We all have someone on our holiday gift lists for whom you just don't know what to get. If that person is a computer or gadget fan, then making choices becomes even more difficult. In a lot of cases, though, a couple of really good, well-picked stocking stuffers can go over far better than a larger present that no one really wants. Luckily for the geek on your list, there is a variety of choices. This TechTip offers a few pointers.
Whether you're playing games online, chatting using Skype or Google Talk, or recording a podcast, a good headset is a must. When looking for a headset, try to find one that filters noise from both the microphone and the earphones. That will block out as much of the noise from the surrounding area as possible, and make your geek's game play or chat all the better.
You have two choices when it comes to a headset: the one with the traditional jack and one that connects to a PC via USB.
The biggest advantage of traditional jack headsets, like those from Logitech or Labtec, is that they're relatively inexpensive, durable, portable, and do a better-than-decent job of inputting and outputting sound. That said, you must keep in mind that the interior of a computer is a noisy place. You've got a hard drive doing its thing, the noise of a CD-ROM or DVD drive, and the sound of the cooling fan. All that noise affects anything plugged into a microphone or speaker jack. A headset with a USB connector, on the other hand, eliminates that additional noise.
If you really want to go high end, check out the offerings from Plantronics. I bought my wife a Plantronics headset last year to use with Skype, and she's had no complaints. One of the more impressive models from the company is the CS50. Not only is it USB, it's wireless. It's also pricey, but isn't the geek on your list worth it?
USB Flash Drive
You'll notice that new PCs are lacking something: a floppy disk drive. Floppy disks never held much, and were easily corrupted. But burning a CD to pass a couple of MP3s or image files to a friend is wasteful. That's where a USB flash drive comes in handy. It's a great stocking stuffer -- small, and a simple way to move files between different computers and operating systems. On top of that, a USB flash drive can hold literally hundreds and thousands of times more data than an old floppy.
No matter what you are using the USB flash drive for -- be it running
PortableApps, carrying your files with you, or as a temporary backup -- it's always handy to have at least one drive lying around. You can get them in sizes ranging from a mere 128 MB to a whopping 8 GB of storage space. Not bad for something that comfortably fits in your pocket. On top of that, prices are low enough that you can get a multi-gigabyte drive for under $50.
And if your geek is a bit paranoid, or they just want to keep their data away from prying eyes should they lose the USB flash drive, then consider getting a secure drive. Models like the Lexar Jump Drive Secure or the Edge DiskGO! drives contain security software that enables users to encrypt or password protect their drives and the data on them. Drives like this cost a bit more, but peace of mind is worth the extra cost.
With all the USB devices that the geek on your list may own (or find under the tree) -- like headsets, flash drive, MP3 player, mouse, and more -- they may find that they've quickly run out of USB ports. That's where a USB hub comes in handy. A hub enables you to connect multiple USB devices to a single port -- just plug the hub into a free USB port and you double, triple, quadruple, or more the number of USB connections to your computer. A USB hub is usually small, too, so it doesn't take up a lot of room on the desktop.
When looking for a hub for your geek, it's best to get one with at least four ports and which supports USB 2.0 (the newer, faster standard). Not all hubs are created equally, though. Cheaper ones are ... well, they're cheaper. I tend to advise people to go with brands like Belkin or D-Link. They can be a bit more expensive, but the quality is there, too.
Something from the Web
Sometimes, the best gifts (and the best stocking stuffers) aren't physical. They're digital. I'm talking about things like subscriptions to an online magazine like Salon, an Amazon.com gift certificate, or a subscription to a useful Web application like Backpack. If your geek uses Skype, why not get them some SkypeOut credits so they can call mobile phones or landlines from their computer? Of course, if your geek is more into Open Source, then consider getting them some Wengos, for use with WengoPhone (an Open Source alternative to Skype). The great thing about a digital gift is that it's something that they'll actually use.
A great stocking stuffer for the geek on your Christmas list is literally only a few clicks away. Look around the Web or even in a brick-and-mortar store and you're sure to find something for that hard-to-buy-for geek.