This week:
A kit to speed up your Rubik’s Cube times, Lego models of Tokyo, Hanabusa’s Mac Mod Lab, outdoorsy electronics w/ NAO Technohut, feel like a super hero with the Umbrella Sword + Wind Swirl combo, battle of the origami champions, the robots of Tmsuk, and a robot that finally knows how to have a good time on a swing.

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Models of Tokyo in Legos, Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4
Miura-san over at Gizmodo Japan has gleefully geeked out by posting a four-part blog of the Lego Stadium exhibit at Nasu Highland Park in Tochigi. One of the key attractions at this exhibit is the series of models of famous districts in Tokyo, including Asakusa, Shibuya, and Roppongi. There are some great pictures there as well as the details (in Japanese) of a choice encounter with Japan’s only certified Lego model builder, Kazuyoshi Naoe (he is also apparently the last certified Lego builder, as they aren’t doing the certification test anymore, making Mr. Naoe the “only certified Lego builder in all of Asia” [or maybe not?]). How does one become a professional Lego builder? After working for some time in the business department of another toy manufacturer, Mr. Naoe eventually found employment at Lego and was drawn to becoming a Lego builder. For the Lego Stadium project, Naoe’s installment took 930 hours of work and is made up of about 95,000 blocks, all of which are standard, commercially available Legos (it is also interesting to note in these photos that he doesn’t use regular Lego people, but instead constructs each person separately with individual Lego components). These Tokyo models were made without reference to any diagrams. Naoe said “If you give kids Legos, they just go ahead and start building without looking at the instructions. I want to make (my creations) with that same sense of freedom.”

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The MegaHouse Speed Cubing Kit
The Rubik’s Cube is hard, but maybe the reason you aren’t good at it is because your cube isn’t properly adjusted. Did you ever think about that? Here’s a translation of the Megahouse Speed Cubing Kit’s product description:

“With this kit you can remove covers of the center cubes from all six sides so that you can adjust the rotation strength by turning the screws with a screwdriver. You can also perform maintenance and improve the rotation of your cube by applying wax to the disassembled parts. The kit includes an instruction manual on the LBL (layer by layer) method, the method used by most Rubik’s tournament participants. If you use this, finishing all six sides in ten seconds won’t just be a dream anymore!”

Price: 2,625 yen ($26, although with the dollar being what it is these days…) Tons of pictures of this kit here available here at the Planet Puzzle site. – via TokyoMango.

The “Amagatana” Umbrella Sword and “Fula” Wind Cape
There must be something good in the water over at Keio University, because it seems like people there keep making the wildest things. Remember the ubiquitous computing+sports game Shootball from last week? Yep, that was from Keio, and now we have this, the Amagatana, which means “rain sword” and is an umbrella that makes sword battle sounds when the user swings it around. Using accelerometer data, the Amagatana can even recognize “special moves” (you know, sorta like the fatalities from Street Fighter) that are invoked by special combinations of swings. This invention turns regular umbrella users into super heroes, so you’d better have a cape or other flowing accessory to match your new super powers. Enter the “Fula,” or “wind spiral” which is “a scarf for warming the user’s body and soul on a cold winter’s day.” “Through acting in accordance to the flutter, the user can warm his body, and by seeing the reflection of his heroic self in store windows, his soul as well.” Awesome! The user activates the wind beneath this cape-like device by flexing his/her muscles. It’s great to see projects pulled off with such wild imagination, flair, and humor.

Origami Champions Face Off
Speaking of super heroes, Japan Probe hosts a set of three short-but-sweet videos from TV Tokyo’s TV Champion in which Japanese origami champions Chuya Miyamoto and Satoshi Kamiya go head-to-head in paper-folding battle. The two contestants are challenged with making original origami from menus and receipts, and both seem to rise to the occasion with superhuman talent. For their final challenge, they are asked to make a fantasy scene: “Miyamoto created a scene of a fisherman battling a fish, apparently inspired by Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Kamiya created a scene based on the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda.” Some high-brow fantasy origami scenes indeed.

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Hanabusa’s Mac Mod Lab
Hideo Takano’s Mac Mod Lab is home to his growing collection of stylish Macintosh case modifications. Most of his projects involve making Mac Minis look like little versions of the Power Mac G5, but if that wasn’t enough, we all know that case mods and sci fi go hand in hand, so here’s his “Heroes”-themed Mac Pro Nano, which starts out with sheets of ABS plastic that are eventually tricked into looking like a metal case; featuring a pop-out USB drive, hand-drilled (!) holes for the cheese-grater-style front, and a very convincing screening job on the Apple logo. Although his step-by-step instructions are all in Japanese, you should be able to get a general idea of his process just by checking out the abundant photos.

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Outdoorsy Tech Projects – Naoyuki Sato’s NAO Technohut
Make:Japan recently blogged about Naoyuki Sato’s amazing custom-machined portable pressurized rice cooker for camping, and further investigation into his NAO Technohut website shows that there is a general affinity for DIY camping gear of all sorts. In addition to his forays into the realms of portable rice cooking, there is extensive documentation of how he has made many camping-related electronics projects including LED lanterns for hanging inside a tent, film case lanterns, and vibrating cicada fishing lures (pictured above). These vibrating lures use small watch batteries and pager motors with off-center weights housed in buoyant wooden casings to create cicada-like ripples in the water to lure in less tech-savvy fish. Tricky!

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Tmsuk, the Little Neighborhood Robot Company
PingMag MAKE brings us an English-language interview with the president of Tmsuk, a company that got into the robot business somewhat inadvertently when they attempted to replace a receptionist with a robot. Word got around, they started getting orders for receptionist robots, and before they knew it, they were in the robot business. Since then, they have been a major player in robot technology in Japan, and continue to make service-oriented robots to perform industrial and business tasks, resisting the temptation of other robot manufacturers who are making “robots that can walk on two legs, dance, conduct orchestras and all that” and instead focusing on robots that rely more on practicality and the principle of remote control rather than artificial intelligence. Which brings us to my next entry:

The Swinging Robot
Earlier last week the MAKE:Japan blog introduced kanji-reading robot fans to this cute lil’ robot guy, happily swinging back and forth to a very spunky soundtrack. If you’re still having nightmares about that gas-powered BigDog walking robot monstrosity you may have seen last week, just use this video to remind yourself that not all robots are evil, not all robots sound like snarling warthogs, and that not all robots deserve to be kicked in slo-mo.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Please get in touch. Thanks,
-MD


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