Toyota rolls out upgraded fuel-cell vehicle

Last Updated: Friday, September 28, 2007 | 10:06 AM ET

Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled an upgraded fuel-cell vehicle that successfully completed a test run Friday, proving its ability to run a longer distance than its existing model, a move to take a lead in the future power-train technology race.

The latest model has accomplished a total distance of 770 kilometres with a single fill-up, more than double the mileage achieved by Toyota’s existing model, the company said in a statement.

Toyota has been in a race with global automakers, including General Motors Corp., to develop non-gas-emission vehicles. A major challenge in developing fuel-cell vehicles is their limited driving distance.

Toyota, which became one of the first carmakers to obtain government approval in Japan to market fuel-cell vehicles in 2002, said the advanced vehicle is 25 per cent more fuel-efficient than the existing model. It reduces use of electricity for electronic equipment installed in the vehicle, the company said.

In a public road test Friday, two advanced fuel-cell vehicles ran about 560 kilometres from Osaka to Tokyo without refuelling, while keeping their air conditioning on, Toyota said. About 30 per cent of the fuel was unused when they arrived in Tokyo.

Fuel-cell cars are widely viewed as the most promising pollution-free vehicles for the future because they are powered by electricity generated through the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and emit only water as a byproduct.

Toyota said the company plans to continue its research and development to further improve driving distance, usability at low temperature, durability and cost reduction.

Virtural Worlds: Virtural money?

Source GigaOm:

Here’s some recent Second Life-related news items:

• A development studio based on an SL avatar secured venture funding from a NYC financier.

• A consortium of U.S. government agencies (including the Navy and Air Force) announced plans to develop a substantial presence in SL.

• An international coalition of labor unions is preparing to strike on behalf of Italian IBM workers at the company’s massive SL campus today.

If you’re a successful tech professional with zero personal interest in online worlds, those blurbs probably just provoked a bemused shrug. Even after reading constant rumors that Google (GOOG) itself is creating a competitor to Linden Lab’s user-created MMO, you’re probably still wondering, “But why should Second Life matter to me?”

In full disclosure, I’m writing a book on the subject, so I have a vested interest in replying. And while I’ve already written a lot about Second Life here, Om asked me to back up, and start from the beginning.

So, the brief answer: In a rapidly growing market of online world users, it’s the most successful example of an embodied, dynamically collaborative content creation platform that’s personally and economically transformative, and scalable to the entire world.

That’s a mouthful, so to break it down into individual parts:

1 – Rapidly growing market: By one reasonable estimate, 80 percent of active Internet users will participate in an online world by 2011, a trend largely driven by the young, who define and shape future Net usage. (A separate study forecasts 53% of all kids on the Internet will be in an MMO by that year.)

2 – Most successful: Currently with some 550,000 monthly active users, SL has grown rapidly and with general consistency since 2004 (12 months ago, it only had about 150,000 avid residents.) Yes, other MMOs are larger, but none of them are user-created, a crucial distinction I’ll get to later.

3 – Embodied: A 3D space navigated by user-controlled avatars that are convincing enough to make their owners feel a personal and social investment in the simulated world they’re in. MMO players refer to their avatars as “me”; several studies suggest this perceptual leap is a real phenomenon. When controlling a Second Life avatar, we even unconsciously obey our unwritten rules of eye contact and personal space.

But what’s so special about feeling like you’re in a 3D world? The better question is: what’s so special about words, numbers, and flat imagery? Those are relatively new tools, artificially imposed on a human evolutionary cycle of a couple million years. When we remember the past, plan the future — when we dream — we do so in the three dimensions displayed by our mind’s eye. Communicating information in simulated 3D seems to enhance learning and insight for that very reason: a common sense intuition that some studies seem to reinforce. Of course, other successful MMOs convey this embodied effect, but largely through content created and controlled by the world’s holding company. Which brings us to the next feature:

4 – Dynamically collaborative content creation platform: A medium where online multi-user content creation is updated in real time. SL is often called “a 3D wiki” — an apt analogy. Consider Wikipedia: At first, most entries in the amateur-driven encyclopedia were mediocre; through a networking effect, however, it quickly became an indispensable resource for every type of information. Second Life is Wikipediafying the universe in 3D, not just the real one, but fictional and even conceptual realities, including abstract art and mathematical theorems. Like Wikipedia, Second Life content skews heavily toward Internet culture in all its lovably geeky strangeness. But dismissing it on those grounds is like dismissing Wikipedia because most of its users ( as this search ranking shows) are primarily interested in sci-fi/fantasy/videogames, celebrities, and sex.

