Happy Holidays! As has become our end-of-year tradition, we once again present a wide variety of gift suggestions collected from TidBITS readers. Read on if you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for your Macintosh-using friends and relatives (or just hoping to add a few items to your own list at the last minute).
Give the Gift of Giving — It’s a tradition. At the end of every calendar year, we collect gift suggestions from TidBITS readers and staff, assemble them into semi-consistent categories, and publish the results as a special TidBITS issue. And, every year, TidBITS readers reveal themselves to be a creative, resourceful, thoughtful, funny, and thoroughly generous bunch of people. No matter what holidays you may celebrate – if any at all – we hope you find these suggestions useful for bringing a measure of joy to the lives of others. And we’d like to extend a hearty thank-you to TidBITS readers for their support and readership during 2001 – without you, none of this is possible.
Perhaps it’s indicative of the state of the software industry, where less and less software is available as a discrete boxed product, but hardware and accessories garnered far more recommendations this year than software of any sort. Another possibility is that hardware can both wear out and become obsolete, as you can tell by reading through suggestions from previous years. Some suggestions, like a UPS, a Kensington TurboMouse, a second video card and monitor, or a Palm OS handheld remain apt, whereas others (like a serial switch box) seem merely quaint.
A number of these products are available from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. They may not always have the absolute cheapest prices, but it can be worth a few bucks to deal with a known reputable supplier in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
Go Cordless — We expect it of our telephones these days, so why not mice? Mike Cohen wrote, "I recently bought a $40 Logitech Cordless Mouse, and it has become my favorite mouse. I’ve never used a cordless mouse before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it is to work without the cord getting in the way, especially if your desk is as cluttered as mine. After I bought it, I discovered they also have the Cordless Optical Mouse for $50."
You Can Never Have Too Much — We’re glad Roy Morita made this suggestion, or we would have had to do it ourselves. "I recommend either PC100 or PC133 SDRAM memory assuming, of course, that the gift recipient has a compatible machine. With the price of memory going down almost daily, I just saw a 256 MB PC133 module being advertised by Circuit City for a mere $19.95 after rebate."
Prices seem to have stabilized recently, but even so, extra RAM is absolutely worthwhile, particularly if you’re planning to upgrade to Mac OS X. For recommendations of RAM suppliers, check out the TidBITS Talk thread on the topic.
Go Large — Just as memory is getting cheaper, it’s amazing how much hard disk space you can buy these days for very little money. Whether you need more storage for applications, digital video, or MP3 music files, a larger hard drive is a good investment. Allen Trautman also uses his drives for large, fast backups. "I’ve just ordered a holiday present for myself: a Maxtor D740X 40 GB UltraATA/133 7200 RPM internal hard drive to supplement the factory-installed 40 GB drive in my Power Mac G4 533DP. Having two same-sized drives allows me to do backups of any size. I do regular backups to CD-ROM, but I didn’t have the storage to back up all those digital video files I’ve been editing with iMovie. Outpost had this unit on sale for about $90, making it a very reasonable storage choice."
Another storage option is an external FireWire enclosure for an unused hard drive. TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson carries a small MCE Transport Pro case, which holds the 12 GB hard drive from his old PowerBook. It’s been perfect for capturing and editing digital video while on the road, and since it’s powered by his PowerBook G4’s internal FireWire port, it takes up little space in his bag. The MCE Transport Pro FireWire & USB Combo Do-It-Yourself Kit costs $140; you can also purchase a similar kit with a PC Card interface, instead of FireWire and USB, for $100.
Or, Go Really Small — Sometimes what’s important isn’t the amount of storage, but rather the size of its container. Richard Wanderman keeps his important data in his pocket. "I’ve had a cool device called a DiskOnKey for about three months and I’m in love with it. It falls into the category called ‘solid state hard drive,’ but that doesn’t do it justice. The size of a highlighter pen, the DiskOnKey comes in memory sizes of 32, 64, 128, or 256 MB, and uses your Mac’s USB port for connection and power. It needs no drivers in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and is compatible with Windows, too. The price is about $60 for the 32 MB size. It’s one of the better ‘sneakernet’ devices I’ve found. A search on Google will find many similar devices but be aware of the driver issue that may crop up with some of them."
Music Anywhere — We couldn’t publish a TidBITS gift issue without mentioning the item many of us hope will miraculously appear in our stockings. Conan Gorbey said it best: "The hardware gift of the year has to be an iPod. This little device will change the way people think of music delivery. Suddenly, having ‘hard copies’ of music will seem a little odd when all you want is a soft version to upload to the iPod. It’s a great combination of software and hardware, and has an aura of being ‘so obvious that no one thought of doing it’ that Apple seems to be able to pull off from time to time." The iPod’s $400 price prompted Conan to add, "Obviously you would need a rich friend to give it to you…," but we’ll remain ever hopeful on Christmas morning. (See Jeff Carlson’s hands-on review in "iPod Makes Music More Attractive" in TidBITS-603.)
‘Books Always Make Good Gifts — While we’re looking at Apple’s offerings, a few readers pointed to a pair of gifts you can open every time you use them. Kevin van Haaren writes, "Okay, not a gift for your average friend or family member but a great gift for yourself (that’s how I got mine) or that really special someone is the PowerBook G4 Titanium. I bought the 667 MHz model with DVD drive, 1 GB of RAM and a 30 GB hard drive. It is, hands down, the best computer I’ve ever used. For the first time since I decided to buy laptops for myself, I don’t feel like I’ve given something up to gain portability (except a lot of money). Mac OS X is responsive, the screen is readable… and the width! It’s amazing how much easier it is to work on multiple documents simultaneously using the PowerBook’s 15.2-inch screen, and movies on DVDs look awesome. That’s topped off by true dual monitor support, FireWire, an AirPort card, and even expandability through the PC Card slot, all in a package that doesn’t throw my back out when I haul it around."
Bill del Solar prefers a more compact volume. "The Apple iBook, with at least 256 MB of RAM (for Mac OS X), a 20 GB hard disk, and a CD-RW drive has turned out to be a great little computer (and a Mac) for a lawyer or judge to take to hearings. The AppleWorks bundle is quick and works very well for taking notes on the fly. The combination of Mac OS X and that hardware makes a really sweet package."
Palm Keyboards — If an iBook is still too large for your tastes, Derek Miller suggests a keyboard for your Palm OS-based handheld. "As I mentioned in my review of Palm OS word processors (see "How You Slice It: Two Mac Friendly Palm Word Processors" in TidBITS-604), I find a keyboard for my Palm indispensable. If you have Palm-using friends, I highly recommend such a keyboard. The Palm Portable folding keyboard (and the Targus Stowaway, its identical equivalent for Handspring Visors, other Palm OS devices, and even Pocket PCs and the like) is by far the easiest to find. The GoType! keyboard from LandWare does not fold, but seems more durable. And a few other keyboards are also now available, such as the Travelboard, KeySync, and Happy Hacking keyboards (some are noted on the About.com site noted below)."
iPray Thee, Hear Me Speak — Andrew Cohen suggests the gift of speech for iMovie users or anyone wondering what to do with old records or audio tapes. "The iMic is a great and reasonable ($35) gift for any user who wants to dress up their iMovies with voice-overs or capture audio from an analog device. It enables you to connect any standard line-level or mic-level microphone to a Mac with a USB port via a 1/8-inch stereo plug. It’s a good solution for those who already invested in a quality microphone for their video camera. You can also use the iMic to connect an audio tape deck or turntable, and coupled with Roxio’s Toast Titanium, finally get that important audio off the dusty cassette tapes and onto a CD."
Video Tapes Don’t Last Forever — You spent the extra money at your wedding or other important event to have it videotaped – are you sure you can still watch the tape? If you’re concerned about the relatively short life of VHS tape (15 years seems to be an optimistic figure), consider converting your videos to digital media. Kevin van Haaren writes, "A bit expensive at $265 (but cheaper than a iPod or digital video camera) the Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge analog to DV converter is really nice for working with analog video tapes with iMovie. iMovie sees it as a DV camera so no drivers are needed. I’ve been using mine in Mac OS X with iMovie 2 with few problems (a couple clips I captured from really poor tapes crash iMovie when saving back out to tape, which I think is an iMovie problem)."
Burnin’ Ring of Fire — In addition to his iBook recommendation above, Bill del Solar suggests one way to protect your investment: "If you have a connection to the Internet, you need a firewall. If you have a fast Internet connection, you need one even more. The SonicWALL SOHO3 firewall appliance is a great little box that lets you pick and choose which traffic to allow, in which direction, and over which port. It’s able to repulse various different kinds of attacks because it is stateful instead of being merely a packet filter."
Each year we discover products that don’t fit easily into a regular category, but which are worth the attention in their own right. Be sure also to check out the Miscellaneous Gifts of TidBITS holidays past, as well as the TidBITS Talk discussions that inspired them.
An Extra Hand with CDs — We’ve come across a simple little product from Contoured Edge, Inc. that would make a great gift for people who always have CDs lying around. Called the CD Hold Button, it’s a small polycarbonate thingamajig you stick to the side of your monitor, to your dashboard, to your boombox, or anywhere else you want to hold a CD. Then, rather than setting a CD down and risk scratching it, you can just put the CD onto the CD Hold Button (it grips like a jewel case’s insert). They come in a bunch of colors and cost only $5 for a three-button pack or $9 for an eight-button pack. Simple, clever, and cheap – what more could you want?
Good Quality Headphones — Some TidBITS Talk respondents offered a few sentences of suggestions, but Dan Frakes sent along what was almost a short article about how you can enhance your Mac or iPod. Take it away, Dan.
Many Mac users use headphones regularly: for DVDs on the plane, for iTunes at work or at the library, for games at home, and now with the iPod. The problem is that most headphones… well, they stink. And most of the better headphones don’t get a lot of press – you see ads for Sony StreetStyle and Bose Noise Canceling headphones, but you don’t see many ads for headphones that actually sound good. So as a headphone geek, I’m going to recommend a few headphones that are highly regarded in the audio community. If there’s a Mac/PowerBook/iPod user in your life who uses headphones, get them some that really do their audio justice.
It’s worth noting that there are definitely headphones out there that are "better" than some of the models listed below, from Sennheiser, AKG, Grado, Beyerdynamic, and even Sony. However, few will actually sound better without a dedicated (separate) headphone amp; those listed below will work well directly out of an iPod or the headphone jack on your PowerBook or desktop Mac.
Most of these headphones can be found at a good headphone-only retailer like HeadRoom. A few of the Koss models can be found at the big electronics stores. The Sony V6 headphones are quite hard to find; DJ Mart is one of the few places that still carry them.
For clarification, earbuds are small headphones that sit in your ear, like the ones included with the iPod.
Etymotic ER4P ($250) or ER6 ($120). These are the best earbuds on the planet by leaps and bounds. They actually fit inside the ear canal and provide far more isolation (-28 dB and -20 dB, respectively) and better sound than any noise-canceling headphone on the market. They’re perfect for traveling. The only drawback is that some people don’t like sticking things inside their ears… way inside.
Koss KSC-35 ($30). Not really an earbud but an "earclip" – no headband, so they’re very small, lightweight, and comfortable. Plus they offer some of the best sound under $100. Definitely the best headphone available for exercise and active use, and one of the best bargains in headphones.
Koss KSC-50 ($20). The new version of the KSC-35, they are still excellent, but not quite as good as the original.
Sennheiser MX-500 ($20). Probably the best all-around traditional earbud.
Sony MDR-E888 ($60). Sony’s best earbud is very good, but not quite as balanced as the Sennheiser MX-500.
Lightweight headphones clip over the ear or are connected by a metal or plastic headband. Koss makes portable headphones using a driver that is much better than anything else on the market in this category. All of the following headphones use the same driver, and all sound excellent (though a bit different due to enclosure differences). I’ve listed them in the order I prefer them.
- KSC-35 ($30, earclip)
- KSC-50 ($20, earclip)
- PortaPro ($40, traditional headband)
- KSC-55 ($15-$20, "Streetstyle" headband rests behind the head/neck)
- SportaPro ($20, traditional or behind-the-head band; fits like a vise)
Sealed full-sized headphones fit over the ears and block out external noise; good for travel or home use.
Beyerdynamic DT250-80 ($150). Probably the best traditional sealed headphone that can be powered by a portable.
Sony MDR-V6 ($70). Quite comfortable, and fold up for travel. Also available as the "pro" line MDR-7506 for $40-$50 more. The V6 are different than the MDR-V600, which are nowhere near as good.
Beyerdynamic DT231 ($90) or Sennheiser HD25SP ($85). Not quite as good as the V6, but easier to find.
Koss UR20 or UR30 ($25-$30). The best "bargain" sealed headphone, but a bit boomy in the bass.
Open full-sized headphones don’t seal out noise and tend to be bulkier, but they’re great for listening at home.
Grado SR-60 ($70), SR-80 ($90), or SR-125 ($150). Not the most comfortable, but great sounding headphones for the money – the SR-80 is a major bargain in high-end headphones.
Sennheiser HD495 ($60). Intended for use with a dedicated amp, but still sound very good directly out of a portable or computer headphone jack.
For more headphone info, check out Head-Fi and HeadWize.
Think Outside the Box — We’ve long railed about the massive waste involved in packaging and distributing software. We cringe when we receive a large cardboard box filled with more cardboard filler… and a single CD (it was a tad more tolerable when software shipped with instruction manuals, but even those are becoming a rarity). Harro de Jong noted the advantages of bypassing first-run products by picking up items sold by previous owners. "Computer-related gifts are often expensive, but discard the box and shrink-wrap, and prices drop steeply. Since computer hardware often lives much longer than its first owner will use it, those people can usually be persuaded to part with all kinds of neat stuff for a pittance. This year I was able to buy a Wacom tablet, a color inkjet (with 7 spare cartridges), plus a trackball for less than $100. With some cleaning and a thorough check, I’ve got a gift that will make a poor graphic arts student very happy."
Big Letters Make Big Words — Some folks have complained about Apple’s new white-on-black keyboards, but contrast isn’t the only trouble people have when looking at their keyboards. Melinda Stamp’s small gift is providing big rewards. "I bought Hooleon’s large-print key-top labels for my visually impaired father for his birthday and he loved them. They greatly enhanced his experience with his computer. I’m buying him another set for his new Christmas iMac. This is an inexpensive, easy, and thoughtful gift for anyone with vision problems or just ‘over-40’ eyes. The labels are durable, attractive, easy to apply, and come in various colors. Hooleon also offers a variety of custom keyboard products, like Braille large print labels."
Give Your Groove — The age-old tradition of recording a custom selection of songs to a cassette tape has been updated to the digital age. A few TidBITS Talk participants mentioned they plan to send CDs containing, in the words of Mike Cohen, "unreleased tracks, live performances, and other rarities and hard-to-find music." Being digital, however, means you’re not limited to just music. Marilyn Matty plans to add video to her CDs. Or, if you have a SuperDrive-equipped Power Mac, take your videos, still images, and MP3 files and burn them to a DVD using Apple’s iDVD software.
Book Geeks Recommend Geek Books — As publishers, we’re enthusiastic supporters of books. Not surprisingly, a few TidBITS Talk subscribers singled out the printed word as great gifts. With Mac OS X invading our Macs, Mike Whybark recommends building a Unix bookshelf, either from online sellers like Amazon.com or from your local used bookstore. "Since Unix is a mature OS, there are many titles which have been out for a good while that are not utterly obsolescent, as so many computer books become over time. I recently picked up a copy of Unix Unleashed circa 1994 for two dollars, and it’s been helpful!" Some suggested titles include:
Learning the Unix Operating System (Nutshell Handbook), by Jerry D. Peek, et al (O’Reilly, $12)
Apache: the Definitive Guide (With CD-ROM), by Ben Laurie, et al (O’Reilly, $25)
Sendmail, by Bryan Costales, Eric Allman (O’Reilly, $35)
DNS and BIND (4th Edition), by Paul Albitz, Cricket Liu (O’Reilly, $32)
Mac OS X: The Missing Manual by David Pogue (O’Reilly, $18)
Think Local, Read Geek — Steve Harley writes, "Computer books are great gifts, but for more advanced users it can be very hard to know which book. Giving a gift certificate solves that problem, but if the recipient is not local, one might feel stuck with giving certificates from large chains or online behemoths like Amazon. The answer is BookSense, which links independent booksellers and helps them compete while remaining independent."
Holster Your Palm — Since the original PalmPilot, companies have devised all manner of cases, belt clips, and pouches to hold your handheld organizer, and Derek Miller chimes in with an interesting new entry in the field. "Nite Ize makes a line of extremely hardy and practical PDA, phone, radio, and GPS cases, with flexible internal metal frames, called Stand Up Holsters. They not only protect your Palm or other device, but also have extra pockets and flip to stand like easels, clip to your belt, or even hang from something if you like. They’re a bit bulky and geeky-looking, but very practical, even if a tad expensive ($50 Canadian for the PDA case in one store I looked at – about $30-35 US)."
Packing Digital Heat — Your cell phone rings, your Visor’s alarm goes off, and you’re scrambling for your digital camera before that perfect picture disappears. Augh! Many of us find ourselves carrying a variety of handheld electronic devices these days, but carrying your devices in a way that keeps them accessible and at least moderately attractive has proven tricky. Adam wrote, "My current solution comes from Personal Electronics Concealment, a company that has taken designs from shoulder holsters and created a flexible set of e-Holster products for all your devices. You can combine a two-shoulder e-Harness, a one-shoulder e-ShoulderStrap, or a belt-mounted e-BeltSnap with one or more e-Pouches in a variety of shapes and sizes to match your devices. I have an e-ShoulderStrap with a pair of e-Pouches, one hanging underneath the other, sized perfectly for my cell phone and either my Canon PowerShot S100 or Palm V. Access to the velcro-fastened e-Pouches is fast and easy, and although I generally wear the e-ShoulderStrap over my head and across my chest for a more secure fit, you’re supposed to drape it over one shoulder like a purse. Either way, it fits well under a jacket, and although the black leather or ballistic nylon construction leans toward the FBI look, I haven’t gotten so much as a strange look yet. I also find myself wearing running clothes that lack pockets a fair amount of the time these days, and it turns out that the e-Pouch that normally carries either my Palm or camera can instead hold my wallet and, thanks to the slight bulk of the small, rectangular Leatherman Micra on my key chain, my keys as well. I still sometimes just shove my cell phone in my pocket and leave, but whenever I want to carry multiple devices, I grab for the e-Holster. If you want to see me modeling the e-Holster, find me at Macworld Expo in a few weeks."
Carrying in Style and Safety — Another offshoot of Apple’s digital hub concept is that you’ll likely carry more devices, which begs the question of where those devices are stored when your hub is rollin’ rollin’ rollin’. TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has been quite pleased with a Tom Binh Brain Bag backpack ($130) and G4 LapDog ($50) securely carrying his PowerBook G4, camcorder, digital camera, and cables.
Julio Ohep has had an eye on cases designed with photographers in mind by Tamrac, while Marilyn Matty points out the advantages of using bags that don’t look like obvious computer cases. "Having done a lot of traveling for work that involved a lot of schlepping, I learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to have bags that mask the fact that you’re carrying expensive equipment. Laptops, video cameras, etc. have high street resale value, and people carrying them are targets for thieves who case the airports. Even with the National Guard and increased security at the airports, thefts of equipment will probably not go down significantly – they are there for protection against terrorists, not thieves. By carrying a bag that looks like a regular backpack and not an equipment bag, you’re somewhat minimizing your risk. I’ve found that carrying bags from L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Tough Traveler, Eagle Creek, or Patagonia are the best in terms of durability, functionality, features and good looks. Because they’re designed with weather and extreme use in mind, they hold up exceptionally well when compared to computer bags. I’ve been using versions of these L.L. Bean backpacks for years and I love them, along with my Tough Traveler."
Matty also points to a pair of wholesalers, Campmor and Sierra Trading Post, who "offer name brands, not irregulars, at great prices."
