New technology solves a long-standing problem  

Friday, 21 August 2009

For the dedicated beer fan, the prospect of sitting nursing an empty glass, ignored by tardy bar staff is the stuff of nightmares. But now a new invention from Mitsubishi Electric aims to put an end to this sorry state of affairs once and for all. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Intelligent Beerglass. This is a genuine invention from Mitsubishi’s research labs – God bless them, one and all!

Since restaurants often make much of their profits on drinks, it is critical for servers to offer refills in a timely fashion. We propose wireless liquid level sensing glassware to aid in this task. Specially instrumented glassware detects fluid levels via a high-resolution capacitance measurement. A coil embedded in the table inductively couples power to the glasses, and provides a path for data exchange. Our prototype glass uses a standard microprocessor and a small number of passive components, making it extremely inexpensive.

Background & Objective:  It is a common problem you are in a bar or restaurant with your drink almost gone and you are desperately hoping that one of the staff will notice and offer you a refill. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don. If they don’t, you leave a little less happy with your experience and are less likely to return, the waiter or waitress gets a lower tip, and the restaurant has lost the chance to sell you a drink. Meanwhile, thirsty customers may stand waiting at the door for lack of a table. Everyone loses. It is such a little thing; yet doing it right or wrong can easily make the difference between economic success or failure. By using a combination of RFID and capacitance sensing technologies, we are able to achieve these properties.

Now it has often been noted that your humble scribe is no slouch wiGlassware2hen it comes to innovation. And during the course of writing this blog, a couple of modifications to the proposed system came to mind.

I wonder if I should contact the patent office now?


MERL – iGlassware

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A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on  

Thursday, 13 August 2009


Mrs Beerhound and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary last week, and in celebration we decided to book a table at the very posh Tokyo Breeze restaurant on the 36th floor of the Maranouchi building. The view from our table was – as you can see – quite stunning.

However it became considerably more interesting when Tokyo was struck by the biggest earthquake we’ve had for months. Sitting atop a swaying skyscraper, 36 floors above a distinctly unforgiving-looking pavement added a certain dynamic to the evening.

Subsequently, we’ve been hit several more times by earthquakes this week. We were woken up at 5am on Tuesday by a magnitude 4 quake, followed a few hours later by a small magnitude 1 tremor. And again this morning, we had a magnitude 2/3 shake. It is very, very unusual to have so many quakes in such a short space of time.

Everyone is a little bit concerned that we might be witnessing the precursors of the long-awaited Tokai quake. This is the big one, that the experts say is long overdue. The last great earthquake to hit Tokyo was in 1923, and this one killed 100,000 people. The experts say the next one will be as big, if not bigger. Of course, building design has improved considerably since those days (as our experienced in the Maranouchi building illustrated). However there will still be destruction and loss of life on a colossal scale. We are told that the government is ready for it and has made sufficient plans for our welfare. Certainly there are government warehouses packed with supplies all over Tokyo – often in secret locations. But everyone remembers the experience of the Kobe earthquake in ‘95 that showed up serious complacencies and flaws in the government’s emergency planning. We can only hope that those lessons were adequately learned, for the Tokai will be bigger and more destructive than anything Japan has faced before.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about what will happen – and the Tokai is a certainty; there’s a 40% probability before next year and a 90% probability within 50 years. But life is itself uncertain. I can only hope that fate will be kind to us.

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The mysterious case of the Austrian-style townhouse  

Friday, 7 August 2009

The thermometer needle remains firmly stuck on “Scorchio” (Japanese: スコーチヨウ. I’ve been telling everyone that this is the correct English term for very warm weather), and while I personally love the Japanese summer, it is energy-sapping and makes it difficult to stay focused on work. The daily grind has been made somewhat harder by the building site that’s appeared next door. The reformers are in town.

In Britain, any house under 10 years old is regarded as new; In Japan, they’re getting ready to slap a blue plaque on the wall after 5. Whereas the Englishman’s home is famously his castle, the Japanese regard houses as rather transient things. Which of course is completely understandable in a land prone to natural disasters. There is also – interestingly – a completely different tradition when it comes to things like old houses; one that reveals one of those subtle paradoxes about Japanese people. Most Japanese consider themselves to be staunchly secular, and yet most would also admit harbouring a lingering unease about inhabiting a space once occupied by someone else (no such problems for Mr and Mrs Beerhound, of course, as our love of a good deal overrides any other consideration!). The enthusiasm for new is not just motivated by aspirations to grandeur, but a deep-seated desire not to risk the ire of jealous or malevolent spirits clinging to the rafters of their former homes.

Anyway – I digress.

Building houses is big business here because having your new pad custom-built for you is not so unusual. Quite the opposite, in fact. And so it is that the owner of next door has decided to re-form his semi-derelict childhood home into a swanky new des-res. Consequently, there has been a great deal of crashing and bashing going on while they clear the old place and dig the foundations for the new one. Being, by nature, a nosy b*****d, I have been peeking out of the back window regularly to see what kind of palace will be springing forth from all this activity. And I must admit, I’m intrigued:

07082009409 For along with the expected foundations, has appeared an unexpectedly deep excavation. the purpose of which remains unclear. At first I thought it might be a swimming pool. But that would be incredibly unusual for a Japanese town house. Then I thought it might be an underground car park…a kind of motorised hoist that enables two cars to be parked in one space (quite common). But closer inspection reveals a second, deeper excavation in the centre of the first…the plot thickens. Basement bathroom perhaps? Or something else….

I am becoming concerned that the owner might in fact be a fan of the Josef Fritzl school of architecture:  Rest assured I shall be keeping a close eye on developments, and if I see any deliveries from the Yamamoto Steel Door & Soundproofing company, I’ll be straight up the police station.

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