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.
Series: Hardware Gift Ideas
Hardware gift suggestions from TidBITS readers
Article 1 of 9 in series
A Bunch of Yo-Yos -- Gordon Meyer suggests the Yo-Yo call manager device from Big Island Communications. "The stylish device hooks to your telephone line and Macintosh to provide caller ID, speed dialing, contact management, and other phone-related featuresShow full article
A Bunch of Yo-Yos -- Gordon Meyer <email@example.com> suggests the Yo-Yo call manager device from Big Island Communications. "The stylish device hooks to your telephone line and Macintosh to provide caller ID, speed dialing, contact management, and other phone-related features. It can even send a message to your pager (or send email) so you don't miss a call when you're away from the office or home. It's quite flexible and has a great user interface. [In fact, it won Apple's Human Interface Design Excellence award in 1997 for best overall design. -Geoff] You can use it with your main machine if you'd like, but it works nicely with an older Mac that you no longer use as often. I have mine connected to a Color Classic that serves as our kitchen computer."
Palm It -- Susan Pinochet's <firstname.lastname@example.org> main gift idea for a Mac owner is a Palm III. "What a great little adjunct to the Mac this is! This is the most Mac-like and Mac-friendly PDA on the market. The sync process works like a champ and lets me download any textual data to carry with me. It has replaced my paper organizer along with several pounds of books, magazines, and newspapers in my backpack - plus it fits in my pocket. I can also carry games to play when I'm done reading. I'm definitely looking forward to the revamped Palm Desktop (based on Claris Organizer), currently in public beta."
Multiple Monitors Rock! Brian Forte <email@example.com> offers a suggestion near and dear to our own hearts: a second monitor. "I'd recommend a video card and a second display as a gift. It's hard to wrap and doesn't provide for the 'Ooh, very nice' smile until well after unwrapping. Nonetheless, my Mum's been raving about the dual-display setup (an Apple 15-inch AV and an Apple 17-inch MultiScan) on her 6400/180 since I organized and set up same for her birthday. She's not a Photoshop maven or programmer, so I didn't spend big on either the display or the card (in fact I bought both second-hand). The productivity benefits and general coolness of two displays aren't lessened, however, just because she puts her word processor in one display and her browser and email application in the other."
Blue With Envy -- Kent Lufkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> has his eye on a different sort of monitor for Christmas. "For the graphics user who's lusting after a monitor that accurately displays what will end up in print (or vice versa) at about half the price of some 21-inch models currently available, I recommend LaCie's new 19-inch Electron Blue Diamondtron monitor and matching Blue Eye hardware calibrator. The monitor's viewing surface is flat - both vertically and horizontally - to minimize distracting reflections. The Blue Eye hardware calibrator actually adjusts gun output to maintain consistent color characteristics that compensate for drift and phosphor degradation. Finally, at just $769 for the monitor and $479 for the Blue Eye - and a trim 19-inch footprint - it fits both modest budgets and modest desk spaces!"
Cheap Scanners -- Based in large part on price, Mike Cohen <email@example.com> recommends a MicroTek scanner that MacWarehouse is selling for $65, and TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has been happy with the $80 UMAX scanner he bought from Small Dog Electronics earlier this year. [My only complaint is that it tends to scan a little dark, which is easily adjusted in Photoshop or GraphicConverter. For only $80, I can now scan nearly anything, like pictures to put up on the Web for distant relatives to view. -Jeff]
Get a Graphics Tablet -- Gavin Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends a graphics tablet, even if you are not a Photoshop wiz. "I have a pair of 17-inch monitors and it is easy with a tablet to zip from one side to the other. They can also do the Control-click thing with ease."
Christian Smith <email@example.com> seconded the idea with an unusual use for a tablet. "I've been surprised that I've never seen this mentioned in any of the gaming magazines: I can't be the only one who has tried this. When WarCraft first came out my wife and I had fun playing against each other. Then I started using my Wacom tablet instead of the mouse and she decided she didn't want to play against me any more. For certain types of games, a graphics tablet makes a great game controller."
Please Back Up! Craig Isaacs <firstname.lastname@example.org> echoes another suggestion that's near and dear to our hearts. "If you really love someone, give the gift of time and safety: a tape drive to allow for completely unattended backups and security."
Work that Mouse -- William H. Ansley <email@example.com> writes: "This has been said before but, for anyone who has a Mac and a large monitor (or more than one monitor) I recommend giving them a Kensington mouse, just for the MouseWorks software. Kensington MouseWorks is so much better than Apple mouse driver, it isn't funny. MouseWorks allows acceleration: I can make my pointer zip across my 17-inch monitor when I move my Kensington Thinking Mouse fast, but when I move the mouse slowly, the pointer slows down, so I never overshoot a point on the screen. You can also configure MouseWorks to snap the pointer to the default button in a dialog box (although this doesn't always work). The TurboMouse (actually a trackball), the Kensington Mouse (two button), and the Thinking Mouse (four button) all work with MouseWorks. I've had my Kensington Thinking Mouse for over five years now on two different Macs and it has never given me a moment of trouble. I wouldn't be without it." [MouseWorks also enables you to set up pop-up menus of frequent commands, plus customize the button actions - one of the single biggest improvements in my computer work is being able to use the right mouse button to double-click. -Jeff]
Article 2 of 9 in series
Speed Up Your Internet Access -- Frederic Brehm suggests something we could all use: faster Internet access. His solution was to install a cable modemShow full article
Speed Up Your Internet Access -- Frederic Brehm <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests something we could all use: faster Internet access. His solution was to install a cable modem. "I recently got Comcast@home. It sure beats dial-up! Plugs into your Ethernet port, or into a hub. The cable installers were happy I have a Mac. After setting up the cable drop to my room and making sure the signal was OK, the only thing they had to do was set up the TCP/IP control panel, run Netscape (already installed on my iMac) and define the various Web, mail, and news servers. Piece of cake! They said that PC's were harder because most of them require installing an Ethernet card and more software, which can take a long time." The availability of cable modems varies widely by region, but costs often fall in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 per month after installation fees.
Modem Router -- If you can't get high-speed Internet access in your area, Kiran Wagle <email@example.com> points out an Internet solution "for friends with more computers than phone lines. I recently got a Netgear RM356 modem router, which is a 56 Kbps modem with a 4-port hub. It was literally trivial to set up (if you can telnet and follow directions) and it does NAT and DHCP. In about five minutes, my network was connected to the outside world. The shipping version doesn't do anything much with incoming port mapping, but Netgear has a firmware upgrade (currently in beta) that does. It's nice to be able to reboot without having to reconnect PPP. And the Mac is much faster when it doesn't have to manage a dial-up connection - the Netgear router turned a 6100 that was basically too slow to use into a perfectly reasonable machine.)" The RM356 is often available for less than $300.
Add Fire to Your Wires -- Derek Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests Orange Micro's OrangeLink FireWire/USB PCI Board, which should be available this week according to the company's Web site. "Perfect for anyone with a platinum PCI Power Mac - especially those with limited PCI expansion (i.e. everything but the Power Mac 9500 and 9600) - who would like to have modern connectivity, but without filling up all their available slots. The card includes two 400 Mbps FireWire ports on one controller and two 12 Mbps USB ports, plus FireWire and USB cables, Adobe Premiere LE, and drivers." Orange Micro's OrangeLink FireWire/USB PCI Board should be available for about $150.
