Last week, we covered useful technology, and this week we'll shop for technology that may be useful, but is mainly fun. I'll suggest a few items here, and for more ideas you can...

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Last week, we covered useful technology, and this week we’ll shop for technology that may be useful, but is mainly fun. I’ll suggest a few items here, and for more ideas you can browse past columns at www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted or my collection organized by topic at www.gettingstartedremix.net.

Radio-controlled vehicles:
Kids love a remote control, especially when it empowers them to drive a physical object like a car or plane. Recently, my family tried a remote-control helicopter, the Spin Master Sky Patrol ($50, spinmaster.com), which flies up to 50 feet high, hovers and moves in all directions.

My 24-year-old flew it first, then the 11-year-old and 2-year-old. Not sure who’s the best pilot, but with a little practice, almost anyone can have fun with this toy, which flies for a few minutes, usually crash lands, recharges on the helipad and flies again. I just wish these vehicles didn’t require so many batteries. This one takes 8 D and 6 AA batteries.


Video games:

Kids of all ages play video games, and probably would love getting a new one for Christmas. I’m no expert, so besides suggesting the latest sequels to award winners — “Halo 2” ($50, Xbox) for 17 and older who like virtual fighting; “Madden NFL 2005” ($30, consoles and Windows) for football lovers who enjoy more legitimate violence; “Zoo Tycoon 2” ($40, Windows) for kids who prefer nonviolent games; and “Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island” ($18, Windows) for girls who like to solve mysteries — I can offer a few Web sites that may help you find the right game.

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For kids games, try these: superkids.com, edutainingkids.com, and media-awareness.ca/english/parents/video_games/choosing_videogames.cfm. Try these for bolder entertainment: gamespot.com/reviews, videogamereview.com/reviewscrx.aspx, and windowsgaming.com.


Tech jewelry:

I have to admit I was intrigued by the promise of reduced stress, increased energy and enhanced mental performance by simply wearing a QLink pendant (clarus.com). The embedded Sympathetic Resonance Technology reportedly retunes the body’s energy system (weakened by technologies’ electromagnetic radiation) so it can function at its optimum level.

I’m not sure how the technology manages that, but for $130 anyone can wear the QLink that looks like a black square framing a copper disk with a bar code in the middle.

Anyway, I agreed to try wearing one and have been surprised by the results. Within a day, I seemed to have a little more energy — at least I didn’t start nodding at 9 p.m., and over time discovered I don’t need so much caffeine during the day.

Reducing stress is a bigger challenge, though I have been laughing more since I started this experiment. Enhanced mental performance? Unfortunately, no evidence of that.

Over all, this mysterious pendant does appear to be a positive influence, so I want to learn more about the technology. Stay tuned.

If there’s someone on your list who would welcome such a gift (after all, Madonna, Anthony Hopkins and other celebs have been seen wearing them), give a QLink and let me know what happens.


Photo albums:

For a very personal gift, I sometimes give hardcover photo albums, so this year I decided to try three publishers and compare the results. I uploaded photos, arranged and ordered albums from MyPublisher.com ($20), Ofoto.com ($30), and Shutterfly.com ($40). These prices are for 20-page albums — additional pages cost $1 to $2 each.

All three enabled me to add captions, change page layouts and do some basic image editing.

The results were interesting. MyPublisher, the cheapest choice, delivered the best-quality photos in an album that looked rather elegant. Ofoto and Shutterfly produced nice-looking albums, but the photo quality was not quite as good. It’s too bad MyPublisher isn’t available to Mac users.


Books:

There aren’t a lot of “books for fun” in the bookstore’s technology section, but I have found two that are pretty entertaining. “Spam Kings: The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements” (O’Reilly, $22.95), by investigative journalist Brian McWilliams, digs into the lives of a few major spammers and spam fighters and tells some interesting tales.

“Camera Phone Obsession” (Paraglyph, $19.99), by Peter G. Aitken, helped transform me from a clear critic of fuzzy phonecam photos to a supporter of the emerging art form that attempts to create a mood or invoke an emotional response. The book suggests a variety of intriguing possibilities for using a camera phone.


Camera phone:

If someone on your gift list carries a cellphone and also likes to take pictures, consider giving a camera phone. The images are pretty fuzzy, but fun for capturing the moment and useful for recording events, accidents and indescribable objects.

I’ve been using an Audiovox PM-8920 phonecam from Sprint PCS ($100 to $250, depending on the deal). It has 1.3 megapixels, which renders better resolution than others that have fewer pixels.


Portable music player:

A portable music player is a great gift for anyone who loves music and wants to enjoy it almost anywhere. Choosing the right player begins with deciding between a hard-drive player that holds more music but runs on a rechargeable battery, and a flash-drive player that holds fewer songs and runs on an AAA battery (Getting Started, Nov. 20.).

Personally, I like the 4GB Apple iPod mini ($250) hard-drive player, and the 512MB Rio Forge Sport ($200) flash player. The new 5GB Creative Zen Micro ($250) and the 5GB Rio Carbon ($250) are like the iPod mini and look promising, but I haven’t tried them yet.


Portable photo player:

When I heard about the Apple iPod Photo (40GB $500, 60GB $600), I wanted to try one right away. Besides holding my entire music collection, this iPod also holds my entire photo collection.

I can transfer photo albums from iPhoto (Mac) or Adobe Photoshop Album (Windows) and watch them on the iPod screen individually, or as slide shows with background music. Or I can plug the included RCA cables into a TV and watch the show from the living-room couch.

I like being able to take all my photos anywhere and show whatever slide shows I want, without toting a laptop.


Camera:

I reviewed the new Olympus C-7000 Zoom ($600) recently (Nov. 27), and suggest it’s for serious amateurs who don’t want to make the leap to an SLR camera.

The C-7000 has 7.1 megapixels and a 5x zoom, and produces great pictures when enlarged to 11 x 14 inches. However, the built-in lens has an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/4.8, which means it’s not so great for shooting in low light without a flash. If that doesn’t matter to the recipient who wants a little camera that’s powerful, the C-7000 is a good choice.


Camcorder:

If you’re planning to give someone a camcorder for Christmas, consider the Sony MiniDV Handycam DCR-PC109 ($900). It’s as small as a camera but capable of producing excellent video. I tried one, wrote about it (Nov. 20) and liked it a lot.


Note:

Turns out the Xantrex XPower Powerpack 400 Plus, which provides a power source for small appliances, does not have enough power to run a coffeepot, as I suggested in my listing of gift ideas in last week’s column. I’m sorry for those of us who were hoping for hot coffee next time there’s a power outage.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted