The serialized kits magazine publisher DeAgostini has just started the run for its latest series – Robi. As in the case of all similar kits, the first installment is priced cheaper, at 790 yen. You get a handful of parts for the top of Robi’s head, but there’s really nothing that can be assembled until kit 2 comes out in 2 weeks (at roughly 1,900 yen) and you get some of the other head parts that actually all fit together. There’s also a short mook (magazine book) with pictures of Robi with a roomba, an interview with the inventor of the kit, and a look at Astro Boy. I can’t find any indication of exactly how many volumes there will be, but a mention of a prize giveaway of a chair-shaped battery recharger implies that there’ll be at least 35. If they stay at their 2-week schedule, it’s going to take at least a year and a half to complete. Plus, if the average price is 1,500 yen, the total for 35 volumes is a minimum of 52,500 yen ($650 USD). Very pricey for something that only stands 33 cm (13″) tall.

The Robi webpage advertises that there’s no programming necessary to control it, and that Robi can sing, dance and even control your (Japanese) TV through its IR transmitter. It looks like a miniaturized version of the Asimo, which means that it is still pretty amazing. I’m tempted to subscribe to this kit, but I can’t justify the cost. And if you can’t program it, there’s a limit to what it will ultimately be able to do.  I’m tempted to try to find a copy of the Sega Ema for 28,000 yen, instead.


80 Famous People – Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer is yet another of the historical figures that wasn’t taught in my school when I was a kid. Actually, it’s amazing just what was taught compared to what I’m learning about now with the Famous People series. But, that’s a joke that has been told many times already. Anyway, Asahi Shimbun is now into the second set of its Famous People mooks. The first collection ran 50 books, and the sequel is planned to go for another 30. Schweitzer is #54. The price is still 490 yen ($6 USD), for the 36-page weekly release.

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

Schweitzer was something of a renaissance man. Having been born in 1875 in the German half of Alsace-Lorraine to a Lutheran pastor, Albert not only grew up speaking French and German, but also playing the church organ. In 1899, he became a deacon, and in 1900 he was ordained as a curate. At age 30, he wanted to be sent to Africa as a French missionary, but his training as a Lutheran put him at odds with the missionary society. So, he resigned his post and took a 3-year university program towards a Doctorate of Medicine. He performed musical concerts throughout Europe as well as other activities to fund his mission to build a hospital near Lambarene, in what is now Gabon, starting in 1913. Along with his medical duties (treating diseases and injuries) he helped put up the hospital buildings himself, along with the local villagers. He’d gotten married to Helene shortly before graduating from medical school, and she trained as a nurse and anaesthetist to help support him in Africa. In 1914, WW I broke out, and the French government put them under supervision while still allowing them to keep treating their patients. In 1917, Schweitzer was suffering from exhaustion and he and his wife were shipped back to France before being sent to Alsace a year later. He returned to Gabon several times later on, restoring the hospital buildings and establishing a self-sustaining hospital system. He published a number of books over his lifetime, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He died in 1965.

The intro manga has Yoichi, Mami and Mohea giving presents to Yoichi’s and Mami’s mother – Mao Makiba – for her birthday. Merrino, hoping to get a kiss out of the deal, stages an elaborate dinner and piano concert for Mao, but is unmasked as a fraud when the group discovers his butler, Angora, playing the actual music backstage. Angora tries giving Mao a bunch of strawberries, but she starts sneezing. As Angora runs a series of tests to discover what she’s allergic to, Studybell begins the lesson on Schweitzer. In the wrap-up, Angora reappears without his butler jacket, and is completely barrel chested with 6-pack abs. Turns out that Mao is allergic to goat’s wool, so he shaved himself. Merrino goes ballistic on discovering that instead of being the one getting the kiss, it’s his butler that Mao seems attracted to. (Note, there is a Mr. Makiba, so the odds are that Mao is going to keep the relationship strictly platonic.)

(Helene learns that the mission they’ll be staying at has a pest problem.)

In the main manga, Albert is 38, and he and Helene are traveling down the river in 1913 when they get to an existing mission. There’s no real buildings, but there are patients, so he and his wife put down stakes in Lambarene and work on treating malaria, sleeping sickness and the odd cuts and broken bones. They’re in the French Congo, but most of the villagers speak neither French nor German, which leads Albert to enlist a local boy, Johan, into acting as interpreter for him. There’s a flashback to when he told the French missionary society that he was quitting the church to study medicine, and the director demanded to know why he wanted to give up a cushy position and a successful career as a musician to go to Africa. Albert’s reply was simply that this was his way of repaying his debts to Jesus for having a good life. Back in the present, villagers are traveling up to 200 miles just to be treated at the hospital, and since they don’t have money, their payments are in the form of fresh fruits, fish and assistance in putting up the buildings. When Albert isn’t performing medicine, he’s either replying to mail sent from around the world, writing, playing the piano or pounding nails into the buildings. Eventually, the main buildings are completed, but WW I starts, and the French military arrive. Since, Germany and France are on opposite sides, and Schweitzer was born in the German part of Alsace, he’s effectively put under house arrest. Naturally, Johan and the villagers demand to know the meaning of this, but no one is able to change the situation.

