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One of the goals of Scientific Computing’s gift guide, in addition to providing you with interesting and eclectic gift suggestions, is inclusiveness. While the most obvious reflection of that is the diversity of items we suggest, as well as ensuring that there is at least something in everyone’s price range. However, beyond that, we recognize that our readers reflect a diversity of religions and cultural backgrounds, which is why we refer to this as our holiday gift guide. 

John Joyce is a laboratory informatics specialist based in Richmond, VA.

Traditionally, we start the gift guide off with a series of musical selections. This is both to reduce the stress that many associate with these holidays, as well as to introduce our gift giver and giftee to artists that they might otherwise never be exposed to and expand the range of their musical experience.  My personal philosophy is to ignore the arbitrary labels that music companies or critics assign to a given style of music and instead explore the diversity of music and make your own eclectic selections. I’ve found that within each music ‘genre’, even if I tend to avoid the overall genre, there are always artists and performances that I find that I enjoy. Fortunately, these days, you don’t have to blindly select things. In addition to frequently being able to check out CDs from your local public library, there are numerous online services that legally allow you to explore other artists and genre labels, not to mention YouTube with all of its music video postings, many posted by the artists.

Admittedly, some people will prefer a general type of music over another.  It would be a dull world if we all liked and disliked the same things. So while I will recommend a selection of recordings here, I also highly recommend that you go one line and listen to some of the suggested recordings, whether it is on the artists web site, the record companies web site, or a general site for musical exploration, such as Last.FM or Pandora

The first of this years selections is This is the Sound, by CELLAR DARLING .

Distributed by Nuclear Blast America, this new band, consisting of veterans Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy), Merlin Sutter (drums) and Ivo Henzi (guitars & bass), ushers in a New Wave of Folk Rock, confidently fusing heavy alternative rock with strong folk influences and poetic lyrical tales’. Released on June 30th 2017, this is the bands debut album, however, each of them has over 10 years of musical and touring experience with their last band, Switzerland’s most successful metal act to date, the chart-topping ELUVEITIE. (This is the Sound; CELLAR DARLING; DIGIBOOK Import, Item number:105947, $20.99; CD, Item number:105946, $9.99; BLACK VINYL DLP, Item number:105948, $24.99; Nuclear Blast America)

The next artist up is Destini Beard with Midnight Syndicate. This offering consists of two different CDs as well. Pairing the gothic horror soundtrack musicians Midnight Syndicate with Destini Beard’s alluring and haunting vocals, the first of these is The Dark Masquerade. (The Dark Masquerade; Destini Beard with Midnight Syndicate; Signed CD, $5.99; iTunes, $5.94; CD Baby, Download, $4.99, CD, $7.99, Signed Dark Masquerade and A Time Forgotten CDs, $15)

Their next pairing is the 14 track A Time Forgotten. It consists of a balance of fast-paced suspenseful songs and contrasting soft ballads, this is a theme album telling the story of a tragic hotel fire and the guests demise in the early 1900’s and the evil presence holding their souls prisoner. This is juxtaposed with the story of a young girl from the present, traveling to the once elegant Victorian hotel, to be reunited with her departed one true love. As the album copy continues, What comes next in “A Time Forgotten” takes a chilling turn into the unknown”. (A Time Forgotten; Destini Beard with Midnight Syndicate; Signed CD, $12.99; iTunes, $9.99; CD Baby, Download, $9.99, CD, $9.97, Signed Dark Masquerade and A Time Forgotten CDs, $15)

While these albums are described as “reminiscent of many classic horror movies and tales”, they also feature a haunting beauty all their own. A Time Forgotten also includes an eight panel fold out, containing the full lyrics of all the 14 songs contained in the album.

While all of the above recordings have things to recommend them, I know that some of you out there would like an option of an album consisting of Christmas Carols. I can understand that, with so many radio stations playing Christmas songs solidly from Thanksgiving to Christmas it is easy for the Christmas spirit to be burned out in you, I hope you won’t mind me offering you something with a slightly different twist, Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering. It features such classics as Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, Carol Of The Bells, Greensleeves, Coventry Carol, and more, as well as a number of the artist’s own compositions.

