GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide #6

Hacking the Holidays

This is our final gift guide of the year. Thanks to all of my GeekDad brethren (and sistren!) for contributing their best ideas — this edition contains suggestions from Charles Laughton (CL), Matt Blum (MB), Curtis Silver (CS), Z (Z), and myself (JB). Be sure to check out our previous gift guides for more ideas!

Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7

Once again Lego has made use of their excellent brick-oriented game engine, which lets players take on the role of a minifig, blasting bad guys and solving puzzles. This, the second Lego Harry Potter game, finishes out the series with a brick-tastic remaining of scenes from the final three books. What the series has done really well is to align levels around epic events and locations from the books, letting you explore Diagon Alley, for instance, or the Ministry of Magic. Potter Fans will love the attention to detail and the 200 playable characters from the books, and gamers who liked Lego Batman will enjoy the gameplay with this one as well. Buy it from Amazon — also, you can grab Years 1-4 for a song if you don’t have it already. (JB)

Underworld Trilogy

This set includes Blu-Ray copies of Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, a series of movies are packed with action — not to mention gorgeous costuming and set decoration — and chronicle the battles between vampires and werewolves. The standout is Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampiric “death dealer” in the first two movies who does the warrior thing at the expense of a legion of baddies. But wait! There are two interesting features to the set beyond the three movies. First, they enclose a disk of exclusive anime shorts. Second, the movies debut on Sony’s streaming service, UltraViolet, so you can (theoretically) watch them anywhere without needing the disks. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)

uDraw Gametablet

Where guitar games are perfect for the budding musician, uDraw Gametablet is perfect for the young artist. Perfect for the high definition world of Xbox 360 and PS3, users can play, draw and share their creations in full HD. With a ten inch touchscreen, with normal pinch-and-stretch capabilities, and an included stylus, the tablet has everything you need to get started drawing on screen. With a selection of interactive games that require drawing, tilting and movement of the tablet, it’s a very interactive controller as well. Controller functions are embedded in the tablet, so you don’t have to use a controller to get started. Overall, the uDraw Gametablet is a fun and interactive addition to your gaming collection. Available in all forms at (CS)

Pelican 1920 LED Flashlight

Pen-sized flashlight with a sturdy metal barrel. It puts out some decent light (67 lumens) with 2.75 hours of light on two AAAs. Its thick aluminum body is as durable as the Pelican reputation suggests. Its size — about that of a short, thick pen — seems perfect for keeping in a tool box or purse. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)

Sony PlayStation 3D Display

You know how all those Blu-ray packs and a lot of the new video games have 3D versions, but 3D-capable TVs are still really expensive? Here’s a cheaper, if not cheap, option: The Sony PlayStation 3D Display. Retailing for $499.99, this 24″ display is made to work with the PS3 (obviously), but also works fine connected to a cable box, an Xbox or Blu-ray player (or anything else with HDMI output). For PS3s, it supports Sony’s SimulView technology, which leverages the 3D capabilities to allow two players to see different (2D) views on the same screen at the same time, without splitting it — although using this would require buying a second set of 3D glasses, which Amazon has for $49.99, since the display only comes with one. The display comes with MotorStorm: Apocalypse, which supports 3D and SimulView. Amazon has the display for retail price, and Game Stop has a deal going until December 20 that gets you a copy of Uncharted 3 thrown in as well. (MB)

6th-Scale Bruce Lee Figure — ’70s Suit Edition

Exquisite posable figure packing the requisite ripped muscles and seventies-tastic suit. Thirty points of articulation, interchangeable hands, and cool shades allow you to customize the figure to your liking. Buy it from Sideshow Collectables. (JB)

Harry Potter: The Complete 8 Film Collection

I’ve been waiting for this to come out for a while for several reasons. Firstly I never managed to make it to the cinema for The Deathly Hallows Part 2. Secondly, I’ve just made the jump to Blu-ray at home and consequently haven’t even brought the last couple of movies. And lastly, we’ve just started reading The Philosopher’s, er, sorry, Sorcerer’s, Stone to our little girl and she’s loving it and wanting several chapters at a time, so it won’t be long now until she’s ready to watch the movies too.

Maybe a post-Christmas marathon will be on the cards to see Harry grow from the little boy under the stairs to all the conquering hero in about 16 hours rather than the 10 years we had to wait for the books/movies to come out. They’re the single editions of the movies with no bonus discs, but for only $80 for the Blu-rays or $49 for the DVDs, you still getting a bargain. And for once it seems that UK readers get the better deal as the Blu-ray set is only £32 and the DVD set is a measly 25 quid. (NB)

Legend of Drizzt Board Game

Legend of Drizzt is a cooperative board game for 1-5 players and features miniatures, cards detailing heroes and monsters, dungeon tiles to create the playfield, an adventure book, and 200 encounter and treasure cards. It uses a stripped down version of Dungeons and Dragons, and even comes with a d20 for resolution. Each scenario has the title hero and his companions exploring dungeons and battling foes — including a massive Balor whose figure is 5″ tall and wide! The super intriguing thing about this game is that it’s compatible with Wizards’ other D&D board games, Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, allowing you to mix things up with characters, monsters, and dungeon tiles from those other sets. Make an all new game! Buy it from Amazon. (JB)

Bushnell Backtrack D-Tour GPS Device

Fun GPS unit that is limited in some respects while offering neat capabilities for those who may not have GPS on their phones. You can set up to five locations and find your way back (via arrows, not turn-by-turn). It packs an auto-calibrating digital compass as well. Another fun feature is that you can download, via USB, a report of the BackTrack’s movements to see where you hiked, though uncoolly, you need to register and download an app to get the data and can’t access it on the device itself. The perfect thing for a kid’s hike or geocache expedition. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)

