Some geeks are able to transition easily from childhood to adult life – they can make their bed, get a “real” job and do sensible things like sort out a good pension plan. Then there’s geeks who will instantly regress to re-enacting Star Wars scenes when you hand them a laser pointer, and whose partners would be truly shocked if they found out exactly how much money is spent on toys every month. Like me; I fear the day my wife reads our credit card statement.
So it’s with pleasure I present you with this list of super gifts for the geek who never grew up. Mum, I hope you’re reading this. Hint: any of these would be great, thanks.
It’s certainly not cheap, but the latest LEGO Mindstorms EV3 package at $350 is a complete robot kit. You can build a variety of designs, and program actions using intuitive software, and it’s compatible with existing Lego Technics pieces. I had a chance to play with the last generation of this kit – you can read my full LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 review – and I can officially confirm they are lots of fun for the big geek in anyone.
While any typical adult would be ashamed of wearing a superhero t-shirt, your geek will rejoice that you truly understand them. 8-ball T-Shirts are particularly cool and offer a full range of designs worn by Sheldon (from Big Bang Theory). We even offer our own set of MakeUseOf designs you should check out.
Given how much of our geeky lives are spent wondering how to make mundane things go pew pew and fire at each other, a genuine desktop-sized ballista or catapult should go down a treat. This wood-craft Kickstarter project is a set to be fully funded on 1st December; but if you miss that, this USB desktop missile launcher is a suitable substitute, I think.
Minecraft is like digital LEGO; a sandbox environment that you can build anything with. So naturally, any big child-at-heart geek would love this real-life 8-bit sword and pickaxe set at about $40. They may start running around saying things like “the creepers are coming”, but rest assured these foam weapons are quite harmless.
To any normal person, a laser is probably just that thing inside a CD-ROM drive. To a geek that never grew up, a laser is a gloriously coherent monochromatic electromagnetic radiation beam of sheer awesomeness. Red is boring though: go for green, blue, or purple for extra wow factor. WickerLasers.com are the best; the Nano line starts at $99.
Once they’re bored of simply pointing at things, point them in the direction of my own list of 6 uses for an old laser pointer.
Arduino Starter Kit
Your geek might not be quite ready to embrace their inner child with LEGO: try Arduino instead, which is like the big-boys version of LEGO, but for electronics. Programmed by computer, the Arduino is an incredibly easy to get started with micro-controllers, so they can get right with building basically anything, without needing a degree in electrical engineering. Warning: you may start finding tripwire alarms, TV remote control pranks and other such nonsense lying around the house.
If you’re in the UK, check out my own recently launched DuinoBits store where you can buy a jam-packed starter kit for £70 (and use the coupon code “makeuseof” for 5% off); for our US readers, Adafruit sell a smaller starter pack for $85. Don’t forget to send them a link to our free Getting Started with Arduino guide.
Helicopters are boring: your geek wants a quadrocopter. The Parrot AR Drone 2.0 ($300) is controlled by iOS or Android mobile devices, and features two HD cameras. It’s an incredible bit of kit – lots of fun to fly, and able to take some amazing video footage if your subject matter is right. You can read my full review of the Parrot AR drone here, along with some sample videos taken from the device.
The future of virtual reality is already upon us: although not officially launched as a consumer product, the Oculus Rift is already being tipped as the next great gaming revolution. It’s a virtual reality headset which tracks your head movements, giving the stunning illusion of being in a completely different environment. There even unofficial support for games like Skyrim and MineCraft. Read my full review of the Oculus development kit here.
Demand has outstripped supply for the past year, but it looks like things are finally picking up. The site is currently listing December 2013 shipping for new orders – you might want to contact them to confirm the exact shipping date. Failing that, you could always grab one off eBay.
Who said dolls are just for girls? This 9-inch talking Bender would make a superb addition to any big geek’s desk, with a variety of phrases like “Bite my shiny metal ass” just a press of a button away.
If they’re not Futurama fans, you’re bound to find something they’ll like in ThinkGeek’s man-doll collection.
Hornby Digital Train Set
Model railroads have come a long way since I was a kid: they’re digital now, so you can run a number of trains on the same track without having to mess about with electrically isolating sections. Be warned though: the hobby has a tendency to turn from a single starter set to “we’re just going to convert the loft”.
Are you a big kid at heart? Tell us what you’d want for the holidays, then point your partner in the direction of this list and hope they take the hint.