Sometimes it takes a geek to buy a gift for a geek. Well-meaning friends and family members may be thinking along more traditional lines for that special someone - say, a nice sweater or a diamond pendant - when what the science junkie really wants is a glow-in-the-dark planisphere watch or a Foucault pendulum. That's why we put out the call last week for science geeks to send in their favorite gift suggestions - with a geek goodie bag offered as an enticement. I've put together a selection of nine suggestions, and now it's your turn to pick the winner.
Check out the descriptions below, then click on over to our thoroughly unscientific Live Vote to cast your ballot. Your criteria could include what you'd like to get as a gift (assuming you're a science geek), what comes off as the most novel (or most bizarre) suggestion, what seems to be the best buy, what stands out as the most educational gift, or what promises to be the most fun.
The top gift suggestion as of noon PT on Friday will earn its submitter a selection of trinkets that only a geek could love, including an MSNBC.com baseball cap, T-shirt and pen; a "Geek" T-shirt in hacker black; a selection of gaming software and relativity-related multimedia; Einstein's "Relativity" and other geeky books; a SpaceX Falcon T-shirt and a Rocket Racing League pin.
As you can see, a lot is riding on your choice - so choose wisely from among these nominees:
- Aerogel jewelry: I'm willing to bet that, on a pound-for-pound basis, aerogel is rarer than diamonds. Aerogel is the bizarre glassy material that's 99.8 percent air, and Aerogem has encapsulated little samples of the stuff in pendants as well as keychains and other gewgaws. The material has been used in space probes such as the Stardust comet-sampling spacecraft and the Mars rovers. If you're getting some for me, I favor my aerogel unadorned (say, from United Nuclear or The Aerogel Store on eBay) - that's the best way to experience just how weird this "solid smoke" really is.
- Nuclear-powered toy: United Nuclear's spinthariscope contains tiny flecks of zinc sulfide and radioactive thorium ore, sealed inside an aluminum-and-plastic capsule fitted with a viewing lens. Alpha particles released by the ore interact with the zinc sulfide to create flashes of blue-white light that can be seen through the lens. Yes, alpha radiation plays a role in the headline-grabbing spy-murder mystery, but the spinthariscope "is completely safe for both children and adults to use," United Nuclear says. As our Cosmic Log correspondent noted, "Nothing says 'Merry Christmas' like a nuclear-powered toy."
- Metal-detector rover: M.D.G. from San Francisco suggests a magnet-equipped toy robot from Target. A "treasure alert" lets the rover operator know when the contraption has come across something metallic. "It's a metal detector! It's a remote-control vehicle! This metal detector rover looks like way more fun than putting a magnet to something to learn about the magnetic properties of different materials," M. writes.
- Build-it-yourself robot: If you have visions of robots dancing in your head, it may be because you can't get this video of the Robonova dance team out of your brain. A correspondent from Idaho says robot-building is the true mark of geekhood. For some, that means jumping into the LEGO Mindstorm maelstrom. "But if you truly have the need to freak your geek, then the ultimate build your own automaton would be Robonova-1 from Hitec Robotics," our geekworthy Idahoan writes. "Although it is on my list, I will be hoping it does not decide to take over my job or become our new robot overlords! Speaking of which, you can buy your RoboGeek in your family some light reading material - "How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion" by Daniel H. Wilson - and then hope you survive!"
- Dot-matrix wallet: Why go with a ho-hum leather wallet, when you can stuff that geeky Christmas stocking with a genuine Tyvek wallet modeled after that vintage blue-and-white computer paper we all know and love? Dynomighty has designed this wallet without stitching and promises that the look "will get your old daisy wheel spinning again." The wallet is covered with dot-matrix-printed numerals "so you'll always have a reference to the first 3,000 digits of pi," writes our correspondent, A.B. Chalmers.
- Video watch: "If you don't have a watch that plays videos, how geeky are you?" writes Paul, a correspondent from New York City. It's hard to take issue with that. This USB-enabled offering from ThinkGeek plays videos on a 128-by-128-pixel screen, plays and records audio - and oh yes, it even tells time.
- "Genius phone": The next suggestion is from Seattle's Brian Glanz, who already deserves some sort of prize for thoroughness. He recommends the UTStarcom XV6700 or PPC6700, a phone that combines Wi-Fi with EV-DO cellular service and Bluetooth device connectivity. "At long last, your geek will be completely (un)wired," Glanz declares. It's also an MP3 and video player, a camera, a handheld computer, etc., etc. "They can be expensive, depending on the plan you choose, but other phones can be even more expensive," he writes. Check out the comments section of the original "Geek Gift Guide" item for details and other recommendations from Glanz.
- Pop-can cooling pad: This beverage cooler plugs into a USB port on your desktop computer and keeps your Jolt Cola (or any other canned drink) at a cool 45 degrees Fahrenheit while you tap away. A Cosmic Log correspondent from Montana called the offering from Perpetual Kid to our attention. "They have other USB gadgets that are slightly less useful - such as heated gloves!" the correspondent writes. "Are people working on their PCs outside??"
- Light-up moon: L. Stremler from San Diego says he plans on "giving the moon" this Christmas. The What On Earth Catalog says the "Light-Up Moon in My Room" is "a lunar model that moonlights as a night light. An authentically detailed moon with craters and dark and light patches automatically begins to glow when the sun sets." It could be just the thing for the next generation of lunar explorers.
Review the suggestions, then head on over to our Live Vote and register your choice. We'll recognize our top Santa Geek on Friday.