Two Billionth

The two billionth photo at flickr has been uploaded on Sunday. Very impressive, since 500,000 was not that long ago – I’m curious what’s the first photo on flickr that hasn’t been deleted or is private?

Savants

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Nova Corp. Japan Bankrupt

It was on the horizon, one hour ago this made the news:

The company, which provides mostly English conversation courses, reportedly had liabilities of 43.9 billion yen and will be delisted from the Jasdaq Securities Exchange on Nov. 27. Nova had a 50% market share among foreign language schools in the financial year from April 2002 to March 2003, according to a government statistics cited on Nova’ s Web site.

After being in business since 1981, this is a major event for Japan’s English education market as NOVA was said to be the largest provider of language teaching services on the market. A Friend tells me that embassies are jumping in to help teachers who have been fired in the process and are now in financial distress. Several hundred thousand students are also probably never going to get their money back.

Who is going to fill the gap?

Anarchy Is History

Steven Pinker, one of the brightest minds of our times gave a speech about the history of violence at the TED Talks in 2007, arguing that we live more peacefully with each other than ever before in human history. I’d like to agree, but the media coverage of every incident easily leads to the impression that the world has indeed gone down the drain and the outlook is grim. It’s 20 well invested minutes:

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10th Dimension

Something to wrap your brain around, if you have ten minutes.

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Crackdown On NOVA

I was so waiting for this:

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided that Nova Corp., the nation’s largest English-language school chain, violated the Specified Commercial Transaction Law and ordered it to partially suspend business.
[…]
Nova has about 450,000 students, more than 60 percent of the nation’s English-language school students.

If 60% of a country’s English-language school students are taking courses at one school and Japanese’ test takers average TOEFL score is 65, it begs the question in how far NOVA can be hold accountable for such low results. 😉

update: Alex Case compiled a list of reasons why good English teachers leave Japan.

Neology: wikifizieren

At work, I’ve started using an expression in 2005 when dealing with internal memos and information we enter in our knowledge database, a mediawiki installation: wikifizieren means just that, entering information into a wiki and using wiki formatting. I had to explain to my boss and colleagues what I meant, but I think it sounds reasonable. What do you think?

update: I found the term in Wikipedia (where else), the earliest entry is from 2004.

Why TOEFL Online Registration Broke Down

ETS_TOEFL_logoTOEFL is required as English became a basic requirement for jobs in South Korea, even ones completely unrelated to English. Even children are taking the test. I don’t have to mention that they’re not supposed to take it since TOEFL is targeted to candidates in their last high school year or first semester at the university. The market for TOEFL in South Korea is not huge, it is gigantic: The bank of Korea estimated in 2005 that about 54,8 million Euro are spent annually for study. The linked page gives a good explanation about the sociocultural reasons why everybody is learning English.

800px-Flag_of_South_Korea.svgThis year, it happened that the TOEFL online registration system (a.k.a. iSER) broke down for several weeks. Worldwide, nobody was able to register online. It’s no wonder if you have one server and hundreds of thousands of customers trying to register. This was certainly the case in South Korea. The cbt TOEFL, the computer-based variety, was taken by 130,000 in 2006. Since ibt TOEFL got introduced, the numbers were cut to less than one fourth. The numbers vary depending on who you ask. The rest of the unlucky ones who didn’t get a seat yet are even hiring people to do so for them or fly to other countries to take the test. The ETS server got pounded by Korean customers, once there were 32 million hits in one day when free seats for July admins were up to grabs. Now, that’s desperation.

ETS is going to loose a lot of customers if they don’t expand their network capacity fast: The South Korean government might create a test of their own to depend less on TOEFL. It’ll take them a few years though, and even then, ETS has a head start of several decades in language tests and a couple of years in internet-based testforms. TOEFL is a global operation, involving thousands of people working hard for it for years.

After the debacle with excluding South Korea from July admins lawyers took it in their hands and filed a complaint at the Fair Trade Commission. In the meanwhile, the importance of TOEFL is decreasing, applicants for foreign language schools are among the first who don’t need to take the TOEFL anymore.

Lee Yong-Tak (who has an English name like every English language learner in this country: his name is Paul), who has been appointed as country manager for South Korea on June 1st will need every help he can get to end the TOEFL crisis in South Korea. My advice: Four cities can’t possibly meet demand for the whole country, get every university and language school equipped with computers on board asap.

