Open a Finder Window with the App Switcher
If you don't have any Finder windows open and want to switch to the Finder and open a window in one fell swoop, bring up the app switcher with Command-Tab and tab over to the Finder icon. While still holding down Command, press the Option key, and then release the Command key. You're switched to the Finder, with a new default window open for you.
Other articles in the series Gifts for the Mac-Minded
- 2006 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-Minded (07 Dec 06)
- 2005 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-Minded (09 Dec 05)
- 2004 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-Minded (09 Dec 04)
- 2003 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-minded (11 Dec 03)
- 2001 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-minded (13 Dec 01)
- 2000 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-Minded (13 Dec 00)
- 1999 Gift Ideas for the Macintosh-Minded (14 Dec 99)
Happy Holidays! We're pleased to continue our tradition of offering end-of-year gift suggestions from the TidBITS community. If you're still on the hunt for that perfect gift for your Macintosh-using friends and relatives, read on for hardware, software, and a host of miscellaneous ideas, some of which are appropriate for anyone, whether or not they use a Mac. (Of course, feel free to tack a few items onto your own list, too!)
In an industry where everything changes constantly, it's good to have a few traditions, and one of ours is this annual double-size gift issue. Filled with numerous gift suggestions from TidBITS readers, it's safe to say that there's something for everyone here, even if they're not a Mac userShow full article
In an industry where everything changes constantly, it's good to have a few traditions, and one of ours is this annual double-size gift issue. Filled with numerous gift suggestions from TidBITS readers, it's safe to say that there's something for everyone here, even if they're not a Mac user. No matter what holidays you may (or may not) celebrate, we hope these suggestions will help you bring joy to others in a tangible way. Though they're even more important, the intangibles are up to you.
Before we jump into the full list of suggestions, there are a few gift ideas that also support TidBITS. Gift subscriptions are free, easy, and provide top-notch reading every week without imposing more paper on anyone. Before you use our subscription Web page to sign someone up, however, make sure they know you're going to do it so the confirmation message doesn't take them by surprise.
If you're looking for a computer book, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and I have all written a number of well-received books on topics like wireless networking, iPhoto, iMovie, Palm handhelds, Adobe GoLive, and REALbasic. Plus, if you follow one of the links on the page below into Amazon and purchase anything else, TidBITS receives a few cents of your purchase as our affiliate cut.
Although we realize it seems unthinkable that anyone remotely related to the Mac industry could need another t-shirt, we also have a wide range of other TidBITS-branded goodies like sweatshirts, mousepads, mugs, hats, and baby clothes available via CafePress. Gift contributions to TidBITS are always welcome, and you can easily make a contribution in someone else's name via our Kagi contributions page. As an added bonus, contributors receive discounts on all the TidBITS goodies.
One powerful way to support TidBITS while you're doing your holiday shopping is to use our sponsors where possible, and to let them know you appreciate their support of our mission. Our current sponsors can definitely be of assistance in finishing off your list: Small Dog Electronics, Bare Bones, Dealmac, and easyDNS. Don't overlook those companies that have helped support our work over the last year either, including MacAcademy, Sustainable Softworks, Weaknees.com, Creo, Now Software, Karelia, Dantz Development, CS Odessa, and APS.
Lastly, my sincere thanks for the primary support that each and every one of you provide throughout the year merely by reading TidBITS. It truly means a lot to us that you devote precious time to our words and our ideas, and we hope that what we write will continue to play an important part in your lives.
We doubt anyone would object to receiving a snazzy new iMac, PowerBook, iBook, or Power Mac as a gift this season (certainly not your humble editors). But this year's hardware gift suggestions focused on peripherals ranging from essential additions (better mice, more storage) to clever spins on mundane devices (a FireWire-breathing thunder lizard). For a few more ideas, be sure to check out past hardware gift suggestions; everything on last year's list would still be welcome to most Mac usersShow full article
We doubt anyone would object to receiving a snazzy new iMac, PowerBook, iBook, or Power Mac as a gift this season (certainly not your humble editors). But this year's hardware gift suggestions focused on peripherals ranging from essential additions (better mice, more storage) to clever spins on mundane devices (a FireWire-breathing thunder lizard).
For a few more ideas, be sure to check out past hardware gift suggestions; everything on last year's list would still be welcome to most Mac users. You can purchase many of these items from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics, a philanthropic-leaning company which includes an option at checkout to match donation amounts to a number of charities. Also, visit another TidBITS sponsor, Dealmac, to find daily hardware deals. Finally, our friends at DevDepot have set up a special page containing many of the items suggested along with some other similar gifts.
Stomp l'Oeil -- We all think of toys at Christmas, computer and otherwise, and Derek Miller highlighted his favorite combination of both. "Many people have whimsical toys atop their desks, but these toys rarely have any real use. So how about FireWire Dino (formerly known as Hubzilla), a FireWire hub that's well, lizardly? I'm not sure if it's available for Christmas, since CharisMac seems to keep selling out of them."
