Japanese Robot Development Driven By Xenophobia

Reading a term paper by one of my Växjö students, I learned something surprising.

Being a well-read and erudite sort, Dear Reader, you may not be surprised. You already know that Japanese women have been having very few babies each since the 1950s, and that thus there’s a growing shortage of strong young people to work in the care for the elderly. It has gone so far, and the prognosis is so dire, that the Japanese electronics industry is busy developing robots to care for old folks.

What I learned is that the problem is really one of xenophobia. All of Japan’s neighbouring countries across the sea have a completely different demography and offer an endless supply of nursing staff. But it’s politically impossible to lower the bar for entry onto the Japanese labour market. Foreign nursing certificates aren’t recognised. The Japanese voter prefers to have simple automatons caring for grandma when the alternative is a darker-complexioned Philippine person who doesn’t speak Japanese.

Seen from the larger ecological perspective, Japan is simply an isolated human population that is not reproducing well and so will soon be unable to fill its niche. I’m pretty sure neighbouring populations will redress this imbalance within a few decades.

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Dynamic Map of Chinese Unrest

The Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo censors searches for the names of places where there are protests (currently Shenzhen). You could write a script that searches for the main Chinese cities on Weibo and plots the ones that are censored on a map. Presto, a dynamic map of Chinese political unrest! With data supplied by the Chinese government, no less. Who will do it first?

Update same day: Daniel Becking points to the highly informative web site Blocked On Weibo. It has a wide remit. The most recent entry explains why the two characters for “pantyhose” are blocked.

Flew To Öland

Yesterday I went to Öland and showed my students some sites and landscape. We were joined by human geographer Carl-Johan Nordblom who knows all the post-Viking stuff. Lovely day! Though we couldn’t find our way to the best-preserved of the Resmo passage tombs. The land owner has tired of visitors and closed off the driveway from the main road.

My ride Stockholm-Kalmar was a fun little flying school bus, the Swedish 1983 design SAAB 340, seating 34 people. I had a great view when we flew back north in the sunset, golden horizontal lighting bringing out the surface contour.

There was a little misunderstanding. I was listening to a podcast in ear buds on the plane and covering one ear with my hand to dampen the engine noise and hear what people were saying on the show. The white cords were plainly visible. The hostess then offered me ear plugs. This struck me as an odd thought.

DIY Strap Fastener For Samsung Galaxy S III

The people behind the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone made an odd design decision. They got rid of the standard fastening point for a strap. And the backshells on the market don’t have a fastening point either. But I really want a strap to be able to pull my phone out of my pocket and to keep from dropping it. Here’s what I did.

  1. Get a shock-absorbing plastic backshell (I’m not talking about the cover of the battery compartment, but a secondary shell that fits onto the back of the phone when the battery cover is in place) and a strap or lanyard of your choice. (I prefer a short wrist strap.)
  2. Open up a paper clip and heat one end of it in a candle to drill two holes through the backshell. Repeat to widen the holes. Not too closely spaced and not too near the edge of the shell!
  3. Clean the uneven edges of the holes from either side with the point of a small knife or nail scissors.
  4. Stick a loop of sewing thread through the holes to pull the loop of your strap through.
  5. Stick the strap through its own loop, fastening it to the shell.
  6. Fasten the shell to the phone.

Rare Plane

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Rode a pretty rare/air plane Bromma – Kallinge on Friday morning. It was a Saab 2000, a 1992 Swedish turboprop model of which only 63 where ever built. (Apparently they saw daylight in the mistaken hope that customers would want a turboprop this size, rather than the ubiquitous jets, and lost Saab a lot of money.) This one belongs to Golden Air. On the way back I rode one of those paunchy ATR 72-500s. Both models have their cargo bays right behind the cockpit.

Laptop Has Replaced Umpteen Specialised Devices

Junior’s been through an extended period of various lighter ailments that have affected his school attendance record (but not his grades) considerably. I believe this may be partly due to his sedentary lifestyle. He’s thin as a rake, like his old man, but also like his old man he’s not exactly spending his free time on a rugby court. I need to take him cycling.

My wife worries about the amount of time Junior likes to spend on the computer. I think it’s more a question of him not exercising rather than what he does specifically while not exercising. And I’ve realised that he actually does pretty much what I did as an adolescent in the 80s, but using different tech – all in one box.

