Happy Holidays! We’ve collected gift suggestions from TidBITS readers again this year, so read on if you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for your Macintosh-using friends and relations. This is also our final issue for 1999, though we’ll continue to post news items and polls on our home page. Assuming the world doesn’t end at midnight on 31-Dec-99, we’ll see you in 2000.
Welcome to our 1999 Holiday Gift Issue, which is full of great gift ideas from TidBITS readers. Although most are related to the Macintosh, we’ve found Mac users to be a broad-minded community, so we were happy to include ideas that fell somewhat outside our standard focus. At the end of the issue, we’ve included a few ideas that will help support TidBITS, and in the process, give us a chance to thank those who have already done so.
Finally, best wishes for a happy holiday season and an uneventful start to the new year from the TidBITS staff: Adam Engst, Tonya Engst (still mostly on an extended maternity leave), Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder. Here’s hoping all the Y2K fuss was for naught!
Speed Up Your Internet Access — Frederic Brehm <[email protected]> suggests something we could all use: faster Internet access. His solution was to install a cable modem. "I recently got Comcast@home. It sure beats dial-up! Plugs into your Ethernet port, or into a hub. The cable installers were happy I have a Mac. After setting up the cable drop to my room and making sure the signal was OK, the only thing they had to do was set up the TCP/IP control panel, run Netscape (already installed on my iMac) and define the various Web, mail, and news servers. Piece of cake! They said that PC’s were harder because most of them require installing an Ethernet card and more software, which can take a long time." The availability of cable modems varies widely by region, but costs often fall in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 per month after installation fees.
Modem Router — If you can’t get high-speed Internet access in your area, Kiran Wagle <[email protected]> points out an Internet solution "for friends with more computers than phone lines. I recently got a Netgear RM356 modem router, which is a 56 Kbps modem with a 4-port hub. It was literally trivial to set up (if you can telnet and follow directions) and it does NAT and DHCP. In about five minutes, my network was connected to the outside world. The shipping version doesn’t do anything much with incoming port mapping, but Netgear has a firmware upgrade (currently in beta) that does. It’s nice to be able to reboot without having to reconnect PPP. And the Mac is much faster when it doesn’t have to manage a dial-up connection – the Netgear router turned a 6100 that was basically too slow to use into a perfectly reasonable machine.)" The RM356 is often available for less than $300.
Add Fire to Your Wires — Derek Miller <[email protected]> suggests Orange Micro’s OrangeLink FireWire/USB PCI Board, which should be available this week according to the company’s Web site. "Perfect for anyone with a platinum PCI Power Mac – especially those with limited PCI expansion (i.e. everything but the Power Mac 9500 and 9600) – who would like to have modern connectivity, but without filling up all their available slots. The card includes two 400 Mbps FireWire ports on one controller and two 12 Mbps USB ports, plus FireWire and USB cables, Adobe Premiere LE, and drivers." Orange Micro’s OrangeLink FireWire/USB PCI Board should be available for about $150.
Agfa ePhoto — If you’re looking for an inexpensive digital camera other than those Arthur Bleich recommended in "Digital Camera Buying Guidelines, Part 2" in TidBITS-509, several readers recommended the Agfa ePhoto 780c. Andreas Martini <[email protected]> writes, "It’s a beautiful digital camera (less than $200) together with a Mac cable and Mac software. Okay, it has a low resolution, but good enough for the Web." (See Arthur Bleich’s description of the ePhoto 780 last year in TidBITS-464.)
Mike Cohen <[email protected]> added, "I strongly recommend getting a Microtech CameraMate or equivalent rather than using the serial cable to connect it to your Mac (especially if you have a USB-capable Mac). Agfa’s connection software works only with a Keyspan twin serial adapter (not a Keyspan PDA adapter). With a CameraMate, just stick in the SmartMedia card and it will appear on the desktop. Agfa’s software recognizes it as a PC Card and automatically view, download, and/or delete images from the card as soon as you insert it."
Jabra Headphones — Scot Andrews <[email protected]> found an excellent deal on the Jabra microphone/headset device offered by TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. "The Small Dog folks will sell you 12 Jabra microphone/headsets for $9 as opposed to the $50 Jabra would charge you for a single one (perform a search for "Jabra" to bring up the deal). Apparently they’re trying to make room for 600 17" monitors the boss has just bought. I personally plan on giving them away game show-style to my students. And given pending changes in the Mac speech recognition field, I expect they’ll be great for today’s standard audio input/output-capable Macs."
Dr. Mouse Aids Sore Wrists — We’re always on the lookout for ergonomic solutions, so Dee Brian’s <[email protected]> recommendation looks interesting. "For your friends who have repetitive stress problems due to improper mousing, the Dr. Mouse from Animax USA takes care of this problem. I have had mine for two months and I no longer have any problem with repetitive stress. The Dr. Mouse looks like a small joystick, so your hand is in a more natural position for mousing. After using the Dr. Mouse I don’t think that I will return to using a regular mouse."
The Dr. Mouse hails from Norway and is also known as the Anir Vertical Mouse or the Anir Ergonomic Mouse Pro; it typically costs $60 to $80, depending on the model (both ADB and USB versions are available).
USB Video Capture — Derek Miller <[email protected]> recommends Interex/XLR8’s InterView USB video capture solution for amateur Spielbergs who don’t have a studio budget. "It’s a low-end solution, but probably the least expensive way (under $100, I think) to get Web-quality video capture via a Mac’s USB port and an elegant multi-wired breakout box that’s about the size of a small flashlight. Interex also has another bundle that includes a PCI USB card for those computers without USB. Both include Strata VideoShop video editing software."
The Switch Is Still On — A few readers recommend an old computer standby: serial switch boxes. Although a number of inexpensive boxes can be found, Saint John <[email protected]> recommends the $60 Port Xpander by MacAlly. Using the Apple Communication Toolbox, the Port Xpander can list and switch to attached devices. Of course, you’d need an older Mac that has serial ports to use this.
Processor Upgrades — TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg <[email protected]> has had good results adding new life to his older Mac system: "I’ve just acquired a Newer Technology MAXpowr G3 CPU upgrade, turning my PowerCenter Pro 180 into a 300 MHz G3 screamer, for just $300. Installation couldn’t have been simpler: pop out the old card, pop in the new. The processor card does not take up a precious PCI slot. Wow. This particular model applies to a lot of PCI-based Macs and it looks like now is a great moment to buy if, like me, you’ve been putting it off."
Small UPS — Sarah Prince <[email protected]> says, "I’d recommend about a small uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the person who only uses a cheap hardware store power strip to save the effort of switching two or three items on or off? Some of them look more interesting now, not just like boring appliances." Even more important than their looks, however, is a UPS’s ability to protect your data – and your hardware – from power outages, brownouts, and surges. Check out Adam’s article in TidBITS-498 to get an idea of the products that are available – many single-system UPS’s are now under $100.
Put Time on Your Side — We could definitely use a gift of free time, but in the meantime Fred Miller <[email protected]> suggests using MultiTimer Pro to track the time you’re currently using. "For people wanting or needing to keep track of time spent on any project, from school papers to household computer tasks to client tracking, this is an easy to use valuable shareware program that is worth the $30."
Backup Backup Backup — Phil Lefebvre <[email protected]> shares our beliefs about maintaining a good backup system. "Retrospect ($150) or Retrospect Express ($50) from Dantz Development is one of those things that everyone should buy when they first get a computer, but usually only buy after a painful lesson. Save them the lesson." Read our series or articles on backup if you need more convincing.
First Aid Anywhere — Bob Williams <[email protected]> suggests buying a gift that can also turn out to be a gift to yourself. "If you help friends or family when they have Mac problems, get them Netopia’s HouseCall. Buy them the Patient, then whenever there are problems, you can work on them from the comfort of your own home or office using the Doctor (which is free). As I prepare to move to the other side of the country, buying several copies for folks was one the first things I did to prepare." Jeff Carlson reviewed HouseCall for us in TidBITS-493.
Type in Your Style — David Huston <[email protected]> recommends Strider Software’s TypeStyler for the amateur art director on your list. "I am a big fan of TypeStyler, which has been revived from its former Apple IIgs days of glory. It allows you to create almost all the special type effects the pros use for printing and Web use easily and instantly. It will save your files in practically every known format. If you want to add immediate eye appeal to your documents or Web sites, with a minimal learning curve (a couple hours at most), then this is an ideal application."
