80 Famous People – Neil Armstrong

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

Neil Armstrong – First man on the moon. What else is there to say? Ignoring the conspiracy theorists, Neil was a Navy pilot during the Korean War, continued as a test pilot, got into NASA and made it into the Apollo program, and was the mission commander for Apollo 11. After leaving NASA, he taught at the University of Cincinnati, served on two NASA accident investigations, and either acted as spokesman for several companies or served on their board of directors. He also did some voice-over work for an animated film commissioned by JPL/NASA. He died on Aug. 7, 2012, during heart bypass surgery.

(Notice the line of characters under the comic about 2/3rds the way down the page. The text reads “We’ll see you again!!”)

The intro manga has Merrino preparing to return home to the Sheep Planet after having completed his stay on Earth. Youichi and Mami recall all of the problems he’s caused them (eating their snacks, scribbling in their school notebooks, filling their backpacks with shed wool) and eagerly anticipate his departure. Since this is the last time for them to watch a lesson projected by Study Bell, all three of them kick back and relax for the film. In the wrap up, the two kids are starting to feel a little lonesome, when Merrino pops up from a trapdoor in the floor, asking their mother what she’s making him for dinner – turns out that Angora has installed a wormhole between the two planets and the sheep prince can come back whenever he wants. The story finishes with the entire cast telling the readers that they hope to meet them again some day.

(Neil talks to the ghost of Ed White.)

The artist for the main manga is Kamui Fujiwara, who had drawn issue 3, on da Vinci. Unfortunately, while he’d employed some interesting visual tricks in #3, #80 is presented as a straight-forward documentary, with really weird choices for the character designs. Most blatantly, Fujiwara draws Armstrong as being at least 20 pounds overweight. His face is consistently fat, and one of the postcard images has the spacesuit looking like a clown suit… But, the backgrounds are good, and there’s lots of pictures of space and the moon. One full page displays the intended route for the Apollo rocket missions, and would make a nice wall poster.

(Textbook page.)

The manga starts out with Neil narrating an incident during the Korean War when he’d been on a flight mission over North Korea and had to limp back to safety with half a wing shot off. Back over friendly territory, he ejected from the plane and floated down by parachute. This is followed by the USSR getting a jump on the U.S. by having the first human in space (Gagarin, vol. #50). The U.S. government goes into panic mode, and Kennedy steps forward to announce that they’ll have a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s. There’s a bit where Ed White tells Armstrong that by being in NASA’s program that they’re about to fulfill mankind’s greatest dream. This is followed by a NASA tech doubting that the Lunar Landing Module is going to work right, when someone else runs up to announce that there’s been an accident over on the launch site – Apollo 1 had exploded and killed the three men aboard (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White). Armstrong is next seen in front of Ed’s tombstone, wishing that his friend would still be around for what’s going to happen next. At one point, Neil contemplates his options if there is a failure in space; just as in North Korea, if the machine breaks down, it’d be dangerous to bail out. Two and a half years later, Apollo 11 lifts off, and the story follows the rocket to the moon and ends with an image of the footprint in the lunar soil and the Japanese translation of “One small step for man”.


The textbook section spends a little more time discussing Neil’s upbringing and his fascination with planes. His father was a state auditor and the family moved around a lot. Neil got good at making friends quickly, but he also liked to read, study and play sports. One book on airplanes triggered his lifelong affair with them. There’s some mention of his time in the Navy, and a list of his accomplishments at NASA. Sidebars talk about the U.S.-Soviet cold war, the Mercury Seven, and the post-moon landing parades in New York and Tokyo. The last two pages cover possible plans for trips to Mars, the concepts for Virgin’s reusable spacecraft and a space elevator, and what would be needed for living on the moon (basically, an underground station). A lot of this issue is taken up with talk about the Cold War.

Conclusion: Well, this is it. Last issue in the Manga Sekai no Ijin (Manga World Famous People) series. The inside back cover has all of the famous people standing around in various poses, and there’s credits for the main editorial staff. I’d say that Asahi Shimbun (Asahi newspaper) isn’t going to produce season 3. In a way, this is understandable. One of the biggest problems with having a weekly series like this is that the bookstores are running out of shelf space for them all. There are serialized collections for build-it robot kits, Japanese castles, famous Japanese historical figures, and TV series (DVDs for Galaxy Express 999, Macross, Gundam, Columbo, Gegege no Kitaro, etc.) It’s gotten to the point where each new issue is set out on the “Just Arrived” shelf for 1 day before being stuck in with all of the other back issues. Lately, there’s only been 2 or 3 copies of the newest Ijin issue on the shelf at the one bookstore I go to, and I’m thinking that the store has cut back on the numbers they buy. So, the most likely thing is that Asahi is planning on making the majority of their money by selling the magazines to elementary schools. But, I may be wrong about that. Regardless, since the Ijin series has finished now, I’m going to have to find something else to write about on this blog.

