Welcome to the Black Friday edition of the GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide! We have lots of fun suggestions for you and/or the geeky dad in your life. As before, be sure to check out previous guides for more suggestions.
Star Wars Wampa Rug
It’s big, it’s furry, it’s a dead science fiction critter. That’s right, the monster that put Luke in the floaty tank is now going to grace your floor, bearskin rug style. Kids and kitties love it! Plush head, vinyl claws, and synthetic fur. Not made with real wampa.* Buy it from ThinkGeek.
D&D Castle Ravenloft Board Game
D&D’s most famous vampire Strahd von Zarovich got his start in 1983 in Ravenloft, a spooky and memorable adventure that came with probably the coolest castle map anyone had ever seen. The module and setting were an instant hit, and spawned numerous spinoffs including novels and an entire game setting.
The Castle Ravenloft board game plops you into the dungeons of the epic castle, using dungeon tiles to create an all-new maze every time you play, with traps and monsters placed anew. You can even play it solo! Best of all, for n00bs thinking of playing some D&D, the game’s mechanics serve as sort of an über stripped down version of the full D&D rules, so you can get a taste of the real thing while playing a board game.* Buy it from Amazon.
Nothing beats a hood for staving off the winter chill… except maybe for a customized one! I made this hoodie on Zazzle.com using the logo of my local hackerspace. It’s super slick, you can upload your own artwork or use theirs, and add your own text — they even have licensed DC Comics artwork you could use. And if a hoodie isn’t your think you can make a lot more — mugs, shoes, phone cases, skateboards and so on.* Customize a hoodie on Zazzle.com.
Future Sonics M5 Professional Earbuds
True audiophile earbuds packing excellent, dynamic sound and great sensitivity. You won’t find a bass too low for the Future Sonics. They also cost half what the competition charges while delivering comparable sound. If you choose the right in-ear sleeves (several sets included) you can wear them for hours on end. As an added bonus, the buds include a sturdy carrying case to protect your investment. Biuy them from Amazon.
Memento probably isn’t your typical geeky gift: it’s a hardbound journal. It’s not high-tech and doesn’t come with any gadgets. But the subject matter can certainly be very geeky: YOU. The point of Memento is for you to write your answers to the questions throughout, which guide you in telling your own story so that your kids (and their kids) can get to know you if you don’t survive the upcoming robot apocalypse. (Or zombies. Whichever.)
What’s great about the questions in Memento is that while they cover your typical “about me” subject matter like a family tree and “What I Believe,” there are also more personal questions, things that you might not share with your teenager but would want to tell them when they’re grown. Or, just questions that just don’t come up in everyday conversation but you’d wish for people to know when you’re gone. Ultimately, Memento is a way to share your thoughts and passions and memories with those who come after you—and isn’t that what GeekDad is all about? Read the full review or buy it from Amazon.
Scooby Doo and the Spooky Swamp
Play any of the Mystery, Inc. kids as they attempt to discover the truth behind a mysterious swamp denizen. Solve puzzles, decode secret messages, find gadgets and earn Scooby Snacks to buy new outfits and accessories for the characters. You can even travel beyond the swamp and check out a mountain village and a Old West ghost town! Rated E10+, and available for the Wii, DS and PS2.* Buy it from Amazon.
STM Convoy Backpack
The Convoy is a great backpack for bigger kids and adults. The first thing you’ll notice is how rugged the Convoy is. It’s covered in pockets on the outside and wonderfully padded for maximum comfort as well as for the protection of your stuff. Got a laptop? The Convoy sports a built-in sleeve able to accommodate up to 15″ machines. At 5 pounds it’s not some vinyl day-pack, but if you’re hauling around a two-grand lappy you want durability and protection. Definitely check out STM Bags. They have tons of travel options for iPads and laptops — sleeves, should bags, and so on.* Buy it from Amazon.
How to Teach Physics to Your Dog
About the highest praise you can give any science book is that it makes you feel smarter when you’re done reading it. And under that standard, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog is a winner. By presenting the material through the eyes of his highly curious and well-read dog Emmy, author Chad Orzel manages to cover some weighty topics – entanglement, teleportation, virtual particles – in a ways that’s both concrete and enjoyable. Science-minded older kids and adults will enjoy the fascinating explanation of how the universe really works.* Buy it from Amazon.
10 Days in… Games
The entire series of 10 Days in… games teach about world geography. Pick an area of the world, such as the USA, Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas, or get all of them (except USA) and play 20 Days Around the World, combining them into a larger playing experience. For each of the stand-alone games, game play is similar but with enough differences to make each unique, in addition to the completely different map. Regardless of which game you try, you will learn something new about the geography of the world. Buy them from Amazon.
