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Tech Industry

Little green men and butt-massaging easy chairs

You've read about the high-def TVs on display at CES. But what about the bass subwoofer that digs into the back of your skull?

LAS VEGAS--New city motto: Oh nuts, I'll just walk.

Honestly, the city spends a couple bazillion dollars to build a slick monorail line, and what do Consumer Electronics Show attendees get? Lines that extend well past the traditionally hellish taxi-wait queues, and the added delight of being visually assaulted in line by marketing drones dressed as little green men.

(And that's when the monorail works. The system was shut down for a while Friday after a train zoomed along the Strip with a door open, leaving transit officials rightfully worried about falling geeks.)

But with 130,000-plus CES folks crammed into this sleepy desert village, you've got to expect some inconvenience. And who can blame the gadget hounds for making the trip, given the chance to genuflect at such technological breakthroughs as moving furniture and satellite TV for the car, which ought to finally solve that ongoing problem of motorists paying too much attention to their driving.

Forthwith are some noteworthy CES developments that somehow didn't merit a keynote speech.

• Go ahead and peddle your home media servers and sofa-size TV sets. Salton thinks what the world really needs is a smarter coffee maker.

"Let the other guys fight it out over the digital living room," said Robert Lamson, senior vice president at Salton. "We're interested in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom."

The appliance maker was at CES pitching the Icebox, an Internet appliance for the kitchen that includes a Web browser, TV tuner, DVD player and a keyboard that washes off in the sink. The Icebox also networks with selected Salton coffee makers, microwave ovens and bread makers, allowing the devices to download new recipes over the Internet, among other tricks.

Plug in Salton's new video camera to use the Icebox as a remote-surveillance station, and you've got a complete working-mom solution for making sure Junior has a healthy dinner before doing his homework. But you still have to start the bread maker yourself.

"If you want to use the Internet connection to start the appliance remotely, then you have big issues about what if something gets loaded wrong and you have a fire," Lamson said. "We could do it, but it would really mess up our insurance."

• At least one office was cheering at last year's report linking laptop heat to male sterility. Xbrand makes several types of laptop trays, all of which promote better ergonomics and keep your heat-belching notebook at a safe, cool distance from you-know-where.

•  Buzzword alert: Software maker Serious Magic is mashing streaming video and blogging into "vlogging." The company's Vlog It software lets bloggers dissatisfied with the limits of text communication produce talking-head video clips with production values a notch or two above public-access TV newscasts. "A lot of people can express themselves better just talking rather than writing," said Serious Magic CEO Mark Randall.

•  It's a set of headphones! It's a bad headache massage! It's both! The new Crushers headset from Skullcandy includes a bass subwoofer that presses into the back of your skull. From the product literature: "Warning. Excessive use may cause nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate..."

•  Speaking of dizziness, the Z800 head-mounted display from eMagin makes playing a video game a much more immersive experience than playing one on a TV set. I imagine the experience of chasing guerillas through a fetid swamp would also leave me a tad nauseated.

•  For a different kind of immersion, the RX2 from Spherex incorporates a 5.1 Dolby sound system into a loudly colored easy chair designed to alarm just about any spouse with a sense of style. I'm returning to the Spherex booth at the end of the day, when the aggressive butt massage the RX2 delivers in concert with "Halo 2" should feel quite therapeutic.