Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e 
Beware of geeks baring gifts: A list for last-minute shoppers

Dec. 17, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright 2006, The Post-Standard

   You don't have to buy an ugly tie or a tin of Danish cookies as a last-minute gift. I've got some suggestions for stuff you can give without guilt to anyone who likes science and technology.
   A coffee-table book that everyone will actually read. It's "Postcards from Mars" by Jim Bell, the Cornell scientist in charge of all Mars rover photography in the two Mars missions of 2004. It's got 150 gorgeous photos taken by the rovers. Amazon sells it for $31.50 and you can also find it at some local bookstores.
   A Samsung 400-gigabyte hard drive. This is true geek chic, and the price is only $126.99. Note that this monster is a Serial ATA drive, not the older parallel ATA kind, so it works only in newer PCs and Apple Macs. Get it from www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductDetail.jsp?ProductCode=101065.
   An Office suite that doesn't cost much. Microsoft has a deal for you if you don't yet have Microsoft Office or want to install it on a new computer. It's called the Student and Teacher Edition. Amazon has both the Windows and Mac versions. Both of them sell for about $120 and have a $15 discount, for a net price of about $105. That's a bargain.
   An office suite that doesn't cost anything. You read that right. You don't have to pay a cent for a good Office suite. Get OpenOffice from www.openoffice.org if you have Windows or Linux. If you have an OS X Mac, get the Mac version, called NeoOffice, from www.planamesa.com/neojava. OpenOffice and NeoOffice have a first-rate word processor -- in some ways, I like it better than Microsoft Word -- and a stunning presentation program that's almost as good as PowerPoint.
   A photo-editing program that makes you feel good two ways. It's got the unforgettable name of "GIMP" -- universally called "The GIMP" by all of us old-timey Linux geeks -- and costs zilch, yet can do many of the tricks Adobe's all-of-a-week's-pay Photoshop does. Get it from www.gimp.org for Windows and Linux users, or from www.macgimp.org for Mac OS X users. Note well: The GIMP is, well, different. It takes time to learn. But it's worth the trouble.
   A revealing look at the guy running Microsoft. What a gift for anyone who's wondering if monopolies are good things. It's a YouTube video showing Steve Ballmer prancing and screaming. You'd never see Steve Jobs do this. Just send this link as the gift: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RW2BdMv33cE.
   A treasure of downloadable rock concerts, all free. Give this link -- www.sugarmegs.org -- or go to the site yourself and grab any of the 12,000 recorded live concerts and burn a few to CD for your best bud. My favorites are the Grateful Dead concerts on the site -- so many you'll weep from joy -- but I also like some of the obscure rockers from the '70s and, yes, '60s.
   Tech note: To record these streaming Real Audio concert recordings, you need software that can capture the sound onto your hard drive in real time. I use Audio Hijack Pro on my OS X Mac (from www.rogueamoeba.com). Windows fans can use Total Recorder from www.highcriteria.com.