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Toys to Put in the Stocking This Year

Electronic Explorer

December 08, 1996|LAURA BLY

If plugged-in traveler Karen Killebrew were playing Santa this year, she'd dole out state-of-the-art notebook computers--complete with CD-ROM drives and batteries with enough muscle to handle a cross-country plane flight.

But the Oakland-based travel agent has a considerably cheaper suggestion: Rand McNally's mapping software program, Street Finder (Windows, $49.95).

"You can enter basically any address in the country and get a map for the surrounding area, but I also use it to find hotels that are convenient to top attractions and then print out a map for clients," says Killebrew, owner of Escape Artists.

Some other holiday recommendations from travelers who divide their time between computer and airport terminals:

* Former international banker Cindy Tracy, owner of Atlanta-based World of Reading Ltd., sells a wide range of foreign language software, tapes and books via her Web site (http://www.wor.com/index.html). But she's particularly fond of Language Publications Interactive's Who Is Oscar Lake? (Windows or Macintosh, $50).

Available in French, Spanish, German or Italian and for ages 8 to adult, Oscar Lake is "a cross between the strategy game Myst and the geography game Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" Tracy says. Users participate in more than 500 exchanges with live-action characters, practicing foreign language skills as they attempt to discover who stole a major diamond from an art gallery.

* Since most of Walkabout Travel Gear's customers learn about the Moab, Utah, firm via its information-rich Web site (http://www.walkabouttravelgear.com), it's no surprise that owner Brad Boyle sells a wide range of products aimed at getting, and keeping, travelers connected worldwide.

One of his top picks: An acoustic coupler (Konexx, $145) that plugs into a computer's modem and attaches to virtually any phone.

"Considering the cost of telephone line adapters and the fear of plugging into a digital phone line (which can fry your modem), this can pay for itself quickly both in time and peace of mind," Boyle says.

* Like a lot of other laptop-toting travelers, America Online's Kathleen Tucker knows her Macintosh Powerbook is a prime target of airport thieves. ("Teams work together, and one jostles ahead of the laptop owner just as he's putting the laptop through the airport X-ray," Tucker says. Then, "while the owner waits his turn to get through, the thief picks it up.")

As a result, the host of AOL's Independent Traveler forum (keyword:TRAVELER) is intrigued by DEFCON 1, a new battery-powered device that attaches to a carrying case or computer lock slot and deters would-be crooks with a piercing, 110-decibel alarm (PORT, Inc., $49.95).

* Globe-trotter Jane Wooldridge, executive editor of an Internet-based travel guide called Destination Florida (http://www.goflorida.com), sent postcards from her recent Indonesian vacation the old-fashioned way: via snail (regular) mail. But she wishes she'd had a digital camera whose images can be e-mailed or posted to a Web page.

With price tags that start at about $300 and soar above $3,000, the newfangled cameras from Canon, Casio, Kodak and other companies aren't exactly impulse buys. But, says Wooldridge, the convenience is unbeatable.

Electronic Explorer appears monthly. Feedback is welcome at Laura.Bly@latimes.com.

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