Last year we joked about how Apple must have built a subliminal message into the iPod: "Buy more iPod stuff," the voice would whisper. The voice apparently hasn't shut up, since quite a few of our reader suggestions are for products to protect or enhance your iPod. Laptop users aren't ignored, though, so read on for a slew of great ideas (and as before, don't ignore previous years' suggestions!).
Tunes on the Road -- Wires, wires, everywhere! There is a better way. Roger Adams plans to present his daughter with a Griffin RoadTrip ($80) "so she can listen to her iPod without all the wires that normally clutter the car when she drives to work. It's a great addition to the iPod and one that I have myself and use during the 65 km drive to my office here in Bangkok, Thailand."
Andy J. W. Affleck recommended another Griffin product for listening to an iPod in the car: the Griffin iTrip ($35, reviewed in "Taking an iTrip: Three FM Transmitters" in TidBITS-681). "I got one during the Apple Store one-day sale and it's excellent. Although it's annoying to change stations while driving (so much so that it's best to pull over to do it), which makes it a bit of a pain on long trips where you pass through multiple metropolitan areas and need to change frequencies."
I Need More Power, Scotty! Apple puts a lot of effort into long battery life on the iPod, but the simple fact is that if you're using it a lot, it's going to run out of juice eventually. For people with regularly drain iPods, Tony D'Emanuele recommended the Solio, a backup battery system that can recharge itself from an electric outlet or via its integrated solar panels. The Solio can also recharge a host of other battery-powered mobile electronic devices with additional tips (not included). It's apparently available only from UK distributors for about 50 pounds (US$95) at the moment, but perhaps one of them will ship to other parts of the world (be sure to verify that you can plug it in your area).
Protect that iPod! Of course, practicality should be foremost in your mind when looking for an iPod case, but since we are talking about an iPod, style can't be ignored, and Marilyn Matty certainly isn't one to ignore either aspect. She wrote, "There are many high-fashion gift-giving options available this holiday season for the iPod-minded. Though I do have a pair or two of Manolos and Jimmy Choos mixed in with shoes from the 9 West Outlet in my closet, as well as Furla, Coach, and Kate Spade bags, I am totally horrified at the price points, design, and overall tackiness of premium iPod carriers. In addition to not liking to wear someone else's initials, I can't see paying $200 for a Gucci iPod case that forces you to remove the iPod to access the display and controls, and I'm equally shocked by the $220 Dior Black Tie version.
"As someone who had to give up knitting and crocheting years ago due to carpal tunnel syndrome (I had to choose between crafts or the computer), I was appalled by the $30 cost of the tacky, machine-knitted-in-what-looks-to-be-cheapo-acrylic-yarn iPod Socks that Geoff mentioned in a recent issue:
"The materials to knit an iPod Sock would cost pennies, and it doesn't even involve making much of a pattern, since you won't see the controls or display when your iPod is covered. It would take minutes and cost about a dollar or two as most for ultra premium yarn. Even the most inexperienced knitter or crocheter could easily craft a beautiful, stylish, and functional carrier that would keep your iPod snuggly warm in inclement weather. And there is a chance, however remote, that your design might be featured on a runway at Fashion Week or on display at a design museum.
"Before I hauled out my old needles and yarn, I did a quick search and found that other fashionistas and craftistas have come up with a number of attractive designs with easy-to-make patterns - some have attached arm or wrist bands, pockets for earbuds, etc. Best yet, all patterns are easily customizable. And you can easily whip together coordinates to tie in your iPod to outfits with covers for your earphones, as well as scarves, hats, wristlets, ponchos, wraps, and any number of other chi-chi items.
"There is a veritable iPod fashion show in the eight pages of comments and links to patterns for iPod cozies on the following URL's bulletin board - all of them can by easily slimmed down for iPod minis by trimming off a few stitches on each end of the pattern. Some of them have pockets on the back to store earbuds, and other handy features.
"Not inclined to knitting and don't know anyone you can convince? I did find two pre-built knit iPod covers that are useful, fashionable, and reasonably priced ($24): C. Ronson's iPod hoodie and the Chuckles iPod cozy ($18).
"For those who want to learn to knit, or want to encourage someone to do so, there are free instructions and online videos here."
iPod (and iBook) Decorations -- Tired of Apple's white-on-white color scheme? You have options for customizing your iPod. Josh Rafofsky wrote, "Here's a unique accessory that's sure to tickle the fancy of your favorite iPod owner. The iPoDonut is a glow-in-the-dark sticker that illuminates your click-wheel. You can choose from an assortment of cool designs, and the envelope it arrives in from Japan is quite charming. This sticker is a tad pricey at $10, but that does include shipping to anywhere in the world. According to the FAQ: 'The iPoDonut is made from silicon, so it will not leave any sticky residue on the surface of your iPod's touch wheel.' The FAQ also mentions that the iPoDonut 'is not edible.'" In case you were wondering.
