Otona no Kagaku e-mail magazine 165

Finally got the e-mail newsletter from Gakken. It starts by stating that it’s been over one year since the release of the last kit, and that the editors want to say thank you for everyone that has been waiting during that time. The main announcement is for the Kaeda Drone, which has a wing shape similar to that of a maple tree seed pod, with a total length of 25 cm (10 inches) and a weight of 12 grams (0.5 ounces). It will hit the shelves in central Japan on Dec. 20th, just in time for Christmas (it won’t get to Kyushu until 3 days later).

1) Otona no Kagaku Magazine “Kaeda Drone”, on sale after a 1 year wait!
The main section text apologizes for the wait, then talks about what a “drone” is. The following specs then cover the drone itself, while pretty much ignoring the RC controller.

The drone is 250x180x25mm.
Flight time will be 7 minutes, when the drone starts out fully charged.
Charge time is 30 minutes, two times.
The drone is designed for indoor use.
Indoor, the drone can operate up to 5 meters (15-16 feet) from the controller.
Battery: On the main unit, a Lithium polymer cap. On the controller, 4 AAA batteries.

Looks like this is going to be a hardback book, A4 sized, 34 pages.
Price: 3,980 yen (without tax, 4,298 yen with 8% tax) (approx. $39 USD w/o tax)
Release date: Dec. 20, 2016

Amazon page


2) Announcing the Otona no Kagaku wool knitting machine!
Following the release of the Rainbow Loom, we have the “Long Knitting Loom”.
For ages 6 and up.
Kit size: 25.3 x 21 x 5.3 cm
Price: 2,100 yen without tax
Kit includes: Knitting machine, extension block, wool needle, bar, hook, wool and A1-sized instruction book.
In stores now.


3) Adult Coloring picture, scratch art pad series
A black drawing pad that you can scratch away to make your own artwork.
This kit has the pattern for the “Glittering Princess Decoration”.

Size: 25.4 x 18.2 x 1 cm
22 page book plus scratch pencil and stencil
In stores now.


4) The Shiratori game that can be played by adults – Pitango
Shiratori is a word chain game. One person starts with a Japanese word, and the next person has to say the next word that starts with the last character of the first word. You lose if you can’t come up with anything, if you repeat a word, or if the word ends in “n” (since there aren’t any words in Japanese that start with the character “n”.
i-… I can’t think of anything.

Pitango is based on the game Algo. I’ve never played Algo, but apparently the idea is that you have a sequence of 4 characters, and you’re supposed to expand the series following certain rules.

For elementary students up to adults.
Size: 16.5 x 16.5cm
Price: 1,600 yen (without tax)
Contains: 100 title cards, 10 starter subject cards, 10 yellow cards, and instructions
In stores now (published Dec. 2, 2016)

Glass Armonica

Now Listening 2: Glass Armonica

Robot Kit comments

(Back ball bearing assembly, with multiple-height standoffs. I used the tallest of the ones available. You put the ball bearing inside the cone piece, and put the cover on that. Pick the standoff you want to use, and mount everything on the universal plate.)

A few weeks ago, I was in the Junkudo bookstore, about 1 mile from my apartment, looking in the electronics section. Junkudo has a number of actual parts kits in with the books, and one of the kits is an old magazine+box for a small 2-motor robot educational kit. $130 ($140 including tax). Since Gakken hasn’t come out with anything new in close to a year, and there hadn’t been any sign of anything on the horizon, I decided that I’d get this robot and see if I could get it to work.

(Mount the motors, too. These are pretty heavy-duty assemblies, and you can change the gear ratios if you like.)

There are two main body design styles: The box, and the L-panel stubby. The box is fine for playing soccer or line tracing. The stubby is about half as long, and is better for obstacle courses that include ramps. They’re both the same robots, electronically. It’s just that the hardware for the frames are different. I chose to build the box (if you use shorter side rails, the robot isn’t as tall, and it ends up looking more like a sandwich). I didn’t see recommended assembly times in the book. I took 3 hours, mainly because I had so much trouble with the hex nuts. The kit comes with two small plastic Phillips head screwdrivers, and two hex nut wrenches. The screwdrivers are useless for anything but holding the hex nuts in place for the side rails. Generally, I had to resort to my regular driver set.

