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This week: Actbrise: Makers of Boutique Mouses and Handicapped Assistance Products, Mashup Art w/ Twittalk, The Strange Crochet Things of Niimarusangow, Ujino Muneteru’s The Rotators, and The Pika Pika Lightning Doodle Project.

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Actbrise: Makers of Boutique Mouses and Handicapped Assistance Products
A small Japanese electronics company called Actbrise has introduced the Jupiter Mouse (13,980 yen ~$140). A spherical ball made of Japanese ash (a wood most typically used to make baseball bats, its swirly grain gives the mouse its “Jupiter” name), this mouse mixes the ultra-modern experience of an accelerometer-based mouse with the earthy texture of a wooden ball. Earlier additions to the Actbrise mouse line are equally far-out, but seem to focus on blinged-out versions of the accelerometer mouse concept. I was excited to see that Actbrise also sells DIY kits (although temporarily sold out, according to their website) that provide you with the electronics guts that you can put inside just about anything to make the mouse of your imagination. Examples? Here is a step-by-step pictorial of how they made a mouse out of a Gundam Dendrobium spaceship, (video included). The kit consists of four mouse buttons, the preassembled PCB, a USB connection cable, and connection cables for the buttons. Their video of Google Earth being controlled by a pig’s head should be enough to get anyone interested in building their own accelerometer mouse.

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Although Actbrise’s product line seems a bit eccentric at first glance, further investigation into the company’s website reveals that they are not just in the business of selling boutique mouses. Their accelerometer-based electronics engineering has also been put to use for products designed to assist the physically disabled in getting around on computers. One of their more interesting handicapped-aid products is the Mouse to Mouth (or is it Mouth to Mouse? There is no “th” sound in Japanese, so it’s a cleverly reversible play on words). The Mouth to Mouse is a hat with a tube that goes into the user’s mouth, and it is designed to be used as a mouse substitute for physically disabled people who do not have full use of their arms and legs. This device uses an accelerometer mounted on the hat to allow the user to control the position of the mouse cursor with their head movements. Mouse clicking is done through the breathing tube: Breathing out into the pipe gives you a left click, and sucking into the pipe gives you a right click. Actbrise also makes the No-Touch keyboard to allow head-controlled typing for people with similar physical disabilities. From far-out to friendly, this young ten-employee company from rural Gunma prefecture certainly seems to be full of ideas.
Via Trends in Japan

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Twittalk

Ahh, web mashups… With the advent of the open API and services such Yahoo! Pipes, the web has become the maker’s breadboard, allowing tinkerers to patch together web content in new and bizarre ways. As an entry for Japan’s ICC Mashup Art Contest* two aspiring Japanese web mashup artists created Twittalk, a mashup that claims to “speak the trends of the world” by picking four people from its Skype contact list at random, calling them with two computer voices, one male voice that that read the most semantically significant words that it picks out of URLs that are posted to Twitter, and a female voice that reads the newest search keywords from Goo (popular Japanese search engine and web portal, no relation to Google), all with a song picked by Google Trends going in the background (the music itself is pumped in via YouTube). Do you get it? Are you envisioning it? Here, this will help:

Although the main brain of this mashup appears to be Yahoo! Pipes, the whole thing is set in motion by stringing the following protocols together:

  • goo search API
  • Twitter public timeline API
  • Yahoo! Pipes
  • Youtube API
  • Skype API
  • Google trends

So what do “the trends of the world” sound like? If you don’t mind getting a Skype call to find out, add Twittalk to your Skype contacts and you might get a call from them the next time they run this mashup beast. The call lasts for about one minute and as the authors warn on their website, don’t add Twittalk to your Skype contacts unless you really are cool with getting a call from it. When Skype rings in the middle of your hot date and robot voices begin to kindly inform you that porn is still the most popular thing on the web, all to the musical backdrop of Maroon 5, don’t say I didn’t warn you! Seriously though, this stuff is great.

*This contest is now over, I’ll be sure and keep you posted when the results are announced sometime in the middle of this month, in the meantime, click one some purple links here to see what it’s all about.

Also, this has nothing to do with being Made in Japan, but here’s an honorable mention to the ICC Web Mashup applicant Tobi’s Time Machine which has the magical ability to make every page you look at appear as though it was designed in 1996. It’s good to see the blink tag again, isn’t it?


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The Strange Crochet Things of Niimarusangow

Craft favorite and prolific crocheter 203gow (pronounced niimarusango) has done it again, this time with her “wood hand” gloves, complete with mushrooms growing out of the wood. Her work shows a flimsy yet dream-like side of crocheting as a form of sculpture: colorful, textured and alive. Her weblog combines everything from short poems, ruminations on inspiration and crafting, and of course plenty of pictures of her stunning latest creations. (Thanks Becky!)

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Ujino Muneteru

Tokyo-based Ujino Muneteru has been involved in creating sound sculptures for quite some time, but his most current project, The Rotators, focuses on using thrown-away technology to create sculpture instruments out of household appliances. These appliances are turned on and off by a record player that plays an LP embedded with colored pencil stubs that turn switches, sending the orchestra of appliances into a glorious chorus of rhythmic whirring.

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In October Ujino Muneteru was interviewed by the wonderful We Make Money Not Art and had some very insightful things to say about Japan’s relationship with electronic appliances:

“Japanese people want to have the latest thing so they buy what’s new and ditch the old at recycle shops. In this area, there are so many recycling shops that are formal companies, they have many trucks and assemble and gather peoples old goods for sale in shops, there is so much recycling going on here and that works out for me. I like to take that junk and re use it.”

These “recycle shops” that he refers to are like pawn shops in Japan, but without the pawning. Slightly outdated technologies line the walls of these shops, and many of these items are acquired without charge on the soudai gomi (“large trash”) day, the designated days in Japan when larger electronic appliances can be taken out to the trash for pickup. The recycle shops know exactly when these days are in each region, and send out dispatches to get the good stuff before the garbage guys do. Soudai gomi day is quite a sight, because seeing the high quality of appliances that get thrown away attests to the hunger for the newness among many Japanese. The re-appropriation and artistic appreciation of older consumer appliances in The Rotators can be seen as a reaction to this trend. In the WMMNA interview, Ujino eloquently describes The Rotators’ guiding message:

Well, its DIY. With an emphasis on physical means- just using your hands and body to make your own things- sculptures or instruments- using technology in your own way and not letting it dictate function. You know, its like a computer, the keyboard is made for your fingers, and we shouldn’t limit our thinking to that way. I try to find the opposite way and do it. With the rotators, I feel I am reversing that relationship, that I am in control of technology, not vice versa.

Does this guy read Make? Bravo! You can see videos of many of his creations in action here.

Update: What timing! PingMag also just put up their interview (English) with Ujino Muneteru today. Sasuga PingMag!

Pika Pika – Light Graffiti Animation
Takeshi Nagata and co. create vivid animations by using sequences of long-exposure photography to capture the motion of participants painting in the air with flashlights. These photos are then strung together to create fascinating nighttime ballets of squiggling light creatures. The Pika Pika Lightning Doodle Project focuses on group collaboration, as everyone participates together in bringing the art to life. The members of the Pika Pika group make nighttime visits to various picturesque locales in Japan to create these lively animations. I would guess that the people who walk by and see them waving flashlights on the street would be a bit puzzled if they didn’t know what was going on. Why are they light saber fighting against invisible opponents? Oh, it’s for art!

That’s it for this week. Questions, comments, or link suggestions? Email me.


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