We're hoping to see a horde of Dinos at the holidays, if only because we want to support any company that includes the following disclaimer on its Web site: "Charismac claims no responsibility for broken personal or business related property should FireWire Dino go on a rampage. As always, a clean and fed FireWire Dino results in a happy FireWire Dino."
Expand Your Horizons -- Adding screen real estate to one's computer has traditionally been an expensive proposition, but prices of second (or third, or fourth) monitors have continued to slide downward. CRTs seem slowly to be going the way of 8-track tapes, though if you need color calibration or displays larger than 19 inches, prices can be found below $300. For general purposes, LCDs are now the way to go, with 15-inch models going for between $200 and $250 and 17- and 18-inch LCDs dropping below $500. Chris Pepper pointed out that "the power and space savings over CRTs are significant. I've bumped my old display to secondary status several times after getting new LCDs, and I've been happy each time."
When comparing higher end models, Chris suggested looking for dual inputs (VGA and DVI or two VGA ports) for sharing between computers, USB hubs, and built-in speakers; some monitors also work as TV sets.
In the same spirit, Alpha Walker recommended Dr. Bott's $150 DVIator, a DVI to ADC adapter that enables the use of two Apple Studio Displays with one Power Mac G4. Let the salivating commence.
A Mouse in Every House -- The humble mouse received numerous nods from TidBITS readers, whether for adding a second button, going on the road with a laptop, or cutting the ubiquitous tail connecting it to the computer. Best of all, mice are relatively inexpensive and slip easily into a stocking. David Weintraub said, "In this era of sudden layoffs, how about something light on the old pocketbook like a Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical? The cost is about $25, and it is a two button mouse with a wheel that makes scrolling much easier - great for Mac OS X. What's really neat is that it glows. You can see the red LED through the sides of the mouse."
For PowerBook and iBook owners, Andrew Cohen and Peter Haglich suggested Kensington's PocketMouse Pro, which we reviewed in TidBITS-630. "With a gentle tug," said Andrew, "the cord and USB connector completely retract into the body of the mouse and snap securely behind the cover. The mouse is small and light enough that I keep it in my computer bag at all times and never have remember to pack a mouse. The body of the mouse is large enough that even with my large hands, I can use it comfortably for extended periods. It's a reasonably priced gift at $44."
Kensington also sells a wireless version for $50, though Ben Rubinstein notes a potential snag for frequent travellers: "I've not come across this on a U.S. airline yet, but I was on an Italian airline last month and 'wireless mouse' was included in the welcome video's list of things that may be not used at any time on the flight."
Back on the ground, but not for long apparently, Don Foy recently bought a Gyration Ultra Cordless optical mouse. "I love this mouse and recommend it for any gadget lover," he said. In addition to working out of the box (after you charge it), the Gyration mouse has two buttons and a scroll wheel, which can also be clicked as a button. It's rechargeable, so there are no batteries to buy. But that's not all. "What makes this thing special is the gyroscope inside that allows you to use it in midair," he said. "It has a range of 25 feet. I love it. I can even play Bejeweled on it." The $80 mouse requires a USB port and an electrical outlet for the battery charging dock.
The Gift of Power -- It may not glow, beep, or entertain your friends, but having more power for your laptop is often a worthwhile investment. If you know someone whose laptop goes back and forth from home to office, Bill Raush suggested giving them a second Apple power adapter ($80) so they can have one plugged into the wall at each place.
If you're looking for power you can take on a trip, or looking for another replacement option, Kevin van Haaren recommended MadsonLine's $76 MicroAdapter. It's lighter and smaller than Apple's adapters, encased in aluminum for protection, and the plug is bent at a 90 degree angle to avoid fraying caused by constant bending and flexing.
Stay Cool -- Julio Ohep attempted a bit of reverse psychology when bringing up potential gift ideas for himself: "As usual, my suggestion is something I would love to have but am probably not going to buy for myself (there's no way I could justify it). The FlyFan, by Kensington, particularly here in the tropics of Venezuela, looks like a great gadget to take to the park or beach with your iBook."
Go Wireless -- Nik Friedman painted a lovely holiday postcard: "Nothing says the holidays like sipping eggnog and surfing the Web from in front of the fireplace. Wireless is the gift of the year, if you ask me. Access points can be had for under $100 and can bridge together all your home Macs. Set up an older machine to dial in (or splurge for a real AirPort Base Station) if you have a modem connection and all your computers can share access. Another good trick is to take advantage of the Mac OS's software base station support, so you can just get an AirPort card and get going.
