Bridging the gaps between the multiple towers of Babel that are modern languages has traditionally relied on software. Whether this be organic software, as in humans and their linguistic skills, or computers with their still relatively primitive ability to translate from one language to another. Fuji Xerox is championing the use of a bit of hardware with its latest prototype photocopy machine. The device, which is currently on show only in Japan, can scan a printed sheet of Japanese text and dispense a translation of it into Chinese, English or Korean. Moreover, it retains the original layout of the source document, whether that be from a newspaper, or a magazine, or the like. Aware of the need for the translation superhighway to be two-way, the machine can work in reverse with the flip of a switch. The trick is that the copier connects to a translation server and these electronic brains are paired with algorithms that can distinguish between text, drawings and lines in order to maintain page layouts. It is a superlative concept, but whether for a change hardware will trump software only time, and proving that it can do a better job of keeping faith with syntax than the amusingly inadequate efforts of the likes of Babel Fish and Google Translate do now, can tell.
Talking back: Taking a very different take on the virtues of communication is the Segnity pocket television from E-Revolutiona and Takara Tomy. It might be a stretch to deem this one for masochists but I hold grave fears if this idea infects other gadgets. In essence the 2.7-inch QVGA television is programmed to mouth off at you. It includes a range of different modes for deciding how it responds to you when your operate the controls These range from “polite” to “sharply sarcastic.” In one mode, if your turn up the volume a cartoon-like voice from the Segnity raps you with the pithy “Noisy, aren’t you.” If you adjust the screen’s brightness it is liable to come back with “Not bright enough for you, eh?” In contrast the polite mode makes no claims to being the boss, simply acknowledging its compliance with your every wish and whim. Beyond its idiosyncratic character traits it is a standard example o the popular digital 1-seg television that receives broadcasts tailored for small screens. The device weighs in at just 90 grams and runs for three hours on four AAA batteries, or it can be operated via a USB port. Interested parties can check out a YouTube video at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kTKnTYhvOc. An outlay of ¥12,800 gets you interactive TV like no other.
Fun learning: Famed computer game tetris might be the culprit in countless lost hours, but it has its uses. Statetris Japan gives the popular game a twist and turns it into a geography lesson. The online game offers up a blank map of Japan with colored pieces falling down the screen from the top, ala straight Tetris. These pieces are shaped like the nation’s prefectures and you have fit them into the appropriate spots on the map. Just remembering the 47 prefectures (and other designated geographical zones like Tokyo and Hokkaido) is a challenge. But locating them might just be putting too much intellectual endeavor into one’s fun, even with an easy setting to go with the medium and hard levels. Those willing to test the gray cells can do so at: www.mapmsg.com/games/statetris/japan/
Maid to order: Maid cafes are a an aspect of Geekdom in Japan that are either not quite savory or just good clean fun for the otaku crowd, depending on your point of view. Taking it to a new level in Tokyo is the Maid Taxi. These cabs come equipped with Sony PS3 video game consoles, a low-tech deck of cards and the mandatory girl in a maid outfit to pamper you. Rides start at ¥1,200 and for an extra ¥200 you can play games with your driver. If you beat her, you win a special item, which boots up the imagination. The home page for the service is at: www.meido-taxi.jp/data/meitaku.html
The world on a mirror: A different form of dressing up is a new golden globe of the planet. The shiny one sits on a silver mirror and automatically starts to rotate when it is placed on a flat surface. One AA battery will keep your own 14-cm-diameter Earth orbiting for about a month. The world can be yours at Tokyu Hands for ¥3,990.
No humble tub: Going still further in the stakes of putting a gloss of the eye-catching on the commonplace is Tetsuya Nakamura with designer bathtubs that look like giant glass smoking pipes. Made of reinforced plastic these have to be glimpsed to be believed, shot through with flowing waves of color and glowing with a glossy finish. The wonders are part of his Premium Unit collection. They range in price from ¥1 million to ¥3 million with more information at: www.tanomi.com/limited/html/00004.html
Appetite for creativity: Green House might lack the high-street touch but it has its own flair for reimagining the ordinary. While SolidAlliance drapes the humble USB memory stick with the forms of various kinds of sushi, Greenhouse is going down the food chain for its versions of the computing aid. Sporting 1 gigabytes of storage, the Junk Food sticks come in cheeseburger, hot dog, slice of pizza and sandwich flavors. The descriptions say it all. No word on pricing yet but the Green House menu can be seen at: www.green-house.co.jp/news/2007/r0918a.html