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10 Tech Gifts to Buy Your Engineer for Christmas
12/19/2012

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Apart from Steve Jobs, the non-engineer who's had the most influence on cultural perceptions of gadgetry is a fictional character. That would be 'Q,' played for 30 years by Desmond Llwelyn, acting the part of the absent-minded professor. In the new Bond film Skyfall,  Ben Whishaw reimagines the part as part accountant, part geek. (Monty Python's John Cleese had a brief turn in two turn-of-the-century movies; let's call him Dennis Miller of the Q crowd.)

Fictional Qs would find a quantum of solace in the raft of 'Spy Shops' dotting the streets of most major cities. In New York, Google turns up a good 10. Most offer an array of gear more appropriate for prospective witness protection program enrollees than for the folks on your holiday gift list. Still, trust me when I tell you that any engineer would love an Aston-Martin with a passenger-side ejection seat. (Actually, so would driver's education instructors.)

If that's too pricey, how about an $80 water-resistant HD video watch, a $650 nanny cam hidden in a Teddy bear, or a $200 tiny GPS live tracker, which 'is the fasted way to retrieve a person or vehicle's current location.' Nah, better wait til Valentine's Day.

Apart from Steve Jobs, the non-engineer who's had the most influence on cultural perceptions of gadgetry is a fictional character. That would be "Q," played for 30 years by Desmond Llwelyn, acting the part of the absent-minded professor. In the new Bond film Skyfall, Ben Whishaw reimagines the part as part accountant, part geek. (Monty Python's John Cleese had a brief turn in two turn-of-the-century movies; let's call him Dennis Miller of the Q crowd.)

Fictional Qs would find a quantum of solace in the raft of "Spy Shops" dotting the streets of most major cities. In New York, Google turns up a good 10. Most offer an array of gear more appropriate for prospective witness protection program enrollees than for the folks on your holiday gift list. Still, trust me when I tell you that any engineer would love an Aston-Martin with a passenger-side ejection seat. (Actually, so would driver's education instructors.)

If that's too pricey, how about an $80 water-resistant HD video watch, a $650 nanny cam hidden in a Teddy bear, or a $200 tiny GPS live tracker, which "is the fasted way to retrieve a person or vehicle's current location." Nah, better wait til Valentine's Day.

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naperlou
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Can you spell eclectic?
naperlou   12/19/2012 10:52:40 AM
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Alex, this is truly an eclectic list.  You have outdone yourself.  Although I would argue with some of your descriptions, it was a fun read.

richnass
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Re: Can you spell eclectic?
richnass   12/19/2012 1:16:23 PM
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Wow, this is an emotional piece. Three of your items really resonate with me. First, the Lafayette catalog, although I was more of a Heathkit guy. Second, I'm a HUGE fan of duct tape. It can solve most of the world's problems. Finally, The Big Bang Theory is a must have.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Can you spell eclectic?
Cabe Atwell   12/20/2012 1:25:06 AM
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These are some unique choices. The only one I should have put on my list, the Terrafugia Transition. It would make for fun weekend trips. Though I am sure people would vandalize it out of jealousy. The burden of being ostentatiously wealthy... A burden I have to carry, woe is me.

I already have the Raspberry Pi. Finding a use for it escapes me at the moment. Suggestions welcome.

C

3drob
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Platinum
Re: Can you spell eclectic?
3drob   12/20/2012 10:33:01 AM
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Nice article Alex.

Rich, I also was nostalgic when I saw the Lafayette catalog.  If they come back maybe I can get that Quadraphonic 8-track with the headphones that had two channels in each earpiece I dreamt of getting in my youth.

I liked the inclusion of "The Beauty of Fractals" (I have a few other similar book's sitting next to it, including "The Fractal Geometry of Nature").

As an Engineer, I don't believe in the superiority of vacuum tubes (any more than low oxygen copper speaker wires).  But I do have a collection of old tubes I'm thinking of mounting as art (some are quite beautiful).

