And so, we conclude our annual series of gift guides. The writers who contributed to the guide labored long and hard to collect the most awesome suggestions, and we hope you find them useful. Have a great holiday season!
Space Invaders Cutting Board
Battle the evil invaders from space, only now you can use your chef’s knife instead of laser blasts. Hand made from walnut and maple, this elite cutting board would make a great gift for any geek-chef. Buy it on ThinkGeek.
Squatz Fizz N Find
Squatz are little plastic dolls with swappable heads, buried in a chalk-like substance that dissolves in warm water. Drop a Squatz ball in a bowl of water and watch the ball dissolve, revealing a cute little guy! Not only do you get the surprise of watching the doll appear, but you get to play with it afterwards. The Squatz were a huge hit with the kids at my house last Christmas — even the teenager! — and I’m sure this year will be no different. Great stocking stuffer. Buy them on Amazon.
Apple’s revamped Apple TV ditches the hard drive — which was a royal PITA to synch, believe you me — in favor of a pure streaming device the size of a hockey puck. Rent movies from iTunes or Netflix, view content on YouTube and Flickr, and stream the tracks from your home computer. All this with Apple’s famed ease-of-use, including a free iOS app to control your setup. Buy it from Amazon.
Hunter Series Skeet Shooter is like a cross between my angry toaster and laser tag. Each clay pigeon is equipped with a sensor that detects a hit and breaks the disk in two. The launching mechanism is a little weak but elevating it on an ottoman or table allows the pigeons to reach a respectable altitude. Also recommended is the less expensive Duck Hunter.
The newest iPod Touch offers a number of amazing amenities – it boasts two cameras for FaceTime and 720p HD video recording, pairs the accelerometer with a three-axis gyroscope, features a beautiful 960×640 retina display and includes a beefy A4 chip to ensure the processing power to enjoy it all. Most importantly it’s the closest thing you can get to an iPhone without having to sign a contract. There’s never been a better time to pick up an iPod Touch, and there’s never been a more robust iPod than the new 4th Generation system. Come along, friends, for a world of Genius playlists and 99 cent Apps awaits!
Sounds Like a Plan
Love to give advice? Sounds Like a Plan is the game for you. Everyone takes turns picking something from a to-do list, and collecting advice cards from other players. Whoever gives the most appropriate advice for the task at hand gets the most points. Seems easy enough, until you see the to-do lists: “Get to Carnegie Hall. Become a superhero. Ride a Camel.” For an additional spin, there’s a die which determines whether you’re looking for the best advice, worst advice, or advice from a kid or a grandma. For 4 to 8 players, ages 10 and up, this game is fun for the whole family. Read the review or buy it from Amazon.
This graphic novel follows the travails of Sean, an outsider kid who finds himself orphaned and bullied throughout his childhood, but after he is adopted by his grandfather, learns to deal with the abuse. Surprise surprise, Heart Transplant is more of a self help book for bullied kids, disguised as entertainment. Definitely check it out if a kid you know is dealing with this. Buy it from Amazon.
If you have any electronic device or peripheral in your house that could use a facelift, a new look and a little bit of protection from scrapes and smudges, Gelaskins are a great way to inexpensively personalize your gadgets. After reviewing them back in March, I’ve grown so fond of these things that I’ve since bought a bunch more. They now adorn many devices in this house from a MacBook Pro to a Rock Band guitar controller, iPods, a Nintendo DS and eBook readers. You can buy Gelaskins on Amazon, or hit their site (www.gelaskins.com) to browse through hundreds of artwork samples that can be custom tailored for over 100 different devices (including this very cool Steampunk on Kindle effect). The 3M adhesive stays on, but it’s also easy to remove -without residue- if you decide it’s time for a change.* Buy it from Amazon.
These stylish, durable, wooden toy cars are perfect for your aspiring tinker or future shade tree mechanic. With a unique modular design, the body of each vehicle splits easily into three parts, and the wheels and windshield also quickly snap off. A single Automoblox vehicle helps a geekling develop fine motor skills, but a whole fleet encourages imaginative mixing and matching as well as logic-based problem solving. Though the original full-size models are admirably robust toys, the Mini line hits a sweet spot with regard to price point. Both styles are available at Amazon and a finer toy stores everywhere.
Um, it’s a wallet… that looks like bacon. Six credit card slots, three bonus pockets, and it looks like bacon. Note, it’s actually printed vinyl. Buy it from ThinkGeek.
Pololu 3pi Robot
The Pololu 3pi robot is a ready to program robot with lots of possibilities. With its ATmega 328 microcontroller, speedy dual gearmotors and high traction tires it is a great platform to work on maze solving or line following algorithms. The 3pi also features an LCD, 3 push buttons and some LEDs. Despite sharing a processor with the Arduino, the 3pi is not Arduino compatible, but there are free compilers and programming tools available for it.
Electronic Snap Circuits
Teach your kids (or yourself) basic electronic circuit concepts and diagrams without broken or bent wires, a breadboard, or confusing directions. There are many different sizes and levels of Electronic Snap Circuits available, ranging from teaching the very basics to much more complicated circuit design. Extensive project directions are included with each kit, allowing you to build a vast array of projects. Once you’re familiar with basic circuit design, you can also create your own. Buy it from Amazon.
