View from My Window: Seoul

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Good morning from Seoul, where I’m on the aforementioned scouting trip. This is a look out my window from the 16th floor of the Westin Chosun, which is the heart of the city and right by the Seoul Finance Center, where I will later attempt to open up a bank account.

No one comes here without talking about the food and I’ve only had one meal so far at a Japanese place across the street (the weather is grim — wet, snowy and -5 Celsius) but let’s face it, it was better than anything “just across the street” in DC.

It Takes ID To Get ID: A Lesson in Opening an Office in Korea

Back when I covered Texas politics, the voter ID debate came up time and time again. Lawmakers eventually passed it in 2011, the legislative session I never finished covering. One of the complaints about a measure requiring voters to show ID and not just a voter registration card in order to cast a ballot was this: “It takes ID to get ID.”

Democrats argued that the measure disenfranchises seniors, minorities and the poor, like many of the Texans born to midwives, who might not have issued formal birth certificates. Or those who didn’t have a drivers license to start with and are now in their seventies and eighties. Being able to exist all your life without certain documentation, and then suddenly having to get it, would be too onerous a task for many voters, voter ID opponents argue.

This kind of hassle is really coming into full focus for me lately, in a totally unrelated situation. You may recall we are preparing to open the first ever NPR bureau in Seoul, South Korea. The paperwork hoops started with the gruff visa guy who wouldn’t grant me a visa for journalism activities until I had a business certificate. How does one obtain a business certificate? Your business must be registered with an address. How do I lease a place in order to have an address? I need a bank account. How do I start a bank account? I need a Korean alien registration card. How does one obtain an alien registration card? With a business license or visa.

You get it.

I leave for Seoul tomorrow, to try and resolve some of these issues in person. I’ll blog along the way. Wish me luck.

You Should Totally Waste Some Time Watching These Music Videos

I would like to assemble a panel of art critics who have never before been exposed to Go West’s ‘King of Wishful Thinking’ video to review this absurd and delightful artifact from 1980s humans. It really deserves far more attention than it’s gotten. I was reminded of it this morning by my friend Johnathan Woodward, who put it this way:

I sent it to friends Claire and Wes, who looped in Friend Mito.

CLAIRE: Oh my god what is this.
MITO: The keyboard guy at 1:01 and 1:43!!! SO GOOD.
[pause]
MITO: Oh I get it. Are those kitchen sinks being tossed in at the end?
WES: It would make a pretty good musicless music video, I think.
[pause]
WES: Wait, the Singin’ in the Rain one is better. Have you all seen it?

MITO: I love it. It’s even better than Phish Shreds:

WES: Ahh, I’ve never seen that before. I can’t stop laughing.

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

Saying A Proper Goodbye

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

We didn’t want it to happen, but it did. Our boss Kinsey, who headed all NPR’s content and technology, got re-organized out of a job a few weeks ago. There is a longish take on the situation (reported here) which includes elliptical language about a stunningly Game of Thrones-ey situation, involving decades-old fiefdoms and fights among NPR and its stations over the network’s direction.

Since it happened so abruptly, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the tribute. But I thought the best way to show him our appreciation was by making something, because in all the talk about his visionariness, the reason he was so effective because made visions reality.

The other thinking that went into this was that whatever we built, the best way to pay him tribute was to work as a team, to symbolize our continued support for one another and the ability to quickly organize ourselves. That team had to bring together the people who make stories and the people who make technology, ’cause that’s a huge part of Kinsey’s legacy — making sure that product and editorial were lifting each other up.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

So in our break times and overnight and on weekends, we made Infinite Kinsey. Modeled on NPR One, a listening app that gives you segmented audio that follows you on any device, the Infinite Kinsey is an endless stream of audio tributes for Kinsey Wilson, about Kinsey Wilson. We collected more than sixty audio tributes in the span of a week. They came from NPR employees past and present, and from all corners of the country. Some audio messages were sent in from as far away as Hong Kong and the airport in Istanbul.

Since it was a product, it needed a launch. Tuesday night at a goodbye gathering, I got epically blasted and we unveiled the player to its single intended user. It has a branding page and even a product launch video, a parody that Friend Claire put together, with great help from a bunch of NPR folks who volunteered to do some really goofy video shoots with us.

Goodbyes are so so hard, especially the ones you never wanted to happen.