Agfa ePhoto -- If you're looking for an inexpensive digital camera other than those Arthur Bleich recommended in "Digital Camera Buying Guidelines, Part 2" in TidBITS-509, several readers recommended the Agfa ePhoto 780c. Andreas Martini <email@example.com> writes, "It's a beautiful digital camera (less than $200) together with a Mac cable and Mac software. Okay, it has a low resolution, but good enough for the Web." (See Arthur Bleich's description of the ePhoto 780 last year in TidBITS-464.)
Mike Cohen <firstname.lastname@example.org> added, "I strongly recommend getting a Microtech CameraMate or equivalent rather than using the serial cable to connect it to your Mac (especially if you have a USB-capable Mac). Agfa's connection software works only with a Keyspan twin serial adapter (not a Keyspan PDA adapter). With a CameraMate, just stick in the SmartMedia card and it will appear on the desktop. Agfa's software recognizes it as a PC Card and automatically view, download, and/or delete images from the card as soon as you insert it."
Jabra Headphones -- Scot Andrews <email@example.com> found an excellent deal on the Jabra microphone/headset device offered by TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. "The Small Dog folks will sell you 12 Jabra microphone/headsets for $9 as opposed to the $50 Jabra would charge you for a single one (perform a search for "Jabra" to bring up the deal). Apparently they're trying to make room for 600 17" monitors the boss has just bought. I personally plan on giving them away game show-style to my students. And given pending changes in the Mac speech recognition field, I expect they'll be great for today's standard audio input/output-capable Macs."
Dr. Mouse Aids Sore Wrists -- We're always on the lookout for ergonomic solutions, so Dee Brian's <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommendation looks interesting. "For your friends who have repetitive stress problems due to improper mousing, the Dr. Mouse from Animax USA takes care of this problem. I have had mine for two months and I no longer have any problem with repetitive stress. The Dr. Mouse looks like a small joystick, so your hand is in a more natural position for mousing. After using the Dr. Mouse I don't think that I will return to using a regular mouse."
The Dr. Mouse hails from Norway and is also known as the Anir Vertical Mouse or the Anir Ergonomic Mouse Pro; it typically costs $60 to $80, depending on the model (both ADB and USB versions are available).
USB Video Capture -- Derek Miller <email@example.com> recommends Interex/XLR8's InterView USB video capture solution for amateur Spielbergs who don't have a studio budget. "It's a low-end solution, but probably the least expensive way (under $100, I think) to get Web-quality video capture via a Mac's USB port and an elegant multi-wired breakout box that's about the size of a small flashlight. Interex also has another bundle that includes a PCI USB card for those computers without USB. Both include Strata VideoShop video editing software."
The Switch Is Still On -- A few readers recommend an old computer standby: serial switch boxes. Although a number of inexpensive boxes can be found, Saint John <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends the $60 Port Xpander by MacAlly. Using the Apple Communication Toolbox, the Port Xpander can list and switch to attached devices. Of course, you'd need an older Mac that has serial ports to use this.
Processor Upgrades -- TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg <email@example.com> has had good results adding new life to his older Mac system: "I've just acquired a Newer Technology MAXpowr G3 CPU upgrade, turning my PowerCenter Pro 180 into a 300 MHz G3 screamer, for just $300. Installation couldn't have been simpler: pop out the old card, pop in the new. The processor card does not take up a precious PCI slot. Wow. This particular model applies to a lot of PCI-based Macs and it looks like now is a great moment to buy if, like me, you've been putting it off."
Small UPS -- Sarah Prince <firstname.lastname@example.org> says, "I'd recommend about a small uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the person who only uses a cheap hardware store power strip to save the effort of switching two or three items on or off? Some of them look more interesting now, not just like boring appliances." Even more important than their looks, however, is a UPS's ability to protect your data - and your hardware - from power outages, brownouts, and surges. Check out Adam's article in TidBITS-498 to get an idea of the products that are available - many single-system UPS's are now under $100.
Article 3 of 9 in series
A Stylus Gift -- Robin recommends Wacom input tablets not only for artists but also for people with repetitive strain injuries. "Although it is a great tool for graphics, it's also a great alternative for a mouseShow full article
A Stylus Gift -- Robin <email@example.com> recommends Wacom input tablets not only for artists but also for people with repetitive strain injuries. "Although it is a great tool for graphics, it's also a great alternative for a mouse. I have both a mouse and a trackball, but my arm still gives me problems. To keep things moving, for a couple hours a day I switch over to my pen and pad. Wacom offers an online guide to help you pick the 'right' model for you. I took the quiz for fun, and sure enough it picked the own I own (the Intuos 6x8)!"
Turbo-Charge Your Input -- Also keeping an eye on sore wrists, Keith Holzman <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Derek K. Miller <email@example.com> suggested two Kensington input devices. Keith reports: "I strongly recommend the Kensington TurboBall. It's a USB trackball with four programmable buttons plus a scroll wheel. It has considerably eased minor arthritis pain and costs only about $60."
Derek's Kensington choice brings USB support to a design recommended by several TidBITS readers over the years. "I've been waiting since the release of the iMac in 1998 to be able to make this recommendation: a Kensington Turbo Mouse (or other large-size Kensington trackball) in either USB or ADB flavours. The original ADB Turbo Mouse went through five versions and won many awards, all of them well deserved. My experience using one at my office is that it's built like a tank, works smoothly, and is easy to clean. People have been wondering over the past two years when the company would release a USB version, and now there are several. It's expensive, with a suggested retail of $110, but worth the price, in my opinion."
"For those who prefer even more gewgaws," he continued, "there is the Expert Mouse Pro. It's the same as the Turbo Mouse ADB, but adds a bunch of programmable keys and a scroll wheel above the trackball itself. Oddly, it is cheaper than the Turbo Mouse ADB/USB at $100, probably because it is USB only. It works on both Macs and PCs."
If You're All Thumbs... The Logitech TrackMan Marble Wheel offers another variant on mouse-less input. TidBITS Talk contributor List Kreme <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "It is the only pointing device that allows you to keep your entire arm completely stationary. No wrist, elbow, or shoulder movement. In short, no scrubbing with your whole arm. Your thumb moves the ball and the barest of finger movements clicks the buttons. ADB versions are no longer available, but there are both standard and cordless USB varieties."
"One note: the provided software works, but Alessandro Levi Montalcini's shareware USB Overdrive works just as well and allows you to specify different button mapping sets for separate applications, a functionality that Logitech abandoned along with ADB."
Embrace and Extend Your Mouse -- Mike Cohen <email@example.com> recommends Microsoft's mouse offerings: "I've used Kensington mice for many years, but right now my favorite mouse is the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer. I really like having a scroll wheel, plus the thumb buttons are excellent for navigating in a Web browser." You might also check out the various mice Warren Magnus wrote about a year ago in "Pointing the Way with USB Mice."
More Gigs on the Go -- Richard Wanderman <firstname.lastname@example.org> found an elegant way to boost the storage capacity of his PowerBook. "Because I travel with my computer and make presentations to large groups, I need to carry a complete bootable backup with me at all times. I finally broke down and bought a VST Expansion Bay Hard Drive (the 8 GB version, although they have much bigger ones). Even though it was expensive and only works in a PowerBook, I'm extremely happy with it. It uses Apple's drivers and Apple's Drive Setup, it's hot-swappable, and it mounts immediately after you put it in. Backups of my 2 GB main partition take about 3 minutes now, compared to the longer times of my old system of using Zip media, and of course I can more easily boot from it should my main hard disk have problems."
Holiday Spirit Is in the Air -- Juan C. Santiago <email@example.com> is looking out for the elves in his holiday workshop. "I plan to give my 50-person technology company an AirPort Base Station. It's a great way to give Apple some visibility while providing an incredibly useful and productive function. Many colleagues already have wireless networks at home and hate being tied to their desk in our rapidly changing work environment. Most will be surprised to learn that Apple's $300 AirPort Base Station works with Windows laptops using any of the wireless cards already on the market, taking the place of base stations focussed on use with Windows and costing $700 and up."
Wandering about Music? Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "The Nomad Jukebox is the current ultimate incarnation of an MP3 player: it stores over 100 hours of compressed music (at the right quality, according to Creative.com, the manufacturer), weighs under a pound, comes with two sets of rechargeable batteries (about four hours of play time per recharge), has Mac and Windows software for transferring files over USB, and is about the size of a regular portable CD player. Its secret? A tiny 6 GB hard drive and very little RAM. The downside? It costs over $450. Early adopters should adopt it now. Those who like to wait a little while will certainly be rewarded: the sales of this unit and the continual drop in hard drive prices could shave hundreds off the price (or make it readily available in used form) within months."
The Paperless Office Recedes Again -- Edward Reid <email@example.com> recommends picking up a more physical solution for working with your data. "Buy a used laser printer. Many people who are making do with inkjets would really prefer a laser printer. The older LocalTalk printers are going for about $25 to $75 at auction. For non-LocalTalk Macs you also need a Farallon iPrint, going for around $35-$50 at auction. Some of the older printers have parallel ports and work with PCs as well as Macs. The printers in this category are mostly straight 300 dpi - text looks great, but photographs do not print well. You can get toner cartridges cheap too - new ones, usually ones that have been sitting on the shelf for a few years."
"You might also know someone who has a laser printer that's gathering dust because it needs a repair that's predicted to cost more than the printer is worth. In that case, fix it for them with a kit from Laser Service."
Making the Switch -- Kevin van Haaren <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "Just did a little Christmas shopping for myself. The Linksys EtherFast 10/100 Mbps 5 Port Auto-Sensing Switch ($70) is the biggest sticker shock I've had for a while. I remember just a few years ago when a five port 10/100 Mbps switch would have cost $1,000. Instant gratification on my home network: most of my Ethernet cards are already 100 Mbps, I've just been waiting for the price of a real switch to drop down."
Mike Cohen <email@example.com> also recommends a Linksys device. "I have a Linksys BEFSR41 cable/DSL router with built-in 4-port switch ($160 or less) and I love it. I'm using it to share my cable modem connection between my blue-and-white Power Mac G3, iBook, and a Compaq 5340. It's my favorite piece of hardware that I purchased in the last year and it works beautifully. I highly recommend it to anyone who uses cable modem or DSL. One especially nice feature for DSL users is built-in support for PPP over Ethernet (PPPoE), so you don't have to install any connection software on your computer."
Article 4 of 9 in series
Perhaps it's indicative of the state of the software industry, where less and less software is available as a discrete boxed product, but hardware and accessories garnered far more recommendations this year than software of any sortShow full article
Perhaps it's indicative of the state of the software industry, where less and less software is available as a discrete boxed product, but hardware and accessories garnered far more recommendations this year than software of any sort. Another possibility is that hardware can both wear out and become obsolete, as you can tell by reading through suggestions from previous years. Some suggestions, like a UPS, a Kensington TurboMouse, a second video card and monitor, or a Palm OS handheld remain apt, whereas others (like a serial switch box) seem merely quaint.
A number of these products are available from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. They may not always have the absolute cheapest prices, but it can be worth a few bucks to deal with a known reputable supplier in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
Go Cordless -- We expect it of our telephones these days, so why not mice? Mike Cohen wrote, "I recently bought a $40 Logitech Cordless Mouse, and it has become my favorite mouse. I've never used a cordless mouse before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it is to work without the cord getting in the way, especially if your desk is as cluttered as mine. After I bought it, I discovered they also have the Cordless Optical Mouse for $50."
You Can Never Have Too Much -- We're glad Roy Morita made this suggestion, or we would have had to do it ourselves. "I recommend either PC100 or PC133 SDRAM memory assuming, of course, that the gift recipient has a compatible machine. With the price of memory going down almost daily, I just saw a 256 MB PC133 module being advertised by Circuit City for a mere $19.95 after rebate."
Prices seem to have stabilized recently, but even so, extra RAM is absolutely worthwhile, particularly if you're planning to upgrade to Mac OS X. For recommendations of RAM suppliers, check out the TidBITS Talk thread on the topic.
Go Large -- Just as memory is getting cheaper, it's amazing how much hard disk space you can buy these days for very little money. Whether you need more storage for applications, digital video, or MP3 music files, a larger hard drive is a good investment. Allen Trautman also uses his drives for large, fast backups. "I've just ordered a holiday present for myself: a Maxtor D740X 40 GB UltraATA/133 7200 RPM internal hard drive to supplement the factory-installed 40 GB drive in my Power Mac G4 533DP. Having two same-sized drives allows me to do backups of any size. I do regular backups to CD-ROM, but I didn't have the storage to back up all those digital video files I've been editing with iMovie. Outpost had this unit on sale for about $90, making it a very reasonable storage choice."
Another storage option is an external FireWire enclosure for an unused hard drive. TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson carries a small MCE Transport Pro case, which holds the 12 GB hard drive from his old PowerBook. It's been perfect for capturing and editing digital video while on the road, and since it's powered by his PowerBook G4's internal FireWire port, it takes up little space in his bag. The MCE Transport Pro FireWire & USB Combo Do-It-Yourself Kit costs $140; you can also purchase a similar kit with a PC Card interface, instead of FireWire and USB, for $100.
Or, Go Really Small -- Sometimes what's important isn't the amount of storage, but rather the size of its container. Richard Wanderman keeps his important data in his pocket. "I've had a cool device called a DiskOnKey for about three months and I'm in love with it. It falls into the category called 'solid state hard drive,' but that doesn't do it justice. The size of a highlighter pen, the DiskOnKey comes in memory sizes of 32, 64, 128, or 256 MB, and uses your Mac's USB port for connection and power. It needs no drivers in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and is compatible with Windows, too. The price is about $60 for the 32 MB size. It's one of the better 'sneakernet' devices I've found. A search on Google will find many similar devices but be aware of the driver issue that may crop up with some of them."
