A Plethora of Eclectic Holiday Gifts
|'A Knight in York' Courtesy of Blackmore's Night and UDR|
|Candice Night's solo release recording 'Reflections' Courtesy of Blackmore's Night and UDR|
Incredibly, the crescendo of vituperative presidential campaign ads appears to have overwhelmed most of the pre-holiday season advertisements. However, despite that, it is once again time for Scientific Computing's annual holiday gift guide. As always, we have exhaustively searched to bring you an eclectic selection of gifts to entrance those you care about.
To reduce the stress associated with selecting that perfect gift, let’s start with a gift of music. This year, I'm featuring the latest concert recording from Blackmore's Night. Called A Knight in York [ UDR, A Knight in York, DVD + CD + Blu-ray Digipack (CD rack size), UDR0235 DVD+CD+BR, EAN: 5099931942324, $23.98; CD (Jewel Case), UDR 0204 CD, EAN: 5099970549324, $12.98; Double Vinyl LP 12“ (Gatefold), UDR 0205 LP, EAN: 5099970549218, $18.99]. Items available on Blackmore's Night, UDR, and Amazon Web sites, et al., at various discounts.], it was recorded live in the Grand Opera House in York, England on 30 September 2011 and is available in several different formats and price ranges.
While this recording does not include the full concert, it does include a number of songs from their albums Secret Voyage and Autumn Sky. Blackmore's Night has been labeled as everything from New Age, Hard Rock and Rock & Roll, to Renaissance Rock. For those unfamiliar with the group, it takes Richie Blackmore's rock & roll experience from groups like Deep Purple and Rainbow and fuses them with Renaissance themes. To further develop their unique sound, they employ an eclectic combination of period instruments, such as the Shawm1 and Hurdygurdy,2 and combine them with more modern instruments, such as electric guitars. This concert provides a good introduction to Blackmore's Night, with songs ranging from the ethereal to the driving. While I highly recommend the group, if you are unfamiliar with them, it is always a good idea to review at least a sampling of their work, which can be done on the Blackmore's Night or Amazon Web sites, before giving a gift of music.
If your giftee prefers a somewhat different sound, consider Reflections [UDR, Reflections, UDR 0215 (CD), ASIN: B008IMXI2E, EAN: 0884860047722, $12.98], the first solo recording by the voice of Blackmore's Night, Candice Night. Candice wrote all of the music and lyrics for the 10 songs comprising this CD. While she also provides the lyrics for many of Blackmore's Night's songs, these songs have a distinctly different feel and are quite diverse in tone. Even the song “Now And Then,” previously performed by Blackmore's Night, has been rearranged to give it a different flavor.
Of course, to appreciate these recordings, you need to have something on which to listen to them, which provides a segue to our next set of gift suggestions...
One of the most critical aspects to accurate reproduction of your music is a good set of speakers. Few people will argue that the speakers built into laptop computers and, gulp, smart phones generate great sound. We have looked into some approaches for rectifying that in past gift guides, now Braven provides a new approach. With their Braven 650 [Braven, Braven 650, $189.99], they provide a portable stereo speaker with excellent sound reproduction. It can be connected to your computer or smart phone using the included 24” 3.5 mm audio cable but, for this price, I'm sure you expect much more than that, and the Braven 650 delivers.
|Braven 650 Bluetooth speaker Courtesy of Braven|
|Prisma Model e3350BT Bluetooth speaker system from Edifier. Courtesy of Edifier|
You can use the 3.5 mm audio jacks to daisy chain two speakers together to boost the volume in a larger room, but the real fun begins by bypassing the cable altogether, as you also can link it to your devices using a Bluetooth 3.0 connection. However, the fun doesn't stop there, as when you have the speakers linked to your smart phone, you also can use it as a high-quality speaker phone with 2-way noise-canceling. The 650 is also compatible with applications such as Facetime, iChat and Skype, among others. Not only does this speaker not tie you down by requiring a connection to a 110 VAC outlet, its internal rechargeable battery provides approximately 20 hours of playtime per charge or can be used to recharge your other devices, such as a smart phone. Its case is machined from aircraft-grade aluminum to provide durability for those who want to take it on the road or on the trails with them. It comes packaged 'floating' in a clear case that also contains a 40” USB to micro USB cable, a USB wall plug, a carrying bag and a quickstart card. It may be purchased from a variety of online retailers, including Amazon and ThinkGeek.
