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New journal Science Robotics is Established to Chronicle the Rise of the Robots

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Devin Coldewey reports: Robots have been a major focus in the technology world for decades and decades, but they and basic science, and for that matter everyday life, have largely been non-overlapping magisteria. That’s changed over the last few years, as robotics and every other field have come to inform and improve each other, and robots have begun to infiltrate and affect our lives in countless ways. So the only surprise in the news that the prestigious journal group Science has established a discrete Robotics imprint is that they didn’t do it earlier.

Editor Guang-Zhong Yang and president of the National Academy of Sciences Marcia McNutt introduce the journal:

In a mere 50 years, robots have gone from being a topic of science fiction to becoming an integral part of modern society. They now are ubiquitous on factory floors, build complex deep-sea installations, explore icy worlds beyond the reach of humans, and assist in precision surgeries… Read the rest of this entry »

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Japanese Journalist Held Hostage in Syria 

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The Japanese government is seeking information after reports a Japanese freelance journalist is being held hostage in Syria and has been threatened with execution, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday.

“Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details.”

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this week it had received information that an armed group holding journalist Yasuda Jumpei hostage had started a countdown for an unspecified ransom to be paid and had threatened to execute or sell him to another group if their demands were not met.

“The safety of our citizens is an important responsibility of the government, so we are making every effort and making full use of various information networks.”

— Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga

RSF said in a statement on its website that Yasuda was kidnapped in July by an armed group in an area controlled by the militant Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syria wing, shortly after entering Syria earlier that month.

It urged the Japanese government to do what was needed to save Yasuda. Suga said the Japanese government knew of the case but was not aware of any fresh developments.

“Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details,” he told a regular news conference. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] How Japan’s Toilet Obsession Produced Some of the World’s Best Bathrooms

The Toto toilet company recently opened a $60 million museum for toilets in Kitakyushu. Everything from giant sumo wrestler toilets to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s humble washroom to high-tech electric thrones are on display. (Anna Fifield and Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Toto, the beloved Japanese toilet maker, has opened a $60 million museum to celebrate its 100th anniversary. And it’s a hit.

KITA-KYUSHU, JAPAN — Anna Fifield reports: If there’s one thing Japan is passionate about, it’s toilets. Potties, loos, restrooms, john, powder room, however you say it, Japan has put a lot of thought into the smallest room of the house.

Japan loves its toilets so much they opened a museum for them

Japan is famous for its high-tech, derriere-washing, tushie-warming toilets. These are now such a valued part of Japanese culture that Toto, the beloved Japanese brand, has just built a $60 million museum devoted to its renowned product, at its home base in Kita-Kyushu, on the southern-most of Japan’s four main islands.

Toto even makes extra-wide, extra load-bearing toilets for sumo wrestling stadiums.

In Japan, there’s an app to help women find restrooms with space to fix their make-up.

Here are four things you might not know about Japan’s obsession with lavatories.

Theres an app for that

Dont take your chances going to a restroom without a little seat in the stall for your baby, or a fold-down platform for standing on while you get changed so you don’t have to put your feet on the bathroom floor.

There are a bunch of apps in Japan that can help you find the nearest public bathroom, or one with a special facility, like large stalls with facilities for people with ostomates (a relatively common issue in rapidly aging Japan).

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

Lion, a manufacturer of diarrhea medicine Stoppa (and various toiletries and detergents), provides an app @Toilet for people who need to take care of their business urgently away from the home or office. Click on the “emergency” button and it locates the closest restroom.

NPO Check operates a free app called Check a Toilet, listing over 53,000 restrooms in major cities. It shows restrooms nearby with information including whether they’re wheelchair accessible and/or have ostomate-friendly functions. Users can contribute by submitting information on the restrooms they’ve visited.

The Asahi Shimbun carried a story in August about a toilet opening ceremony in Aichi prefecture that involves drinking tea and eating rice cakes on the loo.

And for those ladies who, we now know, need clean bathrooms if they’re ever to leave the house, the well-known map publishing company Zenrin offers an app for women called Koisuru Map — A Map in Love — with information about nail salons, cafes and clean restrooms. This app includes information such as whether there’s a powder space for fixing your makeup, electrical outlets and diaper changing facilities. Zenrin’s (female) staff visits and reviews each bathroom before adding it to their list.

