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Series: Gifts for the Mac-Minded
TidBITS readers suggest gifts for the the sorts of folks who seem to like Macs
Article 1 of 8 in series
TiVo Killed the Video Star -- Omar Shahine writes, "For me a TiVo (essentially a digital VCR that records to hard disk) is the killer app - it completely changes the way you think about viewing television! It is truly a fascinating deviceShow full article
TiVo Killed the Video Star -- Omar Shahine <email@example.com> writes, "For me a TiVo (essentially a digital VCR that records to hard disk) is the killer app - it completely changes the way you think about viewing television! It is truly a fascinating device. I now never watch any commercials, don't have to fuss with a VCR, or miss any of my favorite TV shows. And the best part is that I can watch them whenever I wish. Quality is excellent (MPEG-II) and the device comes with almost any cable you could ever need."
Andrew Laurence <firstname.lastname@example.org> offered a bit of caution to new TiVo users. "My roommate just bought one of these. It's indeed a nifty little device, but beware the quality/storage combination. You can record shows in varying degrees of quality, but if we found that at anything other than Standard (low) quality, the available storage fills up pretty quickly. One of the neatest things about TiVo is that, based upon what you tell it to record on a regular basis and the thumbs up/down ratings you give programs, it will record other programs which it thinks you might like. So you need that disk space."
Listen to Your Palm -- A few readers recommended the Qualcomm pdQ smartphone, which combines a cellular phone with a Palm handheld in a single unit. Dean Suhr <email@example.com> writes, "The Qualcomm pdQ phone is an integrated Palm III with a digital PCS phone; and like the Palm, it's Mac compatible."
Gifts from Foreign Shores -- Brian Forte <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "It will take extra effort, but consider using the Internet to find a present a friend or relative wouldn't buy for themselves, simply because they'd never think to look for it in their normal shopping haunts. This applies even to online haunts: Amazon.com may be a great bookstore but there are thousands of books published here in Australia each year that you can't get at Amazon.com; the reverse is also true with regards Australia-based online retailers.
"Adopting this approach will almost certainly make finding and acquiring a gift more difficult (you'll probably be buying sight unseen) and more time-consuming (because of extra delivery time if the goods have to be sent from overseas). The potential impact of such a gift, however, is enormous. I didn't know I'd be a fan of Berke Breathed's work until my sister presented me a book of Bloom County comic strips, which were never carried in any of my local papers."
The Truth Is Funnier -- Saint John <email@example.com> writes, "If you haven't heard of Randy Cassingham's This Is True yet, fire up the browser and go there. You can get the basic subscription for free, of course. But if there's someone on your list with a funny bone, why not subscribe him or her to the premium edition?
For $15 a year, your friend will get twice as much TRUE (Mr. Cassingham prefers that to the acronym, understandably). And if you have a lot of catching up to do, there are print collections of past columns; order today and they may just get there by the 25th!
Another Way to Think Different -- The slogan "Think Different" has been used successfully to sell computers, but the phrase is also apt in the area of giving. A friend of ours on TidBITS Talk who wished to remain anonymous suggested the gift of giving in general. "Consider what means the most to you in your lives and please accept the humble suggestion of helping in some way this season with sharing the gifts of your time, your thoughts, your mindfulness, your success, your self. Although very personal and though not for everyone, one of the most powerful gifts in your power to bestow is the gift of life you can make as an organ donor."
Article 2 of 8 in series
Freedom of the CafePress -- Although it's a tad too late to get TidBITS t-shirts from CafePress.com delivered before Christmas, you can probably still get one delivered in time for sartorial splendor at Macworld Expo in San FranciscoShow full article
Freedom of the CafePress -- Although it's a tad too late to get TidBITS t-shirts from CafePress.com delivered before Christmas, you can probably still get one delivered in time for sartorial splendor at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Or, if you're looking for another design that combines a Macintosh attitude with a comment on the election brouhaha in Florida, Kathy Berens <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends the timely "Vote Different" t-shirt at CafePress.com.
A Helping Hand in the Dark -- We love simple, handy tools that make us wonder why we didn't think of such obvious solutions. Avi Rappoport <email@example.com> tracked down the Nite Ize Flashlite Friend. "This tchotchke is truly darling and useful (despite the annoying spelling). It's a small sleeve that attaches bendable legs to Mag-Lite flashlights, then you can stand the light on a table, attach it to your sleeve, etc. Because there are four legs, it ends up looking like a little critter and is fun to play with - we expect they'll be a big hit at our family holidays. You get can get the Flashlite Friend at hardware stores or from many small Web sites such as MEI Research's Action-Lights.com."
Goodbye TV Guide -- One of the more active threads in TidBITS Talk has centered on the new category of digital television recorders. Andrew Laurence <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "After the long discussion of TiVo and ReplayTV some readers may be contemplating one of these for Christmas. For the last several weeks, Mercata has been offering the 30-hour Philips TiVo as a PowerBuy. Suggested retail is $400, but it often finishes around $330. And through the end of the year, TiVo is offering a $99 rebate on the hardware purchase, once you activate the TiVo service."
He continues, "What's amazing about TiVo is that folks really do become converts - much like Macintosh users. It's also similarly hard to describe why it's so different. At a party last month, a guy asked me what the big deal was. I began by telling him that it's hard to describe and that you have to live with it to understand its implications, and then ran down my litany of reasons why TiVo is wonderful. Twenty minutes later, he still only cared about whether or not it automatically removes commercials."
Although Adam and Tonya are extremely happy with their TiVo as well, the ReplayTV is equally well-liked by many others.
Wake Up Calls -- Apple's inclusion of quality Bose speakers in its iMac and G4 Cube machines may tempt Mac users to look for better sound quality in other areas. "High end audio for every room is becoming more and more popular," says Warren Magnus <email@example.com>. "A recent trip to the Sharper Image store in Seattle revealed the Nakamichi Sound Space 3. Now, while $300 may seem a bit steep for a clock radio, the fact that this dual alarm unit features displays for both night stands and a subwoofer in addition to its truly excellent sound makes it more a high end stereo for the bedroom than a mere wake-me-in-the-morning device."
Striking a similar tone, Alan Forkosh <firstname.lastname@example.org> offered his own recommendation. "Another table radio with a separate clock and excellent sound is the Cambridge Soundworks Model 88 Table Radio, and the Clock Control 88. The radio features two stereo speakers and adjustable subwoofer with both RCA and miniplug jacks for a CD or tape player. The digital clock features two alarm/buzzer settings, a snooze control, and a delayed shut-off control, plus a thin remote control. The unit retails for $200 with the clock unit $50 more, though I've seen the base unit on sale for as low as $150. I have been using the radio as my bedroom clock radio for the last year and have nothing but good thoughts."
Radical Gadgets -- Our friends at Xplain Corporation (publishers of MacTech Magazine and the NetProfessional press release distribution list) have branched out with their new site RadGad. Based entirely on Macs, RadGad carries a variety of carefully selected gifts and gadgets along the lines of cool flashlights, pocket tools with an unimaginable number of blades, and useful personal electronics. Although relatively few of the items RadGad carries are related to computers, many have clearly been selected with the mentality of computer people in mind. RadGad is by no means comprehensive, but it's definitely worth a visit if you're having trouble thinking of what to get someone on your list. Use the link below to receive discounted prices exclusively for TidBITS readers!
Too Much Stuff? Robin <email@example.com> writes, "With all the new stuff, many of us most likely have some old stuff that will never be used again. Like t-shirts, we appear to collect too much of a good thing. The National Cristina Foundation will be happy to take any unwanted computers, peripherals, and legal software, and give it to someone who can't afford to buy it. I got a Power Mac G4 for my birthday, and going from a 6400/180 to a G4 meant lots of cables I would no longer need. The National Cristina Foundation was happy to take them. (The computer went to a local person I knew that needed one). If Santa is nice to me this year I might get to donate my good old pair of UMAX S-12 scanners and the 2X JVC CD-R. What is old for us can bring a new smile to someone else."