But it’s important to put closure on this chapter — not just for KW’s sake, but for those of us who will continue at NPR. With our parting gift to him, we will kinda get to follow Kinsey wherever he goes, a stream of voices telling him he’s rad.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

I’ve Got Seoul But I’m Not A Soldier

It’s announcement time! I’m switching roles and becoming an international correspondent for NPR. That’s very cool. But what’s cooler is I get to open up a new Korea/Japan bureau for the company, based in Seoul. You know I like the beginnings of things.

For most of 2013, Friend Javaun and I would randomly yell “Annyeong” to each other from one floor to another at NPR headquarters, where the fourth floor overlooks the third. Never did I imagine that Annyeong could become a daily, non-ironic greeting.

I lived in Asia for a spell when I was 19 years old, with an all-male hip hop group that had just signed on with Warner Music Taiwan. The lead artist was an alum of a hot 1990’s Asian boy band called “L.A. Boyz” and my roommates were forming Machi, which went on to enjoy brief fame and a hit collaboration with Missy Elliott. The afternoon I went out for a movie with those boys in crowded shopping center was the only time I’ve ever experienced what it’s like to be chased by paparazzi and screaming teenage girls.

I think back on that time as a vortex. I know I lived those months in Taipei, but the experiences were so heightened and frenetic and strange that it still doesn’t feel real, even these 12 years later.

Now I live what is more akin to a “grownup” life. A real job. A spouse. A spawn. Two cats. My geriatric dog. And we’re about to uproot ourselves and charge into the Asian vortex, together.

We’re planning to move at the beginning of 2015. I don’t know what to do with our house yet. I am panicked about getting to see the final episodes of Mad Men without too much time delay. I worry about my 16-year-old dog surviving a cross-planet move. I am unsure of my own abilities to cover a place where I am illiterate.

But I’m also filled with excitement and wonder and gratitude for the chance to do this. I know how rare a privilege it is these days to get a chance to work overseas, supported by a large, well-funded news organization. As my friend and mentor Kinsey said, it’s invaluable experience that will change and shape our lives.

Whoa, right? We’re planting the NPR flag on an action-packed peninsula! Can you imagine the culture stories? This is the place where they just hosted a competition to see who could zone out the longest. C’mon, that is gold!

Onward, into the vortex.

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We Got Briefly Lost At The White House

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

After a really difficult couple of weeks at work (which I’ll get into someday), producer Nick Fountain and I took the two and half mile Uber ride to the White House to interview Megan Smith. She’s the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and formerly a senior executive at Google. We went to three wrong gates until winding up at the right one. Process of elimination!

Then, we found ourselves wandering the White House grounds without anyone guiding us where to go. This happened to be the same time the press corps was gathering for an afternoon press briefing with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest. So Getty photographer Alex Wong tried to help us find our way, but that meant following him into the briefing room to figure out what was next.

It was very disorienting to walk into that tiny room we see on TV everyday, as everyone’s rushing in for a press conference. Everything looks bigger on TV, for one, so the photographers in the back were joking that everyone’s in the way no matter where you stand. I made some comment about egress. (No one uses that word anymore. Maybe they never did.)

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Luckily, my friend Colleen spotted me and hung out with us so we weren’t so awkward. She covers the White House for the WSJ and you might remember her from That Time I Ran Into Obama In Denver, earlier this year. Took a few photos cause it’s not everyday you get lost and wind up in the White House briefing room. Then the press sec came in and Nick and I tried to be invisible, scrunched along the back wall, until someone finally fetched us and got us out of there. Later, my old assignment editor from South Carolina, Kim Deal, tweeted that she saw me wandering around in there.

The Megan Smith interview, which happened at the neighboring Old Executive Office Building, went great.

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Do You Remember … Dancing In September

Goofing off with Googlers.

Goofing off with Googlers. Photo by Bruce Gibson.

Here are some things I learned from Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt last night. He and Jonathan Rosenberg were in town as part of their book tour, and I was honored to moderate a conversation with them before a hypersmart DC audience of 600, at the Sixth & I Synagogue.

He likes those Hershey’s miniatures as much as the rest of us. When we were hanging in the green room before the show, I think he consumer about 17 of them in a row. Rosenberg even quipped, “I don’t think those are on your diet.”

He uses a Motorola Razr X, running Android, of course.

