AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hai! Tech

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

SCAN the inner corners and back pages of Japanese newspapers, or the Science section of Internet news aggregators, and you’ll be served a smorgasbord of fascinating stories gainsaying the hollow declarations of fly-bys that a malaise-ridden Japan is in a downward spiral from which there is No Hope of Escape.

Indeed, it’s a buffet amply illustrating that old Ma Necessity is alive and well in the archipelago. For example, a report was published shortly after the nuclear accident at Fukushima that a team led by Aritomi Masanori, the head of the Tokyo Institute of Technology Research Institute for Atomic Reactors, had developed a technology for purifying water contaminated by cesium from nuclear power reactors by employing a mass market pigment used in pharmaceuticals. They think it can be applied to treat the water from the Fukushima accident and purify the nearby ponds and swamps.

The team noticed that iron ferrocyanide, the primary ingredient of the Prussian blue pigment, adsorbs cesium. They developed a system in which the pigment is mixed with the water, separated by centrifugal force, and then passed through a filter together with the cesium.

To conduct their experiments, they recreated for laboratory use the radiation-contaminated water from the reactor by mixing sea water with iodine, cesium, and strontium, with the iodine and cesium content at 10 parts per million. They inserted a gram of the pigment for each 100 milliliters of the lab water. After treatment, the measurable cesium was less than one part per 10,000 — in other words, it was removed almost entirely.

Their process doesn’t remove the iodine, but the team notes that iodine has a half-life of only eight days. They think they can find a way to remove the strontium using a similar method with a different substance.

With the current portable devices used to clean muddy water, this system could decontaminate 300 liters of water an hour. In addition, the team suggests this system could be used for the cooling water in atomic power plants.

*****
Necessity is driving other forms of relief in the coastal areas of Tohoku as well. Seven Bank has incorporated and applied different technologies to begin operating mobile ATMs in the earthquake/tsunami-stricken areas of Miyagi two weeks ago. Yes, Seven Bank is operated by 7-Eleven, and it’s a real bank that provides Internet banking and international transfer services. Considering the mini-commercial dynamos that are Japanese convenience stores, no wonder the story went unnoticed. It was almost to be expected.

*****
While electronics companies have been devising ways to provide cell phones with Internet and PC functions, Fujitsu approached the problem from the opposite direction. Last week, the company announced they had developed the world’s smallest PC, the F-07C, which will be equipped with a cell phone function. The product will be sold to the public this summer by NTT DoCoMo.

The F-07C will have options for two types of CPUs. It is six centimeters high, 12.5 centimeters wide, and two centimeters thick. It will contain spreadsheet and word processing functions, a touch panel, and a keyboard that slides out from beneath the screen. The device will automatically switch to phone mode if a call comes in and it is being used as PC. (Unless that function can be turned off manually, that seems like another fine way for computers to exasperate their owners.)

The Japanese market already has Fujitsu’s Android cell phone and Apple’s iPhone, but the company thought it would be a good idea to offer a product to people who wanted to use the software they already had.

The next step, of course, is a small portable unit that transcends the definitions of cellular telephone and personal computer altogether.

*****
Speaking of Fujitsu, miniaturization, and PCs, here’s a story that did find its way into English last month:

Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Frontech Limited, and Fujitsu Laboratories Limited today announced its achievement of the world’s smallest and slimmest contact-free vein authentication sensor out of the previous plethora of vein authentication devices including those for the finger or back of the hand.

The sensor’s smaller and slimmer form factor makes it easy to incorporate into the design of personal computers and other electronic devices, thereby helping to expand the range of potential applications for palm vein authentication.

With the inclusion of a high-speed image-capture function that can continuously capture up to 20 frames per second, as well as a feature that can instantly pick out the best image for authentication and automatically verify it, users do not need to hold their hand motionless over the sensor, as before, but can instead perform authentication by simply placing their palm lightly over the sensor. This enables a dramatic improvement in usability.

All of that means it just got a lot easier to distribute your vein patterns anywhere almost instantly over the Internet, assuming you’re not the type that would rather distribute nude photos of the ex-girlfriend who dumped you.

Finally, another story distributed in the Anglosphere last month describes a relatively primitive first step in a process that might lead to teleportation. Here’s Clara Moskowitz at LiveScience.com:

Our world is getting closer to “Star Trek” every day, it seems. Scientists announced…they’ve been able to teleport special bits of light from one place to another, a la “Beam me up, Scotty.”

The basis of the phenomenon in quantum physics is so unusual that Einstein referred to it as “spooky action at a distance”. The scientists the author was referring to are a team headquartered at the University of Tokyo.

The process involves destroying the light at one location and creating an exact reproduction in another. That isn’t just a scientific advance — the possibilities for the theological and philosophical debate of the matter, not to mention the nature of matter itself, would seem to approach infinity.

Who knows? One of these days Japan might lead the rest of the world in following the lightsteps of George “Sulu” Takei:

UPDATE:

In 1995, Mico Hirschberg of the Eindhoven University of Technology wrote a paper suggesting that trombones emitted shock waves briefly exceeding the speed of sound. Now it’s been revealed that he and Takayama Kazuyoshi and Otani Kiyonobu of Tohoku University’s Institute of Fluid Science worked together to capture these shock waves on video using schlieren photography.

Anyone who’s stood downwind from a gusting trombone shout band with their hands over their ears will understand perfectly. Less easy to understand is why this performance didn’t cause spontaneous combustion in the hall.

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