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June 22, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: Ten deaths in South Korea last year from videogame addiction


For comparison, there were two known deaths there in the four years from 2001 to 2004.

South Korea is the world's most wired nation, with 70% of its population online via superfast — I'm talking 100 MB/min as opposed to the 6MB-to-8MB/min we think of as high-speed — internet connections.

It's no accident South Korea is "home to the world's extreme gamer culture."

The real world looks much different when the better — and best — part of your life take place online.

Anthony Faiola wrote a most interesting front-page article for the May 27 Washington Post about what happens when things move to the next level.

I call it the shape of things to come.

Above, a photo taken at an online internet cafe in Seoul, where office workers retreat en masse to the virtual world upon leaving work.

Here's the story.

    When Escape Seems Just a Mouse-Click Away

    Stress-Driven Addiction to Online Games Spikes in S. Korea

    Unable to pass tough university entrance exams and under intense pressure from his parents to study harder, 20-year-old Kim Myung gradually retreated to the one place where he could still feel invincible -- the virtual world of electronic games.

    In front of his computer screen, Kim played hours upon hours of interactive role-playing games with other anonymous online gamers. When he slew zombies and ghouls with particular dexterity, he recalled, the flashing words "Excellent!" or "Masterstroke!" fired him up. Kim played from 8 a.m. until well after midnight -- and in the process, over four months, gained 10 pounds while surviving largely on one meal a day of instant noodles.

    "I guess I knew I was becoming addicted, but I couldn't stop myself," Kim recalled from a clinic where he was undergoing counseling. "I stopped changing my clothes. I didn't go out. And I began to see myself as the character in my games."

    In South Korea, the nation that experts describe as home to the world's most extreme gamer culture, authorities are alarmed by what many here are calling an epidemic of electronic game addiction.

    Last month, the government -- which opened a treatment center in 2002 -- launched a game addiction hotline. Hundreds of private hospitals and psychiatric clinics have opened units to treat the problem.

    An estimated 2.4 percent of the population from 9 to 39 are believed to be suffering from game addiction, according to a government-funded survey. Another 10.2 percent were found to be "borderline cases" at risk of addiction -- defined as an obsession with playing electronic games to the point of sleep deprivation, disruption of daily life and a loosening grip on reality. Such feelings are typically coupled with depression and a sense of withdrawal when not playing, counselors say.

    The situation has grown so acute that 10 South Koreans -- mostly teenagers and people in their twenties -- died in 2005 from game addiction-related causes, up from only two known deaths from 2001 to 2004, according to government officials. Most of the deaths were attributed to a disruption in blood circulation caused by sitting in a single, cramped position for too long -- a problem known as "economy class syndrome," a reference to sitting in an airplane's smallest seats on long flights.

    In one instance, a 28-year-old man died in the central city of Taegu last year after reportedly playing an online computer game for 50 hours with few breaks. He finally collapsed in a "PC baang " -- one of the tens of thousands of Internet game cafes that have become as common as convenience stores across South Korea. Users can pop in to these small, smoky dens -- with walls covered in gothic game posters -- for about $1 an hour, day or night.

    "Game addiction has become one of our newest societal ills," said Son Yeongi, president of the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity, which offers government-funded counseling. "Gaming itself is not the problem. Like anything, this is about excessive use."

    Experts are seeing more cases of game addiction in many industrialized nations -- particularly the United States and Japan. But sociologists and psychiatrists have identified South Korea as the epicenter of the problem.

    That is in part because young people here suffer from acute stress as they face educational pressures said to far exceed those endured by their peers in other countries. It is not uncommon, for instance, for South Korean students to be forced by their parents into four to five hours of daily after-school tutoring. With drug abuse and teenage sex considered rare in the socially conservative country, escape through electronic games can be a hugely attractive outlet.

    At the same time, South Korea boasts an unparalleled gaming culture. In 2000 in Seoul, the capital, South Koreans inaugurated the World Cyber Games -- a sort of gaming Olympics that now draws players from 67 nations. Professional South Korean gamers can earn more than $100,000 a year in domestic and international competitions.

    In many other nations, video game consoles such as Nintendo or Sony PlayStation rule. But South Koreans largely opt for online, interactive role-playing games. Such games have no end and allow multiple players to come together via the Internet.

    Online games are hot here partly because South Korea is the world's most wired nation. Nearly 70 percent of South Koreans -- compared with 45 percent of Japanese and 33 percent of Americans -- now gain access to the Internet via the super-fast broadband connections required for the most popular online games, according to Telecompaper, an Internet research organization in the Netherlands. Now, Koreans can also play sophisticated games via cellphones.

    But hard-core and casual gamers alike tend to while away their time inside PC baangs, which translates as "PC rooms." At one PC baang in southern Seoul on a recent afternoon, the sounds of electronic swords, guns and fists pounding cyber-opponents filled a dim room lit mostly by the glow of computer screens and smoldering cigarettes. Engrossed in their games, few of the young men and women inside conversed with one another.