Music Anywhere -- We couldn't publish a TidBITS gift issue without mentioning the item many of us hope will miraculously appear in our stockings. Conan Gorbey said it best: "The hardware gift of the year has to be an iPod. This little device will change the way people think of music delivery. Suddenly, having 'hard copies' of music will seem a little odd when all you want is a soft version to upload to the iPod. It's a great combination of software and hardware, and has an aura of being 'so obvious that no one thought of doing it' that Apple seems to be able to pull off from time to time." The iPod's $400 price prompted Conan to add, "Obviously you would need a rich friend to give it to you...," but we'll remain ever hopeful on Christmas morning. (See Jeff Carlson's hands-on review in "iPod Makes Music More Attractive" in TidBITS-603.)
'Books Always Make Good Gifts -- While we're looking at Apple's offerings, a few readers pointed to a pair of gifts you can open every time you use them. Kevin van Haaren writes, "Okay, not a gift for your average friend or family member but a great gift for yourself (that's how I got mine) or that really special someone is the PowerBook G4 Titanium. I bought the 667 MHz model with DVD drive, 1 GB of RAM and a 30 GB hard drive. It is, hands down, the best computer I've ever used. For the first time since I decided to buy laptops for myself, I don't feel like I've given something up to gain portability (except a lot of money). Mac OS X is responsive, the screen is readable... and the width! It's amazing how much easier it is to work on multiple documents simultaneously using the PowerBook's 15.2-inch screen, and movies on DVDs look awesome. That's topped off by true dual monitor support, FireWire, an AirPort card, and even expandability through the PC Card slot, all in a package that doesn't throw my back out when I haul it around."
Bill del Solar prefers a more compact volume. "The Apple iBook, with at least 256 MB of RAM (for Mac OS X), a 20 GB hard disk, and a CD-RW drive has turned out to be a great little computer (and a Mac) for a lawyer or judge to take to hearings. The AppleWorks bundle is quick and works very well for taking notes on the fly. The combination of Mac OS X and that hardware makes a really sweet package."
Palm Keyboards -- If an iBook is still too large for your tastes, Derek Miller suggests a keyboard for your Palm OS-based handheld. "As I mentioned in my review of Palm OS word processors (see "How You Slice It: Two Mac Friendly Palm Word Processors" in TidBITS-604), I find a keyboard for my Palm indispensable. If you have Palm-using friends, I highly recommend such a keyboard. The Palm Portable folding keyboard (and the Targus Stowaway, its identical equivalent for Handspring Visors, other Palm OS devices, and even Pocket PCs and the like) is by far the easiest to find. The GoType! keyboard from LandWare does not fold, but seems more durable. And a few other keyboards are also now available, such as the Travelboard, KeySync, and Happy Hacking keyboards (some are noted on the About.com site noted below)."
iPray Thee, Hear Me Speak -- Andrew Cohen suggests the gift of speech for iMovie users or anyone wondering what to do with old records or audio tapes. "The iMic is a great and reasonable ($35) gift for any user who wants to dress up their iMovies with voice-overs or capture audio from an analog device. It enables you to connect any standard line-level or mic-level microphone to a Mac with a USB port via a 1/8-inch stereo plug. It's a good solution for those who already invested in a quality microphone for their video camera. You can also use the iMic to connect an audio tape deck or turntable, and coupled with Roxio's Toast Titanium, finally get that important audio off the dusty cassette tapes and onto a CD."
Video Tapes Don't Last Forever -- You spent the extra money at your wedding or other important event to have it videotaped - are you sure you can still watch the tape? If you're concerned about the relatively short life of VHS tape (15 years seems to be an optimistic figure), consider converting your videos to digital media. Kevin van Haaren writes, "A bit expensive at $265 (but cheaper than a iPod or digital video camera) the Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge analog to DV converter is really nice for working with analog video tapes with iMovie. iMovie sees it as a DV camera so no drivers are needed. I've been using mine in Mac OS X with iMovie 2 with few problems (a couple clips I captured from really poor tapes crash iMovie when saving back out to tape, which I think is an iMovie problem)."
Burnin' Ring of Fire -- In addition to his iBook recommendation above, Bill del Solar suggests one way to protect your investment: "If you have a connection to the Internet, you need a firewall. If you have a fast Internet connection, you need one even more. The SonicWALL SOHO3 firewall appliance is a great little box that lets you pick and choose which traffic to allow, in which direction, and over which port. It's able to repulse various different kinds of attacks because it is stateful instead of being merely a packet filter."
Article 5 of 9 in series
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."
Article 6 of 9 in series
Would anyone take exception to receiving a sleek new PowerBook, iBook, iMac, or Power Mac G5 this holiday season? Certainly not us, but our readers aimed for more humble and affordable ideas this year, focusing on hard drives, mice, and, the breakaway suggestion this year, laser printersShow full article
Would anyone take exception to receiving a sleek new PowerBook, iBook, iMac, or Power Mac G5 this holiday season? Certainly not us, but our readers aimed for more humble and affordable ideas this year, focusing on hard drives, mice, and, the breakaway suggestion this year, laser printers. 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.
And not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse -- It wouldn't be a TidBITS gift issue without someone suggesting one of Kensington's pointing devices, and this year Lorin Rivers sent in his pick, the Kensington Optical Elite mouse. It features five buttons, a scroll wheel, good drivers (the much-recommended MouseWorks software), and legendary telephone support (although Mark McKean later noted that Kensington's online support didn't match up to the quality of their phone support in his experience).
Hubba Hubba! TidBITS sponsor Dr. Bott has made some friends with their USB hubs. Michael Tardiff wrote, "Now that I look back on the year, I've managed to purchase quite a bit of stuff for my 12-inch PowerBook, but one item leaps to mind as the most useful and used: the Dr. Bott T3Hub Portable 3-port USB hub. It's little, comes in three colors to match any Mac, and is very portable indeed. What I like most, besides the size, is that it doesn't require power but still lets me run my USB LED keyboard light along with a USB wireless trackball, or any combination of devices I've thrown at it so far. I've gone through hell with other inexpensive hubs, but this one's been great. I gave one to a PC user who loves it as much as I do. For the obsessive-compulsive, it comes with little soft-plastic plugs for all three holes and the male plug. The plugs are easy to lose, but they show attention to detail.
Mike Cohen agreed with the sentiment. "I really love Dr. Bott's T7Hub. It's the smallest and nicest looking 7-port hub I've seen, and it can work with or without an external power brick, depending on the devices you have attached. It works well with all of my devices, including a Canon N650U scanner. Interestingly, VueScan wouldn't recognize that scanner using my old Asante 8-port hub, but it does work with the T7Hub.
The Hard Presents -- Joseph Jobes made the oh-so-practical (but still more romantic than a weedwhacker, guys!) suggestion of giving your sweetie an external hard drive, along with a good backup program. We recommend Retrospect, but there are others available that do a good job as well. The Maxtor OneTouch series of drives come with Retrospect Express and the clever OneTouch button to launch a backup, and the CMS ABSplus drives (which come in both portable and desktop versions) have their own backup software and launch backups as soon as they're connected. Of course, you could put one of these on your list, since as Joseph said, "Nothing makes me happier than recovering lost, damaged, or corrupted files!"