5- Economically transformative: SL’s virtual currency (which can be bought and sold for US$) and intellectual property rights to user-created content (which are retained by their creator, even in non-SL projects) are transferable in and out of the global economy. In practical application, this has resulted in movie-makers, fashion companies, and even architecture firms using SL as a prototyping platform for their real-world businesses. The depth and variety of projects that have made the leap from online world to the real world market is unprecedented in other MMOs — or, arguably, in any other web 2.0 platform.

6 – Personally transformative: The striking thing is just who is doing this work, even making a living at it. Often they’re business-savvy homemakers, talented bohemians, physically or mentally impaired people, retirees, tech workers in developing nations, and people who’ve been otherwise kept out of the mainstream job market through real-world barriers that become irrelevant in Second Life. And this is what’s meant by personally transformative: a technology that improves people’s lives in a substantial, profound way. On the macro level, this leverages dormant human capital into the larger economy. eBay (EBAY) is revolutionary because it converted thousands of people into garage-based entrepreneurs and channeled enormous wealth back into the market. Second Life is an eBay of the imagination. (And unsurprisingly, eBay’s founder was an early Linden Lab investor.)

7 – Scalable to the entire world: Last January, Linden open-sourced its client code, and from this flowered a variety of alternate access portals into SL, including Wii controllers, cell phones, and thanks to a 15-year-old female hacker, the web itself. This makes SL a lead contender to become a universally accessible mirror world, where all our physical data is modeled in a dynamic network, an inconceivably valuable resource for scientists, governments, corporations, and beyond. Linden’s stated intentions to open-source their servers would make this outcome even more probable, while transforming the Net itself into a 3D medium.

That’s just the beginning. Many futurists envision a time when 3D printers will supplant or enhance much of our traditional modes of production. Impressive trial runs are already being conducted in Second Life, exporting avatars and other content into the real world — early glimpses, perhaps, of a time when most of our real world goods are developed and produced in the metaverse.

Does the above mean SL itself is an all-bets-on phenomenon? No, because it’s still staggering under scaling difficulties and poor retention rates, while a slew of competitors — Metaplace, Multiverse, HiPiHi, whatever Google’s cooking up, and near a dozen more — are attempting to outgun Linden Lab on their own terms. They’re creating new MMO platforms that’ll also feature avatar-based content creation where users own their IP, and some will probably do it better than Linden is right now. The ferocity of this competition proves one thing: from the market’s perspective, what Second Life originally unleashed is simply not going away.

Why mobile Japan leads the world

A combination of an urban lifestyle and infrastructure advantages mean that the fixed internet is being left behind by the mobile

Michael Fitzpatrick

The Guardian

Thursday September 27 2007

Japanese commuters while away the journey by watching TV on their mobiles. Photograph: David Sacks/Getty

Yasuko San is aiming her mobile at a small, square tattoo on paper, clicking a little and peering happily at the result. Her prize? The latest novel written for the mobile, entitled “Teddy”. Such serialised novels for mobiles are just the latest phone application that has caught the Japanese imagination, but – apart from neighbouring South Korea – few others.

Those printed square icons, however, made their debut in the UK earlier this month (to promote the DVD of the film 28 Weeks Later). Known as QR (quick read) codes, they have aided Japan’s mobile revolution by making it easy to access a web page via mobile. Users can be directed to sites by snapping the codes printed in magazines, posters and even on biscuits.

Mobile subscribers

Their British outing is a full four years behind Japan’s adoption. In fact, we lag Japan in nearly every aspect of mobile use – except possibly in annoying other commuters on trains.

Lost in Japan? Let your mobile’s GPS guide you. Bored? Download the latest manga comic or an e-book to read on the train, or go shopping and pay by swishing your mobile in front of the till, because the phone is also an electronic wallet.

You can also collect e-coupons, pay bills, play Final Fantasy, update your blog and pay and check into hotels wirelessly. Soon the airport check-in will be history in Japan, too, as the e-ticket in your phone becomes your boarding pass.

Nearly all are services based on the success of the mobile web in Japan, where in a nation of 127 million the number of mobile internet subscribers recently passed 100 million. Not for nothing are the Japanese now known as the Thumb Tribe – a tribe who, for the most part, prefer their mobile to the fixed internet.

