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Gifts for Geeks

Find the perfect gift for the technology and science enthusiasts in your life.
December 21, 2007

Not sure what to get the technophile in your life for the holidays? Technology Review’s editors have selected their top gift picks, many based on emerging technologies. Whether you’re a starving student or chief technology officer, we’ve found something for every budget.

An Astronomical Toy
Connect with the cosmos using a new device called mySKY. The handheld unit enables a user to identify stars, planets, constellations, and more. Simply point the device at the star or planet of interest and press a button. The device is equipped with GPS to determine the time, the date, and a user’s location. Magnetic sensors and accelerometers determine where the device is pointing. MySKY collects this and other data it has gathered and compares it with a database of more than 30,000 celestial objects to find a match. An image of the matching object is displayed along with additional video and audio content. A user can also choose the object she wishes to see by selecting it from a menu and pressing the “go to” key. A star map pops up with an arrow pointing to the object; as the user tracks the arrow, it gets shorter until the object is reached. Guided tours are another option: the device picks out the best object in the sky for a user to “go to.” MySKY was developed by Meade Instruments, based in Irvine, CA, and it retails for approximately $399.

Credit: Meada Instruments

A DNA Portrait
Sick of mass-produced art from Ikea and cheesy kitten posters? The narcissistic artist you’re shopping for is sure to be entranced by a new and utterly unique work of art: his own DNA portrait. Just send in a few drops of blood, and Phil Fisette, an immunologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founder of Cell Portraits, will search your loved one’s cells for an aesthetic arrangement of chromosomes to immortalize on film. The images are then custom-colored to the client’s preference, generating a modern piece of art. Prices range from $250 to $500. For those who don’t want to collect blood on the sly, gift certificates are available.

Credit: Cell Portraits

Wi-Fi Detector Shirt
Wi-Fi signals abound, but they’re hard to find without an open laptop or a sign in the coffee-shop window. Now, a T-shirt from gives geeks another way to find a hot spot. As its wearer gets within range of a Wi-Fi signal, glowing bars on the front of the shirt light up. When the signal dips, the shirt goes dark. The system is powered by three AAA batteries that slip into a small pocket sewn inside the shirt. Priced at just $29.99, this garment promises to inform and entertain as you walk around campus or the office. The T-shirt is washable: the batteries and the glowing decal are designed so that they can be easily removed before you toss the garment in the washing machine.


Wireless Christmas Tree
O Wireless Tannenbaum! For those who never again want to untangle the old, knotty, rolled-up ball of Christmas lights, Frontgate, a high-end home-furnishings store, is selling this four-foot Wireless Lighted Artificial Christmas Tree in Urn for $275. The tree isn’t completely wireless–you still have to plug a cord into an outlet from its base–but a wireless transmitter in the urn sends out 915-megahertz radio waves with an output of three watts, which is just enough power to illuminate all the LED bulbs hung on the tree in whatever arrangement you desire. The receivers to which the LEDs are attached are part of a system developed by Powercast, a Pennsylvania-based startup, and the Christmas tree is the first product to feature its wire-eliminating technology. What’s also nice is that the transmitter powers each LED individually, so you’ll never have to worry about one rotten bulb ruining an entire string of lights again.

Credit: Frontgate

A Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Toy Car
Most people think that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will never be more than rare curiosities. But there is a small, sporty model that makes a great gift: Horizon Fuel Cell TechnologiesH-racer. The miniature, zero-emissions vehicle is equipped with a hydrogen storage tank and a fuel-cell system connected to the car’s electric motor. H-racer’s external fueling station generates hydrogen gas through electrolysis using energy from a solar panel or, if necessary, batteries. A small balloon inside the car serves as the hydrogen storage tank. Once filled, it steadily releases the gas into the fuel cell where it reacts with oxygen to generate the electricity that propels the car’s motor. It takes a mere 10 minutes to refuel with enough power to let the car run in a straight line for three minutes–that’s about 325 feet on a full tank. The H-racer retails on the company’s website for $115, but it can be found elsewhere online for as little as $59.95. A kit to convert your own remote-controlled car to hydrogen power is available for $1,500.

Credit: Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies

A Personal Genome Sequence
If you’ve got $350,000 to blow, a personal genome sequence would make the perfect gift for that special hypochondriac on your list. Earlier this year, Knome, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, began offering genome sequencing to consumers at $350,000 a pop. Hidden within that DNA is information about an individual’s risk of up to 2,000 common and rare conditions. But you’d better hurry: due to the massive amount of work involved in sequencing a genome, only the first 20 people who contact the company will get to be part of Knome’s first sequencing flight; interested parties can find out more here.

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