In this issue we share gift suggestions from TidBITS readers far and wide and add a few of our own. Suggestions range from the mundane (such as a good spelling checker) to the unexpected (imagine using a Mac as the base of a floral arrangement!). We also point you to a few resources for matching up your old computer equipment with people who can use it.
Greetings, and welcome to TidBITS’s 1997 gift issue. Following last year’s example, this issue falls outside our regular publication schedule as a special issue. Think of it as a slice of time at a coffee shop where different TidBITS readers dropped in to share gift suggestions with fellow Macintosh aficionados. In some cases, we at TidBITS know about these products or have tried them for this issue; in other cases, we’ve done little except pass on the suggestion with a working URL.
We were impressed at the variety of products suggested, to the point where we recommend reading this issue not only for gift ideas but also to be reminded of the wide range of products available for the Mac. Although we tried to categorize the suggestions, some don’t fit clearly into one category, so skim the entire issue so you don’t miss cool items.
Finally, best wishes for a happy holiday season from the TidBITS staff: Tonya Engst (who put this issue together), Adam Engst, Mark Anbinder, Jeff Carlson, Geoff Duncan, and Matt Neuburg.
Riven — I expected Riven, the Sequel to Myst, to receive several suggestions. What surprised me, though, was that several readers noted the game is fun to play in tandem with another person. Adam White Scoville <[email protected]> wrote, "Riven’s beautiful seascapes and immersing world consume not only me but also my significant other; I suggest that Riven, from Cyan Productions/Red Orb would make the perfect romantic gift for couples that play together… or for those who prefer solo pleasures. But be warned, the addictive nature of this adventure is not to be underestimated; Atrus isn’t kidding when he warns that, ‘For reasons you’ll discover, I can’t send you to Riven with a way back.’" You can find more information about Riven in TidBITS-403.
Email Effects — Gideon Greenspan from Sig Software wrote about the $10 shareware Email Effects, a graphics package that draws using ASCII characters, making it easy to create neat signatures and other special effects for email. "I hope you don’t mind me mentioning my own product, but Email Effects is a great way for people to send Christmas greetings to each other by email." I tried Email Effects and had fun – I’d never used a Square tool to draw out a square created with dashes, pipes, and plus signs. The program has a professional interface, excellent online help and tool tips support, and a command for putting your document directly into a new Eudora email message (for other email software, you must copy and paste). Sig Software has also made a few pieces of ASCII holiday clip art available. I highly recommend Email Effects!
Explore Kilauea Volcano CD-ROM — Suggested by Davide Guarisco <[email protected]>, the $39.95 CD-ROM from FireWork Studios enables you to take a virtual exploration of Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. Davide bought the CD-ROM while in Hawaii and says his favorite part is the eruption section.
MacBench CD-ROM — For speed freaks who love to benchmark their computers, Keith Russo <[email protected]> recommends the Ziff-Davis MacBench 4.0 CD-ROM. Keith wrote, "Yes, MacBench is a free download, but the online versions will not run some tests that the CD-ROM includes. The first copy costs $5 and it’s only $1 for each copy after that! You can mix CD-ROM titles from the Benchmark series, so you can include the Windows users on your list."
The Bachelor’s Cat — Novelist Lynn Hoffman <[email protected]> wrote in plugging her book, which was produced completely on the Macintosh. "When I finished my novel, The Bachelor’s Cat (in Word 6), I formatted it as I wanted it to appear in a printed book. A friend designed a presentation cover for the manuscript (in Photoshop 3.0) and my agent submitted it to publishers. When it was accepted, my editor and I swapped revisions through email (Eudora 3.0) and the final cover was designed in Illustrator 6 and Photoshop. The publisher sees it as a big gift book." Amazon.com’s Web site has a synopsis and several customer comments.
Eudora — Most TidBITS staff members use Eudora (we particularly love its features for filtering, redirecting, and personalities), and we last covered Eudora in TidBITS-405. TidBITS reader Steve Smith <[email protected]> shares our enthusiasm; he wrote, "I just bought myself Eudora Pro 3.1.1 from [TidBITS sponsor] Cyberian Outpost (backorderd one day) for $29.95 + $5 shipping. I suppose now I need to buy Adam’s Eudora Visual QuickStart book." Eudora Pro 4.0 will probably be out relatively soon, given that it’s in public beta right now and that the Windows version of Eudora Pro 4.0 was just released.