Apart from the killer application – email – 80% say they use other functions too. Downloading music is popular (80% have tried it), as is TV for mobile – half of its subscribers use it regularly. Three quarters of users say they enjoy online clothes shopping with their mobile at least once a month. What they are less keen on is video calling: in Japan, as in the UK, 90% say “no thanks, never”. And as for using the mobile as a modem – to link to the internet – that’s very expensive in Japan.

It is no wonder those touting m-commerce as the next big web thing tell us Japan is the future blueprint. “Japan is the world’s high-tech testbed for a wide range of consumer electronic devices and systems – many of which never see the light of day in overseas markets,” says Daniel Scuka, keitai guru and consultant for publishers Wireless Watch Japan. “So keeping up with developments here is vital to knowing what’s going to hit Europe and the US 24 months in the future; doubly so with respect to mobile and wireless.”

By offering the Japanese a multiplicity of services – and, very importantly, some very cool handsets to use them on – the operators have created what every western mobile service provider is dreaming of: a mobile lifestyle culture that keeps millions reaching for the mobile rather than the fixed internet. But it does have its disadvantages.

Most us would feel miffed if we lost or damaged our mobiles. The Japanese would be paralysed without theirs: nearly half of Japanese confess to being obsessed with their mobile phones.

But why is such technology such a hit in Japan and not in other mobile-savvy nations such as Finland? According to the man who kickstarted the trend – the father of i-mode, NTT DoCoMo’s Takeshi Natsuno – it is because of the Japanese genius for designing new technologies that can be adopted by anyone, especially techno-phobes. It’s not about “bandwidth, nor standards, nor unique Japanese culture”, he says. It is about “fun and convenience”.

When i-mode was launched in the UK a few years ago, the hopes were Natsuno was right and mobile internet would take off as it had in Japan. It didn’t. “Basically these things succeeded best where the Japanese model was most faithfully stuck to. Telecom France, for example, had success with i-mode,” says Scuka.

Britain apparently went its own way with i-mode and relied on phones that weren’t up to the job. It flopped and recently was buried alongside that other great mobile pretender, WAP. However, we in Europe do not have some of the advantages that DoCoMo and the other carriers enjoy in Japan. As Terrie Lloyd, a business analyst, points out: “Japanese mobile phone bandwidth is free to the carriers. They didn’t have to pay for it. So rather than skin the consumers for every cent, they keep a good-value proposition.

Demanding consumers

The Japanese are blessed with some of the best-looking technology in the world. It has to be intuitive, simple and high-quality, not because the Japanese are so tech-savvy, but because they are the most demanding consumers in the world.

According to Scuka, more than 100 new phones hit the Japanese market last year as manufacturers tried out new ideas on the public. Some cultural factors, as with any other country, do play a part in Japan’s willingness to take up some technologies such as TV on the mobile.

As in Europe, this was at first a washout, but as watching TV in public becomes more socially acceptable in Japan, the number of subscribers is rising. Au, the second largest mobile network in Japan, recently signed up its five millionth subscriber to the service.

“Japanese commute on trains. The average person commutes at least an hour each way every day – that’s a lot of eyeball time. Only teenagers in Europe can match this sort of availability,” says Scuka.

It is this urban lifestyle where convenience is the key which has necessitated the rise of the all-in-one mobile plus those very funky handsets. By comparison Apple’s iPhone is a mere 2.5G plaything. In Japan, which is already into 3G and heading towards 4G, they make mobiles look good and work hard.

