Neat Gadgets to Drool Over
A child tracker, CD-ROM changer and autofocus binoculars are among the 14 choices
MINOLTA COMPACT AUTOFOCUS BINOCULARS ($399). Nature lovers, sports fans, concertgoers--binoculars are often required gear for individuals who fall into those groups. But binoculars can be bulky, and compact models often fall short when it comes to magnification, brightness and image clarity. The new Minolta AF 10--sold by some dealers for as little as $200 to $225--wins praise for its sharp, bright images in a stylish, easy-to-handle design, weighs a modest 14 ounces and is only about 4 1/2 inches in length. Eyeglass wearers should appreciate that they can easily sharpen the focus without wearing their glasses. But what particularly sets these 10-power binoculars apart--and contributes to their relatively high cost--is an automatic focusing system, powered by a small lithium battery. Two round buttons on top of the binoculars--as well as focusing adjustments on both lenses--manually set the initial focus. After that, if the view becomes fuzzy because the distance to the subject changes, a push of a button snaps the image back into focus. To stay focused on a moving object, you hold the button down so that the binoculars will make continual adjustments. Using the binoculars takes some practice, since the autofocus works best when the initial manual focus is meticulously done. And when viewing through obstructions--say, zeroing in on a bird behind a leafy branch--it takes finesse to aim so the autofocus doesn't lock on the wrong object. Sometimes you may have to resort to manual focusing.
TEIFOC BRICK KIT ($34 to $110). Remember The Three Little Pigs? If you were the third little pig--the prudent one--and were very little, you might build a charming, wolfproof house from this kit of tiny clay bricks and assorted trappings. But human beings, too, will have a wonderful time fashioning imaginative structures, messily deploying a miniature trowel to butter the little bricks with mortar mixed from scratch like the real stuff. Doors and windows that open, a garden gate and roofing tiles the size of a child's fingernail add verisimilitude. The kits are made in Spain. The instructions, supplied in seven languages, are so terse as to be almost useless and the English translation strictly for laughs ("The wooden and plastic parts can be sticked also with this cement"). But so what? Use your imagination. If you hate what you make, soak the whole thing in water. The mortar dissolves and you can start over. In the United States, Teifoc kits are sold only through Tenzing & Pema, an upscale Manhattan toy store, (212) 288-8780 (shipping is $6 to $15, depending on distance and the particular kit ordered). Three kits, plus extra bricks, mortar and windows, are available that yield homes from cottage- to near mansion-size. And you don't have to sweat the effect of rising interest rates on your ability to afford one.