Fatman Synth, Part 1

(All the parts right out of the box.)

Back in the 80’s, a company called PAiA came out with a hobbyist line of build-it-yourself analog synthesizer kits. I bought the smallest one, a little ribbon-controller unit entitled The Gnome, for about $35. It had pretty much the same functionality as Gakken’s SX-150, but with a soft vinyl ribbon strip. It was fine for playing with for a few hours, but after a while I put it in my closet, and eventually gave it away. It’s now a collector’s item on E-Bay. Anyway… I have something of a soft spot for PAiA, and recently I’ve been looking for a cheap DAW I can hook up to the Roland A-300 Pro for making music independent of a PC. Generally, a DAW (digital audio workstation) is software running on a PC, but there are a few hardware instrument synth boxes on the market, in the $1000 range. I wanted something cheaper, and I kept coming back to the PAiA Fatman kit.

(Everything excluding the case. Glasses not included.)

Finally, I ordered one off the PAiA website, about $260 including the main kit and desktop case, plus $60 for shipping to Japan. More than I wanted to spend, but what the heck. The kit has an optional 12 VAC power adapter that you can decide to not get for international orders. Because the west side of Japan runs on 110 60-cycle VAC, I decided to get the power adapter with the kit. Shipping weight was about 4 pounds. Finished package size is 29cm x 14cm x 7cm (roughly 11″ x 6″ x 3″). Everything is included except solder and tools (required tools include soldering iron, clippers, some kind of pliers and a small screwdriver. A ruler and wire strippers are recommended.)

(Circuit board with the 43 jumper wires and all of the resistors.)

There’s no suggested assembly time. Reported times are between 6 and 40 hours. It took me about 16 hours, not including that for calibration and tuning. The only way I can see to get a 6 hour time is to pre-cut all the wires and pre-sort all the resistors before starting the clock. The circuit board is single-sided, which means that there’s a need for adding jumper wires that normally would be plated on a 2-sided card. The kit can be mounted in a rack, or put in a desktop case, which changes the wiring needed between the knobs and the board. I picked the desktop case, with its larger surface area for getting at the knobs. The instructions are pretty straight forward, although I did have to flip back and forth a lot between the main manual and the desktop supplement when it came to the knob wiring. You start out by adding the 43 jumpers. Then, all the resistors. Although the instructions don’t warn you, you’ll end up with 2 extra resistors when you’re done, because they’re used later when you wire the knobs.

(All the capacitors installed.)

One power resistor is actually two 1-watt resistors in series and raised off the board to allow for air flow. Next, you add the caps, followed by the diodes and transistors. One power transistor needs to have the heat sink clipped on before being wired into the board, but there’s no diagram of the heat sink installation and I was left guessing as to what I needed to do for that. Fortunately, it wasn’t that big a deal to clip on. This is followed by the trim pots, the 2 IC sockets and the back panel connectors (3 RCA jacks, and 2 MIDI jacks – one IN and one THRU).

(Trim pots and sockets.)

The main EPROM and the 8031 microcontroller are the only two chips that go into sockets. The rest are soldered in place. This is the trickiest step in my opinion, because there’s no way of knowing if you’ve screwed something up until too late. The EPROM and the 8031 get plugged in at the very end. Then comes the case wiring.


The wires running from the board to the pots in the case are called the “flying wires”. Installation is in three steps. First, cut the flying wires, tin the ends and solder them to the board. Next, cut the second set of wires, depending on whether you have the rack or desktop case, and wire up the connections between the pots. Third, solder the floating ends of the flying wires to the pots. Steps one and three are where I made my first real mistakes – I soldered the wires so they pretty much stand up and down on the board and the pots. Bad move. This prevents the board from fitting in the case when it comes time to fold the wires in half and put the board in place. I had to go back and resolder all the pots so the wires run mostly flat against the inside surface of the case. Even so, the wires still don’t like being folded to bring the board up to the pots. Note that the DIP switch S2 is mounted on the solder side of the board for the desktop case.

(Steps 1 and 2 for putting in the flying wires.)

