DC to Hong Kong to Seoul in search of the future of Industrialization. First stop Hyundai

    

It was not my first trip to South Korea.  I had already made my maiden voyage in 2017 and landed in Incheon before visiting both Seoul and Samcheok.  During my initial journey, I was fascinated with how modern Seoul was and South Korea, in general.  Seoul is a metropolis of around 10 million people with every modern accouterments you would expect in any metropolis in the world.  It is gorgeous, in the nighttime especially, exceptionally clean, and easy to navigate via public transportation. 

On a Sunday, I took a very comfortable four-hour bus ride to Sancheok, which is a town by the seaside and I saw factories along the way.  I became more enthralled by South Korea and craved to explore more about this fascinating nation, especially regarding its industrialization.  South Korea plays an enormous role in most Americans lives whether they know it or not.  South Korea dominates consumer electronics, especially in the areas of smartphones, televisions, and home appliances.  Companies like LG and Samsung lead the way, with Samsung also serving a huge role as a supplier for Apple and LG supplying lithium-ion batteries for many automobile manufacturers. I even learned that in South Korea, Samsung is also an automobile manufacturer through a partnership with Renault.  I have been test driving vehicles by Korean manufacturers for years; my parents owned a Hyundai Excel in the 80s and my college roommate owned one in the 90s. The convergence  of all this strongly appealed to me. 

    

This year, I was determined to get a firsthand look and get a better cultural connection in Seoul, so I arranged a 5-day stay (which wound up being 7 days as I made an unplanned weekend trip back and even performed).  I coordinated with the great people at sister companies, Hyundai and Kia, to visit a factory and design studio. I would be traveling from Hong Kong, where I was attending the Hong Kong Electronics Fair that occurs every April, and is coordinated by HKTDC (Hong Kong Trade Development Council).

During my first trip to South Korea, I had met fans of music I had recorded as an underground hip-hop artist in DC (Da Great Deity Dah) and wound up collaborating with them to make new music.  I met with my fans again during this last trip and presented them with a CD of our music collaboration that was+ released worldwide commercially.  As an underground hip-hop artist in the 90s, I performed and released 4 albums on vinyl and 1 on CD.  Over the years, these records became incredibly value around the world with thousands of fans posting music on YouTube, selling vinyl on Discogs, and advertising the music on social media, with some copies selling for literally hundreds of dollars.  I had done something unique with my releases by never putting my actual face or image on the packages and instead using a comic book character I created as the image for my packaging.  In the spirit of this, I remade one of my releases, To Take Hip-Hop Back, and created new artwork that incorporated South Korea in comic book form along with the artist I collaborated with.  I was giddy to show my fans, who had now become good friends, this masterpiece and let them know it was going to be available on all platforms and distributed globally.  

   

As I landed in Incheon at this special time, I became excited, as I was now familiar with getting my shuttle bus ticket and arranging travel to the Yeongdeungpo area of Seoul, where I stayed at the Hotel SB. The ride was pleasant and over the weekend I got a chance to hang out in the Hongdae area of Seoul, which is frequented by a lot of American expats. I performed songs from the collaborative CDs with my friends, ate great Korean chicken, and enjoyed the hospitality of my fans as I waited with anticipation for my visit to the Hyundai Motor Studio in Goyang.  I performed at the appropriately named club, SWAG, and was awakened to Korean hip-hop culture.  

The Hyundai Motor Studio is less than an hour outside of Seoul by car and the experience was breathtaking.  I had anticipated some design language stuff and pictures of president and chief design officer (CDO) of Hyundai Motor Group, Peter Schreyer, and his team. What I got, though, was a more in-depth insight into what has been fueling Hyundai Motor Group’s remarkable growth.  