The twist here, is that this album is the work of a duo known collectively as Midnight Syndicate. This band consists of the artists Edward Douglas, founder, and Gavin Goszka, with 2017 marking the twentieth anniversary of this group. Widely known for their Gothic fantasy and horror soundtracks, they appeal to a wide range of audiences, ranging from those who consider them to be Gothic music pioneers to those who consider them the first haunted house band. Their music has transformed the Halloween music genre and has become synonymous with the October holiday season. They were responsible for creating the first official sound track for legendary role playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

(Christmas: A Ghostly Gatherng; Midnight Syndicate; CD, $12; <Note: All orders will include a set of three limited-edition Midnight Syndicate Christmas postcards (while supplies last); All orders over $10 will receive a Midnight Syndicate 20th Anniversary Coinα (again, while supplies last), Price includes free shipping within the USA.)>

Now what, you may well ask, does all of this have to do with Christmas music, unless you are working on a Tim Burton film? Well, like Jack Skellington,  Midnight Syndicate has decided to take over another holiday. It is easy to anticipate that the results will be depressing arrangement of songs converted to one of their horror releases. However, while the first track suggests that this might be the case, Midnight Syndicate is just playing with your expectations, as they seldom perform the predictable.

While the tone of the remaining songs does range from grim to celebratory, this is because they mine the Edwardian and Victorian concepts of Christmas, which included a long tradition of ghostly tales told around the fire. This album does not make the mistake of attempting to splice Halloween elements into traditional songs, but instead transports us back to what Christmas was. 

Some people prefer a gift that is more substantial than a string of bytes that you can download or encode onto a plastic disk. For those giftees,  Desert Steel has a number of products that may be a perfect fit for them.

Their products range from basic steel fire pits, to agaves, cacti, flowers and trees. In terms of size, they range from just over a foot in diameter and a little over a foot tall for their Pine Cone Luminary and their flowers vary in size from about a foot wide and a yard tall to approximately a foot wide and 1 ½ feet tall.  For those wanting something more substantial, they also produce larger pieces, such as their 14’ Palm Tree, 6 ½ foot Saguaro Cactus Garden Torch, and 14' Seven-Arm Saguaro Cactus. They offer many different types of flowers.

 

They were kind enough to ship two of their smaller items to us (as I don’t have any room for a 14' Seven-Arm Saguaro Cactus). The first of these, which I can see using year round, both indoors and outdoors, is their Pine Cone Luminary. It is 100% powder coated, both inside and out, so it will not rust or corrode. No assembly of this unit is required, however, it does come flattened for shipping, so your giftee will have to fluff it up on opening. The 3.5” diameter base of the unit is open, so that you can insert an LED light or candle, which are not included. This is one of their smaller products, measuring 15” tall by 13” wide. While you could probably fit a “tiki torch” type canister within the luminary, Desert Steel does not recommend it, as soot deposits will rapidly develop inside the piece and it will get “gross”.  However, they say that a 3” candle/light works perfectly.  The best option would be a glass jar candle but other 3” diameter candles will work just fine.. Due to its size and construction, you can use it indoor or outdoor year round. The fact the core of the Pine Cone Luminary is a steel grid, and the ‘leaves’ provide a protective barrier around it, I’d think this would allow you to enjoy the light of a candle without having to worry about any of your furry friends sticking their nose or tail into the flame. (Pine Cone Luminary; Desert Steel; $60; NOTE: Free ground shipping for orders over $100)

Helconia Bird Feeder from Desert Steel. Courtesy of Desert Steel.

If you are looking for a gift with some bling appeal, Paul Michael Design offers a signet ring. You have no doubt seen signet rings before, frequently showing the initials of the owner. A signet ring can be made in almost any design, but the most frequently encountered type consists of the owners initials or a family crest, perhaps with the family name or motto encircling it. However, lets be honest, there are likely thousands of people with the same ring design, so there is little uniqueness to it.

With this ring, fabricated by their Geek Dot Jewelry division, you can be fairly certain of its uniqueness, as it consists of the giftees name, motto, or whatever you desire written in Gallifrean! When ordering the Gallifrean Custom Signet Ring, the first step is to specify whether you are ordering the men's version (Gallifreyan Custom Signet - Gents) or the women's version (Gallifreyan Custom Signet – Ladies) of the ring.

Once you have selected the required style, simply specify the ring size, which alloy you wish to have the ring fabricated in and the preferred background. Both versions are available in sterling silver, 14K white gold, 14K yellow gold, and platinum. There may have been talk of adding a neutronium version, by that will be unavailable until at least their next generation of technology!

