Things are going to be slow here for a while. I’m not working on the Java synthesizer right now, Gakken doesn’t have any new kits coming out, and the 50 Famous People series at the moment consists only of people that I’m not interested in. That last one should change pretty soon, and I do have one project involving the Animaris Imperio kit that I’ll get to in a few days (it’s only good for one blog entry, though).  Which is why I’ll be staying on a post-per-week schedule.

I’ve been hearing a lot more about Kickstarter recently. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a website used for raising funds to start new projects or to support existing ones. The Order of the Stick webcomic raised some serious money this way, in part by offering different premiums for people pledging money at different levels (kind of like what you get with the PBS pledge drives). One of my relatives likes helping out microbreweries on Kickstarter, and one of the premiums she got in return for her pledge was a Blink(1). Not needing it, she gave it to me as a Christmas present.

Blink(1) is a USB LED designed and produced by thingm. It’s promoted as a “silent indicator” or “silent alarm” for things like letting you know if a particular person posted an update on Facebook, or a keyword shows up on Twitter. It’s open source, and supposedly has support for both C++ and Java. So far, though, I haven’t been able to find documentation for writing Java code for it, and there’s no app for Facebook posts to-date. At the moment, the only real use is to put a line in a batch file to have it blink or turn on at the end of a script. And, it’s just as easy to leave Facebook open and check it occasionally as it is to check if the LED is on. It’s a cute idea, but not really useful for home applications, yet (one complaint I have is that the top of the case is opaque, making it harder to see if the LED is on when you’re sitting right at the computer). I can see an application for it if you have a bunch of servers in a room and you want to quickly tell from a distance if one of them needs attention, though.

50 Famous People – Series 2 Index

Asahi Shimbun has decided to extend the Manga Sekai no Ijin (Famous People of the World Manga) series to include another 30 people, starting on Jan. 22. The current line up consists of:

51 Hans Christian Andersen
52 Julius Caesar
53 Musasakishiki Bu (wrote Tale of Genji)
54 Albert Schweitzer (Medical Missionary)
55 Chopin (Composer)
56 Louis Pasteur
57 Ieyasu Tokugawa
58 Lucy Montgomery (wrote Anne of Green Gables)
59 Michelangelo
60 Ernest Seton (one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America)
61 Chihiro Iwasaki (Japanese watercolor illustrator)
62 Roald Amundsen (South pole explorer)
63 Sun Yat-sen (first president of the Republic of China)
64 Heinrich Schliemann (archeologist who found Troy)
65 Kiyoshi Yamashita (Japanese artist)
66 Isaac Newton
67 Princess Diana
68 Vincent van Gogh
69 Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese woodblock artist)
70 Leo Tolstory (Russian writer)
71 Glen Miller
72 Wangari Maathai (Kenyan Activist)
73 Howard Carter (British archeologist, discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb)
74 Robert Capa (Hungarian combat photographer)
75 Confucius
76 Oscar Shindler (of Shindler’s List fame)
77 John D. Rockefeller (Oil Baron)
78 Hideo Noguchi (Japanese bacteriologist)
79 Clara Schumann (Pianist)
80 Neil Armstrong (Astronaut)

I’m not sure if there’s anyone here I’m really interested in. Maybe Pasteur, Amundsen, Schliemann, Newton, Hokusai, Carter, Noguchi and Armstrong. I’ll have to see what each of the mooks look like as they come out.

50 Famous People – Yuri Gagarin

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

Yuri Gagarin is the focus of issue 48 of the 50 Famous People series. He was a Russian air force pilot that entered their space program and became the first human in space. He was killed at age 34 during a training flight when his plane crashed. According to the wiki entry, the details of the crash were never fully explained and theories consist of ground crew incompetence and faulty machine design. When I was growing up in the U.S., there was very little information available on Yuri, so I decided that this was a good opportunity to fill in some gaps in space exploration history.

The intro manga starts with Yuichi getting excited over a space flight program on TV. Mohea talks about what it’s like to travel between the stars and Yuichi begs to ride in her ship. Merrino nixes the idea because their ships are for royal family use only. Instead, he mocks up a ship out of an orange crate and a large PET bottle. The ship launches properly and Yuichi gets to view Earth just as Yuri Gagarin had. The story wraps up with Merrino realizing that he forgot to build in a re-entry system and Yuichi has to crash land in Alaska, where he’s rescued by Merrino’s ninja-butler, Angora.

The main manga is by Tomoyodo Kujou (pen name for Fusanosuke Inariya, artist on Me and Kitten and Everyday Kitten). The artwork’s pretty good, but as with most of the other volumes in the 50 Famous People series, the characters don’t really look like their photos. This time, Gagarin looks like a very generic manga character.

The manga starts out with Yuri marching to his Vostock rocket with military honor guard, then flashing back to when he was a small boy growing up on the Russian Steppes in a small farming village. He likes going up on the roof of the house and staring out to the distance, wondering what’s at the other end of the horizon. He starts school, and the military teacher shows him a wood and paper glider that helps inspire him to become a pilot. He enters the military and gets into the air force, where he does all the necessary studies and passes the various exams. One day, Moscow radio announces the launch of Sputnik I, which is soon followed by Sputnik II and it’s live passenger – Laika the dog. Yuri speculates that it’s only natural that humans will be next and he applies for a slot in the newly formed space program. The numbers are whittled down from 1,500 applicants to 150, then to 20. He’s selected by program director Sergei Korolev.

At this time, Yuri is big on reading the works of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, specifically the novel Night Flight. Along the way, he gets married, then finally is chosen to be the first cosmonaut in space. He returns to the “present”, and the rocket lifts off. The story ends with him marvelling at the blue marble hanging in inky black space.

The textbook section covers more of Yuri’s childhood in the countryside, the war interrupting his ability to go to school, and his meeting a Russian pilot that had to make an emergency landing near his house (an event that supposedly had a big influence on his wanting to fly planes himself). Sidebars discuss the “space fever” that had consumed Japan at the time of Yuri’s launch, mention of Laika, and discussions of other methods of flight imagined by earlier fiction writers. The last two pages talk about the requirements for getting into Japan’s JAXA space program, and includes photos of some of the training undergone by American and Russian astronauts.

The TCG cards are: Krushchev, Mao Zedong, Francisco Franco, Zhou Enlai. Babe Ruth, Mei Lanfang, Sukarno, Alfred Hitchcock and Hemmingway.

As with most of the issues in this series, the main manga is intended to just give an impression of the person and possibly the influences leading to whatever it is that made him or her famous. There’s usually little real science or description of the mechanics behind any discoveries made, and that’s the case here. However, the textbook section does have some nice photos of Yuri, Laika and some of the gear used by astronauts, which is a plus. Recommended if you want to learn a little more about Gagarin.

50 Famous People – Alfred Nobel

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

Ok, this one’s going to be easy. Alfred Nobel grew up in a family of inventors and explosives manufacturers. Initially, his father, Immanuel, was in construction, but he liked tinkering with things. Unfortunately, he had bad luck with money and the family was poor for the first 4 years of Alfred’s life. Immanuel went to Russia looking for work. 5 years later, he’d established himself as a black gunpowder manufacturer making water mines (early torpedoes) for the Russian government. The rest of the family joined him in Saint Petersburg. During the Crimean War, the factory swelled to about 1000 employees. However, Russia lost the war, couldn’t make its payments on the services provided, and Immanuel went bankrupt again. Immanuel, his wife and his youngest son, Emil, returned to Sweden, while Alfred and his two older brothers (Ludvig and Robert) stayed in St. Petersburg. Alfred found a way to make nitroglycerin semi-safe and the three of them started up a new factory. In 1864, Emil was killed in an accident at the Stockholm factory and Alfred was spurred on to discover a way to make nitro truly safe to handle. In 1867, he developed dynamite (from the Greek word for “power”). This was followed by gelignite and smokeless black powder. Along with the social benefits of dynamite (being able to quickly make tunnels and canalways), Alfred earned the nickname “merchant of death” due to sales of the product as a weapon on the battlefield. To counter this image, he wrote his will such that his money would be handed out as awards for the peaceful advancement of science; AKA – the Nobel Prizes.

