Favorite Things

I've made up my list and checked it twice. Here's a rundown of gadgets I love

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Gadgets that buzz and stuff that explodes, LEDs that twinkle and digital commodes. Big piles of wire and pickled her-rings, These are a few of my fav-o-rite things.

I have lots of others too. There are things I review, and then there are things that I really like to use. Here's a short list of stuff I found and loved this year. At the top of my chart is my pair of Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones ($100). As someone who commutes by rail and therefore needs to drown out the train shouters on their cellular phones, I lusted after this pair of headphones for my Walkman for years. Comfortable as velvet earmuffs, the Form 2s deliver a luscious, fat sound. Plus they keep me at the forefront of style: the sleek, flat headphones are in the Museum of Modern Art's collection.

Something else that's easy on the eyes is the Matrox Marvel G200 ($299), which I reviewed earlier this year. A Swiss army knife of a PC-plug-in device, the Marvel allows me to edit home videos easily on my computer. It's a TV tuner, so I can watch television on my computer monitor. And it's a graphics accelerator that makes computer games come alive.

Ah, games! I play a lot of them on my computer, and my current favorite is Age of Empires: the Rise of Rome (Microsoft; $24.95). The original game is more than a year old, but the "expansion pack" that was released a few months ago is shamefully addictive. It's a strategy game: you start out in the Stone Age, and if you manage your resources correctly--building armies, collecting wood, harvesting food--you can progress all the way to ancient Roman times. Just the right amount of strategy and terrific graphics of stuff blowing up.

On the video-game side, if you own a Nintendo 64 and you don't have The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo; $59), you're missing the best reason for owning that console. In fact, I think Zelda is the best video game ever made. You'll feel as if you're playing inside your own movie. For the PlayStation console, I love the old Bust-a-Move 2 game by Acclaim ($19.99). My wife and I play it more than is healthy. There's also a four-player version for Nintendo 64 ($56.95).

A reminder that good technology does not have to be digital is L.L. Bean's "burrito bag," which we gave the kids for Hanukkah. It solves the age-old problem of being too hot or too cold in a sleeping bag by including a fold-out fleece liner. I want one for myself (hint to coffee-table-desiring wife).

Another thing I want is a DVD player. I've been "testing" the Panasonic A310 ($599), a splendid machine with built-in Dolby audio, and I've been dragging my feet in returning it. DVD is to videotape what CDs were to records. If you haven't seen it, you'll be surprised by the clarity of the picture. I only wish I had DVD on my laptop.

Finally, I'd love to have Diamond Multimedia's Rio, a portable music player ($199) that handles MP3s, a digital format that squeezes CDs down to one-tenth their normal size in megabytes. That makes them small enough to send on the Net. But thanks to a Recording Industry Association of America lawsuit that tried to ban the players--MP3 is the format of choice for audio pirates as well as many legitimate artists--everyone wants one. Diamond says it's sold out through Christmas. But, hey, there's always next year.

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