Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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.

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 Safecast.org, 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 →

An early warning system in every pocket

Friday, April 8th, 2011

The “bwoop, bwoop, bwoop!” of cell-phone earthquake alerts is enough to scare the bejeezus out of most people in the near vicinity, especially anyone who experienced the March 11 Tohoku-Kanto quake. A fantastic invention that beams info from Japan’s Meterological agency directly to your phone, the service can predict the occurrence of an earthquake from a few seconds up to a minute in advance. But does it have to be so damned terrifying? The makers of apps for Android and iPhones clearly think not.

Yurekuru kooru (tremor’s coming call) for the iPhone, available on iTunes, tinkles urgently (see video above) to announce the arrival of a tremor. Since the big one hit last month, followed by innumerable tremors, subscribers to the service have multiplied tenfold and downloads have now broken the 1 million mark: Testament to the popularity of the iPhone and to the feelings of uneasiness most Japanese are experiencing at the moment.

For Android users there’s the Namazu Sokuhou β (Catfish Report β). Users are able to choose their own warning noise; though it’s important to make sure it’s not too subtle, the service should be able to wake you up in the middle of the night after all. In Japanese mythology giant catfish living in mud underground were thought to be the cause of earthquakes, hence the catfish reference in the app’s title. Users should note that the app is still in beta.

Japan’s earthquake early-warning service predicts larger quakes on the basis of the preceding P-waves and sends messages out to phones after tremors are felt by over 1,000 seismographs throughout the country. Quick calculations are then done to predict the size of the subsequent quake and that figure is reported on the cell-phone screen as well as estimated time of impact. A detailed explanation of this sophisticated system can be read in this article in Time magazine.

Both of these apps are free to download. Users of AU, DoCoMo and SoftBank also receive free reports but don’t get much say in how their earthquake warning message is delivered. Comments on Twitter from jittery Japanese suggest these apps are filling a definite need: “I duck underneath the table every time I hear the warning. It’s like an air-raid siren,” UnConiglioNero states on Twitter.

Techno Shugei weaves craft into circuitry

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Techno Shugei's New Year's Rabbit, background knitted by 203gow

Meet Hebitsuke, the friendly felt snake whose eyes light up with joy when he bites his own tail. The snake is the work of the Techno Shugei (Handicrafts) group who published a book in November 2011 containing instructions on how to construct Hebitsuke — a combo of circuit boards with fluffy materials — and much more. The book, which bears the same title as the group, is proving to be a surprise hit, enjoying steady sales with people keen to try their hand at sewing, knitting and simple circuitry.

Hebitsuke's eyes light up when it bites its own tail

Techno Shugei was formed back in 2008 by Kyoko Kasuya and Tomofumi Yoshida, a pair of engineering students who shared the vision of combining handicrafts with circuitry. Their simple witty pieces were pretty popular back in autumn 2009 when we visited the Make: Tokyo Meeting at Ookayama campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and since that time they’ve been busy programming and sewing to bring together this crafty collection of electronic objects.

The book contains instructions on how to program the Arduino circuit board used in their works as well as how to sew and fit together works like felt LED broaches and winking fox gloves. They’ve even thought up a fix for the glove/touchpad problem by sewing crosses of conductive thread on the pads of the index finger of a normal glove (quite possibly a cheaper solution than buying touchscreen gloves).

Techno Shugei is affiliated with Make Magazine that runs great events showcasing the work of amateur scientists and crafty types. At the last Make event, their book was in demand and sold out quickly, according to Nikkei Trendy. Another artist who exhibits her work at Make events is guerrilla knitter 203gow who has some works on display at the Make: in Hands event in Shibuya (on until Feb. 28). The knitting artist, whose own octopus-inspired work is currently making waves, has also collaborated with Techno Shugei to produce this cute scene for their New Year’s rabbit.

Unfortunately Techno Shugei won’t be at the Make event in Shibuya, but you can catch an exhibition of their works on the 6th floor of Junkudo book store in Ikebukuro till Feb 28.

Come all ye hoarders and swappers

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Brother, can you spare some shoes? Japanese men are being encouraged to swap their shoes via a new online service called 4 Jigen (Dimension) Closet, which launched this month. To register, men simply upload information about a pair of shoes they’re willing to loan out and once that’s done, they can borrow a “new” pair of shoes from an online collection of secondhand shoes for a small fee. The fee, which usually comes to around ¥525, covers a cleaning service and postage.

Before you borrow some shoes, simply register a pair of your own

For those who like to keep in step with the latest styles, the concept definitely has an upside: Puma, Lanvin and YSL are just some of the brand names already available. And if you’re worried about using other people’s whiffy shoes, be assured that the cleaning process is pretty thorough: The company behind the scheme, 1K, sticks the shoes in a washing machine, scrub ‘em with a toothbrush, buff them and deodorize them before finally putting in new insoles.

