2010 GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide #2

Gift Guide Hacking the Holidays

If it’s Friday during the holiday season, then chances are there will be a GeekDad Gift Guide coming out. This one is #2, and there will be 5 more before we’re done. Stay tuned for those, but if you absolutely need more ideas now, be sure to check out previous years’ gift guides.

Extech EX210 Multimeter
Surprisingly feature-packed digital multimeter that will quickly become an essential ally for any hobbyist or homeowner. Of course it measures all the usual: voltage, current, resistance, continuity, and so on. However, the EX210′s killer feature is its non-contact IR thermometer, letting you determine the temperature of a particular spot without touching it. And to help aim it properly, a laser pointer kicks in when you trigger the thermometer. As a bonus, the EX210 is very sexy and compact for such a full-featured ‘meter.* Buy it from Amazon.

Batman, the Brave & the Bold Video Game
Side-scrolling action game that expertly evokes the animated series, as Batman and his allies rumble with baddies in alleys, laboratories, and the mysterious Planet Oa. Use all of Batman’s famous gadgets, solve puzzles, and unlock cool extras. In a awesome bonus, you can pull in a DS-packing friend to unlock Bat-Mite as a playable character and fight alongside the heroes. Rated E10+* Buy it from Amazon.

Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver Replica
This replica of the final evolution of the multipurpose tool slash plot-saving deus ex machina will keep any fan of the 11th Doctor grinning. It packs a green LED and a spring-loaded opening action and emits authentic-seeming audio effects. Very cool gift!* Buy it from ThinkGeek.com.

511 Tactical Clothing
Geeks like quality hardware. That’s true of our computers and it should be true of our clothes as well. If you work in a “business casual” environment, but want clothes that aren’t carbon copy clones of the drones in the next cube, then 5.11 Tactical is right for you (or the geek you’re buying holiday presents for). The tactical pants and shirts were originally designed for law-enforcement, but the sturdy construction and plethora of pockets and hiding places is perfect for geeks and the arsenal of gadgets we like to carry with us. Everything fits well, feels comfortable and durable, washes easily, and fits in a variety of environments. It’s perfect geekware! Buy it from 511tactical.com.

DeskPets Skitterbots
Clever and fast (1 ft. per second) 2″ roach-robots scuttle around at the beck and call of small hand-held remote controls, which also double as the robots’ chargers. The controllers themselves recharge via any USB port. They come in 4 light-up colors, each representing a different frequency, letting four bots interact without their signals crossing. Buy them from Radio Shack or Toys R Us.

Amazon Kindle E-Reader
By far the most popular and best-designed pure e-reader on the market, the Kindle got a bump this year when the prices dropped to ridiculously low prices — $139 for the wifi model, $189 for the 3G/wifi model and $379 for the big papa Kindle DX that features a bigger screen and gets its data either via 3G or wifi. For the 3G readers, you don’t need a plan — the price of the 3G connectivity comes with the price of the unit. And if you think that e-books aren’t catching on, check this out: Amazon now sells more e-books than paper books.

Native Union Moshi Moshi Handset
Plug-in handset for iPods, iPads, iPhones, and other wireless devices packing a 3.5mm jack. It looks like a classic Bakelite phone but it’s all modern with a comfortable rubber-like surface, excellent audio quality, and a single button to hang up or dial. Adaptors available for most common phone brands as well as USB computer ports. Available in black and red versions from Amazon.

Zero Day
MC Frontalot’s latest is a 16-track opus centered on topics as disparate as disaster flicks, the laughable inconveniences of those of us in the world’s most developed nations and Wil Wheaton. Yes, the Wil Wheaton. Perhaps more astounding is the list of included guest stars and collaborators for this go-round – nerdcore brethren like Beefy and Schaffer the Darklord, geek celebs John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton and even the UK’s finest purveyor of “chap-hop” Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer. All this can be yours as well as the diabolically complex “Painstakingly Concealed Secret Track.” Oh joy! Oh rapture! Zero Day is available as a digital download from both iTunes and Amazon MP3, and yes there’s even a CD version for those of you who insist on physical media.

Yetisburg: Titanic Battles in History
Fun two-player, easy-to-learn card game set in an alternate Civil War with Canadian yeti mercenaries and mastodon artillery backing up Union and Confederate troops. The game consists of two 65-card decks, 60 tokens, an initiative marker, and a rulebook. The game takes about 30 minutes to play. Buy it from Paizo.com.

