Business-like, isn't he?



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    Have a techie Christmas
    -- Gift ideas for the technology-minded

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver December 14-20 2004; Issue #790

    Technology has moved off the desktop and under the tree, with gifts that fit on your wrist or in your pocket ... or sit on your nose or on your back.

    Watch the watch
    Tissot SmartwatchJust in case having Microsoft operating systems on your home and office PC and on your kid's Xbox aren't enough for you, this holiday season you can give someone a Microsoft operating system for their wrist. That's right, a Microsoft-powered SmartWatch, with models from watch manufacturers including Swatch, Suunto, Fossil, and Tissot at prices ranging from $200 to $2,000.

    Displaying a series of user-selectable faces, the watch uses a built-in FM receiver to make sure its always showing the right time (at least in major metropolitan areas). Optional subscriptions to MSNDirect let the watch download additional features. The $55-a-year base plan includes news, local weather, sports, stock prices, horoscopes, and more. An additional $25 a year adds reception of MSN Messenger instant messages and the ability to sync Outlook Express appointments.
    Designer mouse

    Designer MouseAiming to disprove the allegations that the company lacks a sense of style is Microsoft's Optical Mouse by S+ARCK ($55), a sleek silver (with choice of orange or blue racing stripe) mouse from well-known designer Philippe Starck. Along with the flashy looks, the ovoid design works equally well left or right-handed. Like Apple's standard mouse, the whole body clicks; unlike Apple's, it sports Microsoft's standard set of two buttons and a scroll wheel.

    No wireless version, but it works equally well with Windows or Macs.
    The other MP3 players

    Even though Apple's iPods currently hold a Microsoft-like share of the market for MP3 music players, Apple did not originate this product category. Creative Labs was one of several companies innovating in this area before being overshadowed by the iPod phenomenon. Now, however, Creative's CEO Sim Wong Hoo has declared war, promising to spend US$100 million in 2005 to bring the company's updated music players to the public's attention. Challenging Apple's iPod Mini, for example, Creative's Zen Micro ($350) offers more drive space (5 GB compared to 4 GB), longer battery life, and 10 vivid colours at the same price as the iPod Mini. As well, an FM radio tuner and voice recorder are built in (both features are available for the iPod, but require extra cost third-party add-ons). A vertical touch pad offers easy navigation through long lists of songs.

    Creative MuVoCreative offers a wide range of MP3 music players. The tiny flash-memory MuVo Micro players (ranging from $120 with 128 MB to $280 with 1 GB) offer a choice of eight colours in a unit that measures a mere 3.35 cm wide by 6.55 cm high and 1.30 cm thick.
    Zen MicroAt the high end, the Zen Touch challenges the larger iPod, with 20 GB of hard drive storage ($380). Its promised 24 hours of battery life is almost double iPods', and it shares the Zen Micro's easy-to-use touch pad. Like the Zen Micro, both the MuVo Micro and Zen Touch models include FM tuners and recording capabilities.
    Samsung YEPPAnother nice little flash-memory unit is Samsung's Yepp YP-T5. About the size of a tube of lipstick, it comes in 128 MB (YP-T5H: $200) and 256 MB (YP-T5V: $250) models, each including FM radio and recording functions, along with MP3 storage and playback, good sound and easy navigation.
    Tunes and shades

    MP3 ShadesPortable music players are cool, but perhaps the ultimate in cool this holiday season is the Oakley Thump MP3 sunglasses (available at Radio Shack), offering high-end optics with speakers attached to the sunglass frames. Adjustable booms let you swing the speakers away from your ears when they're not in use. 128 MB ($550) and 256 MB ($700) models are available. Listening to your tunes indoors? No problem. The lenses flip up.
    Something for Mac fans

    Cult of MacWith its iPod success, Apple finds itself in the unusual position of being big kid on the block. More often, the company's customers are used to being perennial outsiders: loving their Macs and loyal to the company that builds them. If you have a Mac fan on your gift list, get them a copy of Leander Kahney's The Cult of Mac (NoStarch Press, $56). A loving look at Mac culture ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Mac-themes jack-o'-lanterns to Apple tattoos to Hollywood product placement to PowerBook cases hand-painted with exquisite traditional Japanese designs. It's the ultimate Mac-lover's coffee table book. (Have you ever heard anyone claiming such affection and loyalty to Windows?)
    iMac G5Or for the ultimate Mac-lover's gift, consider Apple's new G5-powered iMac. This all-in-one computer looks like an iPod on steroids; where the previous generation houses the computer guts in a base that looked like half a cantaloupe, the new ones manage to fit everything into the somewhat thickened case for the 17-inch or 20-inch LCD display. The understated clean look hides an easy-to-use, virus-free, but powerful computer. From $1,750.
    Oh, I'm a travelling man

    Kensington Contour BackpackSometimes you travel for business. Other times, you may still want to bring your laptop along, but a businesslike attache case just doesn't work. For those times, Kensington offers the Contour Backpack ($140), a pack with an internal compartment to safely cradle your laptop (up to 17-inch models), while also including a strong but lightweight frame and padded straps for comfortable and ergonomic carrying. Lots of pockets, an expandable bottle holster and headphone port for your MP3 player make it a practical but informal way to take your laptop traveling. (For those more formal times, Kensington also offers a full range of more businesslike laptop cases.)
    Kensington Noise cancelling HeadphonesYou're finally on the plane, and you've got your laptop loaded with a DVD movie. Or your MP3 player with your favorite tunes. All ready for the long flight. Can you tune out the incessant roar of the jet engines? Kensington's Noise Canceling Headphones ($70, battery included), while bulkier than those handy earbuds, have a built-in microprocessor that analyzes background sounds and cancels them by creating an inverse sound wave.

    It really works, effectively blocking out noise, especially low-frequency sounds like jet engines. You can even safely use them when driving; they muffle the background traffic roar while still letting enough sound come in to let you respond to emergencies. An airplane jack is included so you can use them to watch that in-flight movie if you have no better alternatives.
    Cuts like a (Swiss Army) knife

    USB Swiss Army KnifeHold on, this is a Swiss Army Knife, from Swiss knife-maker Victorinox. But the SwissMemory twenty-first century version includes your standard pocket knife blade, nail file, and scissors, and adds a geek-friendly ballpoint pen, LED light and a USB flash drive (64, 128, or 256 MB capacity: $100-$150). Can't bring your knife on board a plane but need access to your stored files? No problem--the flash drive is detachable (and includes a short cable for easier connection to sometimes hard-to-reach USB ports). All with that genuine Swiss Army quality.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan