A Holiday "Don’t Give This" Gift Guide

We’ve all been inundated with emails and snail mail flyers urging us to do our societal duty and buy gifts for the holidays. For those with a geek streak, it’s like the gates of tech heaven have opened up and ushered forth a flood of deals and inducements to buy anything electronic. (Not everyone feels such deal-o-rama joy, however. S&V’s own curmudgeonly Brent Butterworth proclaimed the following late last month: “What would REALLY make my Black Friday special is to not get any more e-mails about Black Friday Specials.” He probably roots for the Grinch every year, too.) It’s a great time for printing companies and the Post Office, as well, what with all the paper-and-ink catalogs jammed into mailboxes around the country every day. It’s double-bonus time for me, since in addition to being techno-nerdish, I’m a catalogaholic. Drop a catalog on the table in front of me, and I’ll be there until the last page has been turned. And there’s nothing like a stack of catalogs next to the porcelain throne to make me feel like a king…with hemorrhoids.

Inevitably, there are numerous products advertised that make you wonder how in the hell they ever saw the light of day. I’ve seen more than a few already. So instead of the standard Holiday Gift Giving Guide, here’s an alternative Holiday Don’t Give This Gift Guide. Before we begin, here’s a general word of advice: just because it’s an e-something, an i-something, or has Bluetooth doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to make a great gadget gift. As the old saying goes, “Think twice. Order once.”

1) Cheap Earbuds
Another general rule of thumb: avoid, at all costs (so to speak), the siren song of the super-cheap earbuds - unless you were drawn as the Secret Santa for the person at the office whom you hate most of all. I’m willing to bet ten bucks that any pair of earbuds retailing for less than $10 is banned by the Geneva Convention for use as a weapon during wartime or as an interrogation device on prisoners. New research is showing that cheap-ass earbuds can cause significant genetic damage in listeners by inducing individual strands of DNA to unravel after as few as two hours of use. There is also anecdotal evidence indicating a direct correlation between cheap earbud use and irrational behavior, often leading users to become: incessant selfie takers, embarrassingly addicted to Pinterest, and/or serial killers. I haven’t actually tested the earbuds shown above, so I can’t say for sure they’re DNA destroyers. But, since the seller claims that for $2.77/each (with a 5% discount for orders of 10 or more!), they’re the “best quality earphones bass in-ear Earbuds headphone for mp3…” I’m suspicious. The free gift of a “dust plug” - whatever that is - with each earbud doesn’t make me feel any better about them, either.

2) The HAPIfork Bluetooth-Enabled Smart Fork

Well, for the love of fudge. The HAPIfork baffled me at CES 2012, and it baffles me still. I don’t need a $99 “smart fork” that pairs with my smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth and lights up and vibrates when I’m eating “too fast”. I don’t need it to record my time eating my meals or count my “fork servings” per minute as if I were training for some bizarre anti-eating marathon in which the person who eats the slowest wins. Instead, give me a fork that will poke me in the eye whenever I think about eating chocolate-covered bacon or anything else with bacon or chocolate in it. That’ll take my mind off of being hungry.

3) iKettle - The World's first WiFi Kettle

Despite the fact that the advertising copy for the world’s first WiFi-enabled iKettle $165 electric tea kettle asks, “Embrace laziness and enjoy perfect hot drinks, what's not to like?”, do I really need an electric kettle that connects to my smartphone so I can heat water for tea remotely? I also don’t want a tea kettle that, “welcomes you home by asking if you'd like to pop the kettle on…” I’ll tell you what I do want, though. I want a damn tea kettle that fills itself with water when it runs out. When you can do that using WiFi, I’ll order two.

4) The Ostrich Pillow

Okay, so the $99 Ostrich Pillow from Studio Banana Things isn’t technically an electronic gadget, but it’s supposed to be a perfect retreat for folks who are so overstimulated by all the computers, tablets, smartphones around them that they’re willing to look like absolute idiots as they hide their heads in a fuzzy cranial covering suitable for grey aliens on a mission to abduct researchers at the South Pole. It’s a retreat all right, because after a day of wearing this in public, you won’t have a single friend left in the world. (Although I would keep an eye out for UFOs…)

5) Sphero 2.0 App-Controlled Wireless Robotic Ball

Back in the day, when you were told by your parents to go outside and play ball, it meant running, throwing, catching, hitting, and lots of other physical activity. Today, though, there’s Sphero 2.0. It’s a $129, app-controlled, wireless, robotic ball. Let me say that again. It’s a $129, app-controlled, wireless, robotic ball; and it can be controlled from more than 50 feet away using an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. Unlike old-school balls, however, Sphero 2.0 comes with several warnings, including “Never abuse, kick, throw, hit, chew, crush, bounce, violently shake or excessively drop Sphero 2.0.” In other words: kids, don’t do anything more exhausting or physically taxing than tapping your thumbs on your smart device’s screen (there are over 25 apps available for Sphero) as you watch Sphero 2.0 roll at speeds of up to 7 feet per second.

