This week:
Remaking Wooden Toys With Electronics (And Wood), Hair Hats by Nagi Noda, The Death/Return of the Print Gocco, Toshio Egawa – Death Metal Art, Massh – Nao Tokui, Kondo Robots KHR 4th Anniversary, Nicota AVR Project Game Board, The Unconventional Flying Object, Shuetsu Sato – Gaff Tape Artist, Tokyo’s Top 10 LED Signs, PS2 MIDI Controller Hack, How To Sign Up On Nico Nico Douga, and Double Screen iPod.

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Remaking Wooden Toys With Electronics (And More Wood)
The adventurers at DPZ have taken the nostalgic wooden mechanical toys of their childhoods and tried to re-create the complicated wooden gears with cheap electrical generators and motors, while still trying to maintain the cosmetic appeal of wooden toys. While the guts may be electronic, the exterior is fancily decked out in wood. Although the laws of thermodynamics would dictate that there must be some loss between how much is cranked and how much the motor spins, the sweet fact remains that if you spin the crank, the little man spins right along, and that should be enough to keep your child (or inner child) happy.

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Hair Hats by Nagi Noda
Japanese visual artist Nagi Noda treats hair as a sculpting material, and creates elaborate hairstyles that resemble animals. The amount of hairspray/glue that went into these is presumably enough to make even the contestants of Shear Genius feel inadequate. A hairstyle like this would be prefect for the next time you’re invited to a dinner party at Björk and Matthew Barney’s house. I’m going to start growing my hair out for Halloween.

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The Death/Return of the Print Gocco
A long-standing staple of the Japanese craft world, Riso’s Print Gocco was at one time synonymous with DIY nengajou (new year’s cards), so much so that it is estimated that one third of Japanese households own a Print Gocco system. The Gocco was introduced in 1977 by Noboru Hayama, and while at one time being the only game in town, it has long since been replaced by more modern (although not necessarily as aesthetically kawaii) printing technologies. The world of crafting has been abuzz with the news that Riso will cease production in Japan of the Print Gocco on the 30th of this month. Despite this announcement, the use of this screen-printing micro-marvel seems to be as alive as ever, as seen in this Gocco (Mini Screen Prints) flickr set as well as the ever-expanding Gocco Flickr Pool. To see such intricate design come from such a small box attests to the utility of the Gocco, and its legion of devoted fans will surely keep it alive in one form or another. [via]

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Toshio Egawa – Death Metal Art
Normally when I think of drawn-on Van’s slip ons, I think of them being decorated with the graffiti styles typically associated with hip-hop culture. But what about slip-on shoes for all those death metal fans who are too busy to mess with lacing up combat boots or whatever? The recent gallery opening of death-metal inspired art Galeria de Muerte in Ueno, Tokyo showcased the talents of artists from around the world who prefer to work in the realms of doom and darkness, and these metal-inspired shoes from artist Toshihiro Egawa bring a new dimension to the slip on shoe medium. Egawa normally specializes in computer graphics, and this set of shoes represents his impressive first foray into ink pen drawing. PingMag says:

The current “Dia De Los Muertos vol.0″ show at Galeria de Muerte in Ueno, Tokyo, is a death metal themed group exhibition by five domestic and international artists. PingMag had a chat with gallery owner Narutoshi Sekine who takes you on a darker tour… for artful moshing with a corna hand!


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Massh – Nao Tokui
Mashups… Whether you like them or not, somebody will probably be playing them at the dance party you go to this weekend. Sound hacker Nao Tokui recently gave a presentation at IAMAS of his new web-based mashup application, Massh. Massh is a Java-based web 2.0 application that facilitates the mashup task while allowing users to add new soundbites. This app is interesting because it in a sense crowdsources the task of identifying beats, BPM and loop points in songs to a large group of users who can then share their “tags” of these songs, therefore allowing users to freely start to mash in no time (whether or not this is actually a good thing is beside the point :-0). Assuming this were to catch on, this could potentially lead to a very large corpus of tagged soundbites that could be mashed up at will. And the dancing would go on and on. Pictured above is my mashup of Nirvana, Kraftwerk, MC Hammer, and Queen. Look out for that mix at your next party!