Marilyn Matty offered another idea. "Know anyone who's a little bored at having the same old iPod like everyone else? Hewlett-Packard has a $15 Tattoo system that can give a fourth-generation iPod a customized makeover. It's only $15 per Tattoo for the kits that include 10 sheets of the adhesive skins, each of which lasts about a month. Intrepid do-it-yourselfers can risk printing out and pasting direct from the PDFs. I personally prefer the unadorned, classic pearl white look, but I suspect my 14-year-old nephew might like a Tattoo. I might throw one in with the knitted iPod covers I'll be making."
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Tomoharu Nishino pointed at a different option. "If you want something that doesn't leave the corners exposed like the HP Tattoos and don't think the slight increase in bulk will be an issue (as well as cost - $30 for matching front and back), check out PodSkinz. The patterns are somewhat limited, but you might find one that someone on your list would like.
"And if you want to go all out, you can do roughly the same thing for an iBook with a custom painted lid from Painted Bytes ($140). You can either mail your laptop to them in Maryland or install the new lid yourself, but note that installation will void your warranty unless performed by an Apple-authorized technician. Personally, I'm not too keen on the art that the various artists have come up with, but the solid color options they offer might be just the ticket to hide those scratches that are starting to become visible on my mother-in-law's iBook. Heck, if you are the creative type, you could even order an unpainted iBook case from them ($70), and paint an unique iBook shell for that special someone."
Conquer Cable Clutter -- If your laptop bag is anything like ours, you have phone and Ethernet cables snaking around in the bottom, probably doing unspeakable things with the FireWire cable. If you'd like to tame the cable beasts, check out Nik Friedman's suggestion. "The RoadWired CORDZ Multi-Connection Survival Tool is an excellent little package of gadgetry for $25. Basically, it's a spooled Ethernet/phone cord with a variety of extra connectors to share a connection or create a crossover cable for connecting two computers. Great for the road warrior or Internet cafe addict."
If the cables that cause you conniptions are your iPod earbuds, Jeff Carlson offered another solution. "I've been meaning to write about the Sumajin Smartwrap ($5) for a while, but I don't have much to say besides: cool! It's a silicon rubber, peanut-shaped bit of industrial design simplicity that you wrap your iPod (or other headset) cord around to keep it from getting tangled. It's great for wrapping and storing my earbuds in my bag without having to fight and untangle the thing each time I want to listen to tunes."
Protect that PowerBook! Nik Friedman piped up with a suggestion that would be appropriate for any laptop user. "How about a nice backpack that can lug around their laptop? Or maybe a computer sleeve and a nice strap for it? Or maybe they're more the briefcase type? Nothing says 'I care about your PowerBook' more than a Tom Bihn backpack or case and Brain Cell or Monolith laptop sleeve/insert. They're excellently made (hand stitched in the USA), there's a variety of products at different sizes and prices, and they're even somewhat customizable.
"Add to that a Snake Charmer cable bag and your favorite PowerBooker will be all set. Personally, I have a Brain Cell (size 5 for my 12-inch PowerBook) and a Brain Bag with a Snake Charmer and a Freudian Slip insert (sort of a backpack-mounted filing cabinet). Great for getting to work/class/everywhere else. My wife has a similar setup, plus a large Cafe bag which is her favorite purse ever. (And she's owned a lot.) Can't say enough good things about the company."
Andrew Laurence recommended another brand. "For the laptop user who demands the very best conveyance for his/her Mac, look no further than Brenthaven. Their cases, packs, and luggage are marvels in strength, durability, and attention to detail. Shoulder straps are padded and contoured, and their backpacks feature an iPod slot and cord route for the earphones. The company started in backpacking, and the knowledge of engineering for 'human as pack mule' shows. Apple's Professional cases are made by Brenthaven."
Lorin Rivers suggested a different way of protecting your PowerBook. "I am a big fan of Vix's TiArmor line of protection products. They are die-cut clear urethane shields for the palm rest area (and elsewhere) that protect the finish of TiBooks and AlBooks ($14 to $30). After the beating my caustic skin dealt my TiBook, this is one of the first products I bought for my new AlBook."
Other protection ideas come from James Ray and Keith Dawson. James wrote, "I love my iBook's Radio Shack rubber feet! They are Archer Cat. No. 64-2342 self-sticking heavy-duty cushion feet, and they come eight to a package for $2.19. (I like sticking on more than just 4, for stability and to keep the thing up out of carpets.) The only trick with these feet is to peel first to let them cure in the air for about a minute while you use alcohol to clean (on a molecular level!) the spot on your notebook to which you're going to apply them. I've used these on four Apple notebooks so far, and they're the first thing I buy when I get a new one."
