The suggestions in this category all have at least something to do with the Mac or the iPod, which, surprisingly, garnered far fewer ideas than last year. Read on for a slew of great ideas (and as before, don’t ignore previous years’ suggestions!).
Take Control Ebooks! We couldn’t resist a small, if shameless, plug. We’re sure you know all about our Take Control ebooks already, so we won’t belabor the point other than to note that you’re welcome to purchase one as a present for a friend, relative, or colleague. Since we use no copy prevention technologies, you can easily give someone a purchased ebook’s PDF file via email, by burning it to CD, or by copying it to a USB flash drive (thus making the gift even more useful). If you want to dress up a burned CD-R and you have CD Stomper labels available, check out the Take Control CD label (available in PDF and SmileOnMyMac’s disclabel format). Our four consumer electronics titles – "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera," "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music," "Take Control of Digital TV," and "Take Control of Buying a Mac" – are on sale for 50 percent off through 26-Dec-05; the link below has the necessary coupon code embedded in it.
The Elusive Power Squid — We have to agree with Geoff Hutchison on this one – it’s on our lists too. He wrote, "I’ve had my eye on the oddly named but highly useful PowerSquid, which replaces traditional power strips. It may look strange, but its squid-like design makes it much easier to use all the power outlets when you have several brick power adapters. $15 at ThinkGeek."
Hand-Picked Music on CD — Tonya here. If you’d like to give a homemade gift, but cookies and crochet don’t appeal, try a hand-mixed CD that combines tracks from a variety of artists. To make it more interesting, though, don’t pick the tracks yourself. In making such a CD for Adam last year, I asked about 20 of his friends to suggest a few tracks – ideally available via the iTunes Music Store – that they thought Adam had never heard, but would like. I also asked them to send me a paragraph or so, explaining why they thought the songs would be good for Adam. Lots of suggestions came in, ranging from a rap selection – "Wordy Rappinghood" – from Tom Tom Club, to "Penguins" by Lyle Lovett and "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The explanations were often touching or funny, and usually personal in nature. I chose one song from each friend’s suggestions, and I bought the songs in iTunes (except for two selections that weren’t available that way – I bought them on their respective CDs). I also made an iMix of the track samples in the iTunes Music Store to share with everyone; you can find it here:
I combined all the paragraphs into a long document that I rolled up in scroll form and tied with a ribbon. Then I burned the CD from iTunes and printed a case liner using the options in iTunes. I ran out of time to get fancy with a disc label, but if I had the time, I would have used disclabel from SmileOnMyMac, which makes it easy to create nifty effects like circular text (there’s a new 3.0 version out that has more templates, improved text handling, and more).
The end result was a meaningful, personal, much-appreciated gift. I highly recommend the idea, though I also suggest that you get started early. It took a while to put everything together, and I had to do most of the work when Adam wasn’t home, so he couldn’t hear me listening to possible songs and testing the final CD.
Fun and Games with USB — You thought USB was for keyboards and mice, but Marilyn Matty has some far more frivolous uses in mind with her suggestions. "I just ordered this 4-port USB hub/coffee cup warmer, so I can’t swear how well it works (if at all), but for $17 it looks like a great gift. There’s also a light-up, musical Santa that operates via USB or batteries for $20, which could be a cool office decoration for the holidays, plus the Piggy USB FM Radio."
Anyone Can Learn Design — Tonya here again. For those on your gift list who enjoy desktop publishing or creating Web pages, I recommend "The Non-Designer’s Type Book, 2nd Edition" written by Robin Williams. The 240-page book dives deeply into topics of concern to designers, and conveys a great deal about the history and use of type with a particular focus on helping develop their design sensibilities. Readers will be treated to clever wit, good humor, detailed information about how to achieve certain effects in common desktop publishing programs, and a layout that demonstrates the principles explained in the book. Topics covered include leading, kerning, hyphenation, uses of different font styles, mixing and matching fonts, and proper use of white space. The book is written for Macintosh and Windows users. It would make a great gift on its own, or – even better – when combined with "The Non-Designer’s Design Book, 2nd Edition" which explains the basics of layout in an engaging way (both about $15).
You can even buy the pair in a boxed set, which also includes Robin’s "The Non-Designer’s Web Book" and a t-shirt. It’s currently for sale exclusively at Borders for $42.
If the book sounds a little advanced for your cousin who needs to start with the basics, I recommend a prequel to "The Non-Designer’s Type Book," either "The Mac is Not a Typewriter, 2nd Edition" or "The PC is Not a Typewriter" (both about $10).
