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Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Reduce the stress from the chaos of gift giving

Mon, 11/11/2013 - 3:57pm
John R. Joyce, Ph.D.

The tourbillion which is the holidays is rapidly approaching, and Scientific Computing is here to reduce the stress from the chaos of gift giving. No need to beat your way through the swarming crowds when we can locate gifts for you ranging from the practical to the exotic.

Musical selections

We have a number of musical selections this year, courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records. While I still insist that genre labels in the music industry can frequently be misdirecting, whether they lock people into a genre or lock them out, they can sometimes be reasonable descriptors of the style of many of a bands songs. That can be a helpful guide, as long as you don't let it turn into a straight-jacket. The label most frequently applied to several of the following artists is Symphonic Metal, which may be one of the more understandable labels around. As the name implies, it can be considered a fusion of Metal and Symphonic music. No matter how much fans of either group might react against that, I feel that both camps can find something to enjoy in the following groups.

One of the groups prominent in this genre is Dutch band EPICA, founded by Mark Jansen and fronted by Simone Simons, it is frequently thrown into the larger pool called Female Fronted Metal. Rather than disputing this branding, the sextet embraced it, releasing their album The Classical Conspiracy(ASIN: B001SWGOQ8, Item number: 100009, $14.99) in 2009. This album was recorded live in 2008 at the opera festival held in Miskolc, Hungary, where they performed in conjunction with Hungarian Extended Remenyi Ede Chamber Orchestra and Choir of Miskolc National Theatre. This was released as a double CD, with one CD featuring EPICA songs and the other more symphonic performances. As such, I feel that it serves as an excellent introduction to the group.

The latest release from EPICA is Retrospect (ASIN: B00FJSSK1O; 2Blu-ray + 3CD-Digi, $43.99; 2Blu-ray + 3CD-Digi T-Shirt Prima Book Bundle). This is a live recording of a three-hour concert held in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to celebrate the bands 10th anniversary. As befits an anniversary of this type, it has been released in a variety of configurations, including one consisting of two Blu-ray disks and three CDs, some including commemorative T-shirts. Note that some versions of this release are limited to 3,000 items, so anyone interested might wish to pre-order a copy. As it taps into some of their best work over the past 10 years, this release also serves as a very good introduction to their work. In addition to their own compositions, it includes classic works by Vivaldi, Pergolesi and Oscar-winning film composer John Williams. This concert was captured by 10 high definition cameras, but keep in mind that this was a massive live concert with correspondingly massive special effects, including a LASER light show, so it is probably a realistic representation of what many of the fans there saw. That is to say, there are times you can't actually see much of the band due to the effects, but the music capture is great, just don't expect to hear it at best advantage over a typical laptop's speakers!

Showtime, Storytime (ASIN: B00FPM1BOC; Item number: 102261, format: 2CD-Digi + 2Blu-Ray, $29.99; other commemorative release combinations are available.) is a live concert recording by the Finish band Nightwish, who are also frequently tagged with the labels power metal, folk metal and gothic metal. It was recorded at the worlds largest heavy metal festival, Wacken Open Air, held in the village of Wacken in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, on 3 August 2013 to commemorate the conclusion of their 2012-2013 Imaginaerum World Tour and features their new front woman, Floor Jansen. The concert itself has a running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes and includes many of the groups most popular songs. In addition to several other features, this set includes a two-hour documentary, called Please Learn the Setlist in 48 Hours, that follows Jansen's joining Nightwish during the tour and the process of adaptation that they all went through.

Our final entry features the Swedish Doom Metal band AVATARIUM, which I have heard described as Joan Baez meets Black Sabbath. Listening to several of the tracks on their self titled album AVATARIUM (ASIN: B00F9LHS78, Item number: 102139, CD - $11.99), this seems like a very apt comparison. While many of the lyrics are dark, I found their overall sound quite interesting. Perhaps the band can describe themselves best. Marcus Jidell, on guitars, describes AVATARIUM's sound as “Heavy, Dark and Poetic”. I think he is accurate when he says “If you like heavy, dark riffs and big guitars, emotional, raw and bluesy vocals, thunderous and groovy drums, I am quite sure that you’ll like AVATARIUM.”

