Five tech gifts you haven’t thought of

Five gifts for the technologically inclined person in your life.
Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on December 18, 2013.

Gift giving for the technology savvy is probably the hardest thing you can imagine. You’re almost certain to get it wrong unless you proceed carefully and intelligently. The best approach, of course, is to just ask.
The bosslady and I trashed this out a decade ago and once she realised that the gifts actually got used (the USB keypad I got the first time out is still connected to my computer) the benefits of letting go of the myth of ‘Christmas day surprise’ became apparent.
Such surprises are usually going to whiplash the gift giver when they see the rictus of a smile and strangled thank you that accompany the unwrapping.

iTunes Gift Card
An iTunes Gift Card is a passport for an iOS or Mac user to Apple’s software and media offerings online. Photo courtesy Apple.
If you know someone with an iOS device, just forget about buying them an accessory. What they want is more software and you can help them buy it with an
iTunes Gift Card.

Available in denominations from the puny to the truly awesome, your contribution to Apple’s empire will allow your gift recipient to grab all the stuff they’ve been craving but couldn’t actually justify buying.

Several retailers offer these cards locally, but if you have an account on the iTunes store you can buy one and have it delivered via e-mail.

Just be sure to do some detective work to find out whether your intended is using the local version of the iTunes store or the US edition.

Camera bag
ThinkTank makes durable bags designed to be used by travellers with a lot of photographic gear. Photo of the Airport International courtesy ThinkTank Photo.
Everyone’s a photographer these days, but some folks have gear that needs to be packed into something.
That means a camera bag of some sort.

Camera bags break out broadly into shoulder units, slings/backbacks and rollers. Only the very smallest bags and oldest designs won’t have dedicated protection for a small laptop or tablet.
How a bag will be carried is a big deal, almost as important as how much gear will be stuffed into it. A camera bag also shouldn’t announce itself, so a bag with a camera maker’s name on it is not just gauche; it’s advertising to thieves.

Two of my bags aren’t even camera bags at all. One is a premium leather case from
Saddleback Leather and the other was a canvas freebie that a client handed out a couple of Christmas seasons ago.
I stuffed
one of these inserts into each of them and turned both into perfectly useful photographic carriers.

A bag that ferries more than 20 pounds of gear should have wheels and if it’s going to be used by someone who travels, it should be the
Airport International from ThinkTank Photo.
LowePro makes some fine backpack carriers and Tenba’s Messenger Pro is possibly the best shoulder bags I’ve ever owned, running close to the classic camera bag, Domke’s F2.

USB 3 hub
Anker’s seven and ten port powered hubs are rated best of class for USB 3 users. Image via Amazon.
Anyone who uses a computer regularly is eventually going to need a powered USB hub, and it should conform to the latest specification.

Cheap little hubs have their place, but that isn’t anywhere that multiple devices connect, each drawing power. Jack a phone, a tablet and a couple of hard drives into an inadequate hub and you risk failures that range from annoying to deadly.

Anker USB 3 hub is as attractive and utilitarian a device as you can expect from this class of technology.
The ports are well spaced, the unit comes with its own power adapter (not all do, surprisingly) and it’s been getting high ratings all around.

This is a no-brainer for folks using ultrabooks or the Macbook Air, which are short on connections, including USB.

Google Chromecast
The Google Chromecast is a tiny USB device that looks like a chunky flash drive. It allows a USB enabled HDTV to become a media centre with access to a range of online services.
When I asked the T&T Computer Society (TTCS) mailing list for suggestions for gifts, this is what they came up with.

These are seriously techy people who often trade code snippets via e-mail so I was surprised to discover that several of these folks either own or crave
Google’s Chromecast.
One list participant described it as “best bang for buck tech purchase I've ever made hands down.” And this is not a group of people given to idle adulation.

At US$35 it’s practically an impulse buy, but you need to give it to someone who enjoys the challenge of making things designed for the US market work locally.

I’ve seen a demonstration of the device and once it’s up and running, it’s a really impressive piece of technology that taps into Google’s growing media holdings.

SSDs are normally fast solid state memory packaged to look like a hard drive. OCZ’s Nocti drive dispenses with such frippery. Image courtesy OCZ.
Everybody needs more storage, but the TTCS list was unanimous in its support of solid state drives (SSDs), the flash media based storage devices that boost data access by factors of more than five in modern computing systems.

Tom’s Hardware has an updated roundup of the best value in SSDs but don’t consider gifting anything smaller than 240GB. Really. It’s just pointless.
Mac users should consider
OWC’s units which are supported by hardware for mounting into a range of Apple's computers. I upgraded a standard Macbook Pro with one of those in 2010 with exemplary results.

If you’re feeling really generous and want to go for capacity over speed, it’s hard to argue with Network Attached Storage (NAS), particularly in environments in which multiple devices share a network connection (rather commonplace in today’s world of shared Internet connections).

I like Synology’s units, and the company offers a
simple online calculator to choose the right unit.
That’s five completely different possibilities for a Christmas gift ranging in price from US$35 to US$1,500 depending on your need to impress.

Here’s a lagniappe sixth pick offered up by the folks on the TTCS list that wins for it’s cleanly constructed coolness.
If you’ve discovered the pleasures of Waze on your smartphone, then
this car mount for your phone is what you need to find your way around T&T hands-free.
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