Korea Travelogue

I arrived home in San Francisco five hours ago from my first ever trip to Asia. Somehow with all the traveling I did while working for CC, I never made it to Asia or Australia. So R and I decided to spend our vacation this spring in Seoul. Because I want to write some things down (and because I agreed to do this Iron Blogger thing but haven’t yet, and because my alternative is replacing my blog software, which I’m definitely too jet-lagged to do), here are three highlights of the trip.

The center of our week was a day spent in the DMZ. I have to start with this because I still feel the most uncertain about it. We arranged a day long tour of both the DMZ and the Joint Security Area (JSA). Going into it I had some trepidation: was it going to feel light and airy and unserious? Was the fact that two countries are basically at war going to be glossed over? What does it mean that I’m touring (literally, a tourist) a space set aside by an armistice agreement? I suspect the last question is something I’ll write about more at length, but here’s the high level: the JSA tour was terrifying (to me; R didn’t seem to have the psychological reaction quite to the degree I did). The ID checks, the barbed wire, and seeing the North Korean soldiers observing us with binoculars as we walked along the MDL was not light, was not airy, and definitely did not gloss over the fact two countries are at war. Part of this was Laura, our excellent guide for the morning. As we rode the bus north from Seoul, she sagely pointed out, “1,000,000 land mines! You stay with group today!” And then she looked directly at me. The afternoon tour of the “DMZ” — Dorasan Observatory, Dorasan Station, and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel — was less compelling, perhaps because it was raining, but probably because we only had something like 20 minutes at each stop. It didn’t help that the afternoon guide, Justin, wasn’t operating at anywhere near Laura’s level. I should note that every stop on the tour has a gift shop. Some of them sell products cultivated in the DMZ (ginseng, rice, soy beans — chocolate covered and not), and some sell truly strange souvenirs (see: a plastic axe, which seems in questionable taste). The presence of gift shops did nothing to help me understand how I feel about touring a (theoretically) hostile line.

Another highlight for me was visiting the Bongeunsa Temple and Gyeongbokgung Palace. (R would insist I point out “gung” means “palace”, so I just wrote “Gyeongbok Palace Palace”, but the ticket says “Gyeongbokgung Palace”, so I’m sticking that.) These are two very different places; I’m grouping them together because they evoked similar feelings for me. Bongeunsa was an easy walk from our hotel (and the Samseong Station, if you’re going to check it out), and yielded some really relaxing time wandering the grounds, listening to the chanting, and smelling the trees. Gyeongbokgung, on the other hand, was closed the first time we tried to go, and when we finally went near closing time Thursday, there were lots of people wandering the grounds. Gyeongbokgung is actually like a park, with many buildings enclosed in it. You can look at the architecture, walk around a pond, or explore the nooks and crannies. Like the temple, this had a really meditative feel to me, and we took lots of interesting pictures.

The last day we hit up Dragon Hill Spa & Resort. Apparently the largest in Seoul (Korea?), I signed up for the “gold package” — body scrub, steam massage, oil acupressure, leg massage, muscle massage, facial massage, head acupressure, and, of course, shampoo. Quite possibly the best ₩110,000 I spent all week. The “scrub” felt like it used a scouring pad, but as I lay there afterward waiting for round two, my skin felt tingly and awake. The acupressure and “massage” were intense: every muscle in my body was pounded, slapped, pulled, and kneaded, and then for good measure the joints holding them together were stretched and twisted. I would say I walked away feeling renewed and refreshed, but I’m not sure I really “walked” so much as “oozed”. We went back to the hotel that evening and slept incredibly well. And when the soreness finally fade, I’m sure I’ll feel even better.

Other things we did, which I may write more about at a later date: Kimchi Field Museum (yes, really), Deoksugung Palace (to, ahem, further the “gung” discussion above, this one is really confusing: the ticket says “Deoksugung Palace”, which the brochure says “Deoksu Palace”), cat and dog cafes (cafes where you can play with cats or dogs while enjoying your beverage of choice), open air markets, random shopping, and great food.

date:2012-04-28 19:55:02
tags:korea, seoul, travel

Houston Connexions

I spent the first half of this week in Houston, Texas for the Connexions Consortium Meeting and Conference. What follows are my personal reflections.

Connexions (http://cnx.org) is an online repository of learning materials — open educational resources (OER). Unlike many other OER repositories, Connexions has a few characteristics that work together to expand it’s reach and utility.

While it was founded by (and continues to be supported by) Rice University, the content in Connexions is larger in scope than a single university, and isn’t tied to a particular course the way, say, MIT OCW is. Attendees of the conference came from as far away as the Netherlands and Vietnam.

In addition to acting as a repository, Connexions is an authoring platform: content is organized into modules, which can then be re-arranged, re-purposed, and re-assembled into larger collections and works. This enables people to take content from many sources and assemble it into a single work that suits their particular needs; that derivative is also available for further remixing. At the authors’ panel at the conference, we heard about how some authors have used this to update or customize a work for the class they were teaching. [UPDATE 5 Feb 2010: See the Creative Commons blog for information on this, and thoughts from the authorDr. Chuck“ (Charles Severance), who was on the authors panel. ]

Finally, Connexions is an exemplar when it comes to licensing: if you want your material to be part of Connexions, the license is CC Attribution 3.0. While OER is enabled by CC licenses generally, this choice provides a lot of leverage to users. The remixing, re-organizing, and re-purposing enabled by the authoring platform is far simpler with no license compatibility to worry about. Certainly you can imagine a platform that handled some of the compatibility questions for you — and the idea of developing such a system based on linked data is intriguing to me personally — but the use of a single, extremely liberal license means that when it comes to being combined and re-purposed, all authors are equal, all content is equal.

This year was the second Connexions Conference, and from my perspective there were two themes: the consortium, and Rhaptos. The consortium is actually why I was in Houston. The Connexions Consortium is an, uh, consortium of organizations with a vested interest in Connexions: universities and colleges that are using it and companies that are using the content. And Creative Commons, who I was representing at the meeting. I’ve also been elected to the Technology Committee, a group of people representing consortium members who will provide guidance on technical issues to Connexions. During our meeting on Monday afternoon there was discussion of a variety of areas. One that we didn’t get to, but which is interesting to me, is how content in Rhaptos repositories can be made more discoverable, and how we can enable federated or aggregated search.

Rhaptos was the other prominent theme at the conference. Rhaptos is the code that runs Connexions: cnx.org without the specific look and feel/branding. While the source code behind Connexions has always been available, in the past year they’ve invested time and resources to making it easy (or at least straight-forward) to deploy. Interestingly (to me) Rhaptos is a Plone (Zope 2) application, and the deployment process makes liberal use of buildout. It’s not clear to me exactly what the market is for Rhaptos. It’s definitely one of those “unsung” projects right now, with lots of potential, and one really high profile user. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the Consortium and Rhaptos interact: right now all of the members are either using the flagship site to author content, or the content from the site to augment their commercial offerings. One signifier of Rhaptos adoption would be consortium members who are primarily users of the software, and interested in supporting its development.

Overall it was a great trip; I got to hear about interesting projects and see a lot of people I don’t get to see that often. I’m looking forward to seeing how both the consortium and Rhaptos develop over the next year.

If needed, and the evidence to date is that the staff is more than competent. I expect we’ll act more as a sounding board, at least initially.

This is an area that’s aligned with work we’re doing at CC right now, so it’s something I’ll be paying attention to.

date:2010-02-04 22:15:06
tags:cc, cnx, IAH, oer, travel