Online Giving -- The Web has made it easier to shop and purchase gifts online, but it's also become a conduit for charitable donations. Rich Gorringe <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "As Bill Gates said recently, computers won't provide clean water to most of the world's population. I have given Seva Foundation gifts in the past, and feel good about the double gift that each expenditure provides." Seva gifts include monetary donations that go toward educating and improving the health of women in Guatemala, community grants for Native Americans, and more.
There are a variety of other gifts along these lines, like the Heifer Project, which uses donations to provide needy families in impoverished nations with farm animals from which to derive food and income. It's an excellent approach to helping people help themselves.
Another option is to use a charity affiliate program when shopping for products online. GreaterGood.com provides links to many major online stores, and a host of charities. When you purchase gifts, a percentage of your order is donated to the charity of your choice.
Finally, though we're not a charitable organization, contributions to help TidBITS maintain editorial excellence and independence are always welcome! Plus, if you help support TidBITS, you can purchase TidBITS t-shirts, sweatshirts, mousepads, and mugs at a discount, receive a listing on our Contributors page, and have your name appear at the top of a future issue of TidBITS.
Article 3 of 8 in series
We're constantly struck by the intellectual breadth of the Macintosh community and the TidBITS readership in particular. It doesn't take much more than an offhand comment in TidBITS to spur a private discussion about the role of computers in schools, the relative merits of specific HEPA air filters, or the history of copyright law. That's why we're never surprised at the holiday gift suggestions we receive that aren't related to the Mac or even to computers, necessarily, but which seem to be the sorts of things that appeal to those of us who have chosen to use the MacShow full article
We're constantly struck by the intellectual breadth of the Macintosh community and the TidBITS readership in particular. It doesn't take much more than an offhand comment in TidBITS to spur a private discussion about the role of computers in schools, the relative merits of specific HEPA air filters, or the history of copyright law.
That's why we're never surprised at the holiday gift suggestions we receive that aren't related to the Mac or even to computers, necessarily, but which seem to be the sorts of things that appeal to those of us who have chosen to use the Mac. In addition, suggestions from previous years are often still relevant in this category in particular. And of course, if you'd like to see the full TidBITS Talk discussions from this year and the last two, they sometimes provide more details than we had room for in the final articles.
TiVo! Andrew Laurence, a vocal TiVo proponent on TidBITS Talk and the author of our two-part review of the TiVo hardware and service, offered this suggestion, surprising absolutely no one. He wrote, "TiVo is a great gift for any household with a television, but expensive if you want it to include lifetime service so it would be a complete gift. Recorders are available at a variety of home electronics-type stores, as well as Amazon and other online retailers. Current deals include a 30-hour Philips unit from Sears for $200 on close-out, a 30-hour Sony unit direct from TiVo for $250 (shipping included), and a 40-hour AT&T-branded unit direct from AT&T/TiVo for $300. (This last one is the box being sold/marketed to AT&T cable customers, but it's really a regular stand-alone TiVo recorder that works with antenna, cable or satellite. You can buy from the Web site even if you're not an AT&T cable customer.) The TiVo service costs $10 per month, or $250 for the lifetime of the recorder."
Although no one else commented in the TidBITS Talk suggestions, this is where the ReplayTV buffs generally jump in and make the case for the ReplayTV being an equal or superior digital video recorder. (The recent release of the ReplayTV 4000, which offers additional features for broadband users, is sure to spark more competition; the devices appear to be trickling to users now.) We strongly suspect that the differences are mostly a matter of personal preference, and we refuse to let this TiVo versus ReplayTV discussion turn into anything resembling the Mac versus PC religious wars. Suffice to say, a digital video recorder like the TiVo or ReplayTV will give you almost complete control over the television you choose to watch. Now if only the TiVo could convince the local Time Warner franchise to carry a station with reruns of the old Muppet Show...
Mac Tourism -- Mike Calmus suggested something that would undoubtedly be a major treat for someone who's never been. "How about airfare, lodging, and an all-access pass to Macworld Expo San Francisco in January?" Also consider Macworld New York next July, since it may be a bit late to get inexpensive plane tickets and hotel rooms for the San Francisco show at this late date.
The Ultimate Macintosh Travel Gift -- Adam here. With all due respect to Mike's suggestion above, I've been to Macworld Expo twice a year for almost every year since 1992. There's no question that Macworld is a good time, and I'd certainly recommend that anyone who enjoys watching the Macintosh world turn should attend at some point. But there's an event coming up in 2002 that I think will make walking the floor at Macworld Expo seem like hard labor in the mines. It's Mac Mania, the first (hopefully annual) Macintosh-specific cruise to Alaska put on by Geek Cruises, a company that specializes in holding high-tech conferences aboard cruise ships. Basically, Geek Cruises organizes a conference that will occupy three at-sea days out of a seven day cruise, attracts the best speakers (who fight for the chance to attend), and reserves about half the rooms on a standard cruise ship for like-minded geeks.
The Mac Mania cruise to Alaska's Inside Passage, starting 27-May-02, will be my first, but a number of friends have spoken aboard other cruises in the past and say they're more fun than should be legal. Along with the three days of conferences, there are four days of straight vacation, but with all sorts of other Mac geeks around. I'll be speaking, of course, and Tonya and Tristan will be coming too (Geek Cruises encourages families to attend; there will be lots of non-geeks aboard as well, with plenty of non-geek entertainment, and the cruise ships are reportedly kid-friendly). Other speakers whose names are probably familiar from TidBITS and TidBITS Talk include Glenn Fleishman, Tom Negrino, Dori Smith, and Jason Snell. Rounding out the roster are David Pogue, Bob LeVitus, Andy Gore, Deke McClelland, Sal Soghoian, Rick LePage, David Biedny, Jesse Feiler, Ben Long, Randal Schwartz, Daniel Steinberg, and, in case none of the rest of us are a sufficient draw, actor John de Lancie (Star Trek's "Q") and Steve Wozniak himself will also be speaking.
I won't pretend Mac Mania is cheap. The conference costs $600, the rooms range between $1,050 and $1,900 per person, and you'll need to factor in airfare to Vancouver, Canada. That sounds steep, but when you consider that a full pass to Macworld Expo can cost $1,500 and hotel rooms in major cities regularly run $200 per night, the Geek Cruise is comparable for two people and includes a several-day vacation. Besides, how many glaciers can you see in San Francisco or New York?
I can't tell you how much we're looking forward to Mac Mania, and I'd certainly love to have a number of TidBITS readers on board as well. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't get any kickbacks from signups. So if you're starting to think about next year's vacation, Mac Mania might be just the ticket.
From Behemoth to Microship -- There are people who march (or in this case, pedal) the beat of a different drummer, and if you or anyone you know is fascinated by the lives of said people, a fabulous gift would be Steven Roberts's self-published book From Behemoth to Microship. You've probably heard of Steve at some point - he's the "technomad" who biked over 16,000 miles around the U.S. on a succession of recumbent bikes outfitted with an increasingly insane amount of computer and communications gear. His current project, with his wife Natasha Clarke, is a pair of custom-built micro-trimarans powered by sail, pedals, and solar, and laden with even more computer and communication gear than before (plus a spot for their cat in one of the boats). Steve's a serious Mac-head and uber-geek, making the stories he tells in From Behemoth to Microship tremendously enjoyable. Signed copies of the book cost $15 plus $3.50 shipping, and we know (from having visited Steve and Natasha one beautiful weekend day on Camano Island before moving back to Ithaca), that sales of the book will make a real difference in the Microship project.
Think of Others -- We were pleased to see the number of people who suggested that the best gifts during the holiday season are made via charities to worthy causes or to those people in need. Derrick Yamaura led off the suggestions: "During the holiday season, I tend to donate money and goods to charitable organizations. Last year, I gave to the Union Gospel Mission, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Burnaby General Hospital Foundation. I will donate to these associations again this year. I hope that other TidBITS readers will find it in their hearts to support charitable organizations in their local areas, or perhaps to give support to organizations that are providing services and relief to those affected by the events of September 11th."
