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Cutting Edge

FLASH: snoop-proof and wire-free

Losing a laptop is bad enough, but knowing some stranger is pawing through your personal and work files is often worse. You can thwart the thief though with a smart-card reader, like the one built into Acer's new TravelMate 350TE. The reader can restrict access to the card-holder alone. And when the 350TE isn't being pilfered, it's got a couple of other tricks — like technology that allows wireless connections to other networked computers. With a hardware upgrade due out in a few months, it will also be able to use Bluetooth wireless technology to communicate with other Bluetooth-enabled devices like printers and mobile phones. Those are scarce now, but expect more next year.

SMART CARDS: Getting Carded in Hong Kong

There's nothing like a holiday at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border to make you long for the lines at the tax office. With 250,000 people passing the checkpoint every day, the immigration queues often resemble giant human traffic jams. The Hong Kong government wants to speed things up and make it harder to forge identity documents by issuing new smart identity cards to residents. The cards would store basic personal data, a photograph and a fingerprint on a microchip, as well as optional information like a driver's license number, library card or digital certificates. Residents would be able to cross the border by swiping their cards through a reader. Malaysia has already begun installing microchips in passports, but critics fear privacy abuses. Although Hong Kong's secretary for security promises that data will not be shared among different government departments nor with Beijing, the territory's privacy commissioner says he will monitor the program closely. The proposal is under public consultation until Nov. 30, and could be phased in beginning in 2003.

GADGETS: Show Your True Colors

They say love is blind. Yeah, right — try telling the guy who can't distinguish red from green while he's dressing for a first date. Color blindness affects 7% of the male population — 20 times more men than women. But Japan's Hokkei Industry has a handheld device called Color Talk that can help. Point it at a garment and it tells you the color — up to 220 different hues. Color Talk is only available in Japanese right now, but other language versions are planned. After that, it's up to you whether to wear a chartreuse shirt with persimmon pants for your rendezvous. Sadly, some men — no matter how good this gizmo — will always be in the dark when it comes to fashion.

MP3: The Latest Legal Buzz

The CD has just taken a step closer to the grave, even while a few stragglers are still clinging to cassette tapes. International publisher EMI has agreed to make its entire music catalog, including artists like the Spice Girls and Faye Wong, legally available on Singapore-based music website It's the first such deal for an online Asian music retailer. Encrypted digital tracks will sell for between $1 and $2.50. Once you download them, you can play them on your computer or portable player, but not on anyone else's.

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