers and hear the terrified students at my university, you need to visit creativitiproject.


*I prefer to link to sites when I quote from them, but it looked like the link for my personal page – accessible only after signing in.


To heck with the customer.

October 20, 2010

The Joongang has an article about eating octopus and the amount of cadmium in octopus heads.

First, it should be clear and obvious that fish and other predators, like octopi, will carry more harmful chemicals than herbivores will.  This is true for chemicals that don’t dissolve in water and accumulate in fatty tissue.  DDT is the most famous of these chemicals, but many pesticides and other compounds also have the same characteristics.   A small fish or shrimp contains a small amount of whatever poison.  A larger fish eats ten small fish and now has ten times the poison.  An octopus eats ten of these larger fish and now has one hundred times the poison of the original small fish.  Eating predators is a risky business.

So, the title of the article, “Can octopus heads be hazardous to your health?”, is quickly and easily answered.

The response from restaurateurs and fishermen is more interesting:

The government says two is the maximum, because of heavy cadmium levels found in local and imported octopuses. But that has infuriated restaurateurs and fishermen in South Jeolla, who say the government’s warning has cost them a bundle in lost sales.

A group of 30 fishermen from Muan in South Jeolla met Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon on Oct. 8 and threatened to sue the city government if it didn’t offer an official apology and compensation for business losses.

And how did the mayor of Seoul react?

Mayor Oh apologized for causing losses but explained, “The intent of the research was to inform people of the health risks of eating internal organs of octopus heads, and it didn’t mean people shouldn’t eat octopus.”

Oh promised he will come up with measures to encourage people to eat octopus to minimize fishermen’s losses.

To mend fences with the fishermen, the city government named Oct. 20 as “Seoul Nakji Day” (nakji is Korean for octopus) and served nakji bibimbap, rice mixed with vegetables and stir-fried octopus, for yesterday’s lunch menu at the Seoul City Hall cafeteria for 1,800 civil servants. But the cafeteria removed the internal organs from the octopus heads.

The last point is informative and also interesting.  You might ask what internal organs are in octopus heads, aside from brains?  Well, the ‘head’ is the internal organ sack -the body- of the octopus and holds most of what we have in our chest and stomach.

From Pharyngula:

Right away, you should notice one major peculiarity: the gut runs through the middle of it, separating the brain into a supra- and sub-esophogeal ganglion.

The guts run right through the brain.  Among these internal organs are ones with a higher fat percentage than the body in general; removing these greatly decreases the harmful chemical load one takes in by eating the animal.

So, eat octopus if you want but keep a suspicious mind about those fisherman who only want you to eat it without concern for what lies inside.

How do charter schools compare to hagwons?

October 20, 2010

The New York review of Books has an article about charter schools and the documentary Waiting for Supermen.

It is a long article and I have not finished reading it, but what I have read is interesting and might relate to Korea’s hagwon culture.

Briefly, the movie sings the praises of charter or private schools and blames public schools for America’s educational problems.  On the surface, this seems reasonable.  However, as the article points out, the charter schools are awash in money – at least compared to the inner-city public schools the movies uses for comparison purposes.  Indeed, the article claims the movie is pretty cagey about which public schools and which charter schools they use for comparison purposes.  The article offers the statistic of one in five charter schools achieving better scores than public schools and nearly two in five performing worse than public schools.

The movie seems a propaganda piece but the article, apparently without bias – offers a more interesting picture.

Here in Korea, my understanding is that public high schools don’t even try to cover all the material needed for the University Entrance Exam but expect that students will either go to hagwons or watch EBS (the government-run Educational TV station) to fill in the gaps.

It is probably a good sign that the US is taking a greater interest in education for its children.  I fear that the Korean model is an example of taking that interest too far and I wonder what the middle ground is.

I do intend to read the full article – and I recommend it to others – but need to prepare to drive to the in-laws tonight.  More later…

American colleges and graduate degrees

October 18, 2010

Scientific American has a long and thought provoking article about the hierarchy of teaching professionals at American universities. Actually, the article appears to be excerpted from Higher Education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids and what we can do about it.

Here is a list of the hierarchy of contingent faculty, with further details at the link:

Instructors and Lecturers

visiting Faculty -not the celebrity kind


Teaching assistants

The news is grim for these contingents or temps:

Given the implications of these figures, we think that senior professors should be having conversations with first-year graduate students that go something like: “In all honesty, you have less than a one-in-three chance of getting a full-time job as an academic. Your only motive for pursuing your doctorate should be your own intellectual development.”