(Tire assemblies. The wing thing to the right is one of the hex drivers, and the long piece below that is the useless plastic screwdriver.)

The parts are all packaged in clearly identified plastic bags, with sheets of paper inserted that have the descriptions and parts lists in English. There’s lots of extra nuts and bolts of various lengths, for customizing the robot as you like. So, that part is really well-done.

(Bottom of the first plate, with the tires mounted on the motors, and the rear ball bearing support.)

The book is broken up into several chapters. The first has the parts lists, and photos so you can check if anything is missing. followed by the assembly instructions for the motor plate, and then the instructions for both the Box and Stubby body types. The second chapter discusses the robot programming environment and how to download programs to the kit. The third sections on up cover different programs, such as the line follower, obstruction avoidance, and the soccer player.

(The collision switches. These are just springs mounted between metal posts. If the spring touches the post, it acts like a closed switch. The boards include debounce circuits (I’m guessing).)

Although it was really fiddly putting the kit together, it is pretty solid, so I don’t have any complaints about that. In general, you can put everything together with just a good screwdriver and the hex nut holders. What I don’t like are: Having to solder the infrared LEDs, and needing to use a 9-pin serial cable to interface the kit to a PC.

(To mount the electronics, you pick the body type first – either the L-plate, or the second flat plate. I used the flat plate. Then, you tighten down the hex nuts on the 3/8″ bolts to act as stand-offs. After that, you just put the boards on the bolts, and hold them in place with another set of nuts. Shown here are the controller-motor drivers, and the RS-232 interface board.)

(Finished controller top board.)

If you want to make a line follower robot, you need to use the 2 infra-red boards. For those, the photo transistors are already mounted on the top of the circuit board. However, the IR source LEDs are supplied individually, and you have to solder those on yourself. There’s nothing on the outside packaging on the box saying you need a soldering iron and solder. I have both of those, but the one electronics shop in my city just went out of business at the end of September, so the only way I’d be able to get an iron at this point would be to mail order one. Sigh. Even so, it’s a pain having to find the box the iron and solder are in, just to tack down a total of four leads. (Which I haven’t done yet, as of this writing.)

(The motor board with the collision switches mounted at the front, and the 4 side rails.)

The more serious concern is that the kit software running on the PC communicates to the RS-232 interface through a 9-pin serial cable. My laptop doesn’t have a 9-pin port. None of the laptops I have looked at so far have 9-pin ports. Bic Camera doesn’t carry a 9-pin to USB converter cable. The electronics store near me is no longer in business so I don’t know if they had a converter cable, either. Worst case, I may have to order one from the U.S., and hope that it works with the kit. Sigh. If not, then I just spent $140 and 3 hours on a paperweight.

(Finished Box type chassis, with most of the cables attached. The controller is off-the-shelf, and is capable of driving up to at least 4 motors, and handling other sensors. There’s no schematic for it, so I don’t know what all the connectors are for. I haven’t soldered the IR LEDs onto the IR sensor boards yet, so those haven’t been mounted on the front bumper. I’ll do that later.)

Still, for a paperweight, it does look impressive. Again, if I replaced the side rails with shorter stand-offs, the robot will look more like a sandwich.

And, this is the last of my backlogged posts for this blog. I don’t have any other science or math-y things to write about, no other books to review, or Gakken kits to build (until late December). So, I guess this blog will go on hiatus again until I find something new, or until after Christmas.


Animusic – Resonant Chamber (2008)

Now Listening 2: Animusic – Resonant Chamber (2008)

The classics are always best.

Gamow – Gravity

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Gravity, George Gamow, 1961 (BN Publishing reprint, 2009)

George Gamow tended to repeat himself. Material used to explain relativistic time dilation, or 4-dimensional space-time rotation, shows up in several of his earlier books, as well as this one. It’s not a bad thing, per se, and it doesn’t represent a large fraction of any given book, but it does become obvious after a while. Additionally, two of the chapters in Gravity are based on an article previously printed in Scientific American in March, 1961.

