Articles by: Mark Hiratsuka
Tech Know

Think you’re tough enough? I can’t really tell if Kenshiro Morii, the boss of Studio Moriken, is secretly using his newest iPhone app to tell us something about his childhood, but he’s certainly struggling to say something with the bizarre Konjoyaki (“Willpower Burn”) game. The free app simulates a traditional male Japanese rite of stupidity, ...

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Tech Know

Sony Piles More onto PSP Stop me if you’re past that whole next-gen game console thing, but it would be a bit of a fail not to at least mention that Sony is finally getting round to properly updating its smallest PlayStation, the PSP. Codenamed the NGP (Next Generation Portable, see?), the handheld was unveiled ...

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Talking of Disney—and how passé that whole scene is in 2011—how about a trip to Korea, where you’ll find a land run not by annoying rodents, but by cuddly little robots? Note, please, that we’re not talking about the entire country just across the water, but about Incheon Robot Land—a theme park slated to open ...

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Media tradition dictates that it’s never really a new year proper until you’ve been showered with lists that look back at the old one, so we’ll do our part and share one of the more interesting seasonal rankings: Yahoo Japan’s ladder of the most popular search terms from 2010. The list from the country’s biggest ...

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Tech Know

Hands up who knows Rikaichan? Yup, thought so. The browser plugin that pops up furigana readings of kanji and their definitions has long been a favorite with Japanese learners, so it’s fantastic to see the same technique finally hit the iPhone and iPad. The action comes courtesy of developer Long Weekend, which dropped the iPad ...

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As December dawns, chill and crispy, so too arrive the silly stocking stuffers much beloved of gadget makers like Thanko, whose USB Hot Bento Box Pouch is just the ticket for the geeks back home. Although it’s done the rounds before, the seasonal appeal is strong in this one—grab any food you want to go, ...

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We don’t often say this, but if you check out the link below to Sony’s website, you’ll enjoy one of the more informative selling experiences around—in fact, it may even make you wish for an Internet TV of your very own. The glossy devices are basically Android-powered computers that integrate the usual TV services with ...

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Tech Know

If you’d told the average Joe of even five years ago that one day we’d be using our cellphones to publicly share information on our precise location, he’d most likely have looked for the hidden camera, assuming a prank was afoot. Yet in 2010, location-based services are hard to avoid, and local SNS Mixi recently ...

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Tech-savvy readers already know of Kakaku.com, Japan’s most popular price-comparison website, but that doesn’t stop me singing its penny-pinching praises one more time just in case. You’ll definitely require a healthy dose of written Japanese to actually make an order, but searches are relatively simple to follow. Plug in your object of desire and browse ...

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Sure, there are plenty of pocketable solar gadget chargers on the market now, but here’s the thing—they’re almost all so feeble as to be next to useless. That’s why the new ¥3,280 Multi Solar Charger from Greenhouse is worth a look, regardless of your device (read “phone”) of choice. Available in silver, white or magenta ...

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I’m pretty confident most of you will at least have seen Angry Birds, the incredibly addictive iPhone and iPad game that has almost singlehandedly made iOS a viable gaming platform. However, in spite of 6.5 million sales worldwide, it’s barely scratched the charts here in Japan—something on which maker Rovio has asked me to shed ...

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Tech Know

If you’re one of those right-minded readers who are thoroughly sick of the currently rumbling 3D bandwagon, then please, as they say, look away now. Otherwise, prepare to get excited about the news from Sony that it’s about to flood the market with an armada of new gizmos ready for the extra dimension. As well ...

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Tech Know

Right about now, it’s a fair bet that many of us are dragging fans out of cupboards and discovering just how much crud builds up on those things once they start spinning. That and the fact that violently rotating blades are also slightly scary. Among other things, that’s what motivated British designer James Dyson to ...

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Tech Know

Hmm—how to explain DotWar without sounding idiotic, infantile or possibly both? Well, it’s like this: you tell the site your Twitter handle, choose another with which to, er, do battle, and then let it decide which of you is the winner. Oh, and it does this by turning your avatar into an army of thousands ...