Forbidden Island
Your team is on a mysterious island, attempting to collect four ancient treasures of untold worth. The trouble is, the island is sinking as you explore it. Do you shore up the island, buying yourself more time, or do you run for the treasures and hope there’s still a path back to the helicopter later?

That’s the dilemma you’ll face in Forbidden Island, a cooperative board game designed by Matt Leacock, the man behind the popular fight-the-disease board game Pandemic. Forbidden Island is a fast-paced game for two to four players, and it uses a clever mechanic to represent the sinking island. Each time the water level rises you’ll get a sense of impending doom. With an adjustable difficulty level, the game is simple enough to teach your kids but deep enough to keep you engaged, too. Forbidden Island has won several awards, among them this year’s Mensa Select Award. full review.*

Eye-Fi Pro Wireless Flash Memory Card
It boggles my mind why anyone would use a cord to download photos from their digital camera, when something as brilliant as the Eye-Fi wireless flash memory card exists. It’s just what it sounds like, a regular memory card that has a chip in it, connecting to your wireless network and automatically snagging your pix and posting them to your favorite photo hosting site. And they’re easy to set up. Less than 10 minutes after you open the package you’ll be in business, and won’t have to touch the settings again until you change your wifi password or something.* Buy it from Amazon.

Pioneer Steel Wheels Headphones
Sweet, midrange headphones with a lovely DJ-esque style. But they’re not just cool looking, they offer robust specs like 105dB sensitivity, 1200 mW max input, and a robust 40mm driver that delivers excellent sound. And they’re practical too, they’re foldable and comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. Buy them from Amazon.

Arduino Uno
The maker community’s favorite prototype board has grown up and gained a point release. The Ardiuno Uno and its cross platform development environment are designed to take the mystery out of microcontroller programming. The Uno is based on the AVR line of processors from
Atmel. The official boards start at $30, and compatible boards can be found as low as $15. For people who are new to electronics, hardware or programming, I’d also recommend the book “Getting Started with Arduino“. It starts out with the basics, including a refresher on electricity and electronics and works up to some easy to moderate projects.

Zero History
William Gibson’s writing is at its highest level, on par with his masterwork Neuromancer, but it’s completely different. Set in the present day, Zero History follows a eccentric group of investigators trying to track down a “secret brand” of jeans called Gabriel Hounds. My inadequate description makes the plot seem very banal, but it’s not. Gibson burrows down into this real yet unreal world and the story unfolds in a convoluted and surprising way without stooping to cheap twists. Definitely a must-read of 2010. Buy it on Amazon.

DC Comics Chuck Taylors
Geeky t-shirts are a dime a dozen. (Okay, not literally, but you get the idea.) Nerdtastic footwear, on the other hand, is a bit harder to come by. This is exactly what makes the new DC Comics line from Converse so alluring. These classically-styled canvas high-tops emblazoned with the likeness of Superman, Batman or Green Lantern definitely make a statement. More specifically they make the statement “I both enjoy comic books and sensible footwear.” Best of all, these beautiful kicks are as close as your nearest shopping mall. Available in standard mens/womens sizes at your local Journeys, they’ll set you back $54.99 a pair, but they’re worth their weight in Kryptonite.

Dark Sun D&D Campaign Setting
Dark Sun is a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting for Dungeons & Dragons involving a world called Athas, the swords and sorcery equivalent of Mad Max: a desert world where water, steel and kindness are in short supply, where magic destroys the environment and the kings and queens are exclusively evil. Elves are untrustworthy merchants and halflings are cannibals. New PC races include muls (half-dwarves) and thri-kreen (insect men) add to the setting’s uniqueness. It’s a riot!

Old hands at D&D will know that Dark Sun was a product line in the ’90s, and may wonder, what’s different over the old version? Let’s just say that the changes are dramatic in terms of game rules, while minimal where it pertains to the feel, the atmosphere, of the original. None of the old classes like preservers, templars and gladiators are there, but a new rule called “themes” lets you play the role of a dune trader or Veiled Alliance (the preserver underground) operative, while still being able to pick any race and any class you want. D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast has introduced “new” PC races like tieflings and dragonborn, and tweaked the thri-kreen. There are too many rule changes to go into but take it from someone who loved the old DS, the new one has the same zing to it.* Buy the Campaign Setting book and Creature Catalog from Amazon.

