Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Gifts for Geeks

December 2003

By Mike Gould

Have you hugged your computer support person today? You know, the guy or gal with the relaxed wardrobe and the ready fix to your pressing computer problems? I count myself in this crowd, as I do this both for a living at the UM and in my private practice. And I'm here to tell ya, we geeks like a little appreciation as much as anyone else. And this being the Holiday Season, there's no better time to cheer up that special cyber someone with a little digital something.

So here are some suggestions for those listed as "nice" in Santa's database. (You can give used floppies to those filed under "naughty"). The following doesn't have to be aimed at your personal tech trainer, of course - these can be given safely to any gizmo-oriented friend or family member. The main thing to remember is to find out exactly what model of device your recipient is using, then accessorize!

Most of the gift ideas below are in the $20 - $50 range.

Thanks for the Memories
Those not suffering from short-term memory loss may recall last month's article on USB Flash Drives - those little thumb-sized solid-state data doodads. A quick trip to CompUSA or other such emporium yields a variety of these, in prices to match any budget. A 64M unit can be had for as little as $25. These will work with virtually any modern computer that sports a USB connector. Your data defender definitely can use this, as can any other recipient who has bought a computer in the last 2 or 3 years.

If your support person is a camera buff, a memory card is always appreciated. First find out what format of chip he/she uses: this will be Compact flash, memory stick, SD memory or somesuch. If you ask for advice on what digital camera to buy, your support person will be glad to tell you all about his or her system. A pack of glossy photo paper is also a good bet for a camera fan; this is used by all shooters no matter what their memory needs.

On the Case
If your tech is like most of us, he or she has some form of PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, not Public Display of Affection, as us post-moderns remember it), usually a Palm Pilot of some flavor. Why not get your Palm person a new case for their little buddy? These come in all shapes and paddings; leather, titanium, you name it. To find out which PDA your helper uses, do as above and ask for advice on purchasing or updating your own. Your techie will whip out his or her device and tell you more than you ever wanted to know about address lists and calendars. During this recitation, you jot down the model of their PDA and then go shopping.

A new laptop bag is also a fine idea: there are loads of these at all price points at most computer and office supply stores. Here's a hint: the next time your tech comes calling, note the rattiest piece of gear they have and get them a new cover for it.

Multi Media
One thing every computer user needs these days is blank media. In the old days, this meant a holiday package of gaily-colored floppies. These days, it means a cylinder of blank CDs or DVDs. These are on sale every week at some store or other; check the ads in your Sunday paper for the best deals. If your tech is a heavy music user, you can get special colored CDs for that extra bit of festivity. If your tech is into burning movies onto DVD, find out whether he or she uses DVD+ or DVD-. If purchasing CD blanks, get the good quality 700meg ones that are certified for 48X or above.

If your recipient is into video, blank tapes are a good idea. The most popular format now days is mini DV, and these tapes are less than $10 for 60 minutes of digital delight.

And All Through the House…
The geeks were all surfing, moving their mouse.

Lousy stab at holiday humor there, but a subtle tie-in to the next suggestion: buy that point-and-clicker a new mouse. I am partial to the Microsoft Intellimouse, having used both the tailed and wireless versions. The wireless one is what I am using now, and I am largely pleased with it. These used to be pretty pricey, but I see them heavily discounted in stores and on the Internet.

If your giftee is a laptop user, you can get them a miniature mouse specifically designed for travel and working in constrained circumstances, such as airplane trays. Belkin makes one for a mere $20 and it has gotten excellent reviews. (Belkin MiniScroller Optical 3 Button Mouse F8E882OPT - available from Amazon.)

For the Geek Who has Everything
One word: gift certificates. OK, two words, but it's a compound noun so that should count as one. (And no, I don't get paid here by the word, but thanks for asking.) A certificate to a computer mini mall or even office supply store allows the fortunate receiver to pick and choose their own techno-gift. No worries about formats, flavors of computer ports or platforms. Just pure holiday gift goodness.

A new wrinkle this year: buy that music-loving downloader a certificate to the Apple iTunes Music Store, the hottest download site on the honest side of the Internet. The trick here is that you can only do this via Apple's iTunes software; but this is now available for Windows as well as Macs, and it is a free download from http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/shop.html. You might not be able to afford a new iPod for your recipient, but at a dollar a song, you can buy them some tunage.

One of my favorite gifts that I have received is a gift certificate to the Chop House restaurant (Thanks, Jake!) - a good dinner for two appeals to everyone. And if you are budget-challenged, a big plate of cookies does the deed. Happy Holidays!

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Fac·totem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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