An Organizer for Your Digital Hub — Geoff Hutchison suggested, "Last year, I picked up a few $12 DiscHub organizers for CDs, DVDs, etc. At first, I thought they might be a solution in search of a problem, but they really do make it easier to cut down on desk clutter and keep your software, music, and movie discs organized."
For Keeping Laptops Off Your Lap — It’s always tricky to use a PowerBook as your main Mac if you want to use multiple monitors, which triggered Tom Friedmann’s suggestion. "If you have an external monitor you can set your PowerBook up to be the second (or first) monitor and position it at a good height using the $40 Griffin iCurve laptop stand."
We reviewed the iCurve and several other laptop stands in "The Laptop Stands, But Not Alone" in TidBITS-658, and Dan Frakes chimed in with another suggestion. "On a similar note, if you don’t mind spending $80, I’d suggest the new Lapvantage Loft, which features a polished acrylic platform, steel pedestal, and swiveling base. One of my issues with the iCurve is that if its rubber "bumpers" get dirty, your laptop can slide down the stand; the Loft has a near-horizontal platform that’s a bit more stable. It’s more expensive than the iCurve, but it’s quite a bit more substantial."
iPod Pets — Now here’s an iPod accessory that boggled our minds. Gail McGovern told us, "I bought a new pet, I-Dog, as a gift for my own 60th birthday, and I highly recommend it. Plug it into your iPod or place it near a speaker, and it responds by flashing lights keyed to the music, moving its ears, shaking its head, barking, and making whirring sounds! The I-Dog only cost about $25 and it even has a built-in speaker."
iPod Accouterments — Interestingly, other than Gail, only Marilyn Matty suggested iPod-related ideas this year, but she did a bang-up job of standing in for the rest of the TidBITS readership. The floor is yours, Marilyn!
Here are some great stocking stuffers for that are priced right – free! The Pod Gourmet has collections of gourmet, vegetarian/vegan and bartender recipes. They aren’t extensive, but if someone is planning a quickie dinner or party and wants to make shopping/cooking decisions in the supermarket (where you of course have your iPod), they can come in very handy. iPod owners in major cities should be sure to check out the free subway maps for cities around the world, including New York, London, Hong Kong, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, and more. And lastly, for those of us who live in New York, the piPod pizza directory is a collection of mini-reviews of pizza places throughout the city that’s easily navigable by location, compliments of the people who run the best pizza blog in town.
I don’t know if this fleece hoodie with an iPod pocket, audio jack and built-in, washable speakers actually works, but my 11-year-old nephew asked for one as one of his friends has it. It’s a great example of wearable tech, and if they made it for women, I’d buy one for myself, especially since it’s only $30. It’s rather silly, I think, to make it just for boys.
Though I prefer the pristine look, my 2-year-old iPod is looking rather scuffed and distressed these days. Playing the skin game with your handheld devices does look exceptionally fun with products from SkinIt. Though I’ve never been one for stickers, this collection of skins for iPods, cell phones, handhelds, and game devices looks great. They have a lot of cool designs (organized in categories, such as animals, alien, 60s, bling, landscapes, etc.). A skin for a regular iPod or cell phone in one of their many designs is $10, and for an extra $5, you can upload a photo that they’ll turn into a skin.
This idea is even sillier, especially since it’s a little late for Halloween, but your iPod might like a costume from iAttire. They’re not cheap at $40, but how else can you dress your iPod as Santa or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
Because of the ridiculous pricing of iPod cases and cozies, last year I recommended a number of easy-to-make and attractive do-it-yourself knitting, crocheting, and sewing patterns available for free that would yield beautiful, customized gifts for pennies that can be combined with matching scarves, earbud/earwarmer covers, hats, armbands, etc. On some of the sites I mentioned, there are even more patterns available now, and I also provided links to "how to" sites for crafty newbies. Now there are great patterns for mini bags as well.
This year, however, I’ve come across some iPod cases that seem like they are actually worth the money. Your Sister’s Mustache has a bunch of cool carriers for $20 each. They can also do build-a-bags (for iPods, laptops, purses) with collages made from pictures you supply.
Fred Flare has a retro styled carrier with built-in speakers that can turn an iPod into a woody boom box for $50, and a very handy iGuy that can also hold your cell or cordless phone, keys, etc. for $45. Also for $45, Wishing Fish has a cooler/beach bag that also holds your iPod and has built-in speakers.
Finally, for a mere $5, you can get a handy Cordster to keep your earbuds organized.