SpellTools — Almost any writer will appreciate a spelling checker that works in most applications, enabling the user to maintain only one user dictionary. In TidBITS-353 we looked at SpellCatcher from Casady & Greene and in TidBITS-376 we continued with a look at Online Army Knife.
We haven’t covered other possibilities recently, but Victor Guess <[email protected]> recommended SpellTools from Newer Technologies, a $19.95 downloadable spelling checker with a 45-day trial period. Victor noted, "I appreciate SpellTools’s capability to work with virtually any application that uses text. It is more than a just spelling checker. It will also normalize spaces and returns, remove > characters from email, count words, and UPPERCASE or lowercase a selection. It will also speak selections with a choice of voices and will add time, date or user defined text stamps. The only thing I miss is a function to strip leading spaces quickly. The SpellTools Normalize Spaces function removes multiple spaces, but it always leaves one."
Kensington — Several readers suggested trackballs and multi-button mice as holiday gifts, and Kensington’s input devices were particularly noted. Bob Beamesderfer’s <[email protected]> observations were representative: "A great gift, especially for Mac OS 8 users, is Kensington’s Thinking Mouse, which has four buttons. When I got Mac OS 8, I switched a button from click-and-drag to control-click. This provides one-handed contextual menu access."
Contour Mouse — Adam uses a Kensington trackball with a wrist pad and believes it helps him keep occasional carpal tunnel symptoms under control; however, it seems that no one device can help everyone – individuals must find individual solutions. Marsha Goldberg <[email protected]> supported this notion, writing to say she’d purchased a Kensington device based on last year’s holiday issue and found it aggravated her condition. Fortunately, she kept trying to find a mouse that worked and ended up with the Contour Mouse, a three-button, programmable mouse from Contour Design.
Marsha wrote, "If you know a person who feels pain when using a computer, the Contour Mouse can be a real gift of love. It comes in five different sizes for right handers, and two (that I know of) in left-hand models. It comes in Mac models, and PC and Sun models for our non-Mac friends. Contour Mice are not especially expensive ($89.95 for smaller Mac models and $99.95 for larger). A gift giver would need to measure the user’s hand through some cunning plan (from the tip of the middle finger to the first crease of the wrist).
Precise Mousing Surface — In the mouse pad arena, two readers wrote in to say they’d tried 3M’s Precise Mousing Surface based on the recommendation in last year’s gift issue and liked it. Doug Thomas <[email protected]> commented: "On TidBITS’s recommendation last year I bought the Precise Mousing Surface by 3M. What a difference! Both of us will never use another mouse pad again."
WebPad — Another mouse pad possibility, the $8.99 WebPad by MicroVision Computer Products (MCP), offers a clear lexan top, which covers a sheet of paper underneath. The top lifts up, and you can insert any paper that you like beneath it, either your own or a sheet of provided stationary. The stationary has slots for writing frequently used URLs, email addresses, and phone numbers, and the pad also comes with a sheet that shows a 1998 yearly calendar. According to Mike Schriner <[email protected]> an MCP representative who made the gift suggestion, "Lexan is a form of polycarbonate which is the longest lasting and most durable plastic made. The surface is very smooth and the mouse will track well. Also, the mouse will not get as dirty as it would if used with a fabric mouse pad – fabric pads tend to trap dust." On the WebPad, my mouse moves more smoothly than it did on my previous pad (one with a smooth, rubbery surface), and I like the pad’s clutter-reducing capability of storing a 1998 year-at-glance calendar.
Keyboards — Many alternative keyboards are on the market, and Richard Fortnum <[email protected]> commented, "I recently bought an Adesso Tru-Form split keyboard. It’s a full extended keyboard, and it’s ergonomic in two ways – it’s split so that the center of the keyboard is towards my belly a bit more, which untwists my wrists, and it is also raised in the middle. It took some getting used to, but it’s easier."
I was unable to locate Adesso on the Web, but I did find the Typing Injury FAQ page, by K.S. Wright and D.S. Wallach, which covers a wide range of alternative keyboards, complete with pictures, pricing, and contact information.
A Zippier PowerBook — VST Technologies recently shipped a much-anticipated expansion bay Zip drive for PowerBooks. Adam White Scoville <[email protected]> noted, "PowerBook users who, like me put their machines through quite a pounding, but are never as conscientious as they would like to be about backing up their embattled hard disks would love to see an expansion bay Zip drive from VST Technologies in their stockings. All the better to justify that feeling of invincibility that one feels biking to class with a PowerBook in the backpack." TidBITS-405 has more details.