In response to Derrick's suggestion, Adam commented, "My family has also increasingly started to make charitable donations as gifts. My favorite organization along these lines is Heifer International, which gives animals to needy third-world people. The animals can provide food, income, offspring, and even better, Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal's offspring to another needy family. What I like about this approach is that it gives families renewable resources they can use to improve their lives. And it certainly doesn't hurt that I grew up on a farm and have an appreciation for what animals make possible."
After that suggestion, Andrew Cohen expanded on the idea. "In fact, Heifer International just launched a mini site for this holiday season explaining the impact of alternative giving. There are several success stories on the site. Each includes a photo gallery which helps tell the family's story."
Naomi Pearce chimed in, "Glide Memorial in San Francisco does some amazing and practical work; they really know how to stretch a buck. Like Heifer International, when you give to them in someone else's name, they translate the dollar amount into what it buys instead of stating a number. It feels way less tacky. So, for example a $10 donation becomes "holiday meals for a family of four," or $25 is "a winter coat for a disadvantaged child," or $75 buys "fifteen blankets for homeless families."
For those looking to combine charitable giving with support for the Macintosh community, consider a tax-deductible donation to Info-Mac, the venerable archive of freely distributable Macintosh software. Info-Mac needs the funds to bring its utterly ancient hardware up to date and pay for domain registration fees and other organizational expenses.
Finally, Johann Beda offered a higher level view of charitable giving via the Internet. "It is possible to donate online to most registered charities in the U.S. and in Canada through Web sites that take care of all the transactions, even for charities with no Web presence. There are probably similar places for other countries, and similar Web sites for the U.S. and Canada as well, but the ones I know of are Network for Good in the U.S. (no fees or charges) and CanadaHelps (less than 2 percent fees, which is probably about as good as any credit card donation directly to the charity's phone number). These sites also have information about volunteering and other charitable giving resources.
"They work by taking the money online from the donor and then sending a cheque to the charity's address of record. If you are involved in a charity, it might be worthwhile to register with these Web sites to allow for faster money transfers (direct deposit and that sort of thing) and Web links to the charity's site, as well as filling in additional information beyond the info that they have from their use of whatever charity registry databank they get their information from. You can find online charity 'portal' listings at these sites."
Article 4 of 8 in series
Every year, we receive a number of gift suggestions that are completely unrelated to the Macintosh. But since that matches the incredibly varied interests of our readers, we're happy to go with the flow once againShow full article
Every year, we receive a number of gift suggestions that are completely unrelated to the Macintosh. But since that matches the incredibly varied interests of our readers, we're happy to go with the flow once again. Suggestions from previous years remain relevant if you're looking for additional unusual ideas.
Let There Be Light -- Our friend Karen Anderson from Seattle made a typically practical suggestion. "The technology gift I'm giving to the ones I love this year is a torchiere lamp with a bright fluorescent bulb. These lamps can replace the halogen torchieres that are popular because of their extreme brightness, but incredibly dangerous because of their high temperatures. (Halogens are also energy hogs; a "bargain" $19 halogen lamp uses about $55 of electricity a year.)
"Though Seattle-area lighting stores seem utterly unaware of it, several companies, including GE, make torchieres with 55- and 60-watt compact fluorescent bulbs that emit light equivalent to that of the 300-watt halogens. After a few hours of research online, I found a reputable Web site that offers fluorescent torchieres in a range of attractive styles and at modest prices. It's Energy Federation Incorporated.
"The lamps start at an affordable $41, and the fluorescent bulbs last several years. All in all, it's much cheaper than replacing the contents of your home or office after a fire!"
TiVo, Yet Again -- We knew someone would be unable to resist suggesting (for the fourth consecutive year!) one of the TiVo digital video recorders that has utterly changed the way we and many of our friends watch television. We weren't disappointed, with Marshall Clow suggesting briefly, "While expensive, I haven't seen a piece of hardware that inspires such fierce loyalty as a TiVo." As Marshall said, TiVos aren't cheap, but TiVo itself is selling a 40-hour unit for $200, which is a good deal, and it can be expanded with an upgrade kit from Weaknees.com. Remember, to use a TiVo, you also need a TiVo subscription, which costs either $13 per month or $250 for the lifetime of your TiVo (most people choose the lifetime option, which pays for itself in less than two years).
Talking Wireless -- If you're looking for a gift for someone who constantly has a Sony Ericsson T68i cell phone clamped to the side of her head, Ken Prager suggested a wireless Bluetooth headset such as the Jabra FreeSpeak. (Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that's primarily useful as a cable replacement at the moment, but we can think of plenty of cables we'd like to replace.)
Tritium-Powered Glow Lights -- Iain Anderson made a fascinating, if geographically limited, gift choice. "An unusual present for science buffs out there in the UK (no exports allowed) are tritium-powered glow lights that will last for ten years without a battery. Why just the UK? Pesky international laws to do with radioactive materials, though apparently these are safe enough. Oh, and they come in five fruity colours." We don't suggest licking them.
Chaos Tower -- We've been accused of setting up Rube Goldberg servers in the past, what with our reliance on HyperCard and AppleScript to bolt together a wide variety of elderly programs. Now we might have to try it in the real world, with William Ansley's idea. "Here is a toy for any Rube Goldberg fan, people who want to have some intelligent fun, or a child you're hoping to lure away from a video screen. Called the Chaos Tower, it's a ball track kit that allows you to build a framework holding a track layout for balls to run down to the bottom, where they are lifted back up to the top by a chain bucket mechanism powered by a motor. On the way down, the balls can bounce off trampolines, ring bells or play a xylophone key, perform loop-de-loops, swirl around a vortex funnel, and activate either of two different track switching mechanisms. The toy comes with an HTML-based Learning CD-ROM that teaches children concepts in physics using various layouts of the toy as examples.
"The kit is expensive at about $125, but it's huge and extremely sturdy. You get enough pieces to make a six foot high tower. I just bought one of these for myself (I have never grown up) and like it so much I am going to buy another so I can make a mega Chaos Tower."
Musini -- Another innovative toy suggestion came from Marilyn Matty, who admits it might not be popular if you have downstairs neighbors. "Although it isn't the most difficult thing in the world to inspire little children to jump up and down, Neurosmith's Musini is a unique gift that will get the youngest (age 3 and up) making music while they boogie.
"The Musini is a music player keyed to a motion detector that responds to vibrations in the floor by changing the tempo and pattern of the music. Just select a genre (Latin, nursery rhymes, classical, jazz, etc.) and make any changes in combinations of instruments. Expansion cartridges of other types of music are available. Every movement creates a unique sound, so the combinations that can be made by one or more kids are endless. It lists for $70 at the company's Web site, but I found it for less than $50 at KBtoys.com, so it pays to shop around."
Mooory Christmas -- It often seems as though we have too many things, stuff that occupies our houses, requires care and maintenance, and generally takes up space in our lives. Rather than feed the stuff habit this year, Theresa Freilicher proposed a donation to an extremely worthy organization we've supported in the past, Heifer International, which gives animals to needy third-world people. The animals may provide income, food, and offspring, and Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal's offspring to another needy family. Theresa wrote, "Donating to charity in lieu of physical gifts seems to be developing into a tradition among my friends. Last year, I requested no gifts, but rather a donation to Heifer International. My friends took me literally and donated a heifer. A number of them liked the idea so much they started requesting the same from their friends. Then it caught on among their colleagues at work, and now Heifer International has reached charity function status here in Washington, D.C."