Put the EPROM and the 8031 in their sockets, check your work, then plug in and turn on the power switch for the all-critical smoke test. There was no smoke, and the power LED lit properly. Nothing overheated abnormally. The Fatman doesn’t have its own input system, so you have to plug in a MIDI keyboard to the MIDI IN jack. The MIDI Note On/Off LED would flicker properly when I pressed the A-300 Pro keys, but I couldn’t get the Gate LED to light when I set S2 for MIDI Port 1. That’s when I spotted the big solder splash shorting 2 pins on IC 7, a smaller solder bridge from one pin to an adjacent circuit path, and a big ugly bridge between pins 2 and 3 on the EPROM. I take a fair amount of pride in my soldering skills, so it really depresses me to think that I completely missed all three problems at the time. Especially the ugly bridge, because I don’t know how that could have happened unless it was loose solder on the table and it welded itself in place to the board when I set the circuit card down. Anyway, there doesn’t seem to have been any permanent damage caused by the bridges or splash, and the Gate LED lights properly when I send MIDI signals to port 1. So, that’s good.

(Step 3.)

The next step is tuning and calibration. This requires either using an o-scope, a frequency counter, or comparing the sound out against another musical instrument. And I have none of those things. I do, though, have the Japanino with the LCD shield, so I’m in the process of making myself a cheap and dirty signal tracer/freq. counter. When that’s done, I’ll return to tuning the Fatman.

80 Famous People – Hideyo Noguchi

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

Hideyo Noguchi (born Seisaku Noguchi, 1876, in Fukushima Prefecture), was a bacteriologist whose primary accomplishment was the discovery of the cause of syphilis. While he also claimed to have made other discoveries as well, most of his research has been discounted as slipshod, faulty or outright wrong. The wiki entry states that part of the problem was Noguchi’s insistence on working alone, combined with the Rockefeller Institute’s flawed peer review system, but the Ijin mook places emphasis on his having been part of a tight-knit team (which may have been made up for a Japanese readership). In any event, he’s revered as a researcher in Japan, and was the only scientist to have their portrait on the 1000 yen bank note. One of the defining moments of his life was when he fell into the cooking fire in his family’s home at age 1 1/2, and severely burned his left hand. His fingers were mostly gone. In 1883, his school raised the funds to have a Japanese surgical specialist restore about 70% of the mobility to his hand. One side-effect of this surgery was that Noguchi became determined to become a medical doctor. Both his father and his grandfather were layabout drunks, so his mother worked the family rice fields to support Seisaku and his older sister. In return, SeisakuĀ  was devoted to his studies and was able to get into Tokyo medical school based on the recommendations of his teachers. He traveled to the U.S., where he was a research assistant to Dr. Simon Flexner at the University of Pennsylvania working on anti-snake venoms. Flexner became the first director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1901, and Noguchi followed him there. At the Institute, Noguchi (who had changed his name from Seisaku to Hideyo at age 21) isolated the syphilitic spirochete, for which he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1913 and several times more over the next few years. Later work involved Yellow Fever, which he thought was caused by a bacteria. His vaccine was only partly effective, so he studied in Ecuador, and then in Accra, Gold Coast, (now Ghana) to find out where he’d made his mistake. In Accra, he contracted Yellow Fever himself and died in 1928. Some time later, his team realized that the disease is caused by a virus, which was too small to be seen in the microscopes of the day. He is buried in NYC’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

(Ken Wolf’s mother, leader of the Wolf Gang, comes down with Yellow Disease.)

The intro manga has the Wolf Gang, led by Ken’s mother, invading Youichi’s and Mami’ house to capture Merrino once and for all. Naturally, one of the gang members yells out that they have to stop, but this time it’s because he’s just received a report that the Wolf People back home on the Wolf Planet are being decimated by a horrible contagious disease. The symptoms include turning yellow, developing a fever and collapsing. As he describes them, he too turns yellow and falls over. Ken’s mother contracts the disease as well, but is saved by Mohea, who uses a special curative scarf that had just been created in the last volume (the one on Rockefeller, which I didn’t buy). Scarves are shipped to the Wolf Planet and everyone gets well again. In the wrap-up, the third member of the gang is revealed to be the Wolf Planet President, and Ken’s father (to the shock of both Ken and his mother). Ken’s father declares the end of the hostilities between the Wolves and the Sheep, and everyone shares some delicious Earth rice crackers (Merrino and Ken’s father both agree that Earth has the best food).

The main manga is drawn by Yumehito Ueda (character designer on Idol Master relations, Sento Josai Masurawo, True Tears). He favors a big forehead, pointy little chin design that makes Noguchi look half-starved. It’s nothing like the well-fed look Noguchi has in all the photos. The backgrounds are good, though.