MacPicasso 516 — Many of us at TidBITS rely heavily on Macs with multiple monitors, so we were pleased when Kai Niggemann <[email protected]> suggested the Village Tronic MacPicasso 516 as a cheap way to attach a second monitor to PCI-based Macs, "This small, inexpensive PCI Video-card is not very fast, has no acceleration or anything, and only supports VGA so you need a multisync monitor for it. But it is probably the cheapest way to hook up that old monitor in the back of the closet. You can use the second monitor to store palettes from programs such as Photoshop and PageSpinner."
CapSure PC Card — Video capture fans might check out the CapSure PC Card from Irez Technologies. Marc Shipman-Mueller <[email protected]> described the card in detail: "Here some notes on the CapSure PC Card, which costs about $130. It works with the PowerBook 3400, 2400, and (I assume) the new G3 PowerBooks. It takes composite video or S-Video in, and can either display the video on screen or digitize it. Even though the digitizer is so-so, the onscreen display is great, since it uses a technology called Zoomed Video. Zoomed video enables the card to bypass the CPU, and send the video straight to the screen display circuits. That means good looking, almost full-screen video. Plus the CapSure can deal with NTSC, PAL, and SECAM."
Power3D — Andrew Hartung <[email protected]> commented, "For the Mac gamer, how about the Power3D card from TechWorks? You can find it for around $200 and it comes with a few games." TechWorks bills the PCI card as "adding 3D gaming acceleration to your PowerPC," and the card comes with Id Software’s Quake Episode 1, Activision’s MechWarrrior2, VR Soccer’s VR Sports, and Bungie Software’s Weekend Warrior.
Envision a PaperPort — In the cool peripherals department, Jay Rolls <[email protected]> suggested a Visioneer PaperPort, a small, sheet-fed scanner: "I’m going to get my father a Visioneer PaperPort. They’ve come down so much in price, they’re an affordable gift. I noticed how much Dad visits the library to make copies. Since they already have a StyleWriter, all they need is the scan mechanism to have a home copy shop!"
Visioneer currently sells two PaperPorts for the Macintosh: the PaperPort Strobe for Mac and the PaperPort vx. The Strobe is a newer, smaller model (1.5 pounds) and offers color support and faster scanning time for an SRP of $299. The $149 vx is older, larger, and doesn’t do color. Both models connect to the Mac via the SCSI port; check the press releases at the URLs below for system requirements. Visioneer is offering a $50 rebate on either model through 31-Dec-97.
Hubby — Steve Kayner <[email protected]> suggests, "I found a nifty five-port Ethernet hub called the D-Link Hubby (model DE805). It stands about 3.5 inches tall and has a cool design that any Mac-head could appreciate. I bought mine for $39. Here’s the canned bit: ‘This Walkman-sized hub is ideal for small departments or offices, and it easily attaches to larger networks by cascading to other hubs. For troubleshooting, Hubby is equipped with LED indicators for power, collision and link/RX status.’"
Gargoyles — Mason Loring Bliss <[email protected]> suggested, "Monitor gargoyles seem to be quite fashionable lately. They’re neat, and they’re typically not made out of plastic, which is a good thing. Specialty gift catalogs often have them, and I’ve seen them in local pagan-oriented shops. They’re good for warding off software conflicts, I hear."
Make T-Shirts — Jeffrey K <[email protected]> pointed out that, "Hewlett-Packard, Canon, and Hayes make inkjet printer t-shirt transfers. If you can imagine it, you can print it on a t-shirt. And on multiple shirts. How about mail-merge shirts? Become a cottage industrialist! Note that StyleWriter inkjet printers have the Apple name, but Canon and Hewlett-Packard guts. StyleWriters can use Canon and Hewlett-Packard (and Hayes) t-shirt kits."
Buy an Evangelista Shirt — Richard Fortnum <[email protected]> noted that The Apple EvangeList Web site is selling Evangelista t-shirts. The $41.25 shirt pictured on the Web site is a black polo shirt with an Evangelista logo on the front and an Apple logo on the back.
Headset — John Nemerovski <[email protected]> suggested a telephone headset as a gift, and I heartily second the idea. I’ve found a telephone headset to be a great help at my computer desk: it frees my hands so I can type or mouse while speaking (or waiting on hold) and prevents my body from tiring in an effort to hold the receiver during long calls. The headset I use at my desk attaches to the phone with a cord, and that works well for sitting at the desk. However, last Christmas, Adam gave me a VTECH 900 MHz cordless phone with a headset. This phone is fabulous, because it turns a long conversation into a way to complete useful but mindless tasks (such as peeling vegetables, folding laundry, and dusting) instead of a massive time sink. Adam likes to use it for talking to his parents on weekend mornings while watering our increasingly large collection of house plants.
Computer Cuisine — If your gift list includes a cook who owns FileMaker and has been wanting to try a recipe database, check out Inaka Software’s $10 shareware Computer Cuisine recipe template for FileMaker Pro. Mike McGee <[email protected]> from Inaka commented, "Computer Cuisine comes with over 1,000 recipes entered. It has simple-to-use menus, and a slick interface." Inaka also has a compact disk database available from its home page:
BibleViewer — For the biblically inclined Jim Cana’s <[email protected]> notes, "I’m buying copies of BibleViewer 1.3 from HolyMac Software for clients and friends. It’s a superb resource, well-designed, fast, and uses the original (and best) King James translation." BibleViewer is $10 shareware.
Digital Cameras — Kai Niggemann suggested the Kodak DC-120 camera, "This digital camera stores images on a PC Card (with a resolution of up to 1,280 by 1,024). The camera comes with a Photoshop plug-in that allows you to access the camera via a serial cable and grab the images directly from inside the application." To learn more about digital cameras, check out the just-published digital camera articles in TidBITS-407 and TidBITS-408.
AlphaSmart 2000 — Richard Wanderman <[email protected]> wrote: "My gift suggestion is the $250 AlphaSmart 2000, a small, solid state, super-sturdy, electronic keyboard that runs for 300 hours on 3 AA batteries. It’s compatible with Mac OS or Windows machines (and even the Apple IIgs) and is a no-brainer to use: turn it on, write, turn it off. On airplanes it sure beats thinking about batteries running out."
Palm Pilot — Everyone I know who has a PalmPilot likes it, and Doug Thomas <[email protected]> is no exception. He wrote, "For those expensive gifts I must say the Palm Pilot has changed my life. It improves access to needed information. It’s the first electronic gadget I have bought that my wife feels is useful ."
Pivot A PowerBook — We recently tried a Pivot 360, a small $19.95 device made of two connected pieces of plastic with rubber feet. The two pieces rotate; the idea is that you put the Pivot 360 on the table and your PowerBook (or any laptop) on the Pivot 360. You can then quickly swivel the PowerBook so different people can see it, or so you can flip it back and forth between people sitting on opposite sides of a desk. If you do small group presentations with a PowerBook, you might find the Pivot 360 useful as an alternative to an expensive and heavy LCD projector; it’s small, light, cheap, and the rubber feet grip tenaciously, which could prevent your costly PowerBook from sliding off a slanted podium.
Flowers — Steve Rittner <[email protected]> suggested taking advantage of instructions on his Web site for converting a worn out classic Mac into a base for a flower arrangement, and learning a bit about flower arranging in the process: "When I started playing with computers I was fascinated when someone in the Macintosh community suggested recycling older, non-functioning computers as aquariums. As a floral designer, I have a slightly different perspective."
We’d like to thank our sponsors for their support, without which it would be impossible for us to publish TidBITS for free. And of course, we want to thank you, our readers, for doing business with our sponsors when appropriate. As a token of our gratitude, we offered our sponsors the opportunity to tell you more about their companies or offer special deals.
APS — APS sells computer-related storage devices of all sorts, as well as expansion cards, peripherals, and a wide range of accessories. They’ve also proven a good source for the $19.95 Handeze gloves that Adam and I both swear by for reducing RSI problems. These gloves are not shown on the APS Web site, but they are available via phone orders.
