Pool jam:

One niche market that has remained arid amid the flood of MP3 players sold everyday is that of aquatic acoustics. While joggers, climbers, cyclists and other fitness nuts have their iPods and a host of rivals to distract them during their masochistic bouts of physical exertion, the options for swimmers who want to listen to music are few.

Korean innovator iRiver is making a splash among the swimming fraternity with its Aquabeat MP3 player, which went on sale in Japan last month. Measuring a svelte 61×46×20 mm and weighing a mere 35 grams, the waterproof Aquabeat can be hooked to the strap of your swimming goggles and worn on the back of your head with hook-over-ear waterproof earphones. Done this way, the device looks like an attachment to your goggles and stays out of the way. Alternatively, it can be worn on your upper arm or attached to a strap on a bikini.

The player has the standard controls with big easy-to-use buttons for play, pause, rewind and fast forward. The Speedo logo is emblazoned on its front, with a liberal dose of other references to the aquatic sports company, in an apparent commercial tieup.

The Aquabeat has 1 gigabyte of storage, supports MP3 and WMA files and has a battery life of nine hours, surely enough for any would-be dolphin to wear themselves out. Retailing for ¥14,800, it comes in a choice of three colors — black, yellow and pink.

Specialized convenience always comes at a price, and the iRiver product stands to satisfy a horde of aqua buffs who have for years looked on with envy as the out-of-water exercisers blew by in a musical world of their own.

Of course, you could always just set up a stereo by the water with a cold drink and not even need to get wet, but maybe I am missing the point. www.iriver.co.jp/estore/aquabeat

Burn baby, burn:

Blu-ray recorders are on their way into the mainstream, but it may be a while before they come standard with your basic desktop computer. Until then, there are several ways to upgrade your system on your own.

As it did with recordable CDs and DVDs, Buffalo Technology is advancing the availability of next-generation storage with a pair of Blu-ray recorders, the internal BR-816FBS and external BR-816SU2, both of which will be rolled out for the Japanese market later this month.

For the average computer user, the primary attraction of Blu-ray is the same as that of its optical predecessors — an exponential increase in storage per piece of media. CDs can hold the equivalent of 500 floppy disks. DVDs hold nearly seven times the data of a CD. A double-layer Blu-ray disc can hold up to 50 gigabytes of data (25 gigabytes for single-layer), or about 10 DVDs.

The recording speeds are 2× for a dual-layer Blu-ray Disc, 16× for the old-fashioned DVD±R and 48×/24× for CD-Rs. The internal model connects by the serial ATA sockets, while the external version can use both external ATA or USB 2.0 ports.

The internal BR-816FBS will cost ¥39,100 and offers a choice of black or white face plates. The external BR-8162 retails for ¥44,500 and comes only in black.

Depending on your data backup requirements, you may not have a pressing need for a Blu-ray burner just yet. Recordable DVDs and additional hard drives can handle the task in most cases. For heavy-duty multimedia projects, it’s a different matter. A dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold more than nine hours of high-definition video, compared with two hours for DVD, so Blu-ray offers a definite advantage. /

Power windows:

Solar power always seems to be lurking in the future as a life-enhancing and environment-saving technology. Solar water heaters are mature, albeit not spectacular, devices. The idea of draping home and office roofs in solar panels as a means of supplementing the power grid still seems more promise than performance.

Tokyo-based Nihon Telecommunication System Inc. has had a light-bulb moment and just brought to market windowpanes with built-in photovoltaic cells. On a sunny day, the windowpanes generate up to 70 watts of electricity per square meter of glass. The company claims that this is sufficient to keep a PC running while the sun is shining or to recharge a mobile phone.

The cells have a power-generation efficiency of 7 percent to 8 percent, and because the glass is a relatively thick 10.5 mm, up to 90 percent of sunlight is stopped from entering a room. This has the effect of keeping a home cooler in summer and cutting the cost for air conditioning.

Eventually this bit of technology will be ready for prime time, but for now it costs too much for the average homeowner: ¥100,000 to ¥300,000 per square meter of glass. Moreover, the window pane only provides power via a USB plug, which limits the range of products that can be powered or charged to small, hand-held devices (and then in most cases only after purchasing a specialized adapter).

This is a concept in its impractical infancy, but it is still, quite literally, one very cool idea.


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