A Digital Photography Primer — Speaking of camera gear, Phil Lefebvre happened upon a book geared for owners of Nikon cameras but also useful for anyone using a digital camera, Mastering Nikon Compact Digital Cameras by Peter iNova. "It is a $50 well-designed PDF ‘book’ (you can print it out if you want) on taking great digital photos, containing a digital photo editing tutorial, third party camera manual, and a collection of Photoshop filters on a CD. Together, they can take any amateur point-n-shooter and quickly bring him or her to a high level of competency in digital photography. It is written in a style that fully respects the audience’s intelligence, along with a sense of humor that prevents it from getting dry. I am (was!) totally ignorant in photography, but still breezed right through all 325 pages, and was applying things I learned the first day. Even a non-digital pro photographer could learn from the extensive number of clever tips in using digital technology, and the Nikon cameras in particular. Just learning about using my camera with a microscope has already made the book pay for itself. Finally, while the book and software are both Windows and Mac-compatible, the author is unashamedly a Mac user, and it is nice to see all the pictures of his PowerBook, and all the screenshots from a Mac."
Everybody in the Pool! For some of us, email and Internet access is almost like oxygen. Johann Beda suggests giving Internet access to friends and family members who aren’t yet online. "A few years back I gave my adult siblings, both of whom had computers with modems, memberships in their local community network/free-net. Some of these types of organizations require proof of local residency, so I did the whole online setup part for them, then downloaded and filled out the appropriate forms, and got a stamped envelope and first year’s payment cheque ready, and had everything set to go. On Christmas morning, the gift recipient only had to sign the forms, photocopy the proof of residency, and drop them in the mail. The cost for the lowest level of access for these networks is usually less than $30, and some are even completely free or by donation. While this type of access may not provide graphical Web browsing, even the most limited of text email is still an amazing thing compared to no email at all. It feels a bit like buying someone a phone at the turn of the century."
A similar idea comes from Kate Binder, who advocates buying a personal domain name for your sweetie. "I registered virtualcrate.com for my family last year around this time, and it’s been great having a permanent online home all year. We’ve all changed access providers, but our email, family Web site, and FTP space have stayed up and running all year long."
To add to this, we can highly recommend easyDNS as a site to register and manage DNS names – we moved the tidbits.com domain there and have been very happy with their interface and services.
It’s fun to be wowed by hardware, especially in the Macintosh world where industrial design is a driving force. There’s just something about gadgets that plug in, connect to, interact with, and work alongside our Macs. But it’s important to remember that it would all be molded plastic and silicon if not for the software inside. On the Mac especially, software tends to have a long shelf-life, which could be one reason we didn’t receive many gift recommendations this year – raise your hand if you’re still using Microsoft Word 5.1! Be sure to also check out the gift suggestions from previous years, including the TidBITS Talk discussions that prompted them.
The Door Swings Both Ways — After you’ve used always-on Internet access, it’s hard to go back to connecting via modem. However, a computer that’s always connected to the Internet is also a machine that’s potentially susceptible to attack from other computers around the world. To keep an eye on incoming and outgoing traffic, Keith Holzman recommends software from Open Door Networks. DoorStop, which is licensed to Symantec and sold as the $70 Norton Personal Firewall for Macintosh, is simple to install and administer, and keeps intruders at bay. (A $300 Server Edition of DoorStop is also available for Mac OS servers.) We’re also partial to another software firewall, IPNetSentry from TidBITS sponsor Sustainable Softworks.
Keith wrote, "I also like Open Door’s Who’s There?, which takes the information from the DoorStop and Norton Personal Firewall log and lets you see what domain the would-be intruder is trying to do, even making it simple for you to send an email to the intruder’s ISP. A single user license is $40 for Mac OS 8 and later, and $50 for Mac OS X."
Print Explosion — If you’re still looking for a gift for the sort of person who’s constantly making little flyers and signs in a word processor, check out Nova Development’s $60 Print Explosion Deluxe. It helps those who aren’t fluent with more general programs create greeting cards, invitations, labels, calendars, t-shirts, business cards, posters, banners, and more, and includes a vast number of fonts (500) plus clip art graphics and photographs (90,000). Print Explosion works under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, where we tested it after downloading the necessary 2.0.2 update that provides Mac OS X 10.1 compatibility. We were able to make an invitation with a number of graphics and text blocks, although the process was rougher than would be ideal, with problems entering text into the Project Assistant that helps you start projects, an occasional crash that caused us to lose changes (though it didn’t affect any other applications), and some generally quirky behavior. Make sure the recipient will be able to print from Print Explosion, though that’s less of a problem with Mac OS X than it was a few months ago (Epson released some drivers for more color inkjet printers, although some people have had troubles printing if Classic is running).
Silicon Chef: Allez Cuisine! Adam and Tonya have had a kitchen Mac for almost as long as they’ve had a kitchen, it seems, providing quick access to recipes and other information on the Internet. For those who want to use a Mac to store their own recipes, Mary Naylor suggests buying Inaka Software’s Computer Cuisine Deluxe 3.0. "I tried using MasterCook in the past, and it is not as good as this shareware program (which works under Mac OS X as well as Mac OS 8 and later). I think this is the only recipe program for the Mac that can work with Mac OS X, but I’m not sure. It has really nice graphics, includes 1,000 recipes, and only costs $20. I’d recommend this for someone who wants a nice program at a small price. And try the homemade eggnog recipe… it’s great!"
