Holiday Gift Ideas
Getting the perfect gifts for your techie loved ones shouldn’t be hard this year. Technology is everywhere, and in our line of work, the challenge is not finding technology, it is filtering the really good stuff. The “high octane” tech. Although most of you reading this post probably recognize the merits of technology for learning and understand the potential of many of devices out there, perhaps the following list of ideas can still help you inspire your loved ones.
Have you ever wanted to turn your TV into a retro gaming console? Or make a sweet Windows 3.1 experience? Or turn an old monitor into a web browser? Or make a weather station? Or start experimenting with robotics? Then look no further! The Raspberry Pi is your savior. According to their website, Raspberry Pi is a “low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python.” Oh yeah. And it’s cheap. For under $50, you can get a sweet starter kit. And you can find Raspberry Pi add-ons as stocking stuffers. You can buy both the Raspberry Pi and accessories from many different places, but start at the official Raspberry Pi Products page. One last thing – because the DIY movement is so big, you can find resources for thousands of projects online – most of them free (including c|net’s list of 25 cool things).
In 2005, a magazine called “Make” launched. It was a do-it-yourself, bi-monthly publication for hobbyists in woodworking, computing, electronics, robotics, and other disciplines. It spawned “Maker Faire”, a public, annual event to celebrate makers and their creations. An entire movement was launched, and the Maker/DIY mentality has gained national attention (so much so that Edutopia ran a piece about MakerSpaces in schools). The gift that keeps on giving for your curious and crafty friend might very well be a membership to their local MakerSpace (you’ll have to do some research about local maker clubs). Membership prices vary by organization, tiers, and location.
da Vinci 1.0 Junior 3D Printer
With a price tag of $350 (though Amazon tends to sell it for under $300), this is (albeit expensive) an amazing gift. It truly does pack a powerful punch (with just under a 6″ maximum in all dimensions, the da Vinci 1.0 can print with up to 100 micron resolution). At this price point, you won’t find a more user-friendly or capable 3D printer. Head over to the da Vinci website to check it out. Don’t let the moniker “Junior” fool you – this is a big deal in 3D printing. Even c|net has great things to say about it.
Near Field Communication Kits
Don’t stop reading this because it sounds too boring! Near Field Communication (NFC) is a technology that allows devices (usually mobile phones) to do certain things in certain situations. You’ve probably seen this with Apple Pay or a similar service, but here’s the cool part: you can buy (cheap!) NFC stickers, and put them all over your house (or office, or in your car). You can tell your phone to behave certain ways when it gets close to these stickers (for instance, if there is a sticker in your car, you can make your phone fire up the GPS app). Maybe you want to put a sticker on your nightstand so that when you put it down for the night, everything is silenced. NFC is pretty common on most Android phones, but is relatively new to iOS (check out this list of NFC phones). LifeHacker did a great piece on how easy it is to use these NFC thingies. They’re pretty sweet (and a good metaphor for event-driven programming). You can buy NFC stickers in a variety of shapes and sizes (including a ring for your finger!) at Amazon. Plan on spending between $1.00 and $1.50 a sticker.
For that extra serious nerd, head over to ThinkGeek.com and marvel at all the nerdstuffs you never knew existed. While there are licensed products (Marvel, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Firefly, etc.), there are non-specific goodies too (and a holiday idea list!). Note that there is a section of gifts under $10, but you can spend hundreds of dollars there and not come close to buying things you never knew you needed.
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of Minecraft already. But if you haven’t, imagine the creative potential of Legos, but with unlimited resources (space and money!). It is difficult to classify this as a video game, because Minecraft fails to adhere to most of the video game genres. The graphics are not good (think 8-bit, old school Nintendo). The notion of antagonists does not really exist. There is no well-defined mission. The notion of points just isn’t there.
Yet, it has won an impressive number of awards and critical accolades. Minecraft is, at it’s core, an exploratory world where players can build. Initially, a player just builds buildings, farms, and tools. But the sky is the limit. A committed 16 year old built a functional scientific calculator that is about five million cubic meters. Fans of Game of Thrones have replicated King’ Landing (in fact, Mashable has an incredible album of mind-blowing Minecraft creations). Other users of Minecraft have created successful YouTube channels, and one ardent user has made tutorials that teach sophisticated concepts like digital electronics (see video below). The educational uses of Minecraft spurred an entire movement in schools (check out MinecraftEdu for more details).
So it’s safe to say that screen time with Minecraft is probably a good use of “games”. It’s available on almost any platform (including an inexpensive version for mobile devices!). It’s even available for the Raspberry Pi! Although Minecraft Pocket Edition will only set you back $6.99 (both iOS and Android), expect to pay closer to $30 for console versions.
Realized by a Kickstarter in 2012 by Debbie Sterling (a Stanford trained engineer), GolideBlox are touted as “award-winning construction toys for girls”. The idea skyrocketed, and kits were carried nationwide within six months. Oppenheim Best Toy Award 2013. Parents’ Choice Award (Gold) 2013. Toy of the Year Award 2014. Apple App Store Best of 2014. GoldieBlox is on fire, and there is no sign of slowing down. If you have a girl on your holiday list that wants to get into engineering, this toy is the ticket. Watch the video below to get pumped about what this toy can do for the lives of inquisitive girls. Gold is the new pink! It’s safe to say that you’ll be spending around $20-$30 for different kits.
Lego Mindstorms Kit
Legos (an abbreviation of two Danish words meaning “play well”) have been around – in one way or another – since 1932. They have always captured the imagination of kids (and adults!), and have solidified a place in popular culture in the past few years. Few would dispute that Legos foster incredible creativity, but Legos extend beyond the traditional block set. The Lego Mindstorms kit has transformed radically over the past decade. Now there are iOS and Andoid apps for programming (as well as traditional software for PCs and Macs). The level of sophistication evolves with the user’s ability, as well (everything from drag and drop to coding). But that’s not all! Now there are apps to design Lego creations in 3D environments, apps that act as a remote control for the Mindstorms creations, and games that involve the Lego universe (all downloads are at the Lego site). Lego Mindstorms are a perfect gift that merge the real world with technology, and it grows with the ability of the user. While few kits are under $100, expect to pay much more than that. Because, Lego.
And that’s a wrap! From all of us at Open SUNY, we truly wish you and your loved ones a holiday season filled with wonder, creativity, and learning!
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