Every year, we receive a number of gift suggestions that are completely unrelated to the Macintosh. But since that matches the incredibly varied interests of our readers, we're happy to go with the flow once again. Suggestions from previous years remain relevant if you're looking for additional unusual ideas.
Let There Be Light -- Our friend Karen Anderson from Seattle made a typically practical suggestion. "The technology gift I'm giving to the ones I love this year is a torchiere lamp with a bright fluorescent bulb. These lamps can replace the halogen torchieres that are popular because of their extreme brightness, but incredibly dangerous because of their high temperatures. (Halogens are also energy hogs; a "bargain" $19 halogen lamp uses about $55 of electricity a year.)
"Though Seattle-area lighting stores seem utterly unaware of it, several companies, including GE, make torchieres with 55- and 60-watt compact fluorescent bulbs that emit light equivalent to that of the 300-watt halogens. After a few hours of research online, I found a reputable Web site that offers fluorescent torchieres in a range of attractive styles and at modest prices. It's Energy Federation Incorporated.
"The lamps start at an affordable $41, and the fluorescent bulbs last several years. All in all, it's much cheaper than replacing the contents of your home or office after a fire!"
TiVo, Yet Again -- We knew someone would be unable to resist suggesting (for the fourth consecutive year!) one of the TiVo digital video recorders that has utterly changed the way we and many of our friends watch television. We weren't disappointed, with Marshall Clow suggesting briefly, "While expensive, I haven't seen a piece of hardware that inspires such fierce loyalty as a TiVo." As Marshall said, TiVos aren't cheap, but TiVo itself is selling a 40-hour unit for $200, which is a good deal, and it can be expanded with an upgrade kit from Weaknees.com. Remember, to use a TiVo, you also need a TiVo subscription, which costs either $13 per month or $250 for the lifetime of your TiVo (most people choose the lifetime option, which pays for itself in less than two years).
Talking Wireless -- If you're looking for a gift for someone who constantly has a Sony Ericsson T68i cell phone clamped to the side of her head, Ken Prager suggested a wireless Bluetooth headset such as the Jabra FreeSpeak. (Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that's primarily useful as a cable replacement at the moment, but we can think of plenty of cables we'd like to replace.)
Tritium-Powered Glow Lights -- Iain Anderson made a fascinating, if geographically limited, gift choice. "An unusual present for science buffs out there in the UK (no exports allowed) are tritium-powered glow lights that will last for ten years without a battery. Why just the UK? Pesky international laws to do with radioactive materials, though apparently these are safe enough. Oh, and they come in five fruity colours." We don't suggest licking them.
Chaos Tower -- We've been accused of setting up Rube Goldberg servers in the past, what with our reliance on HyperCard and AppleScript to bolt together a wide variety of elderly programs. Now we might have to try it in the real world, with William Ansley's idea. "Here is a toy for any Rube Goldberg fan, people who want to have some intelligent fun, or a child you're hoping to lure away from a video screen. Called the Chaos Tower, it's a ball track kit that allows you to build a framework holding a track layout for balls to run down to the bottom, where they are lifted back up to the top by a chain bucket mechanism powered by a motor. On the way down, the balls can bounce off trampolines, ring bells or play a xylophone key, perform loop-de-loops, swirl around a vortex funnel, and activate either of two different track switching mechanisms. The toy comes with an HTML-based Learning CD-ROM that teaches children concepts in physics using various layouts of the toy as examples.
"The kit is expensive at about $125, but it's huge and extremely sturdy. You get enough pieces to make a six foot high tower. I just bought one of these for myself (I have never grown up) and like it so much I am going to buy another so I can make a mega Chaos Tower."
Musini -- Another innovative toy suggestion came from Marilyn Matty, who admits it might not be popular if you have downstairs neighbors. "Although it isn't the most difficult thing in the world to inspire little children to jump up and down, Neurosmith's Musini is a unique gift that will get the youngest (age 3 and up) making music while they boogie.
"The Musini is a music player keyed to a motion detector that responds to vibrations in the floor by changing the tempo and pattern of the music. Just select a genre (Latin, nursery rhymes, classical, jazz, etc.) and make any changes in combinations of instruments. Expansion cartridges of other types of music are available. Every movement creates a unique sound, so the combinations that can be made by one or more kids are endless. It lists for $70 at the company's Web site, but I found it for less than $50 at KBtoys.com, so it pays to shop around."
Mooory Christmas -- It often seems as though we have too many things, stuff that occupies our houses, requires care and maintenance, and generally takes up space in our lives. Rather than feed the stuff habit this year, Theresa Freilicher proposed a donation to an extremely worthy organization we've supported in the past, Heifer International, which gives animals to needy third-world people. The animals may provide income, food, and offspring, and Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal's offspring to another needy family. Theresa wrote, "Donating to charity in lieu of physical gifts seems to be developing into a tradition among my friends. Last year, I requested no gifts, but rather a donation to Heifer International. My friends took me literally and donated a heifer. A number of them liked the idea so much they started requesting the same from their friends. Then it caught on among their colleagues at work, and now Heifer International has reached charity function status here in Washington, D.C."
First Christmas, Then Easter -- Part of the appeal of Heifer International is that giving a duck or a pig has more emotional impact than simply donating money. Andrew Cohen suggested donating to another organization, Easter Seals, that is translating contributions into the real world. Andrew wrote, "Easter Seals is inviting people to 'give the gift that changes lives to someone who changed yours.' Their gifts are special in that each gift supports one of their services to people with disabilities. For example, the Gift of Inspiration supports physical rehabilitation, the Gift of Laughter supports child care programs, and the Gift of Opportunity supports job training. These are creative ways to honor a friend or relative who changed your life in some way. Perhaps you want to honor your boss with the Gift of Opportunity for giving you a chance this year. Or maybe you are a college student who wants to give the Gift of Independence to your parents who helped you learn to make it on your own. Or the Gift of Adventure could go to someone with whom you shared an exciting trip. You get the idea. Each gift has an accompanying postcard you can email or print for the gift recipient."
Think Green -- In response to Theresa's suggestion of a donation to Heifer International, Kevin van Haaren commented, "If you're donating for a friend who happens to be a vegetarian, a less meat oriented charity like Second Harvest might be a bit more welcome."