First Christmas, Then Easter -- Part of the appeal of Heifer International is that giving a duck or a pig has more emotional impact than simply donating money. Andrew Cohen suggested donating to another organization, Easter Seals, that is translating contributions into the real world. Andrew wrote, "Easter Seals is inviting people to 'give the gift that changes lives to someone who changed yours.' Their gifts are special in that each gift supports one of their services to people with disabilities. For example, the Gift of Inspiration supports physical rehabilitation, the Gift of Laughter supports child care programs, and the Gift of Opportunity supports job training. These are creative ways to honor a friend or relative who changed your life in some way. Perhaps you want to honor your boss with the Gift of Opportunity for giving you a chance this year. Or maybe you are a college student who wants to give the Gift of Independence to your parents who helped you learn to make it on your own. Or the Gift of Adventure could go to someone with whom you shared an exciting trip. You get the idea. Each gift has an accompanying postcard you can email or print for the gift recipient."
Think Green -- In response to Theresa's suggestion of a donation to Heifer International, Kevin van Haaren commented, "If you're donating for a friend who happens to be a vegetarian, a less meat oriented charity like Second Harvest might be a bit more welcome."
Article 5 of 8 in series
TidBITS certainly focuses on the world of the Macintosh, but we're always impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge that our readers display in other fields, so it comes as no surprise that many people can't resist making gift suggestions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Mac or even with computersShow full article
TidBITS certainly focuses on the world of the Macintosh, but we're always impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge that our readers display in other fields, so it comes as no surprise that many people can't resist making gift suggestions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Mac or even with computers. Ideas from previous years remain relevant if you're looking for additional unusual gifts.
Wireless Sound -- Geoff Bronner said, "My recommendation is the gift I gave myself last year. A Sony SPIAR Wireless Speaker System (SPIAR stands for "Sound Playing In Any Room"). Why is this a good item for the Mac enthusiast? Because it just works and looks cool while doing it. The system has two parts, a transmitter and a speaker, each with an AC adapter, but the speaker also has a built-in rechargeable battery which enables you to move it anywhere you like for three to four hours. The transmitter is not very large and accepts input from RCA connectors or a stereo headphone plug. We have it connected to our home theater system and sitting on top of the stereo cabinet. The speaker is a single unit with a plastic reflector that glows with a blue light to match the Sony TiVo. But this single unit puts out stereo sound that will fill a room. We use it to bring music into different parts of the house or out onto our patio. It also solves the problem of having two people watching the same TV from different parts of the house: instead of turning the volume way up on the TV, you can use the SPIAR speaker to have a comfortable sound level everywhere.
"If that isn't enough, you can buy additional speaker units that use the same transmitter. Sony also sells wireless headphones that are compatible with these speakers. The system uses the 900 MHz range, so it does not conflict with our active 802.11b wireless network. It generally gets along with the 900 MHz phones used in the house and can change channels if there is interference. Sony is not the cheapest brand on the market - the speaker and transmitter will cost you $180 list - but you get what you pay for. This product is better than anything else I could find in this price range... just like my Mac."
Good Christmas Music -- So what are you going to play on your wireless speaker system? Some of us were ecstatic to read Andrew Laurence's next suggestion. Andrew wrote, "How about non-sucking, non-syrupy, non-schlock holiday music? Each year we're assaulted in shops and malls with the most horrific schmaltzy dreck, and most folks don't know that there exists holiday music with pep, verve, and a more than a little bit of fun. Here's a list of favorites that I return to year after year."
"Elvis' Christmas Album" - Elvis Presley
Originally issued in 1957, this album remains a classic. Side One contains the pop tracks, from his famous renditions of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Blue Christmas" to the seminal rock tune "Santa Claus is Back in Town." Side Two is sacred material, the first hint we had that, aside from being the King of Rock 'n Roll, Elvis was an amazing singer. It includes a beautiful "Silent Night" and an ethereal "(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley."
"Original Soul Christmas" - Various Artists
This album came out when the boys in the band dressed like gentlemen and the women were dressed to kill. Clarence Carter sets the mood with "Back Door Santa." Along the way we get Otis Redding on "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby," King Curtis's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and Joe Tex's "I'll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman)." The CD reissue adds a few extra tracks, including Ray Charles's "Christmas Time."
"Hipster's Holiday: Vocal Jazz & R&B Classics" - Various Artists
Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby," a rather naughty rendition of waiting for Santa, is worth the entrance fee alone. We also get Oscar McLollie's "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus," Louis Armstrong's "Zat You, Santa Claus," and Big John Greer's hysterical "We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo." Pearl Bailey offers a pragmatic holiday wish, "Five Pound Box of Money."
"In The Christmas Spirit" - Booker T. & the MG's
You know every cut on this record. You've heard each one a thousand times but didn't know it. When you're in a store, realize that the instrumental piece you're hearing is a rock 'n roll holiday arrangement and think, "Hey, that's actually good!", you're listening to this album. Booker T's organ sizzles across each cut. It's so good that three of the cuts are also on the aforementioned "Original Soul Christmas." Ignore the duplication and revel in the artistry of master musicians.
John Haffner, Paul Brians, and LuKreme also jumped in with their recommendations.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" - Vince Guaraldi Trio
John wrote: "I bought this album at Starbucks a couple years back and it remains one of my favorite Christmas albums thanks to its cool, laid-back music for the season. It also takes some of us back to childhood years."
"Go Tell It on the Mountain" - Blind Boys of Alabama
Paul noted: "This new album by the classic gospel group has hard-driving excitement, unusual arrangements, and several guest stars, including Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, and Chrissie Hynde. It's quickly become one of my favorites among my 200+ Christmas albums. I bought my copy at Starbucks." (Who knew Starbucks was the place for hip Christmas music?)
"And the Angels Sing..." - Various Artists
LuKreme said, "My favorite holiday recording is produced by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, perhaps as a fund-raiser. Nevertheless, it has 22 tracks of classic Christmas carols, and no 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' or 'Jingle Bell Rock' so it gets major bonus points from me."
Yes, Mother -- Marilyn Matty has a different answer of what to listen to that you probably wouldn't have expected. "Amy Borkowsky, a former advertising copywriter turned stand-up comic, recently released a followup CD to her successful 'Amy's Answering Machine' CD and book. If you haven't already heard, or own, the originals, I highly recommend both. They are compilations of actual messages left on her answering machine by her overprotective mother, and they proved to be the most popular elements of her comedy routines.
"I couldn't imagine there could be any better concern about computer ownership conundrums than this first message from Amy's mother... at least until I heard the second one:
"'You know, it just occurred to me... what do you need a laptop computer for? What if you get all farmisht and leave the computer on a table at a diner? That's like leaving a three thousand dollar tip for an egg on a roll.'
"'Amila, I'm having second thoughts about that little palm-size computer that you bought. You could swallow it and, God forbid, choke. I just read an article about a fellow who lost a tiny cell phone and when he dialed his own number to try and locate it, he heard a ringing sound coming from his dog.'
"Underlying the New York accent is a loving, concerned and devoted heart that anyone's child can relate to, which make the CD and book wonderful gifts and party entertainment. Even if you're not a single, 35+, New York City female, you're bound to get a big kick out of Amy's mother's advice."
Internet Radio Subscriptions -- Amy Borkowsky's CDs won't last forever, but Tomoharu Nishino's next suggestion will provide a year of listening pleasure. "I recommend a one year subscription to 'Wait, wait, don't tell me...' on Audible.com. I love that show on NPR, but am never near a radio when it's on. I could listen to it from their Web site, but that ties me to a computer. The Audible.com subscription isn't exactly cheap at $45 for 12 months ($10 for 1 month), but it lets me easily download the shows to my iPod and take it with me. Of course, depending on the tastes of the recipient, you might think about other shows, too. 'Car Talk' comes readily to mind."
Of course, for a different approach that has only one-time costs, check out the 2003 Miscellaneous Gift Ideas article earlier in this issue for devices that let you record radio - Internet or AM/FM - to your Mac.
