Friends, geeks, countrymen, the holidays are upon us! But what do you buy the early adopter who already has everything? I've seen a lot of cool tech pass through the PC World Lab in the past six months, so here are a few of my favorite geeky gifts that may have slipped under your radar this year.
Arduino is a very cool open-source computing platform intended for programming physical interaction based on sensor input and a development environment that implements the Processing/Wiring language. What that means in simple terms is that an Arduino kit like the one above is the skeleton key that will unlock a totally new world of geeky tech toys and inventions, from robotic hands that recognize gestures to Wiimote-controlled espressso machines Arduino boards can be programmed as stand-alone interactive devices or can be connected to your computer, and they're the ultimate DIY gift for the techie geek who loves to tinker.
Even non-programmers like me can build cool tech thanks to a supportive online community that publishes and updates tons of online tutorials. There are lots of Arduino kits to choose from, but all of them are under $100 and have plenty of free tutorials and support available.
Eye-Fi wireless SD cards are the epitome of an excellent geek gift: The value of owning a digicam memory card that automatically transmits photos via Wi-Fi isn't critical enough to justify the added expense for most photographers, but it's just so darn cool. Thus, they make the perfect gift for the photo nerd in your life.
Setting up an Eye-Fi account is free and a total breeze, and new users can configure their Eye-Fi card with the authentication info to automatically connect to up to 32 wireless networks when the camera comes in range and upload photos and/or video (depending on which card you give) to a personal computer, FTP server or popular photo-sharing sites like Flickr or Facebook.
Call me a nerd, but I love to log off on the weekends and unwind with a little tabletop gaming among friends. Hardcore geeks have fond memories of assembling and painting legions of tiny soldiers in the halcyon days of games like Warhammer 40,000, and Iron Tyrants is a new indie miniatures game that aims to rekindle those glory days and turn a new generation of players on to the frenetic fun of commanding giant robots and blowing each other to smithereens.
Setup is simple: two or more players assemble a force of Tyrants, miniature giant robots who battle to the death in an attempt to dominate the coffee table. Each game session lasts about an hour, and all you need to play is a few ten-sided dice and the rulebook. For less than $50 you can slip both the Iron Tyrants rulebook and player support pack under the tree, a perfect gift for the old-fashioned gaming geek in all of us.
4. DARPA Hoodie
I know you're tired of hearing us whine, but here in San Francisco it rains. A lot. Often I'll leave home on a crisp, sunny spring day in just a t-shirt and jeans, only to be trapped in the office by an unexpected downpour. Enter the DARPA Hoodie, a totally sweet-looking waterproof jacket that's lightweight, easy on the eyes and the environment. The designers at Betabrand and Otherlab used military efficiency algorithms to design a space-age slicker with just 12 interlocking nylon strips that fit together perfectly, leaving zero waste material left over.
5. HP Envy 14
I've been pretty modest thus far, so let's shoot for the sky and pitch a fully tricked-out HP Envy 14 laptop as the ultimate wish fulfillment for any geek on your list. The crew at PC World has a lot of good things to say about the Envy 14, and justifiably so; loading the unit for bear with an i7 Quad Core processor, 8GB of memory and a 1 GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 GPU is going to run you more than $2,000, but in return you'll have a well-designed 5.3-pound performance machine that can play the latest games and stream movies on a 1600 x 900 Radiance display. Dare to dream, geeks. Dare to dream.
In Video: HP's Envy 14 Laptop Gets Our Highest Recommendation
What's on your wish list? Leave a comment below.