Finally, why include superglue and duct tape?  Every good Engineer worth his or her salt already has these in their tool box.  Should've been something that many Engineer's don't already have at home, like that nice small mixed signal scope (hint hint Santa).

dwk_user
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Iron
Re: Duct tape and world problems
dwk_user   12/20/2012 11:09:44 AM
Years ago before the iron curtain came down, I was stuck in a Hungarian border compound between Austria and Hungary.  I was there in a truck with Hans, a German driver,  carrying performance gear for a music performing group.  The Hungarian guards instisted that everything be taken out of the truck and inspected. While waiting for this process to start, a very small ratty, dumpy russian car, clattered by us and stopped at the Hungarian gate with a sigh and cloud of steam. Hans and I along with who I assume was the compound mechanic and several guards gathered in front of the car with the hood open.  When the steam cleared a babylon of languages declared something along the lines of 'There's the problem, a hole in the radiator hose, it cannot be fixed here'. I got a large roll of duct table from the truck and proceeded to wrap the hose with the tape.  The compound mechanic took over and after a few more wraps around the hose looked at me as if to say 'is that was enough?', I indicated it was, whereupon he searched his pockets for a knife to cut the tape.  I indicated 'not necessary' and reached down and tore the tape in two with my fingers.  Apparently, the miracle that is duct tape was not known among the Hungarians as a babylon of voices declared something along the lines of ' An't going to work'.  Water was put in the radiator, the engine started and we all waited for the water to begin flowing.  When it was clear that the tape had indeed performed its miracle, the babylon of voices declared it to be so.  When the mechanic handed me back the tape I indicated he could keep it.  Hans and I returned to the truck and in just 2 minutes we were told we were clear to enter Hungary.

I am sure, that I had a new friend and that he had fixed every damn thing in that compound until the tape was gone.

bwomp99
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Iron
Big Bang
bwomp99   12/20/2012 11:15:18 AM
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Am I the only EnG that doesn't really care for this show?

Oh, and for the Raspberry Pi, I'm working on building a Pandora music box (some good designs out there on instructables.com). I have a friend who put together an asterisk box as well, the GPIO pins can be fun to play with.

I'm suprised the Arduino didn't make the list. The Maker community is getting so big - 10 years after graduation and I'm playing around with basic components and breakboards again!

Oh, and one thing on my list - a 3D printer!

loadster
User Rank
Gold
Re: Big Bang
loadster   12/20/2012 11:37:10 AM
No you're not the only one who doesn't like a recycled "that 70's show" with a geek spin. I think that top 10 list symbolizes the problem trend with the internet. The really good stuff out there is not accessible anymore, or you have to pay for access to even look. Candy-colored cameras, really? I think you put that list together in like two hours. Hope your other chores got the attention they needed. How 'bout an electric christmas cookie press or instant tree light set in a box.

Merry made-up holly-day.

Radio_LakeVilla
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Iron
Little Bang and Lafayette
Radio_LakeVilla   12/20/2012 12:15:57 PM
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OH... You just did NOT diss The Doctor like that! I enjoy the Bang just fine but IF it lasts HALF the number of seasons that Doctor Who ran (I'm talking "classic" alone, not even the new batch) then maybe you can start a discussion.

I worked for Lafayette in the 70's in the Chicago area while I was in school. Still have some of the old catalogs. The gear we had ran circles around what was at "Rat Shack" at the time. Unfortunatly, the management back east was slow and inept. I'd love to take a TARDIS ride back and pick up a few items.

Vyper3000
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Iron
Lafayette Radio
Vyper3000   12/21/2012 9:12:11 AM
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Wow - talk about your basic blast from the past... I started as a salesman at Lafayette in the Atlanta area back in '78 and ended up as the assistant mgr in the area manager's store. One of the saddest things I've ever had to do was help close out two of the area's six stores when they went under in '80. Lafayette had some of the coolest stuff and they catered to real electro-geeks. Nowadays all we have on the national front is a shell of Radio Shack, but unless you want batteries, a cell phone, or an audio cable there's no real point in even entering one of those places.... 

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: Lafayette Radio
tekochip   12/21/2012 9:34:25 AM
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Ahh, the Lafayette catalog.  The other kids would look at the Sears Wish Book around Christmas, but for me it was the Lafayette catalog.  I always wanted one of their bass amplifiers, can you imagine how cool it would be to own one now?  In the end I got a Fender Bassman, which certainly performed better, but to have an old Lafayette now would be very cool.


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