See America By Book -- Adam here. I'll admit that as much as I like looking at pictures, big coffee table photo books seldom hold my interest for long. That hasn't been true of Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen's new book, America 24/7, which brings together more than 1,200 photographs taken over a single week by both professional and amateur photographers (see "America 24/7 Digital Photo Project" in TidBITS-679 for the initial announcement). 25,000 people submitted more than one million photos, and this book represents the cream of the crop. The variety is what held my attention, I think, and I find myself picking this book up time and time again and flipping through a few more pages, reading the captions and imagining what the lives of the people pictured must be like. The book lists for $50, but it's on sale at Amazon for 40 percent off right now, bringing the price down to $30, which is more than reasonable for 300 full-color oversize pages.
The Ultimate Travel Mug -- This year, Andrew Laurence addressed a problem that many of us may not have even realized we had: the need for a high-quality traveler coffee mug. "A confession. I have an irrational obsession with traveler/thermos coffee mugs. I'm constantly in search of the perfect mug. The lid should seal and be reasonably leak/spill-proof - no leaks around the edges when I corner in the Miata, thank you very much. If I drop the cup because the baby just lunged out of my arms, I'd like to be reasonably sure that the lid won't explode on impact and spill my precious coffee all over the landscape.
"For years I've imagined a good thermos mug with a dead-man's trigger - the lid's natural state is closed, and you have to squeeze a trigger to drink of the goodness. For a while I thought I had it with the Traveler mug featuring the Closer lid. However, the lid easily breaks upon disassembly for cleaning. And you can't just buy one in a store - it seems to be available only as logo-ware in bulk.
"I've been eyeing the Thermos/Nissan tumblers for years, after seeing them for sale in places like Brookstone, Sharper Image, and various coffee houses. At upwards of $30 each, however, I never quite made the leap. Then last night my wife found a twin-pack of their JMH402 mug at Costco, for only $20! For my money, it's the perfect travel tumbler. It holds a healthy 14 ounces of elixir, with a tight screw-on lid. The lid sports a lever-action dead-man's trigger, and is very spill-resistant. Beautiful stainless steel on the inside and outside; Thermos claims that it'll keep hot liquids hot for three hours, and cold liquids cold for six hours. Mmmm, coffee..."
The Right Tools for Any Job -- Although it's important to have the right tools for the job at hand, Tomoharu Nishino also noted that sometimes it's good to have tools for whatever the job may turn out to be. "I always carry two things in my briefcase: a Leatherman Juice XE6 multi-tool and a pocket-sized Maglite flashlight. I must confess that I am a multi-tool addict and have tried quite a few (not to mention a few Swiss Army knives), and the Leatherman strikes the right balance between size, variety of tools, safety, and usability. Both the Leatherman and Maglite are incredibly useful things to just have around; you'd be surprised how many dark or dimly lit corners there are in an average office building. I've even performed an emergency hard disk upgrade on a Power Mac G4 with the Leatherman while peering into it with the Maglite flashlight held in my mouth (not that I am recommending this, mind you - the computer was secured under a desk with an anti-theft device). Now if we can only convince Leatherman to add a couple of Torx screwdrivers."
Johann Beda qualified this suggestion, "LED flashlights are the way to go these days. They have great light and amazing lifetimes for batteries and the LEDs. For lots of fun (albeit not super bright light) getting a clear magnetic induction LED flashlight would make my day. You shake the cylinder and a magnet bounces back and forth in the shaft, past some coils which charge a capacitor, and when you flip the switch the capacitor powers the flashlight for a few minutes. There are also crank powered LED flashlights available that are useful but not as nifty."
Curtis Wilcox agreed, but cautioned, "I have one of these magnetic induction LED flashlights in my car. The light is indeed rather weak (not the fault of the LED) but its main appeal is that there are no batteries to replace or have die on you when you finally need to use it. It is an electromagnet, so you wouldn't want to carry it in your pocket with your wallet."
Where Am I? John Slavin asked, presumably rhetorically, "What about a GPS device? Route 66 has released Route USA 2004 for Mac OS X, which gives us mapping and route planning software. The next thing is a GPS to go with it. Of course, there are options for connecting full-blown GPS receivers, but I am intrigued by this MacProf article which suggested that the PC card-based GPSes from Haicom will work with Route USA 2004. Haicom also makes some nifty little hybrid models."
We can second this recommendation. During a recent trip to Boston, where the extensive highway system was designed by cows and clearly labelled in Braille, a Garmin eTrex Legend GPS filled with local maps proved invaluable in answering the basic questions of "Where the heck are we?" and "Where on this map do we want to be?" (The answers were, respectively, "where the little arrow is pointing," and "enjoying dinner with Andy Ihnatko and Rich 'Mr. BBEdit' Siegel at Zaftigs in Brookline.") We weren't even late, though that was more a function of having left an extra 45 minutes to be lost.
Act Local, Think Global -- Lastly, although suggestions of donations to specific charities didn't appear from readers this year, perhaps in part due to the weak economy through 2003, we encourage you to think of others as well. Local state, county, and city budgets are being slashed around the United States as government funds are redirected elsewhere, and worthy programs are suffering from the effects. So this year, why not find a local organization that could use your donation of time, goods, or money to make your community a better place to live for everyone?
And if you're of the opinion that we're all in this together and you want to extend your efforts to those in other countries that have even more significant challenges, we recommend Heifer International, a group that links your donations directly to the gift of farm animals to needy third-world families. The animals may provide income, food, and offspring, and Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal's offspring to another needy family. Besides, how else could you give someone a water buffalo?
Article 6 of 8 in series
We're always impressed at the wide range of interests and experience of our readers, so we love seeing what totally random gift ideas come through in this categoryShow full article
We're always impressed at the wide range of interests and experience of our readers, so we love seeing what totally random gift ideas come through in this category. Ideas from previous years also remain relevant if you're looking for additional unusual gifts.
Meanwhile, at his night job... Travis Butler wrote, "Steve Jobs's other company, Pixar, has done a simply superb job with their latest hit, The Incredibles; it's the first movie in several years that I've gone back to see a second time. It's a good movie about family, it has a cool (and frankly more honest than other recent superhero movies) take on superheroes, has a number of fun riffs/homages for fans of the Bond movies, and is just generally a helluva show. Recommended." And if it's not still in theaters at Christmas, we're sure the DVD can't be far behind.
More Good Christmas Music -- Tired of the same old bland holiday songs and arrangements? Andrew Laurence comes to the rescue again this year (be sure to read last year's list, linked below, for other holiday music recommendations.)
Andrew wrote, "How about another list of toe-tapping, heart-stopping, roof-raising holiday music? My first attempt for this year's list was to find artists who had run afoul of the law, if only to tweak Adam for pulling last year's Phil Spector entry. An "I Found The Law" holiday list, if you will. Alas, 'twas not to be. My first rule is that the music must keep your toe a-tapping, and that keeps the list pretty short."
"Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters" - James Brown
Culled from Brown's three holiday albums in 1966, 1968, and 1970, these 17 tracks crackle and sizzle with the Godfather's special brand of funktastic soul. Most cuts are originals, belying other artists who phone in their holiday albums. "Soulful Christmas" is a hypnotizing groove, and "Santa Go Straight to the Ghetto" is a plea for the less fortunate. "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" is a straight blues reading of holiday loneliness, tempered only by a lascivious reading of "Merry Christmas, Baby."
"Boogie Woogie Christmas" - Brian Setzer Orchestra
Polish up the hot rod and grease your hair into a duck tail. Brian Setzer's big band orchestra (and his crisp lead guitar) lead the way through this collection of holiday classics done right. "Blue Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Back in Town" give us an idea of what Elvis might have sounded like with modern production, while Brian gets playful with Ann-Margret on "Baby It's Cold Outside". "Nutcracker Suite" is a nod to Duke Ellington, while "(Everyone's Waitin' for) The Man with the Bag" has a swagger all its own.
"Billboard Rock 'N' Roll Christmas" - Rhino Records
God bless Rhino Records. Rock 'n' roll is littered with little jewels of holiday rock bombs, but they're usually buried amidst horrifically pedestrian dreck. Rhino saves us the trouble of making like a truffle-hunting pig and puts all on one disk: George Thorogood's "Rock And Roll Christmas," the Kinks' "Father Christmas," the Beach Boys' seminal "Little Saint Nick," and, at long last, Dave Edmunds' authoritative "Run Rudolph Run." Oh, and let's not forget Cheech & Chong's, er, slightly confused "Santa Claus and His Old Lady."