"For Titanium PowerBook G4 owners upset with their lame AirPort range, take a look at Sony's beautiful and slim wireless PC card (model PCWA-C150S). It matches the TiBook's brushed metal look perfectly, and has a slim antennae so you can leave it plugged into the PC card slot 24/7 without worrying about knocking it off. It also works fine with the various open source wireless drivers."
Folks with different PC Cards than those supported above can try a driver for Mac OS X from IOXperts.
While you're wirelessly downloading movie trailers to the latest batch of holiday movie releases, be sure to add to your list Adam's new book, The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, coauthored with frequent TidBITS contributor Glenn Fleishman.
The Key to Better Memory -- Remember all the fuss when Apple decided years ago to stop using floppy drives? If you or someone you know is still grumbling, the time has officially come to move on: for less than the cost of an external floppy drive, you can buy storage "keys" that plug into any USB port. The devices include a memory card in sizes up to 1 GB, don't take up much more room than a fat pen or key chain holder, and are perfect for making quick file backups. They draw their power directly from the USB port, and most don't require the installation of special drivers.
Judi Carter wrote, "I have a son going to school in Ireland this year. He bought a Titanium PowerBook G4 and an iPod right before he left. Since Queen's University is a PC school, one item which has been invaluable to him (he doesn't have a printer) is a DiskOnKey, which was a stocking stuffer last year. He writes a paper on his PowerBook, puts it on the DiskOnKey, and goes to the computer lab to print it. I am also a school district's Technology Coordinator and have found this device to be invaluable in my work. I travel between buildings and can easily move files around. The DiskOnKey or any USB flash storage device is my first choice."
For a variation, Larry Wink suggested the SanDisk Cruzer, a portable storage device starting at about $45 with a unique advantage - upgradable flash memory. "Using removable SD (Secure Digital) flash memory cards (with capacities up to 256 MB), the Cruzer has infinite expansion possibilities and the flash memory cards can also be used in newer Palm PDAs and some digital cameras and camcorders."
When looking into USB memory, keep in mind that most people have multiple USB devices, and the size of a memory key might obstruct other ports.
Pick a Card, Any Card -- When our colleague Glenn Fleishman got married last year, he knew many wedding guests would bring digital cameras. To capture the day's events in pictures, he set up an iBook with a USB memory card reader and was immediately able to get a copy of pictures taken by anyone who wanted to share them. (As a bonus, he also used iPhoto's slide show feature to display all the pictures for people who wandered by the table.)
Such USB card readers proved to be popular gift suggestions this year for transferring all types of data. Peter Haglich wrote, "One of the best gifts I received last year was a Zio USB card reader. This small $30 USB gadget allows me to mount a MultiMedia/Secure Digital (SD) card on a Mac or Windows PC as a removable hard disk. I have found this to be the fastest way to put Palm files on the SD card. I have also used it to share files with a PC via a kind of sneaker-net in several business settings."
Kevin van Haaren uses his card reader almost as a portable computer: "I keep my SSH digital keys and a Windows SSH program on one card so I can control my servers remotely from any Windows XP or Mac OS X computer in the world (other operating systems need drivers first). Another card has the VLAN software for my office and the drivers for the Linksys wireless card I bought to use in the Windows laptops I bring home from work."
If you must deal with multiple memory formats, there are several USB card readers that handle many types of cards. "We purchased the Acomdata multi-card reader for $40 for use at work," said Kevin. "I prefer a smaller and lighter single card reader for carrying around with my laptop, but the multi-card reader has really come in handy with visitors carrying around the odd memory chip we don't normally use."
PowerMate -- Mark Kottman made sure we got our shiny knob fix this season (see Kirk McElhearn's review in TidBITS-653). "The $45 Griffin Technologies PowerMate is the perfect accessory for the Mac," he writes. "It has multiple uses such as scroll wheel and volume control, a great high-quality feel, and it looks as cool as any Mac. It's USB, so it works with any recent Mac and it's a perfect companion to the Apple Pro Mouse, which doesn't have a scroll wheel. If you haven't seen one in person, stop by an Apple retail store and take a test drive - that's what sold me!"
One-Handed Keyboard -- For those revelers whose idea of chording is more high-tech than a performance of Handel's Messiah, Paul Durrant pointed to a small one-handed keyboard. "The CyKey is the latest incarnation of the Microwriter keyboard, previously seen on the Agenda PDA. It's now a small unit that communicates by infrared, either to a Palm or to a Mac via a USB/infrared adapter. Suitable for left or right handed use, it's an entire keyboard for a single hand, using multiple-key chords for each letter you want to type."
Digital Cameras -- Our digital camera guru, Arthur Bleich, will return next issue for his yearly take on the latest developments in the digital camera world, but a few TidBITS readers took their shots before we could. Iain Anderson wrote, "This didn't occur to me at first, as it seemed almost too obvious. A digital camera will revolutionise the way you take photos, so if you haven't already made the switch, think about it. I bought one for my wife (no, not for me at all) last Christmas and we've (um... she's) taken over 3,500 photos already. We far prefer an iPhoto slide show to a heavy album, and we can send as many photos to as many relatives as have computers. Plus, since we can back it all up, we can't lose these memories as easily as a negative can be misplaced or scratched.
"Many models are available, so refer to a current digital camera review magazine for the latest. Don't be afraid to try a cheaper 2 megapixel option either. With a 2.1 megapixel Fuji, we've had results roughly equal to some of our regular 35mm film and developing (shot on an SLR) without the cost or delay. Oh, and if you make the leap and you're still not sure what to do, I'm sure a copy of Adam's iPhoto book wouldn't go astray."
Dan Cottler cautioned that the digital photo bug can be an entertainingly dangerous creation. "There is a slippery slope here, folks! We started with a single 1-megapixel Olympus camera for Christmas two years ago. We've moved up to 3- and 4-megapixel cameras and handful of SmartMedia cards (which make great stocking stuffers!). Now, we're looking at our Wall Of Slides... 30-plus years worth. This Christmas, we've asked Santa for a slide scanner, a bigger hard disk, and a faster CD burner!"
Eyes on TV -- After all the relatives have gone home, what better way to spend the latter part of a holiday vacation than watching a bit of telly? Judy Bell raved about her favorite device: "One of the best pieces of hardware I bought this year was EyeTV from El Gato Software. It's a digital video recorder that compresses TV signals onto a CD, making either a Video CD or QuickTime movie - one hour of TV onto a standard CD that can be viewed on a DVD player. But wait, there's more! For those of us who admit to watching, it's a TV tuner, so you can watch TV on your Mac. It's a whole lot of fun and a great way to archive those upcoming episodes of Six Feet Under.
"Oddly, although the current software allows QuickTime but not VCD to be watched on a Mac (and I'm sure El Gato will remedy that in the next update), a shareware program called MacVCD fixes this."
Ears on Mac -- Cool as EyeTV is, way more Mac users listen to music on their Macs than watch TV. Fred von Lohmann believes that everyone should have clean, digital audio output from their Macs, and since many inexpensive stereo receivers have digital inputs, you can make a digital connection between your computer and your stereo. Fred was amazed at how much better things sounded when compared to the analog audio output on his Mac. As how to accomplish this feat, he wrote, "I've been extremely happy with the $70 DG2 from Xitel. Smaller than an iPod, it's generally marketed as an accessory to facilitate a computer-to-MiniDisc connection, but it works perfectly well with any receiver or other outboard D/A converter that accepts an optical Toslink digital signal. No drivers to install, no hassle, just a simple USB-to-Toslink optical audio output from any USB-equipped Mac.
"M Audio's Sonica may also be worth considering. It requires drivers and costs $75, but it offers both digital and analog outputs, plus support for more surround sound."
It doesn't matter type of Mac you own, old or new, you're running a wide variety of software. This year's suggestions ranged from software that makes you more productive to enhancements that tailor your Mac experience to your own tastes. Don't assume that software gift ideas from previous years are irrelevant just because almost all new development is being done for Mac OS XShow full article
It doesn't matter type of Mac you own, old or new, you're running a wide variety of software. This year's suggestions ranged from software that makes you more productive to enhancements that tailor your Mac experience to your own tastes.
Don't assume that software gift ideas from previous years are irrelevant just because almost all new development is being done for Mac OS X. Classic programs from the past are often still available and run fine on the older Macs that so many people have.
ArtMatic -- Computers and art have had a long history together, and Peter Miller suggested a program that you can use to generate your own beautiful images. "Although this is a repeat suggestion from me, from quite a few years back, U & I Software's ArtMatic is worth a new look. ArtMatic is a kind of visual synthesizer that allows you to make astonishing images and movies at any resolution. It has an interface that is unique and simple to explore but offers an incredible depth of experimentation (the software is written by Eric Wenger, one of the developers of KPT Bryce). There is nothing remotely like it.
"ArtMatic 3 was just officially released and is now fully Mac OS X native (there's also a Mac OS 9 version). It's a very different beast from when I last suggested it, now incorporating a keyframe animation system, 3-D effects, amazing and flexible professional level RGB colour-manipulation, the ability to import and process still pictures and QuickTime movies, and lots more. The trial version is fully functional but save-disabled. Take a look at my ArtMatic galleries to see what you can do with this great tool."
CandyBar -- Steve Jobs may want to lick Mac OS X's Aqua interface, but for those people out there who would prefer to take a big bite, Nik Friedman offered CandyBar. "Jazz up your loved one's computers with CandyBar from The Iconfactory and Panic. It lets you change all your system icons to beautiful holiday icons (or others). At $13, it's cheap, too!"