If you have a giftee who might need more sound, but doesn't need the mobility, Edifier has an answer. With their Prisma Model e3350BT [Edifier, PRISMA e3350BT, $129.99] they provide a speaker system that provides exceptional sound quality, while still employing a Bluetooth connection back to your player, whether computer or smart phone. For those needing to connect to a less technically adept system, you can still connect them using a standard 3.5 mm stereo audio jack. This unit consists of a trio of speakers, consisting of a 5” downward firing subwoofer (30 W RMS) and two satellite speakers (9 W RMS each) consisting of a 2.75” midrange unit and a 19 mm tweeter. Volume control is through a wired master volume controller, which also serves as the mount for the systems status indicator lights, as well as for the headphone jack and auxiliary input jack. The system is available in four versions: black, white, burnt gold and gem blue. Units are available directly from Edifier.
As many have discovered, having neat gadgets doesn't do you any good if you don't have any way to control them. As long time readers may recall, last year we featured the magical Kymera Wand Remote [ThinkGeek, Magic Wand Programmable TV Remote, $89.99]. One of the 'laws' formulated by the science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke was that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This year, ThinkGeek has provided us with proof of that. Through machinations still unknown, they have somehow obtained advanced Gallifreyan technology that is even more capable than last year's magic wand! Yes, somehow they have managed to replicate a Mark VII Sonic Screwdriver [ThinkGeek, Sonic Screwdriver Programmable TV Remote, $99,99], which can be used to control virtually any device incorporating an infra-red control link. As incredible as it may seem, somehow they managed to obtain a duplicate of the sonic screwdriver carried by the 11th Doctor.
|The Mark VII Sonic Screwdriver Programmable TV Remote based on Doctor Who. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
Anyway, this device is capable of functioning as a gesture-based universal remote control. It recognizes 13 control gestures and its three memory banks allow it to store a total of 39 codes. These can be 39 codes for one device, one code for 39 devices, or anything in-between. You can even activate a personal lock code, for those not good at sharing! Manufactured from a combination of die cast metal, which has been copper plated and hand polished, and a combination of ABS and soft-touch plastic, it is energized by two AAA batteries, though you must supply the later yourself.
When activated, as indicated by the pulsing glow of its tip, it can operate in any of four modes:
|Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit with the Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Guide 10 Battery Pack, and accessories. Courtesy of Goal Zero|
• Practice/Learn mode for programming the unit and practicing gestures.
• Control mode for controlling devices while generating sonic screwdriver sound effects.
• Quiet Control mode for controlling devices without sound effects.
• FX Mode for generating 13 sound effects from the Doctor Who universe.
This reproduction includes an illustrated instruction manual and a clear display case. Weighing in at just under a pound (14.8 ounces), it has a very solid feel, much more that of the tool it is than the 'toy' some might believe it to be!
Please remember to remind your giftee to use this advanced technology responsibly. I really don't think they want The Doctor materializing in the middle of their living room to confiscate it.
|Bolt Focus rechargeable flashlight. Courtesy of Goal Zero|
On the eastern coast of the United States, we are approaching the transition from hurricane season to ice storm season. What this basically means is that the lights could still go out at any time. Even if the recipients of your gifts do not live in this area, there is probably still a good chance that they could lose power due to some weather-related event. However, thanks to Goal Zero, that doesn't mean they have to sit around in the dark.
|AOC 16” E1649FWU USB Monitor. Courtesy of AOC|
|MondoHub 28 Port USB 2.0/3.0 Hub with power adapter. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
Goal Zero produces an extensive line of portable solar power systems. Products include a variety of solar panels, power packs and other accessories that can be combined to provide complete solar power systems. The core system featured here is called the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit [Goal Zero, Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit, SKU: #19010, $159.95]. Included in the kit is their Guide 10 Battery Pack, Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Ultra Charge Solar Cord, 12 V cigarette adapter, and a 4 pack of NiMH batteries. The Nomad 7 generates 7 W of power and can charge the Guide 10 Battery Pack in two to four hours, though you also can charge the battery pack from any USB power source as well. Devices can be recharged directly from the solar panel or via the battery pack. The latter approach is recommended for some of the more power sensitive devices, such as some of the current smart phones. Additional value-added features are a small LED flashlight built into the battery pack, which might prove useful connecting devices during a power out, an adapter for charging AAA batteries, and eight anchor loops on the solar panel that can be used for hanging the unit or strapping it onto a backpack so that you can charge your batteries while hiking. A zippered pouch is also built into the Nomad 7 for storing the various cables and the battery pack.
This unit works well for charging devices devices such as MP3 players, smart phones and even tablets, not bad for a unit weighing only one pound. However, for devices such as laptops which require more current ,a larger device, such as their Escape 150 Recharger, is recommended. While I have not tested them, the various components can be purchased individually or in a variety of kits, such as the Escape 150 Adventure Kit or Emergency Solar Essentials Kit – Family. The design and craftsmanship that Goal Zero has put into these products makes them excellent gifts.
As an example of what can be done with the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit, Goal Zero also has provided their Bolt Focus Light [Goal Zero, Bolt Focus Light, SKU: #90106, $49.99]. The Bolt Focus is a 160 Lumen rechargeable flashlight built around a 3 W Cree LED and a rechargeable 18650 Li-Ion battery in a machined aluminum body. It is recharged through a mini USB port with a charging time of five hours. The Bolt has a high beam run time of two hours and a low beam run time of 10.5 hours. While it can be recharged via any USB port, in the context of the Goal Zero system, it also can be recharged directly from the Nomad 7 solar panel or the Guide 10 Battery Pack. Additionally, its bright white beam can be adjusted from a wide to spot beam by turning a knurled ring on the head of the flashlight. Unlike many other flashlights I've tried, the change in beam angle when moving between wide and spot is quite significant and easily noticeable. Perhaps more significantly, the design of the Bolt's optics result in a very uniform light intensity across the beam. I feel that the Bolt Focus Light would be an excellent gift, either on its own or in combination with the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit.
|SparkFun Electronics version of the MaKey MaKey circuit board. Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics|
|Components included in the SparkFun Inventor's Kit (SIK) for Arduino. Included case is not displayed. Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics|
|LilyPad ProtoSnap card. Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics|
For those on your gift list attempting to maintain a mobile life style, AOC provides welcome assistance with their E1649FWU USB LCD Monitor [AOC, Model E1649FWU, $139.00]. This 16-inch diagonal monitor is fully powered via your computer's USB ports (8 W max.). Its included cable allows you to connect it to either one or two host USB ports, depending on the amount of power that the ports can source. Installation is very easy and, at only 2.3 pounds, it is easy to slide into a backpack with your laptop. Drivers for both MS Windows and Mac are included. Supported resolutions are 640x480@60 Hz and 1366x768@60Hz in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with the later resolution being the recommended value.
In addition to being ultra slim, it includes an integrated folding tripod stand and supports auto-pivot. The later feature allows you to use this monitor in either portrait or landscape orientation, with the driver software automatically noting the orientation and adjusting the display settings as necessary. If you need a gift for someone requiring a larger display, you might want to look into its big brother, the E2251FWU 22” USB Powered Monitor. While I have not tried this unit, it appears to be rather similar in capabilities. While you are trading off some of the portability of the E1649FWU, you also are upping the maximum resolution to 1920x1080 @ 60 Hz. The only gottcha that I've seen with the AOC monitors is that, if you connect it to a computer via a USB 2.0 hub, you may observe some screen flicker while accessing any other device connected through the same hub, particularly with external USB drives. I suspect that this would not be an issue when using a USB 3.0 hub connected to a USB 3.0 port, but I have not yet had an opportunity to test this. When directly connecting to a computer’s USB ports, I have not observed any problems at all. Given this caveat, I highly recommend this monitor.
Speaking of USB hubs, have you noticed that most of those on the market still only support USB 2.0? If someone on your gift list has a new system equipped with USB 3.0 ports, it seems a shame to waste them on an USB 2.0 hub. Thanks to ThinkGeek, you don't have to! Among their other USB hub offerings, they now include the MondoHub 28 Port USB 2.0/3.0 Hub [ThinkGeek, MondoHub 28 Port USB 2.0/3.0 Hub, $89.99] from Manhattan (MODEL 161718). This low-profile hub includes an integrated USB cable with a Standard Type A connector, as well as a power adapter that you can plug into it when you need to source additional power to connected USB devices. It contains 24 USB 2.0 ports on its top and sides, with 4 USB 3.0 ports along its sides. All of these ports are controlled by push-button switches along the top of the hub, so you don't need to unplug a device to cut power to it or isolate it from the hub. To simplify identification of active ports, each port is associated with an indicator LED to show which port is switched on. When connected to a USB 3.0 port on your computer, the hub supports 5 Gbps transfers through its USB 3.0 ports and 380 Mbps transfers through its USB 2.0 ports. Other than just plugging its integrated cable into one of your host computer's USB ports, no setup is required.
While some appreciate fully assembled gifts that you can play with right away, others like gifts that challenge their creativity and skill. For the later, SparkFun Electronics features a series of educational gifts that not only provide challenge for your giftee's skills, but may break a few stereotypes in the process. While all three of these kits are based on popular Arduino3 compatible controllers, they provide quite different jumping off points.