"A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector" - Phil Spector
(if only to trust the art and not the artist...) This is the album that all pop stars try to imitate when they record a holiday album. For my money, this album contains the canonical renditions of many holiday tunes. We get the Ronettes performing "Frosty the Snowman," "Sleigh Ride," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause." The Crystals give us "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but best of all is the thunderous "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Haul the volume knob all the way to the right, baby, 'cause this one goes to eleven.
Kitchen Geek Gear -- Nik Friedman acknowledged that some of us appreciate good design in other parts of our lives. "If you have a Mac-head who cooks, or just someone who appreciates a finely made kitchen appliance that's simple to use and trouble-free (just like a Mac!) take a look at a Kitchen Aid food processor or mixer for them. I've had great experiences with the company (and their truly no hassle, you break it/we replace it, warranty) and their products are top notch."
And All Through The House -- First the kitchen, now the loo. Aaron Roth succinctly noted, "Here's something that's suitable for nearly everyone: The LavNav Lavatory Navigation Toilet Night Light ($20)."
Of course, that endorsement prompted Marilyn Matty to suggest that the LavNav "could be augmented with a purchase of an iToilet, which, while little retro in iDesign, would be useful in theory."
Roomba Does Floors, not Windows -- In keeping with the housewares theme, Marilyn also offered this idea. "I don't have a Roomba robotic vacuum ($150 to $280), but two friends recently got them, and think they work quite well and are happy with them. One friend told me that although it isn't as fastidious a vacuuming job as if she does it, it's more than good enough and much preferable to doing all the vacuuming yourself. So I'm most definitely putting this up on my wish list for the holidays. They have good prices at Amazon, J&R, etc., and it's worth reading the reviews on Amazon."
Watch It on the Big Screen -- Christopher Schmidt is clearly pining for something a little larger when it comes to watching TV. He wrote, "This week my family rented a vacation house with a home theater, based on an outstanding projector, which went straight onto my own wish list: the Panasonic PT-AE500U LCD Projector ($2,500). Projected onto an 80-inch Vutec screen in a windowless room (a converted garage), it was plenty bright, even in the bulb-saver setting. (Aside: Bulbs are about $350, and the fan is quieter in the bulb-saver setting.) The overall effect was a lot like projected film. Although the LCD was only 720p, it produced an impression of being a more detailed image than apparent on our 1080i Sony tube-based WEGA at home - presumably because the projected image was big enough for me to see the image detail better (sitting about 10 feet back from both screens).
"And having just lived without our TiVo for the week, I will add that HDTV needs TiVo too: DirecTV HDTV TiVo ($1,000)."
Long Range Photos -- Most digital cameras have relatively pitiful zoom lenses, making it difficult to get shots from far away. And sometimes you want to be far away from your subject, leading to Marilyn Matty's next suggestion. "I've been researching a gift for a wildlife photographer and stumbled across this very nifty Bushnell binoculars/camera combo that offers a 30 second instant replay feature ($330). The other combos I found used the lens of the camera, rather than the binoculars, to focus, and at long distances, this could mean a lot of surprises with misframed shots. It's out of the price range for this particular gift, and I haven't even seen a real model, but it looks incredibly cool and the feature set is great. If Santa brought one for me, I certainly wouldn't return it."
Improve (Don't Destroy) Your Television -- It wouldn't seem like Christmas if Andrew Laurence didn't recommend TiVo. Unlike previous years, the TiVo options have expanded quite a bit. He wrote, "Are you or your gift recipient tired of slaving to the television networks' inane and inconvenient schedules? Get a personal television butler, TiVo! TiVo recorders come in two categories: 'standalone' recorders that can be used with any television provider in the US, and DirecTV 'combo receiver' units. Both can do all the wonderful things discussed in previous TidBITS coverage. DirecTV units have two tuners, and can record two shows at once. TiVo's low-end standalone recorder can store up to 40 hours of content, and can be had for $80, after rebate, from Amazon. Toshiba and Pioneer sell TiVo recorders that are also DVD recorders; these units can save shows to recordable DVD media. Standalone recorders come with the TiVo Basic service, essentially an intelligent VCR. Upgrading to the TiVo Plus service gets the Season Pass, Wishlist, Home Media Option, and Suggestions features. TiVo Plus service costs $13 per month ($7 per month for each additional recorder in the household) or $300 for the lifetime of the recorder. TiVo Plus gift certificates are also available."
If you need more space in your TiVo, look to WeaKnees.com for upgrades, which we wrote about in "Upgrading the TiVo" in TidBITS-644.
The only problem with TiVo is that you're still limited to the crud that passes for entertainment on the television stations. If you just can't stand the shows any more (or paying high monthly rates for shows you don't want to watch), you could always do what Adam and Tonya have just done and cancel your cable service. After clearing out the 100+ hours of backlogged shows on their TiVo, they plan to follow Diane Ross's suggestion. She wrote, "A gift subscription to Netflix would be a sure winner. Even if the recipient already has a Netflix subscription, they can redeem it for service. Netflix recently reduced their rates, and a one month gift subscription costs $18." (We covered Netflix in "Worthy Web Sites: Get Your Kicks with Netflix" in TidBITS-604.)
Games with Atoms, Not Bits -- Did you know that multi-player games exist where you don't have to fuss with network settings or make sure everyone has a fast-enough Mac? Rick Holzgrafe, when he's not programming Solitaire Till Dawn, has some suggestions. He wrote, "I almost submitted these suggestions in the game category, but these are board games - no computer required! You may not find these at Toys-R-Us, but your town probably has a store or two dedicated to games, and that's where you'll find these gems. They are also widely available on-line: try Amazon, or just type the game's name into Google.
"These are examples of the relatively new 'German-style' board game. They hit a certain sweet spot in gaming: there is strategy, but they aren't intense skull-crackers like Chess or Go; they are social, but they are not party games that require the players to behave in silly ways; and they are not dumbed-down for children and are immensely enjoyable by teens and adults. The boards, pieces, and 'bits' are well-made and often feature beautiful artwork.
"These make great family games if your kids are in middle school or higher. The rules may seem overly complex at first, but once you've played a game or two, they make sense and the games flow along very easily. At $30 or $40 apiece, the prices may strike you as a bit high, but compare them to the price of taking a family of four to the movies, and suddenly they seem downright cheap. A movie only lasts a couple of hours, but these games have real staying power! Here are some of our family favorites:
The Settlers of Catan: 3 or 4 players compete to build prosperous colonies on an island. Compete for resources and room in which to build roads, settlements, and cities. The board is assembled from shuffled tiles, giving you a new geography every time you play. This is the classic "gateway game" that is responsible for addicting thousands of new players to the German-style games.
Puerto Rico: Perhaps the most popular board game of the last 10 years! A bit complex, but very rewarding. Again you are colonizing, but the game mechanics are different from Settlers of Catan. In each player's turn, the player chooses a particular function (building, producing goods, shipping products, etc.) and all players get to perform that function even though it is not their turn. The player who chose the function gets an advantage over the others, and by choosing appropriately can further his own game and impede his opponents. Many choices and many paths to victory give this game enduring appeal.
El Grande: Compete against your opponents to gain political influence in medieval Spain! Seize opportunities to place your caballeros in positions of power, and to scatter and diffuse your opponents. Like most of the German-style games, this is not a war game: you are maneuvering for position, not engaging in combat. El Grande has been a model for many subsequent games.
Carcassonne: A game with very simple rules: draw a tile at random, and add it to a growing mosaic of a medieval European countryside. Win points by claiming and completing cities, roads, monasteries, and farmland as they appear. This game is good for any number of players from two (it makes a great head-to-head game) to five. Once you've mastered the basic game, expansion sets are available that add new things to build and new ways to score.
