net.wars: Beware of geeks bearing gifts

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 05 December 2003

I don't care how many shopping days the papers say are left until Christmas; there's about four left. That is, if you want to do your shopping the sane way, online. *I* don't want to spend December 23 reading your tales of pacing angrily while waiting on cluttered "customer care" lines. Heart-broken, homicidal threats are becoming the traditional online experience of Christmas eve. Order early. Relax.

Wendy M Grossman

Of course, I can say this because I did my Christmas shopping in July.

A couple of things worth mentioning that were sent in response to columns here. Several people recommended this to brighten the one room left without little red lights. Also possibly aimed at the we-love-LEDs set are these glowing keyrings, which should make great stocking stuffers.

Simeon Schnapper was kind enough to send along the DVD of dot, a satiric film that attempts to do for dot-coms what the Christopher Guest - Michael McKean - Eugene Levy team have done for folk music, amateur theatricals, and dog shows. It was entertaining, but it may be too soon for fiction; the documentary Startup.com covers the same territory, is almost as funny, and sticks in the mind more.

Other DVDs of note this Christmas include new releases of the full first two seasons of America's beloved Dick van Dyke Show, the 39 classic episodes of The Honeymooners, which represents to American TV roughly what Fawlty Towers does to British TV – a classic, brilliantly cast, never bettered, never dated series, the box set of the Indiana Jones trilogy, and a box set of Warner Brothers cartoons. For British readers, I strongly recommend a movie beloved by Americans but unknown in the UK even though it stars Alan Bates: King of Hearts (Le Roi de Coeur). On the movies-so-bad-they're-terrible side, if you want to stay up late and get stoned, here is the utter hash they made out of Kevin Mitnick's 1995 arrest. It's so bad it was only released on DVD and only in France.

While you're watching TV, you might as well buy Terk VR-1 TV Volume Regulator by the case because everyone will want one. This $50 gadget plugs into the back of your (American for sure; don't know about other countries) TV and smoothes out the sound levels so you don't the ads don't blare when you have the volume set for comfortable program viewing. (And they thought we didn't notice.)

For those sitting-around moments, if you know any expatriates, you can hardly go wrong with candy nostalgia. Americans in the UK might also like to try here. If you want a fresh look at Christmas music because most of it is so hackneyed, have Oy! To the World, which is Christmas, Jim, but not as we know it.

If you're looking for books, Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine is a few years old now but still wonderful, and she followed it up this year with her first novel, The Bug

Having both visited the shop and bought from their Web site, I can personally recommend NJM Gallery as a source for lovely art glass; also the even more wonderful Light Opera Gallery. In the art line, I note in passing that one of my doppelgangers – there's also an award-winning! Wendy Grossman who works for the Houston Chronicle – has produced this piece.

For the constant traveler with loads of gadgets who hates carrying all those damn adapters, there are two possibilities. One: travel to bright, sunny places, and buy solar-powered batteries from a US supplier such as Skymall. The other is to take advantage of your laptop's USB sockets to recharge everything. I have USB charger cables for the mobile phones (Nokia 5160/6310i), the iPaq-compatible Archos Multimedia Jukebox, and the Palm Tungsten C. (To get Expansys's full list, search the site on "USB charger".) Expansys also sells an adapter for wall outlet or cigarette lighter that gives you a USB socket to use directly.

There are a number of sources – Expansys, iGo itself, Brookstone – for The Juice, an all-in-one AC/airport/cigarette lighter power adapter that works with most laptops. Make sure you get the right power tip. The Juice is large and heavy compared to many laptop adapters , and its cables are chunky, but at least it's one device, not two. Don't bother with the add-on phone/PDA charger – get USB cables instead. Finally, since we still can't carry on our CyberTools, I recommend the Swiss Army Card, small and light enough to post ahead to where you'll be staying if, like me, you don't travel with checked baggage.

Most people like things that will make the office more comfortable. Brookstone's chair pad is a big hit around here. Personally, I'd be happy with just about anything from Quiet PC. I'm also kind of intrigued by what I understand is the first sub-$100 data glove. For the bigger gadget budget, Dynamism is a good drool-on-the-electronics site: Japanese models customized for individual export.

This was, of course, the year for doing silly things with USB, and if you're looking for joke gifts ... the ordinary, well-adjusted, average human with a four-port USB hub attached to his laptop ought to be able to work by the light of his USB LED lamp, cooled by his USB fan, while his hamburger grills, strain his noodles while he gets coffee from the office pot, keep the coffee warm (or alternatively), and enjoy some USB festive cheer while he eats the hamburger and noodles. Then he can brush his teeth and massage his back before resuming work. All without spilling anything to damage the laptop, dontcha think? And then, at the end of the day, he can wrap himself in his blanket and sleep in the office (under a more soothing light) until people come in for the morning shift. Yes. The ideal Christmas, really.

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).