Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Gifts for Geeks Redux

December 2008

By Mike Gould

Time once again to provide a list of holiday gifts for geeks: what to get that technically-adept, helpful cyber-wonk on your list. I do this every couple of years or so, as the technical landscape changes so quickly. These gifts are also good for advanced kids, co-workers, and clients and business partners.

This year I'm dividing things up into two categories: fun and useful. Not everyone appreciates getting toys as gifts, so I'm including serious as well as silly suggestions. The best gifts, of course, are both. A robot that morphs into a flash drive, for instance. (I made that up, but a quick Google search finds just that, a 1G flash drive shaped like a robot, complete with keychain holder for $10. Who knew?)

So here are a few suggestions to help Santa fill those stockings.

Electrical Shirts
First off, in the silly category: t-shirts that light up. Yup, shirts with removable electro-luminescent panels that do cool things. I have had one of these for years, and it is a big hit at Halloween, and any other time I need to express myself, wardrobe-wise. There are now shirts available that: play drums, display a graphic equalizer, and detect WiFi networks. These are usually around $30, available at various places on the web; search for "lightup shirt".

In the hybrid fun/usable category, we have flash drives shaped like various animals, monsters, and spaceships. Everybody, especially geeks, uses flash drives these days. And the prices keep dropping. I would recommend getting at least a 2G jobbie, although by the time you read this, 4giggers may be dirt cheap. Research the recipient's obsessions: robots? See above. Monsters? I didn't find a Dracula drive, but you can get a USB hub shaped like Godzilla: Hubzilla. You can plug multiple drives into his back, and his eyes light up. Also available disguised as a lighter, built into a Swiss Army knife, and crammed into just about anything else you can shoehorn some chips into.

Photo Goodies
More useful than silly is the digital photo frame. I have had one of these for a while, and I like it a lot. They start at around $80 for a 7-inch model, and go up to $900 or so for a 32-inch behemoth. You can also get miniature models that are wearable on a keychain for $20. Here's a business promotion idea: get a bunch of these and load them up with photos of your products, staff, logo, phone numbers, or whatever. Your recipient is then free to add their own photos, perhaps not even removing yours in the process. If you jigger it right, the first photo is your logo and phone number. This is a great way to say thank you to a good customer.

And speaking of photography, there are a lot of decent digital cameras out there for less than $100. You can pull the same trick as above: buy a camera for an associate, and take a photo of your holiday card with your logo on it. When they pull up their first photos on their own computer, your card is there to remind them of you. There are even cheap camcorders available. Shoot a quick video of your employees singing a carol, and include it on the chip in the camcorder.

Staying Found
Under the very useful category, consider an inexpensive GPS unit. This is one of those doodads that sits on your dashboard and keeps you from getting lost by telling you when to turn, etc. Originally developed for the military, the Global Positioning System unit talks to special satellites, figuring out your location by timing pulses sent from orbit. Originally costing thousands of dollars, these now start at less than $100, at finer doodad stores everywhere. (You might want to make sure your recipient has a car; as it would be kinda useless if they go everywhere by taxi…)

The iPod Shuffle makes this list year after year. These now come in 6 colors, hold 12 hours of music on a 2G drive, and you can load them with that Christmas carol you recorded with the camcorder mentioned above (assuming you have someone on-staff with some multimedia chops). $70, or maybe less if you shop around.

Here's a cute idea for the desk of your travelling salesman: a mini business card file cabinet. This looks like someone took a shrink-ray to a 2-drawer filing cabinet. You pull out the tiny drawers and you have just the right space to store biz cards. Search for Mini File Cabinet.

Tools That Rule
The Utili-Key 6-in-1 Tool is a great stocking stuffer. It looks like a regular key but unfolds to act as a variety of tools: semi-serrated knife blade, flat or Phillips screwdriver, eyeglass screwdriver, and bottle opener. Made of stainless steel, it's a deal at $10.

The above is sort of the little brother of the Leatherman, which though pricier, is also a great gift. The Leatherman is sort of like a Swiss Army knife built into a pair of pliers. It is available in a variety of models; I have one with a cheese spreader as one of the blades, designed for picnics and camping. These run $50 and up. Check before you gift: chances are your tech may already have one (although maybe not the one with the cheese spreader).

So visit your favorite local tech store, stock up on catalogs, and search the web. If all else fails, look for a wish list on your geek's favorite online store.

Happy Holidays!

Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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