Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    'Tis the season for buying PC gadgets

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #320  December 12, 1995 High Tech Office  column

    What do you get a High-tech Office reader for the holidays? Once, not too long ago, you'd only want to get a high-tech gift for someone who really liked fooling around with the technology. Now, you can safely get high-tech gifts for those users who treat their computers like their toasters; they want the toast, but they're not likely to put a moment's thought into the appliance itelf.

    Even people who are indifferent to computers may appreciate something as simple as a new mouse pad. For under $10, you can buy a simple replacement for that everyday rubber pad that's become, well, a bit grotty. A bit more money can get a pad with a pre-printed graphic--a Star Trek scene or a really big tree, for instance. You've probably run out of time to get a photo of a loved one printed onto a mouse pad--save this idea for their birthday.

    Gadgets abound for computer add-ons. New for PC users is a range of gizmos that simply plug onto the printer port. Check out the Snappy video grabber (perhaps a bit pricey at around $400) or, if you can find any in stock, the ping-pong-ball-sized Connectrix Quick Cam (in both Mac and PC versions) for about $100. (Both are used to get video or still clips onto your computer.)

    A few columns ago, I spoke in praise of CD-ROMs on business computers. They have a lot going for them but unspoken at the time was the range of gifts available for users of computers with CD-ROM players. For example, Microsoft offers a variety of well-designed discs that will appeal to many, each under $50. Ones to watch for are Complete Baseball and Complete Basketball, Wine Guide, or Julia Child: Home Cooking. Classical music fans will appreciate multimedia discs on composers from Beethoven to Stravinsky, while movie fans will enjoy the annually updated Cinemania. All are available for Windows users (and despite the "Runs best with Windows 95" stickers, will run fine under older versions as well), and many of these titles are also available in Mac versions.

    Screensavers used to be necessary to prevent monitor screen burn, but with today's more robust monitors, they're used more often to personalize a computer. Screensaver choices range from the classic After Dark collection (featuring Flying Toasters), to nature scenes, fighter planes, or fine art. Or there's the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture's Beautiful B.C. series, which is available for the cost of the disks plus postage.

    Users of portables will appreciate a new travel bag for their computer. While a Notebook may come with a case, it probably doesn't have room for the collection of cables and gadgets the user has since accumulated--to say nothing of a file folder or two. Briefcase-sized cases made of heavy cloth start at under $50 (unlike pricier leather models). That laptop-computer user would also appreciate a PC Card modem (but before you buy one, make sure the machine has a PC Card slot!). Slower, 14.4 modems start at around $200, and the faster 28.8 models cost roughly twice that.

    Know any programmers? The ones I know all seem to have difficulty spelling--enough so that Doppler Computer Superstore offers a sweatshirt just for them. It reads "I am a Programer" crossed out, with a variety of creative spelling options, finally settling on "I Write Code." If you know someone who deserves it, you can pick one up for about $18.

    A number of gifts can make computers safer and more comfortable for people who spend hours each day typing or staring at a flickering screen. In the lower-priced range are mouse and keyboard wrist rests. Or at the higher end (about $100), you could get one of the new ergonomically designed keyboards.

    Try to put a little thought into fitting the gift to the person receiving it. This is particularly important for gifts like screensavers, which are designed to personalize the computer. Try to think of the receiver's taste, not yours. And make sure you know what sort of computer he or she is using. No one should have to buy a $300 CD-ROM player to make use of your $50 Wine Guide. And don't get Microsoft's Natural Keyboard (PC only) for someone who uses a Mac.

    With over 170 million personal computers worldwide, it's not surprising that there are more high-tech gifts this season than ever before. And they're not just for nerds or teenagers--there's probably something here also for the business computer user on your seasonal shopping list

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