Like, Colors, Wow — For artists or anyone looking for a legal hallucinogen, Peter Miller <[email protected]> writes, "I highly recommend Eric Wenger’s ArtMatic, a very cool (and very inspirational) complex image generator. Graphic artists and animators could probably even get productive with it!"
Mac Macro Might — Fredrik Jonsson <[email protected]> writes, "I would like to recommend the macro program KeyQuencer, by Alessandro Levi Montalcini. A good macro program is very important factor for my productivity. With it I can adjust my Mac to a great extent, and adapt it to me instead of the opposite." For more about KeyQuencer, see Matt Neuburg’s "KeyQuencer – QuicKeys Quencher?" in TidBITS-351.
A Second Look at OneClick — Christian Heurich <[email protected]> writes, "Whether you used OneClick in the past and despaired at version 1.x’s incompatibility with Mac OS 8.5 and higher – or if you’ve never used OneClick at all – I would like to recommend OneClick 2.0. OneClick is a scriptable macro utility that’s compatible with current versions of the Mac OS, and there are many authors contributing their add-ons and utilities to WestCode Software’s efforts. The constantly growing source of useful component additions is one of the stellar aspects of OneClick. It offers additional ease of use, utility, flexibility, and extensibility to a great tool – the Macs you use. Hey, it works." For a review of OneClick and more thoughts about macro programs in general, see our article series "Mac Macros."
Tip for Taps — Allan Moult <[email protected]> writes, "Here’s a lifesaver gift for anyone using a PowerBook with a trackpad: TapGuard ($5 shareware). Although I love using the PowerBook G3, there’s one frustrating aspect – it’s too easy to tap the trackpad accidentally with your thumb or shirt sleeve and select a swath of data that gets deleted with the next keystroke. TapGuard makes your computer ignore the trackpad clicks if you’ve pressed a key in the last one-sixth of a second. This is typically plenty of time to trap any unwanted clicks. When TapGuard ignores a click, the menu bar flashes."
Looking Down from Above — The SETI@home project uses computer processing time to search for life in outer space, but Ed Holloman <[email protected]> suggests a method for peering at the goings-on at home. "I found a cool screen saver called Planet Earth from Lunar Software, which displays a three dimensional model of the earth with real-time night shadows and clouds. It can be set to display a pop-up when you pass the cursor over a city, displaying the name and local time (the longitude and latitude are also available). Planet Earth comes with a database of cities, and you can add your own locations – I added the North Pole so I’ll know when Santa is about to leave and whether he’ll be delayed due to cloud cover." Planet Earth is $30 shareware.
No. More. Staggered. Speech? Bob Williams <[email protected]> writes, "Two words: voice dictation. IBM’s new ViaVoice would make a wonderful gift for anyone who does a lot of text entry, or suffers from RSI symptoms. It also includes an active noise-cancelling headset/microphone." Although it’s a brand new product without a track record, there’s no denying the appeal of continuous speech recognition on the Mac!
Tight Genes — David G. Kanter <[email protected]> writes: "I’ll endorse Leister Production’s $90 Reunion 6 for the Mac for any Mac user who is either already bitten by the genealogy bug or considering jumping into the genealogy fray. Reunion 6 remains a brilliant, made-for-the-Mac product that help you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports that you can tailor to your needs. Although Reunion is easy to use and its default settings serve most users, the program is also extremely flexible. Even genealogy veterans using another program should look at Reunion – it can import and export data using the GEDCOM format, so sharing data with others is usually an easy process."
Get Goofy over Golf — Lisa Thompson <[email protected]> recommends Goofy Golf Deluxe ($25, demo available) as an alternative to shoot-em-up titles. "Goofy Golf Deluxe should be enjoyed by many users – except maybe those who don’t bother with bloodless games or who have some aversion to miniature golf. It’s simple to play – the instructions fit on one panel of the CD sleeve. It comes with only three 18-hole courses, but you can make your own courses and download others from the company’s Web site. The course designer program is very un-Mac-like, but usable."
Urban Sprawl — Anton Rang <[email protected]> suggests tempting your megalomaniac friends with Maxis’s SimCity 3000. "I recently pulled out my old copy of SimCity Classic and, after playing with it for a couple of evenings, realized it’s pretty limiting. On a whim, I picked up SimCity 3000, and it’s much more interesting. There are a lot of variables to play with, your city can develop quite differently on each play, and the graphics are much improved over the original (which also helps keep the game interesting). My only complaint is that parts of the interface (particularly opening and saving files) are very Windows-like. Once the game is running, though, it has its own easy-to-use city planning interface."