When evaluating the above, keep in mind that with music, as in other arts, a lot of these descriptions are subjective. If the descriptions of one of these items catches your interest, I encourage you to take a trial listen first. Most of the band sites have at least a few examples online, as do sites like Pandora, Slacker, and Last.fm. It never hurts to confirm that our interpretation of what was meant in a description is the same.

Music accessories

Of course, it doesn't matter how good a music collection is if one doesn't have anything to listen to them on. Whether for individual use or for groups, we have something to appeal. Starting on the personal side we have UberBuds (UberBuds, $129.99, RRP: $149.99) from Musemini. Yes, these may resemble some of the earbuds that you can pick up anywhere, with the two buds connected by a flat ribbon cable, either yellow or black, until you notice that the cord only runs between the two buds. It's not magic or an engineering goof, this compact unit employs Bluetooth 4.0 to create a wireless link to your audio player, be it a computer, smart phone, or other electronic device. With a 30' range, it frees you from the bondage of your typical headset. The controls are integrated into the connecting cord, and its rechargeable batteries provide eight hours of play time on a single charge. The UberBuds include a noise-canceling microphone and can be used to make and receive phone calls on your smart phone. They have also been engineered with a hydrophobic coating, allowing Musemini to provide a lifetime warranty against sweat damage. The one caveat regarding this device is to be careful with the USB cable provided for charging it. To eliminate the lost space from building a USB socket into this device, they provide a cable that clips down onto two surface contacts on one of the buds. It works well, but you'd have to get creative if you misplaced the cable.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a gift to allow the sharing of music, consider the Buckshot (Buckshot - Rugged Bluetooth Speaker, $49.95) from Outdoor Tech. Named for its resemblance to a somewhat oversized shotgun shell, the Buckshot is a ruggedized Bluetooth speaker with a dust and water resistance rating of IPX5. With its built-in microphone, it too allows you to make and receive phone calls when paired with your smart phone. Its internal lithium-ion battery provides 16 hours of play time and it supports both A2DP and AVCRP Bluetooth profiles with a range of 32'. Its shock-proof rubberized casing should make its recipient more comfortable bringing their music with them whenever they venture out into the wilds of nature! The only issue they are likely to have with it is where to plug the included USB cable in for charging. In this instance, it is on the same end of the Buckshot as the controls, and you access it by gently prying up the rubber flap with the lightning bolt insignia embossed in it.

Whether someone on your list could use speakers more suitable for a party gathering, whether indoors or out, or simply needs a night light or alarm clock, you might consider the IceDiamond+ (IceDiamond+, $149) from Yantouch. Billed as a Lifestyle Bluetooth Speaker, the unique thing about this speaker is its clear faceted face which enhances its ever changing colored lights. By selecting the proper option, the light will pulse in time to your music or you can manually adjust it from dim to bright. Two white LEDs allow this orb to serve as a reading light as well. The IceDiamond+ will run for 10 hours on its internal re-charegeable Li battery, making it great for outdoor parties, or you can power it continuously from the included power adapter. Its twin speakers are side mounted to enhance sound reflection and generate a better stereo effect. In addition to the power adapter, a dual purpose cable is included to allow USB charging and line-in connection of other audio devices, along with a wireless remote to control speaker volume and light effects. To make this gift even more flexible, you can download apps for your smart phone, both iOS and Android, to provide enhanced control. This app includes a Natural Wake/Sleep functionality to eliminate the jarring effects of a traditional alarm.