Arduino Mega ADK

You know about the Arduino, right — an easily programmable microcontroller favored by electronics hobbyists and electrical engineers for dramatically reducing the time between concept and prototype. The Arduino Mega is a plus-sized ‘Duino that offers many more I/O pins allowing vastly more complicated projects. The Arduino Mega ADK packs a USB host controller, making the board Google SDK compatible allowing you to control your projects with your phone. Learn more about the Arduino Mega ADK on or buy from the Maker Shed. (JB)

Hot Wheels Video Racer

The Video Racer is a motorized car packing not only a video camera, but a tiny color LCD on then underbelly to watch your footage. It also comes with a mounting kit allowing kids to attach the car/camera to their skateboards and bikes, for cool action shots! The car holds half a gig and you can mount it like a flash drive on your computer via USB, allowing the movies to be removed for online viewing. The resolution won’t blow dad away — 640×480 in “fast mode” and 320×240 standard — but kids won’t care. (JB)

Graveborn — Magic: The Gathering Premium Deck Series

The latest in Magic’s premium, all-foil deck series, Graveborn features a sinister black reanimation deck packed with all sorts of nasties like the Putrid Imp, Hidden Horror, and my personal fave, Crosis the Purger, a dragon that forces opposing players to discard cards from their hand. (For noobs, a foil is a card with a metallic sheen to it, and Wizards reserves all the coolest cards for this format.) Buy it from Amazon. (JB)

Revolution in the Valley

With the passing of Steve Jobs this year, I’m sure the biography by Walter Isaacson is on many reader’s wish lists this year. I submit to you an alternate book, Andy Hertzfeld’s fantastic book Revolution in the Valley: The
Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made
. This book is a collection of anecdotes, divided in to five parts, that tell the history of the Macintosh by the people who actually designed, coded and built the thing. Yes, there are stories about Steve there, but there is so much more. Reading this book gives you the sense of what it was like to work at Apple before it became the Apple of today. It is, by far, my favorite book about technology. Read the full review or buy it from Amazon. (CL)

Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume One

The Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume One is a must-have for any lover of the classic cartoons. Chock full of classics like “One Froggy Evening,” “What’s Opera, Doc?,” “Duck Dodgers and the 24½th Century,” and “Feed the Kitty,” among dozens more, this collection is the first to include this many of the best Looney Tunes shorts in HD. It also comes with several documentaries about the legendary Chuck Jones and a few other fun extra cartoons (not all of which are HD, but some of which have never been released even to DVD before). The set retails for $59.96, but Amazon has it for $35.99; there’s also an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” available for $79.98 (or $45.99 at Amazon) that comes with a Bugs Bunny shot glass (no, really) and a few other goodies. (MB)


Rocksmith is the evolutionary apex of instrument gaming. Instead of slapping a random assortment of colored buttons on a plastic guitar, you get to plug in an actual guitar and get to rocking. Whether you are just learning to play, or already a seasoned rock veteran, Rocksmith is the perfect game to hone your skills. A great gift for the budding musician, Rocksmith takes you through the years of rock, all while teaching you how to play. Check out the full review here. Rocksmith is available now at your friendly neighborhood retailer; there is also a bundle that includes a nice Epiphone Les Paul Junior electric guitar. If your kid has been begging for a guitar, this is a great gift idea, mostly because you can control the volume. (CS)

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land is, quite literally, the game you’ve been waiting for. Combining not-so subtle nods to the series’ previous entries (from the original Super Mario Bros. to Mario Galaxy) with the graphical horsepower of the 3DS, it’s the perfect showpiece for Nintendo’s latest handheld. Mario’s been platforming in 3 dimensions since the days of the Nintendo 64, but the natural ease with which Super Mario 3D Land allows you to navigate the newly discovered depth of the game world cannot be overstated. While not necessarily a giant leap for the franchise, it is an undeniable step forward with regard to level design and gameplay. Most importantly, it’s a low-stress gaming experience perfect for the pick-up-and-play nature of the portable system. It’s the first must-buy 3DS title, and it certainly warrants a place on your holiday shopping list. (Z)

SpyGear Capture Cam

This is a fun, inexpensive motion-activated camera that any kid with a sibling would love to have. The pictures’ resolution is nothing special, but they’re clear enough for the purpose and you can download free software from the Spy Gear website to add cool effects to them. We haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like it might be possible to hack the camera to attach the motion sensor to a better-quality camera, or to have it trigger some other action. The Capture Cam retails for $34.99, but Amazon has it on sale at the moment for only $10.99 — a huge bargain. (MB)

AmpliTube iRig, iRig MIDI, iRIG Mic by IK Multimedia

For the musician in your life, whether they play guitar, bass, keyboards or vocals, IK Multimedia has a wide range of iOS device accessories to let their creative juices flow. The AmpliTube iRig combo lets guitarists rock out with a whole arsenal of amps, cabinets and virtual stomp boxes all from the comfort (and relative silence) of headphones, while the iRig MIDI and Sampletank app gives keyboardists a lot of expressive options, giving a great sound to even a modest set of keys. Not to leave out vocalists, the iRig Mic and VocaLive app can add a little finesse to a singer’s track, whether adding a little reverb or going all out with auto-tuning and a backing chorus. And no matter what device you have, an iKlip will keep your app’s controls at the ready when performing. Buy the AmpliTube iRig, iRig MIDI, iRig Mic, and iKlip at Amazon. (CL)

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