Linux’s Free System is now easier to use, but not for everybody


Wall Street Journal
September 13, 2007; Page B1
This column is written for mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology. These folks aren’t necessarily novices, and they aren’t afraid of computers. They also aren’t stupid. They simply want their digital products to operate as promised, with as little maintenance and hassle as possible.
So, I have steered away from recommending Linux, the free computer operating system that is the darling of many techies and IT managers, and a challenger to Microsoft’s dominant Windows and Apple’s resurgent Macintosh operating system, OS X. Linux, which runs on the same hardware as Windows, has always required much more technical expertise and a yen for tinkering than average users possess.
Lately, however, I’ve received a steady stream of emails from readers urging me to take a look at a variant of Linux called Ubuntu, which, these folks claimed, is finally polished enough for a mainstream user to handle. My interest increased when Dell began to sell a few computer models preloaded with Ubuntu instead of Windows.
I’ve been testing one of those Dell Ubuntu computers, a laptop called the Inspiron 1420N. I evaluated it strictly from the point of view of an average user, someone who wouldn’t want to enter text commands, hunt the Web for drivers and enabling software, or learn a whole new user interface. I focused on Ubuntu and the software programs that come bundled with it, not on the hardware, which is a pretty typical Dell laptop.
My verdict: Even in the relatively slick Ubuntu variation, Linux is still too rough around the edges for the vast majority of computer users. While Ubuntu looks a lot like Windows or Mac OS X, it is full of little complications and hassles that will quickly frustrate most people who just want to use their computers, not maintain or tweak them.
Before every passionate Linux fan attacks that conclusion, let me note that even the folks who make and sell Ubuntu agree with it. Mark Shuttleworth, the South African-born founder of the Ubuntu project, told me this week that “it would be reasonable to say that this is not ready for the mass market.” And Dell’s Web site for its Ubuntu computers warns that these machines are for “for advanced users and tech enthusiasts.”
So, what do I mean when I say Ubuntu is too rough around the edges for average users? Here are some examples.
There is no control panel for adjusting the way the touch pad works, and I found it so sensitive that I was constantly launching programs and opening windows accidentally by touching the thing. Every time the computer awoke from sleep, the volume control software crashed and had to be reloaded.
When I tried to play common audio and video files, such as MP3 songs, I was told I had to first download special files called codecs that are built into Windows and Mac computers. I was warned that some of these codecs might be “bad” or “ugly.”
To get the computer to recognize my Kodak camera and Apple iPod, I had to reboot it several times. When it did find the iPod, it wasn’t able to synchronize with it. Playing videos was a bad experience, with lots of flickering and freezing. Oh, and there’s no built-in software for playing commercial DVDs.
The Ubuntu-equipped Inspiron 1420N starts at $744, but the configuration that Dell lent me for testing sells for $1,415. The same unit equipped with Windows Vista costs $1,524. The Ubuntu version includes OpenOffice, the free office suite that competes with Microsoft Office. Dell charges an added $149 for Microsoft Office.
Ubuntu and other versions of Linux have several advantages. Unlike Windows and OS X, they’re free. Unlike Mac OS X, they can be run on the least-expensive popular hardware configurations. Unlike Windows, but like the Mac, they are essentially free of viruses and spyware. And unlike Windows and Mac OS X, they are built and constantly improved by a world-wide network of developers, professional and amateur — the so-called open-source concept that produced the excellent Firefox Web browser.
It makes sense that all the best software brains can’t be located in just two places: Redmond, Wash., where Microsoft is based, and Cupertino, Calif., Apple’s base. And plenty of people reading this have had lots of frustrations with the two better-known operating systems, especially Windows, whose latest iteration, Vista, is disappointing in many ways.
But open source is a two-edged sword. While it draws on smart developers from many places, nobody is ultimately responsible for the quality of the product, and open-source developers often have an imperfect feel for how average people use software. A European company called Canonical is the “commercial sponsor” of Ubuntu and provides support. But it’s largely focused on corporate and techie users. Average Ubuntu users are likely to have to wade through online forums, often written in technical language, to get help.
Dell and Canonical tell me there are complex workarounds for some of the problems I encountered, and that built-in improvements are planned for others. But for now, I still advise mainstream, nontechnical users to avoid Linux.
Email me at Find all my columns and videos online free at the new All Things Digital web site,

Spike Lee, Babelgum launch online film festival

Last Updated: Sunday, September 2, 2007 | 11:31 AM ET
CBC Arts

U.S. director Spike Lee has teamed up with the video-streaming company Babelgum to launch an international online film festival to help filmmakers display their work no matter where they live.
“There’s this misconstrued thinking that all talent is in Los Angeles or New York,” the director said at a news conference in Venice on Saturday.
Director Spike Lee, seen here in 2006, says an online festival means that ‘where you live is no longer a hindrance’ to getting noticed as a filmmaker.Director Spike Lee, seen here in 2006, says an online festival means that ‘where you live is no longer a hindrance’ to getting noticed as a filmmaker.
(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
“Where you live is no longer a hindrance.… Talent isn’t a problem. There’s an abundance of talent. This is an opportunity to showcase your talent.”
Lee, known for hits such as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Inside Man, is attending the Venice Film Festival.
The director said there are no excuses for filmmakers these days, especially with opportunities online.
The 50-year-old director has partnered with Babelgum, an internet company that streams videos for free, and will head the jury of the festival.
Babelgum users will make the first cut, shaving down the entries in each category to 10 each. After that process, which starts in February, the jury will reduce the number to three in each division with Lee making the final selections.
The winners, who will get $20,000 US, will be announced in April.
The festival will have six categories: short films under 20 minutes, documentary, animation, advertising, social and environmental films, and best emerging talent.
Applications are limited to films that have already been screened at other festivals from January 2007 through February 2008. The films can be no longer than 45 minutes.
Filmmakers can start making submissions on Sept. 15 to the Babelgum Online Film Festival by uploading their films on the website.
Babelgum has said it will not accept offensive material, but what that will mean has not been defined. Lee said he expected nudity would be forbidden but admitted that he was unsure what the parameters were.
“What might be offensive to you might not be offensive to me, and vice versa,” Lee said. “Language, I think, is clearer than the visual stuff.”
Organizers say they expect to get 2,000 entries.

