Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I don't think I am alone when I say that I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a child. I think a lot of people all over the world probably have dreamt about going up into space and flying around in some sort of space ship. Maybe the type of space ship that those people dreamt about going into space in was different depending on age, current events or popular TV show. In my case, as a child I wanted to blast into outer space on a rocket like those used at NASA. One of my first real memories as a child is about the challenger accident. That didn't stop me from wanting to go up into space though. As I got a little older I started watching more science fiction. Soon I wanted to go up into space in a space craft like that in star trek.

The point of the little rant above is the fact that no matter how similar the dream of going up into space may be, the type of craft that is being dreamt about might be different. For the next generation of kids it might not be a solid rocket booster of today's space crafts or the dilithium crystal of star trek that fuels their fantasies (sorry for the pun). It might actually be a solar sail. To find out more about solar sails check out this.

Last month JAXA launched a test craft to see if solar sails are really feasible. The name of the craft was IKAROS, which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. That's a mouthful, but obviously they were trying to give a little nod to Icarus (who is actually Ikaros in latin). Why they would want to name a craft that uses wings and the light of the sun to get around after a mythical person that plunged to his death after his wings melted because he got to close to the sun I will never know.

On the 10th, IKAROS got to a distance of 7.7 million kilometers (4.1 million miles) from the earth. It went that far by rocket and without the help of its solar sails because they sails have yet to be unfurled. On the 10th the IKAROS probe started rotating and unfurling its sails. You can see video of what it looked like below.

Not only are the solar sails used to help accelerate the craft in space, but they can also be used like solar panels to produce electricity. The sails should be able to produce enough electricity to power the craft. Now that JAXA has unfurled the sails they have to put the craft though tests of its trajectory controls and navigation. Who knows, if all goes well maybe we will find a new way to putt around outer space.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 軌道(きどう). It is pronounced kidou and it means trajectory. Could someone come up with something snappy having to do with trajectory to put here?

See you next time at JJNN!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Broken Bone

I think the sentence "desensitized to violence" describes me to a tee. Because of a parade of violent movies when I was a kid most things just don't phase me at all. Though, there is something that I just don't want to see. That is a person breaking a bone. I don't know what it is about breaking bones, but they just creep me out.

Maybe it is just the thought of the person that broke the bone having to be laid up for a while with a cast on and recovering from the break. Well, thanks to a team lead by professor Nakamura Kozo from Tokyo university, maybe people will not have to be laid up so long healing from broken bones. Professor Nakamura found out that if a certain protein, named FGF-2(fibroblast growth factor), is increased the patient heals from the break faster. In some cases it was a much as 4 weeks faster.

This FGF-2 protein was tested in 48 hospitals from 2006 to 2008. 71 patients with broken tibias were separated into two groups. In one of the groups the patients were injected with FGF-2 and in the other group the patients were injected with gelatin. The group with the FGF-2 protein injection healed in about 14 weeks while they one without the injection healed in about 18 weeks.

As an interesting side-note, the FGF-2 protein is produced by genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria. That name probably looks familiar because it is the longer name for the infamous E. coli. E. coli is actually used to make a lot of things because it is something we know how to handle. I love when science takes something people don't like and use it for good.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 骨(ほね). It is pronounced hone and it means bone. I have never broken a bone, but I have had some bad things happen with the tendons in my leg. It wasn't fun.

See you next time at JJNN!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Kanji, kanji, and more (and more) kanji

There are many obstacles to learning a new language. For most languages these include things like vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. Then there are the languages where you have to learn how to write in a new alphabet while learning the language. An example of this is the typical English speaker trying to learn Russian because they will have to learn the Cyrillic alphabet.

That may be all well and good, but Japanese takes that to extremes. Not only does Japanese have two alphabets that represent the over 50 syllables used in the Japanese language (one for Japanese words called hiragana and one for foreign words and emphasys called katakana) but they use thousands of Chinese symbols - called kanji - as well.

It is the mix of alphabets and symbols that makes Japanese such a hard language to learn how to write and read. It is possible, in fact I would say easy, to be fluent in spoken Japanese and be illiterate as well. Technically, it would be possible to get by with just reading hiragana and katakana, but nothing printed for kids over first grade in elementary school is without kanji of some kind. Every year Japanese students must learn how to read and write a set number of kanji. They have to practice them and learn how to read them and what they mean when used in combination with other kanji.

So, how many kanji do people have to know to be able to read a news paper or a book or write a letter in Japanese (whicgh is basically my definition of a good degree of literacy)? Well, up until yesterday the answer was 1945 characters. You can check out what they look like here. To people learning how to read and write Japanese these kanji were either objects of devotion or symbols of pure hell (or maybe a little of both). Those kanji were what we strived to learn and come to terms with.

Now, though, it is no long that 1945 characters. It is now 2136 characters. Yes folks, that's an extra 196 characters to learn. That would normally be bad news, but there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of woe. The government finally admitted that people don't write kanji by hand any more. Though they still say that writing is important, now that we are living in a world with computers and cell phones that can produce the kanji we want at the touch of a button, reading has taken the front seat for a while.

That is actually an extremely sweeping statement that the government made. It will probably lead to a lot of changes, but it is still early days now. I know that the elementary school teachers that I have talked to about it are all scratching their head as to how to teach these new kanji. We shall see what happens, I guess.

Any way, you can see the new 196 characters below. Get your dictionary out and have some fun with them, but remember, you don't have to bother writing them.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 増やす(ふやす). It is pronounced fuyasu and it means increase something.

See you next time at JJNN!