By Michael Rau
December 17, 2007
I wanted to do something holiday-related this week, but felt like just doing another "Best Tech Toys for Christmas" column would be a poor use of precious ink. I've already read a dozen of these myself and can't think of anything to add.
Instead, I want to take a minute to offer inspiration for something else.
Do you sometimes find yourself trying to think of something to get for someone for whom you can't really nail down the perfect gift?
Might I suggest taking this opportunity to venture towards the whimsical; the wondrous; the playful; the inspirational. What better way to inject the holiday spirit into the life of someone who contributes to the quality of yours?
Now, I'm not going to leave you unequipped. I have suggestions for some great Web sites that provide the means to get gifts of this nature.
First up is the Web site for Archie McPhee (www.mcphee.com), which, as I go and look at their homepage, is currently featuring an Electronic Yodeling Pickle.
OK I won't even try to claim I know of a use for an Electronic Yodeling Pickle, but if it would bring a smile to someone's face or a chuckle to someone's belly, doesn't that make it a great gift?
Some of the categories on the Archie McPhee Web site include: 'Stupid Products' 'Bacon/Meat,' 'Hula,' 'Monkeys,' 'Catapults' and 'Sushi.'
Here you'll find things such as the ever-popular "Glow-in-the-Dark Flesh Eating Zombies Play Set."
Something here is going to make most anyone smile.
Next up is a blast from the past that you may or may not recognize.
It used to be that you couldn't pick up a comic book or magazine for kids that didn't feature ads from an almost century-old company innocuously named Johnson Smith. You might remember them more readily as the company that sold such goodies as X-ray specs, whoopee cushions, magic tricks and faux spy gear.
Well, they're still out there and going strong online at www.johnsonsmith.com.
Most of the stuff they sell is pretty cheesy, and some borders on the outright offensive. But they also sell a lot of cool and amusing stuff, with something bound to appeal to most anyone's sense of whimsy.
Their Web site is a little confusing as they have it broken into six "catalogs," and some of their items seem to be assigned to the wrong place.
But a little bit of poking around will lead you to a dizzying array of generally useless but fun products.
But perhaps my favorite place to find such toys is, like Johnson Smith, the online evolution of another old company: Edmund Scientific.
Every middle and high school science teacher knows about these guys. They are probably the largest supplier of scientific supplies and equipment to everyone except actual scientists.
Over their 60-odd year history, Edmund has become a favorite of teachers and other educators everywhere. Because of this, they've accumulated a vast collection of devices and gizmos to demonstrate scientific principles or otherwise fire the imagination.
Edmund Scientific is online at scientificsonline.com. Right there as the first item on their site is one of my favorites. It's called a plasma ball and you've probably seen one before. It's a glass sphere which creates an electrically-generated plasma field within. Touching the sphere will direct the plasma to the point on the sphere which you touch.
I've seen one of these things fascinate and occupy kids and adults alike for hours on end.
Another favorite of mine is a device, which while a bit pricey, is loads of fun for all. It's called a Van de Graff Generator, and it's also something you may have seen before. It basically looks like an oblong metal dome on a post. It creates a static electric field and when you hold your hands close, will make every hair on your body stand straight on end.
Scientifics Online (Edmunds' site) displays hundreds of fun and wondrous items representing every field of science and technology imaginable.
These are but three of dozens of Web sites offering things likely to generate the kind of emotional response I mentioned earlier. And it's that response which to me makes such gifts special.
I know that commercial America would like to convince you that the cost or quantity of gifts is what matters most over these holidays, but I'd like to think that what matters most isn't the gift itself, but the kind of reaction it evokes.
The fact that something was expensive will be forgotten pretty quickly. What sticks in a person's mind throughout their life is how that gift made them feel. The smile something generates the laugh it evokes the sense of awe or wonderment it elicits will become part of the fabric of that person's consciousness forever.
I'll bet you can think back through your life and remember something given to you that you've always remembered.
So my exhortation here is this: If you really want to make someone's holiday special, instead off giving them a thing an item with a finite lifespan, give them a memory something special that'll last a lifetime.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
Copyright © 2007, Daily Press