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Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2006

Time is running out

Be sure to remember gadgets during last-minute shopping

December 24, 2006

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'What? You'd better not be waiting until Christmas Eve to do your shopping : Buddy. We have too much to do."

"But it's tradition!" I said, looking over the electronic gadgets in the newspaper inserts.

I was only half teasing my wife. And I loved the way she referred to me as Will Ferrell's character in "Elf."

Wait. Did she ever see that movie?

Anyway, I've always been one of those people who can't get too much Christmas. I always like to go out and get that one last stocking stuffer.

If you're also still finishing up your shopping, I have a few suggestions before Santa arrives.

Black and white

Nothing is more welcome than a gift to get you through an emergency - especially when the power goes out.

On a night like this, there's no telling if a stray reindeer hoof might get tangled in the Christmas lights, shorting out your entire block.

And if you were in the middle of watching "It's a Wonderful Life," you definitely don't want to miss the scene where Jimmy Stewart has discovered that without him all his wife would become is - gasp! - a librarian.

For such emergencies, you might consider an all-in-one device you can put on the coffee table next to the figgy pudding: a Vector Tough Brite Storm Tracker ($40 to $50).

What's cool about it? It has a lantern and a spotlight. It has an AM/FM radio and a weather band radio with an automatic storm alert.

And if the electric power is out and its batteries are dead, there's still hope - a hand crank to give you 15 minutes of power for every two minutes of turning time.

More about CompactFlash cards

One of Storm Tracker's best features is its built-in UHF/VHF television. The only trouble is the screen is black and white. But wait, so is "It's a Wonderful Life." So there you go.

Power up

Speaking of power, I learned a long time ago you don't want to discover at 1 a.m. Christmas morning that some of the packages say "batteries not included."

Or that you don't have any half-and-half in the house for your daughter's new Baskin-Robbins toy ice cream maker.

(I actually was surprised Bonnie still remembered that this week as she, her sister Julie, and their college friends made gingerbread houses.)

I've learned my lesson. I spent one Christmas Eve hunting all over town for the right light bulb for Bonnie's Easy-Bake Oven.

But I would still put batteries very high on the list of Christmas Eve buys.

More about batteries

That's because many electronic devices, from radios to CD players to race cars, will need them in the morning. But be careful to get the right ones.

Digital cameras are considered "high-drain" devices, so high-drain alkalines or lithiums work the best. Energizer Ultimate Lithium or Duracell PowerPix with NiOx AA batteries are made specially to meet the power needs of digital still cameras.

If you know your digital camera is going to get a lot of use - more than 80 images a month - you might want to go with the rechargeable NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) batteries and get a battery charger.

Getting an extra set of rechargeable batteries also is a good idea, because you can rotate them from the device to the charger.

The battery chargers come in two types - the quick chargers that get you up and going in 15 minutes or in an hour and the trickle chargers that take eight hours.

Smart cards

If you get someone a digital still camera, you might consider getting a second memory card.

That's because, probably in the middle of herding the relatives near the Christmas tree for a group photo, you might find the memory card that came with the camera is already full.

For example, if you're using a 6 MP (megapixel) camera, a 64 MB (megabyte) card will hold only about 21 photos.

Rather than take the risk of the kids sneaking away from the historic scene to get back to their video games, the best solution is to pack an extra, larger memory card along with the camera.

If you get a 512 MB card, you'll be able to get 168 images from your 6 MP camera before you run out of space. If you get a 1 GB (gigabyte) card, you'll get 336 images. And a 2 GB card will give you 672 images.

It might cost you $30 to $50, but the trade-off could be a priceless family Christmas scene.

Save the goats

I don't feel quite so guilty about last-minute shopping anymore. That's because I've seen my son, Matt, do the same.

So I think it's ingrained in my family's DNA. I'm sure I had an ancestor somewhere in the Middle Ages who made a Christmas Eve trek out to a passing merchant caravan.

He might have had to trade two goats he'd been saving, but I'm sure he got something cool, like an exotic magnetic compass, the hot tech gadget of the 12th century.

That makes me wonder if I can sneak out to get anything else. Maybe an exotic GPS device?

I guess that all depends on a couple of things: if the merchants have any left - and if there are any goats left in the family checkbook.

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