Build Your Own Civilization — Dan O’Donnell <Dan.O’[email protected]> took the builder approach one step further by suggesting the world-building strategy game Civilization II Gold. "Designed for older children, teens (and adults) this allows single or multiple players to build societies by going through the stages and details of the development of civilization, – either on existing or user-designed land masses – from about 3000 B.C. to 2020 A.D. You can also play out scenarios based on how the world as we know it developed. Many scenarios are included, there is good printed and online help (including descriptions of the developments of civilization and wonders of the world), and the game can be played across a LAN or over the Internet." TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan once spent far too much time playing Civilization II Gold against his music student and his friends over the Internet. "There’s nothing quite like trying to take over a world where all the other nations are controlled by teenagers."
Handsome Prints — Herouth Maoz <[email protected]> writes, "iPrint.com is an excellent idea for all kinds of interesting, custom-made gifts. You pick an item (t-shirt, babywear, mousepad, mug, etc.), and custom design it, either with ready-made graphics or with ones you upload yourself. You can add text, pick fonts, change colors, and it will be printed and delivered. The neat thing is that the interface is very easy on beginners, so if your mother, who knows only how to use a browser, needs an online gift option, this may well be the solution for her as well."
Furnishing Every Mac User — You’d think TidBITS readers spend a fair amount of time in front of their computers. Many respondents suggested computer furniture, such as Mike Wingstrom’s <[email protected]> praise for the Jerker desk from IKEA, "the ultimate computer desk". Gordon Meyer <[email protected]> writes, "If you’re looking for some excellent computer/office furniture, check out Anthro. I only recently decided to try out their desks, etc., and I’m sorry I waited as long as I did. As far as I’m concerned, Anthrocarts are the Macintosh of SOHO furniture."
EddieK <[email protected]> offered a more deep-seated furniture suggestion: "I just received the Herman Miller Aeron chair for Hanukkah. It’s on the expensive side, but since you’re planted in one most of the day, what’s too much? The chair adjusts to more positions and levels of comfort than any office chair I’ve ever had, so I consider it an exceptional value." TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson added, "I recently bought an Aeron chair after wearing out two cheaper chairs bought at office supply stores in less than two years. Not only is the Aeron the best chair I’ve owned, I love its design."
Cool Your Book — Melanie Jo Watts <[email protected]> found the perfect accessory for her new iBook. The iCoolPad is an iBook-colored (translucent tangerine or blueberry) pivoting stand that helps dissipate heat generated from laptops. [The original CoolPad is solid black and really does help to cool the space heaters some of us affectionately refer to as PowerBooks. -Jeff]
A Better Mousetrap — Martha Robinson <[email protected]> recommends the iCatch (or UniTrap, they’re the same) for the iMac mouse. The iCatch is a plastic shell that snaps around the iMac’s puck-shaped mouse to give it a more traditional (and easier to use) shape.
Home X10sion — Dean Suhr <[email protected]> is hoping an elf will update his 10-year-old X10 home automation setup with a modern MouseHouse interactive automation system with new software, a bidirectional interface, and IR/RF remote control. The $99 (on sale) starter kit includes an ActiveHome interface module, Mac and PC serial adapters and cables, an IR/RF handheld remote, a lamp module, and an RF transceiver appliance module.
Slip a Disk — Dan Ringrose <[email protected]> writes, "If you’re looking for small gifts I’d suggest a box of about 50 of those paper/plastic CD jackets. My track record with jewel boxes is terrible (amazing that such high technology as CDs could be so thoughtlessly packaged) and now that I have a CD-writer it always seems that I have one more CD than I have boxes or paper envelopes."
Marilyn Matty <[email protected]> also offers a suggestion for organizing disks. "Know someone who has a lot of Zip or floppy disks and would appreciate a great looking storage option that comes in colors that coordinate wonderfully with iMacs and iBooks? The Museum of Modern Art in New York makes holders that snap together and can also fit into a 3-ring binder. The carriers come in packages of 10 each, and are $13.50 for members ($15 for non-members) for the Zip version, and $9 ($10.00) for floppies."