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You know how when you’re spying on your neighbors through binoculars you always wish it was really a long-lens camera so you could record that suspect behavior for posterity? No, neither do we, but Thanko seems to think that way, judging by its new Digital Camera Binoculars, which win points for clear-thinking from the naming ...

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On a related note, if you’re tired of seeing your Twitter avatar fail to best its DotWar rivals every time you let it off the leash, then maybe it’s time for a lick of paint courtesy of locally made iPhone/iPad app Facemakr. Built by Tokyo-based Dadako Studios, Facemakr is actually a whole lot more than ...

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Tech Know

So, you know how everything’s going 3D these days, but you feel a bit of a Luddite for wondering what the point is? Well, you’re definitely not alone—we’re right there with you. Take the July 8 baseball game between the Hanshin Tigers and Yakult Swallows down in Koshien that was, apparently, the world’s first such ...

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We’re among the first to admit that there are far too many online stores peddling Japanese ephemera to Western audiences, but newcomer Loopto is definitely one of the more stylish on the scene—and it has substance to boot. Technically, it’s actually a collection of stores, all operated directly by Japanese designers and manufacturers eager to ...

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I enjoy a good gadget as much as the next man, but it’s always preferable if the device meets a need, rather than offering a solution that’s looking for a problem. Hence, it’s hard to get terribly enthusiastic about Sanyo’s new Xacti DMX-CA100 camcorder, which is “the world’s first waterproof full HD dual camera that ...

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Tech Know

By the time you read this, the World Cup will be in full swing—and not just in South Africa, but also in sunny Harajuku, right in the backyard of national broadcaster NHK. We should explain: the Harajuku/Yoyogi nexus is currently home to a splendid outdoor-viewing complex with a jumbotron screen at its heart for showing ...

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Tech Know

If you needed further proof that Twitter is fulfilling its promise as a groovy tool instead of just a “What I had for breakfast” information dump, check out BenQ’s new local site. The Japan branch of the budget monitor supremo is using the microblogging medium to spread the good word about new products and special ...

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Tech Know

Speaking of that modern problem of keeping all your toys juiced up, Sony has just blessed us with a dainty little mobile charger for powering stuff on the go. The ¥3,980 CP-AL hooks up to anything that sups electrons via USB (*cough* iPhone *cough* ) to supply just over 1,000 milliamp hours—enough to fully charge ...

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Tech Know

Lastly for this month, you know that iPad thing everyone’s talking about? Well, it seems even the big boys of Japanese publishing have been paying sufficient attention to pull their heads out of the sand and take action before they’re swamped in a tide of e-ink. The latest ventures see Yahoo Japan pimping free manga ...

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Tech Know

So, how many shiny bits of gadgetry do you have to charge most days? If it’s just the one, then you’re lucky, but the rest of us could do with consolidating all those wires and plugs, right? Step forward Kikkerland, which, in typically humorous fashion, brings us the grass-topped Charging Station (¥3,150), designed to accommodate ...

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Illness is, of course, a serious matter, but that’s no reason to avoid making it fun, as pharma giant Bayer has done with its new blood glucose monitor that hooks up to a Nintendo DS console. The $75 Didget meter is aimed at diabetic kids, with a view to changing “blood sugar testing from something ...

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Sony marked the end of a surprisingly distinguished era in data storage in March, when it became the last major floppy disk maker to quit the market entirely. The Shinagawa-based company, which first pumped out 3.5-inch floppies almost 30 years ago, said it joined the rest of the disk giants in abandoning the 1.44MB market ...

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Tech Know

We’d be remiss not to include at least one bit of iPhone news. This time, from the stating-the-obvious-department, we have word of a survey by local research institute MMRI that says the Apple device has grabbed 72 percent of the market for smartphones in Japan. That’s all very well, but when you consider that MMRI ...

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Tech Know

Since our recent long look at the iPad in these pages last month, we’ve been hearing from any number of local firms working with the shiny new Apple lust-bauble. Not least among those is Simplism, a Saitama-based company with a very sharp eye for design. Simplism, which also has a reputation for getting out accessories ...

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Anyone still using antiquated Japanese portal website Livedoor probably won’t give a hoot that it’s just been bought by a Korean upstart keen to add the site’s 30 million monthly users to an already huge customer base. At least we noticed. Anyway, the $68 million deal will see the service once headed by Takafumi Horie, ...