Christopher Schmidt was more specific with his choice of hard drives. "I love my SmartDisk FireWire drive because it is as quiet as my flat panel iMac, so I can use it in the living room. Mine is an older FireWire-only model, but it appears that the newer dual interface model uses the same heavy enclosure. At $230, it's not exactly a stocking stuffer, though."
Jim Foster went in a slightly different direction, recommending a Macally FireWire/USB 2.0 (PHR-100AC) External Hard Drive Enclosure for 3.5-inch drives. He noted, "It's terrific. My old Bondi Blue iMac had just died, and I needed to access files on the 60 GB internal hard drive I had installed in the iMac a few years back. It was a chore to get the drive out, but it took only a few minutes to pop it into the Macally enclosure. Then I walked it over to my wife's flat-panel iMac, hooked it up, and there were my two partitions sitting on her Desktop. I was even able to use it as the boot volume for her flat-panel iMac as well as the 500 MHz iBook I am using now. So the moral is, if you are lucky enough to have some spare Macs in your household, having a FireWire drive enclosure handy can get you back up and running quickly if one of your Macs takes a dive."
A Cheap Laser -- A surprising number of people suggested buying your loved one an inexpensive laser printer, since nothing says "Happy Holidays" like the smell of melting toner. Kevin van Haaren liked the fact that the laser printer he bought for $100 after rebate, a Samsung ml-1710, is faster than his inkjet, costs less per page, and supports all major operating systems. It's not a hit with his entire family though: "On the downside - my cat likes the inkjet better. He can watch the paper go in and come out, but the laser printer's paper tray hides the paper from him part of the time." Some cats prefer laser printers, though, since they're often warm places to sleep.
Tomoharu Nishino seconded Kevin's idea, recommending the HP LaserJet 1012, which prints 15 pages per minute, starts up in 10 seconds with instant-on fuser, prints at 600 dpi (1200 dpi simulated), connects via USB 2.0, and works with Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X out of the box. He continued, "It's quite compact (about the same size as my Epson inkjet) and lightweight. 5,000 pages per month duty rating should suffice for most personal use, and because it's an HP the toner cartridges are widely available. The only downside is that it is a bit noisy when printing, and its use of USB makes it difficult to stuff in a closet, but for $200 you can't complain too much."
Curtis Wilcox chimed in. "Last year my fiancee got the Brother HL-1440 (currently about $180). Physically it's a lot bigger and heavier than LaserJet 1012 but it has a regular paper drawer versus the 1012's inkjet-style paper tray (which Kevin's cat might like). It comes with only 2 MB of RAM but can be upgraded (34 MB max) with cheap 72-pin SIMMs, common to mid-90s computers. I heard the LaserJet 1012 yesterday and I'd say it's about as noisy as the Brother HL-1440 when printing. It works well with Mac OS X and the printouts look good. The Lexmark E220 might also be a good choice in this price range."
Article 7 of 9 in series
Apple has outfitted all Apple Store employees in red t-shirts with the single word "give" emblazoned on the front, next to an Apple logo. Subtle, but we're sure many people would love to be on the receiving end of a piece of Apple gearShow full article
Apple has outfitted all Apple Store employees in red t-shirts with the single word "give" emblazoned on the front, next to an Apple logo. Subtle, but we're sure many people would love to be on the receiving end of a piece of Apple gear. Readers concurred, with the AirPort Express as the device of choice. Also, last year's suggestions might be slightly out of date, but they are still worth a glance for ideas.
Although no one actually came out and said they'd like a new iMac G5, PowerBook G4, or iPod, we suspect that's because it's a bit too obvious. It's not like any TidBITS reader would see such a suggestion and think, "Wow, what a good idea! I never would have considered asking for a Mac or buying one for someone else on my own." There's no shame in giving (or wanting) a new Mac, though we would of course recommend you first read Adam's "Take Control of Buying a Mac" ebook to make sure you're getting the right machine. Similarly, Larry Chen's just-published (a few hours ago!) "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera" will help you figure out which digital camera would be most appropriate for your needs.
Music in the Air -- Lewis Butler called it when he opined that Apple's $130 AirPort Express would be the most submitted hardware gift suggestion, thanks to its capability to act as a normal Wi-Fi access point, share a USB printer, and best of all, send music played through iTunes to your stereo. Sean Peisert chimed in with the suggestion of a Keyspan Express Remote ($60) for controlling your tunes without iTunes.
Of course, if you're getting an AirPort Express, allow us to recommend Glenn Fleishman's "Take Control of Your AirPort Network" in either ebook ($10) or print ($12) forms.
Bring Your Video into the 21st Century -- You know those old videotapes from your VCR and analog camcorder have a limited lifespan, and your best hope for preservation is to digitize the analog recordings. Travis Butler pointed toward a product that will do just that. "If your budget supports it and you have someone with inclinations towards video hobbyism, you might consider the Canopus ADVC 100.
"The ADVC 100 is a converter box that lets you hook a standard video source - composite or S-Video, two-channel audio - to a Mac's FireWire port, and record it with a video capture program like iMovie.
"This is frankly something I wouldn't have bought for myself; at $300 list, it's something I don't use enough to justify the cost. But we picked one up at work this spring to convert our VHS-based training materials to DVD for convenience and durability. The boss gave me permission to take it home and use whenever I want, and I've found a surprising number of old videotapes that I wanted to convert to DVD.
"It's a bit hard for me to judge the ultimate quality of the video circuitry, since I've never used it with a maximum-quality video source; a couple of old laserdiscs are probably the best-quality items I've had, but my laserdisc player doesn't have an S-Video output - only composite. That said, I've never seen anything come out of the ADVC 100 at a lower quality than went into it, and even the laserdiscs over composite look pretty darned good transferred to DVD.
"As a side note, the combination of iMovie, iDVD, and a video capture box like the ADVC 100 makes it easy and relatively quick to put your old videos on DVD; frankly it felt easier than the times in the past I've transferred old records and tapes to CD. And iDVD is capable of doing fairly professional-looking work; I'd like to think the job I did on the original Mind's Eye laserdisc is better than the professional DVD releases of the second and third collections, though that's not too hard.
"For those not familiar with them, the Mind's Eye series was one of the original collections of early computer animation; the second collection (with music composed by Jan Hammer of Miami Vice fame) and later were released on DVD, but the original one never has been so far as I can tell. I'm still not sure why; the best guess I can make is that the animation is relatively primitive by today's standards. I still think it's worth having it available on DVD; even if there weren't historical reasons, some of them were rather cool as works of art."
Denis Jarvis concurred with Travis's gift suggestion of an analog/digital video converter. "However," he said, "I bought a Datavideo DAC-100 for $176, including shipping. This is substantially less than his $300 Canopus ADVC 100, yet it seems well constructed, has similar specifications, includes a full set of cables and has performed well for me.