(Hideyo gets Yellow Fever and dies. Note his left hand in panel 2.)

The story starts out with Seisaku attempting to help his mother in the fields, but his crippled left hand prevents him from using any of the tools. He gets ridiculed by his neighbor for not being able to catch a ball. But, he’s good at studies, and assists both the neighbor and his own older sister, Inu, with their homework. One day, one of his teachers suggests that he visit Doctor Kanae Watanabe, who had studied surgery in the U.S. The school raises money for the the surgery, and eventually Seisaku is able to hold an apple in his left hand for the first time. In gratitude, he decides to become a doctor, and Watanabe allows him to stay in the clinic to help out with the staff work while studying for the medical school entrance exams at night. Before going to Tokyo, he carves a vow into the wall of the house that he’d graduate as a doctor or never come back home. He does graduate, changes his name to Hideyo (there was a novel written about that time where the main character is a loser named Seisaku. In kind of a shock, he decided that he needed a better name; “Hide” is the character used for “England”, and “yo” is “world”) and goes to America where he forces himself onto Doctor Simon Flexner. He starts out working on snake anti-venom at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, when Flexner is picked to be the first director of the newly-created Rockefeller Institute, Noguchi follows him and starts working on infectious diseases. After 15 years in the U.S., he received a letter from his former neighbor with a hand-written note from his mother stating that she misses him. Struck with homesickness, he sailed back to Japan to visit with her for 2 months. He returned to the U.S., promising to see her again soon, but she died 3 years later. At one point, his research team members give up for the night and Noguchi stays in the lab – they ask him if he ever takes time out to sleep at all. The story fast-forwards to 1928, in Accra. Noguchi is in bed with Yellow Fever. His last words are “I don’t understand”. He dies and the team redoubles its efforts to complete his work. They finally discover that Yellow Fever is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, and the story ends with the narrator telling everyone that the present-day researchers have been inspired by Noguchi’s hardworking ethic.

The textbook section describes Seisaku’s upbringing in a tiny rural town, the accident with the fireplace, and how the entire town pulled together to pay for his surgery. There’s some mention of his time spent at university and later research labs. Sidebars talk about the surgeon Kanae Watanabe, the teacher Shisakae Kobayashi, researcher Morinosuke Chiwaki, Simon Flexner, and Noguchi’s mother, Shika. There is a brief discussion of the problems with Noguchi’s research that surfaced immediately after his death, but a lot of it is kind of swept under the rug by saying that technology at the time was unable to detect viruses. The last two pages describe other disease researchers, including: Robert Koch, Shibasaburo Kitasato, Alexandre Yersin and Kiyoshi Shiga.

(Post cards: Hideyo, left, and Hideyo and Shika, right.)

Comments: It’s a bit too much to expect a Japanese publication to address the darker side of a national hero when the audience is Japanese children. But, the emphasis on Noguchi’s connection to his mother, his devotion to solving the world’s ills, and the claim that he worked closely with his U.S. team is poured on a bit thick. The artist’s interpretation of Noguchi as a starved brainiac doesn’t really work, either. If you want the pictures in the textbook section, then this volume is ok. Otherwise, you really should get a fully-researched biography on him in English.

Note: The series is almost finished. There’s German pianist Clara Schumann and then American astronaut Neil Armstrong. I’m only going to get the Armstrong volume. There’s no mention of the series being extended any further, so I’m assuming that the Merrino storyline will wrap up in issue 80 as well. It’s been a good run, and I’ve enjoyed reading about a number of the featured people. If a similar series pops up, I’ll check it out. Otherwise, this blog is probably going to slow down a lot more in the near future. Gakken isn’t releasing much of anything new anymore (the next kit is some time in September, and then we won’t see anything else until maybe December or January), and I’m not doing much in Java right now. I do have articles planned for the PAiA Fatman synth, and the HackMe Rock-it 8-Bit synth, but I don’t have either of them fully troubleshot, so there’s maybe only 3 article’s worth of material right now. And no plans for mods of the Otona no Kagaku Planetarium kit. (The Rockit kit was missing parts, and the designer may take 2-3 weeks to mail replacements to me.)


