Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A small piece of mind

Welcome back to JJNN

Today's article is taken from Yomiuri Online.

Ever since the nuclear crisis happened in North Eastern Japan, people have felt the need to have more information about what is going on in and around the nuclear power plant. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (who, admittedly was not really up front about everything that happened in the early days of the crisis) decided one way to give people piece of mind was to put up a 24 hour web camera that can look over all of the reactors in the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

The web camera can be accessed by anyone by the following link: http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/f1-np/camera/index-j.html. You might have to install a plug in to actually see the video, but it is worth the effort. The drawing below the web camera actually shows where the camera is looking from above. There is also a lag of about 30 seconds between when the video is shot and when it shows up on computer monitors, but that can't really be helped.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is カメラ(かめら). It is pronounced kamera and it means camera. Last winter a bought a new camera that takes great pictures and good video. I really have to remember to take it with me when I go to places.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Haptic Buttons on Touch Screens

Welcome back again to JJNN

Today's article is from RBB Today. It is also a story from Wireless Japan 2011.

With the use of smart phones with touch screens and other forms of touch input devices becoming more and more prevalent as time goes on, there is a decided decline in the amount of mechanical buttons on phones and other input devices out there. As a story from my personal life, I have been using an iPhone for about 2 or 3 years now so I am used to the touch screen. Last night I became a regional manager in my job so I got a special cell phone for use on business. Of course that new phone is not a smart phone and it does not have a touch interface. When I started using the phone it felt strangely responsive. I could tell what I was opening and using more easily with that new (extremely low powered) phone.

That is the very problem with phones and other devices with a touch input. It is hard to tell if you hit the button (icon) to start an application or (on the other hand) it is easy to hit buttons by accident. There is no tactile response to the user's input so it can be extremely unintuitive for first time users to touch screens that are used to traditional buttons.

This is where the good people at KDDI step in. They wanted to find something that would bridge the gap between the feel of mechanical buttons and the ease of a touch screen. KYOCERA Cooperation (a part of KDDI) produced a new form of haptic technology (technology that takes advantage of the sense of touch) that be Incorporated into touch screen devices to give the feeling of mechanical buttons to a touch screen. You can see a phone with a haptic touch screen below.

Cell phone with a haptic touch screen
The process is really actually very simple. When someone touches an icon or interacts with the touch screen in some way the phone vibrates for a very short duration. That quick vibration is interpreted by the brain as being the same as pushing down a mechanical button. There are even 3 different types (durations) of vibration that are used for different actions on the touch screen.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 感覚(かんかく). It is pronounced kankaku and it means sense. I wonder when cell phones will start taking advantage of the sense of smell.

Monday, May 23, 2011

NTT Docomo's Translation Telephone

Welcome back to JJNN

Today's article is taken from RBB Today.

It is said (by good ol' Mr. Wiki) that there are anywhere between 3000 to 6000 languages currently at use all over the world. Differences in language along with cultural differences can lead to major political misunderstandings which can also lead to bad blood with countries that speak different languages. That is one of many driving forces that have pushed people to produce a device that can be used as a universal translator.

Of course there have been many different translating devices on the market over the years, but NTT Docomo (a Japanese telephone company) is in the process of producing a phone that will work as a perfect translator for those using it. The basic idea can be seen below.

Basic idea for the translation phone
The scenario Docomo is using in the picture above is a Japanese mother calling her daughter's American host family. As soon as the mother dials out to another translation phone (apparently her daughter brought one with her to America) the two phones are connected to Docomo's server though a conference call bridge. When the user speaks into the cell phone, the server samples the audio, figures out what language it is, puts it though a speech to text protocol, translates that text to the other language, and finally outputs audio in the other language with a text to speech protocol.

This phone sounds like it could help in international business or political relationships. Of course, as with any futuristic technology that is running with today's protocols and hardware, there are going to be some bugs and drawbacks that have to be worked on by Docomo. One thing that seems like the weak link of this system is voice to text system that is used before the translation. If the user does not speak clearly all the time that will mess up how the speech changes to text, which will end up messing up the translation as well. This is especially not good for Japanese where the end of verbs is very important and one small change causes by a slurred vowel can change a sentence from affirmative to negative.

The phone will apparently do a lot of other things like share schedules that have been translated and the like, but that is still in the planning stage. Below is a picture of what text output of a conversation had with the phone. As an English teacher I give my thumbs up to the translation.

Translation cell phone example conversation
It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 携帯電話(けいたいでんわ). It is pronounced keitai denwa and it means cell phone. When I first got to Japan my cell phone was from Docomo, but now I am with softbank because of my iPhone.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A cesium absorbing material

Welcome back to JJNN

Today's article was taken from the International Business Times.

One of the major results of a nuclear meltdown is the release of strongly radioactive elements into the environment in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant. It takes a lot of time, energy, money and danger to clean up a meltdown site. Any little thing that will help speed up the process and cut down the risk of radiation exposure would be greatly appreciated by those that have to clean up the site.

Luckily for the people that have to clean up (and still contain) the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima a Japanese research center has discovered a material that can absorb a lot of a radioactive material known as cesium. The material, which is a solidification of titanic acid, was developed by the people at Japan's National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS). One cubic centimeter of this substance can not only trap up to one gram of cesium but it also holds the cesium better than the prior clean up agent, borosilicate glass. In fact, after a week of high temperature tests, it lost 1/170th the amount of borosilicate glass.

Crystal structure of solidified titanic acid

Here are some quick facts of solidified titanic acid:
     Crystal width of .02mm (.000787in)
     Crystal length of 5mm (0.2in)
     Production method: titanium oxide and cesium are desolved into molybdenum and go though electrolysis
     Can be made under normal temperatures and pressures

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 結晶(けっしょう). It is pronounced kessho and it means crystal. There are people in the world who try to make crystals something special by saying they have "healding powers," but I always think that a crystal is amazing just the way it is (even if it doesn't have any special powers).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rogue planets

Welcome back to JJNN

Today's second article is also from the online edition of the Yomiuri Newspaper.

When most people think of solar systems they probably think of one sun (or maybe a binary star) with planets rotating around it. If that image is expanded, most people think of a galaxy as something that contains many solar systems. In other words as something that contains many suns with many many planets rotating around them.

For the longest time that was the basic idea, but that idea was upset by a paper written by Professor Ito Yoshitaka from Nagoya University and assistant professor Sumi Takahiro from Osaka University. The paper, which was published in Nature, detailed that there are probably hundreds of billions of rogue planets in flying around the universe.

What's a rogue planet? Well basically it's a planet that is not gravitationally bound to (thus not revolving around) any star. It's really a cool idea if you think about it. A planet hurdling though space not effected by any star unless it's path happens to get close to a star's gravity well. With a number like "hundreds of billions" and an area the size of the universe as well as an amount of time from when planets started forming to the present time; it could be quite possible that a rouge planet could wander into a star's gravity well and be captured. In other words, it could be possible for an "alien planet" to become part of a solar system. You can see an artist's reprensentation of what a rouge planet might look like below.

Possible repersentation of a rogue planet

This leads us to two questions: How do planets become rouge planets and how can we detect those planets? Rouge planets are created when planets that are rotating around a planet are effected by the gravity of other planets or other objects around the sun and actually get ejected from their orbit. The rogue planets are actually detected because of an effect called gravitational lensing. Basically, an object that has a large mass bends space-time around it to the point in which it actually bends the path of light around it like a huge lens. When one of the rogue planets moves in front of a star (when viewed by the Earth) the amount of light from that star actually increases until the plant moves away from the star.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 惑星(わくせい). It is pronounced wakusei and it means planet. I am wondering if a percent of the "dark matter" (matter which we can't account for in the universe) is not made up of these rogue planets.

200th post! (plus some rainy day news)

Welcome back to JJNN.

Today's article was taken from the online version of the Yomiuri Newspaper.

Coming from America, I have always been familiar with a year that has 4 seasons: spring, summer, winter and fall. In contrast, Japan actually has a year that has 5 seasons. It has the normal four seasons plus a rainy season that lasts from around the end of May to the beginning of July. The start and the total length of the season depends on when the heavy rain starts and stops. All in all, it's a miserable season for those of you that don't like hot, humid and rainy days.

Maybe it is because Japan has a deep connection (sometimes hate) of their 5th season that Japanese scientists have felt the need to study its properties. Way back in 1901 scientists erected 37 rain collection stations scattered all throughout Japan. The amount of fallen rain at different points in the rainy season was noted from 1901 to 2009 (it is still probably being noted now, but for this study the data stops at 2009).

The scientists at the Meteorological Society of Japan (MSJ), have decided to take the average of the amount of rain that fell from 1901 to 1930 and set that as the benchmark for future comparisons. In other words the average from 1901 to 1930 is set as the normal rain level and all future averages are compared to it.

The MSJ found a few interesting trends after they correlated the data. First is the good news, the amount of rain that falls in the begining of the rainy season has been decreasing over time. In fact there has been a 20% decrease from the 1901 to 1930 average. Now for the bad news, as the end of the rainy season the amount of rain that falls on the Japan Sea side of Japan has increased to about 2.5 times the 1901 to 1930 average. On the other hand, the amount of rainfall on the ocean side of Japan has not really changed much. These trends can be seen in the graph below.

The blue in the graph is the ocean side of Japan, while the red is the Japan Sea side.

The people at the MSJ say that the increase might have been caused by global warming. They have no real data to prove that at the moment, but they are looking into it with computer simulations. The leader of the MSJ also says if the global warming gets worse the rainy season in Japan will get longer and might even change the rainy season for good.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 梅雨(つゆ). It is pronounced tsuyu and it means rainy season. Personally I am not a fan of the rainy season, but at least I don't live on the Japan Sea side of Japan any more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lowering Your Energy Bill with Bitter Melon (Goya)

Welcome back to JJNN.

This post is about an article that appears in the Yomiuri's online edition.

Saving electricity has become a big thing in Japan ever since the major earthquake that happened in March. With the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and the shut down of many other nuclear power plants it is hard for TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) to keep up with the everyday power demands of the people they are suppose to be providing with electricity. The situation got so dire after the earthquake that there were scheduled power outages for wide areas that went on for about a month.

Luckily (not really lucky for the environment though) TEPCO got some coal fired power plants up and running to make up some of the difference, but there is probably going to be more scheduled power outages during the summer when people start using air conditioners. That is where the good people of the "Nagareyama Committee for the Advancement of Bitter Melon Curtains" come in.

Sure, their committee name may be a mouthful, but they are doing what they can to help take a step closer to nature (without actually hugging any trees) and save some money on their home's energy bill. The committee passes out the seeds to a vine known as the bitter melon or the bitter gourd. The vine itself can grow to up to 5 meters in length and it produces a fruit that is extremely bitter. You may be wondering what a vine that bares bitter fruit has to do with saving money on heating and saving electricity. Well, the picture below might help solve that mystery.

A house covered in Bitter Melon vines
 The theory is that if a house is covered in a leafy vine, like the one from the Bitter Melon, it will reflect away enough of the sunlight from the exterior wall of the house that the temperature inside the house will go down. A cooler house leads to less use of air conditioners and other coolers, which leads to less use of electricity. People in Nagareyama are really jumping on the this method to save electricity as well. Last year 360 houses were given 1500 vines in total, but this year 1970 houses have applied to get the free vines, which is about 5 times more houses than the committee was counting on.

It really is an interesting way to be environmentally friendly and also save a buck (or yen or what ever currency you want). Not only does it help cool the house in the summer and maybe keep the house warm in the winter (by acting as another layer of insulation), but the plant also takes CO2 out of the air and produces fruit that can be eaten (even though it is bitter). All in all it sounds like a good plan to me.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 蔓(つる). It is pronounced tsuru and it means vine.. Of course this can be done with any vine that will grow long enough to cover an entire building, but I think the Bitter Melon is probably the way to go.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Green tea

Welcome back to JJNN.

Today's article comes from one of Nagano's local newspapers.

It's that time of year again. Well, actually it is a little past that time. I am, of course(?), talking about the time of year to pick new tea leaves. The tea picking process started on the 14th in the little village of Tenryu located on the southern edge of Nagano prefecture. That is actually 11 days later than normal because of frosts that occurred in the spring.

If I am asked if I like to drink coffee or tea I will always say that I want to drink tea (though in reality I end up drinking more coffee in a day than tea). Tea is an intricate part of the Japanese lifestyle and also helps to support many villages that would normally not be able to grow anything else. That is the case with the small village of Tenryu, which is made out of many sloaps and vallies. Tenryu's tea fields are 290 to 400 meters (.18 to .25 miles) above sea level.

The tea is picked by breaking off the stem below the leaves (which come in sets of three) so the leaves are not damaged. Below you can see a picture of the picking process.

Picking Tea
 It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is お茶(おちゃ). It is pronounced ocha and it means tea. Nothing better on a cold morning than a hot mug of tea.

See you next time at JJNN

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wireless Battery Charging

Today's article is from ITmedia News.

Potentially, one of the most important technology breakthroughs that may happen in the future is the advent of a more powerful (power dense) battery that can be charged and discharged repeatedly over many years (or decades). Science is taking many different baby steps towards making a super battery by searching for many different viable materials, but it will take a long time until we can make a truly efficient battery that is not only low in cost but safe for the environment.

