Posts Tagged ‘geiger counters’

Today’s J-Blip: Safecast iOS app

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Screenshots of Safecast’s new iPhone application, showing the area around Fukushima Dai-ichi with different filters

In Japan, cute bouncy mascots are often relied on to raise awareness about campaigns or officious entities. We have our doubts, however, about whether the new mission of Kibitan — to steer kids clear of potential hotspots in Fukushima — will have much of an effect. Call us cold-hearted, but when it comes to radiation, we prefer data — reliable, independently gathered data.

For bringing peace of mind to residents of post-3.11 Japan, or travelers thinking about coming here, nothing has come closer than Safecast. We reported on Safecast Japan shortly after last year’s disaster, when the team of volunteers with Geiger counters was building up their operations at Tokyo HackerSpace.

Comprised of radiation experts, industrious hackers and citizen data-collectors, Safecast is still tirelessly cataloging radiation readings and transforming the raw data into user-friendly maps. They’ve come a long way: From an initial Kickstarter campaign, the group is now funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Safecast recently launched an iOS application. Its most attractive feature is the “virtual Geiger counter,” which shows you their collected radiation readings, plus readings from the U.S. Department of Energy, for your current location. It’s strangely addictive. There is also a bunch of filters to play around with, which allow you to look specifically for, say, Cesium 137. Best of all, it’s free.

Apparently you can also hook up your own Geiger counter to the app and send readings back into the Safecast system.

Kibitan, we suggest that you download this one now.

Safecast and U.S. Department of Energy readings for the greater Tokyo area as seen on the Safecast iPhone app.

Movies, popcorn and Geiger counters

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

In post 3/11 Japan, Geiger counters continue to be a must-have product, though the range of price and quality varies wildly. Can’t afford one? Why not rent?

CK-3 rental with your DVD, ma'am?

Without much fanfare, home entertainment rental shop Tsutaya has started lending out Geiger counters from its shops in Fukushima Prefecture. The machines are available at six branches in Fukushima, and they are free, one per customer and one time only, with same-day return. Each shop has between 10 and 40 hand-held counters. There’s a ¥1,000 charge per day after the first day. Rental requires only a Tsutaya rental membership card and an ID, including a gaijin card or passport.

A Japanese blogger wrote this past Sunday that there was a line of about 20 people waiting for a Tsutaya in Koriyama to open, and another line formed immediately at the geiger counter rental counter.

Customers can choose whether they would like a counter made in Japan or China. As of Friday afternoon, a branch in Fukushima City had both available. Several other companies, such as Redstar and Level 7, have also been lending out the machines via online request forms, but Tsutaya seems to be the first outlet with simple walk-up availability.

Volunteers at Safecast, a volunteer group that has set up an extensive radiation monitoring system in Japan, are quick to point out that the counters being lent out by Tsutaya detect only the gamma radiation levels in the air and will not detect radiation contamination on surfaces or in food, which they consider the bigger concern right now. “People will obviously try to check the surface contamination and possibly even food, and it will give them readings that are totally off,” wrote a volunteer, who goes by the name Akiba, in the Safecast mailing list. However, he also added, “Anything helps, and there’s nothing wrong with renting geigers, especially if it makes people feel more at ease.”

Hacking for a safer world

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Tokyo HackerSpace describes itself as “an open community lab, studio, workbench, sewing circle, machine shop+” for people into “technology, building things, gardening, cooking, science, sewing, digital art, [and] gaming+.” In more concrete terms, THS is a rented house between Ebisu and Meguro where every surface is piled with soldering guns, circuit boards and packing foam. Even the window is obscured by a self-watering hanging garden made of repurposed bottles, containers and tubing. Part of a global movement, the group’s twenty-some members pay a monthly fee to keep the materials for their projects there. Until now, that has meant sewing supplies, electronics, tool boxes and a semi-functioning electronic piano. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, sheets of solar panels and boxes of geiger counters and their components have taken a prominent place among the organized chaos of the HackerSpace.

Tokyo HackerSpace is currently working on three main projects to help the people affected by the disasters. The one that’s received the most attention is Safecast, a project with international backing designed to provide independent radiation readings throughout Fukushima prefecture, with plans to expand beyond there later. Pieter Franken, one of the project’s leaders at THS, said, “Ideally we’d have stationary monitors placed throughout the region, but there’s a worldwide shortage of geiger counters right now.” For now, the group has created mobile monitors they call “bento geigies,” for the way the parts pack neatly into their plastic box. International Medcom donated 10 geiger counters that cost hundreds of dollars each. The hackers have bundled them with GPS loggers, wifi devices and custom circuitry that outputs the data stream to a laptop to create roving broadcasting kits that can be mounted on cars to “take radiation readings the way Google street view takes photos,” Franken said. (While the circuitry seemed seamless, two of the hackers looked a little unsure about whether the nylon straps they’d attached to the kit would be long enough to attach it to the car, lent by a local dealer.) The data is going up on, the organization’s own site and also to pachube, an open-source map displaying all kinds of global environmental data.

Continue reading about Tokyo Hackerspace →


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