On the ground floor, I got a chance to see Hyundai’s portfolio and saw models like the Grandeur Hybrid, a successor of the Azera that we get here in America, though it has not been announced to be sold here.  I also saw the new Veloster, the Santa Fe, the Kona, the Genesis G70, and others.  Where things got interesting was in the studio where I got a peek at how Hyundai manufactures cars.  I saw raw materials and the process of how they were refined.  I saw robots weld and affix a windshield.  I saw a display of safety features and an interactive display on crash testing.  There was a visually stunning aerodynamics test and I learned how much detail is put into every sound a Hyundai vehicle makes from door chimes to turning signals.  I experienced a 4D cinema and ride along with motocross drivers, saw engines and learned a lot about Hyundai’s powertrains and so much more in my almost 2-hour trip at the studio. The exhibits were great and I left with a newfound appreciation for Hyundai.

 

My experience reconfirmed my confidence in the roll-out of the Genesis as a separate luxury brand that can compete and produce high-quality luxury vehicles.  I left with great anticipation of my visit to the factory of sister company, Kia, where luxury vehicles like the Stinger and the K900 are made.  The story of my trip to the Kia Sohari plant is next in this ongoing series of my global travel to explore the future of manufacturing and industrialization, while also meeting fans of my music and art and engaging in cultural exploration.

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Instagram now lets you create TikTok-like remixes using any video

You no longer need to dive into Reels to create TikTok-style collaborative videos on Instagram. The social network has expanded its remix feature to let you make collaborations and similar reworks from any video on Instagram. So long as the video was released after the update, you can choose "remix this video" from the three-dot menu to create your response to the clip. You'll still need to share the result through Reels, but you'll also have the same editing tools to create collaborations, voiceovers and effects.

Instagram is also doing more to court livestreamers. You now have the option of highlighting your next Instagram Live broadcast on your profile, giving viewers an easy way to set a reminder. You won't need to attach a regular feed post to the scheduled stream, either. While you can't yet tease later streams, this could help you build hype for an interview or ask-me-anything session.

The expanded remix feature could be important. Instagram hasn't been shy about wanting to counter TikTok, and the Duet feature is a significant factor in that rival's success. The option to remix any video potentially gives Instagram users a wider pool of videos to choose from than TikTok, including footage that wasn't originally meant for that short-but-sweet format.

'Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga' will arrive on April 5th

Two years after the game was initially supposed to debut, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will finally arrive on April 5th. The long-awaited title from TT Games adapts all nine movies in the Skywalker Saga, and you'll be able to choose which trilogy to start with (so you might want to get the prequels out of the way first).

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is coming to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. It's said to be the biggest Lego game to date, and publisher Warner Bros. Games provided an in-depth look at what's in store with a gameplay trailer.

There are new combat mechanics, including ways to string attacks together and defend yourself with counter moves "in styles tailored to your favorite characters." Expect fresh blaster mechanics, with an over-the-shoulder perspective and third-person aiming reticle, and a cover system. Of course, there'll be a ton of lightsaber action, space dogfighting battles and many opportunities to use Force powers as well.

Many levels will have multiple paths to explore and you'll be able to take on side missions. Class-based abilities are upgradable and there are more than 300 playable characters to unlock. There's also a Mumble Mode, which will replace intelligible voice lines with mumbling, à la previous games in the series.

Based on the gameplay trailer alone, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga seems like a huge game. However, despite the lengthy delays, the development team was still required to work long hours (or "crunch"), according to Polygon

Several current and former employees told the publication that TT Games has had a "challenging work culture over the last decade and a half" and that, during crunch periods, work weeks of between 80 and 100 hours weren't rare (though overtime is said to have been limited in recent months). TT Games has also reportedly had a high level of staff turnover since work started on Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga nearly five years ago.

Oura’s third-generation Ring is more powerful, but not for everybody

The wearables business is hard, especially if you’re a small startup with a device you could, perhaps uncharitably, call “niche.” Oura, which makes activity-tracking rings worn endorsed by a numberof celebrities, recently released its third-generation model. This new hardware is a technical marvel, packing many of the features that most wrist-worn devices take for granted. But the need to keep the cash rolling in has seen Oura, like Fitbit, Apple, Wahoo and others, pivot to a recurring-revenue model. Oura says that this is key to shift from the idea of buying a device that never changes, to supporting its broader goals of building an evolving fitness ecosystem.