ThinkFree Office -- Turning from the delightfully frivolous to some serious productivity, Tom Gewecke offered this idea. "ThinkFree Office is a Java-based, Microsoft Office-compatible suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics applications. It works on both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Depending on your needs, Think-Free Office could be a good alternative to Microsoft Office because it costs only $50 and includes a year of free online upgrades."
A Jaguar Kitten? Having just made the jump to Jaguar himself, Maarten Festen wrote, "If your loved ones are still on Mac OS 9 and have an appropriate computer, give them Jaguar this Christmas. Toss in some extra RAM and it'll feel as if you've given them an all new computer.
CodeTek VirtualDesktop -- Chris Pepper's suggestion of a second monitor is an excellent one (see "2002 Hardware Gift Ideas" above), but if finances or desk space preclude adding another screen, consider Paul Schatz's suggestion of CodeTek VirtualDesktop. "For the person with several simultaneous projects or lots of windows: CodeTek VirtualDesktop 2.0.1. This application lets you set up numerous multiple desktops ('work spaces'). It's easy to jump from one to another, or drag windows between desktops. Thus, you can have different projects or applications on completely separate desktops, and you can designate certain items to appear on all your desktops. CodeTek VirtualDesktop is great for reducing window clutter and even if you already have multiple monitors it still works well. Although the price has just jumped from $20 to $40, it's still very worthwhile for people who are juggling many different projects."
Expand That Cursor! Not everyone has great vision, so Saint John mentioned a simple tool that can make using the Mac significantly less frustrating. "RJ Cooper & Associates's control panel, Biggy, brings to the Mac (System 7.5 through Mac OS 9) something that has been sorely lacking since we got monitors larger than 13 inches: a larger cursor. Even for normal-vision users, finding that 16 by 16 pixel arrow on a cluttered desktop can be a hassle; think about a low-vision user. Biggy provides a variety of different pointer, watch cursor, and text I-beam cursors up to 32 by 64 pixels in size. Some are even animated! While many are cutesy, a few are subtle and can attract attention to themselves for that little extra bit of find-ability. Biggy also provides a number of small but useful additional features, such as snapping to the default button, wrapping around the screen, and making the text-insertion bar wider.
"I use Biggy Light, which offers the basic set of cursors for only $30, as opposed to $100 for Biggy. Both versions let you design your own cursors, and I have a number of them available free on my Web site (the third link below)."
LuKreme chimed in, "I know of at least one utility for Mac OS X that enlarges the pointer: Cursor Zoom. That's all it does, but it will zoom up to 4x with fine control over the magnification (the first version let you magnify from 2x to 20x with no granularity; the current version is much more useful). Cursor Zoom is free, so I suggest that installing it for someone as a holiday surprise would be a nice touch."
Custom Shareware CD -- Inspired by LuKreme's comment about installing CursorZoom for someone, Kevin van Haaren expanded the idea. "I was thinking it might be a nice gift to accumulate all the freeware and shareware you find useful or interesting and burn it to a CD-R as a stocking stuffer for your favorite Mac user. Someone with no or a very slow Internet connection might especially appreciate the thought. To boost the value, perhaps pay for a couple of the shareware packages that you know will be useful and include the licenses on the CD-R."
Reunion -- Another perennial gift suggestion came from David Kanter, who suggested the genealogy program Reunion from Leister Productions. "For Mac-based genealogists - or any would-be genealogists - a wonderful present would be Reunion 8, which now runs natively under Mac OS X as well as Mac OS 8.5 to 9.2. Reunion is still an elegant, Mac-only product that helps you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports which you can extensively tailor to your needs. Reunion 8's enhancements over Reunion 7 are extensive, significant, and meaningful. Even genealogy veterans using another program should consider switching to Reunion to gain its easy interface and fabulous output products. Reunion can import (and export) data using the GEDCOM format, so bringing another genealogy program's database into Reunion is usually an easy process. And for those using any earlier version of Reunion, in my opinion this is a 'do-it-now' upgrade."
We rarely find time to delve into the fantasy world of computer games, but our readers came through with a number of suggestions for their favorite gamesShow full article
We rarely find time to delve into the fantasy world of computer games, but our readers came through with a number of suggestions for their favorite games. Two of them - The Sims and Tropico - even provide fantasy worlds that simulate the real world.
Although the game market itself moves forward at a frenetic pace, don't discount the games of yesteryear for those people who don't need the latest and greatest. Graphics and sound capabilities may have improved over time, but plenty of older games still provide great game play. Check out the suggestions from previous years for these blasts from the past and do some hunting around on eBay or discount software sites if the publisher no longer sells the game you want.
