Digital World Insider: High-Tech News

In the U.S., California has long been at the forefront of e-waste consideration, not least because of the double whammy of the high-tech industries there and the population density. Until now, most legislation has taken aim at industry; now, the state is looking at consumers.

As of February 9, it will be illegal to throw "universal waste"--the modern detritus generated by ordinary citizens, from fluorescent bulbs to cell phones--into the trash. Which is admirable, except that compliance is voluntary. (What, you were expecting spot checks on your trash can?)

In a sense, this isn't much different from how recycling works in North America. No one can stop you from throwing a plastic bottle into the trash, but everyone is encouraged not to and so many people don't.

The trouble with this new legislation is that, at the moment, there's nothing convenient about e-waste disposal. The system for recycling bottles is easy, so many people do it; right now, properly disposing of your TV set is time-consuming and difficult--if you even know where to bring it.

Maybe someday we'll have a system like Japan's, where sorting your trash into ten or more categories becomes an art form, but at least less metal is wasted and fewer batteries go into the ground. Until then, Californians might want to check some of the resources recommended by the state.

PC World regularly reports on the legislative and practical sides of the issue, as in Senior Editor Anush Yegyazarian's January ""

Akihabara News reports that Sony will stop producing the Aibo line of robot pets.

I wasn't too keen on the doglike robots when they were first announced back in 1999, but I have to admit that after spending a half hour playing with a second-generation model a few years later, I was pretty much hooked--it didn't take long for me to start referring to the Aibo as a "he," not an "it."

I'd be hard-pressed to say the Aibo ever had any truly practical value beyond novelty and hackability, but I've always found it encouraging that a company could invest the time and energy to create something that's just plain interesting.

PC World editors liked the Aibo too, putting it in the number 44 slot in "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years."

We all know what they say about imitation, so I'm assuming the people at iRobot are quite flattered by Keyon's robot vacuum cleaner, which is essentially a lower-cost knockoff of the Roomba.

This little bot isn't as slick as the Roomba: The plastic looks a little cheaper, the battery doesn't run quite as long, and it seemed just a little louder. But when I watched both of them in action, there didn't seem to be any major differences in performance. Visit the Keyon site for pictures and product info.

Read Dan Tynan's "Looking for a Few Good Bots: Robots for Work and Play" for more on the Roomba.

One Step Closer to iPodTubbies: Nick Jr. and Frederator have teamed up (conspired?) to bring The Wubbcast, described as "the world's first preschool video podcast," to the small screen months ahead of the televised fall release of "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!" It certainly looks like it would be entertaining to the under-five set, but there seems to be an element of common sense missing here. Are you going to hand your $400 media player over to someone who would lose the pants they were wearing if they weren't buttoned securely?

Camera Market Becomes Cozier: Konica Minolta announced that it's getting out of the camera business--both digital and film--preferring to focus on supplying lenses for Sony's forthcoming digital SLRs. Sony and Konica Minolta were already working together on developing digital SLR cameras; now Sony will acquire Konica Minolta's technology. For more info, read my colleague Martyn Williams' "Konica Minolta to Exit Photo Business."

Nifty Power Strip: Bits Limited's Smart Strip ($33) deals a pet peeve of mine--always-on computer peripherals. Really, would it kill the folks who make the various doodads in my office to add an Off switch? Smart Strip is so named because when it detects that your computer's been switched off, it also cuts off the power to peripherals plugged into specific sockets. Mmmm, effortless energy savings.

Almost Digital Recorder Heaven: I've been looking for a portable audio player that can also record CD-quality uncompressed audio. Roland's Edirol R-09 gets close to what I'm looking for. The $400 R-09 can record .wav files at up to 24 bits and 48 kHz, and can also play back and record MP3s (but not WMA files. It's a bit smaller than my trusty iRiver iHP-140. It has a built-in stereo mic, but also accepts microphone and line-in inputs. The drawbacks? No rechargeable battery and no hard drive. The R-09 is powered by two AA batteries and uses Secure Digital Cards.