The intro manga has Merrino wanting to create the first “Merrino Fun Awards” to whoever makes people laugh. Yuichi and Daichi get into a tussle insulting each other, and Merrino joins in. To add to the fun, Mohea grabs some fireworks, which turn out to be “Sheep Planet explosives”. She blows up the house. The story wraps up with Mohea explaining that unlike Earth bombs, Sheep planet dynamite is not dangerous. Merrino tries to think of a way to win his own prize and establish his place in history, but Mohea blurts out that the Fun Award should be for future peace, and the rest of the group installs her as the new Sheep ruler.

The main manga is by Akiko Tomita (Kime-Oh, Re:Life and Shiroinu/Kuroneko) this time. The backgrounds and factory drawings are good, but the character designs look like something out of Full Metal Alchemist. There’s no real resemblance to Alfred from his photos. Anyway… The story starts out with Alfred at age 4, sick in bed. He was a weak child and it didn’t help that the family was poor. His two older brothers sell matches on the streets to make ends meet.  Their father leaves for Russia and 5 years later writes a letter telling the family to join him in St. Petersburg. Along with helping in the factory making water mines for the Russian government, the boys study at night. 9 years later, the Crimea War breaks out and orders for black powder go through the roof. One day, a stranger arrives with a vial of liquid that he tries to get the factory to reverse engineer. It doesn’t burn much, but explodes when given a sharp impact. The family loves this new nitroglycerin but is too busy to do anything with it. Then the war ends, Russia loses and the factory goes bankrupt. Immanuel, his wife and Emil return to Sweden, while the other three brothers try their separate hands at their own fates. Alfred develops a way to package nitro in a jar with a black powder detonator, and he opens a factory for the new explosive. Emil also performs research in Stockholm, but some nitro stored in a shed suddenly goes off, killing him and several others. Alfred curses his work with nitro, but the ghost of Emil urges him to find a way to make the stuff safer to handle. The Swedish government bans explosives factories from being in residential areas following this incident, so Alfred sets up his research lab on a boat in the harbor. After trying various fillers, he settles on diatomaceous earth, and creates a new kind of blasting cap. He names the new product “dynamite” and eventually has factories in 10 different countries producing it. He continues researching explosives, and creates gelignite in 1875 and smokeless powder in 1887.  Along with canals and tunnels, mankind also develops bigger war machines and battleships that also use his products. In 1888, Ludvig dies at 57, and a newspaper blowing through the cemetery includes the headline “The Merchant of Death has Died”. Alfred says that if anyone is a merchant of death, it’s him, so he works with some friends to lay the ground work for the Nobel Prize to try to promote the peaceful advancement of science and the arts. He passed away peacefully in his home in Italy in 1896, and the first Nobel Prize was announced 5 years later in 1901.

The textbook section goes into some detail of Immanuel’s bad luck in investments and the family’s early state of poverty. As a child, Alfred wanted to be a writer, but was pushed into studying chemistry by his father. Growing up studying with his brothers, Alfred became fluent in 5 languages, and as a young man traveled to Europe and the U.S. to meet with and interview various elite chemists. The rest of this section is the same as described above. However, there is a mention of his attempts to get married, which all failed for various reasons. One sidebar hints that he decided to include a Peace Prize after his time spent with Bertha von Suttner. AKA – Sophie, Suttner worked briefly for Nobel as a private secretary and maid, before marrying Arthur von Suttner, an engineer and novelist. Alfred and Bertha remained in contact, and she established herself as a pacifist, writer and editor. She was the first woman to win the Peace Prize, in 1905.  The last 2 pages describe the Nobel Prize process.

The TCG cards are: Helen Keller, Trotsky, Albert Einstein, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Lu Xun, Anna Pavlova, Coco Chanel, Benito Mussolini and Franklin Roosevelt.

This isn’t one of the stronger entries in the 50 Famous People series, but interestingly there is some info on how to make black powder. Recommended if you want to learn a little more about Alfred Nobel.