Great gifts for co-'Persons of the Year'
FIRST, before we discuss last-minute holiday tech gifts, I'd like to take a moment to publicly scorn Time magazine for not giving me sole ownership of its Person of the Year title. Instead, it gave it to "you" this year -- that is, everyone who had a hand in generating or consuming user-created content on the Internet.
Basically, that covers everybody except my mom and that guy who walks around wearing boxers and a Napoleon hat every night in the park at dusk (although odds are someone posted him on YouTube as well).
What a rip. I had my whole acceptance speech and a lecture tour planned to thank all the little people, only to learn that all the little people have gotten the same honor. It's a logistical nightmare. The nation will not have an adequate stockpile of podiums to meet the demand.
AH, WELL, the only good news, everybody should be getting a complimentary issue of Time this week -- what, no?
Wait, you're telling me Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates had to run down to the newsstand in their robes last year just like everybody else? C'mon, Time, cough it up.
Regardless, assuming we're all too busy accepting planetary honors to finish our Christmas shopping, here are some last-minute holiday tech gift ideas that you can wrap up online within minutes of Dec. 25:
Gamefly gift certificates (gamefly.com, $21.95 per month): Most are now familiar with the Netflix.com DVD rental model. For a set monthly fee, you get as many DVDs mailed to your house as you can consume and then mail back (postage paid). Gamefly does the same thing with video games for all the popular consoles, including the new PS3 and Wii. You can have up to two games on loan at a time. Once you get bored or hit a game-level wall you consider demoralizing, you can send it back and try a new title. If your loved one spends more than $300 a year on games that now cluster together in a corner of their room and only serve as a makeshift pizza-box coffee table, then this is the perfect gift for him (that, and maid service, perhaps).
Skype Unlimited Calling (skype.com, $14.95 for a year until Jan. 1): A lot of people still think they need a degree in computer science to make phone calls over the Internet, or diplomatic immunity in case the feds break down their door while in the act. But it's legal and cheap.
With a broadband connection and a headset, you can call anywhere in the United States or Canada as often as you'd like. However, when it comes to international calling, Skype now has some competitors that are driving costs down to near zero as well. Calling Russia on Skype, for example, costs 5.5 cents per minute, while on a similar call-back service at JaJah.com, it's only 2.5 cents (it piggybacks well on cell phones with unlimited nationwide calling plans). Either way, if your loved one has loved ones overseas, then services like these can take the financial sting out of staying in touch.
TiVo gift subscription (tivo.com, prices vary): TiVo recently sold out of its life-changing "free" 80-hour Series2 DVR box, though tivo.com now links you to other retailers that offer the same deal (after rebate). But, TiVo's new $70 box allows you to record two TV shows at once and is way cheaper than getting a lawyer the next time you want sit down for "Monday Night Football" only to discover your better half getting comfy with "Antiques Roadshow."
Either way, all TiVo units, "free" or otherwise, require monthly subscription fees. The cheapest is the three-year prepaid plan for $300, which works out to about $8 a month. Perhaps three or four relatives can pool their resources to make the Digital Slob in their family finally break down and cry happy tears on Christmas morning (be sure to take photos of the event, because after he runs to his room and plugs it in, you'll likely only see him during late night raids on the fridge).