Pathfinder Core Rulebook & Advanced Player’s Guide
Pathfinder is a D&D book for those who loved 3.5 and weren’t fans of how the rules changed for the 4th Edition. Thanks to D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast’s benevolent policy of licensing out their core rules system to small game publishers, Paizo was able to create this game — 3.5 if it had been taken to the next logical step. The Pathfinder Core Rulebook will get you started. It has everything you need for participating in a basic game.
The Adavcned Player’s Guide, by contrast, presents advanced rules for experienced players. You get new feats, new abilities, new classes, new spells, new magic items… you get the picture. Pathfinder is an exciting alternative for D&D fans who never lost their love for 3.5.
R2D2 Droid 2
With 16GB of internal storage (8GB onboard plus an additional 8 thanks to the bundled SDHC card), a bright 3.7 inch display and a fantastic slide-out keyboard, the original Motorola Droid 2 was generally well received by critics and users alike, and yet it noticeably lacked the nerd-friendly styling of its competitor the iPhone. Until now. Released in late September the R2-D2 edition Droid 2 combines all that is fun and functional about the Android mobile operating system with all that is awesome about the Star Wars saga’s most famous astromech. In honor of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back (considered by many to be the finest film in the original trilogy), this phone has been styled to mimic R2′s own unique color scheme. This little blue-and-white beauty also comes loaded with a fine selection of wallpapers, system sounds and specialty applications that honor the accomplishments of the true hero of the rebellion. Available from Verizon Wireless in limited quantities, this is not only a fully functional Android-driven smartphone, but the perfect collectable for the Star Wars fan on your holiday shopping list.
Minitronics: Survival Pack
Electronic prototyping kit stuffed into a mint tin! It comes with a mini breadboard, a 555 timer chip, LEDs, resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, and a lot more. You might find a bigger component pack. For instance, the Make: Electronics Components Pack seriously rocks. But it doesn’t fit in a mint tin, that’s for sure! The minitronics kit is great for circuit bending, macgyvering, and repairing. A wonderful stocking stuffer for dads! Buy it from the Maker Shed.
There used to be other roleplaying game periodicals, but one by one they fell victim to the booby traps of the crafty small ones. Now only Kobold Quarterly remains, a first-rate D&D magazine with support for 3.5, 4E, and Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It’s written by some of the best RPG writers around and is sure to provide you with tons of material for your campaign. Check it out at koboldquarterly.com.
RAM iPod/iPad Adapter Cables
If there’s an electronic device playing a part in your holiday gift giving plans, and it has connectivity needs, then cables make great stocking stuffers. For example, Xbox 360 bundles usually include only standard-def composite A/V cables, while adding HDMI lets you make the most of the console’s capabilities. With iPods, iPhones and iPads it may be tempting to plug into a home or car stereo via the iDevice’s headphone jack, but that cheats you out of the highest quality sound. There’s a reason speaker docks use the dock connector! Besides literally thousands of cables for connecting pretty much any two devices, RAM Electronics offers professional grade, iPro connection cables such as a mini plug to dock connector so you get the maximum sound quality through a stereo when connecting an iPod, iPad or iPhone. Specs are top notch, including gold plated audio connectors and silver plated cables with teflon insulation. These cables even look the part, with a braided techflex jacket and a cloth carrying pouch.*
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
A great fit for geeklings and parents alike, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a picture perfect platformer with a most unorthodox visual style. Come along with Kirby and Prince Fluff as they traverse elaborate environments of quilted patchwork to defeat the evil magician Yin-Yarn. The cleverly designed levels are a joy to explore, and even the map screen, which grows and branches as you unlock new content, is wholly engaging. A tight control scheme, drop-in two-player and gorgeously organic graphics make this a Wii must-own. It won’t likely impress your old college roommate quite like Black Ops multiplayer or wow grandma quite as well as Dance Central, but it will surely keep savvy gamers of all ages occupied well beyond its middling core play experience.*
“I Void Warranties” T-Shirt
This fine t-shirt sports a message dear to the hearts of geeks and DIYers everywhere: don’t be afraid to pop the cover of that gadget and see what makes it beep. Companies don’t want you to learn about electronics and learn how things work. If you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Buy it from ThinkGeek.
Villains United/Secret Six
This is a series about the bad guys but, in a strange way, it turns out among all the dark humor and battle sequences, it’s also a book about morality. The main characters of Secret Six may want to be good guys but they consistently make choices that put them on the wrong side of the law.