The first of these is their MaKey MaKey - Deluxe Kit [SparkFun Electronics, WIG-11519, $59.95]. This is an innovative kit good for getting your giftee to think outside of the box regarding computer interfacing. The MaKey MaKey itself is a dual-sided circuit board designed for high impedance switching. What this means is that you can use highly resistive everyday objects, including people, Play-Doh and leaves, as switch contacts. Six contacts are accessible from the front of the board and 12 from the back. While these 18 inputs are pre-programmed with default functions, these can easily be changed with the downloadable Arduino IDE.
|Digilent Cerebot Mx7cK microcontroller development card. Courtesy of Digilent|
This kit comes with two packs of alligator clips, a pack of jumper wires, a mini USB cable to connect the board to your computer, and a roll of copper tape. A beginner can start experimenting using just the alligator clips to create circuits, so no soldering skills are required. One of SparkFun's favorite examples is to create a keyboard for a virtual piano out of bananas! For the more advanced, you can use the copper tape or conductive paint to create touch-sensitive interactive murals on walls or other surfaces. The uses to which this kit may be put is truly up to the imagination of the user. The MaKey MaKey Quickstart Guidecan be downloaded from the SparkFun Web site to get a better feel for the full capabilities of this gift.
A present targeting someone wanting to learn more about electronics and computers is the SparkFun Inventor's Kit (SIK) for Arduino with Retail Case [SparkFun Electronics, RTL-11236, $99.95]. Recommended for beginners age 10 and older, it comes complete with an Arduino Uno R3 and all of the components required to construct 14 different tutorial circuits. These projects include controlling a servo, reading temperatures, and monitoring flex sensors and piezoelectric elements. Because this kit comes complete with a breadboard and holder, these circuits can be built without any soldering. Once your giftee completes all of the projects in the accompanying 80-page manual, which can be downloaded from the SparkFun Web site for review, they will have all the skills required to start designing their own Arduino projects.
|Sphero Robotic Ball from Orbotix with inductive charger. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
The final kit from SparkFun is their ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Board [SparkFun Electronics, RTL-11261, $59.95]. In many ways, this is the most interesting of the three kits, due to the way it breaks stereotypes by drawing together fields that many would not have connected at all. For whatever reason, electronics and computers have tended to be thought of as a male field, even though the first programmer, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852),4 and many other prominent contributors to the field were women, while females were delegated to less technical 'crafty' fields. Even if these stereotypes were true, the LilyPad3pulls all of these fields together, for it is a version of the Arduino computer specifically designed for use with what are known as soft circuits. The term “soft circuits” does not indicate an uncertainty with what the circuit is, but rather that the actual circuit is flexible. Many people use this term to refer to circuits incorporated into fabric, and especially to circuits incorporated into clothing, thus pulling together the fields of computers, electronics sewing, et al.
|Classic Flip Cover for Samsung Galaxy S 3. Courtesy of Sena Cases|
The ProtoSnap boards are an enhancement of the original LilyPad computer boards designed to simplify project development. This is done by actually incorporating many of the LilyPad I/O modules on the same physical circuit board with printed circuit traces connecting them back to the LilyPad computer. The trick is that these boards are fabricated in such a way that, once you have completed your program development and circuit prototyping, you can easily snap the various components out of the carrier board, thus ProtoSnap, before transferring the components onto your actual fabric project. The modules included in the ProtoSnap board are a LilyPad Simple, button and slide switches, a variety of LED emitters, light and temperature sensors, a vibrator and a speaker. In addition, this kit includes an assortment of needles and two bobbins of conductive thread, which replace the wires used for connecting components in traditional circuits. The only thing the recipient of this kit would need to build a working circuit would be to download the Arduino IDE and a USB mini-B cable. Instructions for using the kit, as well as extensive information regarding the Arduino, can be downloaded from SparkFun's ProtoSnapLilyPadDev and Education Web sites.
Digilent, manufacturer of high-quality electrical engineering products for use in electrical engineering and computer engineering classes, returns with their Cerebot Mx7cK microcontroller development board [Digilent, Cerebot MX7cK, $99.99]. One of Digilent's 32-bit PIC32 microcontroller boards, I selected this one to feature due to the variety of interface protocols it natively supported. In addition to USB and Ethernet, it supports the Serial Peripheral Interface Bus (SPI),5 Controller Area Network (CAN),6 and Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C )7 protocols. For those interested in robotics, one of Digilent's alternate PIC32 microcontroller boards, such as the Cerebot MX4cK with its 8 hobby R/C servo connectors might be preferred, but that functionality can be added to the Cerebot MX7cK as well, through use of its six 12-pin Pmod headers. This card is designed to be programmed using the downloadable chipKIT MPIDE development environment, which is compatible with an extensive subset of Arduino code. No additional hardware is required to program this unit.