Keith also recommended little rubber cushions, but for your laptop's screen, rather than the bottom. "RadTech Wildeepz are tiny neoprene stick-on cushions that you place in strategic spots around your iBook or PowerBook screen bezel. With Wildeepz in place, a closed laptop feels much more solidly closed. When I bought my set eight months ago, printed instructions were included showing where to place the cushions for each laptop type. Now RadTech has downloadable graphics (zipped GIFs) that, when opened in Preview in Full Screen mode, show clearly where to place the little beasts. Brill! $12 to $16 depending on laptop model."
He continued. "Plus, the Marware keyboard cover protects your iBook or PowerBook screen, when closed, from whatever has accumulated on your keyboard. The cover doubles as a screen-cleaning cloth. $7."
Pockets Galore -- Just carrying all your geek gear can be a chore these days, but Miraz Jordan suggested a completely different solution. "By the time you've gathered your iPod and accessories, cell phone, digital camera, keys, sunglasses, cash, plastic cards, and all the other paraphernalia of stepping outside the front door you're about ready to order the extra large backpack. Or you could pick up a clothing item from Scott eVest.
"This technology-enabled clothing has pockets beyond count, but is designed in a way to make the pocket contents invisible, rather than hanging out as bulges and lumps. There's even a pocket sized to hold a small laptop!
"I've recently received a fleece jacket ($130) and the cargo pants ($110) and am still finding all the pockets. The clothing is well made and very comfortable. Magnetic closures, zips and deep pockets keep all your stuff from falling out. Special channels in the clothing allow you to install your iPod earbuds. The pocket design gives easy access, and yet keeps stuff separated.
"The budget-minded may choose a baseball cap ($20) with secret pockets for a key and credit cards or an older model windshirt ($40). For the big spenders there's the solar system jacket with built-in solar panels ($535). In between are various possibilities.
"The help desk response was efficient, friendly and helpful, but international readers should beware: the quote for shipping to New Zealand was horrifyingly expensive. Although Scott eVest were sympathetic, they gave me a perfectly understandable reason why they couldn't offer a cheaper rate. If you're outside the U.S., find someone in the U.S. who can receive the clothing and send it on."
Keep It Simple, CD -- Although the mix CD we're making for a few people this year will have a snazzy label created with SmileOnMyMac's disclabel application, Brian Wessels wrote in with an idea that's more appropriate for situations where you just want to scrawl a few words on the surface of the CD. "Sometimes the little things delight (or perhaps I just amuse easily). Put a package of CD-R marking pens in someone's stocking, and they never have to worry again about whether or not they're using a CD-safe felt-tip pen. I got a package of four colors, Memorex-branded I think, at K-Mart about a year ago."
Online Identity -- On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog... unless you have your own online identity. You could consider buying someone their own i-name for $25 (good for 50 years; see "Persistence Pays: The Return of XNS" in TidBITS-752 for more details), or, you could go with David Weintraub's more traditional idea. "Last year, I recommended getting someone their own domain name. Since then, two things have happened: the price has dropped, and the .name top-level domain has finally been released. You can register a domain with GoDaddy for less than $10 per year. For that price, you get automatic forwarding to whatever mailbox you're using (heck, they give you over 100 mail forwarding addresses you can use. I've set up email addresses for my entire extended family). For a bit more than $10 per month, they'll actually host your domain. If you're not Smith or Jones, there is still a good chance that the .name domain is still available for your last name."
Although they don't provide registrations of .name domains, we recommend easyDNS in general for domain registration and hosting. They're not the cheapest option, but if reliability is as high on your list as it is on ours, you'll appreciate easyDNS's service.
Store More Pictures -- Digital cameras are great for holding far more pictures than was possible with rolls of film, but memory cards can still fill up at the most inopportune times. If you, or someone you know, runs into that situation, Roy Morita noted that "prices for memory cards seem to keep dropping. A 1 GB CompactFlash or Secure Digital card can be bought for a bit over $50. Digital camera buffs can never have enough memory cards. They will always be appreciated." If you're looking to compare prices on memory cards, try the dealram Web site.
The USB Christmas Tree -- Looking to spruce up your desk during the holiday season? Or perhaps you're just pining for a little holiday cheer? Melanie Watts pointed out that "the USB Christmas Tree is just the thing to bring holiday cheer to your workspace. Just plug it in to any USB port and the glowing LEDs cycle through a number of colours - red, green, purple, white, and light blue - stopping at each colour for about five seconds. It's the perfect gift for the person whose name you drew in the office Christmas exchange." If you're too cool for a tree, there's also a USB snowman, though he cycles through only four colors.