Off The Wall
Weird gear often makes the best gifts. Seriously, what card-carrying geek wouldn’t like a USB flash drive that looks like R2D2, a PC that looks like R2D2, or a little plastic bunny that announces the news and relays text messages while wiggling his ears? (No, we’re not making this stuff up.)
Digital WiFi Detector
In the old days (think 2004), Wi-Fi detectors did little more than light up when you were in proximity of a hotspot. The Digital WiFi Detector ($70) does much more. Its four-line backlit LCD screen displays not only signal availability and strength, but also network SSID, channel, and encryption status (WEP or WPA). It identifies both 802.11b and 802.11g networks and has a range of about 200 feet. This can save you a ton of time -- now you’ll know what’s available, and whether it’s open for public access, before you even hit the power button.
PowerSquid Surge3000 Calamari Edition
Who says a surge protector can’t be sexy? Okay, maybe sexy is the wrong word for a six-outlet power strip designed to look like an octopus, but there’s no debating the PowerSquid Surge3000 Calamari Edition ($80) looks cooler than any other surge protector. It’s also extremely functional, letting you bend its six plugs (two of which glow neon-blue) any which way so everything fits -- even oversize power bricks. At the other end, coaxial-cable and phone-cord jacks offer protection for your cable and/or DSL modem.
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Now that USB flash drives have officially supplanted the floppy and the rewriteable CD as the media of choice for toting files, all that remains is to choose the drive that best reflects your personality. For example, maybe you’re the type who likes Star Wars figures with oversize heads. If so, grab a Darth Vader, Chewbacca, stormtrooper, or R2D2 Mimobot. Priced at $80 (1GB), $120 (2GB), and $170 (4GB), these weird little drives let you reveal your inner geek. The company also offers a couple dozen other styles, all of them cartoonish, kitschy, and unequivocally unique. Perfect for the gearhead who has everything.
Every dreamed of looking down at your coffee table and seeing your own book on it? That’s just one of the possibilities at Blurb, a service that lets you create actual, physical books and even sell them online. And not just spiral-bound Kinko’s-style throwaways, either, but heavyweight hardcovers with four-color dust jackets. (Budget-strapped self publishers can opt for less-expensive softcovers.) Using Blurb’s free software, you mix words and pictures to create cookbooks, baby journals, portfolios, or whatever.
Holiday Gift Guide
Video To Go
Video To Stay
The Game's Afoot
On The Road
Off The Wall
A caveat: This is strictly for families, friends, and your own ego -- these books do not come with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and so aren't sellable at Amazon or your local book store. Prices start at $19 for a 20- to 40-page softcover and $30 for a hardcover -- not including shipping.
Brando USB Heating Gloves
Everyone talks about having cold hands, but no one does anything about it. Well, if you’re sitting near a PC (or any other device with a powered USB port), you can jack in and warm up with Brando’s USB Heating Gloves ($22). Made of wool and available in both men’s and women’s styles, these hand warmers are just the thing for anyone suffering from frosty fingers.
What’s particularly smart about the gloves is that they have open fingertips so you can continue to type and use a mouse. But if your hands really get cold, you can pull the mitten-style cover (which has a second heating pad inside) over your fingers. The gloves have two heat settings and a disconnect plug so you can walk away from the PC without having to unplug the USB cable. Admittedly, the wires tend to get in the way a bit (and make you feel a bit like a Borg), but that’s a small price to pay for warm hands.
The 914 PC-BOT
The 914 PC-BOT ($4,995) is the closest you’re ever going to get to having your own R2D2. It’s a mechanized, motorized PC (complete with drive bays, webcam, and Windows XP) that bears more than a passing resemblance to C3PO’s little buddy. It supports both the Microsoft Robotics Studio and Linux platforms, meaning serious hobbyists can program it to their hearts’ content. The only thing it can’t do is erase our memories of Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III. Maybe next year’s model...
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See, it’s a rabbit. A Wi-Fi rabbit. Called Nabaztag. And it talks. Ah, hell, we can’t explain it. But it’s impossible not to love this little desktop gizmo, with its flashing lights, oscillating ears, and built-in voice synthesizer that announces news, weather reports, RSS feeds, and text messages. It also notifies you when friends come online or you’ve received new mail. And it can play music and sound effects. You can even "marry" it to another Nabaztag (and without the risk of a population explosion; they’re not real rabbits, after all). The price for the existing model is $150; the not-quite-shipping Nabaztag/tag (which offers WiFi support and an RFID scanner, among other goodies) had not been set at press time.
ThinkGeek USB Snowbot
Cross one of Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons (the robot kind, not the sexy blonde kind) with Frosty the Snowman, add a USB cable, and what do you get? The creepy-cute ThinkGeek USB Snowbot ($13), a perfect accessory for any office cube. It features a scanning LED eye (you can switch between menacing red and calming blue), articulating metal arms, and a decidedly Cylon-like sound effect (which, mercifully, you can turn off). At $13 apiece, they’re cheap enough for every geek on your list -- yourself included.