Perhaps it’s a part of getting older, of becoming ever busier, or perhaps – for Adam and Tonya – just having a three-year-old around the house, but immersive computer games haven’t been a large part of our lives for years. Even still, this year’s game suggestions sound attractive, especially for those of us who have never quite been able to stomach the first-person blood-and-gore shooter games.
Older games are often as much fun now as they were when first released, so if you’re looking for more ideas, check out titles from previous years, those that made it into our issues and the full details in the TidBITS Talk threads.
iPinocchio iCards — Andy J. W. Affleck contributed the first suggestion, writing, "I’ve had it for all of two days, but iPuppet: Colin’s Classic Cards from Aspyr and Freeverse Software is wonderful. I’ve actually been a user of their Hearts and 3D Euchre Deluxe from Freeverse for years now. Anyway, the $35 iPuppet is the latest incarnation of these two games along with two more, Pitch and Spades, thrown in as well. You play cards in a 3D environment (the CD-ROM comes with many different locations) against a wide range of puppets, both cartoon and photographed (Colin, now named Horatio, has long been my partner for Euchre while Ian and Kate are my arch enemies. My dream world is to play them online in this combination one day). The game supports networked play, though I haven’t tested it out in this new version yet.
"As if all of this weren’t enough, it has a built-in MP3 player and playlists that you can share across all four games. The games themselves are well played and there is a built-in tutor to help you learn them. There’s even a telepathy feature should you want to cheat (or see what weird thoughts the various characters have). Overall, iPuppet has excellent game play, opponents who actually make the game challenging, network play, great graphics/sounds, and it works under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. The only downside is that my wife keeps stealing my laptop to play."
Gettin’ Jiggy With It — Continuing with the computerized version of real-world games, Peter Haglich offered this suggestion. "One game I’m fond of (and which would make a good gift for anyone 8 and older) is Jiggy, a timed jigsaw puzzle game. An image of the completed puzzle is shown to the player for a brief interval, then it is hidden and puzzle pieces drop on the right side for placement on the puzzle. You play until the puzzle piece receptacle fills up. Jiggy provides you with a number of puzzles, or you can also import your own graphics for the puzzles. This gives you the opportunity to personalize your gift by including graphics which have meaning for the recipient.
"Jiggy works under Mac OS 8.6 or later, or Mac OS X. You can download a trial version that has only 10 levels and doesn’t allow importing of graphics; a $15 shareware fee gets you a CD-ROM with 35 levels and the graphics importing feature. A portion of the registration fee for each full version is donated to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation."
We’re constantly struck by the intellectual breadth of the Macintosh community and the TidBITS readership in particular. It doesn’t take much more than an offhand comment in TidBITS to spur a private discussion about the role of computers in schools, the relative merits of specific HEPA air filters, or the history of copyright law.
That’s why we’re never surprised at the holiday gift suggestions we receive that aren’t related to the Mac or even to computers, necessarily, but which seem to be the sorts of things that appeal to those of us who have chosen to use the Mac. In addition, suggestions from previous years are often still relevant in this category in particular. And of course, if you’d like to see the full TidBITS Talk discussions from this year and the last two, they sometimes provide more details than we had room for in the final articles.
TiVo! Andrew Laurence, a vocal TiVo proponent on TidBITS Talk and the author of our two-part review of the TiVo hardware and service, offered this suggestion, surprising absolutely no one. He wrote, "TiVo is a great gift for any household with a television, but expensive if you want it to include lifetime service so it would be a complete gift. Recorders are available at a variety of home electronics-type stores, as well as Amazon and other online retailers. Current deals include a 30-hour Philips unit from Sears for $200 on close-out, a 30-hour Sony unit direct from TiVo for $250 (shipping included), and a 40-hour AT&T-branded unit direct from AT&T/TiVo for $300. (This last one is the box being sold/marketed to AT&T cable customers, but it’s really a regular stand-alone TiVo recorder that works with antenna, cable or satellite. You can buy from the Web site even if you’re not an AT&T cable customer.) The TiVo service costs $10 per month, or $250 for the lifetime of the recorder."
Although no one else commented in the TidBITS Talk suggestions, this is where the ReplayTV buffs generally jump in and make the case for the ReplayTV being an equal or superior digital video recorder. (The recent release of the ReplayTV 4000, which offers additional features for broadband users, is sure to spark more competition; the devices appear to be trickling to users now.) We strongly suspect that the differences are mostly a matter of personal preference, and we refuse to let this TiVo versus ReplayTV discussion turn into anything resembling the Mac versus PC religious wars. Suffice to say, a digital video recorder like the TiVo or ReplayTV will give you almost complete control over the television you choose to watch. Now if only the TiVo could convince the local Time Warner franchise to carry a station with reruns of the old Muppet Show…
Mac Tourism — Mike Calmus suggested something that would undoubtedly be a major treat for someone who’s never been. "How about airfare, lodging, and an all-access pass to Macworld Expo San Francisco in January?" Also consider Macworld New York next July, since it may be a bit late to get inexpensive plane tickets and hotel rooms for the San Francisco show at this late date.
