Considering some of the discussion on the show of late… I’m going to kick off this seasons holiday gift suggestions with a disclaimer, which is; None of the companies whose products are mentioned below have sent me anything in the form of compensation… no cash payouts, no evaluation models, no bikini-clad supermodels (are you listening Go Daddy? I write one of these posts once a year and next December is right around the corner)… Actually, and I can almost guarantee this fact… none of these companies have the slightest inkling I’m writing about their products at all… this is all stuff I either own or use myself or have friends that have turned me on to… Also worth noting is that many of this years offerings will work on a Mac or a PC… but as you all know by now, everything is sweeter on a Mac…
As is the custom, I’ll start low and then go high with stocking stuffers at the end… I’ve dialed things back just a bit from last season when we were all flushed with disposable income right? That said, I’m a classic champagne taste with a beer pocketbook… I like to dream about gadgets I crave… and at the end of the day, cool stuff costs what cool stuff costs…
1-Year MobileMe Subscription ($99) • I led off with this last year… and after some consideration, I’m gonna stick with it again this year because it’s still a great suggestion for someone you may know with a relatively current Mac that hasn’t yet tried MobileMe… The value really starts to kick in if the recipient has at least (2) devices… an iPhone or an iPod Touch and an iMac for example. MobileMe allows you to seamlessly keep all your devices in perfect sync… Bookmarks, Contacts, Calendars, Email, etc. MobileMe also allows you 20gb of remote storage space, like having a hard drive on the web… and all of your info is available to you from any web-connected computer in the world via me.com wrapped in the stunning Apple look & feel that we all so love… Posting your pictures to a pro feeling web slideshow only takes 3-clicks… and new this year (for the 3G devices) is the ability to locate a lost iPhone or iPod Touch on a Google map, lock the phone remotely, post a message to the device that will show up even if the device is locked and if worse comes to worst… remotely wipe the lost device of all data… pretty neat… and remember, all this functionality for about a quarter a day.
Flip Ultra ($150) • It’s a YouTube world and we’re all just livin’ in it… and the product line of compact video recorders from Flip offer the most streamlined way of getting video from the street to the web… Now this isn’t a recommendation I’m making for everybody on your list… It’s best suited I believe for teens and folks in their 20′s where the main objective will simply be the posting of videos they’ve taken directly to the web… whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, TwitVid or the like… not that you can’t edit video taken with the Flip in a 3rd-party video editing app… but you can actually get much better raw video quality in hand-held camcorders that are cheaper than the Flip Ultra. The Flip’s claim to fame is its portability… no harder to tote around with you than your phone or iPod… Flip is currently offering (5) different models in its product line… I recommend the Flip Ultra mainly because it’s the most lenient for Mac system requirements (works back to Tiger on non-Intel Macs) as well as it featuring the extended 120-minute recording time and compatibility with the optional rechargeable battery pack that gives the device up to 4-1/2 hours of continuous operation. Ultra video is composite 960 x 240, which isn’t the best… but it’s definitely more than suitable for delivery on the web. You interface with your computer via a telescoping USB connector on the top of the device or can view your video directly on a television monitor using the supplied cables… Oh, and it will surprise you in low light situations… I used a friends in a dark gallery space recently and was blown away by the results… Not for everyone, but if you have one of those Web 2.0 birds on your list that you like to the tune of $150… look no further.
Autodesk Maya 3d Modeling & Animation Software ($3,495) • Just like last year in my ‘most expensive’ category… a product that’s definitely not for everyone… but if you know that special kid that’s interested in movie-making, special effects, architecture or set design… and most certainly your inventor types… this is the kind of software that can break an imagination wide open and set the user free in terms of being able to visualize what’s in their mind’s eye.
Although you’ve most likely never heard of Maya, it’s a product with a long and storied history… the probable inception of what is now called Maya likely dates back to 1995 when Silicon Graphics purchased both Alias and Wavefront, two companies that offered software focused on differing aspects of 3d modeling and animation. Their source code was combined to market a product simply called Alias|Wavefront. As coders from the two merging companies began to work together… a new engine emerged that the developers codenamed Maya (sanskrit for “illusion”). In 1998 it was decided to roll all the code into one all-encompassing interface and the software was formally re-named Maya. Sold by SGI in 2003, the software was surprisingly owned briefly by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan before landing in its current, far more appropriate home with AutoDesk, the makers of AutoCAD, who purchased the company formerly known as Alias in October of 2005. Since then the software has continually been improved with Maya 2010, the third AutoDesk upgrade, having just recently hit store shelves.
Having been used on hundreds of Hollywood movies… most notably “Spider Man”, “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, “The Matrix”, “The Hulk” and “Terminator 3 : The Rise of the Machines”… make no mistake about the complexity of this software… Maya is to Google SketchUp what Word is to a post-it note… I’ve spent hundreds of hours inside of Maya and still feel as though I’ve merely cracked the surface. Photoshop is a program that allows beginners to ease in to being functional with the software and then reveals far more complex functionality for those who need it or choose to seek it out… Maya is not such a program… instead, it’s pretty complex right from jumpstreet… but for the right person, the cost of the software is balanced by the shear power of what you can make.
Stocking Stuffers Under $30
3-months of Netflix ($27) > Admittedly, I’m a johnny-come-lately to the Netflix bandwagon… I spent at least a couple years saying ‘why would I want that?’ But then one night early last Summer I headed over to the local Blockbuster looking for a title that I wouldn’t really call obscure… and struck out completely… a closer look revealed that the local video store seems to be heading down the road of the local record store… large quantities of only the most popular titles… so I went home and dialed up Netflix on the web… read about it briefly and signed up… fast forward here a few months and I’ve seen every episode ever of “Rescue Me” and “Sons of Anarchy”… and I’m now two seasons into “The Shield”… all of this and I’ve still never physically tuned in to the FX cable network… pretty sweet… I’m sold… and as I watch DVD’s on the computer while I work, I’ve been pretty diligent about getting them back in the mail the day after I receive them which has equated to (2) discs a week on average or about $1 per rental (Blockbuster=$4.42). It’s also worth noting that Netflix allows you to stream hundreds of movies directly to your (Intel-based) Mac to keep you busy while you’re waiting on your next disc… So if you know someone on your list that hasn’t yet tried Netflix… this could end up a really cool gift on the cheap… All you need to know right here.
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV ($10 or free) > This 2-disc set, although not released in 2009, has made the list for a couple of reasons. First, it has really grown on me over the last year and a half as great music to have playing (on the computer) when you’re focused on some task other than listening to music… 36 instrumental tracks that span many different moods and tempos while always remaining a great backing track… part of the reason I believe Reznor will be doing a lot more soundtrack work now that he has disbanded NIN… and the second reason is the price. Free to download in high-quality mp3 format and only $10 for the physical 2-disc set by mail… the fact that this is cheaper than the latest Britney Spears offering is just another in a long line of music industry ironies.
So that’s what I’ve got for this holiday season… if you’d like to leave some suggestions of your own… please click the Comments link just below and tap ‘em in…