Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, give a little thought to what’ll tickle the science geek on your gift list. We’re not talking about the “10 best gadgets” or cutting-edge technology here. Just a few little somethings (or big somethings) that play off our sense of wonder or just plain gearheadedness. Here are five ideas to play with for the holidays:
Star Wars Advent calendars: Whether you’re counting down to Christmas or the Dec. 18 opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” an Advent calendar provides you with a daily surprise while you’re waiting. The concept is patterned after traditional Advent calendars, which give little ones the opportunity to open a secret door on the front of the calendar and find a sweet treat for every December day leading up to Christmas.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, Lego’s offering is likely to be the Advent calendar you’re looking for ($40 and up). Each of the 24 compartments holds a mini-toy, including a Lego Stormtrooper, Yoda and R2D2. But beware the power of the Dark Side: Many retailers are already out of stock. There are cheaper alternatives, including the Galerie Star Wars Advent calendar with milk chocolate treats ($3, also running low).
Google Cardboard virtual-reality viewers: If you’re hankering for a top-of-the-line VR headset, you’ll have to wait until next year for Oculus Rift or the HTC/Valve Vive viewer. In the meantime, there’s a wide variety of low-cost viewers that take advantage of the Google Cardboard platform. Just assemble the cut-out goggles and lenses (or buy them ready-made), download Cardboard-compatible apps, put your smartphone in the viewer and gaze into virtual worlds. As you move your head, your perspective on the 360-degree scene moves accordingly – thanks to the smartphone’s accelerometer.
Using DODOcase’s cardboard viewer ($25), I tried out The New York Times’ free virtual-reality app, NYTVR, which can put you in the scene alongside refugee children from around the world, or in the middle of Paris’ post-terror vigils. I have to admit I could never get the left-eye and right-eye views to line up for the 3-D perspective, but even with one eye shut, it’s an eye-opening experience. During this month’s Spacefest at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, I took a virtual walk on Mars using a Vive VR headset, and I can hardly wait to see what the next year will bring.
Solar system stuff: As the author of “The Case for Pluto,” I’m partial to any planetary paraphernalia that saves a place for the little guys of the solar system. That includes Pluto as well as the other smaller denizens of our celestial neighborhood. ThinkGeek’s set of 10 planet-themed glasses ($50) is one way to go: The four terrestrial planets and four giant planets are represented by 10-ounce glasses. Pluto is a cute 4-ouncer (although the blue color doesn’t match the brown-toned reality), and the sun is a 16-ounce tumbler.
For the ladies, Shana Logic offers a handmade solar system necklace with nine shiny planetary objects in antiqued brass settings ($40). For the gents, there’s the Museum Artifacts planet tie with Pluto and the sun included ($35). I bought mine at the Museum of Flight, and it’s become my go-to neckwear.
USB microscope: Want to read the microprinting on that paycheck? Inspect the intricacies of a circuit board? Take an up-close look at the creepy-crawly you found in your basement? There’s a wide variety of microscopes you can plug into your computer. This year, Boing Boing’s Mark Frauenfelder recommends the Plugable USB 2.0 microscope with flexible-arm observation stand. “I find myself grabbing it to check out all sorts of things, including splinters, skin cuts, bugs and playing card designs,” he says. Check out Boing Boing’s gift guide for more geeky goodness.
Drones great and small: As many as 700,000 remote-controlled aerial vehicles are projected to be sold this year, but that takes in a broad spectrum of products. Toward the top end of the scale, the DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter ($600 to more than $1,500, depending on the kit) is a popular item with filmmakers and recreational fliers, including the jerks who crashed their drones on the White House grounds and Seattle’s Great Wheel. GeekWire Deals is offering the HD-equipped Muvi X-Drone ($700) as well as the palm-sized Code Black ($64) and the Skeye Hexa Drone ($45). Whichever one you choose, get ready to navigate acronyms such as RTF (ready to fly) and FPV (first-person view). And get ready to register your drone, too.