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2016/06/25 FC Drivers South San Jose Loop
π 2016-06-25 00:00 in Cars
Nice little loop south of San Jose, with mostly clear roads:












See more images for FC Drivers South San Jose Loop
2016/06/17 Another 3 awesome days at EDC 2016, Las Vegas
π 2016-06-17 00:00 in Clubbing
So yeah, I got a late start with EDC, didn't know about it until last year when I first went, but after finding out what I had been missing out on, I went to fix the errors of my ways :)

while it's only an 80mn flight from San Jose, CA (and an expensive one at this, $450 due to the other 400,000 people also going for that time), it's a bit tough to have virtually a 8-10H jetlag for just 3 days (EDC going from 18:00 to 05:30 and you ideally sleeping from 08:00 to 14-16:00). Without prescription drugs (or otherwise) and caffeine to help with sleep and awakeness, it must be hard :) But before you ask, daytime weather in Vegas was unbearably hot (45C / 112F), so doing this during the day would not work.

Also, people ask me what camera I use. First, that is a correct question :) Cell phones are very poor night cameras due to the insufficient room they have for a good size sensor. I actually carry 2 handheld cameras that I keep on my belt:

  • Sony HX60V: this one has a small sensor which is not ideal for night pictures, but it comes with a 30X optical zoom and half usable 85 semi digital zoom. This is a must for taking pictures of the DJ booth when I'm so far that I can't even see the DJ with my naked eyes.
  • Sony RX100M3: this one only has a 3X optical zoom, but it has a very good 1" sensor for capturing night shots and true color fireworks shots
  • Before you ask, you cannot get a camera that has a big zoom and great night shots without having a huge camera, and usually carrying 2 lenses. By then it's easier to just use 2 smaller cameras :)
    At times, I'd also be filming with the RX100 with one hand (I have about 3.5H of video from this EDC) and taking zoomed shots of the DJ booth with the other hand.

    This gave me a good chance to try my LED shoes I had hacked to add extra battery life (12H) along with lit shoe laces, and my portable blinky lights for my shirt:


    It was a good time to try my shoes I had hacked to have 12H battery life :)
    It was a good time to try my shoes I had hacked to have 12H battery life :)

    As for how big EDC is, saying it's big doesn't quite explain it, and neither does the map, but maybe this night shot from a heli, will:

    map of the grounds, might look small on the map, but it's big :)
    map of the grounds, might look small on the map, but it's big :)


    Getting 400,000 people there and back is no small feat. I took uber the first night because I only arrived around 03:30 (having gone to Omnia to see Armin just before that), and even then the traffic was not clear. The shuttles work ok, except for the loading that is super inefficient in both directions. I really hope Insomniac gets to fix that because it adds substantial unnecessary delays. The wristbands were by color with RFID to verify single use and spot fakes:

    many wristbands, spot the fakes :)
    many wristbands, spot the fakes :)

    Before starting on the report of the 3 days, I'll start with a few misc pictures of signs and people:



    I ran into Dito Milian, who usually takes my picture at Thunderhill :)
    I ran into Dito Milian, who usually takes my picture at Thunderhill :)


    system failure!
    system failure!





    my hoola hoop wielding trance loving fan I run into at all events I go to, was here again :)
    my hoola hoop wielding trance loving fan I run into at all events I go to, was here again :)


    The first day, the Trance lineup was light (as in nothing before 03:30, just two hours before end of the evening), and I was interested in seeing Omnia where Armin was playing anyway, so I went to see Armin 1h30 (sadly not his whole set), from 01:00 to 02:30, and took an uber to EDC, getting me at Stage 7 just after 03:30. By then, I was able to see John O'Callaghan, Jordan Suckley, and W&W









    I stayed until 05:30 when John O Callaghan finished after sunset
    I stayed until 05:30 when John O Callaghan finished after sunset

    back to the inefficient shuttle line to get to bed by 08:00
    back to the inefficient shuttle line to get to bed by 08:00

    Quick video summary of Day #1:

    Day #2, I arrived earlier (22:30-ish) to enjoy the sights and different stages before Above and Beyond and Armin at 01:30 and 03:00 (both of whom played an excellent set at Cirtcuit Grounds), to be followed by Dash Berlin from 04:19 to 05:30 at Kinetic Fields. There were lots of carnival rides, even a water ride!














    the ball swimming pool was always fun :)
    the ball swimming pool was always fun :)

    help, I'm drowning! :)
    help, I'm drowning! :)

