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2001 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-minded

We're constantly struck by the intellectual breadth of the Macintosh community and the TidBITS readership in particular. It doesn't take much more than an offhand comment in TidBITS to spur a private discussion about the role of computers in schools, the relative merits of specific HEPA air filters, or the history of copyright law.

That's why we're never surprised at the holiday gift suggestions we receive that aren't related to the Mac or even to computers, necessarily, but which seem to be the sorts of things that appeal to those of us who have chosen to use the Mac. In addition, suggestions from previous years are often still relevant in this category in particular. And of course, if you'd like to see the full TidBITS Talk discussions from this year and the last two, they sometimes provide more details than we had room for in the final articles.

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TiVo! Andrew Laurence, a vocal TiVo proponent on TidBITS Talk and the author of our two-part review of the TiVo hardware and service, offered this suggestion, surprising absolutely no one. He wrote, "TiVo is a great gift for any household with a television, but expensive if you want it to include lifetime service so it would be a complete gift. Recorders are available at a variety of home electronics-type stores, as well as Amazon and other online retailers. Current deals include a 30-hour Philips unit from Sears for $200 on close-out, a 30-hour Sony unit direct from TiVo for $250 (shipping included), and a 40-hour AT&T-branded unit direct from AT&T/TiVo for $300. (This last one is the box being sold/marketed to AT&T cable customers, but it's really a regular stand-alone TiVo recorder that works with antenna, cable or satellite. You can buy from the Web site even if you're not an AT&T cable customer.) The TiVo service costs $10 per month, or $250 for the lifetime of the recorder."


Although no one else commented in the TidBITS Talk suggestions, this is where the ReplayTV buffs generally jump in and make the case for the ReplayTV being an equal or superior digital video recorder. (The recent release of the ReplayTV 4000, which offers additional features for broadband users, is sure to spark more competition; the devices appear to be trickling to users now.) We strongly suspect that the differences are mostly a matter of personal preference, and we refuse to let this TiVo versus ReplayTV discussion turn into anything resembling the Mac versus PC religious wars. Suffice to say, a digital video recorder like the TiVo or ReplayTV will give you almost complete control over the television you choose to watch. Now if only the TiVo could convince the local Time Warner franchise to carry a station with reruns of the old Muppet Show...


Mac Tourism -- Mike Calmus suggested something that would undoubtedly be a major treat for someone who's never been. "How about airfare, lodging, and an all-access pass to Macworld Expo San Francisco in January?" Also consider Macworld New York next July, since it may be a bit late to get inexpensive plane tickets and hotel rooms for the San Francisco show at this late date.


The Ultimate Macintosh Travel Gift -- Adam here. With all due respect to Mike's suggestion above, I've been to Macworld Expo twice a year for almost every year since 1992. There's no question that Macworld is a good time, and I'd certainly recommend that anyone who enjoys watching the Macintosh world turn should attend at some point. But there's an event coming up in 2002 that I think will make walking the floor at Macworld Expo seem like hard labor in the mines. It's Mac Mania, the first (hopefully annual) Macintosh-specific cruise to Alaska put on by Geek Cruises, a company that specializes in holding high-tech conferences aboard cruise ships. Basically, Geek Cruises organizes a conference that will occupy three at-sea days out of a seven day cruise, attracts the best speakers (who fight for the chance to attend), and reserves about half the rooms on a standard cruise ship for like-minded geeks.

The Mac Mania cruise to Alaska's Inside Passage, starting 27-May-02, will be my first, but a number of friends have spoken aboard other cruises in the past and say they're more fun than should be legal. Along with the three days of conferences, there are four days of straight vacation, but with all sorts of other Mac geeks around. I'll be speaking, of course, and Tonya and Tristan will be coming too (Geek Cruises encourages families to attend; there will be lots of non-geeks aboard as well, with plenty of non-geek entertainment, and the cruise ships are reportedly kid-friendly). Other speakers whose names are probably familiar from TidBITS and TidBITS Talk include Glenn Fleishman, Tom Negrino, Dori Smith, and Jason Snell. Rounding out the roster are David Pogue, Bob LeVitus, Andy Gore, Deke McClelland, Sal Soghoian, Rick LePage, David Biedny, Jesse Feiler, Ben Long, Randal Schwartz, Daniel Steinberg, and, in case none of the rest of us are a sufficient draw, actor John de Lancie (Star Trek's "Q") and Steve Wozniak himself will also be speaking.

