Cool stuff for the nerd in your life


POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

One is born, or not born, a nerd. Nerdiness is not thrust upon you; it is not trendy nor hip nor cool to be a nerd, no matter what Wired or other geek pages might tell you. The basic definition of “;nerd”; is someone who is socially awkward, physically spazoid and whose interests are all-consuming and out of the mainstream, from physics to baseball cards to French '60s movies to model spaceships. By definition a nerd is a loner, but not by choice. It's just the hand dealt by fate.

Ah, you're saying, there's someone just like that in my family. If, instead of Britney Spears and Robert Pattinson posters in their bedroom, they have pin-ups of Adam Savage and Kari Byron, you have nerds. Face it.

Like the rest of us, nerds like Christmas, too. They like giving and being gifted. But what do you leave under the tree for the family nerd?

Following are some suggestions, all available online, giving you just enough time to place your order. Think outside the nerd ghetto this year and don't automatically gift your nerd with “;Star Trek”; merch. (Besides, the hot nerd show this year is “;Fringe.”;)


Flash drive

It's a rare nerd who isn't computer-savvy. Let's face it, the family nerd is who you go to for computing advice. But everybody, even nerds, could use more memory. The basic stocking stuffer for byteheads is the flash drive, the little pocket gizmo that stores files, photos and songs on nonmoving circuitry. There are a million variations on this theme, including flash drives made of gold, wood, in the form of Pez dispensers and even—we're not making this up—toy dinosaurs whose heads come off and double as flash drives.

The coolest I've seen, however, is the little gem here. And I do mean little. The Pico C flash drive by Super Talent is the size of a thumbnail and holds one to 32 gigabytes, priced accordingly. The one pictured here is an 8-gig drive that retails for about $20 to $23. Super Talent also makes gold- and nickel-plated editions.

The drive has no moving parts and is slightly thicker than a normal flash drive, ensuring a firm fit. Being so small, it's easier to insert in an extension USB cord than a computer itself. There are a ring and chain that allow a user to conveniently add it to a key ring. It's also water-resistant, in case you run it through the washing machine.


Interactive T-shirts

The ThinkGeek online store has made a science out of products that appeal to a nerd's sense of style, and frankly, one problem with nerds is that they dress while thinking about their great interest, which has nothing to do with clothing.

You can cut right through that mental fog machine with apparel that keeps your nerd occupied. Here are a couple from ThinkGeek's closet: The Wi-Fi Detector Shirt measures the signal strength of the neighborhood Wi-Fi signal—signal strength for 802.11b or 802.11g, like, duh—with a small battery pack inside. It works just fine, with the signal strength pulsating in real time on your chest. It's on sale at ThinkGeek for about $20.

Even fancier is the Electronic Rock Guitar T-shirt. It comes with a touch-sensitive guitar neck Velcro'd to the front, pre-tuned to an open E chord, and a small but powerful amp that hooks on to your belt. (The knobs go to 11. If you “;get”; that, you're on your way to rock nerddom already.)

It absolutely works. There are a couple of magnetic “;picks”; that you strum across the pick-ups—you actually have to hit them—and depressing the fret board give you chords, including sharps and flats. In no time at all, we were playing “;Smoke on the Water.”; Yes, the tiny amp has an output for plugging into a bigger noise-box. This goes for $29.95 at ThinkGeek.com.

On both shirts the electronic gear comes off for easy washing. You may have trouble getting your nerd to change, however, as the shirts come in Goth black and go well with layers of mustard and frozen yogurt stains.


Make magazine

Nerds often like to make their own cool stuff. Ideas flow through Make magazine, $14.99 at newsstands or $34.95 a year for a four-issue subscription. Not only will your nerd receive a print version of each issue, he or she will also get a digital version to download.

Make is a do-it-yourself Bible for the digital generation. The latest issue shows how to make a simple beer bottle opener from soldered quarters, but it also shows you how to make robots, adding machines, tricky wooden puzzles, repair your eyeglasses with thread and glue, an autophenakostoscope—a kind of 19th-century cartoon viewer—and a laser light show hidden within your lunch box. If your nerd is a tinkerer, Make is the magazine.



Nerds like to read. The perfect escape might be in the world of “;steampunk,”; that odd corner of science fiction that combines a Victorian design aesthetic with futurism. Think rocket ships with rivets. How cool is that? Better yet, robots with rivets.

The steampunk sensation this Christmas is “;Boilerplate—History's Mechanical Marvel,”; by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett. It is the lavishly illustrated biography of a mechanical man nicknamed Boilerplate, created in 1893 as a replacement for the average soldier, who served in various campaigns until disappearing in a barrage during the Great War. In between, Boilerplate was the toast of international trade and technology extravaganzas, also serving arctic explorers and—ahem!—Pancho Villa.

This hardcover book is great fun, served up with enough tongue-in-cheekiness faux reality to make one wonder.

“;Boilerplate”; is $24.95 at your local bookstore. It might even appeal to the non-nerds among us. You know who you are.


The Bag

Even nerds need to haul their stuff, and after a night of playing “;Halo,”; they know what stuff-haulers need to look like—tough, durable, vaguely military, with lots of pockets, zippers and Velcro. You can find a bag that will hold all of the female nerd's necessities, and a bag macho enough for that gender-undecided male nerd, at LAPoliceGear.com. They make and sell stuff for police department SWAT teams, so you know it's durable.

Take the bag here, available for about $40 or less from LAPoliceGear or other outlets. It's big enough for a laptop and has a zillion pockets. It's light gray on the inside for visibility, with straps and clips for flashlights, knives and other necessities. It can be carried by handle, shoulder strap or clipped to a belt. Just hope your nerd likes basic back.

What SWAT teams put into the bag are large pistols, first-aid and trauma supplies, and the exterior pouches are sized for six AR-15 magazines.

What you put into it is up to your nerd. All of his DVD-burned copies of “;Mythbusters”;?

The bag's list name is the “;Active Shooter Bail Out Bag.”; The generic name among SWATheads is “;go bag.”; Yeah, baby.

For a demonstration of the Electronic Rock Guitar T-shirt, visit blogs.starbulletin.com/fashiontribe