All I Want for Christmas is...

By: Jerry Horton, IT Director

Autumn is here! Days are filled with harvest, canning, and the warmth of family Thanksgiving traditions. As we celebrate the bounties of our work during the fall, thoughts begin to turn to winter and the excitement of holiday giving. So, what in the world do you get that special person in your life? They already have all of the ties, mittens, and ugly Christmas sweaters they can possibly use; no one likes fruitcake; and those golf clubs may be on sale, but wrapping a golf club is like folding a fitted sheet!

Not to worry, friends, your techno-geek of all trades is here to help with suggestions sure to satisfy the techies, and even the not-so-techies, in your life.

Reading Material

I opted to avoid calling this one ‘books’ because A) I’ve found that certain online magazines are well worth the time and B) ‘Reading Material’ just sounds more techie…

  • How To by Randall Munroe: There is a famous techie cartoon strip named XKCD which is filled with stick figures, math, physics, and humor. The author of this strip, Randall Munroe, has also written books which are both educational and delightful. His latest is certainly no different – absolutely impractical scientific solutions to (mostly) everyday problems. Buy it from Amazon
  • ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ by Jaron Lanier: Do you have a friend or loved one who just can’t seem to pull themselves away from some social media, webpage or app? Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality guru, gives some solid and timely advice against social media in his book. Get it from Walmart
  • Magazines & Webzines: Want to keep up on the latest in science and technology? Discover and Wired magazines are great choices to stay informed. Both have traditional print as well as webzines.

Smart Stuff

Yes, you are correct: smart stuff is a pretty vague category. One of the biggest problems is that a lot of products are marketed as ‘smart’ without a clear definition of what that actually mean. For our purposes, we will say that something is ‘smart’ if it can connect, collect, and share information with other devices and the user.

  • Smartwatches: Smartwatches seem to be everywhere and made by everyone, so how in the heck can you choose one?
    • Make sure that you are shopping for a smartwatch that will connect to the correct phone! Apple watches will only work with the iPhone, but some smartwatches running Google’s Wear OS will work for both Android or iPhone.
    • Make sure the watch supports features that are important to you. FitBit is great for helping you keep up with your exercise regimen, but won’t support your Apple Music playlists.
    • Check the specifications so you can get the watch with the right battery life and water resistance for you, as well as swappable bands and clasps. A smartwatch has to be practical and fashionable! Find your smartwatch from BestBuy.

Smart Home Devices

At this point, it would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of a smart home device. I’ve even seen a ‘smart’ dog treat dispenser… Rather than adopt a technology just because it is fun or creative, let’s stick with the ones that are easy to install, use, and have some practical value.

  • Thermostats: The most practical smart home devices are ones that can help you save money. Smart thermostats are the next evolution in energy control, replacing the clunky and temperamental programmable thermostats of a few years ago. Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell are top-rated choices with proven energy savings.
  • Smart locks: Another very practical smart home device which can actually save you a lot of time and trouble. No need to pass out and keep track of physical keys – just give access to the folks who need it, even on a temporary basis. My favorite is the August Lock Pro, which retrofits onto any existing deadbolt, but Yale, Kwikset, and Schlage all have great models, too.
  • Smart Speakers/Home hub: Now, I am a music lover, so smart speakers are right up my alley, but they can also do so much more – local news and weather, daily devotionals, games, and even working as an intercom. There are far too many manufacturers and products to list them all, but here are a few to get you started: Amazon Echo, Sonos One, and the Apple HomePod are all great choices. If you plan to build home automation routines, you will need to make sure you have a home hub for all of those devices to communicate. Fortunately, the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the Apple HomePod have this feature built in. If you want some more information, or would like to see home automation in action, contact us and tour our Smart Home demo!

Smart Clothing

Yes, you read that correctly; there is such a thing as smart clothing. Most of the products are centered around exercise gear, but there are some interesting (if a little bizarre) items that might fill a need.

  • Smart Jeans: As odd as it may sound, your pants will know where you are even if you don’t. They have built-in geolocation and alert sensors which connect to your smart phone to help you navigate in urban areas. Sorry, guys, these are for the lovely ladies.
  • Smart Jackets: Same concept as the smart jeans. Google does it again. Take a look here.
  • Smart Socks: Before you roll your eyes and wonder what the world is coming to, the smart socks I am listing here actually have a practical purpose. First is the Owlet, a smart sock for babies. It monitors heart rate, oxygen level, and sleep cycles. Next is the Siren, a smart sock designed to help diabetic patients take better care of their feet. Both of these are great examples of the amazing healthcare potential of smart wearables!

 Techie Miscellaneous Gifts

Sometimes, a gift doesn’t need batteries or WiFi to be fun, practical, or just that thing to finish out your collection. Here are some things for the nerdier set…

  • Can’t find the key you are looking for on the ring? Or just can’t find your keyring because you set it down and walked away? Keysmart Pro is your solution! This product is something like a do-it-yourself ‘swiss army’ key organizer with a Tile™ locator built in, so now you can find the right key after you find your keyring!
  • Ok, I freely admit these two products remind of late night TV infomercials (I can almost hear the dulcet tones of Billy Mays extolling the virtues of these…), but I can see some practical value in them. Fair warning – I make no claim that these are good products, just that they are interesting, so buy these products at your own risk!
    • VIZR turns your smartphone into a heads-up display. To me, this has some real practical value while using navigation apps and driving. I’m surprised some smartphone manufacturer hasn’t done this yet.
    • Peeps claims that this is the same tech used by NASA on the space station (for what exactly, I don’t really know, and they don’t say). From practical engineering standpoint, using forceps (AKA tweezers) to clean glasses makes some good sense, as does carbon microfiber cloth cleaning pads.
  • Need some new kicks? Concerned about the environment? Rothy’s has the answer to both! This company makes their footwear by using a type of 3D printing to weave the shoes out of recycled water bottles. Stylish and environmentally friendly!
  • This gadget is tailor-made for me, your humble tech-head (ok, maybe humble is a little inaccurate…) Finally, someone took the time and trouble to invent a temperature-regulating coffee mug! Ember makes smart coffee and travel mugs, which use a mobile app to keep your beverage at just the right temperature and even track your caffeine intake.
  • It’s no secret – I detest the cold. It seems I can never keep my hands or feet warm enough. If you are like me, try these products:
    • Human Creations makes a series of battery handwarmers with extra functions like charging your smartphone and a flashlight.
    • Bombas makes great socks! They make a variety of them, including merino wool for colder weather, and they donate a pair for every pair sold. Keep your feet and soul warm!
  • Just can’t find that unique gift for the geek in your life? ThinkGeek has you covered! This webstore has been around for quite a few years but has recently joined forces with Amazon to house the webstore and Gamestop for good, old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores. They have a little of everything from Star Trek pizza cutters (shaped like the Enterprise) and Star Wars cookie cutters to collectibles and clothing.

Hopefully, you will find this gift guide either helpful in your holiday shopping rush or just plain fun, because I sure had some fun researching and writing it! From all of us here at Blue Valley Technologies and Network Plus, we wish you the best of holiday warmth, kindness, and cheer!