I won't pretend Mac Mania is cheap. The conference costs $600, the rooms range between $1,050 and $1,900 per person, and you'll need to factor in airfare to Vancouver, Canada. That sounds steep, but when you consider that a full pass to Macworld Expo can cost $1,500 and hotel rooms in major cities regularly run $200 per night, the Geek Cruise is comparable for two people and includes a several-day vacation. Besides, how many glaciers can you see in San Francisco or New York?

I can't tell you how much we're looking forward to Mac Mania, and I'd certainly love to have a number of TidBITS readers on board as well. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't get any kickbacks from signups. So if you're starting to think about next year's vacation, Mac Mania might be just the ticket.


From Behemoth to Microship -- There are people who march (or in this case, pedal) the beat of a different drummer, and if you or anyone you know is fascinated by the lives of said people, a fabulous gift would be Steven Roberts's self-published book From Behemoth to Microship. You've probably heard of Steve at some point - he's the "technomad" who biked over 16,000 miles around the U.S. on a succession of recumbent bikes outfitted with an increasingly insane amount of computer and communications gear. His current project, with his wife Natasha Clarke, is a pair of custom-built micro-trimarans powered by sail, pedals, and solar, and laden with even more computer and communication gear than before (plus a spot for their cat in one of the boats). Steve's a serious Mac-head and uber-geek, making the stories he tells in From Behemoth to Microship tremendously enjoyable. Signed copies of the book cost $15 plus $3.50 shipping, and we know (from having visited Steve and Natasha one beautiful weekend day on Camano Island before moving back to Ithaca), that sales of the book will make a real difference in the Microship project.


Think of Others -- We were pleased to see the number of people who suggested that the best gifts during the holiday season are made via charities to worthy causes or to those people in need. Derrick Yamaura led off the suggestions: "During the holiday season, I tend to donate money and goods to charitable organizations. Last year, I gave to the Union Gospel Mission, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Burnaby General Hospital Foundation. I will donate to these associations again this year. I hope that other TidBITS readers will find it in their hearts to support charitable organizations in their local areas, or perhaps to give support to organizations that are providing services and relief to those affected by the events of September 11th."

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In response to Derrick's suggestion, Adam commented, "My family has also increasingly started to make charitable donations as gifts. My favorite organization along these lines is Heifer International, which gives animals to needy third-world people. The animals can provide food, income, offspring, and even better, Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal's offspring to another needy family. What I like about this approach is that it gives families renewable resources they can use to improve their lives. And it certainly doesn't hurt that I grew up on a farm and have an appreciation for what animals make possible."


After that suggestion, Andrew Cohen expanded on the idea. "In fact, Heifer International just launched a mini site for this holiday season explaining the impact of alternative giving. There are several success stories on the site. Each includes a photo gallery which helps tell the family's story."


Naomi Pearce chimed in, "Glide Memorial in San Francisco does some amazing and practical work; they really know how to stretch a buck. Like Heifer International, when you give to them in someone else's name, they translate the dollar amount into what it buys instead of stating a number. It feels way less tacky. So, for example a $10 donation becomes "holiday meals for a family of four," or $25 is "a winter coat for a disadvantaged child," or $75 buys "fifteen blankets for homeless families."


For those looking to combine charitable giving with support for the Macintosh community, consider a tax-deductible donation to Info-Mac, the venerable archive of freely distributable Macintosh software. Info-Mac needs the funds to bring its utterly ancient hardware up to date and pay for domain registration fees and other organizational expenses.


Finally, Johann Beda offered a higher level view of charitable giving via the Internet. "It is possible to donate online to most registered charities in the U.S. and in Canada through Web sites that take care of all the transactions, even for charities with no Web presence. There are probably similar places for other countries, and similar Web sites for the U.S. and Canada as well, but the ones I know of are Network for Good in the U.S. (no fees or charges) and CanadaHelps (less than 2 percent fees, which is probably about as good as any credit card donation directly to the charity's phone number). These sites also have information about volunteering and other charitable giving resources.


"They work by taking the money online from the donor and then sending a cheque to the charity's address of record. If you are involved in a charity, it might be worthwhile to register with these Web sites to allow for faster money transfers (direct deposit and that sort of thing) and Web links to the charity's site, as well as filling in additional information beyond the info that they have from their use of whatever charity registry databank they get their information from. You can find online charity 'portal' listings at these sites."

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