The available backgrounds for the Gallifreyan Custom Signet - Gents are oxidized (black),  black enamel, and blue enamel. Breaking the symmetry, the Gallifreyan Custom Signet – Ladies ring is available with oxidized, black enamel, blue enamel, and red enamel backgrounds.

As these rings are custom made to order, if you are thinking of giving one as a gift, it would be prudent to place your order early. As all of their jewelry is made to order, they normally request you allow 4-6 weeks production time. If in doubt contact the studio directly to see if they can still work your request into the production schedule, but as the holidays approach, it is not unusual for a backlog to develop, so orders can take longer to fulfill. You might enjoy exploring more of their The Good Doctor Collection or that of one of their other fandom groups. All of their lines of fandom jewelry are quite beautiful, particularly some of the engagement rings. 

Now that they’ve received their Gallifrean Custom Signet Ring, it is only natural that they’d like to show it off. As it is logical that only a Time Lord (Time Lady?) would possess a ring incorporating Gallifreyan script, it would also be logical that they have access to a T.A.R.D.I.S. (TARDIS).

Now if they have access to a TARDIS, it is also only logical that they have a key to it. After all, it would be negligent and highly dangerous to allow primitive Terrans to access technology like that.

Fortunately, through highly classified technology (i.e. They wouldn’t tell me!), Jewel Envy is capable of meeting this need, allowing one to purchase the required Sterling Silver Doctor Who Inspired TARDIS Key Necklace for your giftee.  The actual key is 1.3” long by 0.35” wide and 0.14” thick. To make it more difficult to lose, it comes with your preference of either a 17” or 19” silver chain looped through the key, so your giftee can safely wear it around their neck. The design and fabrication of the key was performed by Amanda Henderson of Jewelust, one of the goldsmiths at Jewel Envy and the one who designed the marvelous Dr. Who inspired Crack in Time and Space Ring that we featured last year. (Sterling Silver Doctor Who Inspired TARDIS Key Necklace; Jewel Envy; $90 Canadian plus harmonized sales tax (HST).

Perhaps you are looking for a lustrous gift that has more of a scientific aura around it.

In that case, let me suggest the Flux Original: A Scientific Toy That Feels Like Magic, manufactured by Feel Flux Kft.. In terms of components, the Flux Original is about as basic as you can get, consisting of a precision machined cylinder fabricated from a premium alloy containing 99.99% copper and a spherical Grade N52 Neodymium magnet, although it does come with ancillary items, such as a display stand and a storage bag.

display stand and a storage bag. As the copper cylinder is subject to oxidation from finger oils, each unit is wrapped with a flush suede leather band of your choice (Graphite Gray, French Beige, or Dark Brown) for handling. As simple as that may sound, this ‘toy’ is recommended only for those 14 years old or older. The Neodymium sphere is capable of holding a weight of 13 kg, or just under 30 pounds. The implications of this are that it should be kept a minimum of 30 cm away from medical appliances, watches, phones and other electronic devices, as well as hard drives and other storage devices.  It also must be handled with care around other magnets or iron structures.

Due to the strength of this magnet, if you were foolish enough to place your hand against a steel object, such as a steel door, and release the magnet within a foot or more of the door, it could gain sufficient velocity to break a finger, or worse. (Flux Original: A Scientific Toy That Feels Like Magic; Feel Flux Kft.; $99.00 plus $12 Flat Rate 1-2 day Express DHL Worldwide Shipping Service).

Flux Original is perfectly safe when you ensure that the enclosed directions are followed, so please do yourself a favor and both read and have your giftee read the full instruction sheet, located along with the storage bag within the compartment at the top of its shipping and storage container. It is also recommended that you only play with the Flux Original above a soft surface, such as a carpet. As the magnet is both very heavy and very brittle, it can shatter or cause indentations on other surfaces.

Okay, after doing my best to ensure you read the directions and follow them properly, you might well be thinking, what’s the big deal? After all, a copper cylinder isn’t magnetic, so what difference does the strength of the magnet make? The big deal is that this pair of devices, instead of being used to demonstrate magnetic attraction and repulsion, is used to demonstrate a more subtle affect that most people are not familiar with.  This can be illustrated visually by dropping the magnetic sphere through the hole in the copper cylinder.

Unlike the general expectation, the sphere doesn’t just drop through the length of the cylinder, but rather slowly floats down through the cylinder. No batteries, No strings, No magic wand or concealed circuitry!

 

What you are observing is the practical manifestation of Lenz’s Law. The changing magnetic field from dropping the ball into the tube induces a magnetic field within the walls of the tube. Faraday’s law of induction describes how this changing magnetic field induces voltages inside the wall of the tube. Since the tube is composed of a highly conductive alloy, this voltage creates eddy-currents that flow around the tube. These flowing eddy-currents generate a magnetic field that interacts with the magnetic field of the ball. Lenz’s Law states that this induced magnetic field is always directed to oppose the motion that generated it.

The faster the motion of the ball, the stronger the opposing force, The net result of all of this is that as the pull of gravity accelerates the ball, it generates an increasingly strong opposing magnetic force in the tube, so instead of simply falling through, the ball gently drifts down through the tube as all of the forces reach equilibrium. It’s a fascinating display to observe, and serves as a reminder that what we may intuitively feel is obvious can be completely wrong!

Moving on, I’m sure that everyone, including your giftee, has a slew of micro USB cables around, many of them entirely non-functional or worse, only working part of the time and under certain conditions.

I highly recommend gifting them with a pair of [2-Pack] Anker 6ft / 1.8m Nylon Braided Tangle-Free Micro USB Cable with Gold-Plated Connectors for Android, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Sony and More (Red) from Anker Technology Co. Limited.

[ 2-Pack] Anker 6ft / 1.8m Nylon Braided Tangle-Free Micro USB Cable with Gold-Plated Connectors for Android, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Sony and More (Red) manufactured by Anker Technology Co. Limited. Courtesy of Anker Technolgy Co. Limited.

Fabricated around a core of wide diameter 28 / 21 AWG data and power wires it can charge devices around 7% faster than most standard cables and sync at speeds of up to 480Mbps. Protected by a bright red braided nylon shield and strong stress reliefs in the cable connectors, these cables are extremely durable. 

The compact design of their connectors ensures that they are usable with almost any protective case. They are compatible with virtually ALL Android & Windows phones & tablets, including Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Nokia, LG, Sony, PS4, Xbox, PS Vita, Nintendo DS, and GoPro. ([2- Pack] Anker 6ft / 1.8m Nylon Braided Tangle-Free Micro USB Cable with Gold-Plated Connectors for Android, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Sony and More (Red), Model Number: AK-B7116091, ASIN: B01DEMTOQ6, Anker Technology Co. Limited, $9.99).

The heavier conductors in this cable result in a somewhat stiffer cable than many on the market, which consequently results in them not tangling.

Additionally, both cables in this two pack come with integrated hook-and-loop restraints, to make storage exceptionally easy. To top it off, these cables are backed with an 18-month warranty.

Also from Anker Technology Co. Limited is their Anker USB 3.0 Aluminum 13-Port Hub + 5V 2.1A Smart Charging Port with 12V 5A Power Adapter [VIA VL812-B2 Chipset]. It is compatible with Windows 8 / 7 / Vista / XP or Mac OS X 10.2 and above.  In addition to the 2.1 A that the Smart Charging Port can deliver, the Data Ports all support an output current of up to 0.9A. However for maximum performance, connected devices should not exceed a combined current of 8A. Unlike many, this hub sports a solid aluminum case, making for great heat dissipation, while still weighing only 215g / 7.6oz. 

The charging port has its own power switch mounted on the end of the hub, while each data port sports a separate data transfer indicator, which emits a blue light when active. Additionally, each data port has its own current limiting circuitry, so between that and the aluminum case, you will not generate the excess heat that can melt and deform some plastic cased hubs. (Product Name: Anker AH241 USB 3.0 13-Port + 1 Smart Charging Port Aluminum Hub, Product Model BW- U3039A, Model Number: AK- 68ANHUB-B14A, ASIN: B00GSLMTQ8, Anker Technology Co. Limited, $79.99).

Anker USB 3.0 Aluminum 13-Port Hub + 5V 2.1A Smart Charging Port with 12V 5A Power Adapter [VIA VL812-B2 Chipset] manufactured by Anker Technology Co. Limited. Courtesy of Anker Technology Co. Limited.