To become a university professor, one doesn’t need to be a skilled teacher, but a skilled researcher.  The quote below emphasize the point:

Paul D. Umbach at North Carolina State University studied 21,000 faculty members at 148 colleges and found that at schools using lots of parttimers, the regular teaching staff put in fewer hours of preparation than their peers at institutions where adjuncts were rare.

Yet what amazed us is how many contingents are actually effective, a miracle considering the conditions under which they work. Indeed, at nearly every school we visited, when we asked students for the name of a favorite professor, they frequently mentioned a contingent.

We all fill our homes with inexpensive products that are fabricated overseas at Third World wages. At this point, we can’t outsource History 101 to be taught in Bangalore. (Although, as we’ll show in a later chapter, something akin to that is already being done.) What we do instead is hire our own citizens and give them Third World pay. What is ironic—no, it’s tragic—is that these bright men and women are so anxious to ply their profession that they are willing to toil in the academic counterparts of sweatshops and vegetable fields.


I must admit, I have considered a graduate degree specifically as part of increasing my employability when/ if I return to Canada.  I knew it probably wouldn’t help a great deal, but this article has really burst the balloon.

I like the Donga Ilbo

October 9, 2010

But seriously, Tweeter? (My bolding)

When Tweeter’s role caught on, Mark Pfeifle, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said that without Tweeter, the Iranian people would not have been able to join hands to fight for freedom and democracy. He added that Tweeter should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Can social media sites such as Tweeter and Facebook genuinely spearhead social revolution? Amid the widespread introduction of smartphones, the number of users on social networking services has surged, with that of Tweeter topping 150 million and that of Facebook exceeding 500 million. Considering the sheer number of subscribers, such services could change the world. There are skeptics, however. Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian-born journalist and bestselling author, has provoked debate by saying social media is merely “a disorderly crowd lacking both central authority, leaders and a sense of consolidation” in the latest issue of the magazine The New Yorker.

That Gladwell article is here and I may touch on it, with regard to Dong-a’s article.  I am on Twitter, mostly to follow friends and haven’t really sent any ‘tweets’ myself.  I do know that individual messages are called ‘tweets’ though and that the network is called ‘Twitter’.

The Dong-a usually seems to have more of a weekly format, where articles are less about sex and more about facts and discussions.  I like it.  This article just caught my attention.  Oh, and the “Next year is the year of Darwin’ article they kept a link for on the main page for two years or more disappeared a month ago.

Alright, the article itself is a little interesting:

Tweeter allows contact among people who have little chance to meet each other in the real world and to exchange thoughts and feelings real time. Via Facebook, a member can have hundreds of “friends” with whom he or she has never met. Gladwell, however, says it is very difficult for people to share critical minds over pending issues that hold weight and values big enough to prompt them to bet their money, time, career and life and show a sense of consolidation to tackle them given weak relations in cyberspace.

Korea’s situation seems to be different, however. Yonsei University journalism and mass communication professor Yoon Young-chul said, “Koreans who have a similar propensity tend to gather together.” Unlike people in other countries, likeminded Koreans form communities from the very beginning and share information, he said. When sensitive issues such as a dispute over a person’s educational background flares up, Koreans tend to band together and consolidate through social networking services. A case in point is the netizens’ group “Tablo, We Demand the Truth,” which questioned whether the singer Tablo studied at Stanford University in the U.S. as he claimed. Gladwell might have overlooked Koreans when making his criticism of social media.

This seems a error in scale.  The Iranian revolution – failed- affected directly millions of people. Tablo’s (entirely correct) claims that he studied at stanford… not quite so important.  The Tablo networks feel more like those old Urban Legends, like  ‘Clean the internet day‘ or ‘post office charges for email‘.

It was a group of people who – seeing as their claims were false- seemed to be malicious in their attacks claiming that Tablo’s degree was forged.  I might support a group asking Tablo to get a less annoying name, by the way.

Oh, the Korea Herald article (linked above as ‘entirely correct’) spells Twitter correctly.

Paperless teaching at ChungKang College

October 8, 2010

The Joongang has an article describing ChungKang College’s plan to ride a fad to fame use iPads in all aspects of their education delivery.

From the article:

The university said yesterday that it will start the “i-College,” a system of education featuring the use of the iPad, starting next year. The university said the system will be used in all aspects of education, such as homework assignments, lectures, the submission of homework, test-giving and student evaluations.

