Korea Fighting!

PapertainerSometimes, explaining Korea, where I was made and born, is hard.

I was born in Seoul. We moved when I was one to Guam (that’s another story, for another time). We settled in L.A. when I was nine, and I’ve lived in the Bay Area since I came up here for college.

Explaining Korea is hard here in the US because it doesn’t have the broadly spread pop-cultural or economic reference points of Japan or China.

Korea as a meme is getting more play, certainly here in Silicon Valley — cf., Cyworld, Samsung, fiber to the door, pro Starcraft leagues — but in the West, Korea is to Asia as The Silmarillion is to The Lord of the Rings: vaguely familiar, and known best only to those with an itch to dig into the culture.

Enough setup.

Over the weekend, Nicholas Reville invited me to a get together for Miro, where I met two folks who dropped new science on me about Korea and the Internet that’s worth sharing.

Jake Shapiro runs the Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace for the distribution of public radio programming. Jake also plays guitar in a band called Two Ton Shoe. Two Ton Shoe formed in 2000, gigged on the East Coast, but didn’t break through in the US. In 2005, after the band had gone on hiatus, Jake was pinged by the owner of a Korean record label.

The record label owner wanted to release a CD of Two Ton Shoe’s greatest hits in Korea.

In the years since the band had gone on hiatus, they’d become, thanks to filesharing over the Internet, “a talisman for teenagers bearing black wool caps and guitar bags, tired of what they hear on the radio.” They planned a tour, and started negotiating a new album deal in Korea.

I’ve summarized most of the above bit from a wonderful Economist journal entitled “Flash memory and fetishism“, about a trip the author took to Seoul with Jake.

Among other vivid snapshots of Korea, circa 2007, is this excerpt, which manages to combine a language lesson, a shout out to Metallica, and a brief reference to growing up across cultures:

The guitar player, James, rips into something very like “Happy Birthday”. James, son of a Korean diplomat, grew up in a suburb of DC and had to learn his native language as a teenager when his family returned to South Korea. Among other jobs, James translates during the Seoul visits of Metallica, a heavy-metal band. When he is finished I can only repeat the phrase I’ve learned: “Chu gun da” – “That kills”.

I’ve written before about yearning for bridges between the online experience and meatspace. Jake’s story is about as happy an example as I could imagine about this happening.

I also learned from Rebecca Masisak, the co-CEO of CompuMentor, about The Beautiful Foundation, based in Seoul. They’ve created something called “The Happy Bean.” It’s a web app running now on Naver, Korea’s top search engine, that lets non-governmental organizations (NGOs) set up blogs about their work and lets individuals in turn donate to NGOs they learn about through Happy Bean. I don’t have a ton more info than this, but Rebecca told me that a couple of the projects at this year’s Netsquared conference were building services similar to The Happy Bean.

Aside: The Happy Bean. I just love that name. It’s got to be good.

I haven’t blogged much about Korea before. Lots more to share before and during my trip back to the motherland in September.

If you only have three minutes to spare, and want to get a quick dose of Korea FightingTM, check these out:

Text and Bugs and Rock and Roll

It’s been a long while since I’ve been in any sort of regular concert mode. I’m trying to get my concert legs back this summer.

July 17, Katya and I will be heading out to catch The Polyphonic Spree at the Great American Music Hall with friends. The GAMH is hands down one of the most beautiful venues to see music in San Francisco.

polyphonic spree

August 24, I’m solo but will be hooking up with Seth Bindernagel and John Slater for the Wilco show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.


Looking forward to a great summer for live music. Friends at and outside Mozilla: come along for the ride! The water is fine.

from firefox add-on to web service

The team at FoxyTunes have launched a music portal. Transbuddha summarizes:

FoxyTunes Planet acts as a music portal that will gather up YouTube, Pandora, Google, Last.FM, and Rhapsody media for the artist, as well as related lyrics, Amazon products, and Flickr photos.

I did a cursory search for Billy Ray Cyrus and here’s the output:


Can’t wait to see how this does. (And I love that last.fm and Hype Machine are both in the aggregated results for searches.) StumbleUpon is the poster child for building a thriving web service on the back of a popular Firefox add-on — it’s great to see another addition to the mix.

saturday musicology

We had friends over today. Rainer mentioned he’d been interested in Pandora for new music. I wasn’t sure how to stream Pandora over my Airport but sure enough the FAQ told me how to do it.

Five painless minutes later I’m loving Pandora + Airfoil + Airport. I’ve had a last.fm account for a few months but the Pandora experience is prime for instant gratification, at least as far as hearing new music. You give Pandora the name of an artist or a song you like, and in a second you get a custom radio station that plays songs with a similar musical DNA to what you entered.

And it’s free, which doesn’t suck at all.

I’ve been streaming new (to me) music for the past few hours while I’ve been cleaning up the house. Airfoil took it over the top, because it lets you stream audio from any app to your Airport and from there, your home stereo. Very, very happy, although Airfoil has periodically (a couple of times this first day) crapped out and lost the connection to my Airport.

dots and loops

Lower East Side, NYCJust got back from a two day work trip to NYC. At a club in the Lower East Side, whose name I couldn’t tell you for the life of me, the current single from Arctic Monkeys came on. I’d heard this song a bunch of times on the radio driving to work and was not digging it.

Hearing it in a loud, crowded Manhattan club completely changed the experience. The song was meant to be listened to in that kind of environment. The kind of place where you have to shout to be heard by the person sitting two feet next to you.

I remember an interview I read with Beck. He was recording Odelay, and each day he’d take material he’d worked on and go for a drive to listen to it. He said that he wanted to recreate, in advance, the environment he expected the record would actually get listened to within. The ambient L.A. freeway noise adding unexpected texture to the music.

Does the environment you experience something within color the experience? Probably so. Now that a chunk of my life involves the computer and the Web, where are the natural variables that the real world offers in spades? To fuse experience into memory, maybe even emotion.

The Web experience we’ve all been at the emergence of is going to evolve many times over in the next ten years. Finding a way to bring the real world to the bloodless way most of us experience the Web would be amazing.

Not as a substitute for getting out and being in the crowd. But as a way to bring that energy to what is mostly just a cerebral activity today.

instant nostalgia

killing joke eightiesI’ve got Dexy’s Midnight Runners pumping over the stereo right now.

Yes, I know.

Lame. Kitsch. Overalls.

I remember a conversation I had with a childhood friend in the ’80’s, when I was in my teens. We were driving back from the movies in Pasadena. The song I’m listening to, “Come On Eileen,” was playing on the car radio. I recall saying, “One day, we’ll be the adults, and this song will be on a classic rock station.”

That day has come for me.

Bob and Owen, wherever you are, I hope you’re well. The music I loved growing up in the ’80’s still holds up for me. Today, I created an ’80’s playlist: Jesus and Mary Chain, REM, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, English Beat, The Clash, Tears for Fears, the Smiths, X, and so on.

I grew up in L.A., and back in the day, KROQ was the source for new music. Rodney on the Roq, even Richard Blade, were connected to the new music bubbling up in a way that seems lost in today’s morass of radio consolidation.

At the same time, the democratizing force of the Web is bringing life to new voices across the spectrum. Music blogs today function for me the way Rodney did in my teens. An unfiltered guide to new music to check out. See my music bookmarks for the music blogs I follow.

Happy New Year to everyone out in the world. The past two months for me at Mozilla have been every bit the joy and challenge I’d hoped for when I signed up.

2006 will be a great year for us. Said as a wish, and a promise.