Gifts for gizmo freaks

Gifts for gizmo freaks

If you are still shopping for someone who is really into gizmos and high-tech gadgets, keep one thing in mind: The last thing they want you to do is buy them a gadget. You would think it would be a perfect choice—a nice digital camera for someone who wants one; a new computer, MP3 player or external hard disk. You know they love that sort of stuff, so how can you miss? Easy. Speaking as a guy who absolutely loves devices that beep, flash or plug in, let me explain. I know what I want. I’ve dreamed about it, read reviews and pondered the differences for months now. If you buy something blindly for me, it is almost certain to be wrong. I’ll be polite and pleased while accepting the gift but will quickly go back to plotting how I can get the one I really want.

The easy way around that problem is to ask the intended recipient what he or she wants. That works fine for some people. My wife, for instance, folds down pages on clothing catalogues as a hint. But some people still love surprises. So, is there a way to give the gadget-lover on your list a high-tech gift without picking the wrong thing? Yes, but you may have to think outside the box.

Let me suggest gifts that will come as a surprise and yet have a good chance of being welcomed. Like any gift suggestions, there is the possibility you’ll be off the beam. But I promise the odds will be in your favour.

My first suggestion is to give them the world—almost literally. A portable shortwave radio opens a universe of experiences. There’s a thrill in exploring the large commercial broadcasters that beam news, music and drama to all who care to listen. Many foreign stations have English language broadcasts. Or someone learning a language can listen to native speakers to perfect pronunciation.

You can also listen to ham radio operators (I’m one myself) and sample the unique programming of what the radio community calls “pirate stations". Usually operated illegally, these quirky broadcasters offer their take on music.

The first step is to buy a terrific book called ‘Passport of Worldband Radio’. You can go to this and read about the book and even order it. It contains reviews on almost every shortwave set made. There’s no pandering to advertisers so you won’t see puff reviews that look like advertisements. My recommendation: Consider small battery-powered shortwave radios made by Sony, Sangean or Grundig. Plan on spending at least $100 (about Rs3,900), and as usual you can go a lot higher for better models.

Two shopping sites to try are and (I’ve shortened a long address that will take you directly to a selection of radios)

My next suggestion is affordable and almost certain to please a true techie. It’s a terrific magazine called ‘Make: Technology on your time’. Subscriptions are $35. It includes high-tech projects ranging from the easy to those that seem designed for graduate engineers. All are fascinating reading and I’ve enjoyed the magazine without ever building a single of its projects.

Finally—and I borrowed this one from my wife, a veteran shopper if there ever was one—you can hardly ever go wrong with accessories. If the techie on your list has a digital camera, consider memory cards or, for some cameras, a new lens. Memory cards are also handy for MP3 players and even fancy cellphones. Your iPod owner would probably love a new protective case or armband.

OK. I’m fired up now. I’m going shopping—for myself.

©2007/ The New York Times