Future's Holiday Gift Guide

I thought to myself this morning, in the -20 degree temperatures here in Chicago: self, how do you combine your love of technology with the holidays? Well, I think it's pretty obvious… Gift List! So, read on to find out what I think you should buy for yourself, or someone else who loves geeky gadgetry.

For stocking-stuffers or cheap friends (actually, you'd be the cheap one):
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 16GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive
I use my flash drive almost everyday (waka waka), so a guy like me would appreciate having a 16GB flash drive since they're so easy to lose. Memory is cheap these days, so 16GB for around $30 aint bad.

Power Support Air Jacket for iPhone 3G/3GS
I've never been a fan of putting cases on electronics, especially anything that's made by Apple, but the Power Support cases are fantastic. It has a soft-touch material, so it's not as slippery as the phone itself. It only covers the back, and comes with a protective clear sticker to go over the screen. For those that hate cases, but really need one, this is the best case out there for the iPhone.
For the 50-bucks-should-do-it crowd:
Double Horse Chinook R/C Helicopter
There's something about flying aircraft indoors that just satisfies everything in life. I'm sure every one of you at some point in your life (probably when you were 5) wanted a remote control car/airplane/helicopter/robot. This gift will definitely fill that void - for about 2 weeks before it breaks into pieces. I've had 2 R/C helicopters in my life, and the average lifespan for both was about 2 weeks… but those two weeks were so fucking fun.

Google Storage + Free Eye-Fi memory card
Ok, not really sure how you can gift this to someone, but I suppose you could give them the money to do it (since you need a google account). Basically, when you sign up to add 200 or more gigabytes of data from Google, you get a free Eye-Fi card. What the hell is an Eye-Fi card? It's actually pretty cool - it can be used with any camera that accepts SD memory cards (most cameras, but make sure they don't have some other memory card requirement, like Sony's Duo Pro cards). When you pop the 4GB memory card into your camera, you can wirelessly transfer the songs onto your computer, or directly to Picasa/Flickr/Facebook. Pretty awesome for people that like taking pictures and using Facebook (which is like, every single girl in the world). Anyways, click here to learn more. Oh, and to check camera compatibility, click here to learn more.
For the I-still-have-an-income crowd:
Canon PowerShot S90 Digital Camera
At $399, its a pretty expensive point-and-shoot camera, but it's the highest quality camera out there for the size. 3" LCD screen, 3.8x optical zoom, high-iso, and a quality 10MP sensor make this camera the best picture-taking pocketable-device. For those that are more interested in the big boys (DSLRs) I highly recommend my camera: the Nikon D90.

Barnes&Noble Nook eBook Reader
Ok, this isn't really a Christmas/Chanuka gift because they're sold out through mid-January, but its still a great gift. In the eBook world, there are three major players: the Amazon Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony eBooks. Never get a Sony, since they aren't tied to the massive collections of books that Amazon or B&N have. The reason why I picked the Nook over the Kindle is because the Nook has an awesome feature - a full color touch screen powered by Android located directly below the e-ink screen. Having this screen opens the door to countless possibilities with this device; for example, listening to pandora while reading a book (maybe I should read a book about grammar, cause I have no fucking clue why we even have a semi-colon).
So that's my list… I hope you don't think less of me. For those of you that just want to give something free, go and bake some cookies or something. Since most of you are on the East Coast, I can't do that for you, but here are my free gifts to you:
I use Evernote every single day. Basically its a cloud-based note taking application. I have it on my iPhone, PC, Mac and work computer. I use it for keeping an up-to-date To Do list, flight confirmation numbers list, apartment dimensions list (for when I'm at Home Depot or Ikea), holiday gifts list, and more… Seriously, you should start using this right now if you don't already - ITS FREE!

Some people have issues linking their bank accounts with online services, but Mint is one of those things the internet has brought us (like Pandora) that's truly wonderful. I have all my checking and savings accounts, credit cards, Schwabb, and even 401k accounts. The iPhone app is awesome, and I check it everyday for monthly budgeting purposes.

I started using Dropbox about a month ago, and I love it. The free account gives you 2GB of space in the cloud. What it does is sync a folder on your hard drive with the folder on their servers… which means you can share your files across multiple computers easily (and since it's syncing the folder on your physical drive, you can still access these files offline after syncing). As mentioned above, I lose my flash drives pretty frequently, so using dropbox to transfer stuff from computer to computer is a great alternative.

Happy Holidays!

- Future

District 9

Last night, I saw the new sci-fi masterpiece by Peter Jackson, "District 9." This will be a relatively spoiler-free review so if you haven't seen it, let me say two things:

1) See it. If this were the 1920s it would be the cat's pajamas.
2) Read this. I won't ruin the movie for you.

"District 9" was probably the best movie I've seen all year except for "The Godfather: Part II" which I saw on Netflix for the first time a month ago and was marginally better. "District 9" is original, it's visually stunning, it's compelling and it really makes you reevaluate your conception of human nature. If you're going pay eleven bucks like I did, this is the movie at which to do it.