"During the past month, using DAC-100 with iMovie and iDVD on a 20-inch iMac G5, I have converted my camcorder VHS tapes to several DVDs. I added titles and edited out the boring parts, something I would never have attempted with tape-to-tape editing. With this application alone, I have justified purchase of my new iMac!"
Editing out the boring parts isn't the only reason to make the conversion from tape to digital, as Jeff Carlson learned last year when he watched his 10-year-old wedding video. VHS tape deteriorates over time, so those memories you think are stored safely on the shelf are likely losing their quality. (For an example, see the following Web page.) Although DVD isn't an archival-grade medium (the surface materials wear out over time), you can more easily move the digital data to new media later on without further loss of quality.
PowerBooks in the Key of G -- Kevin van Haaren wrote: "If you know someone with an older PowerBook who is jealous of users with 54 Mbps AirPort Extreme speeds, wants better reception signal, or wants to take full advantage of that new AirPort Express hub, take a look at the Sonnet Aria Extreme ($80).
"It uses the same chipset as the AirPort Extreme card so no drivers are necessary. First time installation was as simple as powering down, inserting card, booting up (only one AirPort chipset will work at a time, so powering down is required to switch between Aria and a built-in AirPort card.) Once the computer is set to use the Aria, you can pop the card in and out, put the computer to sleep, and so on, with no problems. You just have to make sure the card is inserted at power-on time for it to work (if you have an existing AirPort card.)"
Bluetooth Headset -- Kevin also noted, "The Jabra BT250 Bluetooth headset ($100) works nicely with my Mac and Windows boxes. Unfortunately I don't have a Bluetooth phone to test with.
"I was reluctant to buy initially because all the pictures made me think I was going to have this huge thing hanging from my ear, but it really is pretty small and most of the bulk is behind the ear. It's balanced well enough that it doesn't feel like it's pulling on my ear, and doesn't interfere with my glasses.
"At first I started to have a reaction to the silicon ear piece but washing it in warm water and soap, per the instructions, fixed that (I have allergies to perfumes so it was probably a coating of some sort that washed off.)"
Swiss Army RAM -- Marilyn Matty (seconded by Roy Morita) writes: "Here's a gadget that I think anyone Macintosh-minded will yodel about - a Swiss Army knife elevated to a new level of geekdom - a model tricked out with between 64 MB and 512 MB of removable USB storage ($65 to $160).
"These highly functional devices come with a knife, a red LED flashlight, a nail file/screwdriver combo, and a scissor. A no-knife version (great for frequent flyers who don't want to get hauled into security at the airport for trying to carry it on board) has the flashlight and a ballpoint pen in addition to the memory card.
"It's encased in a clear plastic version of the traditional - and cool looking - Swiss Army housing, and sports a handy keychain ring. And it's Mac-, Windows-, and Linux-friendly, making it a great gift for even non Mac-minded geeks. I don't have one yet, but I will be ordering one for myself and some for gift giving."
The Well-Loved Mac -- Just because a Mac is old doesn't mean it's useless, a fact Roger Adams reminded us of. "I am planning to give my wife a PowerBook G3/500 (Pismo) to replace her aging Wallstreet model."
If you're looking for a reliable source of older Macs, check out the listings from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics.
Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg raced to support Roger's suggestion. "At the risk of belabouring the obvious, I'd like to point out that there's a lesson for us all concealed here. The Pismo is an old model, so Roger is planning to give his wife a used computer. It might be his own old Pismo, or he might get it from somewhere else (e.g. eBay). Let's presume the former. I too am planning to give my used Pismo to a family member. Although giving a used object as a gift is traditionally regarded as somewhat iffy, in the case of computers it's entirely appropriate, and even advantageous.
You prevent waste. The machine goes to a good home and someone gets use out of it. Better than recycling or throwing away the machine, for sure.
On eBay, the machine is near worthless, so getting money for it won't be a satisfying experience (especially when you remember how much you paid for it). But to the recipient it feels as valuable as it did to you when it was new, which is satisfying to both of you.
If it's your own old machine, you are familiar with its specs and can be helpful.
Family involvement, as a recent report on NPR pointed out, is a primary force in getting people to use a computer; if it's your own old machine, that's actually an encouragement to the new user.
Computers do age and things can go wrong over time, but the more common case is that they just keep working fine for a very long time, so used is almost as good as new.
You contribute less to rampant consumerism. Not to mention saving money.
"So I think 'my old computer' (scanner, hard drive, etc.) is an excellent gift idea in the hardware category. The one mistake one can make, I think, is to give a device that's not powerful enough to make the recipient's life easy. Make sure that what you give is fast enough, has enough memory, or whatever, for the use to which the recipient will put it. The device you are giving should be a useful tool, not a bottleneck whose shortcomings the recipient must struggle with."
Kinesis Contoured Advantage USB Keyboard -- Sore hands from typing? Andrew Laurence offered a possible solution, the Kinesis Contoured Advantage USB Keyboard. "Kinesis has kept the same basic design since my 1998 review (see "Kinesis Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard" in TidBITS-454). The keyboard is still rock-solid, well-built, programmable, and remappable. The Mac/PC key switching is now accomplished via firmware. I've seen a lot of 'ergonomic' keyboard designs, but this is the only one that seems designed with actual ergonomics in mind - the keyboard is broken into halves, with each half at the outer border to minimize ulnar deviation, and each half is shaped like a bowl, allowing fingers to travel their normal range of motion. (RSI solutions are very subjective, however - the keyboard that works for me may not for another user.) At a list price of $300 it ain't cheap, but to this day my hands hurt if I use a standard 101 layout keyboard for any length of time."
Serious Sound -- Managing Editor Jeff Carlson wrote, "A few years ago while on vacation, I rented a house that had no stereo system. No problem, since my PowerBook was nearby - but the built-in speakers just weren't going to cut it. This was back when Outpost.com offered free overnight shipping, so I ordered an inexpensive set of computer speakers that have been adequate, but not stellar.
"Earlier this year I replaced them with a set of Harman/Kardon SoundSticks II. What a difference! The sticks themselves produce clear sound, but it's the jellyfish-looking subwoofer that kicks the gear into a great-sounding system. They plug into the audio-out port of my PowerBook; previous SoundSticks were USB-based.
"$200 may sound like a lot to pay for computer speakers, but when you listen to music while working, as I do, the cost is completely worth it."
Article 8 of 9 in series
Hardware just isn't the thing this year, it seems, with relatively few suggestions other than Derek Miller's extensive collection of ideas for anyone interested in podcastingShow full article
Hardware just isn't the thing this year, it seems, with relatively few suggestions other than Derek Miller's extensive collection of ideas for anyone interested in podcasting. If you're casting about for more, suggestions from previous years might be slightly out of date but are still worth checking out.
USB Convergence -- USB devices seem to breed like bunnies, but you can reduce their impact on your desk with the Kensington PocketHub Media Center ($50), recommended by Dan Frakes. He wrote, "This tiny (4" wide, 2.4" deep, and .8" high; 10.1 x 6.1 x 2 cm), aluminum-clad package combines a 3-port USB 2.0 hub with a 15-in-one memory card reader. It's small and light enough to throw in your laptop bag but has enough functionality to use at home. Although it doesn't come with an AC adapter, it does have a power input jack so you can use it as a powered hub if you like. You can get a USB hub and a 'universal' card reader for less money separately, but I like the PocketHub's compact design and having one less peripheral to plug in and clutter my desk."
