2003 Miscellaneous Gift Ideas
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."
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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."