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The Lifehack 2008 Gift Guide

The Lifehack 2008 Gift Guide

The Lifehack 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

    It’s that time of year again – time to sally forth in search of the perfect gift for the special and not-so-special-but-they’re-family people in your life. Given the economic situation this year, I made up a list with a few criteria in mind:

    1. Nothing crazy expensive. Everything on this list is under $400, and most is way under. Sure, a 48-foot LCD TV would be nice, or a 64 gigapixel DSLR, or that 128-core gaming PC you’ve been looking at for your teen, but in these uncertain times, I felt it would be best to keep things a bit more reasonable.
    2. Lots of style. Good design doesn’t have to be a luxury. In the past, style was what you traded for affordability, but these days it’s easy to find fashionable classics for everyday prices.
    3. Practicality first. With one exception, I tried to find things that your loved ones will actually be able to use regularly – things that will make their lives a little easier, a little nicer, or both.

    Most items link to Amazon for quick shopping, and when I had a choice I made sure they qualified for Prime shipping (Prime members pay about $70 a year for “free” 2-day shipping on every Prime order). Prices are in US dollars.

    Feel free to share your ideas in the comments – let’s help each other make the best of this holiday season!

    Productivity to Go

     

    Acer Aspire One netbook

      Acer Aspire One netbook

      This tiny laptop, barely bigger than a hardcover book, packs everything you need to work wherever you might find yourself. 1/6 GHz Atom processor, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB hard drive, and built-in wi-fi power a laptop with one of the larger keyboards available on a netbook and a lovely 8.9” screen. Runs Windows XP (although there’s a Linux-powered model for about $20 less). ($350)

      Fujitsu Scansnap S300 Color Mobile Scanner

        Fujitsu Scansnap S300 Color Mobile Scanner

        Small enough to travel just about anywhere, the ScanSnap is favored by paperless office devotees for its ease of use. Powered by your computer’s USB port, the ScanSnap scans documents directly to PDF, allowing instant capture of important papers, receipts, articles, and whatever else you want to keep. ($360)

        RichardSolo 1800 portable charger for iPhone

          RichardSolo 1800 portable charger for iPhone

          The geek’s charger, the Richard Solo 1800 is stylish and functional, providing just about a full charge to your iPhone’s famously short battery life. If that strikes you as all too pedestrian, consider this: it also has a built-in LED flashlight and laser pointer. Useless, of course, but doesn’t the uber-geek in your life deserve something useless and shiny? ($70)

          SimpleTech Signature Mini 250GB Portable Hard Drive

            SimpleTech Signature Mini 250GB Portable Hard Drive

            250 gigabytes in a case smaller than your Hipster PDA? Tiny, sleek, and sexy as hell – that’s some kind of backup! ($85)

            TomTom ONE 125 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

              TomTom ONE 125 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

              The Tom Tom one is a super-affordable yet full-featured GPS, with full US maps and points of interest, turn-by-turn directions using built-in voices or downloadable “celebrity” voices, and both “official” and community-contributed updates. ($100)

              Practical Productivity

               
              Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen

                Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen

                Perfect for students and people who attend a lot of meetings, the Smartpen takes taking notes to a whole new level. Sensors detect where you are on the special paper, allowing you to not only capture your analog notes in digital form but control the built-in recorder as well. Notes and recordings can be imported to your computer and even uploaded in sync, meaning that clicking a spot in your notes brings up the recording at exactly that moment. ($200)

                Field Notes “The Kit”

                  Field Notes “The Kit”

                  Field Notes pocket notebooks are thin enough for the back pocket and have great retro, Indiana Jones-y charm. “The Kit” comes with 6 notebooks, 6 wood pencils, 6 ballpoint pens, and a Field Notes mini-calendar. ($27)

                  Asus Eee Box PC

                    Asus Eee Box PC

                    Asus has crammed all the components of it’s popular Eee PC netbook (sans the screen) into this compact desktop computer, perfect for students and other casual computer users, especially when space is tight. ($320)

                    USBCELL AA Rechargable Batteries

                      USBCELL AA Rechargable Batteries

                      Unchain yourself from wall chargers with these AA rechargeable batteries. To recharge, simply pop the top and plug into any USB port! Great stocking stuffers for the gadget geeks in your life. ($20)