Work-related

As a segue into our more work-related set of gifts I present the Mengfeng Keyboard With Speaker (Product Code: UKEYB011200, $79.00) from Brando Workshop. Despite its, um... creative name, this is a very interesting and potentially useful device. Available in blue, silver gray, or black versions, in appearance this is a 17 ¼” cylinder with ~3” diameter end caps into which twin speakers are mounted. After using the included micro-USB cable to connect it to your system for power, pressing the small silvery button on top causes a full size keyboard to be unfurled. While appearing to employ the same type of membrane switches as many keyboards, it does have hard surfaced keys, unlike the silicone 'keys' of many of the roll-up keyboards. Once extended there is a pair of slide switches to activate the keyboard and the incorporated MP3 player. The MP3 player supports both USB and TF memory cards, as well as a Line In plug. However, there does not appear to be any integration between either the MP3 player or the memory ports and the USB connection to your computer, other than for power. You cannot use it as a hub or memory card reader. While I found this device to be an interesting concept, its lack of integration was somewhat frustrating. In addition, I found the mechanism to extend and retract the keyboard much louder than I expected. However, for someone with limited desk space the retractable keyboard and integrated speakers might be an ideal solution. This unit also includes a patch cable to connect your audio devices with the Line In jack and an infrared remote for controlling the MP3 player.

Appealing to a somewhat larger audience is Brando Workshop's USB HUB Plasma Ball (Product Code: UHUBS032900, $16.00). This is a four port USB 2.0 hub which, as the name indicates, mounts an actual USB powered plasma ball. The review unit worked quite well, and I noticed no disruption of anything else while the plasma ball was on. Opposite the socket where the included USB cable attaches is a small slide switch to control the plasma ball. This switch allows recipients with ADD to use the hub without the risk of distraction, though its continually changing patterns might make a good focus for meditation and creative thought as well, just saying.

For those in need of a faster hub, consider the SATECHI 10 Port USB 3.0 Hub (model UH3-10P, $59.99). Weighing only 5 ounces, this sleek hub mounts 9 USB ports on top, switchable in banks of 3, as well as one switchable port on the end. The end port is designed to be a high current port, capable of supplying 5 V at 5 A and suitable for charging an iPad or other fast charge device. It incorporates high-intensity SMT LEDs to indicate which ports are active. In addition, a 5 VDC power supply brick is included, so no one has to worry about overloading the host port on their computer.

In some ways Brando Workshop's MicroUSB OTG 3-Port Hub with Card Reader (Product Code: UHUBS038800, $15.00) is one of the more exciting devices on this list, while being cheap enough to use as a stocking stuffer. It supports the USB On-The-Go (OTG) specification. The gist of this is that it allows swapping of which USB device is the host and slave. In practical terms, this means that you can plug this hub into your OTG enabled Android device and then access your standard USB memory sticks, mice, and keyboards from your device. This allows you to perform many of the tasks you formerly needed a laptop for on your smart phone or tablet! While other OTG cables and hubs are available, the beauty of this device is that it also comes with a custom cable to allow you to power the hub from any USB charger or powered port. This allows one to access portable USB hard drives as well, since normally the USB port on a smart phone cannot source enough power to drive one of these devices. Unfortunately, while the USB OTG standard supports it, this particular device does not allow you to charge your portable device from the hubs power supply.  However, in compensation, it does allow you to access Secure Digital (SD) (HC), microSD (HC), Memory Stick (MS), and Memory Stick Micro (M2) memory cards. Weighing only 38 g and available in either black or white, this is a gift sure to be useful to almost everyone on your list!

While on the subject of USB drives, another excellent gift idea is the CARBIDE (CARBIDE, 8GB, $94.95; 16GB, $124.95; 32GB, $178.95) from PortableApps.com. The CARBIDE is a high speed secure USB drive available in capacities ranging from 8 GB to 32 GB. Unlike some secure USB drives, this one uses on-board hardware encryption. Additionally, even if the machine this drive has been plugged into has been infected with a keyboard logger, they cannot capture your decryption code, as that is entered through a keypad integrated into the drive. Beyond that, this drive comes preloaded with the PortableApps platform and a variety of portable applications. Preinstalled applications include tools like LibreOffice (compatible with Microsoft Office), Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird (a standalone e-mail program), GIMP (an image editor compatible with Adobe Photoshop), Inkscape Portable (a vector graphic editor compatible with Adobe Illustrator), and a number of others. It is also extremely easy to add more of the hundreds of PortableApps available through the menu of the PortableApps platform. To top it off, these drives come with a 5-year subscription to ESET's commercial grade portable antivirus program, which runs internally to the drive, and free LASER engraving. Between the security of the drive and the ability to run your applications anywhere, without having to install the applications in Windows, makes this a gift that will be continuously used!