On way to keep batteries safe for the environment is to keep them out of landfills. The use of rechargeable batteries can of course cut down on the number of batteries going into a landfill (well slow the process any way), but in this fast paced world who has the time to put batteries into a charger and plug that charger into the wall? Well, I am sure 99% of the people in this world do actually have that kind of time, but for those of you that don't there is the Charge Pad from Panasonic which is picture below.

Charge Pad and battery packs
The Charge Pad is a smart little device that charges up batteries using a system called "Qi," which was thought up by a company called Wireless Power Consortium. Qi is a wireless charging system that can be used on any company's chargers. To uses the Charge Pad all you have to do is place your specially designed battery pack on top of the Charge Pad and it will start to charge automatically.

Quick stats:
   Size: 146mm * 170mm * 20mm (5.75in * 6.7in * .8in)
   MSRP: Around 5000 yen

As I said above, a specially designed battery is needed to use this charging system (or most specially charging systems for that matter). Panasonic will start to sell the Lithium Ion 5400 and 2700 battery packs at the same time as the charger (scheduled for June 26th). Those battery packs will have a USB cable and can be used to charge smart phones and other such devices. The battery packs themselves take 7 hours and 5 hours to charge respectively.

It is worth noting at this point that rechargeable batteries can not be charged just by placing them onto the Charge Pad. A special case is needed for the batteries. In other words, instead of putting batteries into a charger and plugging the charger into the wall, they are placed into a charger and put onto the Charge Pad. Not really much of a difference there.

There have been other devices like this around in the past, but one thing that makes this device stand out from the rest is it's "Moving Coil" technology. The Charge Pad will actually be able to detect where the battery pack is placed and be able to movie its recharging coil to that place. Almost like magic. The process can be seen below.

Moving Coil Technology
It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 電池(でんち). It is pronounced denchi and it means battery. Writing this post reminds me that I have to buy some new batteries for my wii remote.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Personal Radiation Detector

Today's article was taken from Yahoo's news page.

As everyone probably knows there was a huge earthquake off the coast of Japan on March 11th, 2011. That earthquake damaged one of Japan's nuclear power plants which is located in Fukushima. The power plant started going though a shutdown using generators because outside power was cut off. Not long after the earthquake a title wave hit the power plant, destroying the generators and shutting off the water cooling system for the nuclear fuel. That, of course, (as it does) lead to a partial melt down and several radiation leaks.

That happened 2 months ago today. At that time a lot of people that live in the Northern part of Japan were worried about an increase in the normal background radiation because of the nuclear melt down. It was a very real fear for those that lived near the crippled nuclear power plant, but the problem was the people that lived far away from the plant and were panicking because of a little extra radiation. The fact is that no one knows what a little extra radiation does to the human body, but the chances of it resulting in cancer is low.

This brings us to the article I linked to above. It seems a company called RAE Systems has made and started marketing a personal radiation dosage detector. You can see the detector along with its USB stand in the picture below.

RAE Systems's DoseRAE
For those of you that might be interested, here are so specs:
   Can be programmed to take a data point at any time between 30 seconds to 3600 seconds.
   Can measure data ranges from 0.01 mSv/h to 10Sv/h.
   Data can be transferred to a computer and it can be charged by means of USB.
   Comes at an alarm (vibration or LED lights) that can be set using a computer (XP or Vista).
   Current radiation dosages can be displayed on a computer when in a USB dock.
   MSRP: 79800 yen

It is a little pricey, but for those that are truly worried about their radiation dose (those that live close to the power plant or those that have to work at it), it might be a good buy. Other than that, I would say it is a geek's must buy fashion accessory because it comes with a nice plastic clip that can be used to clip it firmly in place in the front pocket. Very sexy.

There is one drawback though, the device uses thin film technology (instead of the same technology as a Geiger counter) so it will only truly detect X-rays and gamma rays. It can not really be used to detect the radiation caused by alpha particles or beta particles. It is not an all around detector, but and all around detector would be much bigger and cost a whole lot more.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 放射線(ほうしゃせん). It is pronounced hoshasen and it means radiation. I know that radiation can be scary because it is something that we can't see, but hey if it gets bad enough maybe we will all end up like the hulk or spider man.

See you next time at JJNN!

Busy, busy!

Hey everyone.

Yet again there was a huge gap between one blog and the next. I am working on reducing or eliminiting those gaps entirely. Just a quick upday for now and hoepfully later today or later this week I will get back on track when it comes to this blog and update at least 5 times a week.

As for my life, (sorry it has nothing to do with sci/tech really) I am now at a different school but still keeping up with my teaching job. I am still trying to get into translating, so that pratice is also taking up a lot of my time.

Any way, let's hope I can keep this up.

As always, feel free to comment and join the conversation. See you next time on JJNN.