|Stainless Steel RFID Blocking Passport Sleeves designed by Stewart/Stand. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
The Pmod headers are used to attach Pmod Peripheral Modules, small I/O interface boards, to the Cerebot microcontroller cards. By including a selection of these Pmod cards, you can further customize your gift to the interests of your giftee, as Digilent has a very extensive and diverse series of modules, including support for Wi-Fi, GPS, and audio input/output. Examples of this can be seen with their PmodTMP - Thermometer/thermostat [Digilent, PmodTMP, $24.99] and PmodOLED - Organic LED Graphic Display [Digilent, PmodOLED, $25.99] units. The PmodTMP incorporates a Maxim DS1626 integrated thermometer and thermostat for incorporation into a digital project. It also can provide a stand-alone thermostat function that can be set over a -55°C to +125° range. The PmodOLED module allows the simple inclusion of a 128 x 32 pixel OLED display with 0.9” characters using an SPI interface. Because the refreshing and updating of this display is handled internally, it will continue to display the last image sent to the screen until it is powered down or the image overwritten. Using just these components would allow you to construct a quite elaborate temperature control system. By simply swapping out a few Pmod cards, you could just as easily construct a radio- controlled robot!
However, not all robotic devices need to be built from scratch. ThinkGeek provides a great example of this with the Sphero Robotic Ball from Orbotix [ThinkGeek, Sphero Robotic Ball, $129.99]. While this device qualifies as a robot, it is quite unlike those normally pictured when someone says 'robot..Visually, in its powered down state Sphero is a milky white opaque sphere composed of a three-inch diameter polycarbonate shell. However, shake it twice and it becomes a pulsing orb of changing colors. Hidden inside is the Orbotix Smart Robot, which you can control from over 50 feet away via a Bluetooth link from an Android or iOS phone or tablet. If you are wondering what you can possibly do with a free-standing sphere, the Sphero provides an excellent demonstration of the behavior of a sphere with an offset center of mass in a gravitational field.
|River Garden Nook Cover in red for the Nook Tablet. Courtesy of Oberon Design|
The basic Sphero app, which can be downloaded from either the iTunes App Store or Google Play, allows you to perform basic configuration of the device and to 'drive' it in any direction you desire, by tilting your smart phone/tablet or dragging the Sphero icon to a particular part of your screen, depending on the operational mode chosen. It also allows you to change the color of the sphere. However, users are not limited to this single app, as there are more apps available for download. What is even more interesting is that Sphero's capabilities extend beyond simply being a helpless target of someone else's control. The gyro and accelerometer integrated into its internal guidance system mean that you can actually use Sphero as the controller in a variety of downloadable games, some of them multi-player and many of them free!
Sphero is powered by rechargeable lithium polymer batteries that provide 60 minutes of drive time per charge. Once the sphere flashes red, return it to its charging stand where it is inductively recharged through the shell in three hours. If your giftee is the inquisitive developer type, they will likely be very intrigued with the fact that Sphero has an open API and available Mobile SDKs for both Android and iOS, should they desire to write their own applications.
|Oak Leaf Necklace cast in Britannia pewter. Courtesy of Oberon Design|
|Wyvern Pendant on adjustable 21” black leather cord. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
|Dragon Ear Wrap. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
|Star Trek cufflinks. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
While on the subject of smart phones, I'm reminded that, as manufacturers have continued to incorporate ever more features into them, they have also tended to become, like diamonds, ever more 'brittle.' If you drop it and it lands the wrong way, your expensive investment is headed toward the trash heap, so it is prudent to do everything you can to protect it. Particularly for those in the business world, it is frequently important to do that with a modicum of 'style.' With the plethora of 'protective' cases available, this sometimes becomes a rather problematic goal. Fortunately, Sena Cases provides you with a range of options to fulfill these needs. Their cases are predominantly hand tooled from fine leather, generally with a variety of colors and finishes available. I've included a specific example below, but you really need to check their Web site to get a feel for what they have available for a specific device.
The case I selected for evaluation is their Samsung Galaxy S 3 Classic Flip Cover [Sena Cases, Samsung Galaxy S 3 Classic Flip Cover, SKU 825201, $54.95]. As their site describes, this case offers 'functional style with a protective front flap,' which is secured with a snap closure. Given that the display is generally the weakest point with most phones, and that many of the protective cases do nothing to protect the screen from a direct impact, this is a feature worthy of serious consideration. This particular case is available in black, brown and croco black. The phone snaps into a sturdy casing nestled in the encompassing leather. The case includes both a multipurpose pocket and a credit card pocket. Openings are provided for the earphone, speaker, camera and charging port, so there is no need to repeatedly remove the phone and replace it in the case. A particularly interesting feature is its removable ratcheting belt-clip system. When the user wishes to wear the phone with the clip, they simply need to screw the docking pin into the case, when they wish to preserve the clean lines of the case for pocket use, they simply unscrew it again.