For the tinkerer

Almost everyone has a tinkerer somewhere on their gift list. Whether they are interested in learning more about computers, electronics, or sewing and e-textiles, we have something to fit the bill, frequently covering several categories at once.

Our first kit, suitable for beginners, is the ProtoSnap – LilyTwinkle (DEV-11590, $19.95) from SparkFun Electronics. The ProtoSnap – LilyTwinkle is an ideal kit for those just starting to work with e-textiles. Whether coming from the world of electronics or the world of sewing and fabric design, this is an excellent gentle intro to the world of electronic textiles. Simpler than their LillyPad Arduino projects, this kit includes a LilyTwinkle and four of their LilyPad White LEDs, which are LEDs mounted on support pads designed to be sewn into clothing or other fabric. In this case, all of the active components are mounted on a single ProtoSnap circuit board. These boards are designed to allow you to test out your circuit and components first, after which they are snapped off of the board to be mounted on your fabric. All of the components you need, other than the fabric you are going to sew the electronics onto, are here. That includes the needles, coin cell battery, and a LilyPad coin cell battery holder, as well as 30' of stainless steel conductive thread. When this project is completed, the recipient will have a design where the four LEDs twinkle on and off independently from each other. What it ends up looking like is up to their imagination. All of the project schematics, LilyTwinkle Tutorial, and a document on e-Textile basics can be found on the SparkFun Web site, making it easy to review and determine whether the complexity of the project is suitable for your intended recipient.

Of higher complexity is SparkFun Electronics' RedBot Kit (ROB-12032, $74.95). This is a robotic development platform designed to teach dual motor robotics and sensor integration. Everything needed to construct this project, with the exception of the 4 AA batteries required to bring the electronics to life, is included in this kit. The RedBot Mainboard is a combination Aruino with motor driver circuitry. Using the downloadable Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) they can program the Arduino to use the included Line Follower and Accelerometer sensors to follow a line, follow nearby objects, or to avoid obstacles. A Quickstart Guide and Product Video for the RedBot are online to assist you in evaluating the suitability of this kit. Note that this kit should require only beginner soldering skills, if that.

A good gift for those interested in practicing more advanced soldering skills and exploring digital communications is SparkFun Electronics' somewhat whimsical Botanicalls Kit (KIT-10334, $99.95). This kit includes a leaf-shaped printed circuit board onto which the included components are mounted. When fully assembled, the enclosed ATmega328 is pre-programmed to monitor the moisture level of their plant's soil and, when needed, to send a Tweet to remind the owner to water it. You will also need to supply an Ethernet cable and an Internet accessible network connection. To assemble this kit a suitable soldering iron and appropriate supplies will also be required. These can be purchased through a variety of sources, but you might wish to consider purchasing them from SparkFun Electronics as well, as they've selected quality tools, which you don't always get from your local five and dime.

For those interested in enhancing their computer skills, you might consider the pcDuino - Dev Board (DEV-11712, $59.95) from SparkFun. As their Web site describes it, this is a “cost effective mini PC platform that runs full-featured operating systems such as Ubuntu and Android ICS.” It requires no soldering or other assembly, simply connect it to a 5 VDC power supply, plug in a keyboard, mouse, and HDMI enabled monitor and you are set to go! For the Do-it-Yourselfers and hobbyists out there, the pcDuino is pin compatible with the Arduino shields, so they can take advantage of the wide assortment of interface shields available. The units form factor is only 125mm X 52mm, so your packing a lot of computational power into a small package. A Quick-Start Guide, Product Video, and Programming Tutorial are available on the SparkFun Electronics' Web site. Additional information and project ideas can also be found on the pcDuino Web site.

