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Gifts for Geeks on the Cheap
Pages: 1, 2, 3

For You or Maybe Even the Windows User in Your Life

I'm sure that one effective switcher campaign would be to simply give the Windows users in your life a Mac. Wouldn't that be nice?

While I can't offer a $50 solution for that, I did find some cool gadgets that will work for Windows users, too.

Digital Media Remote
by Keyspan
Works with: Mac OS X 10.1 or greater; Mac OS 8.6 or greater; Windows 98/Me/2000/XP or greater
Price: $49.00

This handy device lets you control your computer from across the room. It comes with an infrared remote and a receiver that plugs into your computer's USB port.

It's a snap to use. Just install the software, and you're pretty much up and running. I was able to figure out how to control iTunes pretty quickly. If you're not happy with the default settings, it's easy enough to use the KeyspanDMR software to change them by simply mapping the remote buttons to keyboard commands. It's even possible to get the software to "listen" for other types of remotes.

Keyspan Digital Media Remote
The Keyspan Digital Media Remote (and receiver).

The range with the included remote is about 35 feet, more than enough for most presentation situations. The remote itself is about the size of a business card and about a quarter of an inch thick, making it easy to stash in a pocket.

If someone on your list has to make a lot of presentations, or if they use their computer as their stereo, the Keyspan Digital Remote might be the perfect gift. (The higher-end "Presentation Remote" is about $30 more, but includes a built-in laser pointer).

PowerMate USB Multimedia Controller and Input Device
by Griffin Technology
Works with: Mac OS X (or OS 9.0.4 or higher); Windows 98SE, Me, 200 or XP
Price: $45.00

Yes, that's right; it's a volume control knob that glows. They say it does more than that, so I had to try it for myself.

OK. They're right. It's a volume control know that glows fabulously and does lots of other stuff. Plus, it's very cool.

The PowerMate USB Multimedia Controller and Input Device--let's just call it the PowerMate--has standard global functionality out of the box. Turn the knob clockwise to increase volume, counter-clockwise to decrease volume; pressing down on the knob to toggle mute on and off.

But there's more than just volume control here. In Internet Explorer, turning the knob lets you scroll up and down through pages; pressing down (or "clicking") on the knob works like the back button. You can use the Powermate in video editing programs as a shuttle control. Since the Powermate controls are all customizable, including the key repeat rate, you can adjust exactly how quickly it moves through frames. The settings for the PowerMate live right in the System Preferences of OS X, by the way, no need to go searching through your Applications folder to find them.

There's even a CPU monitoring application, Cee Pee You , that can make the PowerMate display your CPU usage by glowing at different brightness or even different blink rates.

The Powermate.
The PowerMate USB Multimedia Controller and Input Device -- a great gift for the discriminating gadget lover.

Beyond all the cool things it does, the Powermate is the most beautiful and tactile-satisfying accessory I've seen yet. The knob is heavy machined aluminum and it turns nearly effortlessly. The PowerMate was conceived and designed by a jewelry designer, and it shows.

Other (Untested) Possibilities

I couldn't get my hands on everything I wanted to try. So here are a few items for you to investigate on your own. Selections marked with an asterisk (*) are ones that I've heard good things about:

  • StyleCam Blink by SiPix Inc. ($39.99) -- tiny wearable digital camera (640 x 480 pixel) with 8MB memory that doubles as a web cam.

  • FlyLight Platinum (*) by Kensington ($19.99) -- USB keyboard light for notebook users. Our Mac editor recently used one to write an entire article after his power was lost during a storm.

  • PocketMouse Pro (*) by Kensington ($43.99) -- USB optical mouse with retractable cord for mobile users. Only complaint I've heard about these is that the retractable cord gets moody on occasion. Mac OS X users will love the programmable software that comes with it.

  • PocketHUB by Kensington ($39.99)-- 4-port travel-size USB hub.

  • iMic by Griffin Technology ($35.00) -- allows the connection of virtually any microphone or sound input device to the iBook, Titanium PowerBook, PowerMac, or any other Mac or PC with a USB port.

Wrapping Up

Still can't decide? For the geek who has everything, check out the new O'Reilly swag on Thinkgeek. Somebody's niece is getting a Perl Creeper this year.

One last thought: If you choose something that requires power, don't forget to include the batteries. There's nothing more frustrating than getting a new toy and not having the juice to run it.

So, have a great holiday season, and enjoy playing with the toys.

Terrie Miller is an amateur naturalist, citizen scientist, permaculturist and writer from Northern Calfornia. Her personal weblog is

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