Once again, we welcome SparkFun Electronics to our gift guide. While there are multiple entries below, the majority of these are different component options for experimenting with the Internet of Things (IoT) and are part of the Onion family of products..

SparkFun classifies the Onion Omega boards they carry into three different categories: Mainboard, Dock and Expansion Board. The Mainboards are the heart of the system, the actual computer itself.

While it is conceivable that you could use the Mainboards by themselves, it is highly recommended to use it with one of the various Docks available, as this greatly simplifies powering and communicating with the Mainboard. The various Expansion Boards allow you to easily add I/O and other functions to the Mainboard, which generally is what the IoT is all about. In the following section, I’ll describe some of the boards in the various categories. Note that these are not the only Onion boards available, SparkFun carries their entire line. There is no need to purchase all of the available modules to create a working system.  In most cases, one board of each class will be enough to get your giftee started. The Expansion Boards category is the only one in which it might be prudent to purchase additional boards, depending on the interests of your giftee, as the headers on these boards allow them to be stacked, so that you can connect multiple Expansion Boards at the same time. Another point to keep in mind is that the sizes of these modules can be deceptive, as many of the pictures are not to scale. For instance, the Onion Omega2+ processor board covers the area of about 1/3 the size of a standard credit card.

None of these boards are shipped with manuals or data sheet, however, all of those can be downloaded from the products web page, along with additional technical information and, in some cases, suggested projects. One CRITICAL point to remember when using these components is that the Omega is designed to operate optimally with a stable 3.3 VDC power supply. The docks include circuitry to condition the incoming power from the micro USB connection. However, a lot of common components, shields, and boards are designed to work from a 5 VDC power supply. If proper level shifting circuits are not installed between these two, you can easily damage the Omega’s I/O ports permanently. It is particularly important to remember this when attempting to interface the Omega with devices in the outside world, where the giftee may have no control over the applied input voltage.

The Onion Omega2+ IoT Computer is Onion’s top-end Linux-based WiFi development board designed to enable makers of all skill levels to build connected hardware applications. Plug in your Omega, and it will boot the OpenWrt operating system right away, allowing you to develop in your favorite programming language, create web applications and interface with a variety of hardware with minimal time and effort spent getting started. The Omega2+ is built around the MT7688 System-on-Chip (SoC) module, which features a 580MHz MIPS CPU, supports 2.4GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, as well as 10M/100M wired Ethernet network connectivity, and operates at 3.3V. This board is populated with 128MB of DDR2 DRAM memory and 32MB of onboard flash storage. (Onion Omega2+ IoT Computer, Item # DEV-14431, SparkFun Electronics, $9.00).

This memory can readily be expanded by populating the microSD card slot on the underside of the Omega2+, such as with SparkFun’s microSD Card with Adapter – 16 GB (Class 10) (microSD Card with Adapter – 16 GB (Class 10), Item # COM-13833, SparkFun Electronics, $19.99). The Omega2+ has dedicated pins for USB 2.0 and Ethernet as well as 12 GPIO pins that can be controlled by the user. These GPIOs can support the I2C, UART and SPI serial communication protocols. Note: The Ethernet support in the Onion Omega2+ IoT Computer, is just the software support, to employee it, you will need to add an Expansion Board containing the actual hardware interface (Item # DEV-14441). No additional hardware is required to access the Wi-Fi, as this main board incorporates its own antenna.

While the basic dock, called the Mini Dock for Onion Omega will supply power to the board and allow it to communicate over the USB interface, as well as allow you to connect to various USB devices, it does not provide support for any other input or output, so I would not recommend this dock. The optimal dock for your giftee will depend on what they are likely to use it for. I’ll describe several of the available docks below, along with some of their suggested uses. All of these docks include a Reset switch, to easily return the board to its factory default condition.

The Onion Omega main boards can not be directly used with solderless breadboards, such as SparkFun’s PRT-09567 or PRT-12002 due to the fact that these breadboards have sockets for pins with a standard 0.1" spacing, while the Omega has a 2 mm pin spacing. However, the Breadboard Dock for Onion Omega gets around this problem by acting as an adapter, effectively converting the 2 mm pin spacing to 0.1” spacing.

