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Holiday Gift Ideas

This is going to be your big week for holiday shopping (if you're smart). The question for tech-savvy buyers is what to get that computer user who has everything. Here are some ideas worth considering.

ARTS AND CRAFTS. First of all, if you are going to do online shopping, then you'd better get your order in this week, especially if you're after the most interesting products. Despite my constant recommendations that people buy high-tech gizmos, there is one Web site that offers what I consider the best value worldwide for something even a computer geek would like: handcrafted art.

I've been getting e-mails about Novica.com ever since I highlighted it on my old public radio broadcasts. In association with National Geographic, these folks have dug up high-end craftsmen from around the world and sell arts and crafts to you directly from them. This saves about 70 to 80 percent of the overhead normally associated with the kind of pottery, tapestries, and other art obtained here. Pay careful attention to the Andean tapestries, leatherwork, and pots. The founder of Novica is Peruvian and is particularly adept at finding modern Inca art.

HELPING OTHERS. Everyone should do something for people down on their luck or in unfortunate circumstances. One Web site to visit for this is the Angel Assistance Program. This is a site that puts potential angels in touch with single moms and children who have applied for help. The site has checked these folks out to make sure there are no scammers, and suggests donations of $25 per child. A lot of heartbreaking stories and real needs. Do yourself a favor and give a family a little morale boost at Christmas.
USB DRIVES. Okay, now let's look at technology. If you know someone who does not have a thumb drive to carry around on a key chain, then get that person one. They are cheap and powerful. Each brand tends to have its own unique gimmick that allows users to back up, encrypt, or synchronize files. I keep one with me at all times with various backup files, PowerPoint presentations, and more. They are handy for grabbing a quick MP3 file from a friend or getting pictures from here to there.

The thumb drives come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. You should look for three characteristics at minimum: The drive should fit on a key chain, have at least 256MB of storage, and be USB 2.0 if possible. I carry around a 512MB SanDisk Cruzer Titanium, but have my eye on the newer sticks. One that caught my attention recently was the Research Triangle Software CryptoStick. Available in various capacities, the 256MB Military stick ($100 on sale) has built-in encryption and compression, allowing the stick to store up to a gigabyte of data. It also provides a browser for secure browsing on the stick itself. Quite nice.

DIGITAL CAMERA. Another idea is to track down one of the high-quality inexpensive digital cameras now on the market. Concord, for example, offers the 3346z, a 3.1-megapixel full-featured camera, for $99. Complete with a nice viewing/reviewing LCD, this camera also makes AVI movies and is perfect for kids or families who want a digital camera but can't spend $500 or more. With 3X optical zoom, this camera is a bargain.

DVD BURNER. For just a little more money, you may also want to consider getting a DVD burner. These devices range from $120 to $200 in today's market. My advice is to get one that has a dual mode and can burn DVD+RW and DVD-RW. If you want the absolute best burner, Plextor still seems to be the Rolls-Royce of providers. If someone has a burner, that person always likes to get a spindle of blank discs for a gift. The challenge is finding quality discs that work well with the DVD recorder. This, unfortunately, is a trial-and-error thing, so find out what the person uses in advance.

GAME CONSOLE. If there is any single theme for this year's holiday season it is the trend for households to have multiple game consoles. Much of this has been triggered by Grand Theft Auto 3 becoming a runaway best seller, resulting in Sony getting swamped with PlayStation orders. Many sellers have run out. GameCube and Xbox sales are benefiting.

People are now realizing that having more than one game console is not a bad idea. All the platforms are benefiting from hot new games. And if that's not enough good news for the game business, then the new Nintendo Game Boy DS will help a lot. The little Nintendo Game Boy has been a sensation and makes a great gift. I've seen adults playing these things in airports. If you're really stuck for a gift idea, a Game Boy is not only welcome everywhere, but families can link them up with some mini networking tools for multiplayer action. This means getting a second Game Boy is a good idea too. And above all, make sure to check out this year's PC Magazine Holiday Gift Guide for more good ideas. I'd also welcome some creative suggestions from readers here in the forum.

Happy hunting.

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