He prefers generalists over specialists, because the number one quality he looks for in people is passion. “It can be passion about anything,” he says. “But you can’t teach passion.” In other words, they want people who really care a lot, and they don’t care particularly about wedging people into particular roles. I love that.

He has new appreciation for Stephen Colbert and other comedians after learning how much time and energy Colbert spends getting into his character and preparing mentally to be so witty.

He’s not sure about the whole selfie thing, he says. But he gamely agreed to shoot a selfie of us. Luckily, photog Bruce Gibson caught us doing it, above. So meta.

Anyway. I’ve spent the last two months in such a state of constant motion that at no time have I not been rushing somewhere, recovering from what came before or preparing for what comes next. In no particular order I have: spoken in London on wearable technology and love, flew halfway to Cleveland to moderate a panel on the tech community in Ohio (only to be canceled at O’hare), reported stories on fashion that comes in a box, the PayPal-eBay split, net neutrality and other stuff I can’t remember anymore, spoken to public radio programmers about risky reporting situations, presented to the NPR board about Ferguson, threw a 2nd birthday party for my daughter, and interviewed billionaire Googlers about the inner workings of their company. On the same day, as if the random subjects I’ve been speaking on weren’t random enough, I was invited to moderate a panel on the future of reproduction.

Just the subject-shifting alone is enough for total cognitive overload. I do love nothing more than meeting new people and engaging with fresh ideas. But I also think I need some time to just not prep for anything or recover from anything. Onward.

Quick Jaunt to London Town

If you're thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I'd remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

If you’re thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I’d remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

Back from four days in London. Too bad I only hung in England and didn’t get over to Wales, cause my real obsession this year has been on the Welshmen Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys. Sheen is the star of Masters of Sex, which I somehow worked into my talk at a London Wearables and UX Design conference on Tuesday. This is what mad crushes do to a person. And I am crushing all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee and I hit a lot of the touristy things before. Notably, the time I went to London at age 18 with six of my best pals from high school. I still feel horrible about our folly of indiscriminate youth while there: Clearly under the influence, we got on the tube and started chanting USA! USA! USA! to a crowd of irritated Brits. I am so, so, so sorry, England.

This time in London, I: enjoyed drinks and much catching up with my rival for 8th grade student council president, Billy Simpson, who now lives in London. Wandered the British Museum. Took a walk around Bloomsbury and Covent Gardens. Ate a fried fish plank as big as my size 9 shoe. Stopped by to see the Government Digital Service office, a cabinet level agency in the UK that’s revolutionizing government there by making it “digital by default.” Lunched and toured the BBC HQ with the intrepid Ari Shapiro, my colleague at NPR and our London correspondent. Met one of my Twitter pals in person and talked over drinks. Went the wrong way on a bus one morning, almost missing my talk at the wearables event. Made it just in the nick of time. Got purposely lost in a lovely bookstore called Foyles. Drank lots of iced tea with too little ice, because the Brits think we Americans are crazy to be so fixated on ice. Never got rained on. Really enjoyed myself.

Thanks, London, and sorry again about that embarrassing USA chanting incident so many years ago.

 

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What I’m Reading: Post-Labor Day Edition

How did this summer pass us by? I think it might be all the doom and gloom. I’ve tried to not think about it too hard, to avoid a malaise spiral in which I end up playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ over and over.

Anyway, now that I’m more or less recovered from Ferguson, I’m back to reading too many periodicals and posts. Some of them are:

The Worst Governments in America are Local Governments

Contrary to what we hear all the time about local governments being more responsive and accountable, this Jonathan Chait piece shows how state legislatures merely get elected because of the national mood, and local governments can be worse — downright oppressive. Ferguson’s problem is not police militarization, he argues, but the Orwellian attitudes that come with it.

With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Friend Om, who inspired me to put together these What I’m Reading lists in the first place, wrote this piece a couple months ago and it comes packed with a lot of big ideas. One of them I’ve been wrestling with is that so much of our privacy and subsequent feelings of security online are due to the benevolence of the Googles and Amazons of the world. How long will they be benevolent?

The WTF Did I Miss? recaps of Masters of Sex

If you’ve spoken to me anytime within the month of August, you’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about the wonder that is Showtime’s Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Their acting is heartbreaking and the show plumbs the depths of so many topics that fascinate me; love, work, identity, intimacy. But reading these spot on and belly-achingly funny reviews took my Masters of Sex experience to another level. You must read them if you’re a fan of the show.

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