"And finally, a great resource for anyone who enjoys board and table games: BoardGameGeek.com. This incredible site has over 1,500 table games listed, described, categorized, rated, reviewed, photographed, and discussed! Click Games by Rating to see the hottest games in the opinion of the thousands of members. You must be a member to participate in ratings and discussions, but membership is free and you can browse all you like without being a member."
Article 7 of 8 in series
We started this category purely to pick up some of the wacky suggestions that come our way every year. And we have to say, there are some truly odd ideas in this year's collection, but if you need even more strange ideas for unusual gifts, suggestions from previous years also remain relevant. It Vacuums, It Mops, but It Doesn't Do Windows -- We can enthusiastically endorse at least half of this suggestion from reader "acorn_1" - the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner and the soon-to-be released Scooba robot mop from iRobot."The iRobot Roomba Discovery is niceShow full article
We started this category purely to pick up some of the wacky suggestions that come our way every year. And we have to say, there are some truly odd ideas in this year's collection, but if you need even more strange ideas for unusual gifts, suggestions from previous years also remain relevant.
It Vacuums, It Mops, but It Doesn't Do Windows -- We can enthusiastically endorse at least half of this suggestion from reader "acorn_1" - the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner and the soon-to-be released Scooba robot mop from iRobot."The iRobot Roomba Discovery is nice. It is much better than the first model. I like mine, but I can use all the help I can get. Moreover, having the Roomba is an incentive to minimize the clutter." We love our Roomba too (see Tonya's "Roomba: A Robot Underfoot" in TidBITS-787 for a full review), but we're less sure about the Scooba, which can use only special cleaning solution and which seems likely to clean only a single room at a time. Since the Scooba isn't out yet, we're reserving judgment.
USB Missile Launcher -- Jim Carr clearly works in a cubicle. Why else would he have his eye on a USB-controlled missile launcher that can send what look like foam darts across the room? They're sold by Marks & Spencer in the UK for about $34, and the description claims compatibility with both the Mac and Windows. Good luck laying your hands on one, even if you live near a Marks & Spencer. From what we've seen in online discussions, most stores are out of stock, and folks outside the UK will have to resort to eBay, where enterprising souls are reselling them at a tidy profit (search on "USB air dart" or "USB missile launcher").
I Need Less Power, Scotty! Sometimes less is more. Geoff Hutchison wrote, "Like many of us, I'm trying to cut down on energy use at home and in the office. I've found that a good electricity use monitor like the AC Cost Control ($30) is helpful for finding devices that pull power even when 'off.' I then use timed outlets, programmable switches (of course!), and other tricks to turn equipment on only when needed. Smarthome is a good source for such items." We've also seen the Kill A Watt ($40) device and the Watts Up Pro AC Power Meter ($150) advertised for this task, but we don't have any first-hand knowledge for comparison.
Track Your Time, Part 2 -- Dan Frakes wrote, "I don't wear a watch anymore, and I know quite a few people just like me - now that I've got my mobile phone with me all the time, I just don't need a watch hanging on my wrist. But what about those times when I have to turn my phone off (on a flight, for example)? Or when I don't have it with me? I find myself a bit lost (in time, that is). Tempo's Time Tag is simply a tiny digital clock that clips onto your bag, backpack, jeans pocket, or even your shirt. (I have one "'permanently' attached to my laptop bag.) I wish it had a backlight to make it easier to see in the dark, but it's still a handy accouterment. And despite its tiny size, the Time Tag never fails to attract attention - people who see it often want to know where they can get one. It's $18, but you get two in the package."
Back in the Analog World -- Although most Mac users would probably use iPhoto for this task, Paul Brians took another approach. "My elderly father is one of those people who appreciates being remembered, but doesn't want new objects around the house. His memory is fading, but he still enjoys looking at picture books. I assemble collections of my photographs and lay them out as a captioned photo book at Shutterfly. For $30 plus shipping the result is a handsome 20-page hardbound book that is both personal and professional looking. Only a limited number of page layouts are available, so I do a planning layout ahead of time in InDesign, then upload the pictures in the order I'll be using them, which saves a lot of time and effort. If you have a stash of old family photos, scanning them and printing a memory book can be a great gift for an older person whose short-term memory is weaker than memories of the distant past."
Dibs on the Green Ones -- This suggestion from Marilyn Matty is the sort of thing that could only happen in a computer-controlled factory. Perhaps there's a G5 running the assembly line... She wrote, "This idea isn't strictly computer related, but it is fun... you can order M&Ms with your own message (up to 7 characters) and in custom colors." Beware that so many people want these that you won't be able to receive them before Christmas.
Clearly, Marilyn has sugar on the brain, since she also couldn't resist another similar suggestion: "an Etch-A-Sketch/lollipop combination could help with mousing/drawing skills while providing a tasty incentive. At $40 per dozen, I don't think I can resist!"
The Shirt Off His Back -- Nik Friedman understands that even the more technical among us need to present the proper face to the world, and what better way to do that than with a t-shirt. "Geeks need t-shirts. They're sort of the uniform for the elite geek set. The best tees are found at Threadless. Get your favorite geek a gift certificate or a few sharp shirts by one of the many artists who contribute to the site." Of course, if you're looking from some truly geeky t-shirts, you simply must check out the collection from ThinkGeek as well.
iPod My Baby -- Marilyn Matty, who always has an eye out for iPod-related items, offered this idea for the littlest ones on your list. "I doubt if the volume control will work, but these iPod-decorated onesies will look cute on the babies of the iPod-minded." They're $16 each, and a long-sleeve t-shirt version is now available too.
Geek Pinups? We can already imagine the comments this suggestion from Patrick Gilmore will provoke, but the Geek Gorgeous calendar is as much about challenging stereotypes of intelligence and beauty as anything else. The models are, of course, attractive, but the calendar focuses as much on their technical skills, and the producer (a senior Java developer) hopes to raise enough money from calendar sales to create a self-sustaining scholarship fund for women who want to study computer science. Read what she has to say.
Holiday Music -- Once again, Andrew Laurence is back with some ideas for holiday music. "I wanted to do another full list of quality holiday music, but when you're culling the cream from the dregs you eventually run out of cream. So, only two holiday entries this year." Take it away, Andrew!
"Dig That Crazy Christmas" - Brian Setzer Orchestra: Brian Setzer returns with another Christmas album, in full high-octane form with his rockabilly-infused big band orchestra. We get their versions of "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" and "'Zat You Santa Claus" (faithful listeners recall these tunes from Rhino's superb "Hipster's Holiday" collection), along with a superb "Angels We Heard on High." Bust out the martini shaker, because you know they do things right when the upright bass has a flame job.
"The Ho! Ho! Hoey! Complete Collection" - Gary Hoey: You probably haven't heard of Gary Hoey, and that's a darned shame. Amongst a career of hard rock and surf guitar, he turned out three superb holiday collections with a punny name, collected here on a two-CD set. Imagine if Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai issued a holiday album of searing electric guitar. They may play the Ray Conniff Singers at the office party, but your cubicle will be cruising on a Stratocaster sleigh.
If We Buy It, Can We Vote in Texas? J. R. Rosen (hmm, mighty suspicious initials there), provided perhaps the oddest suggestion of the year. "OK guys, you asked for it: The Texas Land Deed! It's totally unrelated to Macintosh - except that the owner told me that it is created on a Mac, and produced with a Mac. That's right, you can buy a square inch of Texas for only $9.95! This is not a joke! Although it is a true novelty, the buyer is really buying a square inch of land in Texas. So what does the buyer get for $9.95? 1) The Texas Land Deed - a personalized, registered, and numbered Warranty Deed of ownership to property in Liberty County, Texas. 2) Property Description - how to get there. 3) Texas Fact and Figures - information about the great state of Texas. 4) Certificate of Authenticity - identifying the Texas Land Deed as "REAL"! I am told that they have been selling the Texas Land Deeds all over the country and the world!"
