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What to buy a geek for the holidays: The complete shopping guide

IT pros are making their wish lists and checking them twice as the holiday shopping season heats up.

Is there a geek on your gift list? If so, gift-giving season can be a tricky prospect. Never fear, we have a panel of geek advisors willing to share what’s on their wish lists this year.

The first thing that may spring to mind is the latest iPhone 4S or iPad, but chances are your geek has already rushed out to buy his or her own preferred phone or tablet device. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of ground to cover in the wide and wonderful world of “things with blinky lights.”

Gadgets galore
A popular suggestion among our geeks is anything Bluetooth, but especially headsets, either for phone calls or for listening to music. “That's a situation where someone may be ‘due’ for an upgraded audio experience,” said one geek. “Careful on these, however, as many people are finicky shoppers when it comes to objects inserted in or near their ears.” As always, knowing your geek’s preferences is key to any holiday shopping venture.

Other popular Bluetooth items include wireless keyboards and speakers.

Still, gadgets don’t have to be Bluetooth to be cool. Miscellaneous gadget ideas run the gamut from conductive gloves, for use with touch screens, to the Atari Arcade.

“Dock the iPad and play old Atari games with a traditional controller,” said Bill Hill, infrastructure IT lead for a Portland-based logistics company.

“Fisher Space Pens are cool and you can get them personalized -- a good gift for a nerd,” said Matt Brown, senior systems engineer for an application service provider.

And Sony 3D digital recording binoculars are simply “amazing… they’ve got a 20x zoom…and built into the binoculars is an HD camera and an HD video camera,” said Christian Metz, a systems administrator.

Hoping for hard disks
Meanwhile, “big data” isn’t just hitting businesses. Any self-respecting geek is generating data at a good clip at home as well.

Knowing your geek's preferences is key to any holiday shopping venture.

“I've recently become a fan of ruggedized hard drives from ioSafe; they can take a beating yet are functional and cool,” said our anonymous geek contributor.

“For those who needs lots of storage capacity with performance close to a solid-state drive (SSD) and price similar to a hard disk drive (HDD), how about a hybrid hard disk drive (HHDD) that contains 500 GB space with an integrated SLC flash SSD that fits into an existing laptop drive bay?” suggested Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with StorageIO.

If you’re going down this route, don’t forget a Firewire, eSATA or USB3 cable or adapter for attaching drives to a computer, laptop, DVR or other device, geeks warned. 

For the geek on the go
There’s an entire subcategory of gadgets designed to make a geek more mobile.

“I think that most geeks could probably use a portable battery -- something like this,” said Janssen Jones, associate director of IT infrastructure at Indiana University. “I never leave home without one or two of these batteries these days. With an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, Jawbone Jambox and Verizon MiFi, something’s always needing a charge, and these are super-handy.”

An iCruiser external battery pack is another alternative for the juice-hungry geek. Even fancier: a travel surge protector with USB ports. Fancier still: a Belkin mini power strip with two USB ports and three power ports -- “great for the road-warrior geek in hotels and conference rooms,” said another of our geek advisors.

Screen protectors are also a popular item for traveling geeks, whether it’s a ShaggyMac cloth which fits between a Macolyte’s screen and keyboard, or a new 3M Gold privacy screen for laptops, “so that you protect your work at conferences, airports and from your boss,” quoth a geek.

When in doubt, more of the same is always good. Find out what your geek already has, such as a multimedia dock for their phone, and get them another one for when they travel.

Games and toys
Geeks are nothing if not gamers. Board game suggestions include Settlers of Catan, Risk, Blokus and Pandemic. Popular video games this year include Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

Then there is “the usual smattering of clever office knick-knacks,” for which is a one-stop shop. Suggestions this year include a “desk protector” for Star Wars geeks, or for “office mayhem,” a USB Laser Guided Missile Launcher.

Joe Henrich, assistant vice president of technology at a regional bank in the Midwest, says he’s jonesing for an AR Drone, a self-balancing helicopter with integrated video camera that can be customized and controlled from an iPhone.

Geeks are nothing if not gamers.

“It only works with Wi-Fi, but put a 3G antenna in it and now you can control it over the Internet from anywhere,” Henrich said. “It’s just cool -- look at it, come on.”

Finally, for the musical geek, consider a YouRock MIDI electric guitar, a device that can be used as a Rock Band controller but looks like a small-bodied electric guitar. It can plug into headphones, an amplifier, or a computer and be played like a real guitar.

It’s hard to go wrong this year with the new bestselling Steve Jobs biography, while other literary geeks may enjoy Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America and the Geek Dad series, suggested reading enthusiast Bill Hill.

“For the geek who’s mastered everything technical, why not a gift that offers mastery of the social?” asked Greg Shields, partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. “Of all the textbooks throughout my college years, the only one remaining in my library today is an aging but relevant tome on organizational behavior called The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know by R. Richard Ritti.” 

“Published back in 1994, but no less relevant today, this excellent book uses 55 short-story examples -- each just a few pages long -- to illustrate why people behave in the ways they do.  If you’re the geek always wondering ‘why,’ this book might just contain your answers,” he added.

Off the beaten path
For the geek who truly has everything, one of our geek advisors who shall remain nameless suggests a Toto Washlet. “I have a bunch of the family in town and once they got over the ‘oh my god’ factor, at least two of the women have told their husbands they need to get one.  The men in the family have found it useful as well.”

If that doesn’t appeal, how about a cooler cruiser? This motorized ice chest is perfect “for that geek who has to attend a lot of large trade shows or manage a server, storage and network farm that requires hauling tools to a distant rack or location,” enthused Schulz.

Or why not get off the beaten path -- literally?

“What a geek needs for the holidays is complete downtime, whether or not he or she knows it,” said Dave Welch, CTO of House of Brick, who recommends three days in Supai, AZ: the most remote village in the continental United States. “No cell coverage. Supai is accessible by a 60 mile two-lane road that terminates in a parking lot that overlooks a 2,000 foot drop into a fork off the west Grand Canyon.  From there, it’s an eight mile hike down switchbacks and along a dry river bed to get to the village.  Or wimp out and take the chopper in from the parking lot -- $85 each way.”

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