Avoid Long Hierarchical Menus
If you right-click (or Control-click) on some item, such as a file in the Finder, and one of the sub-menus has many options (Open With is a frequent culprit), it may take several seconds to open, even on a fast machine, which is annoying if you did not actually want that sub-menu.
The trick is to not pull the cursor through the menu, but in a curve around it, so the cursor does not touch any menu items until lower on the list where you wanted to go.
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Series: Miscellaneous Gift Ideas
Hard-to-categorize gift suggestions from TidBITS Readers
Article 1 of 9 in series
The Ultimate Rodent Gift -- We're going to have to try these 3M mousepads, since they continue to garner rave reviews every year. Dave Fitch was the first of many to suggest them this time aroundShow full article
The Ultimate Rodent Gift -- We're going to have to try these 3M mousepads, since they continue to garner rave reviews every year. Dave Fitch <firstname.lastname@example.org> was the first of many to suggest them this time around. "The best thing anyone could get me for Christmas - aside from a CPU upgrade card - is a 3M mousepad, officially called the 3M Precise Mousing Surface. They're small, kidney shaped, very thin (2 to 3 mm) and stick to your desk so they don't slide around. They work well and really do grip the ball in your mouse. They're relatively cheap (less than $15) and will last a hard-mousing user about 8 months."
Rodent on the Rug -- Joshua Rafofsky <email@example.com> writes: "A few years back I was cited for my gift idea of a mouse pad customized with a photo. No doubt those pads have worn down by now and it's time for a new one. The gift of choice this year is an improved product, the mouserug. This pad is the best I've ever used. It's fashionable and durable, with a smooth mousing surface which (best of all) keeps your mouse ball clean. It is sure to get plenty of attention, since it closely resembles an expensive rug. Watch yours closely - these things have a way of mysteriously disappearing around the office!"
Have a Gelly Holiday -- Stephen Kayner <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers an inexpensive gift idea that is sure to please: the Fellowes Gel Wrist Rest and Mouse Pad (stock #91741), which costs about $12 to $16. "There's also a matching keyboard wrist rest. I've used several different kinds, but these are the best I've found! The Fellowes gel provides just the right combination of cushion and support."
Give the Gift of Connectivity -- Apu <email@example.com> suggests the gift of Internet access, or at least an email account. "Many Internet providers have provisions for multiple email accounts for use by the subscriber and his or her family, but often people only use one account for themselves and never take advantage of the others. Give them to your family - it might not even cost you anything. Or use a free, Web-based service. It's great for people who might have limited, shared network access (at work, home computer, local library) but otherwise couldn't receive email."
Mike Vlasman <firstname.lastname@example.org> seconds Apu's suggestion and extends it to include some of the giver's time to make sure things work properly. "Here in the backwoods of Manitoba, our local ISP is wonderful but not too Mac literate. A few of us do house calls for Mac users in the area and it's made all the difference."
Pick a Peck of Peaches -- Dori Smith <email@example.com> offers an idea for the new Mac user. "If you know anyone who's getting an iMac as a present, add on Peachpit's iMac 3-Pack, which is a cost-saving bundle of Peachpit's Visual QuickStart Guides to MacOS 8.5, Quicken 98, and AppleWorks 5. It's the set of manuals that should have come with the iMac."
Full Service Present -- I guess Anne Carley's <firstname.lastname@example.org> mother was nice to her kids. Anne writes: "In keeping with the hard-to-wrap theme, my siblings and I are giving our mother the following: a year's email and ISP account; a year's service from local Mac tech; a RAM upgrade to the maximum her machine can stand; a Web page for her professional literature, articles, and small press catalog (I did the first cut; she can request edits and updates at will); and nice business cards."
Donate an Old Mac -- Michael O'Hara <email@example.com> offers a philanthropic suggestion. "Give away an old computer to a stranger. School districts are often happy to take older equipment, provided it isn't too old. I just handed over my old SCSI Microtek Scanner to the Oakland School District, and I'm sure they would like any nice 68030/040 Macs you might have laying about as well. For information from a group that facilitates computer donations, check out Parents, Educators, and Publishers (PEP) Directory of Computer Recycling Programs."
Xtend Your Mac's Control -- If you like the idea of automating your house from a Macintosh, Jacob Kaplan <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests the XTension software and some modules. "XTension is a Mac program that lets you automate your whole house from a computer. XTension works with the X10 protocol, which sends commands through existing power lines to certain modules, and turns on the lights or appliances which are connected to the modules. There are different types of modules (such as motion sensors), and most are available from Radio Shack as well as online. XTension is much better than MouseHouse (the other Mac program for doing the same thing) in that it uses AppleScript, so you can script almost anything to happen at certain times. Not only that, but the XTension site has so many tutorials that it makes even complex concepts seem easy. There's also a great email discussion list for XTension with an active group of users."
Hook Kids with MacAddict -- Anne Garland <email@example.com> offers an interesting take on Macintosh publications. "For young Mac fans, a subscription to MacAddict would make a great, inexpensive gift. My ten-year-old son loves the magazine - he checks the mail regularly to see if the latest issue has arrived. It's full of useful articles (he actually went to his archived back issues to help me solve a problem with my machine), and the enclosed CDs are fun and well-designed. It also has an attitude, which appeals to kids (but might not to some of our parents - who knows)."
Planetary Images -- Paul J. Schinder <firstname.lastname@example.org> notes that "the National Space Science Data Center has a Web site where anyone can order CD-ROMs. The $10 Planetary Images CD-ROM makes a nice gift."
Article 2 of 9 in series
Handsome Prints -- Herouth Maoz writes, "iPrint.com is an excellent idea for all kinds of interesting, custom-made gifts. You pick an item (t-shirt, babywear, mousepad, mug, etc.), and custom design it, either with ready-made graphics or with ones you upload yourselfShow full article
Handsome Prints -- Herouth Maoz <email@example.com> writes, "iPrint.com is an excellent idea for all kinds of interesting, custom-made gifts. You pick an item (t-shirt, babywear, mousepad, mug, etc.), and custom design it, either with ready-made graphics or with ones you upload yourself. You can add text, pick fonts, change colors, and it will be printed and delivered. The neat thing is that the interface is very easy on beginners, so if your mother, who knows only how to use a browser, needs an online gift option, this may well be the solution for her as well."
Furnishing Every Mac User -- You'd think TidBITS readers spend a fair amount of time in front of their computers. Many respondents suggested computer furniture, such as Mike Wingstrom's <firstname.lastname@example.org> praise for the Jerker desk from IKEA, "the ultimate computer desk". Gordon Meyer <email@example.com> writes, "If you're looking for some excellent computer/office furniture, check out Anthro. I only recently decided to try out their desks, etc., and I'm sorry I waited as long as I did. As far as I'm concerned, Anthrocarts are the Macintosh of SOHO furniture."
EddieK <firstname.lastname@example.org> offered a more deep-seated furniture suggestion: "I just received the Herman Miller Aeron chair for Hanukkah. It's on the expensive side, but since you're planted in one most of the day, what's too much? The chair adjusts to more positions and levels of comfort than any office chair I've ever had, so I consider it an exceptional value." TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson added, "I recently bought an Aeron chair after wearing out two cheaper chairs bought at office supply stores in less than two years. Not only is the Aeron the best chair I've owned, I love its design."
Cool Your Book -- Melanie Jo Watts <email@example.com> found the perfect accessory for her new iBook. The iCoolPad is an iBook-colored (translucent tangerine or blueberry) pivoting stand that helps dissipate heat generated from laptops. [The original CoolPad is solid black and really does help to cool the space heaters some of us affectionately refer to as PowerBooks. -Jeff]
A Better Mousetrap -- Martha Robinson <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends the iCatch (or UniTrap, they're the same) for the iMac mouse. The iCatch is a plastic shell that snaps around the iMac's puck-shaped mouse to give it a more traditional (and easier to use) shape.
Home X10sion -- Dean Suhr <email@example.com> is hoping an elf will update his 10-year-old X10 home automation setup with a modern MouseHouse interactive automation system with new software, a bidirectional interface, and IR/RF remote control. The $99 (on sale) starter kit includes an ActiveHome interface module, Mac and PC serial adapters and cables, an IR/RF handheld remote, a lamp module, and an RF transceiver appliance module.
Slip a Disk -- Dan Ringrose <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "If you're looking for small gifts I'd suggest a box of about 50 of those paper/plastic CD jackets. My track record with jewel boxes is terrible (amazing that such high technology as CDs could be so thoughtlessly packaged) and now that I have a CD-writer it always seems that I have one more CD than I have boxes or paper envelopes."
Marilyn Matty <email@example.com> also offers a suggestion for organizing disks. "Know someone who has a lot of Zip or floppy disks and would appreciate a great looking storage option that comes in colors that coordinate wonderfully with iMacs and iBooks? The Museum of Modern Art in New York makes holders that snap together and can also fit into a 3-ring binder. The carriers come in packages of 10 each, and are $13.50 for members ($15 for non-members) for the Zip version, and $9 ($10.00) for floppies."