    EDC also has great fireworks. Check out the 5mn clip of fireworks the 3rd day (they start getting crazy around 02:40):





    Some other random pictures of the grounds:







    And then it was time for Above and Beyond at Circuit Grounds where they played an awesome set again:



    taken with an 85x zoom, sorry that it's a big blocky
    taken with an 85x zoom, sorry that it's a big blocky



    Armin was next, he played somewhat harder trance, starting with repeating his opening track from Omnia: "I am the dominator, there is no other". Very subtle indeed :)







    After Armin, I went back to Kinetic Fields for Dash Berlin for a sunrise set:





    90m of Day #2 highlights I filmed:

    Then it was time to get back to my hotel room and catch some sleep before the 3rd day (yeah for a 12H jetlag by just going to Vegas). I arrived a bit earlier on the 3rd day since Paul Oakenfold started at 22:30. Before that, went to check out the grounds a bit more:






    Bass Pod caught fire, doh!
    Bass Pod caught fire, doh!

    Then was time for Paul, who played an OK set, but I've heard better from him, then came Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, Markus Schultz, Gaia (to be fair I preferred GAIA's set last year), Gareth Mery and Aly & Fila. An awesome lineup:


    85X zoom again, sorry
    85X zoom again, sorry



















    I took a detour to see Pendulum at Bass Pod. Not the same genre, but I'm also a fan since their essential mix in 2005.


    And back for a bit of Aly and Fila before I had to duck out early to catch a shuttle back to Vegas to get a cab back to the airport for a 07:25 flight home. Was in bed by 09:30 for some much needed sleep :) (although I was a bit sad to have missed the last 45mn).




    this shot almost looks like burning man :)
    this shot almost looks like burning man :)


    90mn highlights video of day #3 I filmed:

    Needless to say I had an awesome time, more than last year even (likely due to a more complete trance lineup). This is likely the biggest electronic music festival in the world, and it's pretty spectacular!

    2016/06/17 Armin Van Buuren at Omnia, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
    π 2016-06-17 00:00 in Clubbing
    Like last year, on the first day of EDC, Armin was playing at Omnia in Vegas. Last year, I had considered going but it was a bit of a pain since Armin was playing smack in the middle of the good parts of EDC (01:00 to 04:00), so I skipped it.
    This year was the same thing, but I figured I'd go check out Omnia anyway, and duck out early to go EDC later in the night.

    So Omnia is not that simple to get into. First I thankfully had bought tickets online a few days earlier, or I'd have been in an even longer line that might or might not have gotten in that night. Next, they have a pretty strict dress code. For one they stopped me from even getting in with a small black fanny pack that I was carrying the battery pack and lights for my shirt, which of course I was not even going to be allowed to use inside.
    Worse, they told me I could not take my small digital camera and that I'd have to use an inferior cell phone to take pictures if I so wished. That was total bullshit, so I snuck it in anyway, but I really don't like having to do stuff like this (their security included a metal detector, like South Los Angeles crime laden location...).

    Anyway, despite all the BS, I eventually got in with one of my 2 cameras, which is good because there were good shots to be taken.

    there were so many different lines to get in, it was pretty silly and fairly confusing
    there were so many different lines to get in, it was pretty silly and fairly confusing




    The main lighting contraption in the middle was very configurable and at times looked like a spaceship was landing to come abduct you and beam you up. It was pretty cool :)








    I don't know how many got abducted by the tractor beam :)
    I don't know how many got abducted by the tractor beam :)

    I told you, it looks scary :)
    I told you, it looks scary :)




    I think whoever was below this got vapourized :)
    I think whoever was below this got vapourized :)



    Oh yeah, right, I almost forgot: Armin started playing at 01:00. I was able to stay until 02:30 when I had to duck out to get at EDC by 03:30 2 trance sets









    Even if I only saw about half of it, it was a good set. Glad that I got to see Omnia, even if with the BS to get in, and how crowded it gets considering it's not actually that big.

    2016/06/14 Droid and Friends, Thunderhill
    π 2016-06-14 00:00 in Cars
    Can't believe it had been 3 years since my last DnF. Time flies...








