Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gifts for geeks - November 25, 2016

The best kind of gift, someone once told me, is one someone wants and would never buy for themselves.

That theory works well in choosing gifts for the geeks on your holiday gift list.  I’m not using geek as a pejorative, but rather to refer to someone who enjoys technology, clever gadgets, superhero stories and science fiction.  When you look at how many people watch “Star Wars” and the movies with Marvel and DC heroes, you realize geeks are all around.

So how can you buy them gifts they will enjoy?

The good news is you can, and should, avoid the big ticket items. We geeks are extremely choosy about our phones and laptops.  We have to choose those ourselves.

And we will put more effort into that than we did into choosing a college.

The most expensive things I’d suggest would be an Amazon Echo or a Google Home. Both are small devices you place in your home. The device hears your commands when you call it by name, and you can ask it to do a variety of things: answer questions, set timers, tell you the weather, play music, etc. 

The Echo will let you order items directly from Amazon.  The Google device lets you add items to your Google Calendar and reads you your Gmails. Unfortunately it works with only one Google account. The Echo and Home cost $180 and $130, respectively.

These devices fall into the nice-to-have category and are not must-haves, so they fall squarely in the thesis of the gift giving I mentioned at the start.

In previous years, I have sung the virtues of Google’s Chromecast as a way to get streaming video to your television.  By now I hope most of you have something like Chromecast, such as Roku, Apple TV or the many alternatives.

Google recently came out with Chromecast Audio, which hooks to your speakers and lets you stream audio from your phone, PC or tablet. You may have the music coming to you from the music services available from Google, Apple, Spotify and many others.  Chromecast Audio is $30.

Fairfax based has always been a go-to place for geek gadgets, do-dads and clothing.  I personally love the Jedi Fleece Robe and the Chewbacca robe.  They both look quite warm and powerful.

Is your geek a little forgetful?  The Tile device is a small square you can attach to your keys or slide into your wallet, purse, backpack or laptop case.  If you misplace an item, your phone can help you track it if it is in Bluetooth range--basically inside the house.

If you lose your phone, push a button on any Tile, and your phone beeps.

If your Tile is outside your phone’s range, but within the range of another Tile user, you will be told where your device is. The other Tile user will not know your device is close by.

The Automatic Pro is a device that hooks into the diagnostic port on your car.  It reports data to your phone via the cellular network, telling you statistics about how efficient your car is, the location, how much gas is left.  It will even tell you speed statistics if you want to spy on your teen driver.  And it elaborates on the check engine light and tells you more about what is wrong. 

The Harmony remote system is a small box you place in the line of sight of your AV equipment. Then using one of its remotes, or an app on your phone, you can control the device even when you are not in the line of sight of the devices.  Conventional remotes communicate by infrared so the remote normally has to be where it can “see” the device. I might misplace a remote, but I generally know where my phone is.

And you do not have to remember what channel ESPN is on. Just push the ESPN button in the app, and your TV turns on and goes to the ESPN channel.

A geek loves little gadgets and tools.  Microcenter up in Fairfax has a long windy checkout area full of little tools, gadgets and inexpensive USB drives to delight a geek. is a great source for additional phone chargers and cables.

No matter where you shop, compare prices to Amazon. Especially if you have Amazon Prime and can often get two-day free shipping.  If your geek does not have Prime, that in itself is a great gift. For $99 a year they get free two-day shipping on many purchases as well as a lot of free movie streaming and even some free online storage for photos.

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