Hear the noise or block it out
Filling your ears with music from noise-blocking earphones doesn't just diminish outside noises. It also reduces your ability to hear things you might want to, like traffic noise when you cross a street.
But taking the earphones in and out of your ears in these situations is a nuisance, so Shure is packaging a push-to-hear switch with its E500 earphones, which cut ambient noise by 30 to 37 decibels -- the equivalent of bringing airliner cabin noise down to about the level of a quiet conversation. Press it, and the music in the headphone mutes, while an external microphone picks up ambient sounds.
The E500s will be priced at US$499 with the switch when they arrive in stores. (The switch, which will work with all standard earphones, will also be available separately at US$59.) The high price is partly because three miniature speakers are used in each earphone, a tweeter and two woofers, for better reproduction of high and low tones.
Modular cables for portable and home-stereo listening are included. And so are eight pairs of sleeves, to ensure that the E500 comfortably fills ears of any size.
For the impatient, even faster Wi-Fi
While most people are still figuring out Wi-Fi, along comes 802.11n, a faster wireless standard that transmits data up to four times as fast as the current Wi-Fi standard, 802.11g, and up to 20 times the speed of the earlier 802.11b.
Netgear's WNR834B wireless router, the latest in the RangeMax line, can accommodate all three varieties, and offers four Ethernet ports.
The router, which costs US$179, is best for transmitting large files around a closed network. For example, a business with the new router would notice a considerable speed improvement when sending data to and from office computers. The router's speed will have little effect on standard Web browsing.
The router and accompanying wireless notebook card, the WN511B (US$129), are available now online. One caveat that has to be considered is that, as with 802.11g before it, Netgear and other manufacturers are releasing routers and wireless cards before the 802.11n standard has been officially ratified by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Even if the standard is never ratified, however, the WNR834B will improve the transfer speed of video and multimedia content over a closed network.
It's baby's first video game
Living up to its name, Giggles Computer Funtime for Baby transforms a Mac or PC into a busy box. A baby sitting in your lap can bash, mouth or click the keyboard with few worries, other than a bit of drool.
Available for US$20 as a download or CD from www.giggles.net, the program starts with a menu for adults offering 10 exploration zones.
There's a farm where pressing any key makes an animal pop up on the screen, or a backyard scene where pressing any key makes a rabbit dance. When a child stops pressing, the action stops, too, helping children feel in control of a noisy, silly experience. A control panel lets parents toggle among five musical styles, from classical to bluegrass, and a screen saver mode makes some select games available whenever the computer is on.
Unlike many technology products for babies, the packaging makes no claims of creating an Einstein. What this program does is create an informal setting where a child can sit in a lap and freely explore what used to be forbidden territory: a parent's computer. Just don't be surprised when you find a raisin pressed into your numerical keypad.