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Good news for roamers

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Fast-charging batteries use nanotechnology

Last week Toshiba announced the creation of a new kind of battery, one that uses nanotechnology to charge about 60 times faster than conventional batteries.

If it does what Toshiba says it does, roamers will be able to charge their laptops in about a minute, and their cell phones, digital cameras, digital camcorders, portable music players, PDAs, and a wide range other portable devices in a matter of seconds.

The new technology could also be used to keep hybrid cars fully charged at all times by rapidly converting braking power into stored energy. In turn, that will allow vehicles to run more on batteries and less on fuel.

This is monumental, life-enriching and potentially life-saving technology. Imagine a battery that you could charge with a portable solar cell in a matter of minutes, a car battery that can be topped up almost instantly as the engine idles, or a pacemaker battery that could be charged through the skin in about a second.

Aside from the obvious convenience, these new batteries could remove the final link from the chain that ties people to their desks. Battery life was always the limiting factor to true portability.

According to Toshiba, the nano particles in the negative electrodes allow the batteries to rapidly store lithium ions. The basic design is otherwise similar to a conventional lithium-ion battery, and can be used for the same applications.

Toshiba said it would release the new batteries in 2006, starting with automotive and industrial applications. Consumer electronics will follow shortly afterwards.

Gmail sees Yahoo’s gig, raises one gig

Google is that cagey poker player at the table that isn’t afraid to risk it all to win the pot. In this case the pot is millions of loyal online e-mail customers, and the other players at the table are Yahoo and Microsoft.

Last week Yahoo announced plans to increase online e-mail capacity to a gigabyte for every person, up 400 per cent over the last increase from five to 250 megabytes. That increase came in response to Microsoft’s decision to boost capacity from two to 250 MB this winter, which itself was a response to the launch of Google’s Gmail with one gigabyte last fall.

On Friday, Google upped the stakes once again with plans to double account storage to a full two gigabytes. To put that into perspective, two gigs is enough to hold the equivalent of almost 1,390,000 3.5 inch floppy discs, three CDR disks or one DVD.

Unless you’re sending and receiving a lot of large files, it’s almost too much space – the average e-mail message to my Hotmail account (I’m too lazy to even think of changing right now) is about 25 KB, which means a two gig account from Google would hold approximately 80,000 messages – a little more than I have time to answer or would ever want to sift through.

Brace yourself… and check your mileage

Although nobody can explain why the world’s oil companies are making record profits while at the same time claiming hardship and uncertainty in the market as they jack up their prices, it seems we’re in for another spike.

If you thought the recent lurch to over $1 a litre was tough when oil prices broke US$50 a barrel for the first time, imagine what will happen when the price of oil "super spikes" at US$105 per gallon – as investment firm Goldman Sachs predicted last week.

At first everybody wondered whether Goldman Sachs was pulling an April Fool’s joke, but they’re dead serious. Oil prices will continue to climb, and as the price ceiling rises, so will the floor.

Obviously there are some things you can do to keep your fuel costs down – walk, cycle, take the bus, carpool, keep your vehicle well maintained, pop into neutral when going downhill, siphon, or convert your engine to run on gas pump rage. But the best way to cope might be to rethink your vehicle.

Most SUVs get half the mileage of cars, and cars get half the mileage of hybrid technology, which is already entering the third generation of development at Toyota and Honda. Vehicle size is a big factor in fuel costs, but it’s not the only one – some engines are simply more efficient than others, delivering similar performance while guzzling less fuel.

If you’re in the market for a new car, I suggest you stop at the Environmental Protection Agency’s mileage website at www.fueleconomy.gov. On this website you can compare the mileage of every single make and model as far back as 1985, as well as various other performance characteristics. You can even compare two makes and models side-by-side.

This is an American website so there may be subtle differences – you may not be able to find your specific car with your specific engine on their site because of differences in manufacturing and assembly.

And because this is an American site, mileage is actually given in miles. Just remember that there are 1.61 kilometres in a mile and 3.54 litres in a gallon. The cost per year estimates will also have to be converted into Canadian dollars.

For quick reference, I suggest going to the Best and Worst MPG section. Incidentally, hybrids and compacts were at the top of the Best list. The car I drive, I’m proud to say, is number 10.

The least fuel efficient vehicles were not SUVs but performance sports cars – Lamborghini’s, Aston Martin’s, Maserati’s, Bentley’s, etc. I guess the difference here is the people that drive these cars can afford to pay more for their gas. Can you?

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