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Gift Ideas: 5 Practical Presents that are Actually Useful

Looking for some interesting gift ideas? Sick of buying the traditional tie for dad and sweater for your nephew, and want to get them something they might actually have a use for? Look no further! Well, actually you should look further down the page. Below are five unique holiday gift ideas for that special someone that won't find their way into a box in the attic. Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner1. Give the gift of convenience. It is the year 2006, and yet you cannot fly around town on a hoverboard, jet pack, or even a flying car. Luckily, we do have robots to do menial household labor. I highly recommend the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner. You may be wondering: does it really work? Our experience with the Roomba has been very positive, so much so that we got one for my parents last Christmas. How is it practical? You just have to press a button, and it cleans the whole floor! Seriously. It takes longer than you might be able to do with a fancy Dyson vacuum, but you don't have to do anything! My mom loves it. To be fair, you do still have to empty it out when it is done and once in a while you might want to clean hair out of the brushes. But if you are lazy like me, it will do a much more thorough cleaning job, and you'll end up vacuuming twice as much. $149.99 at Amazon 2. Give the gift of health. Many of us suffer from health problems that could be improved by improving our diets. There is a lot of homeopathic quackery out there, but there's also a large and growing body of research on how to fight high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other common modern ailments. Unfortunately, the vitamin, supplement, and "natural " health food industry is largely unregulated. How can your dear mum be sure she is taking fish oil and not a mercury smoothie? Get her a subscription to ConsumerLab.com. How is it practical? I think this one is pretty obvious. Access to independent testing data on different brands can ensure you're getting what you're paying for. It might not seem like as much fun as a Big Mouth Billy Bass or a keyboard tie, but trust me, no one wants those things anyway. $27.99 for a one year subscription Kil-A-Watt 3. Give the gift of power. Not everyone is a tree hugger, but everyone likes to save money on their electric bills. You might be surprised which appliances and gadgets are sucking down the most power - or your recipient will, when you give them the Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. How is it practical? Just plug the thing you want to test right in and you'll be able to compare kilowatt-hours. It can also help justify buying that new flat panel monitor, air conditioner or other more efficient device. "Look honey, buying this new MacBook with the Core 2 Duo will actually save us money!" $24.99 at Amazon (and a little less from some of their "featured merchants.") Mind Hacks 4. Give the gift of brains. Publisher O'Reilly is well-known for their technical books and their fun "Hacks" series. Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain is a very entertaining book on how your brain works and why it works the way it does. The book is not just for nerds--it definitely does not read like a dry technical manual. It does adopt the hacker point of view, a combination of curiosity, cleverness, and an interest in real-world results. A similar book in the series (which I haven't read yet) is Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain. How is it practical? The chapters are, quick, light reads that give you practical insights and tricks, everything from improving memory performance to figuring out optical illusions. Everything is grounded in scientific research, and they cite actual sources! If you think your intended recipient will be put off by the title and format, you might want to consider Forty Studies that Changed Psychology: Explorations into the History of Psychological Research, which covers some of the same ground from a different perspective. $16.47 at Amazon Lego Ice Cube Tray 5. Give the gift of cool. Like most people, you are probably sick of boring old ice cube trays. Wait, you say you haven't given ice cube trays any thought in your entire life, and that my premise is specious? Once you've seen the Lego Ice Cube Tray and the Lego block-shaped ice cubes that it produces, you'll agree with me. This is the perfect gift for that certain someone. How is it practical? Well, how else are supposed to build a frozen scale model of Edinburgh Castle on the kitchen counter? Unfortunately, it looks like it is sold out until March! Not-nearly-as-cool but just as practical substitutes include the OXO Good Grips Ice Cube Tray and the ISI Orka Freeze and Press Ice Cube Tray, both with spill-reducing lids. $7.99 for the Lego tray (sold out) $3.99 for the Good Grips tray $9.95 for the Orka Freeze and Press Bonus gift idea! Finally, for those of you who need to the right gift for a godless, hedonistic liberal, The War on X-Mas Manual will no doubt fill their hearts with joy. If they are too far from the lord to truly know joy, then at least you know their hearts will be filled with secular blood as they pick up helpful tips on destroying your faith. How is it practical? Remember: whenever a minimum-wage cashier at a big box retail store says "happy holidays," Jesus cries a single tear. Better yet, if you can get the press covering a "war" against Christmas, they won't have as much time to report on the war in Iraq.

Your Own Personal Digital Future

We often complain about the future not being so futuristic. Where are the flying cars, the teleporters, the personal ray guns? These complaints are simply whininess. A mere look at your cell phone and bluetooth headset shows that the future is here. Thus I speak of time travel merely through change of perspective. The ability to get to the future can be done with righteous self-determination. Corporate self help novels teach us that visualizing our goals. People who write out what they plan on doing are more likely to achieve results. Thus, let us write down our vision for our own Personal Digital Futures! All plans should be S.M.A.R.T. That is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. To place our bets on technologies not yet created would be to violate the realistic and Timely criteria. So the flying cars, mind body interfaces, and robot sex servants are out. This leads us to our home life. There are plentiful futuristic devices you can add to bring you in to the future. What follows is My Own Personal Digital Future Concept to make my living room into a 21st century domicile. A quick note: the easiest ways to make a quick jump into the future is to buy a robot vacuum. They're relatively inexpensive, save you time, and instantly you've checked having a robot helper off the list. Yes, if you are too lazy to pick up the floor the robot will continue to sit idle, but you'll know your one step closer to Johnny Mnemonic just by looking at your Roomba charging in the corner. The future is all about convergence. My Own Personal Digital Future allows me to buy, piece buy piece, an integrated media experience, all ran through my TV, and accessed from my Sofa. All of my entertainment in one, and I don't have to buy everything at once to make it work. 1. 37"+ LCD or Plasma screen TV with DVI input- Every Sci Fi move has a wall mounted, flat panel TV. The DVI Input is important for the next step. 2. Computer Graphics card with additional DVI Output- Now my TV is my monitor for when I watch video on the internet. See how this still gets me one step further, even though my total future isn't complete. 3. Wireless Keyboard & mouse w/ 30' range- Now I've made it to my couch. Now my TV is my monitor unless my wife or I want to use the computer while the other person is watching a DVD or playing a video game. That's why the DVI output is additional. 4. Bluetooth adaptor for my PC- Now I can wirelessly send info back and forth to my Smart phone. Why wasn't the phone in this list? Because I already have it... This is My Own Personal Digital Future. My phones also my mp3 player... BAM! 5. Bluetooth Stereo Headset- What's that! now I can use my headset to listen to either my phone, or my computer, which I activate from my couch. Starting to feel like the future. 6. Windows Media Center- Look, you can bitch and moan about Microsoft, but they went and made a program to totally integrate all of my entertainment through my wireless computer which I control from my couch. See, in 6 easy steps I'm living out of a sci fi film. How cool is that? It's written down and planned so I know exactly what I have to do to get to the future. I am self actualized. So follow my lead, and plan out Your Own Personal Digital Future.