Albert and his wife get sent back to France, and after a year, they’re allowed to return to Alsace. He goes on a series of lecture tours, and writes various books about his experiences in Africa, and his philosophy of being an activist philosopher-scientist. At age 49, he goes back to Gabon with an assistant, while Helene remains in Europe due to health problems and to having had a child. The old hospital is now in ruins, so Schweitzer announces that he’ll just start over again. Johan discovers him at the hospital and they’re reunited. During this second run, the hospital not only treats villagers but also injured animals and birds. At age 77, he receives the Nobel Prize, and at age 90, he passes away and is buried in Gabon; the remains of his wife are sent to Africa to be buried next to him.

The textbook section is pretty straightforward this time, detailing his upbringing, his disagreement with the Church as to what Christ was trying to teach, his success as a musician and his training as a cleric and medical doctor. There are multiple photos of Albert, his patients and his wife. And sidebars on life in Africa. The last two pages focus more on modern day Africa, and some of the problems there regarding a lack of water, famine and disease.

In the first mook series, the last page of each book was a punched sheet of 9 trading cards with pictures of various well-known people world-wide. In the new series, instead of the TCG cards, there’s now two postcards with manga-style drawings of the main character. For mook #54, one postcard shows a young Schweitzer playing the organ, and the second is a reprint of the cover illustration. The guest for this issue is manga artist and illustrator Akemi Inokawa. There’s no wiki entry for her in either English or Japanese. Her primary manga are Music Box Doll (orugouru doru) and Migiwa – Scenes of Nirvana (True Horror Stories) (Migiwa – Higan no Joukei (honto ni atta kowai hanashi)). Her work on Schweitzer is less cartoony than her regular manga, but the characters still don’t really look like their photos. She does a good job on the background, jungle and buildings, though.

This mook is recommended for anyone interested in Albert Schweitzer, or who may be inclined to try to follow in his footsteps.


Regarding the 50 Famous People series extension – there are three mooks of the new 30-issue expansion out now (Hans Christian Anderson, Julius Caesar and Shikibu Murasaki (author of the Tale of Genji). None of these has really appealed to me, and the artwork for Shikibu is so stylized as to be unrecognizable from paintings of her. However, the next issue is for Albert Schweitzer, and I do plan on getting that one.

As for the Otona no Kagaku kits – there’s been no activity on any of the Gakken sites since December. The 2nd volume of Science Live, on the Higgs-Boson, doesn’t include a “What’s Next” page. And the radio-wave flip clock isn’t expected out for several more months. So, it looks like there’s going to be another dry spell from Gakken, again.


From the description on youtube:

Back a long time ago, I tried making a flipbook animation. I got a stack of 3″ x 4″ notepads and a light table, and started drawing. The entire thing came to 300 separate, fully hand-drawn sheets. In 2002, I scanned them all and put them into a single .avi file. Finally, I got around to making the soundtrack using Audacity, the Korg Kaossilator Pro and the Gakken SX-150 Mark II. (The K-Pro for the basic sounds, the SX-150 for filtering and Audacity for pasting everything together.) The pixel size for the avi is a bit small for making out what the action is, so if I can get my hands on the original flipbook again, I’ll save the pages to larger files.


Animaris Pengi

One of the things about the Otona no Kagaku kits is that if you don’t want to keep them anymore, you can always cannibalize them for parts. I never got around to adjusting the Edison recorder so that it would cut the wax cylinders properly, and the sound horn was slowly eroding because of excessive sunlight and humidity build-up in the apartment. Finally, I figured that I’d free up the storage space and pulled the motor and battery leads out before discarding it. The Twister entomopter, on the other hand, was still hanging from a hook along the wall, also unused. I’d put the micro-motor and capacitor on it, and the additional weight prevented it from flying as advertised. So, I took the motor back off and put the rubber band holder and crank arm back on.

Then I took a long look at the Animaris Imperio. The mook for the Imperio kit suggested putting a micro-motor on it, and it just so happens that the motor from the Twister is the right size. Even better, the gear used on the Imperio fan blade also fits perfectly on the micro-motor spindle. It’s just a tiny fraction too small – the motor body rubs against the Imperio gear shaft, even with some spacer material used as part of the mounting (pieces of cardboard cut out of the kit box) but not so much as to affect anything. I tried using tie wraps to hold the motor in place, but they kept slipping off the frame body, which is why I switched to electrical tape. I started out using the battery pack from the Twister, but at 3V, the micro-motor spun so fast as to make the Imperio jump up and down in place. I had an extra mouse pad on hand, and I cut sections out and taped them to the bottom of the Imperio’s feet for traction. It didn’t help, so I tried using a single 1.5 volt AA battery, and the resulting drop in speed was enough to let the kit walk forward much better, although still a bit fast. When everything was confirmed to work right, I wired in the power switch from the Edison recorder, and a single cell battery holder I bought from my local supply house. The tape, mouse pad and battery holder came from outside sources – everything else came from Gakken kits.

Finally, when I was showing off the modded kit to some students, one suggested giving it a housing of some kind. This led to the idea of making it look like an actual penguin. Since I had a lot of leftover construction paper from other projects, I decided to tackle that next. The result isn’t anywhere near as cute as what I imagined, but it does fit properly, anyway.

One thing that I discovered as I was making the mods is that the Imperio requires a couple ounces of weight at the nose end to assist it in the forward motion as it shifts weight during each step. If you don’t have the fan attached, you need something else to take its place. A single cell battery pack works just fine, but a double cell pack is way too much weight – the kit will overbalance and topple nose first. But, as you add weight, it slows the kit down, so that needs to be a consideration, too. An alternative would be to glue toothpicks flat along the back of the feet to make it lean forward a bit, like heels on a shoe.

Youtube video direct link.