Kaeda Drone now out

Gakken finally updated their website to include the regular advertising for the new kit. So, if you want to see what the kit consists of, and get an idea of how hard it is to build it, you can check out the construction sheets. I expect to see this kit arriving in Kyushu either tomorrow, or Friday.


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.)


There are signs of a new Gakken kit! There’s nothing mentioned on the Otnona no Kagaku site, or on the Facebook page. But, Amazon.jp has the artwork for the Tornado Maker kit cover and a Nov. 12 release date for accepting preorders. Priced at 3,780 yen, which is getting up at the high end of “affordable” for something like that only has one function and can’t easily be repurposed (from what I can tell right now). Still, I’ll probably buy it when it gets to Kyushu (assuming the release date doesn’t slip…)

Reply to a Gakken post comment

Last week, when I wrote that there’s been no activity from Gakken for months, and no new kit in a year, Micheal replied with “Most likely they don’t have any new ideas to run with. I would’t mind them coming out with a one tube AM transmitter. Instead those have to modify their existing kit.”

I’d like to use the space here to give my thoughts on the current Gakken kit situation. First, I don’t think it’s a simple matter of not having any new ideas. At the back of each kit mook, there’s a survey card readers are asked to fill out. The card includes a list of potential kit ideas and the company then looks at the popularity of each idea to see which ones might have an audience. So, the company has ideas, and it kind of knows how well each one might sell.

I think the problems are:

1) Having something to base the magazine on. If the kit is part of the mook series (and not one of the higher-priced stand-alone kits), the authors need to write about the underlying principles behind the kit, the history of that type of machine, and interview a few well-known specialists in that field. Plus, they want 3-4 pages of pictures of antiques for a photo spread. If they pick a kit with nothing to write about, or they re-do something they’ve published before (like the cameras, or the steam engine), they won’t have enough material for a 40-60 page magazine.

2) The prices of the kits have been going up and the kits have gotten more elaborate. The first kit, the little putt-putt boat, had maybe 5 parts and cost 1,600 yen. The latest kits have been getting up around 20-40 parts and anywhere between 3,500 and 3,900 yen. That means the costs for producing the kits are going up, not to mention the salaries of the writers and editors. There’s kind of an unspoken ceiling that Gakken is hesitant to break through because they’re afraid of losing customers. If the kit price goes over 4,000 yen, people are going to question whether the kits are worth buying.

3) The government raised the sales tax by 2-3 percent a couple years ago to 8%. At the time, they said it was to raise money to reduce the national debt, but most of the taxes have gone to efforts to rewrite the constitution to let Japan create more of a standing army, and as donations to disaster-hit regions around the world. The result of the increased taxes, instead of jump-starting the economy like the government hoped, has been a scaling back of household spending, and the closing of many smaller boutique companies, and an increase in unemployment. Gakken has lost sales in all of this, and they’re naturally going to look at what products sell better than the others, and cut anything that isn’t selling well. This is especially a problem for customers because the government is still convinced that higher sales taxes are going to fix everything, and are insisting on bumping them another 2%, to 10%, in 2017. Companies know this, and they’re looking at moving their marketing focus from the domestic to international markets.

In summary, boneheaded sales tax decisions by the current ruling political party are killing the markets in Japan, and spending is going down (while wages aren’t changing). This, coupled with the continuous increase in kit complexity and sales price, is causing Gakken to rethink which products to keep selling in order to maintain their profits.


Gakken Updates

A very small amount of new activity on Gakken’s facebook page recently.

First up was an announcement that Gakken was going to be attending the Tokyo Makers Faire at the beginning of August.

This was followed up with a mention of a new music video by the duo Yuzu. They redesigned the Gakken Automa-te (the mechanical handwriting kit) to play an electric guitar as part of the video.

Drect youtube link

Finally, there was a big children’s science event hosted by Maewa Denki, the company that specializes in producing gag machines, which sometimes include Gakken kits. Aug. 22, in Tokyo.

Gakken Updates

With the year pretty much wrapping up, things are pretty quiet with Gakken. There were two posts on the Facebook page, one announcing the release of the Rainbow Loom for Adults kit, and the other talking about about a theremin demo at Tokyo Culture Culture in Shinjuku on Dec. 21st.