This allows you to plug the Omega into the dock, and the dock into the breadboard, mapping all of the pins of the Omega to the breadboard, so that the giftee can prototype any kind of circuit they want on the breadboard without soldering anything.  The biggest drawback of this particular dock is that it does not contain a socket for any of the expansion boards. (Breadboard Dock for Onion Omega, Item # DEV-14436, SparkFun Electronics, $10.00).

The Expansion Dock for Onion Omega is probably the dock that the majority of giftees would find most useful (Expansion Dock for Onion Omega, Item # DEV-14439, SparkFun Electronics, $15.00). It allows you to plug the Omega into the Dock, as well as any of the Onion - Omega Expansion Boards, which we will discuss shortly.

This dock breaks out all of the Omega’s GPIO pins, running the signals to the adjacent connector socket. It is into this socket that the pins of the expansion boards plug. This dock also provides for the attachment of a USB device through the female Type A USB connector. It is powered via a micro USB connector, which also provides communication to your host computer or terminal.

Another dock available in the Onion line is a rather specialized one, called the Arduino Dock R2 for Onion Omega. As one might suspect, this dock features an ATmega328P microcontroller programmed as an Arduino to act in tandem with the Omega as a coprocessor.

This dock also exposes all of the GPIO pins of both the Omega and the microcontroller. The Wi-Fi abilities of the Omega can be used to facilitate wireless programming of the ATmega328P using the standard Arduino IDE.  All of the microcontroller pins are accessible and arranged in the same fashion as the Arduino Uno, allowing you to not only quickly port Arduino projects, but allows the recipient to reuse any existing Arduino Shields they may have. This dock also includes provisions allowing the ATmega328P to communicate externally through a Serial UART connection or using the I2C bus protocol. The only thing that might be considered a drawback to this dock is that the spacing of the expansion connectors does not allow you to attach an Arduino Shield and an Onion Expansion Board simultaneously. (Arduino Dock R2 for Onion Omega, Item # DEV-14438, SparkFun Electronics, $20.00).

Arduino Dock R2 for Onion Omega from SparkFun Electronics. Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics.

Here is the section where the Omega system can really be customized. The Onion - Omega Expansion Boards category includes not only boards designed to plug into the expansion connectors on several of the docks, but also include some additional devices that you can plug into the USB A female connector on the dock. A plus for devices using the expansion connectors is that these board include pins on the bottom and sockets on the top, so that you can stack multiple expansion boards together.

The simplest of these boards is the Proto Expansion Board for Onion Omega, as the board purchased literally does nothing on its own. This board simply provides a small soldering area for prototyping and a 30-pin header that plugs into the Expansion Dock. This provides you with full control over what kind of project you design for your Omega!  Depending on your giftees needs, they can prototype an entire circuit on this board, or they could simply use it to mount a specialized connector to allow access to some of the Omega’s I/O pins. (Proto Expansion Board for Onion Omega, Item # DEV-14443, SparkFun Electronics, $5.00).

This expansion board is rather different from most of the other Onion - Omega Expansion Boards in that it isn’t designed to control any external devices. Instead, the OLED Expansion Board for Onion Omega is designed to allow the Omega to report status and operational result back to the external world. With a resolution of 128×64 pixels, this expansion board adds a low-power 0.96″ monochrome OLED display to your Omega. It is capable of displaying text, images and even animations. 21 characters can fit on each horizontal row, with seven rows in total. Additionally, a single command enables built-in scrolling animations, where the contents of the entire display can be scrolled to the left, right, or diagonally left or right. (OLED Expansion Board for Onion Omega, Item # DEV-4442, SparkFun Electronics, $15)

Stepping away form the Onion series for a moment, SparkFun has also provided one of their LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kits. This is an excellent kit for getting started with fabric/flexible/wearable circuits. While the projects included are relatively simplistic, they are there to help you develop the skills required for designing wearable circuits.