  • Watch TV
  • Phone a friend
  • Play games
  • Read
  • Write
  • Listen to music
  • Paint

A young person who divided their time between these pastimes in a more traditional manner would hardly be seen as obsessive or sedentary.

The True Steel of the Ancestors

Above-ground atomic explosions and reactor leaks during the past century have produced a pretty funny atmosphere full of exotic heavy isotopes. In radiocarbon calibration this error source is called “bomb radiocarbon”. A few years ago it was suggested that a person’s age might be determined through looking at the amount of various isotopes in some bodily tissue (was it the eye’s lens?) and cross-referencing it with the historic data on spikes and troughs in the abundance of various isotopes.

Now the always readworthy Chris Catling tells the readers of Current Archaeology #265 (April) of another way that our sloppy ways with fissile material impact our lives – our cultural heritage, specifically!

“Metal theft doesn’t just take place on dry land; law abiding divers have been reporting an increase in theft from the wrecks of HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, sunk by a U-boat in the North Sea on 22 September 1914 with the loss of 1,459 lives. … apparently the steel structure of the ships … [T]he amount of radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere has increased, and these get into steel, making it weakly radioactive when air is blown into the furnace …

Some forms of scientific and medical equipment (such as Geiger counters and radiation-detecting body scanners) need what is known as “low-background steel“, the chief source of which is naval vessels constructed prior to 1945 and protected from contamination by the North Sea …

(pp. 46-47)

How Is Energy Consumption Moderated In A Car?

Car question. When I turn on my windshield wipers, the energy for those two step motors comes from the battery. And it comes to the battery from the gas tank via the alternator. This means that if I drive with my wipers on, I will run out of gas sooner. But doesn’t the alternator constantly attempt to charge the battery? Where is the “switch” that allows the alternator to suck less energy out of the tank when I turn off my wipers? I imagine something like a bicycle dynamo that can be either on the wheel, imposing drag, or off the wheel.

2011 Enlightener & Obscurantist Awards

i-230db6e878da54fec87ff8136882123f-Hjarnkontoret-barn-svt-ny-180.jpgThe Swedish Skeptics, of whom I am the chairman, have just announced their annual awards for 2011 [ab].

The Swedish public TV show Hjärnkontoret receives the Enlightener of the Year award,

“…for their excellent science coverage directed towards children. Hjärnkontoret has aired for 16 years and thus contributed to the upbringing of the entire current generation of students and young scientists at Swedish universities. Thanks to its welcoming format and accessible time slot on public television, Hjärnkontoret reaches out to children of all backgrounds, thus widening and democratising the recruitment of future scientists. Furthermore, the show increases knowledge and appreciation of science among the public at large.”

The Enlightener of the Year receives a cash prize of SEK 25 000 ($3600, €2800).

The Board for the Environment of Mora and Orsa municipalities receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award, as it

“… has disregarded scientific knowledge when dealing with so-called electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Since 2006 the Board has dealt with a complaint including demands that the municipality force cell phone operators to decrease radiation from their antennas. This radiation was said to cause a number of health problems. The Board for the Environment has spent considerable resources on investigating this demand without acknowledging the fact that controlled scientific experiments have never been able to demonstrate any hypersensitivity effects of radio waves. Instead the Board has alleged that the science is uncertain and that a link cannot be excluded. …

People who believe that they are hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields usually experience real symptoms. But there is no scientific support for their interpretation of the cause. Instead, we are usually dealing with a psychosomatic condition. Accepting the sufferers’ interpretation in opposition against scientific medicine is actually a disservice to the people involved.”

See Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Dagens Medicin, Expressen, SR P4 Dalarna, Mobil.se, Dalarnas Tidningar, Dala-demokraten, Eskilstuna-kuriren, Dalarnas Tidningar again, Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. I will add links to more coverage as I find them.

Take Cover, Yacht Cover Aloft

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The Dear Reader may remember that I recently reported from the hibernation grounds of the local yachting club. Here’s a photograph from the same site, taken by my dad. It demonstrates why you might want to weigh the winter cover for your boat down with water tanks like everybody except this one member has.