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Gadgets & Gizmos: Lefties are in luck

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Many computer users are familiar with Microsoft’s mice with optical sensors, but not everyone could use one. Microsoft has remedied that with the IntelliMouse Optical, a mouse with mass appeal.

Unlike its predecessors, the IntelliMouse Optical is symmetrical, fitting comfortably in the palm of either a left- or right-hander. It features a useful scrolling wheel and has two side buttons for easier Internet navigation.

You can use the wheel to scroll up and down documents and either side button to go forward or backward when browsing the Internet. The buttons are programmable, so you can change their functions to execute routine actions in many of your favorite applications.

The IntelliMouse Optical feels light because it doesn’t use a rubber ball. That also means it doesn’t need to be taken apart and cleaned frequently of the dust and lint that can cause the traditional mouse ball mechanism to stick or skip.

The IntelliMouse Optical replaces the ball mechanics with a patented optical sensor. It’s a combination of a tiny digital camera that captures mouse movements and a digital signal processor that analyzes and translates those movements.

Priced right at less than $40, the IntelliMouse Optical performs flawlessly on almost any surface, with or without a mouse pad. Visit www.microsoft.com/mouse or dial 1-800-426-9400 for additional information.

- Jim Buu


Neon your Nikes

Reach for a pair of Plasma Laces the next time you want to snazz up your sneakers, dazzle your Doc Martens or turn on your topsiders.

Touted as "the world’s first electronic shoelaces," Plasma Laces are flexible plastic tubes filled with pulsating neon. They’re fueled by a watch battery pack that clips onto the tongue of your shoe. The pack has an on/off switch and can keep the laces flashing for up to 13 hours.

Plasma Laces are threaded through eyelets like ordinary shoelaces, but instead of tying their ends, wearers use a color-coordinated cord lock to hold them in place. They can be worn indoors as well as out, are resistant to light rain and are available in eight glowing colors.

The brilliant blue pair I tested were an instant hit with grown-ups and children alike. Not just a novelty, they are also an excellent safety device for nighttime joggers or dog-walkers. Plasma Laces also can be run through belt loops, tied to backpacks or worn as jewelry.

The product, manufactured by The Next Edge, is on sale at the Web site for $24.95 a pair.

See www.plasmalaces.com or call 1-877-810-9002.

- Jeanette Prasifka


Security at your fingertip

The touch of a finger can secure a computer - and untangle the mess of passwords that come with using the Internet.

DigitalPersona has released the latest version of its U.are.U fingerprint-recognition system. It’s a small, plastic device that sits next to a computer and sports a plastic window that has a futuristic red glow.

The new $149 U.are.U Pro package includes software for any computer running Windows 95, 98, NT or 2000. The software takes a picture of your fingerprint through the glowing window. Unlocking the computer then is as easy as again placing your finger on the window, although you have to endure a goofy on-screen graphic of a smiley-faced finger. The device hooks to a PC through a Universal Serial Bus, is easy to set up and appears to work flawlessly.

Most home users don’t need fingerprint-tight security. But it’s a simple way for several people to share a computer and maintain privacy. Most home users do struggle to track all the passwords demanded by Web sites, and experts urge a different one for each site. U.are.U converts many passwords to fingerprint recognition and operated without a problem on several sites I tested.

I worry, though, about forgetting my passwords and getting locked out of Web sites when on the road unless I lug the device along. Learn more by going to www.digitalpersona.com or by calling 1-877-378-2738.

- David LaGesse


Private listening, in style

Sony makes its new, brushed-silver Street Style headphones for consumers who demand more than high-quality sound.

These headphones, model MDR-G82LP, aim for a fashion statement. They’re worn behind the neck rather than over the top of the head.

Just as Sony promises, these deliver head-thumping bass without mussing a hairdo or messing with a hat. (On the other hand, they make a lousy headband.) Sound quality is good, and, with cloth-covered earpads, the fit is snug and comfortable. The headphones, which cost about $50, also fold for travel.

The market for Street Style sets is growing, with more than 1 million pairs sold in the two years since the first pair came on the market, Sony says. Call 1-800-222-7669 or go to www.sony.com.

- Jennifer Files


Flat magic

Viewsonic has a 15-inch flat-panel monitor that should appeal to heavy video users as well as those interested mainly in sleek design.

The ViewPanel VP151, which sells for nearly $1,400, comes with plugs galore. S-video and RCA connections accommodate a DVD player, a videocassette recorder or a video camera. Two USB inputs provide direct connections for peripherals such as scanners.

Want to do it all at the same time? There’s also a picture-in-picture feature that lets you run video from the DVD player or VCR while you’re working on regular computer programs. And if you want to use this display with two computers, the VP151 comes with two inputs for them.

Yes, this active matrix LCD color display looks very cool. Images are remarkably bright and sharp. Built-in stereo speakers offer decent sound. The display has nice ergonomic touches such as height, tilt and swivel adjustments. You can also hang it on a wall.

Maximum resolution is 1024 X 768 pixels, comparable with a 17-inch standard cathode ray tube, or CRT.

We only wish this kind of technology and design weren’t so expensive so everyone could have high-quality flat panel displays on their desks. Call Viewsonic at 1-800-888-8583 or check www.viewsonic.com for more information.

- Alan Goldstein
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