Article 3 of 9 in series
Lift Your 'Book -- Several readers recommended products that make using a PowerBook or iBook easier. To keep your lap from getting scorched, Shawn King uses the Podium CoolPad from RoadToolsShow full article
Lift Your 'Book -- Several readers recommended products that make using a PowerBook or iBook easier. To keep your lap from getting scorched, Shawn King <firstname.lastname@example.org> uses the Podium CoolPad from RoadTools. The CoolPad, a swiveling stand that allows air to help cool laptops, has appeared in previous gift issues; the new Podium CoolPad adds risers for increasing the keyboard tilt angle.
George Simpson <email@example.com> suggests the LapStand, "a lightweight, metal device that quickly unfolds to become a portable desktop. It's easy to carry around (I use it in overcrowded conference rooms when I don't get a seat at the big table), and it is steadier than your lap. Plus, it doesn't toast your thighs!"
Help Your Eyes on Red-Eye Flights -- A PowerBook or iBook screen is plenty bright when working in low-light conditions, but the same doesn't apply to the keyboard. To shed a little illumination on your laptop's keys or the immediate surrounding area - without turning on an overhead light - consider Greg Zeren's gift suggestion: the $20 Kensington FlyLight Notebook USB Light, a small flexible lamp that plugs into a USB port. Power drain is minimal, and the LED light won't burn out like ordinary light bulbs.
Solution for Graffiti Problems -- For those who don't like to write Graffiti into a Palm OS device, or just have too much data to enter, Mike Rohde <firstname.lastname@example.org> puts the foldable keyboard at the top of his list. Originally developed by ThinkOutside, the keyboard is available from two resellers: Targus sells a version for Handspring Visor devices, while Palm sells the Palm Portable Keyboard for its handhelds. It's a full-sized keyboard with excellent key action, but folds down to roughly the size of a Palm III or Visor.
Article 4 of 9 in series
Each year we discover products that don't fit easily into a regular category, but which are worth the attention in their own right. Be sure also to check out the Miscellaneous Gifts of TidBITS holidays past, as well as the TidBITS Talk discussions that inspired them. An Extra Hand with CDs -- We've come across a simple little product from Contoured Edge, IncShow full article
Each year we discover products that don't fit easily into a regular category, but which are worth the attention in their own right. Be sure also to check out the Miscellaneous Gifts of TidBITS holidays past, as well as the TidBITS Talk discussions that inspired them.
An Extra Hand with CDs -- We've come across a simple little product from Contoured Edge, Inc. that would make a great gift for people who always have CDs lying around. Called the CD Hold Button, it's a small polycarbonate thingamajig you stick to the side of your monitor, to your dashboard, to your boombox, or anywhere else you want to hold a CD. Then, rather than setting a CD down and risk scratching it, you can just put the CD onto the CD Hold Button (it grips like a jewel case's insert). They come in a bunch of colors and cost only $5 for a three-button pack or $9 for an eight-button pack. Simple, clever, and cheap - what more could you want?
Good Quality Headphones -- Some TidBITS Talk respondents offered a few sentences of suggestions, but Dan Frakes sent along what was almost a short article about how you can enhance your Mac or iPod. Take it away, Dan.
Many Mac users use headphones regularly: for DVDs on the plane, for iTunes at work or at the library, for games at home, and now with the iPod. The problem is that most headphones... well, they stink. And most of the better headphones don't get a lot of press - you see ads for Sony StreetStyle and Bose Noise Canceling headphones, but you don't see many ads for headphones that actually sound good. So as a headphone geek, I'm going to recommend a few headphones that are highly regarded in the audio community. If there's a Mac/PowerBook/iPod user in your life who uses headphones, get them some that really do their audio justice.
It's worth noting that there are definitely headphones out there that are "better" than some of the models listed below, from Sennheiser, AKG, Grado, Beyerdynamic, and even Sony. However, few will actually sound better without a dedicated (separate) headphone amp; those listed below will work well directly out of an iPod or the headphone jack on your PowerBook or desktop Mac.
Most of these headphones can be found at a good headphone-only retailer like HeadRoom. A few of the Koss models can be found at the big electronics stores. The Sony V6 headphones are quite hard to find; DJ Mart is one of the few places that still carry them.
For clarification, earbuds are small headphones that sit in your ear, like the ones included with the iPod.
Etymotic ER4P ($250) or ER6 ($120). These are the best earbuds on the planet by leaps and bounds. They actually fit inside the ear canal and provide far more isolation (-28 dB and -20 dB, respectively) and better sound than any noise-canceling headphone on the market. They're perfect for traveling. The only drawback is that some people don't like sticking things inside their ears... way inside.
Koss KSC-35 ($30). Not really an earbud but an "earclip" - no headband, so they're very small, lightweight, and comfortable. Plus they offer some of the best sound under $100. Definitely the best headphone available for exercise and active use, and one of the best bargains in headphones.
Koss KSC-50 ($20). The new version of the KSC-35, they are still excellent, but not quite as good as the original.
Sennheiser MX-500 ($20). Probably the best all-around traditional earbud.
Sony MDR-E888 ($60). Sony's best earbud is very good, but not quite as balanced as the Sennheiser MX-500.
Lightweight headphones clip over the ear or are connected by a metal or plastic headband. Koss makes portable headphones using a driver that is much better than anything else on the market in this category. All of the following headphones use the same driver, and all sound excellent (though a bit different due to enclosure differences). I've listed them in the order I prefer them.
- KSC-35 ($30, earclip)
- KSC-50 ($20, earclip)
- PortaPro ($40, traditional headband)
- KSC-55 ($15-$20, "Streetstyle" headband rests behind the head/neck)
- SportaPro ($20, traditional or behind-the-head band; fits like a vise)
Sealed full-sized headphones fit over the ears and block out external noise; good for travel or home use.
Beyerdynamic DT250-80 ($150). Probably the best traditional sealed headphone that can be powered by a portable.
Sony MDR-V6 ($70). Quite comfortable, and fold up for travel. Also available as the "pro" line MDR-7506 for $40-$50 more. The V6 are different than the MDR-V600, which are nowhere near as good.
Beyerdynamic DT231 ($90) or Sennheiser HD25SP ($85). Not quite as good as the V6, but easier to find.
Koss UR20 or UR30 ($25-$30). The best "bargain" sealed headphone, but a bit boomy in the bass.
Open full-sized headphones don't seal out noise and tend to be bulkier, but they're great for listening at home.
Grado SR-60 ($70), SR-80 ($90), or SR-125 ($150). Not the most comfortable, but great sounding headphones for the money - the SR-80 is a major bargain in high-end headphones.
Sennheiser HD495 ($60). Intended for use with a dedicated amp, but still sound very good directly out of a portable or computer headphone jack.
For more headphone info, check out Head-Fi and HeadWize.
Think Outside the Box -- We've long railed about the massive waste involved in packaging and distributing software. We cringe when we receive a large cardboard box filled with more cardboard filler... and a single CD (it was a tad more tolerable when software shipped with instruction manuals, but even those are becoming a rarity). Harro de Jong noted the advantages of bypassing first-run products by picking up items sold by previous owners. "Computer-related gifts are often expensive, but discard the box and shrink-wrap, and prices drop steeply. Since computer hardware often lives much longer than its first owner will use it, those people can usually be persuaded to part with all kinds of neat stuff for a pittance. This year I was able to buy a Wacom tablet, a color inkjet (with 7 spare cartridges), plus a trackball for less than $100. With some cleaning and a thorough check, I've got a gift that will make a poor graphic arts student very happy."
Big Letters Make Big Words -- Some folks have complained about Apple's new white-on-black keyboards, but contrast isn't the only trouble people have when looking at their keyboards. Melinda Stamp's small gift is providing big rewards. "I bought Hooleon's large-print key-top labels for my visually impaired father for his birthday and he loved them. They greatly enhanced his experience with his computer. I'm buying him another set for his new Christmas iMac. This is an inexpensive, easy, and thoughtful gift for anyone with vision problems or just 'over-40' eyes. The labels are durable, attractive, easy to apply, and come in various colors. Hooleon also offers a variety of custom keyboard products, like Braille large print labels."
Give Your Groove -- The age-old tradition of recording a custom selection of songs to a cassette tape has been updated to the digital age. A few TidBITS Talk participants mentioned they plan to send CDs containing, in the words of Mike Cohen, "unreleased tracks, live performances, and other rarities and hard-to-find music." Being digital, however, means you're not limited to just music. Marilyn Matty plans to add video to her CDs. Or, if you have a SuperDrive-equipped Power Mac, take your videos, still images, and MP3 files and burn them to a DVD using Apple's iDVD software.
