Archive for category technology

Date: October 13th, 2009
Cate: technology

One Of Few Effective Ways to Use QR Codes

At Hakuhodo entrance. Visitors will receive entry cards with QR codes to be swiped at the office entrance.

This is such a clever solution since the reception can issue as many cards one needs; and when visitors leave, they can just take the card with them, as codes would be only valid for the day.

Date: September 18th, 2009
Cate: technology

Security, The Motivation

Photos from an year old super high-tech apartment building in a suburb of Tokyo.

The photo above shows an elevator hall with a CCD monitor which captures the passengers inside the lift, making sure that there is nothing strange taking place inside.

Then the photo below shows a high-tech door bell, which automatically records a video clip of your visitor at the entrance (by the way that is me in the monitor screen). The monitor comes with a feature to play back the clips and record them onto a memory card if necessary.

While I was surprised how old houses are well kept and continues to provide great homes in Europe, I am equally surprised how Japanese housing industry keeps on adding features to what they provide. Security in a large apartment block is certainly an issue in Japan, but how quickly the technology is providing solutions to those problems, is something. If I were to be rather critical, I wonder how much are they used? Any negative impact other than positive ones? I hope the industry also have decent answers rather than mere solutions.

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Date: August 7th, 2008
Cate: technology

Bath buttons

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In most Japanese bathrooms, you will find a control panel like these, equipped with several buttons. The main functionality of the button is to fill the warm water onto your tub. Once the water reaches to the certain level, it will automatically stop.

The reason why you need this button, is because you are most likely not present while you are filling the bath. Japanese bath tubs are relatively deep, and can contain quite a lot of water. So a typical Japanese family will fill up the tub before anyone enters. Once the water is filled, the water is to be used by everyone in the family. Another frequently used button in the control panels is the water reheat button; once the button is pressed, then the system automatically reheats the water that is currently inside the tub up to the defined temperature, e.g. 40C.

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The same button is placed in the kitchen, too. This is for filling the water remotely, which is convenient, but a little stupid because the panel is purely for the heating and does not tell you whether the bath lid is open or not. Nowadays, the control panel also comes with a Talk Button, which works like a bad walky-talky.

When I look at this set up, it makes me feel that the manufacturer has a certain stereotype of Japanese homes. In the evening, mom is busy cooking and dad taking a bath with a child in a bathroom. Considering that there are so many single flats, I feel we need a little diversity in these control panels that occupy millions of households in Japan.

Date: June 19th, 2008
Cate: technology

Taspo, ID card for purchasing cigarettes

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Tobacco Institute of Japan has introduced a card called Taspo – a card using near field technology (NFC) which can only be issued to adults (in Japan’s definition, that is over 20 years old). The card is mandatory for
purchasing cigarettes from vending machines. The service is gradually
introduced from south of Japan since last year, and completes its introduction as of July 1st.

Acquiring this card requires some tedious process – another form filling – which I consider as the way to keep Japanese feel busy all the time. In addition, you should attach your identification to prove that you are over 20 and a photograph. After doing all these, you will get a card in two weeks. I am not a smoker, but I imagine no one has got time for this. Smokers, have you made yourself a Taspo card?

According to the association, there are 26 million smokers in Japan; and only 24% of them have purchased the card.

Naturally, many people shifted their point of purchase from vending machines to supermarkets and convenience stores. According to Mainichi online news, some say vending machine profit decreased by 20%. This could be a serious issue for small shop owners since they typically place these vending machines in front of their shops.

Because this is simply due to the tedious process of Taspo card issuance, many shopkeepers have started obvious solutions like hanging the card from the vending machine (see image below).

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If the system does not work, what should they have done instead? In Germany, they have managed to use chip-integrated credit/debit cards instead of issuing a complete new set of cards. It is true that most Japanese cards do not contain chips — but hey, Japan is a country with so many sophisticated NFC card systems. Many vending machines have already integrated Suica system, too, why couldn’t cigarettes be the same?

The more you think about it, the way this card works is very similar to Suica and other  transportation/top-up cards. The machine not only reads the information on the card to allow you to buy a pack, but also writes data – so you can walk to the vending machine to top up the card and later you can purchase cigarettes with this card alone.

In essence, Taspo is another card that does the same thing. What is beyond comprehension from a mere consumer is all these similar technologies introduced under different companies and names. SUICA card issued by Japan Rail is well known, but in fact, there were times this technology only worked for Eastern Japan. Western Japan Rail introduced ICOCA, and they were not compatible with each for some time after the technology being introduced. A railway company called Tokyu also introduced Pasmo last year, and it took some time before many of us understood that both SUICA and Pasmo pretty much does the same thing – enables us to ride on most of the public transportations in metropolitan area.

What we are experiencing is the repeated history of what we have already seen with the flood of credit cards. Different department stores and supermarket chains issue their own credit cards with point system which seem beneficial if you purchase things from their shops. In some sense top-up cards are worse because on top of the NFC card you need to subscribe to a credit card which allows you to automatically top it up. I hope that someone realizes that in many other countries, things are way simpler because of debit cards. What I need, is a NFC card with debit services, that directly remit cash from your account. Nothing more, no points and possible benefits I could get.

The website explains that once you purchase everything is easy. I hope the smokers feel the same way about obtaining and carrying another card.

Instructions on ID cards for vending machines (in German, info from my colleague Ti): http://karte-rein-packung-raus.de/infos_zur_geldkarte/kartencheck.php

Taspo Official website (English): http://www.taspo.jp/english/index.html

Date: May 3rd, 2008
Cate: technology

Evolution of TV remote

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Early this year, we bought a new Sony plasma TV. The TV came with a remote that uses radio transmission instead of infrared. At first I just thought it will be a big TV, I soon realized that it frees us from certain interaction styles we used to have.

First of all, with radio, we no longer need to lift the remote up. You can simply keep the remote on a flat surface and it works properly. Secondly, the angle does not matter either, you can even have your back or side against TV, but the remote will still work. And we also do not need to lean forward every time we change the channel. This is really useful, since the TV is getting bigger, allowing us to watch TV from a further distance.

The evolution of remote is subtle, but when I think of the days there was no remote, when I was often scolded by my mother for being too close to the TV, I feel that we have come a long way.

I created the above image to describe an anonymous family, but unconsciously it became more like the one of my own. The one who is benefiting from this evolution, is clearly, me, the mom.