Other than that, there’s nothing to report on. Literally nothing, in that the Otona no Kagaku page hasn’t been updated to show the Next Up page, and Amazon doesn’t have a placeholder page for the next kit. The last mook advertised a “hurricane-style” humidifier, with no tentative release date. Since the Steel Drum kit came out at the end of September, with a big gap between it and the previous kit, I was hoping for a December-January date on the humidifier. That’s not likely right now, and I’m not expecting to see anything new from Gakken until maybe March, at this point.


Rainbow Loom update

Very small amount of activity from Gakken today.

First, the Otona no Kagaku site announced that the new Rainbow Loom expansion kit has hit the shelves.

Second, Gakken has finally decided to add the new mini-Theremin kit to their Sound Gadget product line. Now there’s actually more than one product to the “line-up”.


Otona no Kagaku Newsletter #162

The latest newsletter showed up in email right after I posted that there wasn’t much new to write about. There still isn’t, but at least I have a newsletter telling me that, now.

The editors start out reminding the readers about the Rainbow Loom kit that came out in August, and then announce 3 events coming up in the next few days.

1) New Rainbow Loom Kit Releases
Due to the popularity of the first kit, a new Master Kit will be coming out on Dec. 5th, for 2,592 yen. Aimed at ages 6 and up, it will have a 52-page, A4-size, guide booklet, plus 10 colors of elastic bands and accessory parts.

The Cute Accessories kit comes out on Nov. 25, with an 84-page booklet and some more elastic bands, at 830 yen.
The Adult Cute Set hits the shelves on Dec. 16. 100-page, B5 booklet, more elastic bands and supporting parts, for 1000 yen.

2) Tokyo Maker Faire
There’s a new Maker Faire being held at Tokyo Big Site on Nov. 23rd and 24th (Sunday and Monday). Gakken will have demos and classes with several of their latest kits, including the Mini Theremin, the Electric Steel Drum and the Pocket Miku. Tickets are 1000 yen for adults, 500 yen for those 18 and under in advance. 1500 and 700 at the door. Hours are 12 PM – 7 PM on Sunday. 10-6 on Monday.

3) Otona No Kagaku email magazine members-only invitation
Kansai University has a program called MOOC, offering special chemistry classes through their online Gacco site. There will be 4 one-day courses on Nov. 29th (2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon) on biotechnology. The courses will include online lectures and hands-on experiments. Gakken is offering a random drawing and 5 people will be selected to attend the classes. Open to email magazine subscribers only.
Course 1) Japan’s food culture: Experiencing fermentation (10 AM-1 PM)
Course 2) Boasting of Japan’s accomplishments: Make your own capacitor (10 AM-1 PM)
Course 3) Cutting edge medical science: Make a polymer for personal appearance (2-4 PM)
Course 4) Metals used in hybrid cars and airplanes: The strengths of inorganics (2-4 PM)

(I’m really not sure what course 3 is about. I think it’s on plastic surgery, using polymers to enhance skin tone.)

Catching up

One of the things I like about writing long, multi-part blog series is that it gives me something to post 2-3 times a week while waiting for the next kit to come out from Gakken. Unfortunately, doing this usually requires having something to write about, and that doesn’t always happen. Granted, my writing about something doesn’t mean that anyone wants to read it, but still, it’s better than having the blog go dead for 3-4 months at a time, I guess. Maybe. Or, maybe not.

Right now, I’ve got two topics that I’m going to continue for a little while – the Vocaloid Producer bi-weekly magazine DVD series, and a new rambler on how I’ve failed to plot the Riemann Zeta function in Excel. (If you know how to do this, please let me know so I can go write about something else.) I’ll start Zeta either Friday or next Monday.

In the meantime, there has been a very small amount of activity from Gakken.

First, on Facebook, was an announcement for an Oct. 25th in-store demonstration of the new Mini Theremin kit. The location was in Shibuya, and from what I can tell from the write-up, the demo featured theremin group The Putins.

Second is the addition of a new print interview with Aooni Yamane, for the Karada no Himitsu (Secrets of the Human Body) manga. Yamane is the manga artist on Meitantei Kageman, Dekochin and Oyaji Banzai. Of course, the interview is in Japanese.