Book Geeks Recommend Geek Books -- As publishers, we're enthusiastic supporters of books. Not surprisingly, a few TidBITS Talk subscribers singled out the printed word as great gifts. With Mac OS X invading our Macs, Mike Whybark recommends building a Unix bookshelf, either from online sellers like Amazon.com or from your local used bookstore. "Since Unix is a mature OS, there are many titles which have been out for a good while that are not utterly obsolescent, as so many computer books become over time. I recently picked up a copy of Unix Unleashed circa 1994 for two dollars, and it's been helpful!" Some suggested titles include:
Learning the Unix Operating System (Nutshell Handbook), by Jerry D. Peek, et al (O'Reilly, $12)
Apache: the Definitive Guide (With CD-ROM), by Ben Laurie, et al (O'Reilly, $25)
Sendmail, by Bryan Costales, Eric Allman (O'Reilly, $35)
DNS and BIND (4th Edition), by Paul Albitz, Cricket Liu (O'Reilly, $32)
Mac OS X: The Missing Manual by David Pogue (O'Reilly, $18)
Think Local, Read Geek -- Steve Harley writes, "Computer books are great gifts, but for more advanced users it can be very hard to know which book. Giving a gift certificate solves that problem, but if the recipient is not local, one might feel stuck with giving certificates from large chains or online behemoths like Amazon. The answer is BookSense, which links independent booksellers and helps them compete while remaining independent."
Holster Your Palm -- Since the original PalmPilot, companies have devised all manner of cases, belt clips, and pouches to hold your handheld organizer, and Derek Miller chimes in with an interesting new entry in the field. "Nite Ize makes a line of extremely hardy and practical PDA, phone, radio, and GPS cases, with flexible internal metal frames, called Stand Up Holsters. They not only protect your Palm or other device, but also have extra pockets and flip to stand like easels, clip to your belt, or even hang from something if you like. They're a bit bulky and geeky-looking, but very practical, even if a tad expensive ($50 Canadian for the PDA case in one store I looked at - about $30-35 US)."
Packing Digital Heat -- Your cell phone rings, your Visor's alarm goes off, and you're scrambling for your digital camera before that perfect picture disappears. Augh! Many of us find ourselves carrying a variety of handheld electronic devices these days, but carrying your devices in a way that keeps them accessible and at least moderately attractive has proven tricky. Adam wrote, "My current solution comes from Personal Electronics Concealment, a company that has taken designs from shoulder holsters and created a flexible set of e-Holster products for all your devices. You can combine a two-shoulder e-Harness, a one-shoulder e-ShoulderStrap, or a belt-mounted e-BeltSnap with one or more e-Pouches in a variety of shapes and sizes to match your devices. I have an e-ShoulderStrap with a pair of e-Pouches, one hanging underneath the other, sized perfectly for my cell phone and either my Canon PowerShot S100 or Palm V. Access to the velcro-fastened e-Pouches is fast and easy, and although I generally wear the e-ShoulderStrap over my head and across my chest for a more secure fit, you're supposed to drape it over one shoulder like a purse. Either way, it fits well under a jacket, and although the black leather or ballistic nylon construction leans toward the FBI look, I haven't gotten so much as a strange look yet. I also find myself wearing running clothes that lack pockets a fair amount of the time these days, and it turns out that the e-Pouch that normally carries either my Palm or camera can instead hold my wallet and, thanks to the slight bulk of the small, rectangular Leatherman Micra on my key chain, my keys as well. I still sometimes just shove my cell phone in my pocket and leave, but whenever I want to carry multiple devices, I grab for the e-Holster. If you want to see me modeling the e-Holster, find me at Macworld Expo in a few weeks."
Carrying in Style and Safety -- Another offshoot of Apple's digital hub concept is that you'll likely carry more devices, which begs the question of where those devices are stored when your hub is rollin' rollin' rollin'. TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has been quite pleased with a Tom Binh Brain Bag backpack ($130) and G4 LapDog ($50) securely carrying his PowerBook G4, camcorder, digital camera, and cables.
Julio Ohep has had an eye on cases designed with photographers in mind by Tamrac, while Marilyn Matty points out the advantages of using bags that don't look like obvious computer cases. "Having done a lot of traveling for work that involved a lot of schlepping, I learned the hard way that it's a good idea to have bags that mask the fact that you're carrying expensive equipment. Laptops, video cameras, etc. have high street resale value, and people carrying them are targets for thieves who case the airports. Even with the National Guard and increased security at the airports, thefts of equipment will probably not go down significantly - they are there for protection against terrorists, not thieves. By carrying a bag that looks like a regular backpack and not an equipment bag, you're somewhat minimizing your risk. I've found that carrying bags from L.L. Bean, Lands' End, Tough Traveler, Eagle Creek, or Patagonia are the best in terms of durability, functionality, features and good looks. Because they're designed with weather and extreme use in mind, they hold up exceptionally well when compared to computer bags. I've been using versions of these L.L. Bean backpacks for years and I love them, along with my Tough Traveler."
Matty also points to a pair of wholesalers, Campmor and Sierra Trading Post, who "offer name brands, not irregulars, at great prices."
A Digital Photography Primer -- Speaking of camera gear, Phil Lefebvre happened upon a book geared for owners of Nikon cameras but also useful for anyone using a digital camera, Mastering Nikon Compact Digital Cameras by Peter iNova. "It is a $50 well-designed PDF 'book' (you can print it out if you want) on taking great digital photos, containing a digital photo editing tutorial, third party camera manual, and a collection of Photoshop filters on a CD. Together, they can take any amateur point-n-shooter and quickly bring him or her to a high level of competency in digital photography. It is written in a style that fully respects the audience's intelligence, along with a sense of humor that prevents it from getting dry. I am (was!) totally ignorant in photography, but still breezed right through all 325 pages, and was applying things I learned the first day. Even a non-digital pro photographer could learn from the extensive number of clever tips in using digital technology, and the Nikon cameras in particular. Just learning about using my camera with a microscope has already made the book pay for itself. Finally, while the book and software are both Windows and Mac-compatible, the author is unashamedly a Mac user, and it is nice to see all the pictures of his PowerBook, and all the screenshots from a Mac."
Everybody in the Pool! For some of us, email and Internet access is almost like oxygen. Johann Beda suggests giving Internet access to friends and family members who aren't yet online. "A few years back I gave my adult siblings, both of whom had computers with modems, memberships in their local community network/free-net. Some of these types of organizations require proof of local residency, so I did the whole online setup part for them, then downloaded and filled out the appropriate forms, and got a stamped envelope and first year's payment cheque ready, and had everything set to go. On Christmas morning, the gift recipient only had to sign the forms, photocopy the proof of residency, and drop them in the mail. The cost for the lowest level of access for these networks is usually less than $30, and some are even completely free or by donation. While this type of access may not provide graphical Web browsing, even the most limited of text email is still an amazing thing compared to no email at all. It feels a bit like buying someone a phone at the turn of the century."
A similar idea comes from Kate Binder, who advocates buying a personal domain name for your sweetie. "I registered virtualcrate.com for my family last year around this time, and it's been great having a permanent online home all year. We've all changed access providers, but our email, family Web site, and FTP space have stayed up and running all year long."
To add to this, we can highly recommend easyDNS as a site to register and manage DNS names - we moved the tidbits.com domain there and have been very happy with their interface and services.
Article 5 of 9 in series
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.
Article 6 of 9 in series
When we open this category up for suggestions on TidBITS Talk, we normally expect to see a wide variety of neat little add-ons and gadgets that make using a computer a bit more pleasantShow full article
When we open this category up for suggestions on TidBITS Talk, we normally expect to see a wide variety of neat little add-ons and gadgets that make using a computer a bit more pleasant. This year, however, it appears that almost everyone has iPod fever, and suggestion after suggestion revolved around iPod speakers, iPod headphones, iPod cases, and iPod floor wax. It was enough that we started wondering if perhaps Apple has built little subliminal messages into the iPod that play at a high frequency while you're listening to your tunes. "iPod is good," they whisper seductively, "buy more iPod stuff." (Anyone who believes that little conspiracy theory can send his iPod to us, and we'll give it a good home with a sane family.)
The only problem was that Dan Frakes had already written a huge two-part article about iPod goodies, and he was also in the process of revising his headphones roundup article from previous years (look for those in next Monday's issue). So rather than duplicate his effort, and further bulk up the size of this issue, we decided to give Dan the lead on the iPod and headphones topics, and concentrate here on other items. But remember, if you just can't think of something for that special someone... iPod is good, buy more iPod stuff.
Oh, and be sure to check out suggestions from years past for oodles of other excellent ideas.
Can't Find the Right T-Shirt? You wouldn't think Mac users would have trouble finding a neat shirt (there are always the TidBITS t-shirts, which are of course the ultimate in sartorial elegance), but if none of the t-shirts in your drawer are quite right, Greg Potts has an idea for you: iron-on transfer paper for ink-jet printers. "Anyone with an ink-jet printer and an iron can produce custom t-shirts. Or buy a pack for yourself and go into production, making one-of-a-kind items for friends or loved ones. Buying a paper manufactured to work with your printer does improve the results, and using a different manufacturer's paper (i.e., HP paper in an Epson) is not recommended. Generic papers (such as those linked below) are cheaper, but for best results, I recommend sticking with paper from your printer's manufacturer. One more thing: To print the image to a t-shirt, you must mirror the image at printout to make it readable after the transfer. Before you print, make sure your printer driver offers this feature, or flip the image in software before you print it."