Keep Your (PowerBook) Cool -- Although a nice, warm PowerBook can be cozy during the winter here in the northeast United States, sometimes that heat can be a problem. Dan O'Donnell wrote, "One of my internal clients runs very large numerical simulations on his PowerBook. He also happens to run it on his 23-inch monitor so the PowerBook runs at 100 percent power with the lid closed. Since considerable cooling is normally supposed to happen convectively up through the keyboard, these machines get hot. (Really hot!) I discovered the old MacMice iBreeze platform that has a pair of built-in USB-powered fans. At the same time we bought one for the client, I got one for my machine so I could see how well it worked. It works well - the machine never heats up while it's on the fan-stand. MacMice is long gone, but the products live on at Mac Pro Systems and Software. The clear stand costs $25 and the silver version is $20. The fans make a small fannish sound when running, but the cool blue LED in the USB connector has geek chic. Assuming that heat is an enemy of PowerBooks and electronics in general, it could extend the life of any laptop which it provides cooling to and save money in the long run."
Jaws for Radio -- John Trapp wrote, "I strongly recommend the Griffin Technology Radio Shark AM/FM Desktop Radio ($44 from Amazon). Think of it as TiVo for radio. I record NPR shows and AM sports broadcasts for timeshift listening on my iPod. If you like AM, be sure to get a Terk Technology AM-1000 Advantage Passive AM Indoor Antenna ($34 at Amazon). It is amazing how good the signal can sound. The only drawback to the Radio Shark is that it does not allow you to save streams into segments, so for that I use Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro, which can segment saved streams by size or time, a must for playing files on an iPod."
Widen Your View -- You can never have too many pixels, and Mac mini owners in particular might still be using substandard monitors. We haven't seen these particular screens, but if you have a store near you, it's always worth taking a look at monitors in person before buying. For a utility display, we once bought a 14-inch LCD monitor from Best Buy for the then-amazing price of $150; it's perfect for its intended use, but the quality would make it unbearable to use for long as a primary monitor. For this holiday season, Fred D. suggested a new screen, "If you know someone who still has their Mac mini hooked up to an old CRT monitor, consider the Westinghouse LCM-17w7 LCD widescreen 17-inch monitor. It's on sale at Best Buy for $200. It features 1280 by 768 native resolution, 15 ms pixel on/off, DVI-D and VGA input ports, two built-in speakers, and white-silver bezel trim that complements the Mac mini's case. It doesn't have the best brightness and contrast ratings (400 cd and 600:1), but $200 is a great price for such a monitor."
Paul Guinnessy chimed in, "You also can't go wrong with the Dell 20-inch widescreen display (2005FPW) when the price drops to $380." Dell often has deals; it's also worth checking the dealnews listing for sales on this and similar displays.
<http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/ ProductDetail.aspx?sku=20053YR&c=us& amp;cat=snp&category_id=6198& amp;cs=19&l=en& amp;Page=productlisting.aspx>
<http://dealnews.com/categories/Computer/ Peripherals/Monitors/Flat-Panel-LCDs/ 76.html>
Dive into Podcasting -- Pretty soon everyone will have their own podcast, it seems, and if you want to get started, we recommend reading Andy Williams Affleck's "Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac" and checking out Derek Miller's suggestions for podcasting-related hardware below. Take it away, Derek!
If you or a friend are interested in getting into podcasting or recording with GarageBand, some quality (but not necessarily expensive) recording equipment can greatly improve the sound of the material. There are, of course, thousands of possible gear combinations. Three resources I recommend you peruse are TweakHeadz Lab for independent digital recording equipment reviews; PodcastRigs.com for more podcasting-specific gear combinations in tiered-price packages; and Harmony Central, which offers moderated user-review forums for musical and recording equipment, with a high signal-to-noise ratio and a massive database. I always check Harmony Central when evaluating new gear.
You can see what I've managed even without the FireWire interface/mixer at my podcast of original instrumentals. (If you want to buy my CD album - now being duplicated - of that material as a Christmas present, I wouldn't object either.) In particular, I recommend the following equipment:
A quality microphone, for recording voices and instruments that you can't plug in directly to your Mac. Sure, you can get a $20 Radio Shack special or a USB headset, but to sound really good (and why do it if you won't?) you should spend more money. Options include the Behringer B2 Pro condenser mic (less than $150) and AKG C1000S condenser mic ($200), both good general-purpose microphones, and the Heil PR40 dynamic ($375 list, $275 street), which is excellent for the money but more specialized for podcast and radio speech recording (and not necessarily so good for louder singing or instruments).
A FireWire audio interface or mixing board. Condenser microphones need phantom power (a small power current through the cable, or via a battery), which Macs can't provide directly through the audio-in jack. Besides, the audio-in on most Macs (that have it at all) tends to be noisy, and doesn't support the three-conductor balanced ("XLR") connectors used by good microphones. So you can either get a basic FireWire external box, like the Presonus Inspire ($200) or FireBox ($300), or a full mixer with FireWire outputs, like the Alesis MultiMix 8 ($400), which gives you built-in digital effects (reverb and so on) too. All three (and their many competitors) digitize the signal so your Mac doesn't have to, and provide much more flexibility for recording simultaneous tracks, mixing, listening, and generally mucking with your sounds (from mics, instruments, and so on) at high quality. They usually come with more powerful (but harder to use) software than GarageBand. I recommend against USB solutions, although they're cheaper, because even USB 2.0 isn't as good as FireWire for moving lots of time-sensitive bits around.
A microphone stand, either tabletop, floor-standing, or desk-mounted. These are available from any music store, Radio Shack (now The Source here in Canada), and elsewhere for $15 and up.
Anyone recording podcasts or audio on the go might not want to lug a PowerBook. Until recently, iPods weren't a feasible option because even with third-party add-ons their recording quality was crippled, so I recommended the inexpensive iRiver IFP series MP3 player/recorders ($100 and up), which record directly to MP3 at very high quality and have an external mic jack. Alas, their user interface is extremely obscure (showing why Apple is winning the MP3 player race) and you must use the included iRiver Mac software to transfer the files - as with iPods, you can't just drag files from a mounted USB drive. Now, of course, the video-capable 5G iPods can record CD-quality WAV file audio, but it doesn't look like there are any adapters or microphones to let you do that quite yet. Still, if you need an excuse to buy a fifth-generation iPod...
Add good connector cables ($10 and up), and you have all your recipient needs to sound amazing for a maybe a few hundred bucks. Even a few years ago, sound quality like that was impossible without spending thousands - and the results were harder to get to an audience.
While Dan Frakes's 2002 and 2003 "Music To Your Ears" articles about headphones are probably the best resource for buying new "cans" as gifts, I can specifically recommend two $100 pairs of "sealed" (traditional, big around-the-ear, noise-isolating) headphones. Sennheiser's HD 280 Pro, which I use, can take a bit to break in so that they don't clamp your head too tightly, but they sound great. Then there is AKG's K141, which is widely used in recording studios and broadcast setups. Both headphones let little sound in or out, and so are good for listening to yourself or backing tracks while you record, without leaking the sound you're hearing to be re-recorded by your microphone.