Theres a god of the toilet. Really.

You know how Japan’s washrooms got to be so clean and full of advanced technology? Maybe because they’re being watched over by a toilet god.

Here’s a video about a shrine to the toilet god in Tokyo.

According to the myth, Kawaya-no-kami, the Japanese toilet god, was, appropriately enough, born from the excrement of Izanami, the Japanese goddess of the Earth and darkness. Read the rest of this entry »


China Restricts Exports of Drones, Supercomputers

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China has been strengthening its control over its technology industry, as it seeks to avoid infiltration by foreign spies and build up globally competitive tech companies.

Eva Dou reports: China is curbing its exports of advanced drones and supercomputers, in the country’s latest move to tighten control over technologies linked to national security.

Starting in mid-August, Chinese makers of super-powerful drones and some advanced computers will have to obtain an export license, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs on Friday.

Computers will require an export license if they exceed 8 “teraflops” – which means they can process more than 8 trillion calculations a second, roughly equivalent to the processing power of 33 Xbox 360s.

China has been strengthening its control over its technology industry, as it seeks to avoid infiltration by foreign spies and build up globally competitive tech companies.

Read the full story here, at China Real Time Report – WSJ]

China’s drones have also caused political incidents in recent months, after unmanned aircraft sold by Shenzhen-based SZ DJI Technology Co. were flown onto the roof of the office of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the grounds of the White House in Washington. Tensions flared between Pakistan and India last month after Pakistan’s military shot down an Indian “spy drone” in the disputed region of Kashmir that appeared from pictures to be made by DJI. Read the rest of this entry »


Behold: Free Wi-Fi at Peak of Mount Fuji

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3,776 meter high WiFi: Now you can check your email and post a selfie on Instagram from top of Mount Fuji, for free

Alexander Martin writes: Free Wi-Fi has reached a peak in Japan, the nation’s highest peak in fact.

Overseas tourists conquering the summit of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776 meters, can now use mobile devices to share their experience via social networking websites or, if so inclined, check their work emails.

Mobile carriers NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp. have both set up free Wi-Fi hotspots for foreign visitors at the highest spot in Japan. The services, launched last week, will be available until September when the climbing season ends.

Docomo’s service “is aimed at attracting more overseas visitors to Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures, home to Mount Fuji,” the company said in a statement.

Instructions for using the Docomo service are available on fliers at the mountain’s main climbing routes. The KDDI service requires the downloading of an app in advance. Read the rest of this entry »


おいしい霜降り!Japan Researchers Develop Scanner to Detect Marbled Meat in Cattle

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Jun Hongo reports: Where’s the marbled beef? Thanks to a new machine created by a government-backed institute in Japan, one might soon be able to find those tender and juicy sections of meat without much difficulty.

Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology said they have developed a new in vivo scanner to be used for detecting the amount of marbling in The singe-sided nuclear magnetic resonance scanner can determine the amount of marbling of a cattle. National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technologycattle.

“This is the first time such machine was created in the world.”

— Yoshito Nakashima, chief senior researcher

“This is the first time such machine was created in the world,” Yoshito Nakashima, chief senior researcher at the institute, wrote to Japan Real Time in an e-mail. The device uses what is called a single-sided nuclear magnetic resonance scanner, which can detect the amount of muscle and fat noninvasively.

[Read the full text here, at Japan Real Time – WSJ]

The amount of fat streaks within the meat is one of the key criteria that determine its taste. For example, Kobe beef, grown in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan, are highly sought after for its rich, even marbling created through careful breeding.

VintageButcher

Mr. Nakashima is an expert on geophysics research. The technology for the new machine was originally developed for use in his research, such as calculating the amount of oil and water contained inside a rock from an oil field. Read the rest of this entry »


Resurrection of Christ, by Dürer

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Print: Resurrection of Christ by Dürer – 


Items Taken from Persecuted Christians Return to Nagaski in Rare Exhibition

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Miracles Protected by the Virgin Mary — Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki runs at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture until April 15

KYODO – Shinichi Koike reports: More than 500 items confiscated from Japanese Christians during their brutal persecution in the 19th century from the late Edo Period to the early Meiji Era are back in Nagasaki for the first time in about 150 years.