Clothing for Your Laptop -- As long as we're making fashion statements, it's important that your PowerBook or iBook fits in with your wardrobe while remaining protected from the elements. Doug Brown's holiday wish list includes the Booq PowerSleeve 15 for his new 15-inch PowerBook. "It provides nice messenger bag style, easy access and appropriate thinness/lightness to match Apple's elegant design. And it won't break the bank at $50."
Marilyn Matty took her suggestions upscale. "This is a gift suggestion for the ultra hip who also happen to be fashion- and Macintosh-minded: Acme Made's Slim Bag. I first spotted them when I was down at the Fashion Institute of Technology not long ago. I suspect that the PowerBook-packing Carrie on 'Sex In The City' would consider these specially sized and designed sleeves/computer bags to be as essential a wardrobe component as Manolo Blahniks if she did deign to drag her laptop around. She'd probably want a few to coordinate with specific outfits. The prices seem comparable to equivalent, though not as hip, products. I've asked Santa for the Cadet Stripes, and I like it so much I will probably spring for it myself if he doesn't come through."
Kevin van Haaren prefers the laptop/messenger bag from Timbuk2. He wrote, "I've gone through lots of backpacks and laptop cases and this is the best I've found for me. Timbuk2 has adjusted their product line since I purchased mine. (I was able to custom build the entire bag, picking the colors for each individual panel. Now you're limited to particular schemes on the laptop bags.) The bag has lots of interior pockets for accessories and such, plus a large open compartment for more gear. The best feature is how quickly I can get to my laptop - no zippers to fumble with, just open the flap and grab your laptop, which is great for getting through airport security quickly. Normally I don't bother with the front clips, but in an airport I clip the flap down and cinch them tight. Nobody can get in the bag without my knowing it then.
"Timbuk2 also makes an iPod/PDA adapter that attaches to the shoulder strap, but I'm hoping for a future shoulder strap that incorporates a remote control so the iPod can be in the bag but controlled from the strap."
Michael Tardiff offered another alternative, seconded by Tomoharu Nishino. Michael said, "The thing that gets me more comments than my 12-inch PowerBook itself is RadTech's PowerSleevz, a custom-sewed slipcase for the PowerBook that's made of a heavier gauge of the same microfiber cloth used for the ScreensavRz cloths that keep laptop screens free of nasty oils from the keyboard. The PowerSleevz fits my PowerBook like a glove and comes in sizes for both iBooks and PowerBooks. People see it and ask if the PowerBook came with that neat sleeve. It protects the case from scratches, and could even be used to clean the screen if I didn't already have the ScreensavRz. It won't protect against a drop, but it helps me avoid scratching or smudging up my PowerBook as I carry it around the office, or the house, or anywhere I want to travel really light."
Some Like It Hot -- To keep your FireWire port blazing along, Alan Charlesworth recommended FireWire Depot's $24 FireWire port isolator, a 12-foot long, 6-pin male to 6-pin female FireWire cable with the power pins not connected. You plug other FireWire cables into it, and it protects your FireWire port from stray power sent down normal cables from self-powered devices.
If you need to use a FireWire drive that doesn't have its own power adapter (since it uses bus power), Alan suggested either a powered FireWire hub, or a $30 FireCABLE FireWire power adapter, which feeds power into a 6-pin cable.
Better TV -- We're not sure what's happening, since Andrew Laurence didn't recommend a TiVo this year, as he's done reliably since at least 1984, even though there's a cool new TiVo from Pioneer with a DVD recorder built in for saving shows.
Nevertheless, others suggested their favorite television-related devices. Francis Pressland wrote, "I know what I want: the new EyeTV 300 Digital Satellite box which connects via FireWire. As long as it can record my subscription channels (which is not at all clear from the press release) as well as the free-to-air channels available in the UK, then I will give this to myself as a Christmas present!"
Ray Davison seems to have found a solution for the problem of juggling multiple remote control devices. "After it was mentioned in TidBITS, I went out and bought the Harmony SST-768 universal remote control. It is the only universal remote I have tried that all members of the family have no trouble figuring out how to use (we have a somewhat complicated setup with DVD, CD, Macintosh, cable box, etc., connected through a surround-sound receiver). It works by entering your setup on a Web page and then programming the remote by connecting it to your computer (PC or Mac). The new SST-659 looks like it might be even easier to use, and it's cheaper.
"When I have had to ask questions, they were answered quickly and fully by the helpful staff at Harmony. In addition, when my house was robbed, the thief took my PowerBook and all the cables lying next to it. One of those cables was the Harmony Remote's USB cable. I emailed Harmony to find out where I could get a new cable, and they sent me a new one at no cost."
Give the Family to the Family -- Marilyn Matty suggested a creative art project made easier by technology. "How about a fun and educational arts and crafts project? My nephew did some genealogy research for a school project and asked me about printing out decorative copies of a family tree on his inkjet printer to send to family members as a holiday gift. I found some free and paid resources. Anyone with some familiarity with an illustration, page layout, or photo editing application with vector capabilities can easily put something fancy-schmancy together that approximates the paid formats. Those not familiar with design software can easily recreate a very attractive box format in a word processor or spreadsheet.
"The layouts I liked best are at the Martha Stewart site, where they also provide a free PDF fan template. I really like this layout, and though recommended for hand lettering, it looks like it can very easily be done by putting text on a path and printing it out on colored paper on either an inkjet or laser, and here's an excellent free tutorial from Wendy Peck's Production Graphics on how to do it in Illustrator that even the most design challenged can do, which can be adapted to just about any application."
<http://www.marthastewart.com/page.jhtml?& amp;type=content&id=channel172118& amp;page=1>
Laptop Goodies -- Apart from an iPod ("iPod is good. Buy more iPod stuff"), what better stocking stuffer for your laptop-toting loved ones than some PowerBook or iBook accessories? Paul Durrant suggested, "Perhaps some Wildeepz for anyone with an iBook (post-clamshell) or PowerBook? They're little foam spacers that stop laptop lids from rattling when closed. I've only just ordered some, so I can't give a personal recommendation yet, but they look like they should be perfect for stopping my iBook lid rattling when closed."
Tomoharu Nishino chimed in with a few additional gift ideas for the PowerBook or iBook owner, starting with a set of Torx screwdrivers, assuming you think the recipient is capable of opening up their laptop without harming it. We like the Wiha tools.
He also recommended a new (or spare) laptop battery, including high capacity versions from Newer Technology. "There has been some discussion about batteries wearing out. Most people (including myself) don't do the things that are necessary to reduce the wear on rechargeable batteries over time, so if someone owns a PowerBook more than a year or so old, chances are they are getting only half the charge that it originally held. It was a nice surprise that replacing the battery on my 1.5 year old PowerBook with a new high capacity battery nearly doubled the usable time."
More Laptop Loot -- Christopher Ungeheier has started to trick out his new iBook with useful additions. "I read on a message board that people were using the Griffin Technology iCurve to prop up their iBooks, then using the Kensington Fly Fan to blow air across the bottom of the iBook. Works like a charm, and my iBook stays nice and cool." He also decided to add some decoration to the iBook's sparse exterior. "The MacSkinz is just a neat cover for the back of the iBook screen (I chose the Bio Hazard design)."
A Quieter Cheese Grater -- Alan Charlesworth found a low-tech method of quieting the vibration of his Power Mac G5's aluminum case: set the G5 on top of a 8- by 12- by 2-inch piece of open-cell foam, which should fit between the bottom handles. It could be a perfect gift for someone who has been complaining about the sound.
An Inexpensive Spare Small Office Printer -- John Slavin discovered a way to make one of his machines pull double-duty. "This is for those who have a small office with a photocopy machine. Look into getting a network card for your copy machine. We bought a Ricoh copy machine used off lease, a model 450. The store had several and one had a network card. They swore it wouldn't work with a Mac, but using Gimp-Print drivers it works great. So now on our network, in addition to the HP 6MP, we have a backup 45-page-per-minute printer. There is a short delay in starting the print job, but for text applications, particularly long documents, it really moves along once it starts printing."
TiVo for Radio? Christopher Ungeheier is also looking forward to Griffin's RadioSHARK. "It's a great idea for someone who likes to listen to the radio but isn't around to hear all of the shows they would like to hear. The only problem is that it isn't available yet."
A potential alternative, according to Curtis Wilcox, is the Radio YourWay from PoGo! Products. "It's a portable MP3 player with an AM/FM tuner and the capability to record radio broadcasts (it also has a built-in microphone). There are a surprising number of MP3 players which have recordable FM tuners but what sets this apart is the ability to schedule recordings. The $150 model has only 32 MB of storage (it says you can record 4 hours of radio broadcast on it) but it can be expanded with MMC or SD flash cards.
"The catch? It doesn't seem to be Mac-compatible at this time. The program that uploads and downloads MP3 files is available only for Windows. It also records to its own .RFV format which can be converted to WAV by the Windows program. While it's not uncommon for MP3 players to come out with firmware updates to make them USB Mass Storage (UMS) devices and therefore mountable on a Mac, the Radio YourWay would still have the obstacle of converting the .RFV files to something playable on the Mac. Even so, it may be satisfactory as a standalone device. If you occasionally wanted to save something it recorded, you could connect its headphone jack to a microphone jack on the Mac and re-record the audio."