One of the hot topics with single board computers these days is the Linux powered Raspberry Pi. A great gift for anyone on your list who is fascinated with this device I would highly recommend a copy of Maik Schmidt's book Raspberry Pi: A Quick-Start Guide (The Pragmatic Programmers, ISBN-13: 978-1-937785-04-8, $17.00) from The Pragmatic Bookshelf. This book tells you everything you need to know to get the Raspberry Pi up and running. Starting with a general introduction, it quickly walks you through how to install an operating system onto a bootable SD card, how to configure your firmware and operating system, as well as providing a Linux primer. In addition, over half of this book consists of a variety of sample projects for which you can use the Raspberry Pi. Examples of this are how to turn it into a Web server, a multimedia center, or a digital kiosk, as well as how to use both its digital I/O and a variety of digital and analog sensors. Definitely a good introduction to the variety of things you can use this inexpensive, but powerful, computer for.

Clever gadgets

Available in five colors and three different capacities, the MeCam (MeCam, 4 GB, $49.99; 8 GB, 59.99; 16 GB, $69.99) from MeCam LLC. is an intriguing gift item. It is a hands-free camera capable of recording 720P HD video and audio at 30 fps or taking individual 5 megapixel photos that is designed to be pinned to your shirt, worn as a necklace, or mounted anywhere else to capture video from that point of view. Its six infrared LEDs allow video capture in low light conditions, but they do have a very limited range. Powered by a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that supports up to 80 minutes of continuous recording time. It is available in three memory sizes providing 1, 2, or 4 hours of video storage, but this has to be used within the time frame of the battery life. Anyone expecting to record sharp high quality videos in the dark will be sorely disappointed, as the images show the granularity typical of night vision cameras. Within these restrictions I can see where this might be a fun gadget, particularly for your junior spy. However, with a little creativity I can see where this gift can have a number of practical uses as well, such as for the Do-it-Yourselfer when they have to reassemble that appliance they were repairing!

Of course, everyone needs to kick back occasionally and relax. The Clever Touch Temperature Sensing Mug (Product Code: GGBEV007100, $36.90) from Brando Workshop can help with that. This tall, white and insulated mug is capacitively activated and displays the beverages temperature in degrees Celsius, so you'll never be surprised when you take a sip. For those metrically challenged, the heart shape on the mug glows red, orange or blue, depending on whether the contents are hot, warm or cool. It holds 380 ml of beverage, or just shy of 13 oz. The only caveat I have for this gift is that, while the Web page makes it clear how to insert the batteries, the instruction sheet that comes with it is more confusing than anything else. The secret is that the disk with the embossed heart on the bottom of the mug is held in place with a magnet. Simply pry this disk up and you'll see the screw that holds the battery cover in place. Unscrew this with a coin and the whole bottom of the mug comes off. Just insert the required pair of AA batteries (not included) as indicated and reverse the procedure to reassemble.

Gifts of beauty

Now, with beverage in hand, it is time to sit back in that recliner and enjoy a good book, such as Good Math: A Geek's Guide to the Beauty of Numbers, Logic, and Computation by math blogger Mark C. Chu-Carroll (The Pragmatic Programmers, ISBN: 978-1-93778-533-8, $34.00) from The Pragmatic Bookshelf. In this book, Mark looks back over 2000 years of mathematical history and explores some of its most intriguing concepts. Starting off with the basics of numbers, he builds on that to explore some of the more unusual numbers in mathematics. Whether examining the properties of zero, whether the 'golden ratio' is really golden, or why we still use Roman numerals, he keeps the topics interesting and humorous. He also takes a look at programming, sets, and logic, including a critique of Mr. Spock's logic. Highly recommended!

To continue our exploration of gifts of beauty, there is the Ora Pendant from Bathsheba Sculpture LLC (Bronze Finish, $35.00; Gold Plate Finish, $40). Somewhat like the Twilight Zone, Bathsheba's work explores the region between art and mathematics. The Ora is a 1” diameter twisted double-tetrahedron 3D-printed in metal and displayed on a satin cord. The stippled texture of the metal printing makes this pendant almost mesmerizingly touchable and soothing. Whether you give the subdued bronze or the attention grabbing gold, you'll find this unique gift sure to appeal and fascinate. This is only one of a number of Bathsheba's works available in pendant form.