Sexy little rechargeable batteries that look like garden-variety AAs, but check it out, pop off the end cap and you see standard USB plugs. Need a quick charge? Plug them directly into your computer. Buy them from Amazon.
Yet another in the clever line of Joby Gorilla products, that began with the Gorillapod, a small, bendy-legged, magnetic tripod that can position your camera anywhere. With the Flare, they substitute an LED flashlight for the usual camera lug; you get a 100-lumen white light, a red light, and the option to flash either. Buy it from Amazon.
Klipsch LightSpeaker and AudioRock
This is not a stocking-stuffer kind of gift suggestion. This is a recommendation for audio geeks who want to have a little fun and kick their home setup up a notch. The Klipsch Lightspeaker system is a wireless speaker system that lets you hide your speakers in your home lighting. Each speaker is also an energy efficient LED lighting module that will fit in most standard recessed lighting enclosures, allowing you to fill a room with both light and sound, and negating the need to run wires all over the place. The add-on AudioRock lets you take the sound outdoors for summer parties with a rechargeable battery-powered speaker hidden in a faux-rock enclosure. Klipsch is a well-respected speaker company, and the audio quality is excellent.*
Lego Education WeDo Robotics
If your kids aren’t yet ready for Lego NXT Mindstorms 2.0 but you’re looking to teach them robotics, programming and building skills, Lego Education’s WeDo Robotics Construction Set is perfect. For elementary school kids, WeDo combines the fun of building things out of Lego bricks and other specialized pieces with learning mechanical engineering, and robotics and programming design. The accompanying software steps kids through the many included lessons with animated minifigs to help them along the way. Great for homeschooling or for after-school learning.
Toy Story 3
Pixar’s Toy Story 3 makes its way onto Blu-ray in time for the Christmas season and, fingers crossed, into my stocking too. Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang return to round off the trilogy that began back in 1995. Andy is about to leave for college and needs to decide what he wants to keep and what goes to charity. After the inevitable mix up, all the toys find themselves in a day care center and that’s where the fun really begins. Look out for a top turn from Michael Keaton as Barbie’s love interest Ken. Extras include the wonderful ‘Day and Night’ short and a docu featuring the all voice talent for the characters. It’s a great movie for all the family to enjoy and Pixar once again succeeds in making grown men cry.
Marian Call CDs
Marian Call, geek musician lady extraordinaire, is extremely talented with a beautiful voice. Her 49>50 Tour has taken her to all 50 states this year. If you love music about geeks, Firefly, Alaska, or Battlestar Galactica, give Marian a listen. Two of her CDs, Vanilla and Got to Fly, are both excellent. And if you ever have a chance to listen to her live, jump at the chance. She puts on a fun show. Buy them from Amazon.
Not quite as friendly as the Arduino, but as capable, the TI LaunchPad is a good entry level for any geek who is serious about physical computing. The LaunchPad is based on the MSP430 family of microcontrollers and can be found for a low $4.30. Free tools, including an integrated development environment, compiler, and howto guides can be found on the Texas Instruments wiki.
Stirling Engine Kit
Assemble-yourself mini engine that runs on the heat of your hand. It’s cool and cool looking, and will wow your loved ones with its cool science. Buy it from ThinkGeek.
Leatherman New Wave
The latest and greatest Leatherman out there, a refinement of their Wave multitool. In addition to the classic pliers and obligatory knife you have a multi-bit screwdriver, wire cutters, wire stripper, scissors, saw, and file. This is one of the best multitools out there. Buy it from Amazon.
Brand new and super sexy prototyping board for an Arduino. It has a ton of user-configurable pins and lets you assemble circuits on the fly without requiring solder. Even better, you can stack yet another shield on top of it and you’ll retain the functionality of all three boards. I just ordered one of these bad boys and I can’t wait to play around with it. Buy it from the Maker Shed.
Tomy I-SOBOT Robot
Tomy makes one of the smallest and least expensive humanoid robots. The I-SOBOT is assembled and ready to play. 17 custom actuators provide a wide range of movement and a built in gyro aids with balance. Once you tire of the 200 pre-programmed movements, you can program your own and record your voice for the robot to play back on command.
Star Wars Millennium Falcon – A 3-D Owner’s Guide
There isn’t a male Star Wars fan in existence who hasn’t at some point in his life wished he owned the Millennium Falcon. The Star Wars: Millennium Falcon – A 3-D Owner’s Guide book may not be quite as good, but it’s a lot of fun anyway. The book tears apart the Falcon in lateral slices, describing the hardware with occasional comments from previous owners Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. For added fun, look carefully and you can spot Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids.
Lego Harry Potter – Hogwarts Castle
One of the new sets Lego came out with this fall before the first part of Deathly Hallows hit the big screen, Hogwarts Castle is a highly-detailed and very attractive one. It’s got all sorts of little things that Harry Potter fans will recognize immediately, and funny little touches like single studs representing owl poop. Lego enthusiasts will appreciate the ten minifigs the set comes with, including Harry, Voldemort and two dementors. The other new big Harry Potter set, Hogwarts Express, is also beautiful and includes a very amusing Luna Lovegood minifig.