“The exhibition is taking place because the central government has recommended that churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki be listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.” 

Some 550 items are on display in the special exhibition “Miracles Protected by the Virgin Mary — Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki,” which runs at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture until April 15. They include 212 important cultural properties loaned by the Tokyo National Museum, which rarely loans so many important objects at one time.

This Cathedral is the largest Catholic church in Japan. In that day,priests and all Catholics who were in Urakami Cathedral died.

The largest Catholic church in Japan. In that day,priests and all Catholics who were in Urakami Cathedral died.

“It shows the history of Christianity in Japan from the introduction of the faith by Francis Xavier in 1549, to the birth of the “hidden Christians” caused by brutal crackdowns and the confession of their beliefs to a foreign priest by a small group of Japanese in 1865.”

“We made a special decision to loan them because this is a well-planned exhibition,” said Toyonobu Tani, chief curator of the Tokyo museum, which received an application for the Nagasaki Prefectural Government last June.

The Christian martyrs of Nagasaki. 17th-century Japanese painting.

The Christian martyrs of Nagasaki. 17th-century Japanese painting (not part of collection, historical reference only)

The exhibition is taking place because the central government has recommended that churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki be listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. It shows the history of Christianity in Japan from the introduction of the faith by Francis Xavier in 1549, to the birth of the “hidden Christians” caused by brutal crackdowns and the confession of their beliefs to a foreign priest by a small group of Japanese in 1865.

Monument to Kirishitan martyrs in Nagasaki.

Monument to Kirishitan martyrs in Nagasaki.

“The last crackdown aroused fierce protests from European countries, prompting the Meiji government to lift its ban on Christianity in 1873.”

Satoshi Ohori, head of the Nagasaki museum, said the availability of the national treasures makes the exhibition “epoch-making” because it shows the proud history of Christianity in Japan and the highly christ-nagasakispiritual nature of the Japanese.

Crosses, rosaries and other items on display were confiscated from Christians in the village of Urakami and never returned. A Tokyo museum official described them as “negative heritage,” and there are calls in Nagasaki for their return.

The exhibition, which includes a portrait of Xavier and Pope Gregory XII, who met four young Japanese boys sent by Christian Lord Otomo Sorin in 1585 as part of the first Japanese embassy to Europe, is thus seen as a step toward conciliation between descendants of persecuted Christians and the central government.

Members of a cultural committee formed by descendants belonging to St. Mary’s Cathedral, better known as Urakami Cathedral, in the city of Nagasaki, were invited to a private viewing of the show on Feb. 19.

“We saw proof of our ancestors’ belief,” said Katsutoshi Noguchi, one of the members. “I hope (the exhibition) will enable lots of people to share recognition that this sad history should not be repeated.”

The confession of faith by a small group of hidden Christians was seen as a miracle overseas, but the Tokugawa shogunate carried out a series of brutal crackdowns on them in Urakami.

The last and biggest of four crackdowns, triggered by the arrest of the whole village by the Nagasaki magistrate in 1867, expelled some 3,400 villagers to various parts of Japan. The crackdown also resulted in the deaths of more than 600 through torture, execution and other methods used to force people to renounce their faith. Read the rest of this entry »


Dancing in the Nuclear Dark

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How will we know when Iran sprints toward a bomb?

Bret Stephens writes:  Where do federal government reports go once they’ve been published and (lightly) chewed over by second-tier officials, congressional staffers and think-tank wonks? I picture them being packed into crates and stored in some vast warehouse, like the Ark of the Covenant in the last scene of “Indiana Jones.”

Every now and again, however, some of these reports are worth rescuing from premature burial.

So it is with the “Assessment of Nuclear Monitoring and Verification Technologies,” the soporific title given to a report published last month by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board. The report is long on phrases like “adaptable holistic methodologies” and “institutionalized interagency planning processes.” But at its heart it makes three timely and terrifying claims.

First, we are entering a second nuclear age.

Second, the history of nuclear proliferation is no guide to the future.

Third, our ability to detect nuclear breakout—the point at which a regime decides to go for a bomb—is not good.

Read the rest of this entry »