You’ve bought the big gift, the clothing gift, and maybe even the cute gift. But something's missing from the pile of presents. Fret not, there’s still time to buy a stocking stuffer. How about a gadget to fill in the gap?
I've got suggestions for everyone on your list — especially those who may not be the technology type — that will get you thinking in new directions and help you finish your holiday shopping ahead of schedule this year.
Aspiring Gardener: Do you know an amateur houseplant executioner? There are lots of gadgets that can help, such as the Easy Bloom from PlantSense ($59.95; www.easybloom.com). Just stick the cute, high-tech flower in the pot or garden bed, and it can tell you when the plant needs to be watered. You can also set it to monitor light, temperature, humidity and soil moisture for a 24-hour period. And the Easy Bloom will diagnose what you need to change for an ailing plant.
If you don’t know what sort of greenery to plant, just stick the gadget in a pot. After it gathers data for a day, plug it into your computer; the Easy Bloom will go online and tell you which plants from a database of more than 5,000 choices are best suited for your conditions. It's like having a master gardner ready to help whenever you want.
Music for the Technophobe: Have a music lover on your list who's not ready to navigate iTunes or some other music download site, let along try to figure out how to rip their CD collection and get it onto an MP3 player? Sansa has the answer with the slotRadio ($79.95, www.slotradio.com), a tiny 2o-inch square that can clip onto your pocket or shirt collar or whatever. It comes complete with a memory card, preloaded with 1,000 songs: You choose the collection, such as Country, Rock, Oldies, or HipHop/R&B.
Know someone who gets bored easily during their gym workouts? Get the Health & Fitness collection, which has separate playlists for warm-up, cardio, cool-down, yoga, and more. And if they ever get tired of their 1,000 songs, it has a built-in FM radio, or you can teach them how to download their own MP3 collections to the device's memory card.
Speling Hulp: My Merriam-Webster dictionary is always close by, but I’d hate to have to lug it to class or the library. Fortunately, you can find electronic alternatives that don’t even require you boot up a laptop. For example, the Advanced Dictionary and Thesaurus from Franklin ($59.95, www.franklin.com) is a dictionary the size of a pocket organizer. It's intended for junior-high through graduate students (though I know more than a few adults who would could use one).
One great feature is that if you type in a misspelled word, it will make its best guess as to what you meant. But it’s not just a dictionary; the Franklin device has a thesaurus, punctuation and style guide, geographical and biographical dictionaries. It can even translate simple words from English to French, Spanish, German and Italian. It’s a reference librarian for your bookbag that won’t break your back or your bank.
Power to the People: Every family has one. The procrastinator: "I don’t have time to charge my (fill in the blank: cell phone, MP3 player, Bluetooth headset, etc.). But I’ll do it tonight." And they head out the door and go dark immediately because their favorite gadget is out of juice.
There are lots of quick charge devices available that use a rechargeable battery ... but then you have to remember to keep that device charged. That's why I like the Rayport ($39.99, www.rayvolution.com): You can recharge the Rayport by plugging it into the wall or your computer’s USB port, but you can also just recharge it by leaving it lying in the sun.
One side has a solar cell that will even charge itself from indoor lighting if it’s bright enough. And when your cell phone or MP3 player runs down, just plug it into the Rayport and keep on going!
Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!: Kids grow fast. And increasingly, family generations are separated by hundreds of miles. As a result, many grandparents miss out on the amazingly cute things their grandchildren do (even though bystanders may not find drooling babble so amazing). Besides, have you ever tried to hold a telephone conversation with a one-year-old?
Fortunately, there are more satisfying solutions, thanks to Skype, Windows Live Messenger and other free services that let you make video phone calls from one computer to another at no cost aside from your Internet connection. You’ll need high speed broadband service at both ends — which many people already have — and a Web cam for each computer.
You can get a simple camera, or a fancy one like Microsoft’s LifeCam Cinema ($79.95, www.microsoft.com/hardware). It has high-definition 720p resolution and automatic focus, and even smoothes out the image in low light conditions.
And when you want to make a video call, just press a button on the camera. It will open a screen on your computer that will let you choose who to call. It’s almost as good as having Grandma and Grandpa living right down the street — except they can’t spoil your kid’s appetite with candy right before dinner.