NSX-39 – Programming Comments

Time to revisit the NSX-39, otherwise known as the “Singing Synthesizer Keyboard Pocket Miku“. I was rereading the “Pocket Miku Perfect Guide” book, and looking at the section on controlling the kit using MIDI commands from a sequencer app (I think the author was using Garage Band). Since the only app I have is Sonar X1 LE, which didn’t play well together with the NSX-39, I figured that I might as well repurpose my Kaossilator Pro Java arpeggiator as an NSX configurator/controller.

The overall concept works, but I’ve been struggling to get all the commands discussed in the documentation to work. One of the problems is that, although all the docs I can find are in Japanese, there aren’t that many to begin with. The starting doc is the Perfect Guide itself, which reprints several of the tables from the Yamaha MIDI parameters sheet, and offers a couple of example instructions. The next doc is the Yamaha MIDI parameter sheet, which lacks examples. I was able to track down the Gakken NSX-39 MIDI Guide, which does discuss programming the NSX in more detail, but the examples are pretty much the same as the ones in the Perfect Guide. The NSX-39 MIDI Guide has links to additional docs stored somewhere on Google, but access to those is controlled by someone, and they’re not giving me permissions to the files.

Having said that, I’m still very impressed with the Pocket Miku. The heart of the kit is the Yamaha NSX-1 chip. It supports eVocaloid, General MIDI, and one or two sound banks (the spec. sheet says that there’s the general purpose MIDI sound bank, RAS (real acoustic system) and a drum kit. RAS seems to be disabled, and the drum kit bank is the same as the percussive instruments you get when selecting channel 9 in the general MIDI sound bank).

With MIDI, you specify 1 of 16 channels to send messages to. Since, the NSX-39 uses USB, in Java you open up a receiver to the kit and send messages that way. Meaning that all 16 channels for that receiver go straight to the NSX-39 – you can play 16 instruments simultaneously on just the one Miku. Channel 0 is eVocaloid (in the Yamaha documentation, channel numbering starts at 1, not 0), and channel 9 is the drum kit. All other channels give you the general MIDI instruments.

The Perfect Guide and the Yamaha spec. break up MIDI commands into 4 major groups: regular MIDI messages (change volume, change program, note ON/OFF, etc.); control change messages (used to access reverb, modulation and brightness); NRPN messages (Non-Realtime Parameters, accessed via control change messages, that let you change the low frequency filter and vibrato) and SysEx (System Exclusive messages, that supposedly let you control pretty much any aspect of the NSX-39). For the most part, the only features that I’ve been able to get working consistently are: NoteON/OFF, pan, reverb, modulation, vibrato, LFO filter frequency, the drum kit, changing the eVocaloid vocabulary and reassigning the NSX-39 key sounds (kind of like having a “keypressed beep”).

A lot of the other stuff, like chorus, variation, and 90% of the SysEx features, are specific to the eVocaloid voice, and I can’t tell why Chorus and Variation aren’t doing anything. I really wish I had more examples to work with, and more complete documentation.

But, what I do have working makes for a pretty good DAW box as it stands. I can switch between the general MIDI instruments, drum kit and eVocaloid, and I can set up a sequencer to run all 16 channels at once. Which, given that the NSX-39 is only $50 USD, including tax, makes it a good deal for the price. Running the sounds through the modulator, adding reverb and then filtering the results is fun.

I’ve even added the Java code for implementing the Roland A-300 keyboard support, and assigned the A-300 sliders to the various NSX-39 settings. There are one or two minor bugs that I want to work out, plus I’ll eventually get around to implementing channel after touch. Then, I need to learn how to play a keyboard…

(Sidenote: When I was experimenting with the A300 support code, I wanted to add an external file for holding the control names as strings in a separate class, so that the main file wouldn’t be so cluttered. I’m using Netbeans as the programming environment, and it got really slow on me. Thinking that the new class file wasn’t working right, I tried deleting it and by mistake ended up irretrievably deleting my project source file. That sucked. I didn’t have backups, so I had to retype the entire NSX-39 controller project all over again from scratch. That took me the better part of a day and a half, but I fixed some mistakes along the way, and added a few new features that I wanted to add anyway. Note to self: Make more backups.)