Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Geek Chic

By John Avignone

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  It's that time again. The holiday rush is upon us. There it is, clearly marked on the calendar, but somehow it always seems to take us by surprise. Too much to do and not enough time to do it is the standard holiday refrain.

Buying a gift for your pet geek can be a daunting task, especially for the technophobe contingent. But fear not, armed with our gift guide you are sure to find something to please even the pickiest technocrat. Even if your geek is more "Bah, humbleep" than "Ho, ho, ho," we can help. From six to 60, we have the gifts tech junkies want.

And this year you can save time and money by buying online. You can buy anything in this guide without leaving the house. While some think WWW stands for World Wide Wait, a few minutes of screen time is still more convenient than fighting traffic to the mall, searching for a parking space, elbowing your way through crowds and waiting in long lines, only to find they're out of what you're looking for.

Prices on many computers and accessories have once again plummeted. Top-quality desktop systems are available well under $2,000. Good basic systems can be found for as little as $500. For $1,300 you can get the new iMac, the new VW Bug of the computer world.


Intensor Sensory Immersion System

We've included gifts in all price ranges. From $10 to over $1,000, you'll find something here that fits your budget and your geek gift list. There are so many great products out there that we're not revisiting any of last year's features, except for games -- computer games are always popular.

Many of the products we featured last year are still available or have been replaced by similar new models. Many of the prices have dropped, too. (You can find last year's guide at http://www.auschron.com>.) This doesn't mean keyboards, mouses, and miscellaneous peripherals aren't a good gift buy. They are. But we only have so much room and we wanted to show you the latest and greatest. If you want to see even more great gift ideas, the Lycos list of Top 100 tech products at http://www.popsci.lycos.com/vote.html is a good place to start.

The easiest way to use this guide is to read it online at the Chronicle Web site. So kick back, boot up, log on, and head over to http://www.auschron.com> for easy links. We're going cyber-shopping.


Software

Windows 98 Upgrade | http://www.microsoft.com/

Win98 runs faster and smoother than 95. With more features and easier customization, any nerd still running Win95 will love this update. About $90.

Gizmos98 | http://www.play.com

A collection of cool add-ons and utility programs for Windows. $50.


Games

Games are always a popular gift. Here's some of the favorites this year. All games are $15 to $50. For more great gift ideas for gamers, check out http://www.gamecenter.com/Features/Exclusives/Gifts/?st.gc.fd.bb3.

Sin | http://www.activision.com/games/pub-index.html

As supercop Blade, you hunt down and destroy sexy supercriminal Elexis Sinclaire with the help of your hacker buddy J.C. Good first-person shooter with superior level design.

Unreal | http://www.unreal.com/

Unreal may eventually replace Quake II as the king of the 3-D first-person shooter. While Unreal is no better than Quake, the Unreal engine has become the industry standard for 3-D game development.

Half-Life | http://www.sierra.com/

A much-anticipated 3-D shooter. You're involved in a top secret project that goes awry. Fighting aliens and human commando squads, you attempt to reach the surface. Based on the Quake II engine, Half-Life differs from most shooters by using authentic weapons, not fantasy guns.

Tiger Woods 99 | http://www.easports.com/

Not your typical golf game, EA Sports' Tiger Woods 99 offers a unique 3-D engine, multiple play modes, and even tips on how to lower your score out on the real links.

Quake II Mission Pack: Ground Zero | http://www.activision.com/games/pub-index.html

This official Quake II add-on from Activision provides 14 all-new levels with new weapons, new enemies, and new power-ups. Give this one and you may not see your little hellraiser until after the new year.

Trivial Pursuit CD-ROM Edition | http://www.hasbrointeractive.com/

Some things seem so obvious you have to wonder what took so long. All new questions and lots of multimedia and 3-D effects make the update for this classic game a winner.

Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows CE | http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce/hpcpro/basics/entpack.asp

The perfect accompaniment to a personal digital assistant, this game pack will keep your nerd entertained for hours at a time. Several of the games offer multi-player play through infrared ports.


Game Accessories

Microsoft Sidewinder Freestyle Pro | http://www.microsoft.com/sidewinder/tilt/default.htm

This latest addition to the great line of game controllers from the Evil Empire has a twist. Literally. When you tilt the game pad, the action on screen tilts, too. $70.