Sock Away Some Memory -- Do you have most of your main gifts picked out, but want some smaller things to give as stocking stuffers? Marilyn Matty took advantage of falling prices to pick up some portable memory devices. "I just decided to give some inexpensive portable USB flash drives in pen and keychain configurations. To add a fun twist to the gift, you can create a holiday card and save it on the drive. It would make a nice stocking stuffer or reasonably priced gift that's more novel than a basic keychain. TidBITS sponsor Small Dog has some interesting models at good prices."
Article 7 of 9 in series
Last year we joked about how Apple must have built a subliminal message into the iPod: "Buy more iPod stuff," the voice would whisper. The voice apparently hasn't shut up, since quite a few of our reader suggestions are for products to protect or enhance your iPodShow full article
Last year we joked about how Apple must have built a subliminal message into the iPod: "Buy more iPod stuff," the voice would whisper. The voice apparently hasn't shut up, since quite a few of our reader suggestions are for products to protect or enhance your iPod. Laptop users aren't ignored, though, so read on for a slew of great ideas (and as before, don't ignore previous years' suggestions!).
Tunes on the Road -- Wires, wires, everywhere! There is a better way. Roger Adams plans to present his daughter with a Griffin RoadTrip ($80) "so she can listen to her iPod without all the wires that normally clutter the car when she drives to work. It's a great addition to the iPod and one that I have myself and use during the 65 km drive to my office here in Bangkok, Thailand."
Andy J. W. Affleck recommended another Griffin product for listening to an iPod in the car: the Griffin iTrip ($35, reviewed in "Taking an iTrip: Three FM Transmitters" in TidBITS-681). "I got one during the Apple Store one-day sale and it's excellent. Although it's annoying to change stations while driving (so much so that it's best to pull over to do it), which makes it a bit of a pain on long trips where you pass through multiple metropolitan areas and need to change frequencies."
I Need More Power, Scotty! Apple puts a lot of effort into long battery life on the iPod, but the simple fact is that if you're using it a lot, it's going to run out of juice eventually. For people with regularly drain iPods, Tony D'Emanuele recommended the Solio, a backup battery system that can recharge itself from an electric outlet or via its integrated solar panels. The Solio can also recharge a host of other battery-powered mobile electronic devices with additional tips (not included). It's apparently available only from UK distributors for about 50 pounds (US$95) at the moment, but perhaps one of them will ship to other parts of the world (be sure to verify that you can plug it in your area).
Protect that iPod! Of course, practicality should be foremost in your mind when looking for an iPod case, but since we are talking about an iPod, style can't be ignored, and Marilyn Matty certainly isn't one to ignore either aspect. She wrote, "There are many high-fashion gift-giving options available this holiday season for the iPod-minded. Though I do have a pair or two of Manolos and Jimmy Choos mixed in with shoes from the 9 West Outlet in my closet, as well as Furla, Coach, and Kate Spade bags, I am totally horrified at the price points, design, and overall tackiness of premium iPod carriers. In addition to not liking to wear someone else's initials, I can't see paying $200 for a Gucci iPod case that forces you to remove the iPod to access the display and controls, and I'm equally shocked by the $220 Dior Black Tie version.
"As someone who had to give up knitting and crocheting years ago due to carpal tunnel syndrome (I had to choose between crafts or the computer), I was appalled by the $30 cost of the tacky, machine-knitted-in-what-looks-to-be-cheapo-acrylic-yarn iPod Socks that Geoff mentioned in a recent issue:
"The materials to knit an iPod Sock would cost pennies, and it doesn't even involve making much of a pattern, since you won't see the controls or display when your iPod is covered. It would take minutes and cost about a dollar or two as most for ultra premium yarn. Even the most inexperienced knitter or crocheter could easily craft a beautiful, stylish, and functional carrier that would keep your iPod snuggly warm in inclement weather. And there is a chance, however remote, that your design might be featured on a runway at Fashion Week or on display at a design museum.
"Before I hauled out my old needles and yarn, I did a quick search and found that other fashionistas and craftistas have come up with a number of attractive designs with easy-to-make patterns - some have attached arm or wrist bands, pockets for earbuds, etc. Best yet, all patterns are easily customizable. And you can easily whip together coordinates to tie in your iPod to outfits with covers for your earphones, as well as scarves, hats, wristlets, ponchos, wraps, and any number of other chi-chi items.
"There is a veritable iPod fashion show in the eight pages of comments and links to patterns for iPod cozies on the following URL's bulletin board - all of them can by easily slimmed down for iPod minis by trimming off a few stitches on each end of the pattern. Some of them have pockets on the back to store earbuds, and other handy features.
"Not inclined to knitting and don't know anyone you can convince? I did find two pre-built knit iPod covers that are useful, fashionable, and reasonably priced ($24): C. Ronson's iPod hoodie and the Chuckles iPod cozy ($18).
"For those who want to learn to knit, or want to encourage someone to do so, there are free instructions and online videos here."
iPod (and iBook) Decorations -- Tired of Apple's white-on-white color scheme? You have options for customizing your iPod. Josh Rafofsky wrote, "Here's a unique accessory that's sure to tickle the fancy of your favorite iPod owner. The iPoDonut is a glow-in-the-dark sticker that illuminates your click-wheel. You can choose from an assortment of cool designs, and the envelope it arrives in from Japan is quite charming. This sticker is a tad pricey at $10, but that does include shipping to anywhere in the world. According to the FAQ: 'The iPoDonut is made from silicon, so it will not leave any sticky residue on the surface of your iPod's touch wheel.' The FAQ also mentions that the iPoDonut 'is not edible.'" In case you were wondering.
Marilyn Matty offered another idea. "Know anyone who's a little bored at having the same old iPod like everyone else? Hewlett-Packard has a $15 Tattoo system that can give a fourth-generation iPod a customized makeover. It's only $15 per Tattoo for the kits that include 10 sheets of the adhesive skins, each of which lasts about a month. Intrepid do-it-yourselfers can risk printing out and pasting direct from the PDFs. I personally prefer the unadorned, classic pearl white look, but I suspect my 14-year-old nephew might like a Tattoo. I might throw one in with the knitted iPod covers I'll be making."
<http://www.shopping.hp.com/cgi-bin/hpdirect/ shopping/scripts/home/store_access.jsp? product_code=Q6625A&aoid=23655& amp;template_type=product_detail& amp;script_name=product.cgi>
Tomoharu Nishino pointed at a different option. "If you want something that doesn't leave the corners exposed like the HP Tattoos and don't think the slight increase in bulk will be an issue (as well as cost - $30 for matching front and back), check out PodSkinz. The patterns are somewhat limited, but you might find one that someone on your list would like.
"And if you want to go all out, you can do roughly the same thing for an iBook with a custom painted lid from Painted Bytes ($140). You can either mail your laptop to them in Maryland or install the new lid yourself, but note that installation will void your warranty unless performed by an Apple-authorized technician. Personally, I'm not too keen on the art that the various artists have come up with, but the solid color options they offer might be just the ticket to hide those scratches that are starting to become visible on my mother-in-law's iBook. Heck, if you are the creative type, you could even order an unpainted iBook case from them ($70), and paint an unique iBook shell for that special someone."
Conquer Cable Clutter -- If your laptop bag is anything like ours, you have phone and Ethernet cables snaking around in the bottom, probably doing unspeakable things with the FireWire cable. If you'd like to tame the cable beasts, check out Nik Friedman's suggestion. "The RoadWired CORDZ Multi-Connection Survival Tool is an excellent little package of gadgetry for $25. Basically, it's a spooled Ethernet/phone cord with a variety of extra connectors to share a connection or create a crossover cable for connecting two computers. Great for the road warrior or Internet cafe addict."
If the cables that cause you conniptions are your iPod earbuds, Jeff Carlson offered another solution. "I've been meaning to write about the Sumajin Smartwrap ($5) for a while, but I don't have much to say besides: cool! It's a silicon rubber, peanut-shaped bit of industrial design simplicity that you wrap your iPod (or other headset) cord around to keep it from getting tangled. It's great for wrapping and storing my earbuds in my bag without having to fight and untangle the thing each time I want to listen to tunes."
Protect that PowerBook! Nik Friedman piped up with a suggestion that would be appropriate for any laptop user. "How about a nice backpack that can lug around their laptop? Or maybe a computer sleeve and a nice strap for it? Or maybe they're more the briefcase type? Nothing says 'I care about your PowerBook' more than a Tom Bihn backpack or case and Brain Cell or Monolith laptop sleeve/insert. They're excellently made (hand stitched in the USA), there's a variety of products at different sizes and prices, and they're even somewhat customizable.
"Add to that a Snake Charmer cable bag and your favorite PowerBooker will be all set. Personally, I have a Brain Cell (size 5 for my 12-inch PowerBook) and a Brain Bag with a Snake Charmer and a Freudian Slip insert (sort of a backpack-mounted filing cabinet). Great for getting to work/class/everywhere else. My wife has a similar setup, plus a large Cafe bag which is her favorite purse ever. (And she's owned a lot.) Can't say enough good things about the company."