Once your giftee has gotten up to speed with the included projects, they can easily re-purpose all of the components from the kit into a project of more interest to them. This kit encorporates a SparkFun LilyMini ProtoSnap board, which includes a processor that can readily be reprogrammed by your giftees using the standard Arduino IDE to support their own personal projects. (LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kits, Item # KIT-13927, SparkFun Electronics, $99.95)

If you are concerned as to whether this item is suitable for a particular giftee, I suggest checking out SparkFun’s Welcome to the LilyPad Sewable Electronics Ecosystem and E-Textiles web pages. The former link includes links to tutorials that cover many of the basics, such as ‘What is Conductive Thread’, ‘Sewing with Conductive Thread’, ‘Checking for Conductive Thread Short Circuits’, ‘Caring For Your Project’, and more. The later link, in particular, contains multiple links to more complex projects and in-depth tutorials showing some of the many ways that you can employ these components to develop your own unique creations. While this kit is designed to be an introduction, don’t make the mistake of thinking of this as ‘just a toy’ with no practical purpose. Whether you are thumbing through current electronics magazines or the latest fashion or health magazines, you’ll discover that wearable electronics is not just a fad, but has been strongly adopted by various designers, fashion, engineering, and medical, as well as serious hobbyists.  While some of the justification for that is just to enhance the visual appearance, you will also find that various people have incorporated it into their products for safety, enhanced functionality, and in some cases to have the garment actually change form based on what it detects.

We will end this years gift guide by recommending several books that we hope will grab both your and your giftee’s attention. The first two selections might stimulate your giftee’s interest in wearable circuits by demonstrating some of the things that are possible and how to go about creating them. Particularly with these beginning projects you can be a rookie at electronics, computers, and sewing.  You don’t even have to have a specific interest in these skills at all, other than to use them as tools to assist you in what you are interested in!. For some people, it might be looking to take their cosplay to the next level, while for some it may just be to make them more visible at night, while for others it could be anywhere in the cornucopia in between. Also keep in mind that the components included in this kit are effectively just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the components available from SparkFun and other vendors that you can incorporate into wearable circuits. It is exciting to watch the reaction when someone completes their first project, whether they are an adult or a preteen.

We’ll start our examination with the book Practical Fashion Tech: Wearable Technologies for Costuming, Cosplay, and Everyday by Joan Horvath, Lyn Hoge, Rich Cameron, which is part of Apress’ ‘Technology in Action Series’.

I was pleased to see that the book did not appear to overly focus on any one aspect of fashion tech, which is a very vague topic that can cover an awful lot of ground.  Instead, as this book was designed so that it could be used either as a text book or to help the individual engaged in Costume Play (Cosplay) or fashion design, the book discusses the optimal approaches to take in terms of designing and fabricating their project, whether for a Cosplay project or a high fashion gown, as well as anything in-between. (Practical Fashion Tech: Wearable Technologies for Costuming, Cosplay, and Everyday; Authors: Joan Horvath, Lyn Hoge, Rich Cameron; Publisher: Apress; Pages: XXII, 268; eBook: ISBN 978-1-4842-1662-0, $29.99; Trade Paperback: ISBN 978-1- 4842-1663-7, $39.99; ©2016 ).

To successfully do that, they make few assumptions regarding the readers background, no matter where they are coming from, and actually start with a brief history of fashion and costuming, as well as explaining their design philosophy and the factors that you need to consider when going into a project. The 13 chapters of this book build upon each other, so that by the time you are finished you should be comfortable in working with both electronics, computer programming, and fabrics. In all areas, it starts with the basics, introducing hand sewing, then moving on to threading and using sewing machines, as well as when to use the various stitches. With electronics, it starts with the basic components and circuits, before working up to more complex projects. Even when it starts merging these fields, they start simple and work their way up.

Actually, this book goes well beyond working with just ‘fabrics’. It also reviews the use of 3D printers, making a mold or casting, using sensors and servos, how to determine where to place sensors and switches, etc. For more advanced projects, it includes the use of Laser Cutters, construction techniques for Foam Armor, Vacuum Forming, and use of Worbla9.

They continually emphasize the importance of planning and discuss it in relation to the projects being worked on.  Can the wearer move in it?  If you attach Y first, how will you attach X? How to lay out the circuit path and calculating your electrical load budget for sizing the required battery/batteries. When winding up the book, they perform an exploration of the way that practical fashion technology is already being exploited. At many points throughout this book, they include external links to additional resources. In fact, the entire Appendix B consists of a long series of links to additional resources for each chapter.

