Christmas Gift Ideas

Holiday gift guides seem to be almost exclusively terrible, particularly those aimed at “geeks”, whatever people think that means. In particular these lists are often split by gender, presumably because they’re written by (or pandering to) idiots. And they’re typically full of novelties or cute ideas that in practice will just occupy valuable space and you’d feel guilty about giving away or recycling. This post is my attempt to write a list of ideas which I think has (mostly) genuinely useful presents on it, based on things we’ve owned and used for a while.

I’m quite conflicted about this exercise, I should probably say. Different families and social groups have very different present-giving cultures, but for many people in a similarly lucky position to me, getting consumer items that you don’t really want, or a subtly wrong variant of something you do want, is worse than getting nothing at all, and much worse than the person giving money to a charity instead. That said, maybe these lists are useful as a basis for things people might suggest and discuss before giving as presents?

(There are quite a few Amazon affiliate links here, which I haven’t tried using in a blog post before. I imagine no one much will read or click on links in this post anyway, but if that bothers you, you’ve been warned, at least.)

Muji touchscreen gloves

You can get gloves with conductive material in the fingertips from loads of places nowadays, in fact. The idea is that you can use capacitive touch-screens, like those on your phone or tablet, without removing  your gloves. These Muji ones are pretty cheap, and work OK – I find you need a bit more pressure than without the gloves to get them to work, but it’s fine.

Non-contact infrared digital thermometer

These thermometers are brilliant for accurate and remote measurement of temperature. (This was a great recommendation from my colleague Paul.) I use mine quite a lot for things like cooking and checking the oven temperature, as well as measuring the surface temperature of my feet, how cold the walls are, etc. It has a LASER pointer as well to mark what you’re measuring the temperature of. I think this is very similar to the device used by Gale Boetticher in Breaking Bad when he’s making tea, if that means anything to you :)

Ear plugs for loud concerts and public transport

I’m sure that my hearing was somewhat damaged from gigs and nightclubs when I was younger; it always seemed to be particularly bad after going to small venues where the treble is far too powerful. (I wonder if this is because the sound engineers have damaged the higher ranges of their hearing over the course of their working lives and then compensate for that, damaging the customers’ hearing in the same way, and so on…)

To avoid further damage to my hearing nowadays, I always take ear plugs with a fairly flat frequency response along to gigs. They can never be ideal: you often get a huge amount of bass sound through bone conduction at loud gigs, and the ear plugs can’t do anything about that. It’s probably better to have rather too bassy sound than damage your hearing, though.

The ones I’ve linked to from the heading have switchable filters for different levels of sound attenuation – the ones I have don’t have that feature, but in retrospect it would have been nice if they did.

I carry these in my bag all the time, and it’s also frequently useful for blocking out sound on public transport as well, to give yourself some peace and quiet.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

I think it’s always possible to think of a fun new project that a Raspberry Pi would be useful for, and the Pi 3 is a big step forward from the previous models, having Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in.

I really like the lovely Pimoroni cases, like these, which I got for our Pi 3, and they do other nice accessories.

A good battery charger

NiMH rechargeable batteries are really good nowadays, and save you quite a bit of money if you have lots of devices that use AA / AAA batteries. We got this battery charger in part because I believe it is the same model, albeit with different branding, as the Wirecutter’s “Also Great” pick – it has more features than their basic suggestion. (There’s a useful FAQ for it in an Amazon review of the US version.) Although the UI isn’t very intuitive, you can use the device to calculate the capacity of your existing batteries, which is really helpful – when we first got it I went through all of our existing rechargeable batteries to work out which were worth keeping and which should be replaced.

“The Knot Shop Man” books

My friend and colleague Dave Whiteland wrote an amazing of series of books called “The Knot Shop Man”, which are described as being for “smart children or thoughtful adults”. The theme of knots runs through all the books (which you can read in any order) and they come bound up in a very special knot. (After finishing reading them, you should try to retie it. :)) Not enough people know about these books, and I think the ones he’s selling at the moment are limited in quantity.

A Network Attached Storage device

If you don’t have any Network Attached Storage, I think you’ll be surprised at how soon you come to rely on it, both for backups and for storing music and videos on to stream to your phone, TV, or whatever.

For me, one of the Synology 2 drive bay boxes seemed about right, and it’s been brilliant so far. (Another of my excellent colleagues, Zarino, wrote a blog post about the initial setup of these.)

An AeroPress coffee maker

This is our favourite way of making coffee, for one or possibly two people.

A cut-resistant glove

If you have one of those excellent Microplane graters or a mandoline and are as clumsy as me, you’re probably familiar with the experience of accidentally slicing your hands when using them. You can partially solve this problem with a cut-resistant glove. (I say “partially” because this then shifts the problem to “remembering to use the cut-resistant glove”.)

A Mu folding-plug charger

These are a lovely design, which makes a UK 3-pin plug take up less space by letting you fold it away, and provides 2.4A USB port.

Butchery course at the Ginger Pig

Presents that are experiences rather than things-that-take-up-physical-space often work out well. An interesting one of these we did is a course in butchery at the Ginger Pig – you can do a class on pork, beef or lamb and you get both a big meal and a lot of meat to take away, as well as learning about what each cut of meat is good for.

Bluetooth keyboard

I really try to avoid using Bluetooth, because, well, it’s terrible, and gives me flashbacks to the worst job I ever had, working on “personal area networking”. But this keyboard has actually been pretty good – you can have it paired to three different devices and swap between them easily. (It doesn’t seem to be easy to find a keyboard that can be paired with more than three devices, but maybe someone knows of one.)

Bose noise-cancelling headphones

(I have an earlier version of these, but the QC25 seems to be the current equivalent.) I gather that headphone connoisseurs don’t particularly rate the sound quality of these, but basically everyone agrees that the noise cancelling is amazing. (The sounds seems great to me, for what it’s worth, but I’m not an audiophile.) For long coach, train and plane trips they’re fabulous, if quite bulky to take with you. They are expensive, though.

Sliding webcam covers

This is a set of 5 little sliding webcam covers. The idea is that if someone malicious gains remote access to your computer, then the impact if they can also see everything from your webcam is much worse than if they can’t. These little windows are really cheap and mean that you can just open the webcam window when you actually need it.

A bumper case and screen protector for your phone

I think I probably drop my phone about once a day, but haven’t had smashed its screen yet, thanks to having a good bumper case and screen protector. The Ringke Fusion line of bumper cases (which they seem to do for most current phones) are the ones I’ve used for a while, and as a very clumsy person I can testify that they protect your smartphone very well.

As a screen protector I’m currently using one of the “Invisible Defender Glass” models.







2 responses to “Christmas Gift Ideas”

  1. Sam Ross-Gower Avatar
    Sam Ross-Gower

    I received the cut-resistant glove from G on your recommendation a few years back and I have to say it’s been very useful, particularly for grating things. I also think that the Bose earphones are great – although frighteningly expensive…

  2. George Avatar

    This is a great list. Last year we didn’t bother with presents, everyone has had everything they need for several years now. I think I may invest in the knot books they sound really cool!

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