The Sims -- LuKreme suggested a hit game that appeared on this list back in 2000 as well. "I know The Sims has been perched on top of the best sellers list (both Mac and PC) for a long time now, but there is a reason for it. With the upcoming introduction of The Sims Online now is a great time to get someone hooked in to the simulated world of The Sims.
"The Sims appeals to all sorts of people, from pre-teens to seniors, and to women as much as men. It's mostly noncompetitive and is engrossing. The online version promises to make it even more so by putting you directly in the game (instead of making you a 'Hand of God') and by making all the other Sims you interact with be real people as well. It's the ultimate chat room, with just enough 'game' to make it that much more interesting.
"So far the Mac releases have been keeping fairly good time with the PC, but I don't know a release date for the new Sims Online product. Still, the older Sims game and its numerous expansion packs are a lot of fun, if a bit addictive."
Tropico -- Saint John chimed in to suggest another simulation. "It may be more than a year old, but my game pick of the year is the tropical island simulation Tropico, by PopTop Software. I remember the old Hammurabi games, but Tropico is as far beyond that as the Sims are from a Barbie Malibu Dream House. For one thing, your control isn't absolute; you can set pay scales in order to attract certain kinds of laborers in certain areas, but if it isn't worth it to them (read: if their happiness isn't high enough) your citizenry won't work where you want them to. And you can get an idea of your population's happiness by getting statistical reports on them - or by spying on their thoughts! If enough people want to go to church, well, it behooves you to build one. More food? Convert some of those tobacco farms into something less profitable but more edible. Your dictator must survive occasional elections, so it's worthwhile to keep the locals content.
"Like PopTop's previous hit, Railroad Tycoon II, Tropico is full of animated wonders. The people don't just exist as numbers, but as little graphical people that go from home to work, and perhaps to the cantina afterward. You can follow an individual around. (I seem to zoom in on showgirls more often than other professions...) Each has a name, and even a unique personality. Some may run against you, others may foment revolution, and yet others may visit your country if there are enough tourist attractions. (Even cows have their own particular philosophies - it's worth building a cattle ranch just to listen in on them!) As the years go by, the babies grow into teenagers, and then adults - and they may switch jobs if something suits them better. And you can watch it all from your palace.
"The music is worth mentioning, too. Sound has always been a PopTop specialty. As you scrolled about the landscape in Railroad Tycoon II, you heard sounds of nature or industry, fading as you scrolled away from the area in question. They commissioned lots of music for Tropico, and anyone who has even a slight appreciation for the Latin beat will really get into it! Since the music files are stored as MP3s, it would take only a little effort to put them on your iPod.
"Tropico even has a couple of expansion packs: Mucho Macho and Paradise Island. Maybe I'll find them in my stocking! The basic game, though, is definitely worth the price for any simulation or world-building gamer. Tropico II: Pirate Cove is due out for Windows real soon now, so if all goes well, next year I may recommend that for the Mac."
Bejeweled Deluxe -- Changing gears, Jack Daniyel Strong recommended a strategy game. "I highly recommend Bejeweled Deluxe from PopCap and the Omni Group. The idea is simple: rearrange shimmering gems to make patterns and rack up points. You can play against the clock or attempt to keep your sanity with a regular game.
"You can download Bejeweled Deluxe and try it for free; registering costs $20. However, .Mac members can save $5 by downloading the trial version from their iDisk's Software folder and registering through the Register link in the .Mac trial version."
After comparing Bejeweled Deluxe to the classic (and previously recommended, in 1998) Snood, now in beta for Mac OS X, Michael House seconded Jack's recommendation but warned that "Bejeweled Deluxe, and PopCap games in general, seem to be resource hogs, especially where CPU cycles are concerned. I get barely adequate performance on my 500 MHz iBook with 640 MB RAM in thousands of colors under Mac OS X 10.2.2. It runs acceptably on my new 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 768 MB RAM and Mac OS X 10.2.2 in millions of colors, but it can still hiccup if anything is running in the background."
This portion of our annual gift issue is one of our favorites, since it's where readers suggest neat little accoutrements that may be inexpensive or even obvious, but which can make a real difference in everyday computer useShow full article
This portion of our annual gift issue is one of our favorites, since it's where readers suggest neat little accoutrements that may be inexpensive or even obvious, but which can make a real difference in everyday computer use. Be sure to check out suggestions from years past for oodles of other excellent ideas.
Wireless Internet Access -- For the road warrior in your life, Kevin van Haaren suggested the gift of wireless Internet access. "I'm writing this from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport via the Wayport wireless network. If you have a frequent traveller on your gift list, he may appreciate a membership to a wireless access service. Wayport seems to serve a lot of airports and hotels; AT&T Wireless also serves a few airports (they handle Denver International Airport; I've yet to be holed up there long enough to consider paying for it). If the recipient prefers hanging out in coffeehouses to travelling, many Starbucks stores offer T-Mobile wireless hot spots."