    Web sites allow players to individualize their game characters by purchasing clothing, weapons and other items -- and for some, such characters can become extensions of their own personalities. Rare items are sold through highly developed online markets. Moon Sung Hoon, a 31-year-old Web page designer who spends about five hours a day inside PC baangs, said he paid $800 in an online auction last year for a virtual sword.

    "This is my way of releasing stress," he said. "I'm not hurting anyone, so what's the problem?"

    But doctors cite a growing toll on Korean family life. M.H. Kim, a 37-year-old homemaker in Seoul, forced her 14-year-old son into treatment at a private clinic two months ago. The boy had slipped deeper and deeper into his computer games as he entered junior high school.

    "My husband began putting an English book into my son's hands and demanding that he memorize the entire lesson in one night," said Kim, who asked that only the initials of her first name be used to preserve privacy. "He would not be allowed to go to sleep until he had finished. But he ended up not studying at all and just playing his games instead."

    Mental health counseling of any sort still carries a heavy stigma here, and it took Kim months to persuade her husband to put their boy into game addiction treatment. After their son ran away for three months -- scrounging money from relatives to play games at PC baangs -- Kim's husband gave in.

    "I can understand my son's suffering," she said. "He could never satisfy his father and was failing at school. But when he plays his games, he becomes an undefeatable warrior."

    The boy's doctor, Chin Tae Won, said the most serious addictions result in violence. He cited a case last year in which a game-addicted grammar school boy with confused concepts of life and death killed his little brother with a hammer after the younger boy interrupted his game playing.

    "There is nothing wrong with kids relieving stress through games," Chin said. "But parents need to watch for the warning signs of addiction. If a child gets violent when told to stop playing a game, that's one of the first indications that there's a problem."


"I began to see myself as the character in my games," said self-described videogame addict Kim Myung.

Don't we all?

June 22, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Apple + Nintendo — Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?


When I saw the rumors I got all excited just thinking about it.

Imagine Apple incorporating Nintendo's fabuloso new Wii gestural-control interface into its computers and iPods and upcoming phone (oops, I guess I wasn't supposed to mention that) and home entertainment hub.

Change TV channels by flicking your wrist.

Replay that song by waving the iPod.

Be still my heart.

Won't happen, but as I said, I can dream....

June 22, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Language Log — Home of the Snowclone


What's a snowclone?

It's the basic building block of clichés, for example, "X is the new Y."

I learned this and more from Michael Erard's article in this past Tuesday's New York Times Science section about Language Log, a blog "that provides up-to-the-minute linguistic commentary."

Here's the Times piece.

    Analyzing Eggcorns and Snowclones, and Challenging Strunk and White

    Serious linguistic scholars don't usually write about talking dogs and street signs — not for publication, anyway. But that is what they do on Language Log, a funny, wide-ranging blog that provides up-to-the-minute linguistic commentary written for a wider audience.

    Now three years old, Language Log, at itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog, attracts 5,000 daily visitors and is now partly captured in a book, "Far from the Madding Gerund" (William, James & Co.), which reprints some posts by Language Log's founders, Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, and Geoff Pullum, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    On Language Log, Professors Liberman and Pullum and a dozen or so other writers discuss typing monkeys, trained parrots and Google searches, as well as prepositional phrases, negation and language change. On any given day a reader might find a quippy analysis of an unusual word in the news, a rant about the grammar police who do not appear to know grammar or commentary about broader language issues.

    Regular readers learned there first about snowclones, the basic building blocks of clichés, like "X is the new Y" or "you don't need a degree in A to do B."

    Language Log is also the definitive source for eggcorns, a type of slip of the ear in which people mishear a word and mispronounce it, then insist that the malapropism is correct. Examples are "cut to the cheese" for "cut to the chase," or "preying mantis" for "praying mantis."

    "Eggcorn" is itself an eggcorn of "acorn," which a person might defend saying that it is a seed of an oak (hence cornlike) and shaped like an egg. (A spinoff site devoted to eggcorns is at eggcorns.lascribe.net.)

    Some of the funniest posts on Language Log are those directed at linguists' natural foes: grammarians. The conflict arises because linguists champion scientific description of language while the grammar police want to save civilization from decline. Professors Liberman and Pullum put points on the linguists' side by coming down hard on rules that ignore linguistic facts.

    For instance, the International Trademark Association has a rule against using a trademark as a noun. "It is raving, wild-eyed lunacy to say that no trademarks are correctly used as nouns," Professor Pullum writes. For one thing, that rule would eliminate slogans like "I could have had a V8," in which V8 is a noun.

    They also lay into "The Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, who instructed writers, "Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs."

    "Look, you don't get good at writing by deleting adjectives," Professor Pullum snaps. "Writing is difficult and demanding; you can learn to get moderately good at it through decades of practice writing millions of words and critiquing what you've written or having others critique it. About 6 percent of those words will be adjectives, whether you write novels or news stories."

    The blog began more as a time-saver than an effort to pique public interest in linguistics, Professor Liberman said. He realized he was spending an hour or two a day composing e-mail messages to friends that engaged ideas and invited responses.

    Even though a deep strain of subversive humor runs through their field, linguists have an undeserved image as finger-wagging eggheads. Yet they have had trouble communicating what is so compelling about thinking about language structures in a scientific way. One result is plummeting undergraduate enrollments. "It seems to me that the pendulum has swung as far as it can go," Professor Liberman said, noting anecdotal evidence that more college students are studying linguistics.

    Blogging has put him in touch with an audience he never imagined existed, including a walking-tour guide, a horse farm owner, a high-energy physicist and a rock musician, all regular e-mail correspondents. "There is a group of very smart and very well-read people out there who like to read about language and who can put together arguments based on evidence from sources and background knowledge which is not made up or nuts," he said. "It's a big world out there."

June 22, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



Invented by Dallas mother Kathy Wachtel.

They're "compressed cellulose sponges that slide onto the stick of a frozen treat, possibly preventing a sticky mess in kids' hands,"


wrote Leigh Lambert in yesterday's Washington Post Food section.

"They can be printed with team or company logos."

Maybe other logos too.


From websites:

    Drip Catcher

    Love frozen pops, but not the sticky mess?

    Unlike easy-to-spill plastic drip catchers, this clever invention actually absorbs melted juices.

    It's made of compressed sponge that locks liquid in, so hands and clothes stay clean.


    DripCatchers have been lab tested by the largest frozen novelty manufacturers.

    During the tests, a single DripCatcher absorbed an entire frozen treat.

    • Simply slide onto a popsicle stick, use and dispose

    • Expands to hold an entire pop

    • Printed with non-toxic ink

    • 2.25" diameter


Six with either yellow butterflies or blue soccer balls (below)


for $1.99 or 24 (design may vary) for $6.95.

June 22, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Who wants to run an ice cream truck this weekend?


Just in late yesterday afternoon, the following email:


    I am looking for an ice cream truck to work a weekend-long Verizon event in Arlington, Virginia this weekend — June 24/25. Would you be interested or know of someone who would be able to do it? The compensation would be well worth your while.

    Thank you!

    Janisa Rosenwasser

    Client Services Coordinator

    Pierce Promotions & Event Management

    123 Free St.

    Portland, ME 04101

    207-523-4018 Direct Line

    207-523-1700 Main Line

    207-761-4570 Fax Line




I forwarded the email to Shawn Lea, head of my crack research team, immediately after receiving it.

    Her response:

    OK, if running an ice cream truck for a weekend won't get you out of the house, I guess nothing will. Am I supposed to be finding someone to run said truck or were you just extending the employment offer my way?


I find the offer irresistible and if I had an ice cream truck I would most definitely contact Ms. Rosenwasser (beautiful name, isn't it? It means "rose water" in German) instanter to work out terms and conditions for my employment.


Alas — I do not have an ice cream truck.


You think Ms. Rosenwasser contacted me as a result of stumbling across my July 31, 2005 post about a real, live Good Humor man and truck that anyone can hire?

Perhaps the item earlier this month about the recent death of James Conway, co-founder of Mister Softee,


was what caused the penny to drop.

Who knows?

Maybe one of my readers does have a truck, though: if so, here's your big chance to break into the telco business.

I'll bet all the Verizon high and mighty will deign to descend from their corner offices to at least put in an appearance before retreating to their boats and the Eastern Shore.

In any event, I'll send this post on to Ms. Rosenwasser: she seems plenty capable of taking it the rest of the way and contacting the Good Humor truck people mentioned above to come to her corporate wing-ding.

June 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Molecules Carpet


Each identically-shaped leather puzzle piece interlocks with others, creating a nearly infinite number of possible combinations and looks.


Designed by Nathalie Ferranti and Cyril Daniel of Urbanoid, whose products are available in stores worldwide.

A single molecule measures 57.5cm x 42cm x 0.5cm (22.5" x 16.5" x 0.2").


Made in France.

June 22, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chocolate Zoom


The inaugural issue is pictured above.

It's an online chocolate tour of New York, just launched on June 1, covering chocolate boutiques and dessert menus.


That's what it's all about — not the hokey pokey.

That's not what they'll tell you in Blacksburg, Virginia but hey, we're not there, are we?

You are?


Sorry about that.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yeah, the sweet life.

Someday Chocolate Zoom might offer actual real-world chocolate tours of New York and magazine subscriptions but my advice to its grand panjandrum, Carmen Botez: Don't.

Stay virtual — it's the only to way to [be] fly.

Hey, wait a minute — what's that music I hear playing in the background?

[via Leigh Lambert and the Washington Post]

June 22, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'm lovin' it


Above, a cartoon I found last evening on pharmagossip.com.

It illustrated a link to this past Tuesday's post about dog sunscreen.

I wish I had enough technical prowess to be able to manipulate pixels and create wonderful things like this cartoon but I guess as a card-carrying — wait just a minute... card-carrying? I invented that card! — TechnoDolt™ I'm consigned to depending upon the kindness of strangers.

Where's that from, anyway?

[via Dr. Peter Rost and peterrost.blogspot.com]

June 22, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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