Hippo Manchester
December 22, 2005


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Techie: Last-minute dork presents

Stocking stuffers for your favorite nerd

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Everyone forgets a person or two at Christmas.

We geeks, spending most of our time holed up in front of one glowing screen or another, shunning human contact, are easier to forget than most.

If there’s a geek in your life you’ve suddenly remembered, here are a few suggestions for that perfect desperate gift. And they’re all under $25. (Note to my own friends and family: In no way should this column be read as a personal wish list. Not at all. Wink.)

• Cornfield Electronics TV-B-Gone: The ultimate in simplicity, TV-B-Gone is a remote control with only one button: POWER. And oh, the power it gives you. It works like any universal remote control, except rather than being programmable for one particular brand of televisions, it sends a power cycle signal for lots of brands at once. Or, as its description on CompUSA’s site says, it “works by shining pulses of invisible light that tells most any TV to turn off or on.” That “invisible light” would be “infrared,” folks. Sorry if that’s too technical for you.

It clips to your keychain and looks like one of those LED flashlights, so no one will be the wiser — and that opens up grand panoramas of possible mischief. Bars. Laundromats. Museums. Anywhere you are, the TV is at your command. It’s like a slacker superpower.

• Kensington WiFi Finder: Your road warrior dork will appreciate this small device — also keychain-attachable — that detects wireless networks at the touch of a button. If a network is available, the user can then boot up a PC and try to connect.

The WiFi Finder doesn’t tell you if a network is protected or encrypted, but it does tell you if one is there. It detects both 802.11b and 802.11g signals and claims to filter out interference from cordless phones and microwaves and such. The useful applications of this actually outweigh the mischievous ones, so you can give this present with a clear conscience.

• OTG USB Bridge: Let’s say Geek 1 and Geek 2 meet in a field. Ooo, let’s make them secret agents, and the field is in Mozambique or Qatar or somewhere. They each have one of those nifty USB flash drives, and they need to exchange information stored on them. Problem is, they’re a thousand miles from any computer! Oh no! The fate of the free world hangs in the balance!

Fortunately, one of them has this USB Bridge, which allows two USB storage devices to exchange data without a computer. It can even copy only selected file types, so Geek 2 will get all of Geek 1’s Microsoft Word documents detailing the locations of abandoned Soviet missile sites that may or may not have fallen into terrorist hands without getting ahold of his porno images.

Now, in the real world, someone could connect an iPod directly to a digital camera, or a voice recorder to a portable hard drive. Data can be traded truly anywhere. Giving and receiving. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?