    Attila made me look bad, I don't match my car :)
    Attila made me look bad, I don't match my car :)

    This was my first track day of the year, I was a bit rusty and my tires were not new, so as they got hot, I quickly got slower through a given session. Also, sadly my brand new pads would pseudo-randomly brake long maybe just once out of an entire session, but enough to keep me on the edge of not knowing if I could brake late or not (so I mostly didn't).
    End result of all this is that I only got down to a 2:00, way short of my time of 1:56, but that's fine, not all days are best days :)

    See more images for Droid and Friends, Thunderhill
    2016/06/01 Toguard HD 7" Full HD 1080p Android GPS navigation Touch Screen Car Dash Cam Dual lens WiFi
    π 2016-06-01 00:00 in Cars, Linux
    This is a very welcome update to the 5" mirror. You can read my review of the 5" mirror. This is the product link: http://www.amazon.com/Toguard-Mirror-Navigation-Screen-Android/dp/B01FJZ4ZRE

    It is a very welcome update, the older mirror. The camera is nicely integrated now, the screen bigger, and most importantly, the android system has more memory, so you can now easily run other apps like google maps (with the old mirror, you ran out of memory all the time). This is really the update I was waiting for. The old mirror has a super annoying start and stop music and voice. They have now been removed. This is great!

    After connecting to Wifi (2.4Ghz only), you can run google maps or google play store, sign in your google account, and get your saved location searches on google maps (so that you don't have to type them on the mirror, the software keyboard is not very easy to use). As a trick type "ok maps" in the google maps search window, and in most countries, it will download maps for offline use. You can install other apps from the android market, bit it waze, or whatever else you fancy.

    Let's compare the form factor, the mirrors are almost the same size (but the new mirror has nice straps built in), however the main difference is where the display goes. The old mirror put it on the side so that you could read the screen on the left, and see cars behind you on the center and right. The new mirror has a bigger display in the middle and I'm not sure if I prefer that, I think it may be a matter of getting used to it. This is because you're now supposed to look at cars behind you by looking through the display and unfocussing your eyes. It works, but I think you don't see as well. Also, if there is a lot of daylight behind you, the daylight will not make it possible to read the screen (but at least you'll see the cars behind you). I think I kind of prefered the android screen on the side like in the 5" version, but the tradeoff is that you get a small screen which may be harder to read depending on your eyes (I have excellent vision, so in my case I can read both screens fine, but you may not be able to read the 5" one as well):



    this gives you an idea of how you see cars through the screen
    this gives you an idea of how you see cars through the screen

    The camera is built in and more tidy, that's definitely a plus:


    Here are the main points:

  • I have to say again that Toguard/Jeemak US is one of those new Chinese companies that actually cares about customer support and doing the right thing. I have to give them credit for this and hope more companies will do the same. The product is far from perfect, but from my interactions with them, they really care about making it better.
  • The provided written manual is very good. It really is good, kudos for that, especially because how unusual it is for Chinese products.
  • The device is a full featured quad core android tablet in side your rear view mirror. It's still running the older android kitkat which is more memory efficient, and comes with more RAM, so things run smoothly now.
  • You get a real android tablet in a 7" factor. You can add our google account, install google maps or waze and you could even install calendar or gmail if you wish.
  • The wifi is 2.4Ghz only and would be used to install apps at home, or tether to your phone, but that's a bad choice because wifi tethering is very expensive on batteries for your phone. Still, it's better than nothing, and ok for you if you have a fancy car that provides its own wifi hot spot.
  • The unit ships with sygic and polnav mobile. Polnav didn't seem to really work or have data I could get for the US, but sygic seems like a good navigation app that works offline. You can also use google maps offline if you wish. Too bad you cannot tether via bluetooth.
  • While you cannot use the missing bluetooth to route audio from the mirror to your car, it comes with an FM transmitter, so you can route audio to your car radio.
  • The rear camera is low quality, but I'll take that over nothing, it can come in handy if you get hit from behind, it will do fine to prove that. The front camera in the 7" mirror looks bigger and better, but in my testing conditions, it didn't so very well for capturing license plates of moving cars. I think the lighting conditions were non optimal and caused this because I've seen a video from someone else taken by the same camera, and it was much better quality than what I captured. This is another way to say that you should expect better quality in some conditions than what I posted.
  • The GPS is a great addition for the base price (many dashcams do not include it by default). First I thought mine wasn't working well, until the nice Toguard support told me that it had to be mounted with with glue sticker facing down (I had glued it to my windshield next to the mirror, which meant it was upside down).
  • The device comes with about 16GB of flash free, which is very generous, and handles external sdcards perfectly. Flash is used to install android apps, and video recording is done on the external sdcard.
  • Toguard removed the stock android settings app, which arguably is a bit complicated and replaced it with a custom settings app that has just the basics
  • Downsides:

  • The flipside of the custom settings app is that it lacks advanced settings that android enthusiasts may like. But for instance this has caused issues with timezone settings (you have to manually change the time for the timezone you're in). Similarly, you can't install a new keyboard from android market and switch to it since you can't access the settings. To be fair, average users won't care and will probably be happier with the simplified but limited settings app.
  • The android status bar where you can find quick settings and info from some apps, is gone. Average users won't care, power users of android might.
  • The unit is flashable, so in theory you can install new firmware, but it requires a complicated procedure using customized windows software (I tried that while reviewing an early version of the hardware). I expect that it will likely not be end user upgradable.
  • The video recorder works fine, but it does not allow changing EV settings, nor can it be used as a parking camera with motion detection.
  • There is no more hardware menu key. You cannot long hold the menu key to switch apps, you have to go back to home, select the app and switch. Not a huge deal, but it's slower if you switch apps often.
  • Sadly it does not come with bluetooth. Bluetooth would have been a perfect way to get internet from your phone via bluetooth tethering without killing your batteries. While having callers show up on BT could be useful for some, most cars do this now, so I don't really need that feature, and the audio from that mirror isn't great anyway.
  • The rear camera wire is not good though because it contains a big adapter bulge in the middle which makes it impossible to route inside your car due to how thick that bit is.
  • The rear camera is only 480p and poor quality but it will read a place from a car that is stopped behind yours. If any car is moving, the picture will be unusable for license plates but good enough to see that someone else hit you (it is mostly the same camera than the older 5" mirror).
  • The rear camera has a red wire you're supposed to connect to your rear headlights. This is however difficult to do on my car, and I wish they had just used a light sensor to remove the extra wiring requirement. In my testing, I did not wire the night vision LED, although to be honest, I doubt they can do much except maybe to video the outline of someone who would come on foot to break your rear window. If you're driving, headlights from cars behind you totally overwhelm the camera.
  • Because the hardware does not support motion detection, wiring to always on power is not very useful.
  • So, my verdict?

  • If you are looking for a mirror that can run android apps and you are ok with a very well integrated dual dashcam, to show that the other car hit you, and you didn't reverse into it, this will work. If someone who does a hit and run on you stops before driving off, you may not get their plate. If you're hoping to get the plate from someone who cut you off, it may or may not work for that depending on lighting conditions
  • If you want best video quality and don't need dual cam, the Wheel Witness HD Pro is the best one I've seen so far, read my review, but keep in mind that it's a big single dashcam without android.
  • If you don't really want/need to add 3rd party android apps, and all you want is a basic dual cam rear view mirror, then the old 5" will likely work just as well for you while having the advantage of keeping the screen separate from the mirror area you use to see cars behind you
  • But to repeat myself, if you're looking for a smart mirror that can run android apps while also being a dual dashcam. This device is definitely best in class today. You should be happy with it.
  • Shots from the camera:

    in some cases of moving cars, you can barely read the plate
    in some cases of moving cars, you can barely read the plate

    most times, it's almost readable, but not quite
    most times, it's almost readable, but not quite

    same here
    same here

    low speed, close to car, but not close enough
    low speed, close to car, but not close enough

    finally
    finally

    2016/05/26 Berkeley Greek Theater Above n Beyond Acoustic
    π 2016-05-26 00:00 in Clubbing
    It was just a year ago that I discovered Above and Beyond Acoustic on youtube, and I fell in love. Don't take me wrong, I've known Above & Beyond since 2000 or so, and seen them with Justine Suissa first in 2004.

    What is Above and Beyond Acoustic? AnB while known for their very successful EDM club tracks, compose very nice melodies, which often get drowned out by the fat beats in many clubs. Their original acoustic performance in 2014 was a huge success, even if only seen by a few people compared to the 3 million+ views on youtube:

    I think the great reception from the fans, and comments line mine on their G+ stream, encouraged them to do the Acoustic II tour around the world, which is awesome. As opposed to most DJs who can't play any instruments, hell Tiësto confessed he can't even read sheet music, they are classically trained musicians, and it shows on that performance.

    It was also great to see Justine Suissa again, after first seeing her in 2004 in San Francisco, she's definitely a veteran. She was joined by other talented vocalists: Zoe Johnston, Cobi and Natalie Holmes.