Beauty can be quite practical as well. For example, checkout the Waxed Canvas & Leather Messenger Bag from Oberon Design (Oberon Laptop Messenger Bag - 15" Field Tan, $405.00). These bags are meticulously assembled on order from over 90 separate pieces. All fittings, such as handles and buckles, are securely attached using screws through multiple layers of reinforcement. All of the wear points are reinforced with leather, including the bottom, to eliminate the fraying problem so common with plain canvass bags. This design is available in both field tan/wine and charcoal/black color combinations. You can also select the design to be tooled into the leather, with the options of Round Celtic, Tree of Life, Dragon, or Rose. Oberon Design features a variety of waxed canvas and leather messenger bag sizes and styles, ranging from $170.00 to $470.00. If you need a gift for someone particularly hard on their bags, or simply a taste for luxury, Oberon Design also has a line of all leather messenger bags for $565.00.

If you want to give a practical gift of beauty, but are on a somewhat more modest budget, consider one of Oberon Design's Small Leather Portfolio Notebooks. The one shown here is their Hokusai Wave Small Portfolio Notebook (SKU: PTMM06, $68.00), but it is available in 10 different designs with matched colors. Measuring 6” x 8.5”, it is constructed of premium domestic leather with 2 large pockets, a flap pocket and a cardholder pocket, as well as a leather penholder loop. All small portfolios include an easily replaceable 5” x 8” lined pad. If you like the idea of a quality leather gift for someone on your list, but they need a larger writing surface, check out Oberon Design's classic size Leather Portfolios. Similar in design, it measures 9.375” x 12.25”, holds an 11.75” x 8.5” pad, and sells for $135.00. Keep in mind that Oberon Design's products are made to order, so if you need one for a specific holiday, make sure you place your order soon!

That wraps up Scientific Computing's holiday gift guide for this year. From all of us, best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season!

John Joyce is a laboratory informatics specialist based in Richmond, VA. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.

Addendum

Existentialists are wrong. If you pay attention, the universe is obviously Resistentialist.This provides an obvious explanation for the behavior of Murphy's Law. This addendum is a perfect example of Resistentialism at work.

Despite having started months ago to gather all of the items to be included in this guide, a simple transposed ZIP code resulted in the items from one vendor hanging up in their ordering system. Since this was one of our loyal vendors who have participated in this gift guide for years, and because they always have neat stuff, we are updating the gift guide with this addendum. The fact that this vendor was ThinkGeek is further proof of Resistentialism in action!

While we frequently give individual gifts as a token of respect or love, there are also times we may want to give a group gift, perhaps to help draw a family together.  In this spirit, ThinkGeek's first suggestion is an update of a classic board game, The Big Bang Theory Clue ($39.99). And those of you who have been reading up on the latest socio-dynamic parenting theories, this is a sanitized version of Clue, without a single murder.  On the other hand, the scenario for this version is Who betrayed Sheldon, What did they do, and Why did they do it, which might be even more traumatic! See who is up to determining who meddled with the sacred possessions of THE Sheldon. This game is rated for ages 8+ with two to six players and is a must for all The Big Bang Theory fans.

If you are looking for a gift to get your recipients blood pumping faster, a good gift to consider is the R/C Quadcopter from UDI R/C ($59.99). In addition to the two included 3.7 VDC Li-Polymer battery packs, which provide over seven minutes of flying time per charge, you must supply 4 AA batteries to power the R/C transmitter. Only 6.5" from rotor tip to rotor tip, this is an intriguing device capable of sucking up a lot of time.  Like previous radio controlled helicopters we've featured, this unit can move up and down, left and right, and rotate on its own axis. Unlike the helicopters though, this unit can actually fly a 360° vertical loop!  Its on-board stabilization system makes it much easier to fly than you might expect. Probably the worst aspect of this device is the accompanying user manual. While not the worst I've ever seen, it was definitely not written by a native speaker. However, if they are patient, and apply a little analysis and common sense, your recipient should have no problem getting it working.

