Archive for the ‘Tech/web/mobile’ Category

Japan celebrates the GIFs that keep on giving

Friday, August 21st, 2015

GIFs — which stands for graphics interchange format, don’t you know — have made the Internet an even more enjoyable place than before, and we have the receipts to prove it.

These digital designs were technological wonders back in the days of AOL and Netscape (Google it, kids). But they eventually went from high-tech animation to cliched novelties.

In recent years, the retro aesthetic of GIFs has been making big comeback. Nowadays, instead of flashing text, they often reference classic signifiers in pop culture and have become a sort of emotional shorthand, a form of emoji.

They’re now a hip way to express a gamut of feelings — excitement, annoyance, surprise . . . Name an emotion and there’s bound to be the perfect GIF for it. That’s why sites and apps such as Giphy and Nutmeg are becoming the must-have tools for when a smiley is just not enough.

They are not only being used just to express LOLs and winks, but recently GIFs have entered the realm of boda fide art. This year Japanese artist Toyoi Yuuta set Tumblr ablaze by posting a beautiful series of 8-bit GIF creations depicting sometimes melancholic, sometimes surreal scenes of life in Japan.

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Thousands of users reblogged the pieces as the designs invoked memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and took the seemingly trite medium of GIFs to a new level.

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The artist Segawa 37 took the genre a step higher for Adobe’s GIF contest by giving a modern twist to classic works of “the floating world.” Segawa 37 humorously tweaks the time-honored woodblock prints by including things such as a spaceship swooping in and beaming up Mount Fuji or a group of kimono-clad travelers watching a shinkansen train zoom by.

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Segawa 37’s GIF set also includes pieces that rely more on aesthetics than humor, including paintings of the warm glow of lanterns in Edo’s Yoshiwara district and people watching the Sumida River fireworks.

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It seems that GIFs are beginning to get the artistic credit they deserve, and some are even making the jump from computer screens to galleries. The GIF Exhibition will be held Sept. 5-13 at Tokyo’s Tetoka and will feature a variety of works from around 10 artists. Although the pieces may be over in a flash, visitors are encouraged to slow down and take in every frame.

GIFs have gone from Internet meme to art, but where will they go next? It’s anyone’s guess.

Smart absolutions: Send off your sins with just one click

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Advances in technology have enabled us to converse with anyone, anywhere, and globally distribute information — and unlimited cat pictures! — in the blink of an eye.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Now, thanks to an online service from National Depart’s Kitokami, we can be rid of our sins with a click of a button.

Kitokami users have two options. Smartphone Ooharae is free smartphone service that enables users to absolve themselves of sins by merely rubbing and breathing on a human-shaped figure displaying on their smartphone screen and clicking the “send sins” button. The figures, imprinted with the name, age and gender of the user, will later be printed out and purified with a sacred fire at Bizen no Kuni Soushagu, a shrine in Okayama.

Web Ooharae is a slightly more tangible version of the service. Customers can purchase wood or paper cards online to be delivered to their homes. After doing the required rub-and-breathe routine on the card, customers will mail them to the shrine to be purified. The cards come in shapes of cats, dogs, bicycles and more, and are priced at ¥1,000 to ¥2,500.

Although Kitokami’s approach is novel, mention of the ooharae custom can be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest record of history, which dates back to the 700s. Ooharae is a Shintoist ritual that takes place every year on June 30 and Dec. 31 and other days when necessary. In this ritual, participants transfer their sins and impurities onto nademono, human-shaped paper cutouts. They then blow three breaths on the paper, and Shinto priests recite prayers as they burn the sin-carrying papers in a sacred fire.

Bizen no Kuni Soushagu will light the fire on Aug. 1, 8, and 15 at 9 p.m., so customers should make sure their sins get there on time.

Make 12th-century art using 21st-century tech

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

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The Choju-Giga, the famed animal caricature ink paintings displayed Kyoto’s Kozan-ji Temple have been captivating people for centuries. The four scrolls, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries and depict rabbits and monkeys getting into mischief, are often cited as the first manga comics in Japan’s history.

Now art lovers can create their own masterpieces from the comfort of their Internet browser with the Choju-Giga Construction Kit website.

The site allows users to drag and drop a variety of ink-drawn animals and hiragana letters onto a virtual scroll to make whatever scene they choose. Some of the options include a fiddle-playing frog and a bow-wielding rabbit, giving users numerous story possibilities. The tools — enlarge, shrink, erase — are naturally depicted in hand-drawn calligraphy.

In the Q&A section of the site, the creator basically says he or she simply wanted a free way for users to create classic art. So go forth and roll your own epic scroll, one mouse-click at a time.

Pokemon ages ungracefully with middle-aged ‘Ojisan Monsters’

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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Someday Pikachu and friends will have to stop following Ash Ketchum around the world, retire from battling and get a real job.

That’s part of idea behind “Ojimon,” a new mobile game that is a portmanteau of ojisan (middle-aged man) and Pokemon. Using “ojiballs,” players can catch aging pocket monsters, who have disturbing Kobito Dukan-like faces, and make them do their bidding.

Players can put their new Ojimon to work in gold mines and construction sites, but they’ll need pay attention: These Poke-oldies have a tendency to doze off on the job but can be woken with a quick jab on the touch screen. If enough gold is harvested, players can build roads to the next town and find new Ojimon to catch.

