Guide to Gift Guides 2012

With just over a week to go, it’s time to place those last minute orders. Cool Tools is here to help with a condensation of some of the better gift guides available online.

Scott Kelby’s Annual Holiday Gear Guide
Kelby has been putting together a holiday gift guide for photographers for the past few years, and really knows his stuff (and only recommends stuff he personally uses and loves). It’s a great resource for those out there looking for gifts for gear savvy photographer in their life.

MAKE Holiday Gift Guide 2012
The folks at Make have outdone themselves this year. Outside of discipline specific gift recommendations (from robotics to knitting) their editors have done a tremendous job selecting some great gift ideas for DIYers.

Boing Boing’s Gift Guide
Happy mutants rejoice! Boing Boing’s gift guide is overflowing with wacky and outlandish gift ideas. To some, the list is a gift itself. Be warned, hours of your life will slip away looking at all the cool stuff they recommend.

Wirecutter’s Gifting Guide for Weird and Wonderful Humans
Brian Lam and the crew at Wirecutter have always done a great job distilling the essence of great gadgets, and this list is no different. With a mix of the useful and the whimsy, there’s something for everybody.

Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide
Uncle Mark’s minimalist approach with a focus on tips has always been something to look forward to. This year is no different. Though not chock full of specific gift recommendations, Mark’s guide focuses on giving back to those in need.

Adafruit’s Holiday Gift Guides
This year Adafruit has put together a tremendous number of gift guides. One of Kevin’s favorites is this list of books and games for young engineers.

 

[Here's a round up of gift guides from the past: 2006, 2008, and 2009!]



Gifts for the Cook

Microplane Grater

That the Microplane was originally designed for woodworking explains its toughness. That most people use it to grate lemons, parmesan, and everything in between is a testament to its usefulness. Some complain about single use tools, but this one is worth it.
$12
Available from Amazon

***
Tovolo King Ice Cube Tray

This ice cube tray remains one of my best purchases this year. They’re not just a novelty, either, as their gargantuan size means less surface area and slower melting for a chilled but not dilute drink. Perfect for the scotch or whiskey drinker in your life.
$9
Available from Amazon

***
Wild Fermentation

Lactobacillus is but one of the microbial allies that Sandor Katz discusses in his tome to fermentation. An excellent guide for anyone interested in making their own sauerkraut, yogurt, or other live cultures. It also offers a wonderful way of getting kids interested in the science of food.

$16
Available from Amazon

***
Fermentation Pot

A perfect accompaniment to Wild Fermentation is this 10L fermentation pot designed for easy production of sauerkraut. After that all you need is salt and cabbage.

$90
Available from Amazon

***
Thermapen Instant Thermometer

Cooking, at its simplest, is the application of heat. The Thermapen instant thermometer gives you greater insight and control of that heat. It is a perfect tool for those tinkering with cooler sous-vide, or the grill master interested in the perfect sear.

$90
Available from Amazon

***
Cooks Illustrated

There is no better gift for a cooking enthusiast than a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. Purveyors of timeless cooking advice, thoroughly tested tool reviews, and fool-proof recipes, this is the gift that will keep on giving (as long as you’re around for the taste testing).
$26 for a year’s subscription
Available from Amazon

 



Useful Gifts for the Photographer

Clearviewer

The move toward digital cameras without optical viewfinders have left many photographers frustrated, either with glaring sun or imperfect vision. The Clearviewer is a clever, affordable solution which uses a small lens to magnify the screen for easy viewing.

$45
Available from Clearviewer

***

Light: Science and Magic

Often the best tool to improve your photography is not a new camera or an accessory, but knowledge (coupled with practice). This text is unique in that it doesn’t teach you how to use a camera, instead focusing on how to manipulate and control light with artistic intent.

$30
Available from Amazon

[Note: A great accessory for those interest in lighting is the previously reviewed Calumet Multi Clip.--OH]

*****

Domke Camera Bag

In today’s high tech world canvas is often overlooked for newer fabrics. Yet, these Domke bags remain tried and true in the world of photojournalism. The classic design is discreet, easy to use, and tough. And they only look better with use.
$140
Available from Amazon

***

Fuji Instax Wide

The demise of Polaroid left photographers with few options. Luckily, Fuji stepped up with the Instax camera which produces gorgeous, analog prints in a heartbeat. I recently used one at my wedding to take pictures of all the guests for our guestbook. It’s easy to use, produces great results, and is affordable at $1 a shot. It’s especially wonderful to watch kids witness the exposure appear before their eyes.

$160 for camera and 100 exposures
$60 for camera only

Available from Amazon

***

Black Rapid RS4 Camera Strap
In the world of camera straps Black Rapid has emerged as a leader in ergonomic straps. With a unique connection that relies on the tripod mount, and a sliding buckle that allows for rapid use, Black Rapid straps are a great gift for any photographer looking to improve how they carry their camera.