Andrew Laurence recommended another brand. "For the laptop user who demands the very best conveyance for his/her Mac, look no further than Brenthaven. Their cases, packs, and luggage are marvels in strength, durability, and attention to detail. Shoulder straps are padded and contoured, and their backpacks feature an iPod slot and cord route for the earphones. The company started in backpacking, and the knowledge of engineering for 'human as pack mule' shows. Apple's Professional cases are made by Brenthaven."
Lorin Rivers suggested a different way of protecting your PowerBook. "I am a big fan of Vix's TiArmor line of protection products. They are die-cut clear urethane shields for the palm rest area (and elsewhere) that protect the finish of TiBooks and AlBooks ($14 to $30). After the beating my caustic skin dealt my TiBook, this is one of the first products I bought for my new AlBook."
Other protection ideas come from James Ray and Keith Dawson. James wrote, "I love my iBook's Radio Shack rubber feet! They are Archer Cat. No. 64-2342 self-sticking heavy-duty cushion feet, and they come eight to a package for $2.19. (I like sticking on more than just 4, for stability and to keep the thing up out of carpets.) The only trick with these feet is to peel first to let them cure in the air for about a minute while you use alcohol to clean (on a molecular level!) the spot on your notebook to which you're going to apply them. I've used these on four Apple notebooks so far, and they're the first thing I buy when I get a new one."
Keith also recommended little rubber cushions, but for your laptop's screen, rather than the bottom. "RadTech Wildeepz are tiny neoprene stick-on cushions that you place in strategic spots around your iBook or PowerBook screen bezel. With Wildeepz in place, a closed laptop feels much more solidly closed. When I bought my set eight months ago, printed instructions were included showing where to place the cushions for each laptop type. Now RadTech has downloadable graphics (zipped GIFs) that, when opened in Preview in Full Screen mode, show clearly where to place the little beasts. Brill! $12 to $16 depending on laptop model."
He continued. "Plus, the Marware keyboard cover protects your iBook or PowerBook screen, when closed, from whatever has accumulated on your keyboard. The cover doubles as a screen-cleaning cloth. $7."
Pockets Galore -- Just carrying all your geek gear can be a chore these days, but Miraz Jordan suggested a completely different solution. "By the time you've gathered your iPod and accessories, cell phone, digital camera, keys, sunglasses, cash, plastic cards, and all the other paraphernalia of stepping outside the front door you're about ready to order the extra large backpack. Or you could pick up a clothing item from Scott eVest.
"This technology-enabled clothing has pockets beyond count, but is designed in a way to make the pocket contents invisible, rather than hanging out as bulges and lumps. There's even a pocket sized to hold a small laptop!
"I've recently received a fleece jacket ($130) and the cargo pants ($110) and am still finding all the pockets. The clothing is well made and very comfortable. Magnetic closures, zips and deep pockets keep all your stuff from falling out. Special channels in the clothing allow you to install your iPod earbuds. The pocket design gives easy access, and yet keeps stuff separated.
"The budget-minded may choose a baseball cap ($20) with secret pockets for a key and credit cards or an older model windshirt ($40). For the big spenders there's the solar system jacket with built-in solar panels ($535). In between are various possibilities.
"The help desk response was efficient, friendly and helpful, but international readers should beware: the quote for shipping to New Zealand was horrifyingly expensive. Although Scott eVest were sympathetic, they gave me a perfectly understandable reason why they couldn't offer a cheaper rate. If you're outside the U.S., find someone in the U.S. who can receive the clothing and send it on."
Keep It Simple, CD -- Although the mix CD we're making for a few people this year will have a snazzy label created with SmileOnMyMac's disclabel application, Brian Wessels wrote in with an idea that's more appropriate for situations where you just want to scrawl a few words on the surface of the CD. "Sometimes the little things delight (or perhaps I just amuse easily). Put a package of CD-R marking pens in someone's stocking, and they never have to worry again about whether or not they're using a CD-safe felt-tip pen. I got a package of four colors, Memorex-branded I think, at K-Mart about a year ago."
Online Identity -- On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog... unless you have your own online identity. You could consider buying someone their own i-name for $25 (good for 50 years; see "Persistence Pays: The Return of XNS" in TidBITS-752 for more details), or, you could go with David Weintraub's more traditional idea. "Last year, I recommended getting someone their own domain name. Since then, two things have happened: the price has dropped, and the .name top-level domain has finally been released. You can register a domain with GoDaddy for less than $10 per year. For that price, you get automatic forwarding to whatever mailbox you're using (heck, they give you over 100 mail forwarding addresses you can use. I've set up email addresses for my entire extended family). For a bit more than $10 per month, they'll actually host your domain. If you're not Smith or Jones, there is still a good chance that the .name domain is still available for your last name."
Although they don't provide registrations of .name domains, we recommend easyDNS in general for domain registration and hosting. They're not the cheapest option, but if reliability is as high on your list as it is on ours, you'll appreciate easyDNS's service.
Store More Pictures -- Digital cameras are great for holding far more pictures than was possible with rolls of film, but memory cards can still fill up at the most inopportune times. If you, or someone you know, runs into that situation, Roy Morita noted that "prices for memory cards seem to keep dropping. A 1 GB CompactFlash or Secure Digital card can be bought for a bit over $50. Digital camera buffs can never have enough memory cards. They will always be appreciated." If you're looking to compare prices on memory cards, try the dealram Web site.
The USB Christmas Tree -- Looking to spruce up your desk during the holiday season? Or perhaps you're just pining for a little holiday cheer? Melanie Watts pointed out that "the USB Christmas Tree is just the thing to bring holiday cheer to your workspace. Just plug it in to any USB port and the glowing LEDs cycle through a number of colours - red, green, purple, white, and light blue - stopping at each colour for about five seconds. It's the perfect gift for the person whose name you drew in the office Christmas exchange." If you're too cool for a tree, there's also a USB snowman, though he cycles through only four colors.
Article 8 of 9 in series
The suggestions in this category all have at least something to do with the Mac or the iPod, which, surprisingly, garnered far fewer ideas than last yearShow full article
The suggestions in this category all have at least something to do with the Mac or the iPod, which, surprisingly, garnered far fewer ideas than last year. Read on for a slew of great ideas (and as before, don't ignore previous years' suggestions!).
Take Control Ebooks! We couldn't resist a small, if shameless, plug. We're sure you know all about our Take Control ebooks already, so we won't belabor the point other than to note that you're welcome to purchase one as a present for a friend, relative, or colleague. Since we use no copy prevention technologies, you can easily give someone a purchased ebook's PDF file via email, by burning it to CD, or by copying it to a USB flash drive (thus making the gift even more useful). If you want to dress up a burned CD-R and you have CD Stomper labels available, check out the Take Control CD label (available in PDF and SmileOnMyMac's disclabel format). Our four consumer electronics titles - "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera," "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music," "Take Control of Digital TV," and "Take Control of Buying a Mac" - are on sale for 50 percent off through 26-Dec-05; the link below has the necessary coupon code embedded in it.
The Elusive Power Squid -- We have to agree with Geoff Hutchison on this one - it's on our lists too. He wrote, "I've had my eye on the oddly named but highly useful PowerSquid, which replaces traditional power strips. It may look strange, but its squid-like design makes it much easier to use all the power outlets when you have several brick power adapters. $15 at ThinkGeek."
Hand-Picked Music on CD -- Tonya here. If you'd like to give a homemade gift, but cookies and crochet don't appeal, try a hand-mixed CD that combines tracks from a variety of artists. To make it more interesting, though, don't pick the tracks yourself. In making such a CD for Adam last year, I asked about 20 of his friends to suggest a few tracks - ideally available via the iTunes Music Store - that they thought Adam had never heard, but would like. I also asked them to send me a paragraph or so, explaining why they thought the songs would be good for Adam. Lots of suggestions came in, ranging from a rap selection - "Wordy Rappinghood" - from Tom Tom Club, to "Penguins" by Lyle Lovett and "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The explanations were often touching or funny, and usually personal in nature. I chose one song from each friend's suggestions, and I bought the songs in iTunes (except for two selections that weren't available that way - I bought them on their respective CDs). I also made an iMix of the track samples in the iTunes Music Store to share with everyone; you can find it here:
I combined all the paragraphs into a long document that I rolled up in scroll form and tied with a ribbon. Then I burned the CD from iTunes and printed a case liner using the options in iTunes. I ran out of time to get fancy with a disc label, but if I had the time, I would have used disclabel from SmileOnMyMac, which makes it easy to create nifty effects like circular text (there's a new 3.0 version out that has more templates, improved text handling, and more).
The end result was a meaningful, personal, much-appreciated gift. I highly recommend the idea, though I also suggest that you get started early. It took a while to put everything together, and I had to do most of the work when Adam wasn't home, so he couldn't hear me listening to possible songs and testing the final CD.
Fun and Games with USB -- You thought USB was for keyboards and mice, but Marilyn Matty has some far more frivolous uses in mind with her suggestions. "I just ordered this 4-port USB hub/coffee cup warmer, so I can't swear how well it works (if at all), but for $17 it looks like a great gift. There's also a light-up, musical Santa that operates via USB or batteries for $20, which could be a cool office decoration for the holidays, plus the Piggy USB FM Radio."