These days, with the prevalence of identity theft and RFID tags,8 your phone is not the only thing that needs to be protected. Considering all of the data contained in the RFID tag built into the latest generation of U.S. passports, it is prudent to shield this tag and its emissions from would-be thieves. For any international travelers on your gift list, you might consider one of ThinkGeek's Stainless Steel RFID Blocking Passport Sleeves [ThinkGeek, Stainless Steel RFID Blocking Passport Sleeve, $44.99] from Stewart/Stand. While the mention of a stainless steel passport case might conjure images of something with sharp corners and lots of weight, that is far distant from the reality. These sleeves, as well as many of Stewart/Stand's other offerings, are fabricated from a cloth woven from extremely fine stainless steel threads. The end result is a material with a cool, smooth, almost silky feel to it. This particular model includes a black leather accent along its spine. While it was not their original intent to develop an RFID protection system, the fact that the sleeve is fabricated from such extremely closely spaced conductive threads results in its forming a Faraday cage9 around the passport, blocking the transmission of all radio waves. While not applicable for this unit, in regards to Stewart/Stand's larger products, it also will block all cell phone and Bluetooth signals, a potential major boon for those who highly value their privacy!
While exploring sources for quality smart phone cases, I stumbled across Oberon Design. While it turned out that they do not make cases for smart phones, the products they do make are of a quality to blow you away. While there are others vendors, such as Sena Cases, who make cases of the same high quality, they generally target the business market, so must conform to a different set of appearance parameters. In the business market, while your selections can still provide some reflection of our personality, there is a pressure for conformance and anonymity. With Oberon Design conformity is not one of their concerns, unless you want to view the care they put into designing and fabricating all of their products as conforming to a high set of standards. In my opinion, the goal of all of the Oberon Design products is to be a reflection of your personality. Further, because the dyed leather they use is uncoated, they will absorb oils from your hands as you use them, with time developing a supple patina. The artwork in Oberon Design's leather work is actually burned into the leather using a high pressure press, which also contributes to their products unique appearance.
Among Oberon Design's product lines are an extensive series of covers for the iPad and various book readers. The cover I examined was the River Garden Nook Cover [Oberon Design, River Garden Nook Cover (red) for Nook Tablet, SKU: NTBM20, $69.50]. This cover also is available in saddle and fern. While most of their leather products are available in multiple colors, the specific colors available for a given design are limited to those that the artist felt best complemented it. Devices are secured in the cover by a series of corner straps and the interior cover is lined with 100-percent wool felt to protect the device’s screen. The cover also is fabricated with both large and small side pockets for holding notes or identification cards. A Britannia Pewter (an alloy of tin, antimony and copper) button of matching design is affixed to the front of the cover and, in conjunction with a bungee on the back of the cover, is used to keep the cover closed. Extra marine grade replacement bungees are provided with the cover. The Nook Tablet cover also includes an additional cord and tab which can be used to form a stand for landscape viewing on a table top.
I get the impression that Oberon Design's real love is their journal covers. The one I examined was the Celtic Oak Original Journal Cover [Oberon Design, Celtic Oak Original Journal Cover (large, wine), SKU: JLS13, $69.50]. These covers incorporate a matching Britannia Pewter button on the front which, in conjunction with a leather thong on the back of the cover, is used as a closure. The large version of the Original Journal Cover measures 6” x 9” and comes with a journal insert measuring 5.5” x 8.5” with 208 pages. This design is also available in a small version measuring 5” x 6.875” and comes with an insert measuring 4.25” x 6.25” with 220 pages [$54.50]. All of these fillers are unlined, though they do come with a lined card insert for those desiring a guideline.
While I have not had the opportunity to handle them, Oberon Design has several additional series of journal covers. In terms of manufacture, the primary difference in specs is their size and whether they come with a filler or not. These include:
• Extra Large Sketchbook – 9 1/8” x 11 5/8” with 8.5” x 11” insert with 220 pages, $124.00
• Moleskine Cover – 6” x 9” with no insert (accommodates 5” x 8.25” Moleskine notebook only due to narrower spine), $65.50
• Pocket Moleskine Cover – 4.25” x 6.125” with no insert (accommodates 3.5” x 5.5” pocket Moleskine notebooks. Elastic strap closure in place of pewter button. $37.00
When contemplating one of Oberon Design's covers as a gift, keep in mind that all of these items are manufactured on demand and are not stocked items. In general, Oberon Design indicates that it normally takes three to five weekdays to custom fabricate an item, possibly as much as five to seven during the peak holiday season, so plan ahead! If you are looking for gift items requiring a somewhat smaller outlay, you might want to check the other leather items on their Web site, such as their business card holders, checkbook covers and leather coasters. Any women on your gift list would likely appreciate one of their handbags as well, but those would definitely not be a smaller outlay!