Whatever Works

I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I’m for that. Where the government is necessary, I’m for that. I’m deeply suspicious of somebody who says, “I’m in favor of privatization,” or, “I’m deeply in favor of public ownership.” I’m in favor of whatever works in the particular case.

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

Catching-Up With Photos And Videos

I’ve uploaded over a thousand pictures from my year of study abroad at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University in Japan in 2000 and my travels to South Korea in the same year, 2001 and 2003, including our wedding. My brother’s wedding in 2003 is finally online as well as the series about my intermezzo at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Croatia, the Model United Nation Simulations and a few other events and travels from the last few years. Last but not least: food. Since Google Video is currently the only service that offers unlimited video size and length, it’s the choice of the moment.

(photos removed)

Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It, Deutsche Telekom!

I’m employed as a test center manager at my company and the list of my duties is longer than today’s first page of this blog. How come I can leave for a full month and travel to South Korea with my family? In the last few years, out of a number of reasons my company used to have its employees work from home. My duties and responsibilities allow me to work almost completely as a telecommuter, although I prefer being in the office several times a week. I’ve been “away” for a whole month last year and it worked, this year it’s most probably the last time for the next couple of years and it works again. I didn’t have an internet connection before yesterday though, which was quite a problem since I need to be online, especially during TOEFL preparation courses or TOEFL and other tests. My parents-in-law’ new apartment already has DSL network plugs built into all rooms, but they don’t have a computer thus no need for an internet connection. After our arrival, my sister-in-law called a local internet provider, hanaro, on a Saturday morning (at 10 a.m.). Not only it was possible to do this on the weekend and confirm an order for one month of broadband per phone, but their customer service visited us within 8 (eight) hours! That’s quick – and it didn’t even cost the world. It would have cost three times as much with Deutsche Telekom, they’d need a week or even more and I’d have to split internet connection and the provider and switch the latter to another company, because Deutsche Telekom doesn’t offer internet for one month.

The Eagle Has Landed

IMG_2750 They say every voyage is an adventure – well, sometimes it’s more than that, it’s a thriller, too. Everything at home was prepared, bags packed, the apartment cleaned and most of our belongings already in boxes, ready for the move in June. We’re visiting the family in South Korea before that, May 23rd, KLM flight 1860, from Düsseldorf via Amsterdam to Incheon, departure time 16:25. We arrived at the airport about two hours before departure, everything seemed to go smooth. Almost everything. At the check-in counter, the ground staff gave us back my passport because it was invalid, I’m terribly sorry, but you can’t fly with this passport. Imagine the shock. Turns out, we’ve left my current, red passport at home and took the green, temporary one that expired in 2004. Next followed a speed race back home with a cab. The driver was sympathetic and used hidden Tunesian driving skills to get me home in a mere 15 minutes. I needed much longer to find the passport though, because, as mentioned above, everything was already packed and prepared for the move. The passport was found at last after a dozen boxes were opened and we were able to check-in 30 minutes prior to departure.

The exitement wasn’t over completely: The bus that took us to the airplane drove a few rounds around the air field, somebody else was a higher priority. As we found out, the police escorted a black prisoner to the airplane. He tried to resist against his extradition, kicked and screamed, fought with the guards. One of the police men had a wound over his right eye and lost his uniform badge on the right shoulder after they succeeded in seating him in the back of the machine. I don’t know what the reason for the extradition was, but he seemed very determined to oppose it in every possible way. He stopped screaming when we entered the airplane – it took us a few minutes to fold the buggy and hand it over to the ground personnel which is why we were last to board the prop airliner. The prisoner was kept in the last seat, closely watched by two male and one female guard. I remembered the deportation of a Sudanese refugee in ’99, who died of suffocation due to the restraints and the position he was forced to keep – the job to keep another person quiet and calm for even just an hour who doesn’t want to in a small airplane is unbelievably hard, the police officers today did a good job without having to resort to a harsh approach. I guess a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought this way, today my primary concern was how to calm down my son if the rioting should restart. It didn’t, and I was thankful for it.