    The Greek Theatre, while a nice venue, is fairly out of the way (almost 2H to get there on a weekday evening due to traffic), and turned out to be colder than expected. I brought enough layers, but Jennifer didn't, so I shared with her, and was a bit cold by the end of the night:


    we got somewhat overpriced tickets in the 13th row in the pit
    we got somewhat overpriced tickets in the 13th row in the pit











    By the end of the night, people got down from their seats, and just rushed the front of the stage, with everyone standing up. Not quite the same concert hall experience from the original acoustic tour, but you can't blame the fans ;)

    Despite the cold and hypothermia, it was a great evening, happy to have been there. A short video summary:

    2016/05/20 DJ Blurr, Ruben de Ronde, and Marlo @ Ruby Skye
    π 2016-05-20 00:00 in Clubbing
    I am guilty of not having gone to SF for DJ nights in too long. My friend David (DJ Blur) fixed that by inviting me to join him a night he was mixing there, just before RuberdeRonde and Marlo. Clearly, it was going to be a night that was not going to suck. Since I was just back from South Korea the previous day, I was thankfully jetlagged in the correct direction.
    David started at 22:00, so I arrived a bit too early around 21:30, it looks like I was the first customer they let in that evening :)

    I used the opportunity to try out some of my gear I was going to use at EDC and Burning Man:




    After a bit of waiting, I go to listen to DJ Blurr's set:



    Then came Ruben de Ronde:






    And then came Marlo:






    Good evening was had :) Good to have been at Ruby Skye again.

    2016/05/20 South Korea Trip Wrapup
    π 2016-05-20 00:00 in Southkorea2016, Trips
    Our 12 days in South Korea were split as such:
  • 4 days on a bus tour of Eastern Korea
  • 2 days in Jeju
  • 4 days in Seoul proper
  • 1 day for the DMZ and 1 day for Suwon (both day trips)
  • Turns out it was exactly the right amount of time. Ok, we could have used a 3rd day in Jeju, but I felt that for Seoul we had seen all the highlights, so close enough :)

    What I learned about Korean History

    So now comes the part of what I learned and what I think of South Korea in general. First, I'll say that I was generally impressed. Keeping in mind that South Korea had to recover from years of Japanese occupation and then the Korea war just 60 years ago, it's doing extremely well today (not unlike Singapore which also had an impressive growth despite little land and few resources). The country is of course very modern, public transport is good, food was good, the only issue is that too much piping needs to be replaced to be entirely safe and as a result, tap water is generally not considered super safe to drink (the water sources are fine, but the old piping in many buildings is not).

    While I knew about Korean war, I did not in details because the Asian side of WWII and its downfall for Korea, isn't really taught in France. The war museum in Seoul does a very good job giving a blow by blow of what happened. For one, I didn't know that North Korea had taken over almost all of Korea before the UN stepped in to help and retook almost all of Korea almost all the way to the Chinese border, until they got pushed back by the Chinese to almost where the original line was around the 38th parallel. Sad that they weren't able to retake all of Korea from the communists and that all those lives were lost when in the end things ended more or less where they had started.
    To this day, North and South Korea are still technically at war, and only have a cease fire that according to the South Korean side, North Korea has violated a few times already (from what I read, they are correct). Obviously, I did get to learn history from the South Korean side, and while I found that they twisted things just a bit to entice the population to join their military and defend the country from the north koreans, I can't really blame them for doing so.
    I also learned that the US still has a few army bases on standby there as a show of force against the North Koreans and China, should they get wrong ideas.
    In turn, South Korea is very thankful of the help they got from other nations to defend themselves from the communists, and they do a very good job crediting the countries that helped them having repaid with their own help in later conflicts where the UN got involved. This may be part of the reason that they allow tourists to visit the DMZ and JSA, so that they can learn more about the situation.

    Now, it's hard to talk about Korean History without talking about Japan. While it was very interesting to learn about the different dynasties they had and the unification from the Silla dynasty that lasted almost 1000 years, I'd say that Koreans were probably not warriors at heart like the Japanese, and while they were able to push the Japanese back a few times (including the battle of Jinpo where they had superior boats with canons and sunk all the boats of a superior Japanese raiding party), ultimately the Japanese came back until they won. Considering Japan wanted to expand, Korea was obviously the first target on the way, so this was inevitable.
    2009: Lost Memories gives an interesting twist on history where Japan didn't lose the 2nd world war and wher eKorea was part of Japan with only a few people still resisting them and trying to bring back Korean culture and history.
    Reading up on this, Japan has thankfully apologized for its actions to Korea (and other countries) a few times, including June 23, 1996: Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said in a press conference: "Hashimoto mentioned the aspects of Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula such as the forced Japanization of Korean people's name and commented "It is beyond imagination how this injured the hearts of Korean people" Hashimoto also touched on the issue of Korean comfort women and said "Nothing injured the honor and dignity of women more than this and I would like to extend words of deep remorse and the heartfelt apology" (Joint press conference at summit meeting with President Kim Young Sam in South Korea)
    Interestingly the same page also states As of 2010, 24% of South Koreans still feel that Japan has never apologized for its colonial rule, while another 58% believe Japan has not apologized sufficiently. One thing I'd be interested in learning more is whether Japan teaches to its own citizens some of its troubled history, and I'm not sure how much they do. When I went to the peace museum in Osaka, I didn't find a single sentence along the lines of "yes, we got bombed to hell, but we kind of had done things to trigger that".