6) hi-Fun hi-Call Bluetooth Phone Glove

Hi-Fun’s $70 hi-Call Bluetooth talking glove is but one of the company’s many “Italian fashion gadgets for iPhone, iPod, iPad & digital reader”. hi-Call is “a pair of warm gloves, perfect for every sport, from skiing to running” that incorporate capacitance technology so you can operate smartphone touch screens with the gloves on. But hi-Call gloves do more than keep you warm and in touch with your tech. They also make you look like a complete idiot. That’s because

“hi-Call is a Bluetooth glove that allows you to talk through your hand. The left glove has a speaker and a microphone sewed into thumb and pinkie, in order to speak to the phone, while protecting from cold.”

Yes, you hold your left thumb next to your ear while you talk into the pinkie on your left hand. It’s the exact opposite of a “hands free” headset. For those who want to look foolish-but-classy, the hi-Call Leather ($100) has just been introduced.

7) Digital Dudz Digital Christmas Sweaters

Evidently, looking stupid is in this year, and Digital Dudz Christmas Jumpers are designed to make you a winner (or loser?) in any Worst Christmas Sweater contest. In fact, Digital Dudz says these sweaters “are pretty much your key to total party domination.” All you do is download the free Digital Dudz app, launch it, and then slide your smartphone into the sweater’s hidden pocket. Depending on which sweater and app, you’ll be able to totally suck the battery life out of your phone as you dominatingly stroll through the party with a roaring fire or “creeping Santa” on your chest. Sweaters range from $55 to $65. T-shirts, including the “Most Popular” Beating Heart Flesh iWound design, start at $30. If this is the future of “wearable technology”, I just might join a nudist colony.

8) Lawmate Tie with Hidden Camera

You might think that $399 for a necktie is a little much. Fortunately, at the moment, SpyTec is selling the Lawmate NT-18 Tie w/ Hidden Camera for $249.95. And, really, when you consider the fact that in addition to including AV cables and a 9-volt battery holder, the tie has a built-in high-res CCD color mini-camera that’s “totally undetectable even from six inches away”, it’s a bargain. And if you especially enjoy surreptitiously spying on others, SpyTec has nearly an entire wardrobe of body cameras from which to choose - including wearable DVRs.

9) WowWee RoboMe

Hammacher Schlemmer’s website says the $130 RoboMe is a “robotic avatar that reflects an iPhone owner’s facial features and personality traits.” WowWee, the company that makes RoboMe, says

“the latest fusion of personality and technology, RoboMe™ is a completely customizable robotic buddy that uses the power of your iPhone®! Not just a simple personality bot, RoboMe™ is also packed with advanced technology, such as voice command recognition, remote video control, and facial tracking.”

Now, I usually like robots; but RoboMe gives me the creeps. I think it’s because deep down I’m afraid that once I dock my iPhone in its “head” it’ll be the final step in making Skynet self-aware. I’m going to stick with the iPhone Slot Machine instead. (Yes, Virginia, there is an iPhone Slot Machine charging dock.)

10) Clocky

There’s a word for people who think the idea of giving someone who perpetually oversleeps an alarm clock that “runs away and hides if you don't get out of bed.” Unfortunately, the word is definitely NSFW, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to fill in the blank. Here’s the scenario:

“When the alarm sounds, Clocky will wait for you to get up. But if you snooze, Clocky will jump off of your nightstand (from 3 feet), and run around your room, determined to get you up on time.”

I can guarantee you that if I find the $45 Clocky in my stocking, the aforementioned jumping jack-in-the-clock shenanigans will happen once, and only once. Then all of Clocky’s pieces will be returned to you with a note clearly spelling out what a clock sucker you are.

11) Dancing Water Speakers

Okay, I’ll admit there are a couple of times when water and music go well together. There’s the classic Fountain Shows of Versailles in France, of course, and the splashier Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. Beyond that, I don’t know. Some might include the Waterphone (“stainless steel and bronze monolithic, one-of-a-kind, acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that utilize water in the interior of their resonators to bend tones and create water echoes”). Synchronized swimming, on the other hand, can be definitely ruled out. Another thing that can be nixed is the Dancing Water Speaker. Having ruined a cellphone by dropping it in a toilet and killing a keyboard by spilling a cup of coffee on it, I’m not keen on mixing liquids and electronics. And I certainly don’t want a speaker that gives me the urge to go to the bathroom whenever I look at it even if my bladder is empty.

12) Smart Socks

BLACKSOCKS provides a quick explanation about the company’s Smarter Socks

Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks. Your phone would know:
  • which socks belong together,
  • and could help sort them out,
  • how often you have washed your socks,
  • when your socks were produced,
  • when you ordered your socks and
  • when your socks were dispatched.

Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.

This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true. The result is Smarter Socks - probably the smartest socks in the world. They are undoubtedly the first socks which leave their mark on the internet via the Sock Sorter and your iPhone.

Great. Now in addition to collecting metadata from my cellphone calls, the NSA will be able to discover when the last time I washed my socks and whether or not the ones I’m wearing actually match. I’ll admit, Smart Socks are clever, but they lack two key features. One is GPS capability so I can track down missing socks, and two is the ability for the socks to wash themselves. Then BLACKSOCKS can definitely sign me up for a Sockscription.

You know, the thought of all these crazy items being placed under Christmas Trees or in (not-smart) stockings makes me so tired and worn out that I may have to get one of those Ostrich Pillows before the holidays are over…

Slartibart's picture

Now they need to make an app to help me match my shorts and sandals to my black socks.