Anyone Can Learn Design -- Tonya here again. For those on your gift list who enjoy desktop publishing or creating Web pages, I recommend "The Non-Designer's Type Book, 2nd Edition" written by Robin Williams. The 240-page book dives deeply into topics of concern to designers, and conveys a great deal about the history and use of type with a particular focus on helping develop their design sensibilities. Readers will be treated to clever wit, good humor, detailed information about how to achieve certain effects in common desktop publishing programs, and a layout that demonstrates the principles explained in the book. Topics covered include leading, kerning, hyphenation, uses of different font styles, mixing and matching fonts, and proper use of white space. The book is written for Macintosh and Windows users. It would make a great gift on its own, or - even better - when combined with "The Non-Designer's Design Book, 2nd Edition" which explains the basics of layout in an engaging way (both about $15).
You can even buy the pair in a boxed set, which also includes Robin's "The Non-Designer's Web Book" and a t-shirt. It's currently for sale exclusively at Borders for $42.
If the book sounds a little advanced for your cousin who needs to start with the basics, I recommend a prequel to "The Non-Designer's Type Book," either "The Mac is Not a Typewriter, 2nd Edition" or "The PC is Not a Typewriter" (both about $10).
An Organizer for Your Digital Hub -- Geoff Hutchison suggested, "Last year, I picked up a few $12 DiscHub organizers for CDs, DVDs, etc. At first, I thought they might be a solution in search of a problem, but they really do make it easier to cut down on desk clutter and keep your software, music, and movie discs organized."
For Keeping Laptops Off Your Lap -- It's always tricky to use a PowerBook as your main Mac if you want to use multiple monitors, which triggered Tom Friedmann's suggestion. "If you have an external monitor you can set your PowerBook up to be the second (or first) monitor and position it at a good height using the $40 Griffin iCurve laptop stand."
We reviewed the iCurve and several other laptop stands in "The Laptop Stands, But Not Alone" in TidBITS-658, and Dan Frakes chimed in with another suggestion. "On a similar note, if you don't mind spending $80, I'd suggest the new Lapvantage Loft, which features a polished acrylic platform, steel pedestal, and swiveling base. One of my issues with the iCurve is that if its rubber "bumpers" get dirty, your laptop can slide down the stand; the Loft has a near-horizontal platform that's a bit more stable. It's more expensive than the iCurve, but it's quite a bit more substantial."
iPod Pets -- Now here's an iPod accessory that boggled our minds. Gail McGovern told us, "I bought a new pet, I-Dog, as a gift for my own 60th birthday, and I highly recommend it. Plug it into your iPod or place it near a speaker, and it responds by flashing lights keyed to the music, moving its ears, shaking its head, barking, and making whirring sounds! The I-Dog only cost about $25 and it even has a built-in speaker."
iPod Accouterments -- Interestingly, other than Gail, only Marilyn Matty suggested iPod-related ideas this year, but she did a bang-up job of standing in for the rest of the TidBITS readership. The floor is yours, Marilyn!
Here are some great stocking stuffers for that are priced right - free! The Pod Gourmet has collections of gourmet, vegetarian/vegan and bartender recipes. They aren't extensive, but if someone is planning a quickie dinner or party and wants to make shopping/cooking decisions in the supermarket (where you of course have your iPod), they can come in very handy. iPod owners in major cities should be sure to check out the free subway maps for cities around the world, including New York, London, Hong Kong, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, and more. And lastly, for those of us who live in New York, the piPod pizza directory is a collection of mini-reviews of pizza places throughout the city that's easily navigable by location, compliments of the people who run the best pizza blog in town.
I don't know if this fleece hoodie with an iPod pocket, audio jack and built-in, washable speakers actually works, but my 11-year-old nephew asked for one as one of his friends has it. It's a great example of wearable tech, and if they made it for women, I'd buy one for myself, especially since it's only $30. It's rather silly, I think, to make it just for boys.
Though I prefer the pristine look, my 2-year-old iPod is looking rather scuffed and distressed these days. Playing the skin game with your handheld devices does look exceptionally fun with products from SkinIt. Though I've never been one for stickers, this collection of skins for iPods, cell phones, handhelds, and game devices looks great. They have a lot of cool designs (organized in categories, such as animals, alien, 60s, bling, landscapes, etc.). A skin for a regular iPod or cell phone in one of their many designs is $10, and for an extra $5, you can upload a photo that they'll turn into a skin.
This idea is even sillier, especially since it's a little late for Halloween, but your iPod might like a costume from iAttire. They're not cheap at $40, but how else can you dress your iPod as Santa or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
Because of the ridiculous pricing of iPod cases and cozies, last year I recommended a number of easy-to-make and attractive do-it-yourself knitting, crocheting, and sewing patterns available for free that would yield beautiful, customized gifts for pennies that can be combined with matching scarves, earbud/earwarmer covers, hats, armbands, etc. On some of the sites I mentioned, there are even more patterns available now, and I also provided links to "how to" sites for crafty newbies. Now there are great patterns for mini bags as well.
This year, however, I've come across some iPod cases that seem like they are actually worth the money. Your Sister's Mustache has a bunch of cool carriers for $20 each. They can also do build-a-bags (for iPods, laptops, purses) with collages made from pictures you supply.
Fred Flare has a retro styled carrier with built-in speakers that can turn an iPod into a woody boom box for $50, and a very handy iGuy that can also hold your cell or cordless phone, keys, etc. for $45. Also for $45, Wishing Fish has a cooler/beach bag that also holds your iPod and has built-in speakers.
Finally, for a mere $5, you can get a handy Cordster to keep your earbuds organized.
Article 9 of 9 in series
The vast majority of this year's miscellaneous suggestions are related either to the iPod or to Apple's laptops. Why? They're cute, they're portable, and clearly they're just screaming to be accessorizedShow full article
The vast majority of this year's miscellaneous suggestions are related either to the iPod or to Apple's laptops. Why? They're cute, they're portable, and clearly they're just screaming to be accessorized. Many suggestions from previous years are no doubt still appropriate, and if you wish to discuss the suggestions, check in on TidBITS Talk.
Take Control Books! We couldn't resist a shameless plug for all the work we spend much of our non-TidBITS time on. You know all the basics about Take Control, we're sure, but remember that some of our recent books are available as print-on-demand versions, making them a bit more tangible as presents (and if you already own an ebook, you can get the print-on-demand version for less). You'll want to order soon; it can take from 4 to 10 days to receive a printed book. But normal ebooks make fine presents as well, and you're welcome to purchase one or more and present them to your recipient on CD, sushi-shaped USB flash drive, or even, for that last-minute present, via email. If you want to dress up a burned CD-R and you have CD Stomper labels available, check out the Take Control CD label (available in PDF and SmileOnMyMac's disclabel format). And lastly, note that our three buying guide titles - "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera," "Take Control of Buying a Mac," and "Take Control of Digital TV" - are on sale through the end of December. Buy one of them and take 30 percent off your entire order.
iSight Foresight -- This is too cool. Curt Blanchard gets big points for this suggestion, which we'd never heard of before. "Mungai Mirrors, a small company in the United Kingdom, has developed the Huckleberry, a clever mirror device that slips over the top edge of the MacBook or MacBook Pro screen and converts the built-in iSight camera into a video camera - no kidding! It uses laser-cut reflecting mirror devices that cause the iSight to look forward, instead of backward at your face, thus turning the laptop's screen into a huge viewfinder. Ever tried to take a video chat buddy on a tour of your garden or of your new kitchen? It's nearly impossible with the iSight's normal orientation, but with the Huckleberry, you can!"
"As a bonus, with your registration code, you can download a free copy of Ecamm Network's iGlasses which will flip the image on your iSight camera so that the mirrored image reads correctly to your iChat buddy (also helpful when reading barcodes for Delicious Library!) One of the best things about all of this is the price: only $20 for the Huckleberry and the iGlasses software. The only drawback now that we're in December is that these are shipped from England. Even so, if you hurry, it may get here by Christmas; mine only took about 9 days."
The Long-Awaited iPhone -- Well, okay, not really. But we have to admit that Tony D'Emanuele's suggestion seems like it comes close. "Gear4 has just released the BlueEye Black, a very cool 3-in-1 gadget for the iPod. It is a mobile phone connection, FM radio, and remote control. It lets you take or make phone calls on your iPod (via a Bluetooth connection), with incoming numbers shown on the iPod's screen." Alas, it appears to be available only in the United Kingdom for now, for 50 pounds.
Decorate Your Mac and iPod -- Somehow we get the impression that Marilyn Matty's office is extremely jolly. She pointed us to a USB-powered snowman ($12), and a liquid-filled USB mouse ($17) in which Santa Claus has been imprisoned. Sure, they're a little cheesy, but more elegant is the $25 tux for iPod, an acrylic stand for any iPod that will be spinning tunes for a New Year's Eve party. She also suggested the iGuy, "an under-$10 way to anthropomorphize an iPod, turning it into a posable, portable, tune-playing pal. Sadly, there's no option for my new video iPod."