Oberon Design casts the Britannia Pewter buttons used in their various journal and book reader covers in their Santa Rosa, CA, studios. They have taken advantage of this expertise to produce a diverse assortment of jewelry items as well, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, bookmarks and charms. The sample I examined was their Oak Leaf Necklace [Oberon Design, Oak Leaf Necklace, SKU: PNN01, $27.50]. The Oak leaf medallion was hand cast at Oberon using lead free, food grade Britannia pewter. The 1” x 1 5/8” medallion is strung on a high quality leather thong imported from Greece. The clever necklace design incorporates two pewter slider beads which allow the length of the necklace to be adjusted from 12” to 24”. Many of Oberon's necklace pendants also are available in matching earring designs.
|The ThinkGeek 'Ties Suck' Tie with its encoded message. Courtesy of ThinkGeek|
For those giftees who prefer something...how should I say...more dramatic in their jewelry, you might consider this Wyvern Pendant from ThinkGeek [ThinkGeek, Wyvern Pendant, $24.99]. This 1 3/4” tall by 1 ½” wide dragon is cast from just over one half ounce of English pewter (an alloy of tin, antimony and copper) and rides on a 21-inch black leather cord with an adjustable closure. The design and appearance of this item is such that it can be worn readily by either women or men, even those not prepping for the next Renfair. Those so inclined also might want to consider ThinkGeek’s matching polished pewter Dragon Ear Wrap [ThinkGeek, Dragon Ear Wrap, $34.99]. Weighing just under three quarters of an ounce, it also is composed of English pewter and incorporates a surgical-steel post. The one caveat is that it is designed for use in the right ear only and will not work in the left ear.
At times, the ones you plan to gift are likely restricted to more formal jewelry, however, that doesn't mean you must be restricted to a stuffy gift! For example, consider ThinkGeek's Star Trek Cuff Links [ThinkGeek, Star Trek Cuff Links, $59.99]. These actually come in two different 'flavors,' one featuring what was originally the Command insignia (listed as 'Delta Shield' on the Web site) in the original Star Trek series and the other a representation of the U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701, itself. Both are constructed from enamel and rhodium plated silver. I fear the Enterprise version is too likely to snag on things, so suggest the Command insignia version. Both versions come in a presentation box with a magnetic latch.
Of course, if they are wearing cuff links, your giftee quite likely has to wear a tie as well. Love them or hate them, ties are a necessary artifact of the formal business world. Even for those who love ties, there is always that resentment from being told that YOU HAVE TO. ThinkGeek understands and sympathizes with that feeling. For those so condemned they recommend their 'Ties Suck' Tie $29.99 [ThinkGeek, 'Ties Suck' Tie, $29.99]. No, it's not a tie with 'Ties Suck' emblazoned down the front of it. Wait, actually it is, but you have to have more technical expertise than the typical manager to realize that. In appearance, it is a dark blue 100-percent silk tie with a grayish silver vertical pattern woven into it. It is only upon closer examination that it is evident that this vertical pattern is composed of ones and zeroes. Even then you have to know to break the pattern down to 8 bit bytes and realize that it is using an ASCII10 encoding before it becomes obvious that the tie is repeatedly stating that 'TIES SUCK.' Of course, if challenged on it, they can always just follow ThinkGeek's suggestion and claim it's The Matrix!. Unlike some 'gag' ties that are very cheaply made or are made using a printed image, this tie is of a quality that one would not be ashamed to wear anywhere.
|. Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics|
|Fashioning Technology. Courtesy of O'Reilly Media|
|Surviving Orbit the DIY Way. Courtesy of O'Reilly Media|
Once again, we'll wrap up our list of gift suggestions with a little reading material. The first item, by Tony Olsson, Dvid Gaetano, Samson Wiklund and Jonas Odhner is a tie-in with the earlier LilyPad kit from SparkFun Electronics. Titled Open SoftWear: Fashionable prototyping and wearable computing using the Arduino, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded[Blushing Boy, ISBN: 978-91-97-95540-9, ©2011, 108 pp, €12.00 (Part Number BOK-10576 at SparkFun Electronics, $29.95)], the original version was reportedly inspired by the teachings of the Physical Prototyping Laboratory in the School of Art and Communications at the University of Malmö in Sweden, regarding wearable electronics. It provides a good introduction to the Arduino and its LilyPad variant, as well as the basics of constructing fabric circuits. In addition to a tutorial on how to construct fabric circuits, it includes code snippets showing how to program the Arduino to interact with them. This book provides a good introduction to help people coming from the non-technology side get comfortable working with electronics and the Arduino. While it doesn't do quite as much helping those coming from the technology side to get up to speed with fabric design and sewing, it does a fair job of showing them how to apply their technological expertise to soft circuits. Note that this book includes a voucher for the download of an electronic version of the book as well.
