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Christmas Gift Guide
Tech Industry

It came from CES!

The back alleys of the giant trade show in Las Vegas offer up a wealth of inventive gadgets to satisfying needs you probably never knew you had.

LAS VEGAS--Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Spongebob Squarepants, whose warped grin appeared on everything from cell phones to kitchen appliances, may have been the big winners at this week's Consumer Electronics Show.

But there were hundreds of smaller success stories, as well, companies you've probably never heard of satisfying needs you probably never even knew you had.

Here's a sampling of some of the more offbeat items tempting folks among the many acres of CES booth space:

• Secure Communication Systems and chipmaker Transmeta were promoting the new concept of "submersible computing" with the Air Warrior, a petite Windows 2000 touch-screen PC elaborately sealed to be impervious to water and other annoyances. (The model on display at CES was bobbing in an aquarium tank.)

Michael Boice, vice president of sales and marketing for Secure, said initial Air Warrior models are being used by military pilots, who strap a model onto their thigh for navigation, flight planning and other tasks. While pilots are unlikely to go for a swim with an Air Warrior, the unit needs to be able to withstand falls, horrible weather and other military hazards.

Boice credited Transmeta for coming up with a low-power, low-heat processor that can run without any ventilation. "It runs even cooler when it's underwater," he added. Secure is working on making scaled-down versions of the Air Warrior for private pilots, field service technicians and other folks.

• Speaking of aquariums, you can jazz up a dull fish tank with lighted castles and other illuminated, laser-equipped goodies from MiracleBeam. Besides aesthetic joy, the company says its decorations "enhance fin growth."

• Perhaps the highest-density of "check this out" products were at a table run by Hivox, a Taiwanese company specializing in semi-medical appliances. Their small array of products included Snore Stopper, a wrist-worn device that sends out little electrical jolts when it detects three or more consecutive nose honks. The zap is a form of biofeedback to reduce the frequency of snoring. Add the Dreamate, another wrist gadget that uses accupressure massage to promote sound sleep, and you and your spouse should be snoozing like nobody's business.

Hivox also weighed in with the iCard, a portable, pocket-size body fat monitor that ought to provide all sorts of entertainment value on your next trip to Krispy Kreme.

• Also tapping into a heretofore unnoticed craze for impromptu body fat analysis is by Wo Hing International. The company's catalog also shows a scary-looking electronic pore cleaner and four equally intimidating models of electric eyelash curlers.

• Ever wonder about those waving, inflatable balloons shaped like Godzilla or a cell phone, seen outside every suburban strip mall? They come from Above & Beyond, and apparently they're now mandatory for small cell phone retailers.

• From the mysterious folks at ViaStone comes paper for your inkjet printer that's made from crushed rock. We couldn't get details on how they do it, but the "why" includes waterproofness and "no deforestation."

• Combine your favorite leisure activities--mountaineering and remote computing, of course--with the HangGear's line of gadget holders. Models for cell phones, handheld computers, digital cameras and more all come with a built-in carabiner. They might want to rethink the name of the Universal Phone Thong, however.

• If getting through airport security has felt too easy lately, try the line of audio-enhanced luggage from BoomBags. Each comes with built-in speakers and amplifier for giving PowerPoint presentations on the road or spontaneous karaoke fits. Actual sentence from their literature: "Need more bass? Simply attach the subwoofer in your Rolling BoomBag and you can sound like Lou Rawls."