Hot and Cold Running USB -- We sure hope someone gives Marilyn Matty a high-power USB hub to run all her devices. She wrote, "A few years back I recommended a multitasking hardware device that I've become very fond of - a USB-driven cup warmer ($15). Someone recently sent me a link to a product that extends the concept to the dog days of summer, a $30 USB-based cooler that I immediately put on my list of things to buy if I don't receive it as a holiday gift."
Friends Don't Let Friends Work without Backups -- We'd recommend that you start with Joe Kissell's "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups," but Chris Pepper is absolutely on the right track with this suggestion. "Give the gift that keeps on saving: backups! You can give your friend Retrospect Desktop (about $100). You can install it on your family's computers for them, and set up scripts, and provide blank media. You can stand over your parents until they complete a full backup. For extra karma points, offer to host a friend's backup drive, perhaps in exchange for them hosting your own."
"You can give (or ask for) an external backup drive. I suggest making sure it has FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 ports for performance and future proofing; FireWire 800's extra performance bump seems generally irrelevant for most people's backups, although $300 is not bad for a 500GB OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro FireWire 800/400+USB2 Combo Storage Solution with cables."
In terms of executing the backup, Chik Foo chose the easy option, setting up SuperDuper ($28) to run a scheduled backup to an external hard disk.
For extra peace of mind, Chik also makes online backups of email, photos or digital media. Sites such as Flickr, SmugMug, and Fotki offer private backups of full-sized photos for less than $50 annually. "There are variances in Web site presentation, bandwidth limits, uploading software, and other features. Personally I forward all my ingoing and outgoing mail through Gmail as a form of offsite backup. It's amazing how many people spend money on items more mundane than protecting irreplaceable digital data. Apple's Time Machine sounds good... but you'll still need a backup before you install Leopard."
Wrap with Your iPod -- Whether or not you have any rap on your iPod, Randy Singer offered an inexpensive way to put some wrap on your musical friend. "Several companies are offering what I think is the ideal way to keep your iPod safe from scratches, without adding bulk or harming its looks. Basically they are repackaging 3M Protection Film, cut to fit your iPod. This is the same stuff that 3M sells for use on the front end of expensive cars to protect the paint from being chipped. It is invisible and almost undetectable once applied. The skin can be removed without any trace left behind. This film is being sold for various iPods for as much as $30, but Best Skins Ever has it is for $5 to $7, depending on the model. It covers the entire iPod, front (including the screen and scroll-wheel), back, and sides."
Avoid Burnt Thighs -- TidBITS Editor at Large Geoff Duncan wrote, "Over the last few years, many PowerBook and MacBook owners have been overjoyed with their portable systems, but less-than-thrilled about the lap- and hand-searing heat emitted by these notebooks, formerly known as laptops. If you'd like to use your notebook on your lap, a number of 'heat shield' products are available. Most seem to keep the heat off a users' lap well enough, but they tend to fall down in other areas: they're too slippery, they're too fragile, or (in some cases) they significantly increase the internal temperature of the computers.
"However, several folks I know have had good luck with the Lapinator, a 'laptop desk' available in 13- and 18-inch widths. It uses 3M Thinsulate Ultra insulation with a cross-linked molded foam bottom that reduces overall contact with your lap, coat, desk, or what-have-you so you're not only comfortable, but your laptop actually runs cooler than it would on a flat surface. It comes with a 4-inch velcro strap for taming any stray cables, and a separate $10 Mousitizer can be connected to either side as a surprisingly effective mousing surface. At $25, it isn't quite cheap, but it's lightweight and reasonably portable, though the foam bottom means it will take up a fair bit of space in a bag. So far, my friends have found it reasonably durable and give it high marks for making the 'laptop' experience not only feasible, but downright pleasant again."
Fearghas McKay chimed in with a similar suggestion. "The iLap, at about twice the price - but possibly less bulky and lighter - does a similar job. It also has a wrist support at the front, which is removable. I have used laptop desks similar to the Lapinator, and I find the iLap more comfortable because there is less contact and more air between the desk and my legs."
Dan Frakes came down on the side of the Lapinator, and offered a few other options. "The iLap is actually bulkier when you take the stand and wrist pad into account. Having used both, I personally prefer the Lapinator; it's lighter and, in my experience, more comfortable (both for my lap and for my arms - I didn't like the angled position into which the iLap forced the latter). But I know the iLap has many fans."
"If you're looking for a more-portable solution, LapWorks' Laptop Desk 2.0 and UltraLite easily slip into a laptop bag. I covered them, the Lapinator, and a few similar products earlier this year for Macworld. I highly recommend the Laptop Desk UltraLite for road warriors."
"Another approach," Dan said, "is Speck Products' new SeeThru, which I also wrote about for Macworld. Designed as a protective, polycarbonate case for the Core Duo MacBook Pro (with versions for the MacBook and Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro on the way), one of the SeeThru's unadvertised features is that it lets you use your MacBook Pro on your lap - while, in my testing, still allowing the notebook to cool normally."
Cheap iBook Levitation Tricks -- Alaska Jack wrote, "If you're a laptop owner with an extra monitor lying around, I think the best sub-$10 investment is the Nexgen Small Stacking Shelf. Combine it with the widely available iBook monitor spanning hack (which for me has worked perfectly) and you're off to the races. I have it set up so that the mousing area is directly underneath the raised iBook."
"The shelf would probably work for most Apple laptops, but it is almost perfectly designed for the 12-inch iBook. It's cheap, sturdy, and the perfect height, and its white vinyl-coated metal grid keeps the computer cool while not blocking ports. It has these flanges on the side, which I thought I would have to bend off. But it turns out that they hold the iBook perfectly in place if you just slide the iBook under them."
"There are a couple of minor drawbacks. If you leave the right-hand flange in place, you won't be able to eject or insert CDs. If that's a problem, though, you could always just bend that flange back or remove it. Also, you can't close the iBook's lid, unless you remove the flanges. Of course, the iBook doesn't support operation while the lid is closed anyway."
iPod Speakers with a Dock -- iPods aren't just for carrying your music around with you; Chik Foo found the Logitech mm50 iPod speakers to be surprisingly useful. "I used to turn my nose up at these class of speakers: surely lots of speaker sets had aux-in port already? Surely having a built-in iPod dock equals planned obsolescence? And I was already playing music on my hi-fi system via AirPort Express. I bought the mm50 because I kept picking up an iPod nano that was not fully charged. The mm50 on eBay cost about the same as a dock plus a remote plus an iPod charger, and contained speakers. Surprisingly, I found myself continuously listening to my music and podcasts on the mm50, and my AirPort Express is now barely used."
"The trick is that I have come to embrace smart playlists that contain music and podcasts that I haven't listened to, and the randomness of 'shuffle all.' I find myself listening to music that I would never have chosen manually. The remote control still allows me to skip tracks. And the mm50 continues playing even as I sleep or restart the Mac. My iPod has gone from being just a portable music player, to being a music-playing mule, and I love it more for that!"
"The mm50 is small and shaped well enough to carry around. In fact, on recent trips, I could listen to my iPod nano in the car (via aux-in), in the plane (via earphones), and in the hotel room (via mm50). Seamless! And it keeps the nano charged too."
eMusic to Your Ears -- The iTunes Store may rule the online digital music market, but it's not the only alternative for Mac users. Nik wrote, "A great gift is a subscription to eMusic! Subscribers get a certain number of downloads every month of high quality MP3s from independent artists. No DRM, so it works as well on iPods as on any other player. It's an especially good gift for someone who really likes exploring music and finding new artists they haven't heard. (No Top 40s in there - it's all indies!)"
DJ the Night Away -- Clearly we don't go to the right sort of parties, but for those who traded the desire to be in a band for the more realistic goal of being a DJ, Marilyn Matty has just the thing to play all those indie tracks from eMusic. "DJs can forget the vinyl as long as they can put two iPods on an iPod DJ Station. I've never used it, and I'm not planning to, but I'm thinking of chipping in for it (it's $180) as a present for my nephew, who is an aspiring DJ."
A Tale of Two Headphones -- Just because Apple includes a pair of earbuds with the iPod doesn't mean you're limited to them. Kevin van Haaren owns two different headphones for different purposes. "I keep the Koss Sparkplugs wrapped around my iPod case. They're my emergency earbuds. They aren't the best sounding set I have, but they're totally acceptable and were way better than nothing when I was stuck in a tire repair place because I had a flat. They're actually the best noise-reduction phones I've tried, so I use them on planes as well, and they actually stay in my ear, unlike most other earbuds. And at $15 (list price, I paid $10 for mine), they can be easily replaced after taking a lot of abuse. I'm on my second set."
"At work I want something a little better-sounding and a little less noise-blocking (I need to hear the boss yelling at me). So I use a $60 pair of Sennheiser PX 100s. They're the cheaper end of Sennheiser's line and actually got a better review than two more expensive Sennheiser headphones at Dan's Data. They come folded up in a hard case for protection when traveling (I usually throw them in my carry-on luggage and use the Koss Sparkplugs while in transit, and the Sennheiser PX 100s when I get there.) They have a funky folding mechanism that takes me a couple of tries each time to get them folded correctly, but they do travel well."