Powermat Charging Systems
The Powermat system is a really cool idea, well executed. It uses induction (the fact that electrical current flowing through one coil of wire will induce a current in a second, adjacent but unconnected coil of wire) to allow the charging of electronic devices without having to plug them in via the ubiquitous proprietary cables and adapters we’ve all grown to hate. Most smart phones and portable gaming devices can be given a special case which allows the user to simply lay it down on a charging mat to refresh the battery. The real benefit is for a family who buys into the ecosystem – every phone and game device with a charging case, and one central Powermat for everyone to use, rather than half a dozen plugs and wired situated all around the house.*

The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done
Author Peter Miller, a National Geographic senior editor, investigates hives, colonies and swarms and correlates this complex systems with the way human beings interact. Put simply, the way insect swarms operate can tell us a lot about human dynamics, particularly the way leaderless crowds of people function. A fascinating read. Buy it from Amazon.

Rory’s Story Cubes
Rory’s Story Cubes are a set of nine storytelling dice with universal images and themes on them. With a group, roll them and tell a story using all of the dice. On your own, roll them to inspire creative writing. You can also make up your own games! These dice are versatile, and children naturally know what to do with them. Made by The Creativity Hub in Ireland, you can take Rory’s Story Cubes along with you on a trip, to holiday gatherings or just keep them in your bag. Then you’ll be ready to tell stories anywhere. Buy them from Amazon.

My First Bacon
The deranged minds at Think Geek come up with ludicrously fake products like the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag as April Fools’ pranks, but they’ve underestimated their customers’ lust for bizarre fan accoutrements. Some of these fake products ended up actually getting produced. One of this year’s offerings is My First Bacon, a talking, plush strip of bacon. Just what every kid needs! Buy it from ThinkGeek.

Pajaggle is a cross between a puzzle and a game. On the surface it looks pretty but not too challenging—until you sit down and give it a shot. Then you’ll discover how addictive it is. With lots of different ways to play, Pajaggle is something that the whole family can play—from your preschooler to your grandparents. Made of laser-cut acrylic, the pieces look like Spirograph doodles. It can be tricky telling one piece from the next, but when you snap one in place there’s no question if it belongs. With a couple Pajaggle boards, there are even more ways to play competitively. At the end of October Pajaggle released several new colors so there are several more options to choose from. Read the full review or buy it from Amazon.

Zhu Pets Battle Hamsters
For kids ages four to ten, these little armored hamsters are a bargain at less than $10. They tweet, burp, and make various sorts of noises while equipped with sensors to avoid everyday household obstacles, including cats. But they are most fun while fighting other hamsters. To get the most enjoyment out of these battles, you’ll also need to invest in the Kung Zhu Battle Arena, retail priced at $34.99.

Triops: A Very Unusual Creature
We’ve raised triops several times now, and it’s always amazing. But I couldn’t find a good source of information on these low-maintenance pets until Helen Pashley and Lori Adams came out with Triops: A Very Unusual Creature. Also known as tadpole shrimp, triops look like horseshoe crabs but only grow to be about 3 inches in length. And because they live in ephemeral pools (basically, puddles that dry up after a few weeks), they’re the perfect pet for families who don’t want to make a big commitment to animal care. All you need is a kit with eggs, food, and “conditioner” (really starter food, even smaller creatures the triops will eat until they’re big enough for pellets and carrot shavings.) Grow them in a salad bar clamshell (under an incandescent desk light, if your house is chilly) and you’ll get a month or two of enjoyment from them. Sprinkle some sand on the bottom and you might even get a second generation from the eggs they lay.* Buy the book and kit from Amazon.

The Phoenix Hexapod
There are a number of great hexapod robots on the market, none of which can really be considered cheap. Six legs, times three degrees of freedom equals 18 servos which make up about half the cost of the robot. The rest of the cost goes into the frame, servo horns and electronics. If money is no object, the very capable Phoenix Hexapod by Lynxmotion starts around $1000 and comes with a PS2 style remote and is pre-programmed with numerous walking gaits. Buy it from Trossen Robotics.

* Denotes reviews for which the author received a free product sample.

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