80 Famous People – Confucius

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

Most people are at least familiar with the name Confucius, although in America he’s primarily known for being the namesake of the “Confucius say” jokes. The real Confucius lived from some time around 551 BCE to 479 BCE. According to the wiki entry, his father died when he was 2 years old, and his mother became a temple priestess to support the both of them, although she also died relatively young. Being raised around a temple gave him the rare opportunity to learn to read and write. At the time, China was a collection of warring states, and the one he lived in, Lu, was headed by a ruling feudal house. Confucius worked a series of jobs with the intent of climbing up through Lu’s bureaucratic system. One goal was to establish himself as a philosopher, promoting a more peaceful environment for the common people affected by the fighting. However, he butted heads against a few of the more influential local leaders and found himself being ostracized. In part, this was because his philosophy included displaying respect to others, justice, sincerity and governmental morality (which were counter to the behavior of the day). He left Lu and spent 14 years with his followers wandering from state to state, looking for a place to settle down. Finally, on returning to Lu at age 68, he was accepted due to the groundwork laid by a few of his students. He then continued teaching from a newly established school until his death at age 78.

His philosophy revolves around the concept of respect for authority. You do what you are told by the people above you, and the people below you follow your orders. To ensure that people will follow you, you need to be gracious, polite and morally upstanding. You should also be skilled in the 6 arts, which include writing, archery, music and horseback riding. The idea of hierarchy extends to the family, where the sons must follow the will of their father, and the women are obedient to the men. This philosophy made its way to Japan several hundred years ago, and formed the basis of study for anyone wanting to enter government work. In Japan, Confucius is known as “Koushi”.

(Angora: “Buy my books.”)

In the intro manga, Ken Oogami (Ken Wolf) is trying to find ways to pay back Mrs. Makiba for letting him stay at her house. But, Merrino prevents him from doing housekeeping or cooking, because the Sheep Prince does those in order to get Mrs. Makiba to give him more free cookies. Actually, Merrino’s butler, Angora, does the real work, while quoting from Confucius to explain his role as a servant. Ken is impressed and begs Angora to teach him the way of butlering. In the wrap up, Ken now looks like a respectable, upstanding young man. The girls (Mami and Mohea) ask him to design new outfits for them, but Merrino interrupts and demands that he get a makeover first. Youichi leaps forward, announcing that he also graduated from Angora’s class. Youichi turns Merrino into a clown, while Angora tries to sell the reader on his line of serialized “Famous Butler” magazine books.

Ryou Mitsuya (Haraguro Maiko-san no Takao Katsu, Soyokaze Soyo-san, Wan Pagu!) is the main artist. In this story, there’s almost no backgrounds, and the story is a mix of narrated poses, combined with occasional short conversations between two characters. All of the character designs are standard manga fare, and Confucius looks nothing like the statues portraying him. In fact, Mitsuya has him as some kind of starved bean pole with a fake-looking glue-on beard, rather than the big laughing fat guy from the statues.

(Confucius learns about court intrigue first-hand.)

The story starts out with an old Confucius giving a lecture in his hometown while a group of farm kids fight the crowds in order to get a glimpse of him. Most of the kids fall asleep in the middle of the lecture, complaining that it’s too difficult for commoners to follow, and Kangai, one of Confucius’ main disciples rewords things to make them easier to comprehend. The scene then switches to when Confucius was raised by his mother after she became a temple priestess, and shows how he continued to study philosophy and government operations as an adult. Most scenes serve as a backdrop for the artist to reprint one of Confucius’ quotes from “Analects”, and then reword it in more modern Japanese. At one point, Confucius runs afoul of a competing court adviser for the lord of a neighboring province, and that lord sends a bunch of loose women to Confucius’ state to seduce his own lord. The result being that Confucius can no longer work under these conditions and he takes his students out on a self-imposed 14-year exile. When he comes back to the state of Lu at age 68, he discovers that one of his disciples had stayed behind and built up his reputation so that he receives a positive reception now. The story ends with the author advising readers to follow Confucius’ teachings on how to live a righteous life.

(Textbook page.)

The textbook section has a fair amount of information on Confucius’ early life and the state of affairs during the warring states period of the time, which is remarkable in that the events took place close to 2500 years ago. There are a few paintings of Confucius teaching some disciples and photos of statues of him and his key disciples. The magazine makes a point of Confucius having had 3,000 students. The last two pages attempt to explain 4 of his key teachings: Study history to find new ideas; All things in moderation (trying too hard is just as useless as not trying at all); Do what you know is the right thing; Treat other people like you want to be treated.


Comment: Generally, the main manga is just an attempt to “put a face to the name”. A lot of the drama is manufactured specifically for the story, and that’s really obvious this time. And, I dislike manufactured drama. I usually prefer the textbook sections, and I like this one specifically for the paintings and statues at the back of the magazine. If you like old paintings, get this issue. If you want a biography on Confucius, find something written in English.