Another book in Apress’ ‘Technology in Action Series’ is Crafting Wearables: Blending Technology with Fashion by Sibel Deren Guler with Madeline Gannon and Kate Sicchio. This book contains some valuable information for those working with wearables, but feels like it is taking a shallower, but wider, look at the concept of wearables.  As an example, it includes discussion of a number of current experiments in body modification that some independent researches have been pursuing.  This includes the implantation of magnets in the fingers and Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) under the skin, as well as advanced work with interactive prosthesis, basically, early versions of a Cyborg. (Crafting Wearables: Blending Technology with Fashion ; Authors: Sibel Deren Guler with Madeline Gannon and Kate Sicchio; Publisher: Apress; Pages: XXIV, 216 ; eBook: ISBN 978-1-4842- 1808-2, $29.99; Trade Paperback: ISBN 978-1-4842-1807-5, $39.99; ©2016 )

The book is broken down into three different sections, with various numbers of chapters. The first section provides a background to the history of wearables, both factual and fictional, including an examination of the earliest examples of actual wearable computation devices. It also examines how popular culture, particularly in the form of science fiction props, has set the stage for the launching of various new technologies.

The author describes the second section of this book as containing the majority of the ‘wearable recipes’. This includes an examination of the techniques developed by researchers and hobbyists as they pertain to wearables. Additionally, launching from an examination of current textile manufacturing, it progresses to learning about basic sewing and pattern making techniques. As with Practical Fashion Tech it then features some tutorials for sewing circuits and approaches for fabricating various ‘soft’ sensors.

The section ends with a review of the common materials used by those working in the e-textile field and the recommended applications of those materials, along with how wearables are altering current manufacturing practices.

The final section is an in-depth examination of presently popular wearable devices, along with an examination of currently active research fields, including body modification, and speculation regarding realistic future developments in this field along with their potential impact on society.

I think this is a worthwhile and interesting book, but because of it’s broader topic, I think that the tutorials are more superficial than in Practical Fashion Tech.  But there are a number of places where it explores new areas, such as the current crop of protective fabrics. It’s possible that I’m being too harsh on this book, as I can see where those with little technical background could benefit from this books approach, such as its examination of depth cameras. So, I believe that it is useful and although to some extent, the two books overlap and complement each other, if I were forced to choose just one, I’d be more inclined to go for Practical Fashion Tech. I believe that it’s multiple authors, coming from very different, but intersecting, backgrounds, helps ensure their accurate and in depth coverage of the field. However, you can easily draw your own conclusions, as excerpts from both books are available on the Apress web site. Remember that the intent of the two books is slightly different, so which will make a better gift in large part depends on what your giftee is interested in.

Rounding out our selection of books is Gaslit Insurrection: Clockworks of War, Book 1 by Jason Gilbert.

This is just a book to relax with and unwind, exploring Gilbert’s imaginative world. No project, no problems to solve. In part Science Fiction, Alternate History, Steam Punk, Fantasy, and Magic. There is even an homage to the hardboiled school of crime fiction, giving it a bit of a film noir quality.

This book follows the adventures of private investigator Kane Shepherd, called in to investigate a series of strange murders. Murders of young women, all blood missing from their bodies and the bodies cooked from the inside out. It doesn’t take long for Kane to realize that this case is much larger and dangerous than he thought, as he’s swept into a tourbillion of conspiracy, corruption, bloodshed, and potential revolution. (Gaslit Insurrection: Clockworks of War, Book 1; Author: Jason H. Gilbert; Publisher: The Forgotten Drawer; Trade Paperback Edition: ISBN-10: 1548447943, ISBN-13: 978-1548447946, 290 pages, ©2017, $14.99; Kindle Edition: ASIN: B073GCQHMR, File Size: 1027 KB, ©2017, $4.99).

So suspend your sense of disbelief, lay back in your recliner, in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, and get ready for a thrill ride while appreciating the things that have changed and those that have remained the same in this alternate world. As Gilbert’s business cards read, “Your imagination is my playground”. Have fun! To play fair, I feel that I should point out that this is just book 1 of a planned trilogy, so don’t anticipate everything being wrapped up, nice and tidy by the end of the book.

Gilbert’s other activities include his noble self sacrifice of maintaining the sites Fail-Flix on the web, Facebook, and YouTube. In describing these sites, he refers to himself as writing “reviews on bad movies (mostly horror) that may or may not have slipped by without being noticed. If you're looking for a good laugh, welcome! If you're looking for recommendations on academy award winning blockbusters, prepare to be disappointed.“. Many of these reviews, along with other editorial comments, have been collected and published in book form, available on Amazon as Fail-Flix: Bad Movies Beware!

Happy Holidays!

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