The tone of the book reminds me of “Grosse Pointe Blank,” which means it’s bleak in a good way. Example: to cheer up their lesbian leader after her lover has been killed, the members of the group hire a stripper who looks like the deceased to jump out of a cake. It’s completely not the right thing to do but it’s sweet if you have their skewed perspective. The series started with the Villains United trade paperback and continues in a regular series that begins with Secret Six: Unhinged.
The BBC High-Definition Natural History Collection 2
A few years back, when big, high definition flatscreen TVs were starting to really take off, I’m willing to bet that at least 7 out of 10 retailers were using BBC’s Planet Earth on Blu-Ray to sell people on the experience. This year, BBC is offering a compelling collection to remind you of how good your TV can be, while providing hours of educational viewing for the family. The BBC Natural History Collection 2 brings together a series of the best BBC nature documentaries in one box, including: Nature’s Most Amazing Events, South Pacific, Yellowstone and the award winning, 10-part Life series. Life features the original BBC narration by David Attenborough, which I prefer to the Discovery Channel Oprah Winfrey version. Available in DVD or Blu-Ray, but if you want to make the most of your set, Blu-Ray is the way to go.*. Buy it from Amazon.
Nintendo DSi/DSi XL
With the world waiting with bated breath for the 2011 release of the much anticipated 3DS, some would argue that late adoption of the present DSi or DSi XL iterations would be foolhardy. Those people are wrong. With a robust library of titles and a number of notable heavy hitters on the way (like Golden Sun: Dark Dawn and Kingdom Heart Re:coded), there is still ample fun to be had with this current crop of handhelds. You’ll likely find the special edition red Super Mario Bros 25th Anniversary DSi XL, which comes bundled with Mario Kart and a trio of DSiWire titles, particularly tempting.
Crystal Growing Kit
This kit gives you everything you need to grow two different kinds of crystals — monoammonium phosphate and potassium aluminum sulfate — in four different formations. Crystals not known to possess mystical properties beyond being super fun.* Buy it from Think Geek.
Logitech Z515 Bluetooth Portable External Speaker
Good audio quality, long battery life, and no wires makes the Logitech Z515 Portable External Speaker the piece of electronics I’ve enjoyed the most this year. It just works. Pair it once to your device, and the next time you turn it on nearby, it will automatically connect. Perfect for a day at the beach, or as the quiet source of music in your cubicle, it fills a very specific role, and does it perfectly.* Buy it from Amazon.
Lego Space Shuttle Adventure
As the shuttle program winds down, we’re reminded of how amazing the vehicles are, and that all things must come to an end. But when you’re playing with Lego bricks, you can keep on playing! This excellent model uses over 1,200 elements and includes three minifigs. You can play with it separately from its booster rockets and fuel tanks, you can extend and retract its landing gear, and even open up the cockpit to put the astronauts inside. Buy it from Amazon.
Robot Explorers: A Solar System Race Game
Space-themed board game for 2-4 players of ages 5 and up. The goal is to visit all eight planets (yes, it’s updated to demote Pluto) and collect samples — gas specimens from Neptune, Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter and rock samples from Mercury, Venus and Mars, with cute animals collected from Earth. The game is published by eeBoo, a small game and stationery publisher who uses a lot of eco-friendly inks and recycled materials in their products. Robot Explorers is no exception, being plastic free and made from 75% recycled content and soy-based inks.* Buy it from Amazon.
For The Win
Cory Doctorow’s latest ‘Young Adult’ fiction novel, ‘For The Win, is at it’s heart a story about the little people rising up against The Man. Centered around the idea of gold farming within MMO games, it pulls together disparate kids from all over the globe as they struggle to survive in the sweatshops run by gangsters where they play the games for a meagre wage. The workers band together to fight the system and demand better working conditions, by forming a union called the Webblies (an homage to the Wobblies).
As with many of Doctorow’s books, it’s set a the not to distant future where MMOs seem to be everywhere – run by the likes of Coca-Cola and Nintendo – and is incredibly well researched. And this is where its real strength lies, not in the story itself, which is gripping and entertaining enough, but for me there seems to be too many characters to really keep track of. No, the beauty of the story is the way Doctorow weaves global economics lessons into the flow, explaining the complexities of inflation, deflation and ‘fully-hedged virtual futures’ through their online virtual counterparts inside the MMOs. After reading it, you can easily see how we’ve got into our current financial situation.
Doctorow has always given away his novels for free from his website, and runs a scheme whereby if you download a free version (various formats are available; ePub, Kindle, HTML, PDF etc.), you’re encouraged to donate a copy to a school or library, which is a great idea in the season of goodwill.
*Indicates a review of a product for which the author received a free sample.