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Tech Know

Speaking of Kyoto’s favorite son, there’s a rumor that the next Nintendo DS will spring Mario and co. on us in three dimensions through a new kind of LCD screen unveiled recently by Sharp. Sharp’s contribution to the current 3D fad comes in the form of a 3.4-inch display that seems to be putting style ...

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We dunno about you, but we wouldn’t have thought that priority No. 1 in the aftermath of a major quake would be keeping traffic signals functioning. Apparently, though, Sanyo has developed a battery-powered shingo that promises to keep on running even after The Big One hits. The Lithium-ion Backup Battery System has recently been tested ...

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Tech Know

Even dedicated iPhone fans will admit that the lack of video calls on the handset is a major drawback, so it comes as a relief that a Japanese firm has rolled out the world’s first app that offers those very video hookups without jailbreaking the Apple gadget. Yudo’s LiveLink 3G costs ¥1,000 (sometimes, they make ...

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Tech Know

If, like most thinking folk, you found Avatar’s plot as simple as a reality show participant and the whole 3D thing tremendously annoying, then you won’t welcome Sony’s latest piece of kit designed to spread the 3D gospel wider than ever. The MPE-200 multimedia processor is a semi-pro video-processing deck designed for manipulating film shot ...

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Tech Know

Last up for us this month is an antidote to rampant consumerism that’s also good for the environment. Tokyo firm Start Lab has just begun selling its Eco Pack-brand blank CDs and DVDs with an emphasis on keeping that infernal packaging creep at bay. It’s not rocket science—just fill a box with 200 blank disks ...

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Tech Know

Sure, we know that nine out of ten Tech Know readers already have an iPhone, but that one holdout with a Japanese keitai can now download ringtones that cure hangovers, eliminate hay fever and even increase breast size. Those are just some of the semi-miraculous effects being claimed for the noises engineered by the good ...

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Softbank’s predilection for thinking outside the box makes it one of our favorite big firms here in Japan. So it’s no surprise the group has just rolled out an innovative new headline-seeker that promises to make small-screen stars of its customers. Softbank’s investment in US online video service Ustream has led it to open a ...

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Tech Know

Forgive us, please, for the iPhone emphasis this month, but we’ve been looking in Apple’s direction with the iPhone maxi—sorry, iPad—set to hit the streets any day now. One of the most fun locally produced apps for either device is Motion Portrait’s ¥350 HourFace, which basically turns your nearest and dearest into zombies. There isn’t ...

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Tech Know

Should you prefer something a little more outdoorsy, then the iCrew from the mysterious MSY is one way to put ¥5,980 and your iPhone to good use. The package consists of an application and a handlebar mount that turn the handset into a full-fledged waterproof cycle computer. With GPS providing location data and the app ...

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Tech Know

After a good, hard session strapped to the handlebars, chances are your iPhone might need a little work to keep it in top shape. Fortunately for Japan residents, there’s now a third-party repair specialist called iPhone Factory that can help avoid those steep Apple-shaped bills. The company claims a fast turnaround for anything from battery ...

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Tech Know

Stepping back from the Apple frenzy for a moment, let’s take a look at Sony’s latest digital camera, a bijou waterproof number with its eye on the summer beach season. The Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 is out now for around ¥40,000 and is, we’re told, the world’s smallest waterproof digital camera at just 17.7mm thick. That waterproofing ...

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Tech Know

When it comes to perseverance in the face of gorillas like Apple, you’ve got to hand it to brands such as iRiver, the Seoul-based purveyor of all manner of pocket audio and video players. Its latest attempt to grab a few sales here in Japan is the P7, a very attractive 4.3-inch touch-screen media player ...

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Tech Know

Pet owners in Japan probably don’t think too hard about how much their pride and joy costs in food and vet bills, so the ¥525 a month NTT is charging for its new Wan Nyumber pet-finder service is likely neither here nor there. In a nutshell, the plan involves giving each animal a dog (or ...

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Tech Know

It’s easy to tell when a press release has been translated from Japanese, rather than written in self-standing English, such is the persistence of a certain, well, way of thinking. Take Sanyo’s missive announcing the latest Xacti camcorder: “It is ideal for beautifully capturing not only special events, but also scenes from daily life…” Fortunately ...

