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2007 Gift Guide

Tech Stuff

Keep it simple when shopping for that hard-to-understand geek


You are a techno-plebe. No shame in that. Maybe you are even one of those few remaining Luddites who have so far made it without a cell phone, iPod, or Second Life avatar. OK. But chances are you know someone who has all three, and that person is on your holiday shopping list. Don’t panic. We know that those iPhone first-adopters’ interests can seem so esoteric—they can go on and on about nanobots, Gentoo, and the coming singularity—but geeks aren’t all that complicated. When shopping for them, you just have to know where to look. So, if you want your gift to be a hit, listen to us and put down that M.C. Escher desk calendar. Stop eyeing those 3D posters. Let’s get them something different this year.

The trick is to think like a geek. And lucky for you, there is even a Web site devoted to that very task:

Let’s start with some old-fashioned technology: cutlery. It’s something everyone needs. But not just any ole piece of cutlery, we want the geekiest, most preposterous utensil ever to make it into a kitchen drawer: the spork. And what could make this 1800s economy of resource the ultimate? Titanium. That’s right. Titanium Spork ($8.99) is made from the super-strong and super-light chemical element known to the geeky ones as Ti. If titanium is good enough to ferry astronauts into the outer orbits, its good enough for their mac-n-cheese. This will make the perfect stocking stuffer (pointy-side down).

Geeks like things that glow. And they like things that are “smart.” They are amused and pleased by clever variations on the basic properties of most any day-to-day object. The Ambient Forecasting Umbrella ($99.99) is the product of some clever tinkering with a ubiquitous standard. The umbrella’s handle houses a WiFi receiver that independently pings to discover whether or not its elements-blocking services will be needed for the day. If it looks like rain, the blue LEDs ringing the handle will flash; and the higher the chances, the quicker the flashes. But don’t buy it just for its Sci-Fi qualities alone; ThinkGeek claims that it is also a finely constructed umbrella, sporting a 58-inch “gust busting” dual canopy.

Most geeks like to have information. Lots of it. They like to organize it, categorize it, analyze it, and carry it around with them. For that last task, USB thumb drives have become an essential geek accessory. For the serious—and seriously paranoid—geek, encryption is also a top priority. Besides looking totally rad, Ironkey ($78.99-$148.99) thumb drives offer up to 4 GB of data storage protected by military-grade hardware encryption. If that doesn’t sound geeky enough, check out ThinkGeek’s description of the encryption technology: “first locally encrypted with 256-bit AES, using randomly generated keys encrypted with a SHA-256 hash of your device password . . . then doubly encrypted with 128-bit AES hardware encryption.” And while you are at it, throw in a copy of Neil Stephenson’s classic crypto-tome, Cryptonomicon, (Harper Perennial, 928 pages, $11.53). That’ll earn ya some geek points.

Speaking of books, if your geek fantasizes about the fast-approaching dawn of robot revolution, then How to Survive a Robot Uprising (Bloomsbury/ Holtzbrinck, 176 pages, $10.99) ought to be the perfect gift. The author, Daniel Wilson, keeps this breezy read brainy enough to satisfy scientific curiosity, but amusing enough to keep the pages turning.

But, of course, real geeks love, love, love real robots. If you want to really be a hit this holiday, max out that credit card with the Bioloid Humanoid Robotics Kit ($899.99). The robot boasts 18 servos and a CM-5 module “brain” running an Atmel ATMega128 based mcu. Mean nothing to you? Well, it means something to somebody you love. The Bioloid can be assembled to look like a humanoid, or it can be assembled to look like the thing humanoids one day will tremble beneath. It can be programmed to walk and interact with its environment. In a word: Awesome.

Go on, make a geek’s holiday a happy one. I promise it will be painless.

—Chet Hardin


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