Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zach and I Quitting Facebook


Creative Fiction With My First Year A-Class

I decided to try a little experiment, inspired by a the theater sports game, and divided my class into two teams. Each team received one piece of paper. The first student started by writing "Once upon a time" and finished the sentence. That student then passed the paper to the next student and that student had to write a second sentence. Each student had to add a sentence to the story to further the plot and the story had to comply with the Aristotelian plot structure (I just told them a beginning, conflict and end). I promised them that the winning team will recieve a pretty bodacious prize. Here are the stories they wrote, unedited.

Team 1

Once upon a time, there lived three people whose names are Jack, Brian and Ann. Jack is kind, Brian is strong and Ann is smart. They want go on a picnic. So, they go to picnic on the mountain. Suddenly, three wolves appeared and threatened them. The three people shouted loudly. "Oh my God"! Jack said "Hey, come on. We can solve the problem together but they bark more loudly. Brian you are strong! You can kill them. Suddenly, Brian began to kill all even Jack and Ann. Now he survive alone so he climbed down. He finally suicide and there was nobody, just blood.

Team 2

Once upon a time, a old man went to the street. He looked a woman who is pretty, glamorous, sexy. So he approached her but she was very old woman. But she it look like young woman, and he fall in love. He went her home and shouted her name loudly, but she wasn't answering. He shouted in front of her house for 1 month, but it was another person's house. So the old man go to the street, where he met the old woman and making house on the street for waiting old woman every day, but he never see old woman because she died one month ago. But he don't know she died. He heard her death. So he was so sorry that he killed himself and his neighbor made a grave.

I love the creativity but it's dark they both independently ended in suicide. I took the opportunity to to teach them the expression "dark humor". 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Baby Got Back...end hosting

I've received a lot of positive feedback regarding my new website as well as a lot of interest in who is hosting it. For those of you whom are interested, I am using Squarespace. Squarespace offers a very unique opportunity for inexpensive hosting as well as a true 'what you see is what you get' (WYSIWYG) web-creation toolset.

Remember the days of Geocities? Back in the day I thought that site was pretty cool because it offered a WYSIWYG approach to building a website for those of us without HTML or CSS experience. Years later and one college level web design class later, I still prefer WYSIWYG. I hate fussing with code, stamping out browser compatibility bugs, creating CSS templates... I mean this is 2011 after all. Squarespace gets a fellow up and running with a completely customizable template. For those who are technically inclined, the HTML and CSS of the site are 100% accessible and customizable. As far as WYSIWYG, Squarespace is truely drag and drop. They use some kind of Java scripting to bring powerful tools to those, like me, who are lazy when it comes to design and layout. I love the fact that I can go in and tweak a lot of the HTML and CSS and have those changes rendered for me in real time as my readers would see it, as if the changes were live. It also offers a powerful importation utility to bring in blogs, photos, links and archives from almost all of the major blog hosts. I imported my Korea and Philippines blogs from Blogger and I spent about five minutes setting them up.

Squarespace offers a 14 day free trial without a credit card. I also have a 10% off code if you do decide to go with Squarespace.

As for my domain, I purchased through for $8 using a coupon code I found through a simple google search. Attaching the domain to squarespace took about 3 minutes. Squarespace offers an excellent visual step-by-step for this process. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Practicing Slow Shutter Speeds in Yecheon at Night

I just bought a new Canon 450D SLR last month as an anniversary present to myself and a tripod last weekend. I was anxious to try out some slow shutter speed and time lapse settings (which my Dad taught me!) in Yecheon at night time. Here are the resulting pictures from last night. I showed my coteacher and her first response, "Yecheon looks like Seoul!" Sometimes I wish there were as much to do here too. Steve, Zach and I hiked to Cheungharu for the over-the-town shots. Here is a link to higher res photos.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking Above Yecheon

Yesterday I woke up in a funk and after attempts at curbing that funk, including heavy caffeination, watching a movie and reading, I put on my walking shoes, dialed in to some Tom Waits and left my apartment. I didn't necessarily have a direction in mind but I knew I didn't want to follow my usual path around the river, typically a 40 minute walk.
Whatever can be said about the path not taken, I took a hard right instead of the gradual left that leads to the river. I wound up walking the base of the mountain around which Yecheon skirts. I recalled a Buddhist temple high up on the mountain that my coteacher took me to my third week after arriving, almost exactly one year ago. I decided I'd try to find it. After walking a good 25 minutes, I saw a sign which I could read but not understand. I intuited it to be a sign for the temple. Almost immediately, the road ascended at a 20% grade (I understood that sign) and I walked and walked, following the snaking road up the mountain.
After another 25 minutes of walking uphill, I arrived at the temple and was once again humbled by the solitude of standing alone on its vista. The temple itself is simple though the beauty of the main room left me speechless all over again. Unfortunately I only had my smart phone with me so the pictures are not as spectacular as they ought to be. I will rectify this with a subsequent hike and my DSLR.