    On a related note, South Koreans don't seem to dislike Japanese people (which I was thinking they might considering the repeated invasions of Korea by Japan), but they all told me they do dislike the Japanese government. One also told me he found while travelling in Japan that Japanese people are quite ignorant of their own history and what their country has done, unlike let's say Germany. That's indeed regrettable. We all need to embrace our own histories and faults, so that we can vouch not to repeat them.

    Getting around in South Korea

    While people working at train stations, airports and hotels all spoke enough English to get around, the general population doesn't speak English too much, just like Japan (except that I speak some Japanese and failed to learn much Korean despite trying before the trip).
    Dealing with taxis was however much harder than I anticipated (and I've used taxis in Japan). First, I need to state that taxis are quite cheap, typically $2.50 for short hops, so it makes more sense to take a door to door taxi than bother with the subway when you're trying to save time (and the subway is good, just like in Singapore, or Taipei). The problem is that korean taxi drivers seem to be unable to drive anywhere unless they can enter your destination in their GPS and follow the magic magenta line. One driver was unable to even get us to the War Museum because he couldn't find a way to enter it in his GPS (we had the name and address already written on a piece of paper by our hotel). This is about as bad as a Parisian taxi driver telling me he can't get us to the eiffel tower because after entering the phone number, his GPS can't find it.
    Now, they have very fancy GPSes, I was impressed, but damn, they lost all ability to drive without one, or if I gave them a clear point on my phone on a map, they could see where it was, but they were unable to route to a point on the map without an address or phone number (sadly the address on my phone was korean written in English, which they couldn't read):



    because getting the rental car GPS to work was hard, I had 2 of my own with openstreetmaps in Jeju :)
    because getting the rental car GPS to work was hard, I had 2 of my own with openstreetmaps in Jeju :)

    So sorry, but I have to say it: South Korean taxi drivers are with few exceptions, the most clueless I have ever seen. Sure, there is a language barrier, but out of about 15 cabs, most of them were unable to drive to a clear point shown on a map with street names they can read in Korean. They can see the street, they can see where it is on a map they can zoom in and out, but if they cannot enter a location that their GPS understands, they tell you they cannot drive there. To their defense, Korean street addresses are not super simple, so sometimes their GPS cannot process one. Sometimes they try a phone number for the business, which may or may not work, but if none of that works, then they seem unable to drive. At the end I gave up with a few and just gave them the directions by telling them to drive straight or turn left/right until we got to where we needed.

    South Koreans are said to be aggressive drivers. I did find that they indeed tend to run red lights, which is bad, but for the rest, it was nothing that scared me. Driving in Jeju was totally a non event, except for the very many speed cameras everywhere trying to nail us with very slow speed limits :( (I did learn to drive in Paris, so I'm used to worse than what we saw in Korea).
    However, one thing to note is that Google Maps sadly is not allowed to give driving directions in Korea, but OSMand with openstreetmaps on android did the job. But while we're on the topic, while transit directions (subways/busses) work on google maps, most station names are not translated in English at this moment, so reading the station names was tough (I reported the bug to my coworkers at Google, and they are working on fixing this thankfully).
    Another low light is that they require a useless international drivers license to let you even rent a car. I say useless because there is no korean on it, they have to read the English. By then I might as well be using my US one to start with. My drivers license lasts 10 years and this scam international one needs to be replaced every year, what a waste of time. I'm making special mention of this though because after making one, it got stolen with my passport and wallet, so without the help of a nice coworker in the US who went to AAA, made me a new international drivers license and fedexed it to Korea, I wouldn't even have been able to drive in Jeju. Now to be fair, Japan has the same exact problem, but at least the international license had Japanese on it, but no Korean.

    Food in South Korea

    We ate quite well almost every day, but neither Jennifer who grew up with chopsticks, nor me, were bit fans of their metal chopsticks with very small and slippery tips (not the best way to grab stuff, the Chinese or Japanese chopsticks are easier to use).
    We knew and like kimchi, and what's not to love about korean BBQ?

    I'll give a thumbs down to all the octopus eating though. As a diver, I love octopus, they are super smart and interesting creatures. I've seen some act up for me, making colors and shapes, and even "taste" my arm by touching me with their suckers. I wish they were treated more like dolphins, even if they aren't mammals. Then, when you get to the topic of eating live baby octopus, I just find that both unnecessary and barbaric (never mind that with the amounts I've seen in tanks around South Korea, they are going to empty what's left of the ocean soon):

    So, I'm a carnivore, not an animals activist, but eating that much octopus, especially live baby ones, really doesn't seem necessary. Now to be fair, Korea isn't nearly as much a threat of what's left of ocean life, as China, or even Japan that hasn't really given up on killing whales yet, and seems to be intent on finding the last big tunas left in the ocean, even if they go extinct.

    The food in street markets was a bit more questionable at times, it felt a bit more like Taiwan where it was a bit of Russian roulette ;) Even Jennifer who felt comfortable in Taiwan, was a bit more worried in South Korea street markets :)
    (but to be fair, the US sells deep fried sticks of butter, except I guess you at least know what you're getting)

    Other Misc

  • Interestingly, South Korea is the only place in the world so far where I've seen multiple elevators that weren't synchronized. By that I mean that they each that their own button and would come separately. Each button would only call one elevator. If you were in a hurry, you could push all 3 buttons and take the first, but that's also a bit a-social since it needlessly ties up 2 other elevators you aren't going to use.
  • The Internet super fast everywhere, it's quite embarrassing for the US how bad the internet we have compared to South Korea.
  • Korean Airlines was second best airline we flew after Singapore Airlines :)
  • We getting around Seoul with just English worked well enough as long as you could either figure out transit navigation from google maps, or manage to get a taxi driver to go where you were trying to go. For the rest of Korea, I chickened out (also due to lack of time), but I figured getting around might have been a bit more "interesting", but because we used a bus tour, we didn't have to worry about it, it all worked out.
  • South Koreans were all very nice, welcoming, and helpful.
  • The architecture and temples were quite nice, but I have to say that I was a bit more impressed with some of the ones I saw in Japan (sorry). Sadly, I think once you've been to Nikko and Kyoto, it's hard to impressed by temples again. But Nikko is way over the top.
  • To be fair, some of Korea's national treasures were destroyed during the Japanese occupations, but it was great to be able to see at least the Silla Dynasty's tombs, as very big mounds of stones now covered with grass. They don't quite rival egyptian tombs, but they're still very impressive to see.
  • We however quite enjoyed the visit of Korean Folk Villages, and seeing the colorful clothing from the different eras, that Korea has had. They're very distinct from Japan's and definitely worth seeing too.
  • So yes, we had a great time in South Korea, I actually feel we learned a lot from that trip, and I'm very happy we had the time to do it.

    See more images for South Korea Trip Wrapup
    2016/05/19 South Korea Day 10 and 12: Last 24H in Seoul
    π 2016-05-19 00:00 in Southkorea2016, Trips

    After coming back from the DMZ and before going to Suwon, we had a few hours in Seoul, so we went to the 3D black art museum, hard to find, but pretty nice and nice twist on top of a regular trick art museum:












    The part where it got interesting was the 2nd floor when they turn the lights off and the black art comes out:







    Next, after wandering the streets to look around and try and find a Din Tai Fung that had moved and became unfindable, we had a quick dinner and went to see the Nanta Cooking Show. While it was entertaining, I have to admit that when you've seen Blue Man Group at its peak, more than 10 years ago, Nanta Cooking Show falls short. It's not bad, but it could be better.

    just like Japan, they're wearing clothes with other languages they don't really understand :)
    just like Japan, they're wearing clothes with other languages they don't really understand :)





    they tried to emulate the blue man group in some ways, but it just wasn't as good
    they tried to emulate the blue man group in some ways, but it just wasn't as good


    That evening, I happened to walk by a Cat café, so I went to check it out for a little bit. Turns out it was the best one I had seen so far. Read more about the Seoul Cat Playground here:


    Our last day, we went back to the War Museum to spend another 3H there, and then headed to Dongdaemun, the eastern gate, and then walked by Cheonggyecheon stream, Dongdaemun Market, and Gwangjang Market, on the way back to our hotel:


    Seoul has a very small piece of the city wall left
    Seoul has a very small piece of the city wall left

    Cheonggyecheon stream
    Cheonggyecheon stream








    And just like that, it wsa time to get back to Incheon Airport to fly back home. Turns out cabs are so cheap that it was much simpler to just take a cab back to the airport, despite the 1H+ ride, it was not even $50. I had to convince Korean Airlines that it was ok to let me board the plane on an emergency passport and without my green card, they called US imigration who verified a few things and gave them a green light.
    The KAL 1st lounge was a bit underwhelming, choices were limited and turns out they were exactly the same as the business lounge that just had a few more people. Not a big deal, just good to note. The 1st class section of the plane didn't rival Singapore Airlines, but it still was very nice (the food and alcohol options were limited though, just like the lounge).


    food options were quite limited
    food options were quite limited

    nice idea, your seat has its own space where you can put your carry ons
    nice idea, your seat has its own space where you can put your carry ons

    Jennifer was far across the aisle with lots of empty space in the middle, but they later moved her because her entertainment system didn't work
    Jennifer was far across the aisle with lots of empty space in the middle, but they later moved her because her entertainment system didn't work

    a visitor came to hide my screen :)
    a visitor came to hide my screen :)

    seats weren't quite wide enough for 2 like singapore airlines, but that wasn't a big deal ;)
    seats weren't quite wide enough for 2 like singapore airlines, but that wasn't a big deal ;)

    the business section seemed decent too
    the business section seemed decent too

    both the video screen and the control screen were running android
    both the video screen and the control screen were running android


    because you are interested in our first world problems :) I have to report that sadly the Osetra Caviar wasn't that tasty, but I'll still give KAL points for trying :)
    because you are interested in our first world problems :) I have to report that sadly the Osetra Caviar wasn't that tasty, but I'll still give KAL points for trying :)


    Thanks go to David Hotz from Cranky Concierge for getting us the 1st class award seats with miles, like on our Singapore flight.

    2016/05/18 South Korea Day 11: Suwon Korean Folk Village and Hwaseong Fortress
    π 2016-05-18 00:00 in Southkorea2016, Trips

    By this time, we had mostly seen the major sights in Seoul, and while we had seen some Folk Villages before, everything I read heartily recommended going to Suwon, a town about 90mn south of Seoul, to see both the Korean Folk Village, and the Suwon/Hwaseong Fortress, so we did :)

    Getting there was half the adventure. Taking the subway with google transit navigation that was mostly not translated in roman characters, was an adventure in itself, and then we had to connect to a bus, which also was an adventure, but we made it and arrived at the folk village around 10:35. My guidebook wrongly said that the performance started at 11:00 when in fact they do start at 10:30, but by rushing across the village, we were able to catch the end of the first one, some pretty fancy dancing in nice costumes (we subsequently watched the second showing at 14:00 to see the full show). The rest of the village is quite big, and there is definitely a lot to see:
















    After the first 3 performances, we went to see the re-enactment of a traditional korean wedding. I kind of felt bad for the poor girl who had to be married twice a day, every day :)





    on the plus side, she get carried away by 4 men after each performance :)
    on the plus side, she get carried away by 4 men after each performance :)

    A few random pictures of the rest of the village:



    demonstration of how people were punished back then :)
    demonstration of how people were punished back then :)


    oinkeu!
    oinkeu!



    that's a lot of kimchi!
    that's a lot of kimchi!






    interesting sculptures :)
    interesting sculptures :)




    After finishing the village, we took a cab to the fortress (by bus, it would have taken too long, and cabs are pretty cheap, it wasn't even $20). We started with the museum for a quick overview of what we were going to see, and explained how the lord at the time treated his workers well and got a good fortress out of it ;)






    this is the magic map I really wish we had had sooner, my guide book didn't do a good job telling us where to go, but this map did
    this is the magic map I really wish we had had sooner, my guide book didn't do a good job telling us where to go, but this map did

    Next, we went to Haenggung Palace for a quite tour before catching the last trolley that goes around the city walls and that left at 17:10:







    We then hurried to the tram to catch the last one and get a ride around part of the fortress walls. We arrived just in time to try some archery (we both kind of sucked) and then walk part of the fortress walls back (kind of cool actually). After a dinner in Suwon we got back to Seoul for some rest (90mn to get home from Suwon station, thankfully a direct shot to our hotel):














    downtown by the train station was a bit of a contrast :)
    downtown by the train station was a bit of a contrast :)


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