                      Staple-Free Stapler

                        Staple-Free Stapler

                        A great stocking-stuffer for the office jockeys in your life, this cute little device attaches up to 5 sheets of paper without a staple. ($7)

                        Epson Artisan 800 Wireless Photo All-in-One Printer

                          Epson Artisan 800 Wireless Photo All-in-One Printer

                          Epson brings its photo printing expertise to the home in this all-in-one printer. Best of all, it’s wi-fi enabled, allowing you to set it up anywhere in your home and print – or even scan – from any computer on the network. Two paper trays allow you to switch from plain to photo paper (or between photo sizes) and Epson’s archival-quality inks produce pictures that will last for decades.($230)

                          Productive Style

                           
                          Give & Take Card Box

                            Give & Take Card Box

                            Anyone who has ever juggled the task of accepting a card from someone while fumbling around for your own cards will appreciate this card case – one compartment holds your cards, the other holds the cards you’re given. Of course, its modern styling doesn’t hurt, either.($20)

                            Blomus Notepaper Roll Holder

                              Blomus Notepaper Roll Holder

                              Keep your thoughts straight with this ultra-modern twist on plain oldnotepads. Addingmachine rolls allow you to jot notes, make lists, and doodle as long as you want! Mounts vertically or can be used on a desk- or countertop. ($25

                              Bubble Calendar

                                Bubble Calendar

                                This giant wall (48”w x 18”h )calendar combines stylish looks with the most satisfying activity known to humankind: popping bubble wrap. Pop each day’s bubble as it passes! ($50)

                                3-Bay Charging Station

                                  3-Bay Charging Station

                                  Another Vat19 product, this charging station has spaces for three gadgets with a concealed power strip underneath and space to hide all those ugly power cords and convertor “warts”. Comes in glossy black finish. ($45)

                                  db clay Version 3.1 Wallet 1
                                  db clay Version 3.1 Wallet 2

                                    db clay Version 3.1 Wallet

                                    db clay wallets combine function and artistry, with beautiful imagery printed onto each waterproof, eco-friendly wallet. They’re already sold out online, but they’re now available in stores; check out their store locator to find a location near you. ($45 – $85)

                                    Just for Fun

                                     
                                    iPod Building Block Speaker

                                      iPod Building Block Speaker

                                      Our friends at Vat19 sell these funky, fun little additions to your iPod accessory case – tiny clip-on speakers for your iPod. They require no batteries, look like Legos, and sound decent given their size. ($20)

                                      xkcd “Actual Size” stickers

                                        xkcd “Actual Size” stickers

                                        Highlight the obvious or mock the small with these snarky stickers from the snarky folks who bring us the xkcd comic strip. (5 ea. 1”, 2”,and 3”, $5)

                                        image

                                          Samsumg YP-S2 1GB MP3 Player

                                          Samsung takes on the iPod shuffle with these cute-as-a-button (and almost as small) 1 GB mp3 players. Available in 5 colors,the S2 plays mp3, wma (including protected wma) and ogg files. Bookmarking allows you to pick up where you left off, making this a nice player for listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

                                          ($34)

                                          Sony Cybershot T700

                                            Sony Cybershot T700

                                            10 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization – everything you’d expect from a digital point-and-shoot these days. What sets the T700 apart is two things: it’s super-slim body, of course, and 4 gigs of internal memory, enough to hold thousands of pictures. You can display all those pictures on the big 3 1/2” high-resolution screen. ($350)

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                                            Last Updated on August 20, 2019

                                            Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

                                            Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

                                            Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

                                            This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

                                            The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

                                            Curiosity

                                            Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

                                            People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

                                            Patience

                                            Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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                                            When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

                                            Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

                                            A Feeling for Connectedness

                                            This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

                                            A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

                                            The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

                                            With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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                                            1. Research

                                            Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

                                            Learning the Basics

                                            Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

                                            Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

                                            What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

                                            Hitting the Books

                                            Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

                                            Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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                                            Long-Term Reference

                                            While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

                                            My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

                                            2. Practice

                                            Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

                                            A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

                                            Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

                                            3. Network

                                            One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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                                            These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

                                            Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

                                            4. Schedule

                                            For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

                                            Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

                                            Final Thoughts

                                            In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

                                            If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

                                            At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

                                            More About Self-Learning

                                            Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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