Hardware

Image of the inside of the Oura Ring (v3)
Daniel Cooper

Before we get into the specifics of this new Oura ring, let’s take a moment to remember that this device is still a marvel of engineering. Taking the sensors from a smartwatch or fitness tracker and shrinking them into a ring is worthy of enormous praise. For all of its imperfections, it’s amazing to see Oura push the limits of what is capable in such a small form factor. And there’s much more tech crammed in this time around, despite the size and weight remaining the same as the second-generation version. The headline features these new sensors enable include continuous heart-rate tracking, temperature monitoring, blood oxygenation and period prediction.

The sizing process is the same for pretty much every smart ring I’ve ever tried: The company sends you a set of plastic dummy rings you have to wear for a couple of days. Once you’ve determined the correct fit, which is tight and secure around the base of your index finger, but not to the point where it’s uncomfortable, you can order the real thing. This actually was the most stressful part of this review, since I felt that one size was too loose, the other too tight, but I opted for looseness rather than sacrificing a digit to the gods of fitness tracking. Oura says that the index finger is the best place for its ring, but you can stick it elsewhere if you prefer.

Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t do much about is the size of the ring itself which is a bit too big. I’m a big-ish guy with big-ish hands, but it feels a bit too ostentatious on my fingers, enough that people notice and ask me what it is as soon as they spot it. If you have more slender hands, I’m sure you might have a similar issue with folks pointing it out. I suspect that the smart thing to do is visit Parts Of 4 to get some more adornments to balance out the look.

Software

Without a screen, Oura is yoked tightly to the iOS or Android app where all of this data will be displayed. The Oura app is clean and tidy, only giving you the deepest data when you go looking for it. The app breaks down all of the information generated from your finger and compresses it into three scores, which are shown on the homescreen. These are for Readiness, Sleep and Activity, representing how prepared you are to face the day, how well-rested you are and how much exercise you’re doing.

The only other thing you’ll find on the homescreen is a breakdown of your heart rate across the day, showing you where the peaks and troughs are. You’ll also get advice on your ideal bedtime, which is useful when you’re working late nights and need to juggle sleep with getting things done. You’ll also get periodic reminders to move if the app detects you’ve been still for a while, and advice when it’s time for you to wind down for the day.

Go into one of the categories, like Readiness, and you’ll get scores for your recovery index, sleep, as well as your HRV balance, body temperature and resting heart rate. You can also see that my figures dropped quite substantially during a three-day period when I got food poisoning from a New Year’s Eve takeaway meal. During that period, I was given plenty of warnings telling me I wasn’t rested or well enough to do much else – not that I felt like I was gonna go for a run or anything.

As part of Oura’s plan to add extra value to its platform, the company is adding a series of video and audio guides for meditation, breathwork and sleeping. These guides, which are essentially guided meditation audio tracks, can be backed with a white noise option of your choice. You can pick the hum of a train station, the crunch of a forest stroll, the sound of the tide lapping at the land or rainfall, amongst others. These are a thing for people who find those things useful to fall asleep and feel restful but I, personally, do not find them that great.

That said, where Oura differs from its rivals in this space is that it’ll break down your vital signs during your meditation. If you’re wondering how to get better at meditating then you’ll be guided to more appropriate tracks that’ll help prod you toward nirvana.

Oura is working on adding more features to the Ring v3 over the next year, including more content as well as more accurate sleep and period tracking. These will not actually appear as new features so much as they are behind-the-scenes improvements in the underlying systems. Finally, at some point this year, the ring will be able to identify your blood oxygenation (SpO2) while you sleep in order to help detect disorders like sleep apnea.

In use

Image of the Oura Ring V3 on its charging plate.
Daniel Cooper

The best thing about the Oura ring is that, once you’ve worn it a few days, you quickly start to ignore its presence. And while you’re not paying attention, it begins worming its way into every corner of your life, learning your working patterns and getting ready to make helpful suggestions. If you feel like crap in the morning but don’t have the mental wherewithal to comprehend why, you’ll be told as soon as you look at your phone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing here that other platforms don’t do as well, but this is certainly an elegant implementation of the idea.