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Tech Know

Apart from the mega sales, what’s the one very obvious aspect that the iPod, iPhone and (soon, for sure) iPad all have in common? Yep: a booming after-sales market in costly accessories. Naturally, being unreconstructed cynics, we can see most of them for the baubles they are—diamond-studded iPhone case, anyone?—but TDK’s new i-centric headphones stand ...

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Tech Know

It’s pretty much a given these days that we should recycle our old cell phones, but it’s equally clear that most folks don’t. That’s probably why the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has started a campaign to light a fire under the recalcitrants, using the power of anime. The current scheme features a ...

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Tech Know

Whether you’re already committed to the whole cellphone Android thing or only bi-curious, NTT DoCoMo has just provided another opportunity to savor the open-source phone OS with the April arrival of Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 handset. The smartphone will need to be better put-together than the ghastly Android model DoCoMo attempted to sell last year, ...

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Tech Know

We hear a lot about the impact of our cars on the environment, but very little about that of the vast container ships that transport the autos around the world from factory to market. For example, did you know that the 16 largest such ships emit as much sulfurous pollution as all the cars on ...

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Tech Know

Lastly, anyone with a business eye on the all-pervasive cellphone market here in Japan will want to pick up a copy of a new book that promises to peel back the layers and reveal the secrets to becoming a success in such a cutthroat market. Called The Six Immutable Laws of Mobile Business, the ¥4,634 ...

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Tech Know

As anyone using public transport in Tokyo will tell you, Apple’s iPhone is already phenomenally successful in Japan. Nevertheless, so legion are the misinformed doubters claiming native phones are the bee’s knees and Apple has actually flopped, the Japanese press is currently awash with surveys showing just how well the US cellie is faring. The ...

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Tech Know

Since we’re sniffing ’round Sony, we might as well share the scoop on a slightly more “normal” gadget (i.e. one that probably won’t hemorrhage cash) – a new pocketable camcorder for bloggers that the marketing geniuses are calling the bloggie. Actually, there are really two bloggies due in the shops early February, retailing for ¥27,000 ...

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Tech Know

If, like many gadget-heads, you got a shiny new slimline PlayStation 3 over the holidays, you’ll probably be indifferent to the news that building the console is no longer pushing maker Sony quite so close to bankruptcy. Still, we’ll tell you why anyway – we’re nice that way. Looking at the components in a stripped-down ...

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Tech Know

Meanwhile in the gaming world, Nintendo has taken the unusual step of actually going on record to say that it’s already developing a successor to its most popular piece of hardware, the DS handheld gamer. Ninty prez Satoru Iwata recently told the Asahi Shimbun that the next-generation DS will have twice the resolution of the ...

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Tech Know

Speaking of extra dimensions, one of the more noteworthy of the recent 3D-TV announcements came from Toshiba, which unleashed a sweet-looking LCD powered by the same processor found in the PlayStation 3. The company’s CELL TV is unique in that the PS3 chip at its heart is powerful enough to support multiple 3D technologies that ...

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Tech Know

Given the recent rash of 3D movie releases, it’s no great shock that 3D-capable consumer gadgets should also emerge to target our wallets, with TV sets leading the way. However, we were as surprised as anyone when Panasonic revealed the world’s first 3D high-definition camcorder in early January. The “Twin-lens Full HD 3D Camcorder” will ...

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Tech Know

It’s hard to say what DoCoMo’s move to put scratchproof paint on all its new phones will do to the huge aftermarket protective-cover industry here, but we bet it won’t be pretty. Scratch Shield clear paint, developed by automaker Nissan, is a self-healing resin that essentially “rebounds” after a ding to push out offending marks. ...

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Tech Know

Let’s face it—there’s a fair chance that if you’re reading this beautiful tech spread, you didn’t grow up playing with Barbie or My Little Pony. Which is why the latest data from Nintendo on female gamers comes as quite a shock. According to research from Ninty’s US arm, a full 11 million women and girls ...