The goal is to improve communication between students and professors and make the relationship more interactive.

It’s interesting that they are using a platform that is almost entirely new to Korea, but i definitely applaud the idea.

This is what college management want’s to happen: a 20-year-old takes out his iPad from his bag to check the timetable for his school bus. He uses the time waiting for his bus to skim a draft text of a lecture that day, which pops up on the screen. During the lecture, Kim, with no pen or notebook, sends his homework to his professor via the tablet computer and gets feedback on his work. Later in the day, on his way home, he finds that the syllabus for his next class has arrived in his iPad from the professor. He prepares for the next class by borrowing electronic books from a digital library.

The university said the biggest strength for its “smartcampus” will be to enable professors and students to interact freely and immediately whenever they want, which will lead more students to participate in lectures and improve the quality of classes.

I see Kim sending homework – which is marked the same day – I need an iPad if they offer that kind of productivity.  I see the professor sending a great deal of information to the student (including early drafts of lectures, which I previously blogged about) but I don’t see information transfer that couldn’t happen this year or last year.

I like the idea then, but I don’t see it as revolutionary.  It is said that in each new war, generals refight the previous one.  Here, I see new tech being used just like the old tech, but more portably.  That is a good step forward, but I think one can manage a few strides forward by equipping students with tablets.

Shelly Blake-Plock at Teach Paperless has been using tablets in class for some time now and his whole teaching style has changed.  I do not want to give specific details here because I too am stuck in an information-delivery poor teaching style myself (That is, I use a white- or chalk- board and have intermittent computer and projector capability).  Still, in his American History class -and I am going by memory, so mistakes are possible – his students do not use any textbook but search in class from various online resources and Twitter their findings to their teacher and other classmates.  The teacher still needs to be knowledgable but is more of a conductor than a deliverer of information.

Again, I like the idea and I will be placing a copy of the article on my boss’ desk – anonymously?

tools for writing analysis online

October 7, 2010

As a conversational (sometimes controversial) English teacher in Korea, I don’t see a lot of writing.  What I do see is short and simplistic.  My students see more writing from me than I do from them, I think.  Huh, I should look into the volume of written input vs output…

At the Six Things Blog, Lindsay Clandfield lists six writing analysis tool available online.  Four of them are mostly for entertainment value, “Which famous writer you write like”, but one is a ‘vocabulary profiler‘ and another is a ‘text content analyzer‘.

The latter looks at “…something called the Gunning Fog index, which tells you what level of education (American education) your reader needs to have to understand. My writing requires a grade eight education to read which is either a testament to my clear and incisive prose or shows that I’ve been writing simplified grammar exercises and texts too long perhaps.”  I hear ya, Lindsay.  I fear my vocabulary has been shrinking during my time in south Korea.

The former, the vocabulary profiler, “Vocabulary Profilers break texts down by word frequencies in the language at large.” I used this tool quite a bit when writing low level texts or adapting texts for lower levels” .

These two websites could be useful to check that the text you give your students is at the correct level of difficulty.

The others look fun, and expect a further post telling you who I write like.

Feral Cats

October 7, 2010

A co-worker recently posted a notice in the office of a baby cat near his apartment and asked whether anyone would be interested in taking it home.

I love animals and grew up with there always being a dog or a cat and often both in the home.  Yet, I didn’t even bother to bring the subject up with my wife.

If we opened our apartment to cute little furry critter, we would do it again for the next and the next…

I honestly – and sadly and despairingly – wonder if poison or traps or other lethal tools should be used to clean out the feral cat populations in Korea.  I guess that in Busan they are doing no harm – I am sure I could think of some way they might be- but the constant sight of them just fills me with pity.

Yonhap News has an article describing feral cats and a man who has been photographing them for years.  Much of the article describes Korea’s changing relationship with it’s cats, but there is also discussion on what to do with them:

Controversy over treatment of cats often makes headlines. In 2006, residents of a Seoul apartment culled scores of stray cats by driving them into the basement of their building and cementing over all exit holes.

Last year, the local government of Geomun Island off the southwestern coast moved to cull hundreds of feral cats overpopulating the fishing region, a controversial decision that was changed at the last minute to neutering them.

Park Yong-choon, an animal management official at the Seoul Municipal Government, said there is a sharp divide in animal treatment between young and old.

From 2008 the city government adopted a new policy to control the number of stray cats in the long term by having them trapped, neutered and released instead of being culled. Nevertheless, some elderly residents have complained of their unwanted presence.

