Archives: January 2007

Rare video of dying frilled shark

24 Jan 2007

Officials at Awashima Marine Park, located in the coastal city of Numazu, have obtained rare video footage of a frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) near the sea surface after it was captured in nearby waters.

Frilled shark -- On the afternoon of January 21, a fisherman spotted the large fish in the shallow water near the park. He immediately contacted Awashima Marine Park officials, who caught the shark and transported it to the park's dolphin pen, where they turned it loose. The weak shark was able to survive for several hours -- long enough for park officials to videotape it swimming around. Video footage of the frilled shark near the sea surface is very rare, and the park says it will keep the video for research purposes.

The frilled shark is typically found at a depth of around 600 meters (2,000 feet). Its slender body grows to about 160 cm long, and unlike most sharks, which typically have 5 sets of gills, the frilled shark has 6 sets. It is known as a "living fossil" for its resemblance to extinct, Paleozoic sharks.

Researchers investigating why the shark was found in shallow waters think it may have surfaced along with deep-sea water pushed up to shallow depths by easterly winds. Another possibility is that it left the deep waters because of cool water temperatures near the surface. Or perhaps it came in search of food.

[Source: Chunichi]

Gemotion screen shows video in living 3D

22 Jan 2007

Gemotion -- Here's a groovy display for people looking to add that extra dimension to their viewing material...

Gemotion is a soft, 'living' display that bulges and collapses in sync with the graphics on the screen, creating visuals that literally pop out at the viewer.

Yoichiro Kawaguchi, a well-known computer graphics artist and University of Tokyo professor, created Gemotion by arranging 72 air cylinders behind a flexible, 100 x 60 cm (39 x 24 inch) screen. As video is projected onto the screen, image data is relayed to the cylinders, which then push and pull on the screen accordingly.

"If used with games, TV or cinema, the screen could give images an element of power never seen before. It could lead to completely new forms of media," says Kawaguchi.

The Gemotion screen will be on display from January 21 to February 4 as part of a media art exhibit (called Nihon no hyogen-ryoku) at National Art Center, Tokyo, which recently opened in Roppongi.

[Source: Asahi]

Instant bonsai

19 Jan 2007

Mini-petunias (top left) and ordinary petunias -- On January 18, researchers from Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and the University of Michigan announced the development of a technique for engineering "mini-plants" that are 1/10th their ordinary size.

The researchers claim it is possible to tailor the size of plants by manipulating the genes that regulate the activity of growth hormones. The technique is expected to lead to the creation of miniaturized versions of decorative houseplants, as well as dwarf crops that are easier to harvest and more resistant to wind damage.

In studying dwarf varieties of rice and wheat created through ordinary hybridization, the researchers found damage to the genes that synthesize gibberellin, a growth hormone. When researchers looked for a mechanism to control the growth hormone, they discovered that the GAMT1 and GAMT2 genes commonly found in plants were responsible for producing an enzyme that neutralizes gibberellin.

When the researchers engineered strains of petunias and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in which the two genes were constantly expressed, the plants grew to 1/10th their ordinary size. When plants were administered gibberellin, they grew to their normal size, demonstrating that the size of plants can be freely adjusted.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Only in Japan

17 Jan 2007

For interesting photos of scenes unique to Japan, do a search for "only in Japan" on Google Image Search. Here's a sampling of what you'll find on the top few pages...

Only in Japan --
A relaxing day at the swimming pool

Only in Japan --
Hello Kitty in the snow

Only in Japan --
Manhole cover

Only in Japan --

Only in Japan --
Honda WOW: Dog-friendly concept car

Only in Japan --
Extreme casemod


It's also fun to see what comes up when you do an "only in [...]" search using other place names. Can you guess where each of the images below are from?

Only where? --
Subway map, only in...?

Only where? --
Car wash, only in...?

Only where? --
Snake wash, only in...?

Only where? --
Convenient emergency services, only in...?

[Link: Google image search]

Wood-based bioethanol plant opens in Osaka

15 Jan 2007

Bioethanol -- Bio Ethanol Japan Kansai, a company established by Taisei, Daiei Inter Nature System, Marubeni, Sapporo Beer and Tokyo Board Industries, is set to begin commercial production of bioethanol made from wood waste. Opening ceremonies for the Osaka plant, which the company claims is the world's first of its kind, are scheduled for January 16.

With efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and growing concern over global warming, worldwide interest in ethanol made from biomass is on the rise. Using wood waste from construction, agriculture, forestry and other sources, Bio Ethanol Japan aims to produce 1,400 kiloliters (370,000 gallons) of ethanol fuel in its initial year, and eventually plans to boost annual production capacity to 4,000 kiloliters (1.06 million gallons). The bioethanol will be mixed with gasoline at a concentration of 3%, helping to reduce fossil fuel consumption and lessen the impact on global warming.

The Ministry of Environment, which provided assistance in establishing the plant, has officially recognized the enterprise as a business model contributing to the reduction of global warming. Environment Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.

The use of ethanol as an automotive fuel figures prominently into the Japanese government's Biomass Nippon Strategy, which is designed to promote the production and use of biomass fuel. In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, the widespread use of ethanol fuel encourages the recycling of construction-derived wood waste and furthers efforts to create a more recycling-oriented society.

Now, if Bio Ethanol Japan Kansai could figure out a way to make fuel from the 63 million pairs of disposable chopsticks thrown out every day in Japan...

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Frog killer found in Tokyo

12 Jan 2007

Checking frogs for chytridiomycosis -- Asia's first confirmed case of chytridiomycosis, a fatal infectious disease that affects amphibians, has been discovered in the Tokyo area. The disease has resulted in dramatic population declines and extinctions in the Americas and Australia and is a primary cause of shrinking frog populations in many areas around the world.

Although chytridiomycosis poses no danger to mammals (including humans), birds or reptiles, there is great danger to amphibians. The disease is caused by exposure to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a parasitic chytrid fungus that kills more than 90% of amphibians that come into contact with it.

A consortium of 16 environmental groups, including World Wildlife Fund Japan, the Japanese Society of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, and the Herpetological Society of Japan, plan to issue an emergency declaration calling for increased quarantine efforts and closer monitoring of the sale and distribution of amphibians.

The disease was discovered by a Tokyo-area resident who keeps South and Central American frogs as pets. In November and December last year, 14 of his 35 frogs (11 species) died suddenly. Laboratory analysis at Azabu University in Kanagawa prefecture revealed chytridiomycosis as the cause of death. The likely source of the infection was a frog purchased at a pet store at the end of October.

Azabu University researchers warn there is no way to control the disease if it spreads outdoors, and that it will trigger the widespread death of frogs in Japan.

The environmental groups are asking people to check their frogs for signs of the disease. Symptoms include lifelessness, red spots on the skin and other unusual skin conditions. People are encouraged to seek treatment for their pets if the disease is found, and are urged not to abandon their amphibians in the wild.

/// Text in illustration ///

Signs of chytridiomycosis
- Leg movement appears lethargic
- Nocturnal/tree-dwelling frogs sit still the entire day
- Frog does not move when touched

Checking for chytridiomycosis
(1) Frog does not blink when touched.
(2) Frog does not try to turn over when flipped on its back.
(3) Frog does not react when mouth is pinched shut.

[Source: Asahi]

Future tourist destinations

12 Jan 2007

Here are a few places that will be interesting to visit once they are complete...

Osaka IRT Lab -- Osaka IRT Research Center (Osaka)

With the completion of the Umeda Kita Yard Redevelopment Project in 2011, the robot takeover of central Osaka will have begun. This 7-hectare area on the north side of JR Osaka station will be home to the Osaka IRT Research Center (tentative name), which will bring together ten companies -- including Citizen, German industrial robot manufacturer KUKA, Panasonic (Matsushita), Murata Manufacturing and others -- who will conduct IRT (information/robot technology) research in areas ranging from data communication networks to artificial intelligence to control technology. In an area open to the human public, the companies will maintain ongoing interactive exhibits showcasing the latest advances in robotics, making it an ideal destination for tourists and residents who wish to acquaint themselves with their new overlords.

Sumida Tower -- Sumida Tower (Tokyo)

The year 2011 will also see the completion of the Sumida Tower, which will stand 614 meters (2001 feet) tall. As the tallest free-standing tower in the world and the tallest man-made structure in Japan, Sumida Tower will serve as a communications tower for six television stations.

The tower, which is also referred to as the New Tokyo Tower, is expected to attract about 3 million people per year to Tokyo's Sumida ward, replacing Tokyo's other tower (Tokyo Tower) as the phallic tourist trap of choice. The Sumida Tower will dwarf the aging 333-meter Tokyo Tower, which was constructed in 1958 by the Takenaka Corporation.

No need for the Takenaka Corporation to feel envious, though. The company has bigger plans...

Skycity 1000 -- Sky City 1000 (Tokyo)

Since 1989, the Takenaka Corporation has been toying with the idea of constructing Sky City 1000, a 1 km (3281 feet) tall superstructure containing a virtual city of 35,000 residents and 100,000 workers. Sky City's 8 square kilometers (3.1 square miles) of floor space means there will be plenty of room for shops, schools, theaters, and all the other trappings of urban life that attract tourists.

Sky City 1000 will no doubt be a nice place to explore, and it should relieve some of Tokyo's congestion and free up some green space in the city below -- which will be great for the peons living on the outside.

Shimizu Corporation's space hotel -- Space hotels (450 km over Tokyo)

For travelers seeking greater highs, there are space hotels. Since 1989, Shimizu Construction has been developing plans to construct a 64-room space hotel, which the company hopes to put into operation in another 20 to 30 years.

At 450 kilometers (279 miles) above the planet surface, guests will enjoy fantastic views from their 7 x 4 meter rooms. The 7,500 ton facility will rotate at 3 rpm, producing enough centrifugal force for an artificial gravity of 0.7 g.

For the traveler seeking a more colorful destination, there is Pon De Station, a 24-room low earth orbit hotel designed to resemble a stack of "Pon de Ring" donuts from Mister Donut. The Pon De Station design comes from the Space page on the quirky SNTV site, and it appears to be a variation of the proposed "Space Love" hotel that also appears on the site.

Pon de Station --

The Space Love Project is seeking investors in its hotel, which will specialize in offering intimate space weddings. The hotel plans to offer rooms to couples for 10 million yen ($83,000), which includes the round-trip journey aboard a small space plane.

(For a glimpse of hyperactive web weirdness, visit the SNTV jump page, sit back and enjoy the ride.)

Martian colony, Obayashi Corporation -- Martian settlement (Mars)

For the ultimate getaway, there is Mars. Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation has been researching and developing plans for a Martian colony for over 10 years. According to the company's projections, the Martian population will reach 500 in the year 2057. By 2090, the population will be 50,000 strong and the Martian economy will make up 5% of the solar system's GDP. By then, it should be an interesting tourist option. But the company believes Martians will declare independence from Earth in 2092, so you better hurry up and make those travel arrangements before things get sticky.

Video: Yume-Neko Smile, Part II

07 Jan 2007

Yume-Neko Smile -- still dreaming, still smiling, and still a cat (sort of). Meow.

(See also: Yume-Neko Smile, Part I)

Sayaka: Next-generation capsule endoscope

05 Jan 2007

Sayaka: Next-generation endoscopic capsule --

Endoscopic capsules, ingestible pill-shaped devices designed to capture images from inside the digestive tract, have been around for quite a while. But Sayaka, an endoscopic capsule developed by RF System Lab in December 2005, has dramatically increased the overall image quality by changing the camera position and enabling the camera to rotate.

While conventional capsules -- including RF System Lab's own Norika -- typically have cameras at one end of the capsule, Sayaka's camera has been moved to the side, where it has a better view of the intestinal walls. In addition, a tiny stepper motor rotates the camera as the capsule passes through the digestive tract, allowing Sayaka to capture images from every angle.

Like Norika, Sayaka's power is supplied wirelessly from an external source, primarily so that no harmful battery substances get into the body.

On a typical 8-hour, 8-meter (26 feet) journey through the gastrointestinal tract, Sayaka snaps approximately 870,000 photos, which are sent to a receiver located near the body. Image mosaicking technology is then used to stitch the images together into a flat, high-resolution rectangular map of the intestines, which can be magnified up to 75 times. In addition to scouring the maps for problem areas, gastroenterologists can compare maps from previous sessions to track changes in a patient's condition.

And as if all that were not enough, RF System Lab has released a trippy Sayaka promo video featuring a smooth disco/house soundtrack and starring a naked humanoid that floats over the Nazca Lines, shooting beams from its eyes as it scans the landscape below. Cool.

[Link: Sayaka homepage]