Originally Published: Monday, 18 December 2000 Author: Brian Richardson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Getting Great Geek Gifts: The Shopping HOWTO

It's a only a few days until christmas, do you know where your geek's gift is? Brian Richardson gives us pointers on what to get those hard to shop for people.

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With only a few shopping days left this holiday season, many are still scrambling to get the perfect gift for their favorite geek. Or, as an avid reader of linux.com, you're a geek hoping your loved ones don't botch this holiday by getting you another bad gift.

Let's face it . . . a true computer geek is hard to shop for. Living without the burden of style or fashion, geeks tend to reject trendy clothes (these are people who think "shopping for clothes" is deciding which convention booth to get a t-shirt from). Yet the non-geek has serious problems entering the world of a true computer junkie during gift season. If the untrained non-geek buys a PS/2 instead of PS2, trouble is possible.

As a reader of linux.com, it's obvious you have impeccable taste, so I am not about to challenge your sense of style. While many people don't mind having some anonymous journalist tell them what the "hot gift" is this holiday, your finely tuned senses alert you that a Linux user is not necessarily going to follow the whims of corporate America. So as a public service, this article will not tell what to buy the geek this holiday, but how to shop for the geek. Think of this as a HOWTO without all those annoying technical terms.

For those of you who are about to send your geek friends yet another gift certificate, please read this article.

For those of you who think your non-geek friends are about to send you another lame gift certificate, print this article out and give it to your friends

Lesson One: Know Your Victim . . . er, Recipient

Make sure you have vital information about your geek friend before heading to the store. If they're not totally immersed in the digital realm, they might actually have other hobbies. My wife has dodged the technology bullet many times by buying me drums or recording equipment. Check to see what websites they visit, since this might indicate a hobby or non-computer interest (excluding the various pics of naked people in their browser cache).

Do they like movies? If so, a DVD might be in order. But beware -- the true geek with a DVD player most likely has a copy of The Matrix and X-Men. Esoteric science fiction is a good choice -- Dr. Who, The Prisoner, The Day The Earth Stood Still -- stuff they drool over in a video store.

Most people like to give the gift of music, but this is also dangerous territory. Not only do true geeks have esoteric music tastes, but they might already have a solid MP3 collection. This is where a gift certificate might be best, but make sure it's to one of those "cool" places that sells weird techno discs, where the clerk looks like an extra from Sid and Nancy.

Computer software can be easily identified with a computer user. But be very, very careful buying software for a Linux user. Most every "store bought" application is for Microsoft Windows; chances are, the Linux user has already downloaded all the applications he or she needs.

Lesson Two: Arm Yourself With Details

For the average shopper, it makes sense to buy technology for a geek. This can backfire in a big way. The hardcore computer person has a tendency to sneer at "average" technology. Many proceed down the path of peripheral procurement in peril because they didn't get the right information prior to purchase.

It's all in the details. The slightest variance in model number can make the difference between new tech and old junk. If they say they want a Palm Pilot, get the model number (Palm V or Palm VII . . . very important). If they want a Visor Handspring, don't you dare buy that $39 "personal organizer" by the checkout counter. That's a serious invitation to being the proud recipient of a frozen shoulder, along with your picture being "accidentally" posted to "isawyounaked.com".

If they want something very badly, get the right stuff: you'll need model numbers and manufacturer names. Don't get something that looks close to the device, or something the salesperson says is "just as good." We geeks spend hours creating the "dream list," much in the way home owners make the "dream floorplan" while watching reruns of This Old House.

But technology comes and goes. Many gift givers take pride in selecting a token of friendship and love that the recipient cherishes. The last thing you want to see is your precious gift of technology being discarded in late January for the "next new thing." So the large of heart and weak of stomach might want to keep away from gifts like gadgets and computer parts.

Lesson Three: Tokens and Trinkets

The next phase of geek shopping happens at the office. While your fellow cube-mates aren't necessarily family, you might want to get them a small present. Cards are nice, but some cube dwellers deserve more -- especially the one who figured out why your system gets a "kernel panic" every time it rains.

These are friends . . . but really good friends. Gift certificates are nice, but then your level of care for them is quantified by the dollar amount. The best thing to get here is a trinket or token, some small item that is more useful than it is valuable.

I've been moderately successful with this at my office. Last year I gave out screwdrivers which are valuable to those who are constantly tweaking their computers (and to me, who doesn't have to loan out my tools every ten minutes). This year I'm giving out some unique pens, which I hope will be used to approve various purchase requests in the coming year ("Brian gave me this cool pen, so I guess he can buy a new Athlon server").

Some of this mentality works well for closer friends. Higher end "trinkets" work well for your more familiar computer friends. Snazzy tools are always appreciated: the Swiss Army Cybertool and similar "pocket plier" tools come to mind. The serious geek can attach high standards to his (or her) tools, so be careful not to go the discount aisle for these.

Lesson Four: Beware The Dark Side

My last tip/warning related to the rabid Linux user ... the pengiunius faniticus. The server admin with a laptop buried under three layers of Debian stickers. The engineer who always incorporates a penguin in his wardrobe. The support technician who runs the "company required" Microsoft software under WINE just to make the IS guys confused.

This is bordering on religious fanaticism. Buying these people a technology gift that isn't Linux-compatible is like giving Joe Lieberman a honey baked ham. If you're serious about technology shopping for the Linux zealot, it's time to do that last-minute homework. Plenty of other "geek sites" like Slashdot have compiled their own lists of "nifty gadgets" and "perfect gifts." These lists are useful for research.

The best approach in this case is to talk to one of their close geek pals. It might be an IRC buddy or another techie from their office. These are people who not only know what your gift recipient is interested in, but can point you toward a Linux-friendly techno gift. You might have no idea what the gizmo does, but that doesn't matter if they like it.

Getting Near The End

I hope this article was a useful holiday diversion. This might be the thing to bring inspiration to your last-minute shopping marathon. My hope is that you have gained some insight into purchasing tokens of affection for your Linux-literate loved ones. With this information, and your obvious taste, you can take on the perilous task of holiday geek shopping.

But, if that doesn't work, nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a stuffed penguin and a tin of caffeinated peppermints.


Brian Richardson hopes this diversion from the hardware section is useful. If not, don't despair . . . Brian will hastily return to his land of silicon. Feel free to post your own helpful hints in the comments section.




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