The Ultimate Macintosh Travel Gift — Adam here. With all due respect to Mike’s suggestion above, I’ve been to Macworld Expo twice a year for almost every year since 1992. There’s no question that Macworld is a good time, and I’d certainly recommend that anyone who enjoys watching the Macintosh world turn should attend at some point. But there’s an event coming up in 2002 that I think will make walking the floor at Macworld Expo seem like hard labor in the mines. It’s Mac Mania, the first (hopefully annual) Macintosh-specific cruise to Alaska put on by Geek Cruises, a company that specializes in holding high-tech conferences aboard cruise ships. Basically, Geek Cruises organizes a conference that will occupy three at-sea days out of a seven day cruise, attracts the best speakers (who fight for the chance to attend), and reserves about half the rooms on a standard cruise ship for like-minded geeks.
The Mac Mania cruise to Alaska’s Inside Passage, starting 27-May-02, will be my first, but a number of friends have spoken aboard other cruises in the past and say they’re more fun than should be legal. Along with the three days of conferences, there are four days of straight vacation, but with all sorts of other Mac geeks around. I’ll be speaking, of course, and Tonya and Tristan will be coming too (Geek Cruises encourages families to attend; there will be lots of non-geeks aboard as well, with plenty of non-geek entertainment, and the cruise ships are reportedly kid-friendly). Other speakers whose names are probably familiar from TidBITS and TidBITS Talk include Glenn Fleishman, Tom Negrino, Dori Smith, and Jason Snell. Rounding out the roster are David Pogue, Bob LeVitus, Andy Gore, Deke McClelland, Sal Soghoian, Rick LePage, David Biedny, Jesse Feiler, Ben Long, Randal Schwartz, Daniel Steinberg, and, in case none of the rest of us are a sufficient draw, actor John de Lancie (Star Trek’s "Q") and Steve Wozniak himself will also be speaking.
I won’t pretend Mac Mania is cheap. The conference costs $600, the rooms range between $1,050 and $1,900 per person, and you’ll need to factor in airfare to Vancouver, Canada. That sounds steep, but when you consider that a full pass to Macworld Expo can cost $1,500 and hotel rooms in major cities regularly run $200 per night, the Geek Cruise is comparable for two people and includes a several-day vacation. Besides, how many glaciers can you see in San Francisco or New York?
I can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to Mac Mania, and I’d certainly love to have a number of TidBITS readers on board as well. And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t get any kickbacks from signups. So if you’re starting to think about next year’s vacation, Mac Mania might be just the ticket.
From Behemoth to Microship — There are people who march (or in this case, pedal) the beat of a different drummer, and if you or anyone you know is fascinated by the lives of said people, a fabulous gift would be Steven Roberts’s self-published book From Behemoth to Microship. You’ve probably heard of Steve at some point – he’s the "technomad" who biked over 16,000 miles around the U.S. on a succession of recumbent bikes outfitted with an increasingly insane amount of computer and communications gear. His current project, with his wife Natasha Clarke, is a pair of custom-built micro-trimarans powered by sail, pedals, and solar, and laden with even more computer and communication gear than before (plus a spot for their cat in one of the boats). Steve’s a serious Mac-head and uber-geek, making the stories he tells in From Behemoth to Microship tremendously enjoyable. Signed copies of the book cost $15 plus $3.50 shipping, and we know (from having visited Steve and Natasha one beautiful weekend day on Camano Island before moving back to Ithaca), that sales of the book will make a real difference in the Microship project.
Think of Others — We were pleased to see the number of people who suggested that the best gifts during the holiday season are made via charities to worthy causes or to those people in need. Derrick Yamaura led off the suggestions: "During the holiday season, I tend to donate money and goods to charitable organizations. Last year, I gave to the Union Gospel Mission, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Burnaby General Hospital Foundation. I will donate to these associations again this year. I hope that other TidBITS readers will find it in their hearts to support charitable organizations in their local areas, or perhaps to give support to organizations that are providing services and relief to those affected by the events of September 11th."
In response to Derrick’s suggestion, Adam commented, "My family has also increasingly started to make charitable donations as gifts. My favorite organization along these lines is Heifer International, which gives animals to needy third-world people. The animals can provide food, income, offspring, and even better, Heifer International asks that recipients pass on one of the their animal’s offspring to another needy family. What I like about this approach is that it gives families renewable resources they can use to improve their lives. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that I grew up on a farm and have an appreciation for what animals make possible."
After that suggestion, Andrew Cohen expanded on the idea. "In fact, Heifer International just launched a mini site for this holiday season explaining the impact of alternative giving. There are several success stories on the site. Each includes a photo gallery which helps tell the family’s story."
Naomi Pearce chimed in, "Glide Memorial in San Francisco does some amazing and practical work; they really know how to stretch a buck. Like Heifer International, when you give to them in someone else’s name, they translate the dollar amount into what it buys instead of stating a number. It feels way less tacky. So, for example a $10 donation becomes "holiday meals for a family of four," or $25 is "a winter coat for a disadvantaged child," or $75 buys "fifteen blankets for homeless families."
