We generally focus on the world of the Macintosh, but if there's one thing that sets a Mac user apart, it's an interest in the outside world. As in previous years, the suggestions we've garnered in this category, well, defy categorization. Read on, then, for ideas that are absolutely safe for anyone, whether or not they use a Mac, and if you want to provide any feedback after the fact, TidBITS Talk is waiting.
Garden of Eatin' -- Our readers tended to assume that any Mac-minded giftee would be happy to receive a kitchen contraption, and we agree. Let's face it: Mac people are food people. You know what we're talking about. They don't call those Aqua buttons "lickable" for nothing!
Marilyn Matty weighed in (hmm, maybe that's not a very felicitous expression in this context) with the Cup-A-Cake cupcake holder, which she called "a marvel of outstanding design, engineering and market need assessment" - in other words, it's Mac-like! "Any standard sized cupcake will fit, and it allows for a generous amount of icing (my favorite part), and will remain unsmeared, uncrumbled, unsquished, and unsquashed - even if the cupcakes are stacked or squeezed into overstuffed bags. You can even store your cupcakes upside down or sideways (though if the frosting is very creamy, it might spread a little)." Who knew that cupcake storage was such a major problem? For just $3 each, it's a great stocking stuffer. And for good measure, Marilyn provided not one, not two, but three cupcake-related recipes so you can stuff that stuffer.
To wash down those cupcakes, Kevin van Haaren recommended Kade's Coffee, where they roast your order just before sending it out. He particularly praised the $12.25-per-pound Tanzanian Peaberry. We hope that's not one of those coffees that's pre-digested by small animals.
Alex Hoffman noted Amco's excellent citrus squeezers, color-coded according to size and citrus type (orange for oranges, green for limes, and yellow for lemons). He added: "They are incredibly quick to use, cost between $16 and $18 and, according to Cooks Illustrated, get at least as much juice as any other method (roughly twice as much as hand squeezing)."
And speaking of colors in the kitchen, Alex also pointed out this high-tech, instant-read digital food thermometer from ThermoWorks, the Thermapen. Its colors are not meaningful, but there plenty of choices; at these prices ($85) you wonder why they don't offer free name engraving as well.
Let There Be (Green) Light -- Mac users are civic-minded and technologically savvy, so while you're thinking about spending money this holiday season, you might want to put some into saving energy. Andrew Laurence pointed out that compact fluorescent light bulbs utilize a fraction of the energy of incandescent bulbs of equal brightness; they cost more up front, making them something that many people would have trouble buying for themselves, but the energy savings can be dramatic. (Although we've purchased compact fluorescents only from local stores, Bulbs.com and Lightbulbdirect.com both appear to have decent Web sites and competitive pricing.) Styles are getting better and better; they now come in traditional bulb shapes, and some are even suitable for dimmer and 3-way applications. Kevin van Haaren acknowledged that compact fluorescents have reduced his house's energy usage, but said that he dislikes the light (too dim, too yellow). An alternative for places where relatively low light is appropriate, he noted, might be LED bulbs from ThinkGeek; lighting sites like SuperBrightLEDs.com and BestHomeLEDLighting.com may have wider selection and better pricing.
Music Hath Charms -- Music and music-related products have always been a popular category in the TidBITS gift-giving roundup, and never more so now that the iPod is part of the Apple line-up. Marilyn Matty observed that, for the person who has everything, you can actually get outerwear and backpacks with integrated iPod controls.
Marilyn also added her vote for some real music, recommending The Cat Carol as sung by Meryn Cadell. "Though it's sad, and has yet to leave a dry eye among those I've shared it with, it is a beautiful message about sharing and charity that's appropriate even for non-animal lovers of all ages."
Chris Hutcheson suggested Graham Howes's new jazz Christmas CD, featuring "eleven unique treatments, including some seasonal songs, a few carols, and an original. The five musicians on This Quiet Night include Mike Murley on sax and Neil Swainson on bass, both of whom are internationally regarded." Chris added there there was even a Mac tie-in: he mastered the recording on his Mac.
Car 54, Where Are You? Stephen Keese wrote in to recommend Garmin's Nuvi 350 automotive GPS, favored by himself and some friends in the real-estate business. "It is small (almost pocket size), well designed, easy to operate, read, and understand, and speaks clearly. It has a suction cup mount and lasts for several hours before needing to be recharged. It has MP3 capability but none of us use it. We've found refurbished devices for around $500 on the Internet." Needless to say, if you're considering a Nuvi, be sure to check out Adam's reviews of other GPS car navigation devices.
Fun and Board Games -- For those who have forgotten, before there were computer games, a "game" was something played in the real, tangible, physical world. Intriguing board games always make good gifts, and Jean MacDonald wrote in about a fascinating new one called Blokus, to which she's recently become addicted. The pieces are regular combinations of up to five squares, and the idea is simply to touch your pieces to one another, corner to corner, starting at your corner of the 20x20 board, in such a way as to play all your pieces or block your opponent, who is doing the same thing. Up to four people can play at once. Jean added: "The pieces are high-quality clear plastic in four different colors, so the finished game makes interesting patterns. It's simple to learn, but endlessly challenging."
Games are also at the heart of this year's charity giving suggestion, from Kevin van Haaren. Kevin recommended Child's Play, a movement to counter the negative media image of gamers by donating to children's wards in hospitals. You can order directly from an Amazon wish list set up by a particular hospital, or you can send money (none of which is diverted to the charity's administrative costs).
Roll Your Own -- Mac users "think different," so they like to make up their own minds. For those of you who just want to be left alone to form your own choices, our readers recommended some interesting guides and catalogs. Marilyn Matty told us where you can learn to dress your giftee like a Mac. That's like the Mac in Apple's TV ads, not like a Mac for Halloween.
Kevin van Haaren liked Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, featuring tools people have found useful in their job or hobbies; American Science and Surplus, which features "lots of sciency-type things like beakers and flasks, but also very weird things like the 'nun chuck' (a hand catapult that flings a little nun doll)"; and, of course, good old ThinkGeek, for gifts with an obviously computer-related theme.