A more general approach might be to work with an aggregator such as Boingo Wireless, which provides a single account that works with many different wireless network providers, including Wayport. Unfortunately, Boingo's Mac software isn't yet available, but they promise it for February of 2003.
World Domain-ation -- The budding Internet czar on your list might like to see her name in lights... or at least in pixels. David Weintraub suggested: "Here's a unique idea. Buy someone their own domain. Buying a domain and a year's subscription to a site that will handle email and Web page hosting can be had for less than $100 per year. For a bit more, you could buy a domain for a whole family and set everyone up with their own email addresses and Web pages with remote hosting."
If you have your own servers, consider the $55 gift certificate offered by TidBITS sponsor easyDNS. The gift certificate includes domain registration and email and Web page forwarding. We use easyDNS to manage DNS for the TidBITS servers, and we've been extremely happy with the service.
David's initial idea engendered several suggestions for other, less-expensive domain registry and DNS management services, including Active Domain, Virtual Names, and directNIC.
Just Email -- If a full-fledged domain with Web hosting is overkill, consider a simple but permanent email address. Dennis Cheung wrote, "After the .Mac debacle, I found a new email service provider: FastMail. They offer great IMAP support, an excellent Web interface, reasonable quotas, and a pretty good selection of domain names such as mailcan.com, imapmail.org, and so on. Basic accounts are free, member accounts cost only $15 (for life), and full accounts, which add spam filtering, cost $15 plus $20 per year. I've found the staff to be incredibly responsive and their uptime to be fantastic (neither of which I could say about Apple's Mac.com service)."
Put on Your Rubbers! Portable computers are wonderful things: take them with you everywhere and have your digital world at your fingertips. But sometimes laptops don't want to stay where you put them... or (ahem) might be a little too warm where you put them. James Ray suggests: "One of the most useful things a notebook owner can have is carefully applied, large, rubber feet from Radio Shack. They keep the laptop cool by elevating it off your work surface, and more importantly mostly above spill-level. They also hold your computer above your knees. They are Archer Cat. No. 64-2342, self-sticking, heavy-duty, cushion feet, and they come eight to a package. At $2, they're very cheap. The only trick with the feet is to peel them first, then air cure them for about a minute while you use rubbing alcohol to clean the spots on your notebook where you plan to apply them. With proper surface prep, I've seen these things stick amazingly well."
Alan Forkosh noted a variant on this idea, the Traveler CoolPad from RoadTools (also appearing under the Targus name). "It's a platform for portables that fits comfortably on your lap or can pivot on a table. There are small rubber domes on one end to incline the laptop and provide air circulation underneath. It fits comfortably in most laptop slipcases and costs only $20. I commonly use mine under my iBook on my lap while wireless surfing the Web and watching TV. The pivoting feature is quite useful for plugging in accessories or loading CDs when using the iBook in tight quarters. The larger Podium CoolPad sells for $10 more and lets you adjust the elevation differential using Lego-like blocks."
Full laptop stands are yet another option; just a few days ago, Adam reviewed the Griffin iCurve, the LapVantage Dome, and the Dexia Rack in "The Laptop Stands, But Not Alone" in TidBITS-658, and our ever-energetic readers immediately suggested a number of other alternatives in TidBITS Talk.
Carrying Gadgets? David Weintraub suggested: "Have a friend with both a Palm-style PDA and a fold-up keyboard? Targus makes a nice leather case that holds them both in one place. The PDA side comes with a strap, and the keyboard side zips up. It isn't something you can slip into your pocket, but it does put everything in one place in a briefcase."
Eliminating Cable Clutter -- A rat's nest of cable surrounds almost every desktop computer out there, and that problem inspired a number of gift suggestions. Bruce McL went low tech, suggesting that "adhesive cable clamps can come in handy and might make nice stocking stuffers for someone you know. They come in different sizes and colors (black or white). Just stick 'em on a wall or desk and clamp in a cable."
Don't want to stick something to your wall? Harro de Jong commented, "For people who spend a lot of time untangling wires, Velcro cable ties can come in handy. They're the best solution I've found yet for bundling rolls of cable, and they hold up well under abuse. You can find them in professional audio shops as well as computer and electronics stores."
For a snazzier, if more expensive approach to taming those cable snakes, Kei Ishii turned us on to another product. "I have found this in a couple of Tokyo interior design stores, although it's a Dutch maker: The Cable Turtle. It reminds one of a yo-yo, but is made of soft plastic. You open the rims, roll up the extra cable, close it again, and voila: no cable mess anymore! It comes in different colors and different sizes and costs between $8 and $15. The same company also sells a soft plastic coil which binds cable together.