The idea in this book is to follow the works of three main scientists through history – Galileo, Newton and Einstein, to show how our understanding of gravity has evolved. From a simple expectation that this is “just how things are,” to a universal force, and then ending as a side effect of curved 4D space. There’s not that much in the way of derivations, and if you’ve had high school physics classes, then you should already know most of the simpler Newtonian and Keplerian formulas (Newton for gravity and attraction between masses; Kepler for planetary orbits). The only real math shows up in the third chapter, where George goes through the process Newton followed to originate the principles of calculus for taking derivatives, and integrating over a surface.

Otherwise, the book is Gamow’s regular mix of scientific theory with historical background. It’s not a difficult book, and it is a pretty fast read. The sections on Einstein’s contributions to our understanding of gravity are pretty short – Gamow felt that it was more important to see what Newton had accomplished, so the bulk of the book is dedicated to him. The last chapter is mainly just unanswered questions – is there a way to unify gravity with the other three forces? Can we have quantum time or quantum gravity? Can we create a negative mass that would have negative gravity? Do gravitons exist?

Overall, Gravity is a good book if you want to know the state of physics as of 1961 (when the Russians had fired rockets into space, and had gotten a satellite to the moon (1959), but man hadn’t made it there yet (1969)). He mentions one possible rocket propulsion system – where small nuclear bombs would be released from the rocket to explode and push the rocket with the force of the blast – that I don’t think is ever going to be adopted. But, if you want a more up-to-date textbook, this book isn’t it. Recommended if you like Gamow’s writing style and his other books.

On a side note, while the other Gamow books I received were reprinted by Dover, this one came from BN Publishing. There’s no information on them, and no reprint dates on the copyright page, so I’d kind of rather recommend the Dover version if you have any questions of the authenticity of the text.

Now Listening 2: Wintergatan – Music Box and Modulin

Wintergatan – Music Box and Modulin

More cool toys I wish I could build.

Kaeda Drone Kit update

The new Gakken kit, the Kaeda Drone, is now showing up on the Amazon.co.jp site. There’s no cover photo, but the tentative price is 4,298 yen (about $41 USD), making it one of the most expensive mook-based kits so far. A “mook” kit is one where the magazine/book accompanies the kit. There have been more expensive kits, but those were only the product, without the magazine/book, and they were much higher-quality products. The expected release date is Dec. 20, so it won’t be showing up in Kagoshima until the 23rd. Just in time for Christmas in Japan, but don’t expect the imports to the U.S. or other countries to be showing up until Jan., 2017, at the earliest.

Still nothing for this kit on the official Gakken Adult Science site, though, and nothing in the last couple days on the facebook page.

Gamow – The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein, George Gamow, 1961 (Dover reprint, 1988)

What exactly is “quantum mechanics?”
The word “quantum” comes from “quanta,” which refers to packets of energy, or quantifiable increments in mass. But, what does that mean?

Traditionally, people thought that energy and mass followed simple, continuous “straight” lines. That is, in classical “Newtonian” physics, if you look at a car traveling from point A to point B, you can get the time it takes to cover that distance. Measure again at point C, and you’ll probably be able to calculate acceleration. If the car’s acceleration doesn’t change between points, you’ll be able to plot distance and velocity curves that will let you work backwards to where the car started moving, and forward to predict where it will be at any given time in the future. Take more measurements to get the accuracy you want. The lines will be continuous, and you can pick any value for time that you want (3.21 seconds, or 1.45 microseconds) and get the correct answer for velocity and distance.

This changed as physicists got to where they could measure individual units of light and mass. Light seemed to be traveling in packets, and electrons needed specific amounts of energy to jump from one energy level to the next. The graphs were no longer straight lines, instead turning into areas of probability for where something might be, or when. The new physics that emerged at the beginning of the 1900’s was based on these light and energy units – quanta. And to distinguish this from the rules of physical mechanics (i.e. – the mechanics that Newton described) we got “quantum mechanics.” That is, the formulas of very tiny, very fast things operating at atomic (and subatomic) particle scales. Which ties Einstein, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli and Gamow together.

