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."