[Note: For those with smaller point and shoots like the Sony RX100, the $40 Black Rapid Snapr acts as a case and a strap. --OH]
$55
Available from Amazon

***

Costco Photo Center
As a photographer, the thing I know I should do more often is make big, beautiful prints. But for some reason I never seem to get around to it. A great gift for any photographer would be to take the initiative and get one of their favorite photos printed, and then framed. Your local Costco is an affordable option for high quality prints, and is my go to resource. –OH

20″x30″ print
$10
Available from Costco

 



 

Cool Tool Generative Fun Gifts

Toys and games must balance direction with openness. The best toys are open ended, allow never-ending play cycles; but at the same time directing the fun in specific directions so it does not become aimless. Great toys and games (and tools!) permit the user to surprise themselves with the variety and diversity of what they generate. Here are some of my favorite toys and tools that encourage open-ended generation of fun, and that come in gift-sized packages.

Let me know if you have a recommendation to add to this list.

Perplexus — A physical 3D maze handheld game. Easy to do, hard to finish.

Perplexus sm

Kapla Blocks — Simplest construction set ever, plain precise wood planks. Get lots to make big things. All ages.

Kapla castle2

Orbiter — A relatively safe boomerang. Takes a bit of skill to master.

AerobieBoomerang

Set — Pattern recognition card game. Half math, half intuition. Fast and fun.

Pattern rec 1

Fifty Dangerous Things — 50 dangerous things you should let your children do. Not so dangerous, but with some legitimate risk.

Hometown Puzzle — A jigsaw puzzle made from your local topographical map.

Ngeopuzzle sm

El Wire Kit — DYI string neon. Thin electric light thread can be used anywhere.

El wire

Virtuous Circle Giving — As always, the most powerful gift is helping someone to help themselves.
VirtuousCircle

Know of a great generative toy or tool that I’ve missed? Leave a note with a link in the comments.

– KK

 



MugMate * Gimlets * Harmonica

slitti-chocolate-tools.jpg

We asked our readers what cool tools they are giving to their friends and families this year. Here are the final three in our series this week of suggested gifts mentioned in the comments that we are highlighting on the front page. Submit your own recommendation in the comments. — ES

MSR MugMate

Bought this for my grandmother-in-law after she saw me using mine. Great for brewing single cups of coffee or tea. Easy to clean. Mine’s in excellent condition after 6 months of regular use.

-- Steven Leckart  

 

MSR MugMate
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Cascade Designs



Oxfam America Unwrapped

oxfam-unwrapped.png

All the adults in my family agreed this year that they don’t want any more stuff in their lives at this point. So instead of buying them gifts, my Cool Tool for the holidays is Oxfam’s Unwrapped project: I buy a gift in someone’s name, they get a card, I get a tax deduction, and someone in a developing country gets a goat, some chickens, a school desk and chair, some text books, or something else they really need. While I imagine a portion of my donation goes to fund overhead at Oxfam, they are one of the more efficient charities around. Based on what I’ve read, and heard from acquaintances who work there, most of the money I give them is being put to direct use.

-- Brad Hurley  

[We asked our readers what cool tools they are giving to their friends and families this year. Here is one in a series this week of suggested gifts mentioned in the comments that we are highlighting on the front page. Submit your own recommendation in the comments. -- ES]



Leeners Pickling Kit

leeners.jpg

My daughter loves pickles and has expressed some interest in making her own, so I’m thinking of getting her the Leener’s Pickling Kit, which can be used to make either dill pickles or sauerkraut, and includes a 2-gallon lead-free ceramic crock made in the U.S.

-- Paul D.  

[We asked our readers what cool tools they are giving to their friends and families this year. Here is one in a series this week of suggested gifts mentioned in the comments that we are highlighting on the front page. Submit your own recommendation in the comments. -- ES]

Leeners Pickling Kit
$35

Available from Leeners



Hometown Puzzle

ngeopuzzle-sm.jpg

For Christmas this year I gave my parents a personalized puzzle featuring a custom map of the area around their lake cabin. “From any starting point, we’ll create a 400-piece puzzle of a six-by-four-mile area using U.S. Geological Survey maps. A house-shaped piece in the center represents the address you choose. Shows main roads, contour lines, water features, vegetation, and notable buildings. Arrives in a presentation box with space for a personal message.” If you search for a promo code, you can save 20%. (Order by 12/14/2009 for Christmas delivery.)

-- Jason Palmiter  

[We asked our readers what cool tools they are giving to their friends and families this year. Here is one in a series this week of suggested gifts mentioned in the comments that we are highlighting on the front page. Submit your own recommendation in the comments. -- ES]

National Geographic Store Hometown Puzzle
$40

Available from National Geographic