“Young people have a strong idea that street cats should be protected, but the elderly don’t want the cats roaming the streets. They ask us why we bother saving them,” Park said.

Man!  Some Seoulites trapped cats in the basement of their own apartment building, then cemented the windows closed?  That’s monstrous!  Those bastards.  And crazy bastards at that: it wouldn’t be any better, but slightly more sane, if they chased the cats into a distant building.  The basement of their own building; that’s messed up.

The officials at Geomun Island might be in the right, though.  Although Korea has it’s own small mammalian predators, the idea of an island being overrun by cats makes me think of The Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand:

our land reserves are still threatened: apart from some islands where pests like rats have been removed, our land reserves are still threatened by rats, cats, stoats, goats, deer, pigs and possums. Add to that the pest from wasps and other insects, and our wildlife is still threatened. Constant culling, hunting and trapping of introduced species is necessary inside our land reserves.

Neutering the cats may remove the problem as well.

So, culling cats in Busan may not be necessary or compassionate, but culls elsewhere may well be.

If you want to save a feral cat or two, Brian in Jeollanamdo has investigated the problem and has at least three (possibly dated) posts: 1, 2, 3.

Letter of intent

October 5, 2010

I was asked by my university about my intentions for the new year:


Your committee work record form and letter of intent are required for your 2010 evaluation.
Thus, please submit them to the office by
Monday, October 11 (6 o’clock)


1. Letter of intent (Re: renewing your contact)

– You can use your own wording (informal).

So, I can be informal, but what does that mean, exactly?  I decided to cover my bases, you know, to cross my ‘i’s and dot my ‘t’s.

Various identifiers have been blurred or covered.  Click to bigify.

For the curious, my university has a policy of linking rookie teachers to veterans for assistance through the red tape.  They could probably cut the red tape and have less need of the buddy system, but deliberately giving a buddy to new teachers does make the rookie feel like they plan ahead.

Oh, and I don’t actually know anyone who let their students out early, but the empty threat is a proud component of gossip, I believe.

Uh, what is ‘the Q.T.’ anyway?  Danny DeVito said it all the time in LA Confidential, but i I only know it is related to gossip.

Finally, now I see the spelling error that they will use as the reason for my dismissal!  Dang it!

For-pay fire department lets non-subscriber’s house burn.

October 4, 2010

I had lunch with a fellow blogger and he kindly described my blog as eclectic.   That was much kinder than scattershot, or without-a-focus.  His blog, by the way, has razor focus and thousands of hits per day.

I’m still trying to find my way in Busan.  I was comfortable in Gangwon and being Gangwon’s premier blogger (woop-de-doo!).  Do I need a niche or a specific focus for this blog?

To continue my eclecticism, let me discuss a Salon article that has nothing to do with Korea, or Canada, or the environment or anything else I normally cover.  In a Tennessee town, the fire department is subscriber-funded.  Subscribers pay $75 a year for the department’s services.  One man did not pay and when his house caught fire, the fire department stood there and watched it burn.

The Salon article is framed as part of a political debate with conservatives and libertarians on one side and liberals on the other.  As I have no particular political axe to grind, I’ll ignore that part.

The part of the story that I am interested in is when the fire department came on scene, the homeowner offered to pay. He was told it was too late and nothing was done to stop his house from burning.  It spread to a neighbor’s house and the fire department leapt into action as the neighbor subscribed to the service.

I am against voluntary payment for the fire department and feel that a mandatory tax is the only intelligent move and this story -and the Salon’s framing of it- shows why.

If the fire department had accepted the money on the spot (or received a check the next day…) and put out the fire, no one should pay the fee next year.  Even if the homeowner had to pay for several years back-subscription, that would still be good odds considering the likelihood of a fire in the first place.  I don’t know the stats, but I imagine that if a hundred homeowners were to stop paying their fees,the odds of a fire through the life of the 100 homes would be small (smokers and wood-stove owners and the like should feel a little more encouraged to pay.)  If you had the option to pay even after your house caught fire, there is little incentive to pay until that event.

So, I don’t like the for-pay system, but the fire chief was absolutely right to not accept payment on the spot.

He was remiss in not containing the blaze – the fact that it reached the neighbor’s home is a real black spot on his record.  He should have been involved to at least the minimum extent to protect the neighbor’s house.

In this article on the story -with video, the homeowners “don’t blame the firefighters themselves. They blame the people in charge.”- The only way they can rightly blame the ‘people in charge’ is to blame the p-i-c for not forcing them to pay the fee.