This week:
The Parts Case That Tells You Where Your Resistors Go, The Art of Plastic Food Displays, Musical Staircase (and Secret Hacks), The Anywhere Desktop, Turning Everyday Actions Into Their Value in Batteries, Aeolian Harp – Stringed Instrument Played by Wind, Hatsune Miku Dances via ARToolkit, Gray Water Hand Washing Toilet Hack, Death Star Surface Block Mod, Chatting While Wrapped in Your Own Words.
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The Parts Case That Tells You Where Your Resistors Go
OK, here’s the situation: It’s kind of a pain putting all your resistors back in the right places after you’re done prototyping something. That’s why they made this components case that lights up the appropriate box where the resistor is supposed to be stored. This might be nice for people who have trouble with the resistor color codes. Diagrams, schematics, and the making of, here: Resistor Case w/ Resistance Meter.

The Art of Plastic Food Displays
TokyoMango links to an article that ran in Japanese airline ANA’s inflight magazine on how they make that ubiquitous Japanese plastic food that can be found in most restaurant windows. It turns out that making plastic food is in some ways a lot like making real food. The article documents the author’s visit to visit to Maiduru, “the biggest plastic food display-making company in Japan.”

Now, the weird thing about plastic food you see in restaurant windows in Japan is not just that it looks completely real. It’s actually made in a way that mimics real cooking. Chefs chop and dice plastic vegetables and spoon plastic curry and rice onto real plates. They even put plastic pasta through a spaghetti machine and fry plastic tempura in oil.

Musical Staircase (and Secret Hacks)
At the Sony Building in Ginza there is a famous musical staircase called the Melody Step. This is cool in itself, but it turns out that it has some hidden functions, a sort of large-scale hardware urawaza. If you step on either the very top or very bottom stair 30 times, then it goes into “arpeggio mode,” and if you step on each stair in the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc.) it goes into “noise mode.” Could there be other hidden functions? Seeing as how this comes from the country that brought us Minus World,* you never know…

The Anywhere Desktop

Taking the average icons that appear on a Windows desktop, drawing them and putting them in other more natural contexts yields very strange results, like the bathtub desktop pictured above. Check the link for more funny scenarios.

Turning Everyday Actions Into Their Value in Batteries
Although their DIY’d method of measuring energy expenditure is hardly scientific, (tying a string to the handle of a cheap hand-crank generator and seeing how it registers on a multimeter) it’s fun to see a rough guesstimate of how much electricity everyday actions generate, and how that would be manifest in terms of an average battery. How much energy does it take to eat cup ramen? 0.5V! Dancing clocks in at 2.5 volts, so next time you’re cuttin’ some rug, rejoice in the fact that you are saving a bundle by not using batteries to power your body.

Aeolian Harp – Stringed Instrument Played by Wind
DPZ explores this art installation/stringed instrument called the Aeolian Harp that is made up of strings that vibrate in the wind as they are stretched across various stationary objects. Hear the creep-tastic sounds of this mysterious instrument at the link.

Through the Aeolian Harp strings stretched on those trees, a breeze causes sounds. The sounds vibrate glasswalls of the building, the vibration goes into the whole space of the museum. Accumulated memories in many years are melted into the sound of the Aeolian Harps stretched on the trees. If you listen to the sound carefully in the museum, you can hear the voices mediating the trees. (text via)

Hatsune Miku Dances via ARToolkit
It seems as though for some the holy grail of many a hack from Japan is to get Hatsune Miku to do something (cute). Is this the new “hello world” of the Japanese hacking community? Nothing wrong with that! Here we have the ARToolkit used to bring Hatsune Miku to life, augmented reality, gravity and all. Source available at the link above.

Gray Water Hand Washing Toilet Hack
Japan may be known for its hi-tech toilets, but there’s one function in many toilets found in Japanese homes that is a simple, no-tech way to conserve water. When seeing these toilets in Japan, I thought this was such a good idea that I couldn’t see why it wasn’t used everywhere. This Instructable isn’t exactly “made in Japan,” but these types have been in use in Japan for quite some time, so what the heck. Why not wash your hands with the water that goes into the basin in your toilet? This uses the gray water created after handwashing to fill your toilet bowl, eliminating the need to use perfectly clean water fill the toilet and turn on the faucet to wash your hands.

Death Star Surface Block Mod
The Studio-ACCESS blog has a great pictorial overview of the process of duplicating blocks from a pre-existing Star Wars model kit to make building blocks for some pretty serious Death Star surface modeling. It documents pouring the mold, duplicating the pieces, and putting them all together to make a pretty convincing surface. As you may be able to see in the picture, this surface is made up of a grid of individual blocks (if you look close enough, you can see the repeats). Who knows, maybe the Death Star was more like modular housing than we thought!

Chatting While Wrapped in Your Own Words
Spotted by at Japan’s Digital Content Expo 2008, this experimental interface comes from the Kyushu University Sunada Lab and it attempts to vitalize video chat by embedding the words that are spoken over the frame of your image, instead of simply sending the image that the camera picks up. This is intended to improve the balance of communication in a conversation. It uses information from a web camera to simulate a 3D image, then takes the words that you say and decodes them into text using speech recognition software, then wraps the words around to flesh out the frame of the 3D image. How’s that for an incentive to keep up your end of the conversation: Speak, or your image will disappear.

*Preemptive apology to video game scholars: Yes, yes, I know that Minus World is actually a glitch, and not a hidden Easter egg-type bonus like we see here. It’s just the first (and only) thing that came to mind when I thought of a hidden trick. Lazy blogging, I know. ;-)

Until next week!