Transmit Your iPod -- Driving with your headphones on is a no-no, so Fearghas McKay offered this alternative. "I just picked up a Cendyne Gruv X FM transmitter for listening to my iPod on my car radio, and I recommend it to others. This tiny device has worked where other units failed miserably, has a little backlit LCD display, and is tunable in 0.1 MHz steps rather than having just a couple of frequencies to choose from. It doesn't require an antenna or any wires other than the one that connects it to your iPod, and it runs on a single AAA battery.
"It cost only $30 from Fry's in California and is far cheaper than buying a new car stereo with a jack on the front! For the ultimate present, I would couple the Gruv transmitter with an iPod case from SF Bags and a car mount holder for the case."
Protect Your Laptop -- A design flaw in Apple's current line of portables means that the film of oil from your fingers coats the keys and can leave an imprint on the screen. Kevin van Haaren offered a solution. "A nice inexpensive gift for a PowerBook owner is the PowerBook ScreensavRz. It's a soft cloth that sits between your keyboard and screen when the top is closed and keeps finger oils from moving from the keys to the screen."
But what about protecting the outside of your laptop? There are numerous cases out there (many of which were recommend in last year's gift issue), and Jim Rohde added to that collection. "I'd like to suggest (and would love to get) the Go-In-Case laptop sleeve for $40 (available directly or at your local Apple Store). This sleeve is perfect for when you want to protect your iBook or PowerBook, but don't want to lug along an entire case. The Go-In-Case sleeve comes with fully retractable handles and a detachable shoulder strap, and has a pocket on the outside for an AC adapter and minimal accessories. It comes in a small and a large version (the large one fits a Titanium PowerBook G4 or my PowerBook G3, and the small one appears to be a good size for the iBook). I like the style of the sleeves, too - it should go with most laptops of any kind. To check them out, use the link below and click the second 'laptop' (Flash) button from the left."
Back to Basics -- We may take simple bits and pieces of hardware for granted, but for the right person, such a gift may be perfect. Jim Beinke suggested giving someone with file sharing needs an Ethernet cable. "What a great 'discovery' it was to connect my PowerBook with the office PC and transfer files, then go home to our new eMac and move things there. Jaguar makes it easy."
Rob Russell suggested that a box of blank CD-Rs is still a useful and inexpensive gift for those who like to back up on CD-R or make personal CDs containing favorite music.
Preparing for Theft -- As the Monty Python sketch said, no one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition, and too few people expect that their computers might be lost as well. Frequent backups are essential for protecting data, but what about recovering your precious gear? Tomoharu Nishino offered a suggestion that might help. "A set of StuffBak labels might be a nice stocking-stuffer gift for the absent-minded but gadget-laden. You attach a StuffBak label to your device (PDA, cell phone, laptop, MP3 player, and so on). The label contains the StuffBak Web site address as well as their phone number. If you lose your device, and someone finds it, she can return it by calling the number or visiting the Web site and then dropping the item off at a local drop-off center. StuffBak then takes care of packaging the item and shipping it to you. If an item is recovered you pay StuffBak $15 plus the actual shipping charges. You can also offer a cash reward for the recovery of your items.
"How is this better than affixing a business card or name and number to your items? The whole process is anonymous, and it's far less of a hassle to the people who find your stuff - they don't have to worry about packaging the items or collecting the shipping costs. The end result, hopefully, is that they are more likely to send your stuff back. Each label costs as little as $2, and you can buy them in packs ranging from $10 to $50. The labels come in various shapes and sizes to fit different gadgets.
"I haven't heard stories about people actually getting things back through StuffBak (and the Web site doesn't share any such stories), so I don't know how effective it is. But it might give people a little peace of mind, I suppose, when dumping their personal electronics into a bin at airport security. And besides, it's the thought that counts, right?"
Sticky Fingers -- If someone you know has kids or co-workers who can't keep their dirty fingers (and the resulting fingerprints) off their monitor, Mike Millard has a craft project for you. "I haven't seen anything like this in the shops, but a relatively handy person could surely make a Lucite cover that hangs over the front of a flat-panel monitor to keep dirty fingers off. We just installed two Apple 17-inch flat-panel units in a college art department, whose students often feel the need to point determinedly at the screen. The lab supervisor cut a length of Lucite the width of the monitor and with enough extra length to curve over the top and down about 2 inches (5.1 cm). She heated the Lucite and bent it 180 degrees at the appropriate point, in a wide curve. It works wonderfully. I imagine such a thing should not cost too much for the raw material."
And Aching Wrists -- We've tried a lot of products for alleviating pain related to carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries over time, but Kevin van Haaren sprung a new one on us with his suggestion of the Imak Smart Glove, which looks as though it works a little like the Handeze Gloves we've liked for a long time. Kevin also pointed to a review of the Smart Glove on Ars Technica that's worth reading first.
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 againShow full article
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."