TiVo Killed the Video Star — Omar Shahine <[email protected]> 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 <[email protected]> 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 protected]> 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 <[email protected]> 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 protected]> 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."
We hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s suggestions, and we’d like to close with a few that would make great gifts and would help support TidBITS at the same time.
TidBITS Staff — Frankly, the main reason we can put out TidBITS each week is because the people we have working on TidBITS are truly exceptional. You can get by with a tiny staff only if each and every one of them is great, and I’d like to thank Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder for all they’ve done for us over the years. Despite all of our hard work on TidBITS, some of us find the time to write books as well, and if those books sell well, it helps us devote more time to TidBITS.
Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has written a number of books for Peachpit Press, including the critically acclaimed "Palm III and PalmPilot Visual QuickStart Guide," which Jeff is in the process of revising right now. Jeff’s most recent book, written with longtime TidBITS friend and contributor Glenn Fleishman with help from Neil Robertson and Agen Schmitz, is "Real World Adobe GoLive 4" – a seriously beefy book about Adobe’s well-regarded Web authoring program. Jeff and Glenn are also running a moderated mailing list about Adobe GoLive.
Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg also has several books to his name, written for O’Reilly. Matt’s book topics are oriented toward explaining programming tools and environments, and when Matt covers a subject, he covers it completely. If you use either Frontier or REALbasic, you should check out Matt’s "Frontier: The Definitive Guide" or "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide."
Technical Editor Geoff Duncan doesn’t write computer books – something he points out gleefully whenever the rest of us face pressures from book deadlines. Instead, he’s busy invading your living rooms. "Whenever you hear an obnoxious guitar line on television blatantly ripping off some music trend," he notes, "there’s a greater-than-zero chance I played it – albeit not much greater than zero." He’s also on a one-man crusade to eliminate every instance of the word "that" in TidBITS issues. "It’s extraneous. Really."
Finally, although I’ve written numerous books over the years, my two current books are "Eudora 4.2 for Windows & Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide" for Peachpit Press, and the just-released "Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook," which I wrote with David Pogue for O’Reilly. The first is the most complete reference available for Eudora, and the second is a ground-breaking approach to learning to get around in Windows if you’re a Macintosh user or learning to navigate the Mac OS if you’re a Windows user.
TidBITS Sponsors — Lastly, I’d like to thank our corporate sponsors, without whom TidBITS wouldn’t be financially feasible. A few companies have come and gone, including Maxum Development, well known for Internet server software; Dantz Development, makers of Retrospect Express and Retrospect backup software (which has saved our bacon more times than we care to count); Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer is our Web browser of choice at the moment; Digital River, the company that runs the electronic software distribution for many of the Mac industry’s well-known software firms; Trexar Technologies, a young company making a big splash in the Macintosh Internet software world; and 999software.com, retailers of lots of great Macintosh software (along with Windows software and videos) for $9.99.
Equally as important are our current sponsors, some of whom have supported TidBITS for many years. APS has been with us for longer than we can remember, and has continued to sell storage devices and support TidBITS in their new role as a division of LaCie. Our friends at WinStar Northwest Nexus provide us with some Internet connectivity and host ftp.tidbits.com, which will soon move to a faster machine with a much larger hard disk. Small Dog Electronics continues to offer some of the best prices on new, demo, and refurbished hardware, and they now have iMacs, iBooks, and AirPort hardware in stock. As a retailer of almost all things Macintosh, Outpost.com has also been great to have in TidBITS, and we’ve taken advantage of their free shipping on more than one occasion. MacAcademy has been with us for most of 1999, offering numerous training courses, videos, and CD-ROMs for Macintosh software. Also appearing for almost all of 1999 was Farallon, which spun out of Netopia in 1998 to concentrate entirely on innovative Macintosh networking products like the in-home telephone wire network via HomeLINE and AirPort-compatible wireless networking via SkyLINE. Aladdin Systems, makers of the StuffIt family of compression programs, rejoins us as a sponsor after a several year hiatus, and until the next issue, we have the Mac Professional’s Book Club offering a special membership deal to TidBITS readers.
We hope you’ve been happy with the products and services you’ve received from our sponsors, and if you haven’t tried them, we’d encourage you to think of them the next time it’s appropriate, whether for yourself or for a gift.