The small city of Naka (pop. 53K), a two-hour train ride from Tokyo on the eastern coast of Japan, was thrust into the international spotlight in the early dawn of Friday morning. A fire broke out among electroplating equipment in Renesas’s 300 nm N3 fabrication facility. It was extinguished before breakfast time, and fortunately nobody was injured nor were there any toxic chemical leaks. Only six hundred square meters on the first floor of the plant was damaged, but the entire building has to be closed for repairs. It will take approximately one month to restore normal operations, and CEO Hidetoshi Shibata is “concerned that there will be a massive impact on chip supplies”.
In a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Renesas reports that the source of the fire has been determined, but the details are still unclear:
The casing of the equipment and the plating tank have relatively low resistance to heat, and the equipment ignited due to overcurrent. However, the cause of the overcurrent and the reason for the ignition is currently being investigated.
Semiconductors are already in short supply, as we reported back in January, forcing slowdowns at many auto manufacturers. The Naka plant primarily makes automotive semiconductors, worsening an already stressed supply chain. While the news focuses on the automotive sector, this shortage spills over into many other industries as well.
The newly-announced aerospace project, led by retired astronaut and engineer Prof Takao Doi, plans to launch satellites built from wood in order to reduce space debris and hazardous substances resulting from re-entry. We’re somewhat skeptical on the hazardous substances angle (and we’re not alone in this), but certainly as a way to help ensure complete burn up upon re-entry, wood is an interesting material. It also achieves a great strength to weight ratio and as a renewable resource it’s easy to source.
Prof Doi has been studying the use of wood in space for several years now. Back in 2017 he began basic research on the usability of timbers in space (pg 16), where his team experimented with coniferous (cedar and cypress) and hardwood (satinwood, magnolia, and zelkova) trees in vacuum environments. Based on successes, they predicted wooden satellite launches in the mid 2020s (their announcement this month said 2023). Sumitomo engineers have not released what kind of wood(s) will finally be used on the satellite.
You might remember Astronaut Doi from an experiment aboard the ISS where he successfully demonstrated flying a boomerang in space (video below), and he’s also discovered two supernovae in his spare time. We wish him good luck.
Just a few days ago, on the other side of the planet from this author, there was a mechanical keyboard meetup in Tokyo. Fortunately through the magic of the Internet we can all enjoy the impressive collection of devices people brought, and boy were there some interesting specimens. There were certainly the inevitable collections of strange artisan keycaps, unusual handmade switches, and keycap sets only available in one group buy five years ago in Nicaragua. But among the bright colors were some truly unique custom designs the likes of which we haven’t see before. A single source is hard to credit, you could check the hashtag #tokyomk6 on Twitter, or [obra]’s thread of photos, or this great blog post (video walkthroughs and photos included) from [romly].
Speaking of [romly], one of their designs stands out as particularly unusual. There are a few things to note here. One is the very conspicuous surface profile of the (clearly totally custom) keycaps themselves. Instead of flat or cylindrical or spherical, these are round. Round like the outside of a log. If we didn’t know better it might look like the entire thing was sculpted or extruded as a single unit. And just below the deck are the perpendicular thumb clusters. Frankly we aren’t sure how to refer to this design feature. The switches are mounted at right angles facing inward so the user places a thumb inside it in a style reminiscent of the DataHand. It’s quite interesting, and we’d be love to know more about what specific functionality it provides.
Another interesting entrant is this keyboard with unusually staggered switches and hexagonal caps (check out the individual markings!). Very broadly there are two typical keyboard layout styles; the diagonal columns of QWERTY (derived from a typewriter in the 1800’s) or the non slanted columns of an “ortholinear” or matrix style layout. By those metrics this is something like an ortholinear keyboard in that its switches overlap their neighbors by half, but the edge to edge close packed caps imply that it might be something else. We’d be very interested to know how typing on this beast would be!
There were so many more awesome designs present at the meetup that this would never end if we tried to document them all. Take a look through the posts and call out anything else too excellent to go unnoticed!
Thanks [obra] for Tweeting about this so we could discover it.
It won’t replace your beloved Rasbperry Pi, but it’s worth saying hello to this “Strawberry Jam”, straight out of Japan. It’s an equally delicious way to get people interested in the basics of coding.
My hackerspace friend Jim is a lucky bloke, for last year he was able to take an extended holiday through a succession of East Asian countries. We were treated to online pictures of beautiful scenery and beaches, city lights, and of course exciting tech destinations such as hardware markets and hackerspaces. On his return he tossed a package on the table in front of me and said “Jenny, you might like to take a look at that, these are big in Japan!” Inside was an electronic kit and a few pieces of documentation, with Japanese text.
A Different Way To Get Kids Coding
What he’d given me was an IchigoJam (Best translation I’ve been given is “Strawberry Jam”), a small single-board computer aimed at young people. In the style of the 8-bit machines of the 1980s, it runs a comprehensive BASIC interpreter and plugs into a TV set, though it brings itself up-to-date with a USB-A socket for a keyboard. At its heart is an NXP LPC1114F102 ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller with 32KB of Flash and 4KB of SRAM, and though the board Jim passed to me has a surface-mount example it’s clear that it was also designed for the now-obsolete DIP variant of the chip. If you were to think of this as an odd hybrid of a BASIC Stamp, a Raspberry Pi, and one of the smaller MBED boards, you probably wouldn’t be too far from the mark. What follows is my impression of it based on the information at hand. Sadly the IchigoJam website and forum seems only available to Japanese viewers and returns an error code from my European perspective.
In Japan, tea ceremony (cha-dou) is revered as a way to a gain deeper insights into life and philosophy. Traditional Japanese tea ceremony practitioners put in long hours to master the intricacies and details of pouring tea. The road to becoming a tea master is crucial as it develops the practitioner’s mental state as well as physical technique.
We’d never seen an iconoscope before. And that’s reason enough to watch the quirky Japanese, first-person video of a retired broadcast engineer’s loving restoration. (Embedded below.)
Quick iconoscope primer. It was the first video camera tube, invented in the mid-20s, and used from the mid-30s to mid-40s. It worked by charging up a plate with an array of photo-sensitive capacitors, taking an exposure by allowing the capacitors to discharge according to the light hitting them, and then reading out the values with another electron scanning beam.
The video chronicles [Ozaki Yoshio]’s epic rebuild in what looks like the most amazingly well-equipped basement lab we’ve ever seen. As mentioned above, it’s quirky: the iconoscope tube itself is doing the narrating, and “my father” is [Ozaki-san], and “my brother” is another tube — that [Ozaki] found wrapped up in paper in a hibachi grill! But you don’t even have to speak Japanese to enjoy the frame build and calibration of what is probably the only working iconoscope camera in existence. You’re literally watching an old master at work, and it shows.
A Japanese lab is investing some time in the possibilities of a 5-axis 3D printer. They show it printing using five axis as well as doing finish machining on a printed part. We’ve covered parts of why this is the right direction to go for 3D printing in another post.
It looks like they have modified an existing industrial machining center for use with a 3D printing nozzle. This feels like cheating, but it’s the right way to go if you want to start playing with the code early. The machines are intensely accurate and precise. After all, building a five axis machine is a well known science, 3D printing with one opens a whole new field of research.
There isn’t too much to show in the video, other than it’s possible and people are doing it. The Five-axis 3D printing and machining is uninteresting, we have been able to machine plastic for a long time.
However, they show one blue part in which the central axis of the part was printed vertically, but revolute splines along its outer perimeter were printed normal to the surface of the already printed 3D part. Which is certainly not commonly done. Video after the break.