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The game includes the original 150 Pokemon, with graying versions of Charizard, Haunter and Gyarados. Even though it’s not as exciting as battling wild monsters, your Ojimon can still gain experience points through their menial labor and evolve into more powerful forms, albeit with the same sad, unshaven faces.

For an extra laugh (or to avoid copyright infringement), all of the monsters have been given punny names. For example, Fushigidane (Bulbasaur) has been renamed Oyajidane.

“Ojimon” is available for free on Android and iOS.

Save your breath and let ‘Suimasen!’ make the call

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

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Getting the attention of a server can make some people feel a little anxious. Should I raise my hand? Do I wait to make eye contact? How loud should I yell?

Well rest your nerves (and your voice) because there is a new app that makes eating out a little less stressful for soft-spoken diners.

Suimasen Daikō” (“Excuse Me Agent”) is an application where users simply tap a button and their phone will let out a hearty “すいませ~~~ん!” (“Excuse me!”)

Users can choose between a female voice, a male voice and even an ikemen voice for the cool kids. In addition, there is a bell and buzzer button to grab someone’s attention.

Need to adjust the volume? The app comes with three scene settings ranging from quiet cafes to noisy izakaya.

Suimasen Daikō is now available on iTunes.

R2-D2 toy keeps fans company and food fresh

Monday, March 30th, 2015

R2-D2, the eccentric cylindrical droid from “Star Wars,” has helped save the galaxy time and time again, but now he will help you save electricity.

Mobile gadget company Hamee will be releasing a 10 x 7 cm version of the robot to keep in your refrigerator. He will greet you when you open the door, and panic, if you leave it open.

“Living alone can get a little bleak. We wanted to create something that could welcome you back home at the end of the day,” explains Atsushi Yamashita of the product management team in the promo video.

Although this mini R2-D2 may not be able to project holograms, hack computers or extinguish fires like we’ve seen on the big screen, the company has made sure he looks and sounds exactly like the original by receiving direction from Lucasfilm. It responds to light, but pressing the button on his head works too.

It has 15 types of beeps, including some rare outbursts that you may catch if you are lucky enough. A fan may recognize R2-D2 “lines” from specific scenes in the movies.

Pre-sale orders for the R2-D2 Talking Fridge Gadget are already available, but its official release will be April 30, 2015, at ¥4,320 — just in time for the Star Wars Exhibition, scheduled to take place at Roppongi from April 29 to June 28, 2015.

Will Line put the brakes on Uber with its taxi app?

Monday, March 9th, 2015

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In the not-so-distant future, it might be considered quaint to hail a taxi with your hand instead of using a smartphone app.

Line Corporation, after expanding its mobile business with game apps and online purchases, is expanding its smartphone messaging platform with a new service called Line Taxi for users to book cabs in Tokyo via its app.

Launched in January, users simply type their address into the app and, with GPS, the taxi’s dispatch time appears on the map. The taxi ride is automatically paid for using a pre-registered credit card, so there is no need to worry about having cash on hand. Line hopes the app will be useful for people who don’t want to fight over cabs during rush hour.

Competitor Uber, a taxi booking app that’s already available in 55 countries, already expanded its service to Tokyo last spring and has many similar features to Line Taxi.

However, along with Uber’s global expansion has come a series of huge bumps in the road, including an Uber driver being accused of raping a passenger in India in December 2014, and in the same month in Australia, Uber was harshly criticized for jacking up prices during the hostage situation in downtown Sydney. (They quickly apologized for the snafu.)

Uber has also come under fire after testing out its services in Fukuoka. The government told the company to suspend its pilot project as the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry believes that the smartphone application service likely violates the Road Transportation Law prohibiting unlicensed taxi services.

Although Line Taxi doesn’t have the premium service of luxury cars like Uber, the face that Line’s partner is Nihon Kotsu, Japan’s largest taxi company, means there might not be a big gap between the two. More than 3,000 taxis will be connected to Line, and the company plans to include more than 23,000 taxis for its service nationwide.

Currently Line Taxi is only available in Japanese and the fare has to be paid with a Japanese credit card, but the app is expected to become more foreigner-friendly in the future and expand coverage throughout Japan. The company first said that they wanted to take their taxi service global since previewing it last October.

So what’s it going to be? Will you get in Line?

YouTube’s #DearMe campaign looks back to look forward

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

With International Women’s Day right around the corner, YouTube launched its #DearMe campaign, encouraging women to reflect on their past and post video messages with advice to their younger selves. The project became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter within an hour after its launch.

YouTube recruited a range of women from a variety of countries, backgrounds and professions, including blogger Grace Helbig, actress Felicia Day and the band Pentatonix. The selection also included many women living in Japan. Here are a few of the #DearMe videos highlighted by YouTube.

Bilingirl — YouTuber

Subscribers:  383,324

“As I lived each day of my life, trying new things and gaining new experiences, I discovered that there was more to me than just small eyes and a flat face. I learned that confidence comes from my accomplishments and not my appearances.”

“The best make-up is a girl’s smile, so don’t forget to smile!”


Rin Rin Doll — model, blogger, TV personality

Subscribers: 5,570

“Your achievements aren’t defined by other people. Wear what you want to wear. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of obstacles coming your way — you’re going to be OK. You’re strong, and I believe in you.”

CONTINUE READING about YouTube's #DearMe campaign →

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