Returning to Basecamp -- Paul Guinnessy recommended Basecamp (for project management) and Backpack (for personal organization). He noted, "I've been addicted to Basecamp since I used it for a project two months ago. Although Web-based, it's everything a Mac product should be, easy to use and extremely powerful." Basecamp subscriptions cost between $12 and $99 per month, depending on your needs, whereas Backpack ranges from free to $19 per month.
Play Offline Too -- Robert Salsbury wrote, "This is a repeat, but last year's suggestion from Rick Holzgrafe for board games (the new, 'German Style' games such as Settlers of Catan) caught my eye. It took a good few months to follow through, but my friends and I have had a blast many a late evening this past year playing those games. Settlers is most easily described as a multi-player, board game version of Civilization, but everyone is always doing something, no matter whose turn it is. I'd highly recommend them as gifts... we even bought the expansion pack to allow for more players and a larger board."
Supporting the Less Fortunate -- Geoff Hutchison continued our annual trend of suggesting donations. He wrote, "I always try to include a charitable donation among my gift-giving. There are many worthwhile causes, and many of you may have already donated time, money, or other resources to excellent causes. But if you're still looking to find an organization, try the Network for Good."
Tony Meyer also jumped in on this suggestion with his nod to suggestions from previous years. He also noted "A similar idea is to make a donation to the recipient's favourite provider of free online content. This might be a favourite podcast, a free newsletter (like TidBITS!), a resource (such as SourceForge), an open-source project, or something else. These organisations don't have the need that charities have, but many do rely on volunteer contributions to enrich the lives of those that use their services. A nice feature of this gift is that you're, in some ways, giving two gifts: the recipient of your gift gets to feel that they are supporting the provider, and the recipient of the donation gets to feel supported."
Article 8 of 8 in series
We generally focus on the world of the Macintosh, but if there's one thing that sets a Mac user apart, it's an interest in the outside world. As in previous years, the suggestions we've garnered in this category, well, defy categorizationShow full article
We generally focus on the world of the Macintosh, but if there's one thing that sets a Mac user apart, it's an interest in the outside world. As in previous years, the suggestions we've garnered in this category, well, defy categorization. Read on, then, for ideas that are absolutely safe for anyone, whether or not they use a Mac, and if you want to provide any feedback after the fact, TidBITS Talk is waiting.
Garden of Eatin' -- Our readers tended to assume that any Mac-minded giftee would be happy to receive a kitchen contraption, and we agree. Let's face it: Mac people are food people. You know what we're talking about. They don't call those Aqua buttons "lickable" for nothing!
Marilyn Matty weighed in (hmm, maybe that's not a very felicitous expression in this context) with the Cup-A-Cake cupcake holder, which she called "a marvel of outstanding design, engineering and market need assessment" - in other words, it's Mac-like! "Any standard sized cupcake will fit, and it allows for a generous amount of icing (my favorite part), and will remain unsmeared, uncrumbled, unsquished, and unsquashed - even if the cupcakes are stacked or squeezed into overstuffed bags. You can even store your cupcakes upside down or sideways (though if the frosting is very creamy, it might spread a little)." Who knew that cupcake storage was such a major problem? For just $3 each, it's a great stocking stuffer. And for good measure, Marilyn provided not one, not two, but three cupcake-related recipes so you can stuff that stuffer.
To wash down those cupcakes, Kevin van Haaren recommended Kade's Coffee, where they roast your order just before sending it out. He particularly praised the $12.25-per-pound Tanzanian Peaberry. We hope that's not one of those coffees that's pre-digested by small animals.
Alex Hoffman noted Amco's excellent citrus squeezers, color-coded according to size and citrus type (orange for oranges, green for limes, and yellow for lemons). He added: "They are incredibly quick to use, cost between $16 and $18 and, according to Cooks Illustrated, get at least as much juice as any other method (roughly twice as much as hand squeezing)."
And speaking of colors in the kitchen, Alex also pointed out this high-tech, instant-read digital food thermometer from ThermoWorks, the Thermapen. Its colors are not meaningful, but there plenty of choices; at these prices ($85) you wonder why they don't offer free name engraving as well.
Let There Be (Green) Light -- Mac users are civic-minded and technologically savvy, so while you're thinking about spending money this holiday season, you might want to put some into saving energy. Andrew Laurence pointed out that compact fluorescent light bulbs utilize a fraction of the energy of incandescent bulbs of equal brightness; they cost more up front, making them something that many people would have trouble buying for themselves, but the energy savings can be dramatic. (Although we've purchased compact fluorescents only from local stores, Bulbs.com and Lightbulbdirect.com both appear to have decent Web sites and competitive pricing.) Styles are getting better and better; they now come in traditional bulb shapes, and some are even suitable for dimmer and 3-way applications. Kevin van Haaren acknowledged that compact fluorescents have reduced his house's energy usage, but said that he dislikes the light (too dim, too yellow). An alternative for places where relatively low light is appropriate, he noted, might be LED bulbs from ThinkGeek; lighting sites like SuperBrightLEDs.com and BestHomeLEDLighting.com may have wider selection and better pricing.
Music Hath Charms -- Music and music-related products have always been a popular category in the TidBITS gift-giving roundup, and never more so now that the iPod is part of the Apple line-up. Marilyn Matty observed that, for the person who has everything, you can actually get outerwear and backpacks with integrated iPod controls.
Marilyn also added her vote for some real music, recommending The Cat Carol as sung by Meryn Cadell. "Though it's sad, and has yet to leave a dry eye among those I've shared it with, it is a beautiful message about sharing and charity that's appropriate even for non-animal lovers of all ages."
Chris Hutcheson suggested Graham Howes's new jazz Christmas CD, featuring "eleven unique treatments, including some seasonal songs, a few carols, and an original. The five musicians on This Quiet Night include Mike Murley on sax and Neil Swainson on bass, both of whom are internationally regarded." Chris added there there was even a Mac tie-in: he mastered the recording on his Mac.
Car 54, Where Are You? Stephen Keese wrote in to recommend Garmin's Nuvi 350 automotive GPS, favored by himself and some friends in the real-estate business. "It is small (almost pocket size), well designed, easy to operate, read, and understand, and speaks clearly. It has a suction cup mount and lasts for several hours before needing to be recharged. It has MP3 capability but none of us use it. We've found refurbished devices for around $500 on the Internet." Needless to say, if you're considering a Nuvi, be sure to check out Adam's reviews of other GPS car navigation devices.
Fun and Board Games -- For those who have forgotten, before there were computer games, a "game" was something played in the real, tangible, physical world. Intriguing board games always make good gifts, and Jean MacDonald wrote in about a fascinating new one called Blokus, to which she's recently become addicted. The pieces are regular combinations of up to five squares, and the idea is simply to touch your pieces to one another, corner to corner, starting at your corner of the 20x20 board, in such a way as to play all your pieces or block your opponent, who is doing the same thing. Up to four people can play at once. Jean added: "The pieces are high-quality clear plastic in four different colors, so the finished game makes interesting patterns. It's simple to learn, but endlessly challenging."
Games are also at the heart of this year's charity giving suggestion, from Kevin van Haaren. Kevin recommended Child's Play, a movement to counter the negative media image of gamers by donating to children's wards in hospitals. You can order directly from an Amazon wish list set up by a particular hospital, or you can send money (none of which is diverted to the charity's administrative costs).
Roll Your Own -- Mac users "think different," so they like to make up their own minds. For those of you who just want to be left alone to form your own choices, our readers recommended some interesting guides and catalogs. Marilyn Matty told us where you can learn to dress your giftee like a Mac. That's like the Mac in Apple's TV ads, not like a Mac for Halloween.
Kevin van Haaren liked Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, featuring tools people have found useful in their job or hobbies; American Science and Surplus, which features "lots of sciency-type things like beakers and flasks, but also very weird things like the 'nun chuck' (a hand catapult that flings a little nun doll)"; and, of course, good old ThinkGeek, for gifts with an obviously computer-related theme.