For those looking to combine charitable giving with support for the Macintosh community, consider a tax-deductible donation to Info-Mac, the venerable archive of freely distributable Macintosh software. Info-Mac needs the funds to bring its utterly ancient hardware up to date and pay for domain registration fees and other organizational expenses.
Finally, Johann Beda offered a higher level view of charitable giving via the Internet. "It is possible to donate online to most registered charities in the U.S. and in Canada through Web sites that take care of all the transactions, even for charities with no Web presence. There are probably similar places for other countries, and similar Web sites for the U.S. and Canada as well, but the ones I know of are Network for Good in the U.S. (no fees or charges) and CanadaHelps (less than 2 percent fees, which is probably about as good as any credit card donation directly to the charity’s phone number). These sites also have information about volunteering and other charitable giving resources.
"They work by taking the money online from the donor and then sending a cheque to the charity’s address of record. If you are involved in a charity, it might be worthwhile to register with these Web sites to allow for faster money transfers (direct deposit and that sort of thing) and Web links to the charity’s site, as well as filling in additional information beyond the info that they have from their use of whatever charity registry databank they get their information from. You can find online charity ‘portal’ listings at these sites."
The past few months (and indeed, the entire year) have been trying times for us all. But that’s all the more reason to come together and think of others this holiday season. We and a number of people on TidBITS Talk have attempted to help that process along this year with the many gift suggestions you’ve read about above. And should we poor journalists, toiling away in unheated garrets with only our PowerBooks to keep our fingers warm, be included in your holiday thoughts, there are a few gifts you can give this year that help support everything we do here at TidBITS. (Of course, just reading TidBITS each week is always a help as well!)
Gift Subscriptions — Christian Heurich was first off the mark with this suggestion. "Make certain your significant other and interested parties subscribe to TidBITS!" Thanks, Christian, and the easiest gift you can give to a Mac-interested friend that will keep giving into the future is indeed a subscription to TidBITS. You can just tell them to subscribe by sending email to <[email protected]>, or you can do it for them at our subscription Web page (but please, make sure they know you’re signing them up so they don’t think we’re spamming them, and so they realize they’ll have to reply to the confirmation request message).
Support Our Sponsors — While you’re finishing off your holiday shopping, patronizing the companies that sponsor TidBITS also helps us (as a bonus, let them know your business is in part related to their support of TidBITS). For an extensive selection of hardware (and some software), visit Small Dog Electronics; for hard disks and other storage devices, try APS Technologies; for anyone who needs a powerful text-based HTML or programming editor, check out BBEdit from Bare Bones Software; for the networker in all of us, Sustainable Softworks produces a great collection of network utilities in IPNetRouter, IPNetSentry, IPNetMonitor, IPNetTuner, and the new IPNetShareX; and finally, for anyone who needs to learn one or more of the major Macintosh applications, there are MacAcademy’s training materials.
Other companies have sponsored TidBITS over the past year, and we’d encourage you to support them as well. Some may be planning to sponsor again in the future, and hearing that their sponsorship of TidBITS was a factor in a purchasing decision encourages future support. These companies include Aladdin Systems, Farallon, Blue World Communications, CS Odessa, Web Crossing, easyDNS, and Intelli-Gents.
New TidBITS Stuff with Free Shipping — Last year we started selling t-shirts and various other items through CafePress.com. Although we never got around to the design contests we planned on, we have now modified our existing design (removing the "TidBITS readers get it weekly" phrase that troubled some people) and introducing a new design based on the Caring for Wrists poster that Jon.Hersh designed for us many years ago (and which you can still download and print to remind yourself of ways of preventing repetitive stress injuries).
The new design is a graphical reminder of how to sit in the proper ergonomic position, and we’ve put it on mugs, mousepads, and a t-shirt (if anyone wants it on something else CafePress.com sells, just let me know – but we couldn’t imagine anyone wanting ergonomic reminders on their boxer shorts). For the main design, we also added a number of products, including an ornament (a TidBITS Christmas tree ornament was just too silly to pass up, although we did avoid the stuffed bear and a stocking), a hooded sweatshirt, a tank top, a baseball hat, a bucket hat, boxer shorts, and a tote bag (great for storing the objects you pick up on the Macworld Expo show floor). Some, such as the ornament and the hooded sweatshirt, are available only through the end of the year. As always, discounts are available to contributors, and everyone (in the U.S) gets free shipping on orders over $50 through 17-Dec-01.
Gift Contributions — Finally, Matt Lewkowicz helped us get over our shyness with this suggestion. "I know Adam won’t say it on his own. Give a TidBITS contribution to a friend! Support TidBITS two ways; monetarily and with name recognition." Matt’s recommendation spurred us to modify our Kagi contributions page to make it easy to contribute to TidBITS in someone else’s name, and as an added bonus, I’ll personally send an acknowledgment to the recipient of the gift. Plus, although we have no automation behind it, you can also donate via PayPal to <[email protected]>.