CH Products EXL500 Racing Set | http://www.chproducts.com

Less than $50 gets you a cool racing system with a sports steering wheel, gear shift, and foot pedals. A must-have for racing game fans.

Intensor Sensory Immersion System | http://www.intensor.com/

For the serious gamer only, this system combines a chair, bass, and subwoofer to completely immerse you in your favorite PC or Playstation games. It's an amazing experience, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Chair: $300, Base: $135, Sub Woofer: $199.


Computer Accessories and Add-Ons

Cable Modem Time Warner has begun offering cable modem service to Austin customers. Approximately 100 times faster than the fastest dial-up modem, these things fly! There's a waiting list, so you may not be able to get installation by Christmas, but call the folks at TW for details. Approximately $100 setup plus $49 per month (for current cable customers).

CD ROM Recorders: Yamaha 4260 | http://www.yamahayst.com/cdr.htm

Prices are dropping rapidly on quality burners like this top-of-the-line Yamaha. Other models are available for under $200. SCSI burners will work best, but require an additional SCSI controller card. Yamaha 4260: around $300. Re-writable models are priced somewhat higher.

Web TV | http://www.webtv.com

The perfect gift for the non-geek who wants to send e-mail and browse the Web, but doesn't want to wrestle with a computer. Great for moms and dads. $100.

Logitech QuickCam Pro | http://www.logitech.com/Cameras/index.html

Turn your PC into a videoconferencing center. Use it for business, as a Web cam, or to visit over the Net with grandma. $150.

Creative Labs PC-DVD Encore Dxr2 | http://www.soundblaster.com/experience/pc-dvd.html

DVD was barely on the horizon last year. Players were expensive and there was almost no programming available. How things change. With countless game and movie titles out and more coming every day, it's time to go DVD. This model offers high performance at a reasonable price. $199

One caveat about DVD: Stay away from DiVX DVD players. They offer fewer features and very limited view times on rentals. Only a couple of retailers are pushing DiVX, and it is most likely doomed to oblivion. No self-respecting geek would touch it.

Blackout Buster | http://www.pkelectronics.com

A universal power supply protects your system from power surges and gives you enough time in the event of a power failure to save your work and shut down your system. For around $110, this UPS provides all the protection most people need and looks good to boot.

Digital Persona U.are.U Fingerprint Recognition System | http://www.dpersona.com/

Nerds are a notoriously paranoid bunch. Just the idea of someone accessing their precious computer is often enough to set teeth itching. U.are.U uses a fingerprint scan to allow access to your PC. Wrong prints means no access. $150.

Mustek TwainScan 1200 III EP | http://www2.mustek.com/Imaging/index.htm

Scanner prices have fallen dramatically. This high-quality scanner retails for $139. Other scanners can be had for as little as $49.

Lexmark 3200 Color Jetprinter | http://www.lexmark.com/printers/3200/

If your geek still doesn't have a decent printer, now may be the time. High-quality printers are cheaper than ever, like this one that retails for $179.


Miscellaneous Tech Toys and Tools

Leatherman and Leatherman Jr. | http://www.leatherman.com/

The geek multi-tool of choice, Leatherman is a toolbox that fits on your belt. Prices from $20 to $80 depending on model.

Kodak DC20 Digital Camera | http://www.kodak.com/

We told you last year that prices would drop and they have. There are now many digital cameras available for under $200. Most of these, like the DC20 at a street price of around $160, are just fine for family snapshots. But you'll have to spend upwards of $500 to get image quality approaching that of film.

Daewoo Miracle Phone | http://www.daewoo.com/

The miracle phone transmits sound through the bones of your head, allowing conversations in loud environments. It's also great for the hard of hearing. The Miracle Phone also functions as a regular telephone. $200.

Palm III and PalmPilot | http://www.palmpilot.3com.com/prodsoft.html

Personal digital assistants (PDA) are wildly popular among the digerati. Palm products from 3Com rule the roost. Their latest and greatest, the Palm VII, featuring wireless connectivity, is due in stores soon. But if you don't want to wait for the Palm VII, or if you don't want to spend $800 on a PDA, check out the Palm III or PalmPilot. Both are packed with features for under $400.

Franklin Rex Pro | http://www.franklin.com/

If you're not into geek chic, but still want a quality PDA, check out Rex. For only $190, this handheld PDA has the most popular features.