IMG_2762 Shiphol Amsterdam for us was running again, from one gate to the other, since our plane was late. We hadn’t time to buy one or two presents we planned to, so we skipped that part. One advantage when you travel with infants: Everybody is nice to you, the ground personnel asked us into the VIP line for boarding, skipping a queue of a couple of dozen passengers. When we boarded the KLM Boeing 747 to Incheon, we finally had a feeling of relief. The 8563 kilometers in 9 1/2h were over rather quickly. One detail mentioning: If you’re on international flights with KLM, beware of the food. Ours was good, but the stuff they try to sell as children food is far from acceptable. White bread with sugar (the slice of cheese helps a little), a chocolate bar and a sweet beverage – better bring your own breakfast if you don’t want a hyperactive kid jumping on and off your lap for the rest of the flight.

IMG_2777After arriving at Incheon airport the next day we ate at “our” Japanese restaurant and took the bus to Daejeon (??, ??). Beside hitchhiking, there’s no cheaper way to travel the country. Plus, you get your own track on the expressway. It was Buddha’s birthday, but the roads were rather empty. From my first visit I can remember that on that day there’s no coming through. Three hours later, our family fetched us from the long distance bus station and we arrived at home, happily and exhausted. The welcome dinner was fabulous!

Today’s lesson: Double-check passports, tickets, money and key. Triple-check passports. Check once more. And again. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Farewell Party

IMG_2728We’re celebrating two good-byes: Firstly, we’re moving to a new home at the end of June after living three and a half years at Europe’s most polluted micro-dust street, with a paper mill and a major Autobahn drive-up in the neighborhood. The apartment itself is great though, spacious and affordable considering we’re living in Düsseldorf – but it’s no good if you have kids and want to go out for a walk every day. We’ve looked around for almost a whole year and found just the right place.

The second good-bye is a rather temporary matter: We’re leaving to South Korea for a month-long family visit. As long as Jun is still an infant – in aviatory terms – he doesn’t have to pay the full ticket. Since we’re planning for a second child, it’s not getting cheaper in the future.

The picture on the left should give an idea what you missed, in case you were invited but couldn’t come.

First Step

I’m planning to do an MBA program at the Düsseldorf business school of management.

Googling about the matter, One Girl’s Journey caught my eye. The blog includes several helpful urls – if you’re thinking about an MBA, take a look.

Firstly, I registered at MBA.com. During registration, if you choose your country of origin, two form fields are grayed out if you’re not from the US. Being the curious guy that I am, I changed it to United States of America to see what those two fields are about. The first one was to designate your state of origin within the US, the second one though… If you are a U.S. citizen and are residing in the U.S., select your ethnic or racial identification. They’re not alone, a lot of sites do that – what for? Beside the usual suspects (African American, Asian American, White etc.) there were two selections, multiracial and multiethnic that made me think. On many websites, those two terms are used conterminously, but the difference is simple. The concept of race though is not clearly defined at all and problematic from its basic concept, which is probably why the usage of the term multiethnic is increasing.

Next thing is line is proving that I understand and speak English well enough. Since I’m a TOEFL test center manager myself, I’m not allowed to take the TOEFL – and I’m not going to quit my job just to be eligible to take it after three months of unemployment for a part-time MBA course that requires me to have the job I had to quit. 😉 There are alternatives though, IELTS for example, which is where I wanted to sign up. Surprisingly, I can’t do that online as with ETS, I have to print out the application form. So very 20th century.

Defaced à la Türkiye

If you wondered why the recent and sudden silence: One of the websites I host – the DAAD Freundeskreis Düsseldorf – and my personal website entry page were defaced by some Turkish scriptkiddie. My university’s International Office sent an email asking whether the address has changed, which is how I found out that something was wrong. The hacker probably used remote file inclusion to deface the sites, but since the Freundeskreis website was running on an old Mambo 4.5.2 installation I didn’t touch for …quite a while, the used method might as well been a SQL injection or a combination of both. IANAH. I upgraded the CMS to the latest stable Joomla version, turned off register_globals and now I’m trying to get my ISP to use suPHP. Recovering data, changing passwords, upgrading the software and reconstructing everything took me eight hours and several days to check whether everything was really ok. This WordPress install was untouched, luckily it’s upgraded to the last stable, sitting in a subfolder and used another database anyway.

The hacker left his emailaddress on the root page, but he didn’t write back. Too bad, could have made for an intriguing exchange.