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Small Ways To Warm A Techie's Heart

Personal Business: Computers


How do you stuff a computer nerd's stocking? You don't have to spend a fortune on software. There are lots of clever, inexpensive gifts at the corner computer store, perfect for your favorite technoid.

Nerds love making lists, so consider a daily planner on a disk. For about $50, you can get Far Side or Cathy versions, with a new cartoon every day, or the sports edition of Trivial Pursuit, which keeps a tally of your score throughout the year. Annual refills ($25) are available directly from Amaze, in Kirkland, Wash. (800 395-1546).

Screen savers are even more entertaining. Today's computers don't need them to prevent burned-in images, but we've gotten used to seeing those meaningless graphics on our idle screens. The classic screen saver is Berkeley Systems' After Dark ($35), whose flying toasters also adorn a line of T-shirts ($11) and 100% polyester neckties ($18). Now, Berkeley has come up with StarTrek: The Screen Saver ($40). You can cover your screen with fuzzy Tribbles, let Mr. Spock use his phaser, or hear Dr. McCoy intone "He's dead, Jim." Buy it at an Egghead Discount Software store and get After Dark for $10. Both work on the Mac and on pcs with Windows; the sound system is built in.

The year's big new category is sound. The Mac has always had it, but Windows 3.1 makes it possible on the pc. Now, even without an expensive sound card, your PC's beeper can make outrageous noises. Good starter kits are Aristosoft's Wired for Sound ($25) and Moon Valley Software's Icon Hear-It ($35). Both let you attach sounds to keystrokes: You can, say, make the backspace key pronounce "uh-oh." Another package, Mr. Sound fx ($18), features the genius of Michael Winslow, who made those incredible mechanical, biological, and supernatural noises for the Police Academy movies.

Amusing accessories include a huge variety of mouse covers and holders ($5-$20), some of which look like cats. There are mouse pads that change color when you touch them; others are transparent so you can stuff them with family photos. A more practical idea is the mouse wrist pad ($8), which moves with the mouse and keeps your wrist from tiring out. Another hit is the disk wallet ($12), to store floppies in transit.

And for those who never want to log off, there are SpreadSheets: blue- and white-lined computer paper executed in 180-count cotton percale ($46). They're available at Boston's Computer Museum (617 426-2800), along with more mundane items such as diskette coasters ($15) or printed-circuit-board memo pads ($36). True believers might enjoy a membership ($35), which affords the recipient free admission and a 10% discount at the museum store. And that, of course, furthers the cause of nerddom.Larry Armstrong Edited by JOAN WARNER

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