Sleep tracking is generally fine, by which I mean it works by tracking movement and therefore can’t tell when you’ve been rudely awoken but haven’t moved. As part of this new pivot, however, Oura is promising that the sleep tracking will soon become vastly more accurate as a consequence of behind-the-scenes changes. This will not be readily visible to users, however, since all you’ll get is a pop-up telling you that things just got more accurate. Still, it offers a fairly good indicator for how the night went, although I find the activity tracking to be a little more on the generous side. Yesterday morning, for instance, it told me that my morning shower was a strength training workout with plenty of burned calories for my trouble. Similarly, it’ll tell me around lunchtime that I need to take a half-hour brisk walk to finish my activity for the day, and then by early evening, having done nothing more than stand at my desk, make dinner and put my kids to sleep, it’ll tell me I’ve completed my goal.

One of the features that Oura is tempting its users with is Workout Heart Rate, which I find inadvertently amusing. Because the ring is so chunky, and it has such a hard edge, that I really don’t find it comfortable to wear during workouts. For instance, if I’ve got a pair of free weights, or I’m doing an incline push up on a Smith machine bar, the ring just pushes into the fleshy parts of my hand. For most of the proper “gym” workouts I’ve done, the ring has had to come off, lest I tap out too early or draw blood from the chubby parts of my fingers. But for more ring-friendly jobs, like running, walking, or cycling, you should find this to be a big help.

In terms of vital-signs tracking accuracy, I think it’s always wise to remember that wearables will not be as inch-perfect as a clinical-grade device. But in a number of random spot-tests, the Oura offered the exact same figures as the Apple Watch on my wrist. In fact, Oura’s reputation for accuracy has always been pretty high, and one of the reasons that the company hasn’t released some of these features is to ensure they’re ready to go when they do arrive.

Oura quotes battery life at seven days, although I rarely managed to get past five without having to drop it on the charging plate. Certainly, real-world stamina is a bit far from what the company is saying, but then it’s hardly a deal breaker since you can charge it full in two hours. It’s become common for me to take the ring off while I’m standing at my desk on Monday and Friday mornings and let it re-juice while I’m working.

Economics

The third-generation Oura ring will set you back $299, which gets you the ring in one of four finishes: Silver, Black, Stealth or Gold. In the box, you’ll receive the charging plate and a USB-C cable, and as part of the deal, you’ll get a six-month trial of Oura’s subscription service. Membership, which costs $5.99 a month for new users, will entitle you to “daily health insights,” “personalized recommendations,” as well as more video and audio sessions. Any existing Oura user who upgrades to the new ring will get a lifetime membership thrown in for free.

I want to be fair here and say that I understand why Oura is pivoting to this recurring revenue model. It’s not as if other companies in this space, like Fitbit, aren’t doing the same in the hope of bolstering their bottom lines. And that’s before we get to talk about how much lock-in the Apple Watch gets as a consequence of Fitness+. But I also think there’s a difference between the sort of product that those rivals are offering compared to Oura’s product.

After all, Apple and Fitbit can both offer coaching both on their devices and on bigger screens, which Oura can’t. Not to mention that Oura is really only able to offer guided audio clips (and short videos) through its app. And that while Apple and Fitbit are selling their devices as (having the potential to become) Capital-F Fitness gear, the Oura really isn’t. But, then again, that’s not what Oura is pitching here – it’s for the meditator, the runner, the cyclist, who doesn’t want to strap something beefy to their wrist.

Wrap-Up

Here’s the problem with reviewing Oura: It’s not a device that every fitness person will love. If you want something with more versatility, you’d buy a smartwatch and have done with it. Oura is more of a subtle product, for people who want to be less ostentatious about their health, or simply want something that slips into their lives and does the job. Honestly, since I’m not a gym bro, I really like the data the ring offers me without any fuss or muss.

As for the subscription, it’s likely that Oura will have to keep squeezing as many new features and insights as possible out of this new hardware. Between that, and vastly improving its currently slender content library, it’s worth it if you’re a paid-up member of the Oura family. But, and this is more a comment on the industry as a whole rather than a slight against Oura itself, I do find this need for every company to squeeze some rental income out of their users to be a little bit grating.

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