That said, this movie was rated R and it was completely devoid of any nudity or sexually explicit scenes. I don't even think the words "pork," "boink" or "rusty trombone" were used anywhere in the script. This is not to say that sex didn't come up--at two points the notion of sex between the humans and aliens came up in a passing fashion--it just wasn't used to give me an erection.

This should be frowned upon.

Let's see here, this movie has aliens, explosions, psychological intrigue and... zero naked ladies? That's like making a delicious pizza with a crispy crust, savory marinara sauce, fresh cheese and... zero toppings! Come on, District 9, you were so close to perfection and you let me down. I'm not the only person who thinks this, either. Check out these reviews:

"District 9 does a lot of things right, including giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel. [Also, what's with the no boobies?]" --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"In the midst of it all you almost take for granted the carefully rendered details of the setting, the tightness of the editing and the inventiveness of the special effects. [Also, what's with the no boobies?]" --A. O. Scott, New York Times

See? I'm not saying that "District 9" wasn't a great movie; it was. What I'm saying is that "District 69" would be a really, really awesome porno. And no, I'm not some sicko who thinks that it would be cool to see giant insect aliens getting down with Earth ladies. Far from it! All I'm saying is that in between the giant robot thing catching the missile and the ennui of the final scenes, if I saw some hot, sexy human-on-human action, I wouldn't be complaining. Here, I'll write a scene as an example:

Hot lady bystander: Oh noes, it's totes alienz!
Dude that looks suspiciously like me: Fo' sho'. Let's hide and get intimate with our privates.
Hot lady bystander: Sounds like a plan!
(Ninety-second sex scene)
Boom, then you go right back to the action. Nobody would consider that distracting, right? That's just squeezing every last drop (pardon the pun) out of your R rating. "District 9" was terrific but, like most things in life, it could have been enhanced even more so through the magic of graphic sex. We can only hope they make a sequel!

The Death of XM and Sirius

XM was a great idea when it first came out; take the cable TV model and apply it to radio. It was great - the content was fantastic, the selection was much better than anything on FM, and the quality was first-rate. To me, audio quality is very important, and I enjoyed listening to CD-quality tracks on XM much more than even the strongest FM signal. I loved it while I had it, but hated paying 12 bucks a month for the service.

About a year ago, I canceled my service with XM because I found other ways of getting the music I wanted and the quality I desired. I had been using Pandora for years, but not until the Pandora App arrived on the iPhone did I consider dropping XM entirely.

With AT&T's 3G coverage constantly increasing, the need for a satellite connection has become obsolete. One of the main features of XM and Sirius is the fact that you can receive a strong signal basically anywhere in the country. On my daily commute to work outside of Chicago, I get plenty of bars to get consistent playback on Pandora. Another feature that XM and Sirius claimed to have was the lack of commercials (I found this was not true, they just had fewer commercials). Pandora, on the other hand, only has a small banner ad at the bottom of the screen, and NO commercials in between tracks. Sure, XM and Sirius have hundreds of channels, but with Pandora, I can create and manage several of my own customizable stations. All of these reasons make Pandora a better option, audio-wise, but when you throw "its free" into the mix, its a no-brainer.

More and more internet radio stations are showing up in the iPhone app store and on other platforms (Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, etc), and they're all free. XM even has its own app on the iPhone, but why would you pay for the XM service when you can get a better app with free service? As Pandora, Slacker, NPR, Y! Music, AOL Radio, and more, become more and more popular, the need for a service like XM and Sirius will diminish.

There are plenty of arguments against the death of XM and Sirius. The company's stock has been going gangbusters in the market - up 40% in the last week (See Tech Trader Daily report here). The main reason for this is a product called SkyDock. Basically, this accessory plugs into your iPhone or iPod Touch and acts as a satellite receiver for XM and Sirius. Currently, the XM and Sirius apps use 3G for connectivity, and the audio isn't as clear as satellite. SkyDock will undoubtedly be sold separately and definitely wont come complimentary with XM or Sirius service. So, to put this in basic terms, I have two options:
1. I can buy SkyDock for $30 or $50 and attach it to my iPhone (which is a pain because now I have to carry this thing around). On top of the SkyDock expense, I also have to continue paying XM or Sirius for their service. At $12 a month, I would be paying close to $200 for the year.
2. I could settle for a hit in audio quality and use one of the many free internet radio apps. I don't have to listen to any long commercials and I don't have to pay for the service. I can customize my own stations and rate the songs I want to hear and the songs I don't ever want to hear. Aside from paying my standard AT&T service bill, this option is $0 for the year.
I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that love satellite radio and don't mind paying under $20 a month for the service. For the Howard Stern listeners out there, Sirius is really the only way of hearing the show, so you don't have much choice there. I have used and loved satellite radio before, but now that I've switched to internet radio, I'm never looking back.

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