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Kondo Robots KHR 4th Anniversary
How do you throw a birthday party for a robot? Tokyo’s Kondo Kagaku, makers of fine humanoid robots, recently celebrated the 4th anniversary of their KHR Series of robots, and there was plenty of battling, robot soccer, and mechanical tomfoolery at the event, as seen in the photo sets from the Robot Dreams blog.

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Nicota AVR Project Game Board w/ Keyboard
The good folks at Nicota Electronics bring us* this kit for making a 16×16 LED-based video game system using the popular ATmega168 AVR chip from Atmel. The board consists of the classically minimal up-down-left-right on the left hand, and A and B buttons on the right. If you need more input power, this project board can be interfaced with the colorful Nico Keyboard, which is controlled by a ATtiny2313. This keyboard can also be connected to a regular computer via a PS/2 cable. Always exploring new possibilities, the people at Nicota show us a video of one of these being charged by a modified $6 hand crank generator.
*by “us” I mean people who live in Japan, since they claim that they won’t ship outside the Nippon.


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U.F.O.: Unconventional Flying Object
A flying machine by the name of “Anomari Karisu”took flight at the recent meeting of Japan’s Shonan Slow Flyer Club. Although all of the airplanes shown in this video are quite impressive, at around 3:50 the “Anomari Karisu” steals the show by simply appearing as though it should not be able to fly and then promptly doing so, albeit in a refreshingly ungraceful way.

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Shuetsu Sato – Gaff Tape Artist

I love the stories of accidental artists. I also happen to love gaff tape, so this one is just about perfect:

When there was yet another construction project blocking access to parts of Shinjuku station, the biggest of Tokyo’s train stations, going on in 2003, train guard Shuetsu Sato took matters in his own hands and started taping signage in huge Japanese characters with masking tape in clever ways, just so passangers could find their way around. His transient tape art became so popular that film artist collective TrioFour eventually made a documentary about Sato’s unique guide system. PingMag talked to TrioFour member Hikaru Yamashita about the making of their “The Shinjuku Gaffer Tape Guide” and their current exhibition of Sato’s work in Koenji.

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Tokyo’s Top 10 LED Signs
Another great collection from PingMag. Respect the LED:

LED elements are cheap and practical for visual instruction — they can be used for traffic lights as well as playful art objects. And since we pass by some marvellous works of basic information visualisation in Tokyo every day, we had to collect them for you, beloved reader. Time for a post on the best LED signage in this city!

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PS2 MIDI Controller Hack
A Nico Nico Douga* user posted this howto video of his hack to convert PS2 controller data into MIDI using a PIC-based interface, which he then plays with much skill. You get a whole octave just with the four direction keys and the four X, O, triangle and square buttons, the octave is controlled by the L1/L2 buttons, and the R1/R2 buttons cover the sharps and flats. Modulation and expression are controlled with the two joysticks. This project uses the PIC16F648A-I/P microcontroller to convert the PS2 controller signal into MIDI. Once this hack is complete, he uses it to control the Hatsune Miku “character” in Vocaloid, the hilariously weird “singing synthesizer application software developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by just typing in lyrics and melody.”

*A word on Nico Nico Douga:
Nico Nico Douga has been described as “Japan’s YouTube killer,” and is arguably Japan’s most controversial and popular video hosting site. It has been getting a lot of attention lately, including a story in Wired by Lisa Katayama about the website and its creator, Hiroyuki Nishimura. Anyway, what makes it special is that it’s a video site that lets viewers embed text over the video as they watch it, which is simultaneously interesting and annoying. Also annoying (although perhaps necessary) is that you must log in to the site even just to watch a video. So for your future reference, here is a page with tips in English on how to get an account on Nico Nico Douga. Once you get in, you will be “rewarded” with videos that have text floating across the screen with the video. If you want the barrage of floating text comments to go away (trust me, you might), then click on the little bird with the word bubble at the bottom right hand side of the frame.


Double Screen iPod
And last but not least, in the wake of the buzz and newfound affordability of the new iPhone announced at today’s WWDC Keynote (for that price, you might as well get two, right?), here’s a video of the iPod Dual hack by Ubiquitous Entertainment (the folks who brought us that iPong video that got so much internet love). This hack lets you link up the touchscreens of two iPod Touches or iPhones for double the viewing and touching fun. Gizmodo Japan astutely noted that this hack creates a strikingly DS-like platform, although conversely, the iPhone interface provides ideas that Nintendo itself could benefit from taking note of in their next offering.