According to Fashion Snap, the idea was the winner of a competition sponsored by Skylight Consulting which is aimed at encouraging the start-ups of twentysomethings. If it’s successful, 1K  intends to expand the service to include other clothing items. But will today’s fastidious male be willing to swap shoes with a complete stranger?

One good indication for the future fortunes of 4 Jigen Closet is that the economic downturn seems to have made the Japanese less squeamish about buying secondhand clothing. A recent article in The Japan Times reported that secondhand book store Book Off are now expanding into the clothes market and sales of secondhand apparel on online store Rakuten are taking off.

The concept of getting something for next to nothing is also at work on Livlis, a site on which you can acquire other stuff for free (if you’re willing to pay delivery charge at the other end). A beta version of the Twitter-powered site went live in December last year. Originally set up for residents of Kawasaki City last year, the site now offers its services nationwide. At post time, electronic gadgets, video games, textbooks and an Ikea desk were among the items on offer. If you have clutter, it certainly beats paying the haikibutsu shori guys. Be warned that people also tweet stuff they want to sell on the site, so make sure the item you’re after is flagged 無料 (free) before you send off a message.

Glasses-free 3D bursting into focus soon

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Exciting things are happening in the world of 3D entertainment over the next few months as a range of glasses-free 3D products hit big and small screens.

Toshiba's Regza 12 GL1 Series

Coming first in the race to release a 3D glasses-free screen was DoCoMo, with their LYNX 3D SH-03C Android handset, released for sale on Dec. 3. Manufactured by Sharp, the 3.8-inch touchscreen has a 400 x 800 pixel resolution screen that is capable of displaying 3D images that can be seen without glasses. But SoftBank are not far behind. They’ll also be introducing a Sharp Android phone to the market: the Galapagos 003SH which will be on sale from Dec. 17. In terms of content, though, SoftBank, who’ll be offering a range of 3D games like Taiko Drum Master and Biohazard, seem to have got the edge on DoCoMo.

Those unwilling to trade away their iPhones for a 3D-capable handset need not despair: a neat little device called the Palm Top Theatre, clips onto your phone and transforms 2D images into 3D, again without the need for special specs.

TVs are not far behind cell phones, and as we went to post, Toshiba were scrambling to release their glasses-free Regza GL1 Series 3D TV this month. A call to their PR office revealed that they’re still planning to release the technology within the promised deadline. This is bad news for other 3D TV manufacturers, making their efforts look dated before they’ve even had a chance to get going.

The advent of Toshiba’s glasses-free TV comes just in time for the launch of Japan’s first-ever custom-made 3D TV drama. Made in collaboration with Fuji and Sony, “Tokyo Control” is a drama about air-traffic control. The program will be on air from 19 Jan.

Game lovers, of course, are all eagerly awaiting the release of Nintendo’s 3DS which, according to 3DS Buzz, goes on sale in Japan on Feb. 27. One of the games available to play in 3D will be Konami’s notorious “Love Plus” dating game (shown above). Passionate players will be able to, um, fondle their virtual girlfriends with their fingers instead of poking them with their plastic styluses.

Japan by the numbers (12.03.10)

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Beetle mania

Monday, August 10th, 2009

beetle1Many children are infected by beetle mania during the summer holidays, hunting in the nation’s parks armed with insect nets and green plastic cages. This summer adult fans can take their passion for these six-legged critters to even greater lengths by purchasing their very own pair of Micro Stag Beetles for a whopping ¥10,000. Smaller than a grain of rice, these miniaturized plastic male and female models are only 2.6 mm long. Though models are incredibly detailed and stand up to scrutiny under a microscope, you may be asking yourself what a sane adult would prize such an item. (Via Tokyo Walker.)

The real live stag beetles, with their powerful front mandibles, are particularly suited to exciting insect fights and a large one might even set you back as much as ¥7,500 from an online dealer. There are many Web sites devoted to insect fights, such as Japanese Bug Fights in English and World’s Strongest Insect King Playoffs in Japanese.

Those worried about animal cruelty should note that the end of a stag beetle fight is usually signaled when a beetle is flipped on his back or pushed out of the fighting arena. Only male beetles fight and can be encouraged to do so by a specially built machine that emits the mating call of a female beetle.

While the plastic miniaturized version may not be able to be a contender in a tournament, its owner will have the satisfaction in knowing that it’ll be around a little longer than its live counterpart which, once hatched into an adult, rarely survives beyond the summer months.

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