APS is offering TidBITS readers a $20 discount on a Q2000 external hard disk. The disk is a "high performance Ultra SCSI hard drive," has a 2 GB formatted capacity, and includes digital active termination and IC2E on-demand cooling technology. APS’s price for TidBITS readers is $279.95; the part number is 2210-002-500-1. To learn more, visit the APS Web site and click Drives in the left-hand navigation bar. Then, click the Hard Drives link. Drill down into the SCSI-Narrow area, and finally click the APS Q2000 SR2000 link. APS — 800/443-4199 — 816/483-1600 — <[email protected]>
Small Dog Electronics RAM Special — Located in Vermont, Small Dog Electronics sells new and refurbished hardware at low prices. At the moment, Small Dog’s home page features refurbished UMAX SuperMac machines available, including a full system that comes in under the $1,000 price point that so many PC vendors are trying to meet and which Apple chose to ignore this year. Small Dog is also running its second annual TidBITS year-end RAM sale; the table below shows the pricing. Small Dog Electronics — 802/496-7171 — <[email protected]>
Capacity SIMM DIMM G3 ——– —- —- —- 8 MB $29 n/a n/a 16 MB $45 $55 n/a 32 MB $85 $89 $99 64 MB n/a $189 $269 128 MB n/a $499 $499
Cyberian Outpost Discounts — Cyberian Outpost is a mainstream, online, general vendor of computer hardware and software, and has posted a Web page linking TidBITS readers to product pages offering special discounts from Cyberian Outpost’s regular pricing. The listed products range far and wide, and – coincidentally – include two noted in this issue: the PaperPort Strobe for $284.95 ($5 off) and TechWorks’ Power3D for $197.95 ($2 off). Other deals include PowerBook 3400c bundles, a RAM Doubler 2/Speed Doubler 8 bundle, the Gravis Firebird joystick, and more. Cyberian Outpost — 800/856-9800 — 860/927-2050 — <[email protected]>
Soft Material — Soft Material publishes the $34.95 Pickle’s Book, a book/CD-ROM created by Japanese animator Thoru Yamamato and aimed at children ages three through ten (see TidBITS-406 for more information about Pickle’s Book). I asked Ted Byfield <[email protected]> at Soft Material what he liked most about Pickle’s Book, and he commented, "My favorite part is the way Yamamoto shows a world as full of pitfalls as delights. That ambivalence, which is unique in multimedia, reminds me of the books that meant most to me when I was a kid: Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Roald Dahl’s children’s books. These are classics now, but they broke all the presumptive rules about what’s proper for children. Pickle’s Book is incredibly innocent but full of surprises, and not all of them are sugar and spice and everything nice. Kids respond to that, because it’s like the world they know."
Ted also noted, "We came at Soft Material from small backgrounds – working for small presses, running independent film distributors – so we know how crucial our audience is, and not just as a source of money. I encourage people to tell us about what they like or don’t like, a project that might find a home with us, retailers who’d appreciate Pickle’s Book, or other ideas they have. We want to avoid premiere hype, development secrecy, and bureaucratized/marketized distance that separates producers and consumers. Publishing is fundamentally about exchanging ideas, and that’s a two-way street." Soft Material — 800/699-4144 — 212/343-2089 — <[email protected]>
As much as the holidays in the U.S. have become a consumer feeding frenzy, we prefer to think of them as a time for sharing. If you have hardware or software that you no longer use, consider donating it to a worthy cause. In so doing, you could be supporting a non-profit organization, enabling a family to afford a computer, or assisting a disabled person in gaining productive employment. Further, by donating old equipment, you support the ecological goals of recycling and reusing.
No doubt there are many worthy organizations involved in reusing old computers. In searching the Web, I located the PEP National Directory of Computer Recycling Programs, which links to many organizations that accept donated computer equipment and pass it on to worthy causes in several different countries. The U.S. list has a few nationwide organizations, then breaks the listings out by state.
I also found a site called Floppies for Kiddies, which provides an address to which you can send extra 3.5-inch floppy disks. Student volunteers at Louisiana’s Fontainebleau High School reformat the disks, and the project operates in partnership with UPS to distribute the disks to schools and non-profit organizations that need them. As I mail gifts to friends and relatives next week, I’ll also be sending our complete collection of AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, eWorld, and EarthLink disks to: USA CityLink Project, Attn: Floppies for Kiddies, 20349 Highway 36, Covington LA 70433, USA.
In closing, I’d like to share the sentiment passed on by several readers that this holiday season is a great time to register shareware (and a registered copy of one of the many excellent shareware games from Ambrosia, Stairways, and others could prove an excellent and inexpensive present that can be enjoyed during time off). Cheryl Linker <[email protected]> commented, "Register your loved ones’ shareware for them. What a great way to double the gift giving!"