While it has been featured in a previous holiday gift guide, I'd like to again suggest a copy of Syuzi Pakhchyan's Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting [O'Reilly Media, ISBN: 978-0596514372, ©2008, 219 pp, $29.99] as another tie-in for those interested in the LilyPad. While this book doesn't directly address the LilyPad, or even the Arduino, it does address how to approach fabric circuits in considerable detail, as well as including a good introductory electronics tutorial. I suspect that anyone not familiar with using soft, or fabric, circuits will find it helpful in learning techniques to simplify their projects.
The following two books are the first in a new series from O'Reilly Media and present a different take on electronics, as well as other areas. Written by Sandy Antunes, an astrophysicist-turned-science writer who is also an assistant professor in the Astronautical Engineering Department of Capitol College in Maryland, these books show how a private citizen can build their own satellite and get it launched, or specifically, their own picosatellite.11 The first book in this series is straightforwardly called DIY Satellite Platforms [O'Reilly Media, ISBN: 978-1-449-31060-8, ©2012, 69 pp, $7.99]. It basically begins by defining the terms of what this book and the following ones address, starting with the definition of a picosatellite and where you can purchase premade kits based on the CubeSat12 specification to assemble one. Other issues addressed include the prototyping and fabrication of printed circuit boards, calculation of your satellites power budget, criteria for selecting between an Arduino or BasicX-24 computer for the onboard processor, how to effectively use the radio transmitter and sensors, et al.
The second book in this series, Surviving Orbit the DIY Way [O'Reilly Media, ISBN: 978-1-449-31062-2, ©2012, 79 pp, $4.99], basically addresses testing of your picosatellite to ensure that it can survive launch and its time in space. Part of doing this is first guiding you to an understanding of what hazards your construct is going to have to face.
These books, in the same spirit as various earlier books aimed at the amateur scientist, provide suggestions for where to obtain the resources you will need for this undertaking and general guidance regarding how to approach this endeavor. Future books will include DIY Instruments for Amateur Space and DIY Data Communications for Amateur Spacecraft.
These are serious books, not just a fluff way of presenting vague information or something like a juvenile So You Want To Be A Rocket Scientist-type book. Part of the goal is to make clear to people that it is actually possible for anyone to build a functional satellite. Admittedly, getting it launched may be another issue, at least in terms of doing it on your own, as the lowest figures reported have been in the $7,500 range and up. However, for a group of people, even that is quite feasible.
And that brings us to the end of another holiday gift guide. From all of us at Scientific Computing, I wish you an enjoyable holiday season. Meanwhile, I need to start looking for items to fill next year’s guide!
1. The Medieval Shawm. Musica Antiqua (2006) www.music.iastate.edu/antiqua/mshawm.htm
2. The Hurdy-Gurdy. Musica Antiqua (2010) www.music.iastate.edu/antiqua/hurdy.htm
3. Arduino - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arduino
4. Ada Lovelace - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace
5. Serial Peripheral Interface Bus - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_Peripheral_Interface_Bus
6. Controller area network - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controller_area_network
7. I2C - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%C2%B2C
8. Radio-frequency identification - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rfid
9. Faraday cage - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage
10. ASCII - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII
11. Miniaturized satellite - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picosatellite#Picosatellite
12. CubeSat - Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubesat
John Joyce is a laboratory informatics specialist based in Richmond, VA. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.
Blackmore's Night http://www.BlackmoresNight.com/
Goal Zero http://www.GoalZero.com/
O'Reilly Media http://www.Oreilly.com/
Oberon Design http://OberonDesign.com/
Open SoftWear http://softwear.cc/
Sena Cases http://www.SenaCases.com/
SparkFun Electronics http://www.SparkFun.com/
SparkFun Electronics – Education http://learn.sparkfun.com/
SparkFun Electronics - ProtoSnapLyllyPadDev http://www.SparkFun.com/ProtoSnapLilyPadDev
UDR GmbH http://www.udr-music.com/