Yecheon from the temple
The entrance to the temple
Inside the main chamber
Paper lanterns
Woodwork on the outer wall of the main chamber
Under the roof of the main chamber

After poking around, straining to catch my breath and trying to raise the pall of the funk, I saw some wooden stairs which shot up the mountain. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow them up.

I reckon there were somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four hundred steps to the top. As I walked, short of breath, blood pulsing through my neck and forehead, I wondered what was up there. Was there a kind of sanctuary for the folks who lived at the temple (I only saw their shoes outside a building adjacent to the main chamber), a platform overlooking Yecheon or a family tomb? I had no idea so I just kept on hiking.
The walk was silent aside from the shuffling of my tired feet and my heart beat throbbing in my ears. As I walked just above the temple, an acorn landed on my right shoulder and without a beat, another landed in front of me and behind me. I looked up hoping to spite whatever squirrel caused this nuisance. The strange thing was, there was no squirrel and the acorns fell from a sapling about twice my height. Strange. I recalled stories of similar coincidence my friend Zach related to me about his experiences in sacred spaces in Japan.
As I continued to ascend, I felt like I was progressing from late summer into autumn. A cool wind blew, whispering through the trees, leaves fell all around me and the further up I climbed, the less dirt I saw for leaves of various colors.
I finally made it to the top only to come upon a path running perpendicular to my own. I couldn't quite decide whether I should go back down, turn left or right. 

Steps from the temple on the right
I decided on left and came upon another vista, this time higher than any other point in my vicinity. The hike up flattened out into a grassy patch overlooking the entirety of Yecheon.


After admiring the view, I turned around and took the path to the right of the steps coming from the temple. This was a singular path, varying between 10 and 20 feet wide, from which I could look over the side of the mountain over either face.

Autumn had indeed arrived atop the mountain while we in Yecheon still wait for the heat of the midday sun to dissipate with the oncoming season.
I walked this path for a good 45 minutes and realized I was on my way to Cheungharu, the pagoda which sits atop the hill near my school. Along the path, I found some family tombs. Traditionally, Koreans are buried atop mountains as flat land in Korea is very expensive.

I knew Cheungharu was in this direction, however, there were a couple of times when I felt completely lost, having lost sight of Yecheon down to my right altogether. Fortunately, I ran into the odd hiker coming my way and in my broken Korean, asked if the direction I was going was correct. After some encouraging words and charades, I made it to Cheunharu, down to my school and finally back home.
All said and done, the walk, which turned into a hike, took around two hours and I felt calmed and refreshed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unfriending Facebook

