The 2008 holiday gadget gift guide

The thought of your favorite geek (who could be you!) inevitably turn to gadgets during the holiday season.

A real geek already has the obvious toys, such as Absolutely Mad: 50 Years of Mad Magazine on DVD, a Microsoft Xbox 360, an Apple MacBook Pro 2008 edition, a Garmin Nuvi 880, and one or more of the hot smartphones: the Apple iPhone 3G, Palm Treo Pro, RIM BlackBerry Storm.

What’s really special this year for the techie in your life?

In alphabetical order, here are our 10 top picks: * Apple Time Capsule * Botanicalls DIY Plant Twitter Kit * Cathode Corner Nixie Watch * EVGA GTX 200 Waterblock * Eye-Fi Explore * 4th Motion Gyroxus Full-Motion Game Chair * MvixUSA MvixBox * Sky Factory SkyV * SRS Labs iWow for iPod Adapter * Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico.

And delve into our guide to collectible tech.

Okay, we know you really want a new mobile, too. That will come later.

Time Capsule

Why you must have it: With all the computing devices we have on hand, managing backups and communications among them is increasingly difficult. Time Capsule is the central place to handle many of these needs: As a 500GB or 1TB wireless hard drive (using 7,200-rpm SATA drives), it provides central storage as a network drive, plus backup capability, for both Macs and PCs. When used with Mac OS X Leopard’s bundled Time Machine software, it’s simply amazingly easy to back up and restore data — too bad there’s nothing as good for Windows. As an 802.11n Draft 2.0 wireless router, it can serve as your central connection hub for computers, iPods, wireless printers, and other wireless devices. There are also three Gigabit Ethernet jacks for wired devices. With its USB jack, you can connect a USB printer for sharing across Macs and PCs. Or you can connect a USB hub to share multiple printers and add storage.

PRICE: The 500GB version costs $299, while the 1TB version costs $499.

DIY Plant Twitter Kit

Why you must have it: You’re busy, and your plants are getting thirstier and thirstier as you neglect them. What if they could let you know they need water? With Botanicalls’ DIY Plant Twitter Kit, they can. These kits let you assemble sensors that send out messages over an Ethernet connection to you via the Twitter service when they need or have gotten too much water.

PRICE: A kit costs $100.

Nixie Watch

Why you must have it: If you remember the 1960s, you’ll recall those bulky neon display tubes once used in calculators. The Nixie Watch from Cathode Corner uses those quaint tubes to display the time on a large, not-so-stylish but certainly retro-geeky wristwatch. That’s right — a device for telling the current time that doesn’t also make calls, receive messages, or play music. The Nixie Watch is a fashion statement that puts you squarely in the era of the original Star Trek series and the groundbreaking film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

PRICE: The watches cost $405 each and must be ordered from the manufacturer.

Why you must have it: Your PC is tricked out with the ultimate graphics card, the EVGA GeForce GTX 260 or 280, using every one of those 500 watts in your monster power supply. But does that card get superhot, radiating like a supernova. EVGA’s GTX 200 waterblock piggybacks on the GeForce, using water and copper to dissipate the heat, so the GeForce’s performance is not compromised.

PRICE: A Windows PC with a GeForce GTX 260 or 280 graphics card, a free PCI slot next to it, and enough power and venting to run the GeForce. The GTX 200 costs $179.

Eye-Fi Explore

Why you must have it: You’re shooting photos on your digital camera, but no one can see them until you get back to your Internet-connected computer. The Eye-Fi Explore changes that, using an embedded Wi-Fi radio in the SD card to upload your photos to any of several popular photo-sharing services (a year of hotspot service access is included) or to your computer over a wireless LAN. Plus, it geotags your photos based on where you took them.

PRICE: A digital camera with an SD card slot (or SDHC for the Anniversary Edition). The Explore and Anniversary Edition cost $130 each, while the Home edition costs $80.

Gyroxus Game Chair

Why you must have it: Sitting in your chair playing games is absorbing, no doubt, but if you’ve been to Disneyland or a similar theme park, you know you’re missing the dimension of motion. No matter how much the game moves, you sit still. As you move your body while controlling the game, the chair amplifies your actions, so the next time you’re flying in space or weaving in and out of traffic, it will feel real. You can even buy skins to customize its appearance for the games you love.

PRICE: The game chair costs $389, and requires no drivers on your PC or gaming device (Xbox 360 or PS3).

Why you must have it: Geeks and home theaters are a natural combination, especially when they can throw a PC in the mix. It can hold two SATA-II hard drives, of up to 1.5TB capacity each, for use as a media server. It’s NAS for your home theater. The Gigabit Ethernet port even lets you stream HD files to your media network. On a PC, the MvixBox shows up as a hard drive to which you can simply drag media files. But the MvixBox is also an Apache server with FTP and HTTP support, so you can manage it via a browser and use it as a Web server. And it includes the Torrent Client Blog iTunes Music Server UPnP media server.

PRICE: The MvixBox works with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. It costs $299. Hard drives are not included with the MvixBox.


Why you must have it: The cold glow of an LCD monitor doesn’t exactly give you the mental health benefits of real windows, something that most geeks only experience in their cars. After all, datacenters, development labs, and basement workshops — where many techies spend hours — rarely have windows. That’s where Sky Factory’s SkyV comes in: You put one of these custom light boxes in your ceiling, and they adjust the scenes automatically for time of day and season, simulating the outside world, no matter where you are. The SkyV uses a high-definition display and can show a variety of scenes. (The less expensive Programmable Sky Ceiling uses a static image, with only lighting changes to simulate times of day and seasonality.)

PRICE: Anyone’s guess. A building that you can install the light boxes in, which typically means having a dropped ceiling (standard in office buildings) or an attic or crawl space above the ceiling (common in modern homes), plus available power circuits.

iWow for iPod Adapter

Why you must have it: The iPod is quickly becoming the modern stereo, but its digitized files often lack the nuance of the original recordings. SRS Labs’ iWow for iPod Adapter plugs into the iPod’s bottom 30-pin connector and restores the audio cues in the sources, so music and video files sound more like they were intended. (SRS Labs also offers the separate iWow 2.0 software, which is an iTunes plug-in for your Mac or PC that adds the same audio restoration to music and videos played from your computer.)

Any iPod for the iWow hardware, and a Mac or PC with iTunes 6 or later for the plug-in software. The adapter costs $100, while the plug-in software costs $80.

Gatekeeper Pico

Why you must have it: Anti-malware software is annoying, what with all those alert pop-ups. Plus, it gobbles PC resources that would be better spent running a mobile simulator or 3-D game. It’s a small Linux-based minicomputer that — get this — runs a baker’s dozen of security apps, from anti-virus to stateful packet inspection, all from a USB token. Uninstall your current anti-malware software, plug in the Pico, and you’re set. Because the Pico boots from Linux, it’s not susceptible to the usual PC malware.

PRICE: The Pico costs $149 and is available in Windows and Mac versions. The Pico Pro costs $199 and is available only for Windows. You’ll need an open USB 2.0 port on your computer.

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