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Tech Know

Setagaya-ku readers might want to keep their eyes peeled next spring for an intriguing new bicycle park being built by Sanyo outside Sakurajosui station on the Keio line. The Solar Parking Lot will—as you might have guessed—be plastered in solar panels designed to juice a fleet of electric bikes. Best of all, the hybrid (electric/human-power) ...

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Tech Know

Ah, Twitter—dontcha love it? Seriously, is there any expat in Tokyo who doesn’t use the microblogging service (yours truly is @japanized)? But what would happen if Twitter planned to charge Japanese readers to read certain tweets? There’d be an uproar—just like there was last month. Back then, a division of a partner in Twitter Japan ...

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Tech Know

Anyone who’s ever had their personal data compromised will appreciate the value of being more prudent when using a computer, but we’re not sure if the same biometric security technology employed by many ATMs will ever become as popular as, say, a screensaver/password combo. Sony’s new Mofiria finger-vein scanner is a ¥30,000 USB pad that, ...

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Tech Know

Most gadget-head musos who have fiddled with Yamaha’s bizarre Tenori-on electronic musical instrument generally agree that it’s the best, most fun thing since sliced tonkatsu on rice. Yet the ¥120,000-plus price tag is a bit of a deal-killer. Which is why we’re happy to discover that a new version is set to go on sale ...

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Tech Know

If you’ve been to a Warner cinema in Japan, you probably didn’t catch swine flu there. That’s because the theater chain is currently trialing Sanyo’s Virus Washer air conditioning, which strips the living heck out of that filthy old outside air. So successful has the trial been, Sanyo has now inked a deal to export ...

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Tech Know

Speaking of all things filthy, we have a smaller, slightly more affordable way to breathe fresh air in the form of a “personal atmosphere scrubber” that fits right into your car’s cup holder. The ¥2,980 Airwasher from auto specialist Seiwa features a water filter that cleans air drawn through it by a fan, primarily by ...

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Tech Know

Next, as if only to prove it’s not just Sony that gets far too much stuff in Tech Know, Sanyo has some really cool batteries and related products you simply have to know about. The company’s Eneloop rechargeables are already massive sellers worldwide, shifting 100 million units in just four years. To mark the occasion, ...

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Tech Know

It’s slightly tricky to know who buys portable television sets these days, especially those that use the crappy 1-Seg mobile digital format so beloved of phone makers here. Still, Panasonic’s tiny new Viera has a lot going for it on the design front, so is worth a look. The Viera MC75 has a 4.3in screen ...

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Tech Know

While we admit to being pretty cynical about most consumer technology, the latest gadget from Toshiba will definitely change the way the world powers its expensive toys. That’s because the Dynario direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), although imperfect in itself, is the first in a new breed of chargers that run on liquid fuel rather ...

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Tech Know

Now that the engineering challenges of building viable electric cars are, more or less, out of the way, one of the biggest remaining roadblocks to their success lies in the battery, something for which Nissan may have a solution. Nissan-Renault big cheese Carlos Ghosn recently told a French newspaper that it may eliminate consumer fears ...

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Tech Know

Internet access aboard international flights has a checkered (and mostly poor) history, so it’s heartening to see that changing with the introduction of a new full-speed service from Panasonic. The company’s eXConnect Wi-Fi service will revive Lufthansa’s long-dead FlyNet offering, which was shut down when Boeing pulled the plug on its Connexion service in 2006. ...

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Tech Know

Next time you travel to the US, don’t be surprised if you’re pulled aside and asked by security staff to play a bit of Nintendo Wii. That’s the likely result of a $20 million Homeland Security project aimed at finding better ways to screen travelers. The Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) aims to use the ...

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Tech Know

The fact that more than a few experts are predicting optical media for storing movies and the like will soon disappear in the face of speedy and simple downloads doesn’t seem to be deterring Blu-ray backers like TDK, which recently boosted the storage space of its disks to priapic proportions. The prototype BD jumps from ...

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Tech Know

This year’s Tokyo Game Show was a low-key affair by recent standards, with few surprises beyond the number of totally pointless games on display. However, a special edition PlayStation 3 is set to have geeks across the land firing up their eBay accounts and licking their lips in anticipation of profit. The ¥41,600 Final Fantasy ...

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