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Conspicuous consumption is the art of spending lavishly on goods or services in a way that serves no real purpose except to show that you have lots of money. The great Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen put Nostradamus to shame with that insight from 1899. In Japan today, Veblen is half right. Here, entire industries are devoted to making products that are conspicuously cute. Whether you think these make Veblen entirely correct depends on how important the “kawaii” factor is to you. SegaToys provides fodder for the debate with its newly released Robot Chick. This electronic toy fits in the palm of your hand, looks just like a baby chicken and, true to life, it chirps and cheeps when it is picked up. Looking cute and acting that way are all that it does but as long as you keep it on a diet of fresh batteries it does them well. It sells for 2,310 yen with more information available from SegaToys at www.sega toys.co.jp/yumepet/hiyoko/index.html

Platinum Gundam: Veblen might be on more solid footing with this one. Bandai has created a Gundam figurine rendered in pure platinum, measuring 125mm and weighing 1.4kg. Made in conjunction with Tokyo jeweler Ginza Tanaka it has 89 separate parts and is topped off with an 0.15 carat diamond on its head. The creation will be exhibited at Baselworld 2007, an annual watch and jewelry show held in Basel, Switzerland, starting April 12 before being returned to Japan. Bandai estimates its value at 30 million yen but reportedly has no plans to sell what would be one of the more interesting collector’s pieces.

Floating vibes: JVC isn’t going in for conspicuous consumption so much as a bit of indulgence with its XA-AW33 waterproof MP3 player. This cone-shaped creation floats around in the bathtub playing your favorite tunes while you soak up the good life. The speaker vibrates along with the music, producing ripples in the water while flashing a blue LED, apparently to produce a soothing effect. It comes with 256 megabytes of internal memory and can play MP3, WMA and DRM-protected WMA files. It even comes preloaded with some silky smooth Jazz music. The device connects to your computer via USB 1.1 to download your bathing selections and four AAA batteries provide 15 hours of mucic playback. It will be available for 19,800 yen. For more information on the “healing powers” of music: www.jvc-victor.co.jp/accessory/healing/ index.html

Driven to music: Nodaya is taking a different and very singular approach to people’s musical cravings. It is offering an FM radio that is built to look like a car’s manual gearbox. In order to switch frequences or kick the volume into overdrive you just shift gears up or down. If your car really is your life then check out www.nodaya-net.com/

USB security: No week seems to go by without the newest contributions to USB key drives. Buffalo is addressing the security side of the portable memory equation with its new RUF2-HSC keys. These provide protection for your data with the popular AES encryption system. But the key trick is that you don’t have to install software on your computer, the USB device encrypts the data itself. All the user has to do is provide a password each time the USB key is used. The new creations come in 256 and 512 megabyte sizes, with a largest offering of 1 gigabyte, measure 76x19x9 mm and weigh in at 12 grams.

Seafood meets Mickey Mouse: SolidAlliance takes a very different approach to USB keys. It’s latest offering to the burgeoning line is the Mimi-Ika. This looks like a little cuttlefish, but has the added twist of sporting ears that are shaped suspiciously like those of a famous cartoon mouse. The unit comes with 512 megabytes of memory and operates off USB 2.0 ports. If nothing else, it will be conspicuous in your office. www.rakuten.co.jp/sastore/ has the Mimi-Ika and an army of other imaginative SolidAlliance offerings.

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