George Gamow (1904-1968) was a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who helped develop quantum theory, from the 1920’s to the ’30’s. Later, he started writing about physics, with at least 10 books on science, 6 in the Mr. Tompkins fiction series (where Tompkins learns about physics), and 8 textbooks (I may have missed one or two). He liked combining the science side with backgrounds on the people involved in making the discoveries.

George’s purpose with “The Great Physicists” book is to show the development and progress from early philosophy to classical mechanics as classified by Newton and his contemporaries, and then demonstrate how all of that broke down in the face of discoveries of radiation, proof that there is no ether surrounding us in space, and the ability to measure individual atoms. He continues with Einstein’s theories supporting curved space, time dilation, and the idea that mass and energy are related. George finishes with quantum mechanics as it had become in the mid-1950’s, after stalling from the 30’s onward. But, along the way he spends almost equal time talking about each of the physicists as people, relating personal details where available, and anecdotes when known.

There’s a certain amount of duplication between 30 Years That Shook Physics and this book, especially with the background stories on people like Bohr and Pauli. There’s not a lot of really difficult theory in the book, and George keeps the math to a minimum. Even so, there were a couple paragraphs that I skipped over because I didn’t feel like trying to follow the proofs he was providing. But, the book does flow well, and I did learn a lot more about quantum mechanics than I had before. In fact, I did study a lot of this when I was in university in the early 1980’s, but no one had clearly explained to me what “quantum” represented, or what Heisenberg had done in proving that uncertainty is an unavoidable side-effect of the universe we occupy.

Again, Dover simply reprinted the original book without corrections or updates, leaving George scratching his head over certain puzzles that no one had been able to solve at that point, and not knowing what the future path of physics would be. He stops just short of speculating how gravity could be unified with the other 3 forces, as if he was on the doorstep of String Theory, but hadn’t realized there was a door there.

I enjoyed reading The Great Physicists, and I do recommend it to anyone that wants to learn more about what Pauli, Einstein, Bohr and the others were like. It’s not a real textbook, but it is entertaining.

George also presented an interesting puzzle that illustrates the importance of understanding your frame of reference.

Say person A is in a speed boat on a river, going upstream. On the back of his boat is a half-full bottle of whiskey. When the boat reaches a bridge spanning the river, the whiskey bottle falls overboard and immediately starts floating downstream. After 20 minutes, person A realizes that the bottle is gone, and he immediately turns around and heads back downstream to rescue the bottle, at the same velocity with respect to the river as before. He picks up the bottle a mile downstream of the bridge. Question: How fast is the river flowing?

Now Listening 2: Wintergatan – Marble Machine

Wintergatan – Marble Machine

I wish I’d built this.

New Gakken Adult Science Kit

Wow, it’s been a year since any new announcements from Gakken, and finally they’re saying that a new kit will be coming out in Dec. (There was a small amount of activity on the facebook page for appearances in maker faires, and for the knitting looms for girls, but that was it.)

(Assembled unit on a scale showing the total weight at 11.5 grams.)

The new kit is going to be for the “maple leaf drone,” so called because the single lift blade (styrofoam?) gives the drone the impression of a “maple leaf blowing in the air.” There’s a video and several photos that had been uploaded to facebook all at about the same time, showing the arrival of parts from the factory, the assembly of the drone, and the current state of flight. It’s going to be a very small unit, incapable of carrying any kind of load, so you’re not going to be able to use it like a GoPro camera carrier, or for shooting video with a smart phone. Also, the frame rotates, so even if you could use it to shoot video, the results would give you motion sickness. (Although, it looks like maybe the stabilizers can be mounted at different angles to prevent the unit from rotating if desired.)

There’s nothing on this kit on the main Otona no Kagaku website yet, so there’s no official announcement for tentative pricing. And, the kit isn’t showing up on Amazon.jp either. So, assume that it may not be out in time for Christmas. (I wanted to embed the video of the unit flying, but it doesn’t look like there’s video on youtube yet, and I don’t know how to get the link for embedding videos hosted on facebook.)