Gangster daughter sheds light on Japan underworld

Source: Reuters


Mon Sep 3, 2007 4:53AM EDT

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – With her dyed-brown long hair and tight designer jeans, Shoko Tendo looks like any other stylish young Japanese woman — until she removes her shirt to reveal the vivid tattoos covering her back and most of her body.

The elaborate dragons, phoenixes and a medieval courtesan with one breast bared and a knife between her teeth are a symbol of Tendo’s childhood as the daughter of a “yakuza” gangster and her youth as a drug-using gang member.

The author of “Yakuza Moon,” a best-selling memoir just out in English, the 39-year-old Tendo says that police efforts to eradicate the gangsters have merely made them harder to track.

“The more the police push, the more the yakuza are simply going underground, making their activities harder to follow than they ever were before,” she told Reuters in a recent interview.

Police say full-fledged membership in yakuza groups fell to 41,500 last year, down from 43,000 in 2005, a decline they attribute to tighter laws against organized crime.

The number of yakuza hangers-on, including thugs and members of motorcycle gangs, who are willing to do their dirty work, though, rose marginally to 43,200.

More shocking for many in Japan, where gun-related crime is rare, were a handful of fatal shootings by yakuza earlier this year, including the killing of the mayor of Nagasaki.

Tendo said the shootings were a result of the legal crackdown on yakuza, which has made it harder for them to ply their traditional trades of prostitution, drugs and bid-rigging.

“They’re being forced into a corner, their humanity taken away,” she said. “All the things they used to do for a living have been made illegal, so life has become very hard.”


Experts say this is especially true for gangsters in less affluent parts of Japan, a reflection of the same sort of income gaps that increasingly plague the nation as a whole.

“Yakuza need a lot of money, but depending on where they are, business isn’t going so well,” said Nobuo Komiya, a criminology professor at Tokyo’s Rissho University. “So they turn to guns.”

Descended from medieval gamblers and outlaws, yakuza were long portrayed as latter-day samurai, bound by traditions of honor and duty and living extravagant lives.

Tendo’s father, the leader of a gang linked to the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza group, led a “classic” yakuza life replete with Italian suits, imported cars and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Raised with strict ideas of honor, she was both spoiled and scolded by the tattooed men who frequented her family home.

But she also faced prejudice and bullying because of her father. In response, she joined a gang, took drugs and become the lover of several gangsters before near-fatal beatings and drug overdoses convinced her to change her life.

Now a writer and mother, Tendo has distanced herself from the yakuza world, which she feels is rapidly losing its traditions.

Being a gang member is not illegal in Japan, and until recently the gangs were known for openness. Their offices even posted signs with their names and membership lists inside.

Gangs cooperated with police, handing over suspects in return for police turning a blind eye to yakuza misdemeanors, but this broke down after organized crime laws were toughened in 1992.


The largest part of yakuza income now comes from pursuits involving stocks, property and finance.

“What we’re going to see from here on is the yakuza becoming more structured, like the U.S. Mafia, and dividing itself between business experts and violence experts,” said Manabu Miyazaki, a writer whose father was also a yakuza.

“As the world becomes more borderless, they’ll need experts who can deal with this too, speaking Chinese and English.”

Like Japan as a whole, gangsters are also ageing, and fewer young people look to organized crime as a career option.

Police figures showed fewer than 20 percent of yakuza were in their 20s in 2005, a trend both Tendo and Miyazaki attributed to young people’s dislike for the tough life involved.

“They think being a yakuza is like joining a company,” Miyazaki said. “There’s a joke about a young man going to a gang office and asking what the salary was, and would he get insurance.”

But while today’s yakuza are eschewing tattoos and amputated fingers — cut off to atone for mistakes — in favor of more mainstream lifestyles, they are unlikely to disappear altogether.

“Fewer people want to become yakuza,” Miyazaki said. “But those who do will be very logical, very scary — and much, much more dangerous.”