Hand warmers and novelty products

It’s cold! A day for カイロ (hand warmers). The first time I came to Japan was the first time I encountered these portable packets. The brand my homestay family had was ホッカイロ (Hokkairo), which totally confused me because I thought they were talking about going to Hokkaido. And then I thought that was the name of the product until I saw other brands like ホカロン (Hokaron).

Do you know the kanji? (See the bottom of this post for the answer.)

Do you know how they work?

It’s a simple chemical reaction. Basically, the packets are rusting, and the heat is just a by-product of that reaction.

Read about it in English here: “How Do Hand Warmers Work, Anyway?” (from Adventure Journal)

At the end of the article, there are several recommendations/links to purchase them. The prices in dollars on Amazon seem a little steep to me, compared to Japanese prices. Anyway, there’s also an electric hand warmer made by Eneloop, which may be better for the environment. It’s available on the Japan Trend Shop, which I’m not recommending you use to actually buy anything, but it’s a pretty funny place to browse many novelty products you’d “only find in Japan”.

 


The kanji for カイロ is:

懐炉

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Machines should work and people should think.

There’s so much to notice and comment on in this short video, made by Jim Henson for IBM back in 1967. Yes, the same Jim Henson who created the Muppets. This video was made two years before Sesame Street debuted on TV.

A few things I thought while watching this:

  • I wonder if Henson intended to make the people seem robotic in their delivery.
  • When the types of professions are listed, why is it that the only profession represented by a woman is teacher?
  • Did IBM not think that this video seemed a bit insidious?

Read a little more about this video: “Jim Henson Wanted to Free Us From Paperwork” (from Atlas Obscura)

And the video has an IMDb page.

Kingfishers and owls and penguins. Oh my!

Train geeks and birdwatchers will like this story. It’s about how the newer shinkansen are modeled after kingfisher birds’ beaks because the guy who helped design them was a birdwatcher and noticed that nature’s designs can be pretty perfect. He also got hints from owls and penguins. The video goes on to explain biomimicry and how we can learn a lot from biology and nature.

Watch with the CC subtitles turned on to help you improve listening skills and learn some language. Like this phrase: “to make a splash” — which can be literal (a bird makes a splash when it dives into the water) or an idiom (to become noticed/gain a lot of attention because of something you’ve done).

My students will probably not get the title reference. It’s from this scene of the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz”:

If at first you don’t succeed…

… try, try again. 失敗は成功のもと.

Another saying that’s relevant here: “Necessity is the mother of invention” — the problem with the first iteration of this invention was that nobody needed it.

Read more at NPR: “After A Failed Launch, Smart Shoe Benefits From A Reboot”

And find out more about SolePower

Debate and discussion questions / writing prompts:

  • Would you like to have shoes that charge your phone as you walk?
  • Would you be more interested if they came in other styles than work boots?
  • How much would you be willing to pay for shoes like this?
  • What ways can you imagine this “find me!” (like the “find my phone” app) technology might be useful?
  • But isn’t this just one more way our privacy is being breached?
  • What other kinds of technology would you like to have in your shoes?