I started off this post researching, trying to find articles I have read in the past which substantiate my reasons for wanting to quit Facebook. In the end, I really don't need to. Since posting yesterday afternoon that Zach, a friend of mine in Yecheon, and I were tandem-quitting Facebook in three weeks (approximately Oct. 12) and that I was collecting emails and phone numbers of contacts, many folks offered up their contact info as well as sharing that they wished they could do the same. I know for a fact that many people feel the same way I do about Big Blue (neologism for Facebook, sorry IBM). Below are my reasons for wanting to quit and taking the plunge.
First, let me offer that I am in no way trying to recruit fellow dissenters. This is a solo journey and am only quitting with Zach for mutual support during the withdrawal phase. He actually brought it up yesterday. Neither am I trying to serve as an example. My reasons are mine and mine alone though I know most of my readers, if not all, will resonate with many of my reasons.
First of all, Facebook friendships are disingenuous. There is a a theoretical limit, known as Dunbar's Number, wherein a person can only maintain approximately 150 meaningful relationships at any given time in their life. I currently have 426 Facebook friendships at the time of this writing; it is ludicrous to think that Facebook is, in and of itself, maintaining friendships or relationships for me by simply connecting the dots in a consistent way. I have fallen into a fallacious mindset wherein the effort of maintaining relationships has been delegated to Facebook, as a service, and that when and if the mood strikes me I can contact anyone, from my grandma to my middle school classmates. Indeed, while I do have instant access to communicating with these people, the medium of communication, text-based, usually tops out at a couple hundred characters. Thinking about this led me to think of saccharine as an analogy for Facebook friendships. Saccharine is the main ingredient to most artificial sweeteners, providing a sweet taste without any caloric intake.
Living and travelling abroad for the better part of the last four years has made maintaining friendships from home and from travels more or less difficult, even with the use of the Internet. Facebook, in particular, has provided me a platform on which my emotional response to friendships are constantly stimulated while, in the meantime, my need to relate and attach myself in deep and meaningful ways has been left to chew on artificial sweetener. This kind of empty but constant stimulation has left me with feelings of loss, anxiety and ennui. Instead of the smiles one should come to expect out of a social networking site, seeing a flood of information from friends and family, pictures, status updates, events, I feel depressed, flat. I've been running on empty. Leaving Facebook will force me to return to more significant media of communication: phone calls, Skype, emails and (fingers crossed) contemplative and frequent blog posts.
The flat feeling reading Facebook causes me leads me to my second reason: I hate living in a constant state of mind that "the grass is always greener on the other side." This mentality inspires feelings that, no matter what I'm doing or where I am, I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without getting into too much personal history, this mindset played a large part in a long and arduous clinical depression with which I dealt for a number of years. Personal issues aside, no one likes feeling left out. Readers should know how many of the foreign teachers use Facebook while in Korea. We have ubiquitous and constant access to Facebook, among other time sink-holes on the Internet.
When I arrive at work at 9:00, the news feed is already cycling at a furious pace and only slows to a steady stream by 17:00 when most of us go home and log right back in. In order to feel "in the loop" I feel like I must be glued to the screen. And let's face it, everyone has had the experience where one is meeting with friends and every attempt at conversation ends with, "oh yeah, saw that on Facebook." That sucks.
Zach and I were also talking about how almost every status update is positively spun. Sitting indoors for hours at a time, staring at a screen leaves many people susceptible to feeling like their own lives could never measure up to the constant positivity experienced in the lives of others meanwhile feeling isolated at a desk. This reminds me of my friend Alex's reason for quitting Big Blue, "I realized there is a bigger world than Facebook out there." It's easy to read this and respond cynically but it's absolutely true. I could be reading, hiking, studying Korean, working on a blog post, a short story, practicing guitar or catching up on my sleep during the roughly four hours I personally spend on Facebook every day. I don't want to look back on my life in terms of how much content I consumed, but at how much content I produced.
This leads to my next point, Facebook is a distraction. Enough said? I thought so too.
As with any free service, the consumer gets what they pay for, buyer beware. Facebook has done a marvelous job at manipulating its users into thinking that Facebook is the gold standard and only means of communication on the Internet. This is especially true in light of the fact that Facebook has incorporated Skype's brand of video chat into their instant messenger service. And best of all, it's a free service! So what's in it for Facebook? Ads. I'm guilty, I've clicked on them too. So what's wrong with that? Every click is recorded and archived in ways most people don't realize. I once visited a site (I tried finding it again and couldn't) that had me click a link which essentially gave the site permission to read the cookies on my computer and it spat out a pretty realistic profile of me. It said that I'm a Caucasian male between the ages of 22 and 30, that I enjoy travel, reading and have left-leaning politics. I'm not going to claim this site has any connection with Facebook but if this random website could glean this information based on my browsing history, there is no end to the profile Facebook could create about me based on my history and how they target me with ads. Does this concern me in terms of privacy and security? No. Is it freaking weird? Yes.
But there are real privacy and security concerns that this issue brings to light. Every status update, comment, tag and picture ever posted to Facebook is archived...forever. Even if a user untags themselves, removes comments or pictures, their profile and associated content is never actually deleted and is stored on the servers maintained by Facebook, along with the profile created by Facebook based on their cookies and clicks until the Chinese send a electromagnetic pulse bomb somewhere over Palo Alto.
We've all had pictures of us posted that, in the spirit of Internet curation, we have asked others to take down. I have had a number of pictures posted of me drinking and behaving in a socially acceptable way which may not necessarily be acceptable to a future employer. Yes, there are means to edit privacy settings but while these settings are constantly improving, I can never be sure who has access, at present or in the future, to my complete, archived and annotated profile created and maintained by Facebook in spite of the hard work I have put into curating my public and semi-private profile myself. Call me paranoid but I'd hate to lose a job opportunity over a picture from a party.
It is in the spirit of cutting the past loose and moving on that I am leaving Facebook; at least for the foreseeable future. I intend to continue to use Google+ because I am able to bring the knowledge of profile curation with me and I can start over, fresh. I have roughly 40 friends on G+ and they are actually people I consider close and important friends. I like G+ because it does not push the same volume of meaningless content as does Facebook. And I enjoy Twitter because it seems to be the only platform available to Peace Corps volunteers in any given country of service. My hope is that, by refraining from posting little tidbits about my life two to three times a day to Facebook, I will have more meaningful, thoughtful blog posts.
To reiterate, I'm not trying to recruit dissenters but merely wanting a record of my reasons to show people who ask and to refer to for personal uses in the future. I know only one person who has quit Facebook at the time of this writing, but he said, after a month, it was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
That said, I still have three weeks and I have notifications to check ;-)

above image taken from