<http://www.headphone.com/products/headphones/ sealed-and-noise-canceling/sennheiser-hd -280-pro.php>
Article 9 of 9 in series
Hardware would seem to be a pretty easy category: go to Apple's online store and say, "I'll take one of everything, please!" What's more tricky is finding good hardware that adds to the Mac experienceShow full article
Hardware would seem to be a pretty easy category: go to Apple's online store and say, "I'll take one of everything, please!" What's more tricky is finding good hardware that adds to the Mac experience. This year's suggestions range from the practical to the whimsical. Don't forget to also peek at previous years' suggestions, and continue the discussion at TidBITS Talk about this year's picks.
Shuffle and Color Coordinate -- Someone had to say it, and Marilyn Matty stepped up to the plate. "The new iPod Shuffle ad campaign, which I think is great, says it all. At $80 plus free shipping from the Apple Store, a second generation iPod shuffle is a great gift for anyone."
But Marilyn didn't stop there, since although she may be giving an iPod shuffle to others, what she really wants are the flower-shaped JBL Spyro speakers and subwoofer from Harman Audio. "They look and sound beautiful, and are reasonably priced at $130. An added benefit is that they can be tricked out with optional and interchangeable colored covers. There's a basic iPod white model, but I'm waiting until after 19-Dec-06 to order the black model to match my beloved new iPod with video."
(Hard Disk) Space, the Final Frontier -- Jim Carr offers a tremendously practical solution to your holiday gift giving dilemmas. He wrote: "As we accumulate more songs, more videos, and more photos, it may well be time to upgrade internal storage if you aren't planning to replace your Mac. And you need an external backup drive big enough to match your internal storage." Be sure to buy the right sort of drive for the Mac in question; either IDE/ATA (sometimes also called parallel ATA or PATA) for older Macs, and serial ATA or SATA drives for newer Macs. And remember that laptops take 2.5-inch drives, whereas desktops use 3.5-inch drives.
Lewis Butler chimed in with a recommendation. "I think Seagate is the brand to go with. I used to buy nothing but Maxtor drives, but I've suddenly started having a rash of problems with them (four failures in the last year, all on drives under two years old). Sure, they get replaced, but the replacement gains the original's warranty with no extension, so now I'm looking at a terabyte of Maxtor drives I don't really trust. I've been about to click "Buy" on a 500 GB SATA drive for $150 all day. Not that I need it. I just _want_ it." Our usual approach when buying drives is to start scanning dealnews or Pricewatch for deals; our last 500 GB PATA drive cost only $150. Also note that Seagate bought Maxtor earlier this year.
Don't Eat That! Nigel Stanger offered a tasty-looking suggestion, but unless you're a robot, you probably wouldn't want to ingest these. "In the Just Plain Weird hardware category, how about a USB drive to match your favourite food?"
Fit to Be Printed -- Some gifts offer utility while lacking pizzazz (socks, anyone?), but we certainly wouldn't be sorry to see Rick Cricow's suggestion under our tree. "I just bought an HP LaserJet 1022nw ($400) and cannot say enough great things about it. I will say it's really well priced, prints nicely, and is wireless! I've had many laser printers in my life - small little Apple units, huge Canon multitasking digital printer/copier things, and color units. The technology continues to get faster, print better, and the price is amazing. And now, wireless! It installed quickly, saw my network, and shows up nicely using Bonjour. A fine gift for yourself, or for anyone needing a network printer."
Scan Those Slides -- Paul Atroshenko must not be quite sure that these newfangled digital cameras are truly here to stay, or perhaps he has a lot of old slides and photos around, since he's looking at a photo scanner this year. "My vote for the best hardware gift would have to be the new HP Scanjet G3010. For just under AUS$200 one gets an amazing scanner which can do scans of colour slides at 4000 dpi. The advanced sections of the accompanying software give good control of exposure settings. The leap in the quality of the scans is quite astounding. You can process two slides, or two negatives, at a time, but I have found it is best to do one slide at a time. This machine is not for the professional wanting to do big batches of scans at once, but for the genteel photo hobbyist it is more than adequate. The scanner also makes PDF files and does OCR." We had trouble nailing down the HP Scanjet G3010, which may imply that it's either an older model or one that's sold outside of the United States. From what we can tell, though, it's similar to the HP Scanjet 4850, which costs $150.
Speak Clearly into the Monsterphone -- For the Skype aficionados on your list, Taree Vriesman has a cool suggestion. "Verballs are very funky hands-free speakerphones that actually wave when a call comes in!" They're USB-powered and cost about $55 (though we could find them only from stores in the United Kingdom).
Keep It Simple, Camcorder -- Sure, you could spend hundreds, or even thousands, on a digital camcorder, but if you want something small, simple, and cheap, John Droz, Jr. suggested the Pure Digital PSV-351 30 Minute Point-and-Shoot Camcorder. It costs $100 at Amazon, and PC Magazine gave it a positive review. Although no one but Pure Digital seems to mention this, it is compatible with the Mac. John also points out that there's a seemingly identical product - the RCA EZ101 Small Wonder Camcorder - that may be a bit cheaper.
Prevent VHS Conversion Procrastination! Jim Carr noted that in 2004's gift issue, the Canopus ADC 100 was recommended as a way to convert VHS video tapes to QuickTime movies. In a thinly veiled hint, he noted that he doesn't yet own a product to perform this conversion, but he was happy to provide a link to Canopus's current product lineup. But he's absolutely right; if you have video you want to save that's still on VHS tapes, those tapes are 2 years older than they were the last time such a product was recommended. (And yes, we plead guilty to this same sin; finding the time and disk space to convert all those Compact VHS tapes to QuickTime keeps falling off the to-do list.)
Put a USB TV in Your Mac -- Between DVDs from Netflix and YouTube videos, plain old TV is looking a bit long in the tooth. But TV still has some life in it, and Paul Brians offered some suggestions for integrating TV with a Mac. "I'm thinking about getting the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick High-Def USB Tuner & DVR for my daughter who lives in a cramped apartment in Manhattan and would like to watch TV on her new iMac. The name pretty well describes the product: a little USB 2.0 device you can use to tune in digital and analog TV signals and feed them to your PC and use the latter as a DVR. It works with Windows Media Center Edition, but that's not a huge obstacle for someone with an Intel-based Mac with Boot Camp and a copy of Windows Media Center Edition. Pinnacle recommends an external antenna, but reviewers have had success feeding it from an indoor antenna in a window. It can also accept cable coaxial input. It lists for $130, but can be had for less online, such as for $120 at Amazon.com, where the reviews are worth reading, and on The Green Button. It has only composite and S-video inputs, but that's not too limiting for a relatively small screen. It does require a fast computer with a large hard disk, since it uses about 9.5 GB per hour recorded. Some people have had problems with the included software, including frequent crashes, but others have been very happy. Evidently the included remote control has very limited capabilities."