Random Samples

Science  12 Jan 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5809, pp. 167


    Japan is ratcheting up the information age another notch—using Tokyo's famous Ginza shopping district as the test bed for a scheme to beam location-specific directions to pedestrians. Those equipped with Internet-accessible mobile phones or special hand-held terminals provided by project organizers will be able to summmon up directions or information about surrounding shops and restaurants.

    The Ginza trial, to run for 3 months beginning 21 January, is part of the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project. The project is the brainchild of University of Tokyo computer scientist Ken Sakamura, who has made a name for himself urging that computing capabilities be built into virtually everything.

    Pedestrians with hand-held terminals will have their location automatically pinpointed by some 10,000 wireless and infrared beacons and radio frequency identification tags mounted on streetlamps and buildings along roughly 12 blocks of two major streets in Ginza. They will be able to choose from options presented on the screen. People with camera-equipped phones can take a snapshot of two-dimensional bar codes placed throughout the area. They will then be connected to special Internet pages that describe what's around them and include ads for local establishments—in Japanese, English, Chinese, or Korean.

    “This is at the experimental phase, but we're hoping it will be adopted widely,” says Chika Satou of Tokyo's Bureau of Urban Development. She says shoppers will be surveyed for their opinions.


    A government watchdog group is still fretting about the fact that there's a creationist book in the Grand Canyon's bookstore.

    Three years ago, seven scientific groups wrote the National Park Service (NPS) asking that the bookstore remove The Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, which claims the canyon was formed about 4500 years ago, from its science bookshelf (Science, 16 January 2004, p. 308). In response, NPS geologists reviewed the book and concluded that it should not be sold at all. NPS officials compromised, moving the book to the store's “inspirational” section.

    The Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) maintains that this still violates NPS policies that all materials available to the public “should be of the highest accuracy and have undergone peer review,” says its executive director, Jeff Ruch. On 28 December 2006, PEER wrote NPS Director Mary Bomar to renew its demand that the book be banned from the store. At the same time, PEER put out a press release claiming that park personnel are not permitted to tell visitors the Grand Canyon's true age of 5 million to 6 million years.

    NPS has emphatically denied this charge. As for the book, Corky Mayo, NPS's manager for interpretation and education, defends the park service decision, saying, “Our job is not to convince the public how to think.”


    Coffee may be the fuel that keeps many of us going, but a coffeepot makes a lousy engine. As part of a project to explore the physics of kitchen devices, physicist Concetto Gianino of the Institute of Advanced Secondary Instruction “Q. Cataudella” in Scicli, Italy, and his students analyzed the classic moka coffeepot—a two-chambered device that sits atop a burner. When water in the lower chamber boils, the pressurized vapor drives the remaining liquid through a filter packed with coffee and into the upper chamber. Comparing the work done pushing the water into the upper chamber to the heat energy absorbed by the boiler, the group found that the pot turned heat into work with an efficiency of 0.02%—compared to about 20% for a typical steam engine. Gianino, who reports the work in the January American Journal of Physics, notes in the moka's defense that its job is not to move water efficiently but to flavor it.


    “This is the best way to show physics to young people,” says physicist Antonino Foti of the University of Catania. “You couple the image of a coffeepot to the physics of a heat engine, and students never forget it.”

  4. NETWATCH: Keeping Tabs on Killer Tabbies

    They may look winsome curled up on the couch, but cats are serial killers. The estimated 90 million domestic cats in the United States slaughter more than 1 billion birds and other small animals each year. A new questionnaire from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) in Washington, D.C., lets the general public detail attacks on wildlife by cats and other predators such as dogs and hawks.

    These eyewitness reports will allow researchers at ABC to answer questions such as whether feral or pet cats take a larger toll. By comparing the results to those of previous surveys, scientists will also be able to assess whether the rising popularity of feline pets is translating into a higher body count. (The conservancy not surprisingly wants people to keep their cats indoors.)

    You can read more about the impact of cats on wildlife and fill out the survey at www.abcbirds.org/cats.