Diamond Rio PMP300 Portable MP3 Player | http://www.diamondmm.com

We told you MP3 (a new kind of digital audio compression) would be the next big thing. Diamond is the first to hit the U.S. market with a Walkman-type portable player. Now you can download near CD-quality MP3s from the Net, load them onto flash memory chips and take them with you. Every geek will want one. $200.

Travel Companion Plus | http://www.sharperimage.com/

Sharper Image offers up this combination alarm clock and motion detector alarm for the tardy, paranoid geek on the go. $69.

Magellan GPS Pioneer | http://www.magellandis.com

For a mere $100 you can know where you are anywhere on the planet to within 30 feet or so. GPS, global positioning systems, use signals from satellites to calculate position. Now people will always know where you're coming from. $100.

Casio VDB-200B Watch | http://www.casio.com/timepieces/

Complete with a built-in data bank and touch screen interface, this is a very cool way to keep organized while keeping time for only $75. The only cooler geek watch is the elusive one from the notorious hackers at cDc (Cult of the Dead Cow).


For the Kids

Lego MindStorms Robotics Invention System | http://www.legomindstorms.com/

Hands down the coolest geek gift of the year. MindStorms is a system that allows children (if they can get it away from adults) to create and program an endless variety of robots capable of an endless variety of tasks. The heart of the system is the programmable RCX microcomputer that can be programmed using your PC. An entire community has sprung up around MindStorms, with competitions and online communities. This one will not be easy to find. $200.

Nintendo Game Boy Digital Camera and Miniprinter | http://www.nintendo.com/

A digital camera under $50? You bet. Great for kids, there is also an optional miniprinter available for $60 that prints 1" stickers.


Lovegety
Lovegety | http://www.ilovegety.com/

Lovegety claims to be "the World's First Interactive Match-Making Device." A cross between a beeper and a Tamagotchi toy, it can be set to meet, talk to, or date someone new. Blue for boys and pink for girls, when a member of the opposite sex with the same setting comes into range both Lovegetys will beep and flash. $20.


Expensive Geek Chic

So you're cashing in some stock options to do your Christmas shopping. Whether you're a Dellionaire or just made a bundle on the market this year, these top-of-the-line gifts would make any geek drool.

Iridium Satellite Phone System | http://www.iridium.com/

At $3,000, the Iridium satellite phone is at the top end of the nerd toys, but if your Dellionaire has been a good little nerd, you may want to cash in some of those stock options for the elite of cool nerd toys. With this phone you can call anyone anytime from literally anywhere on the face of the planet through a system of 66 low-orbit satellites. Great for when you get delayed on your final Everest assault and you want to call home to let them know you'll be late for dinner.


Clarion AutoPC

Clarion AutoPC | http://www.autopc.com/index2.html

Clarion has taken a voice-recognition PC with more capabilities than most personal digital assistants and combined it with a cell phone, car stereo, and global positioning system. Now when you get lost you can get directions, look up the phone number of your destination, call ahead to let them know you're running late, load up the new Nine Inch Nails CD, and check your e-mail, all by voice command. Around $1,300.

Panasonic KX-TGM240 GigaRange Wireless Telephone | http://www.panasonic.com/

With a range of well over a mile (7,700 feet) you can wander to your heart's content and never lose a call. This state-of-the-art wireless phone will set you back about $300.

NuvoMedia Rocket eBook | http://www.rocketbook.com/enter.html

About the size of a paperback, the Rocket eBook holds some 4,000 pages of words and images. That's about 10 novels. Weighing just 22 ounces, the Rocket eBook nestles easily in the curve of your palm. You can download books from the Net directly to the eBook. Hard to dog-ear those pages, though. $499.

Garmin's NavTalk | http://www.garmin.com/navTalk.html

Now you can call for help and know exactly where you are with this combination cell phone and GPS receiver. About $500.

Toshiba Libretto 100CT | http://www.toshiba.com/

Smallest full-function PC on earth. $2,500.

Nokia 9000il Communicator | http://www.nokia9000.com/

A combination PDA, GSM cell phone, fax, Web browser, and e-mail client that does currency conversions and plays music. Features speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, and voice mail. Geek chic for a cool grand. $999.

Panasonic PalmTheater | http://www.panasonic.com/

A 2-lb. portable DVD player with a built-in 5.8" screen, surround sound, and two-hour battery life lets you enjoy the near-theatre DVD experience anywhere. Doubles as a standard DVD player at home. $1,400.


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