In recognition of Dr. Who's 50th anniversary, ThinkGeek features the Doctor Who Dalek Projection Clock ($39.99) from Zeon. Shaped like one of The Doctor's classic foes, as the name states, it projects the time in glowing blue onto the ceiling, as well as displaying it on the base of the Dalek. In addition, it can generate sounds representative of the Daleks, including their infamous "Exterminate... Exterminate...".  Come to think of it, that phrase probably would work great in an alarm clock!  As ThinkGeek says, “Nothing wakes you up like the threat of extermination!” For those imprudent enough to ignore these threats, a 10 minute snooze can be triggered by pressing down on the Dalek. This alarm clock is powered by 4 AA batteries, which are included.  At approximately 8 ¼” tall, 6 ¾” long, and 3 ¾” wide, this is definitely a gift to bring a gleam to the eyes of any Dr. Who fan.

The 50th Anniversary celebration continues with the Doctor Who TARDIS Mini Fridge ($55.99, regularly $79.99). (For the mundane out there, TARDIS is an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, i.e. it is a time machine/space craft that is bigger on the inside than the outside.)  Admittedly, there are apparently problems with the hyper-dimensional circuitry of this unit, as while the door resembles the widely recognized British police call box, extruding from hyperspace behind it is an extended projection measuring approximately 10.5” high, 7.5” wide, and 10.5” deep. Powered by either 110 VAC or 12 VDC, this thermoelectric device is switch selectable to cool its contents to 32-44 °F or heat it to 131-149 °F. Its 4 L capacity provides enough room to hold six standard soda cans. This unit is also switch selectable as to whether or not it makes the familiar TARDIS sound when its door is opened or closed. This would make a great addition to a college dorm room or to a vehicle with supplies for a classic road trip, now if only it could shorten the time of the drive itself!

Let it not be said that ThinkGeek caters only to the whimsical, they have their practical side as well. An excellent example of this pragmatism is the Pivot Power - Articulated Power Strip ($29.99).  Everyone reading this has experienced the frustration of not being able to use all of the sockets in their power strip because the adapter bricks plugged into it blocked multiple sockets.  Because of its unique design, unlike conventional linear power strips, each of its six sockets are free to rotate so that the entire unit can be flexed into any shape needed. As a bonus, its built in surge suppression circuitry can help keep the recipient's electronics safe, while its 4-foot cord allows you to place it where needed, not wherever the outlet happens to be. The Pivot Power is available in both black and white versions, as well as a Junior version ($19.99) composed of four sockets. All versions conform to UL Std No. 1363 and are certified to CSA Std C22.2 No. 21.

Wrapping things up for this addendum is the Hurricane 2 Canless Air System from Canless Air System ($99.99). An ideal gift for pretty much anyone on your list that currently uses canned air to blow dust and other materials out of the nooks and crannies it manages to get into. (Actually, canned air is a misnomer, they should be referred to as a 'gas duster', but who am I to argue with the rest of the universe.) This could be anyone who works with computers, whether the hobbyist or professional, electronics, wood carver, stained glass artist, etc. It can even be used for such mundane tasks as blowing the dust off of a lamp shade. This industrial version of the unit can generate a stream of air at 200 MPH and maintain it for 15 minutes, try that with a container of canned air! Unlike canned air, you don't have to worry about the freezing effect from adiabatic cooling of the expanding gas and the endothermic cooling as the liquified gas evaporates. That is to say, you don't have to worry about anyone getting frostbite or anything shattering from the rapid cooling. Each charge of the Hurricane's NiMH battery is the equivalent of 25 cans of canned air. As a quick Web search shows that a pair of canned air canisters typically costs around $15, one charge of the Hurricane 2 is equivalent to ~$187.50. This means that this is a gift that will be more appreciated, the more it is used.

So, until next year (really this time), all of us at Scientific Computing wish you and yours a safe and loving holiday season!

1. Friedman, N. Fritinancy: Word of the Week: Resistentialism. Fritinancy (2011). http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2011/09/word-of-the-week-resistentialism.html

 

 

 

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