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12.16.09

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Phaedra

Presents of Mind

Time's flying faster than a red-nosed reindeer on an impossible mission, but don't panic. Our Last-Minute Gift Guide is here to help.


LET'S assume some things right now. One: nobody's finished their holiday shopping as of Dec. 16; in fact, many haven't even started. Two: everybody's slammed at work, because if you're going to take some time off, you have to do the work up-front—right? Three: office holiday parties and other social obligations are piling up, meaning you'll get to see a lot of people you like (and probably some you don't)—all for the low, low price of your sanity. Four: in spite of all this, you want people to like the presents you give them.

It can all seem like too much, which is why we're doing the favor of providing a few ideas for some choice, can't-miss gifts, from box music sets to groovy camping gear. For advice on what to give the gastronome in your life from a woman who loves to give it, see Christina Waters' Gourmet Gift Guide on page 69. We're not saying these are the answers for everyone on your list—just the people you like the most.


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Gadgets

by Colleen Watson

Hewlett-Packard HP Mini 311

Office Depot and online, starting at $399.99

These are extra clever and supersmall, with an 11.6-inch screen and weighing in at just over 3 pounds. Sure, they don't have the memory or storage capacity of normal laptops, but these are specifically for using the Internet. They are just right for travel or if you already have a desktop computer and want something smaller so you can sit on the couch and play on the Internet at the same time.

Nintendo DSi

Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, $169

I know it's been out for a while but it's just awesome. The Nintendo DSi is the best little hand-held gaming device. The sleek rectangle fits easily into any purse or bag and lets you play games like Mario Kart against random strangers. The DSi also lets you download games, comes in bright pink, teal, white and black and has a built-in camera. This is the ultimate time waster when waiting in lines, on public transportation or hiding from your boss in the storage closet.

Mindflex Brainwave Game

Amazon.com, $119.95

Flex your brain muscle and try to get a floating ball through a series of obstacles. I don't know why, but this just sounds so cool to me. OK, it reminds me of this game from Star Trek the Next Generation when Number 2 got seduced by this chick and then. ... Anyway, the geek in me is excited.

JuiceBar Portable Solar Charger

Thinkgeek.com, $49.95

The JuiceBar Portable Solar Charger is for the gadget lover who has everything and wants to save the world. With the portable solar charger, users can charge multiple gizmos and not waste electricity. Great for travelers.

Argo Video Glasses

www.22moo.com.au, $195–$495

Don't strain to see Transformers 2 on your iPod; these video glasses make any movie seem like it's on a big-screen TV. Yes, the glasses look a little dorky, but on the plus side you get a theatrical experience in the palm of your hand. 22moo makes the Argos line with a few different varieties, and these are great if you take CalTrain or light rail and want to zone out.

eReader

On sale after Nov. 30 at Barnes & Noble for $259

E-readers are the coolest gadgets for bibliophiles. You can carry around a not-so-small library without breaking your back. The Nook from Barnes and Noble is thin with a touch-screen, holds more than 1,500 books, e-magazines or e-newspapers and has a 10-day battery life. With an E-Ink display, it's easier to read than a normal computer monitor. Want, want, want.

iPod Nano and Shuffle

Online and at stores; Shuffle $59–$79, Nano $149–$179

Apple's Shuffle and Nano have got to be the cutest electronic devices ever—not surprising since Apple knows that cute packaging plus easy use equals the best MP3 players out there. The iPod Shuffle has gotten so tiny, it's almost invisible. But it comes in bright candy colors to make it easier to find. It has a song capacity of between two and four gigabytes. The Nano has an even larger storage capacity and can now take video. I want one of each.


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Unpirateables

by Steve Palopoli

THE music industry has an interesting new strategy in the war on piracy: "Fine then, steal it."

Oh, the RIAA still talks big, and they still rattle their sabers about prosecuting this and that, and their lawyers are still no doubt raking in plenty of dough going after college ISPs, file-sharing websites and the occasional lil' suburban downloader. But their heart barely seems to be in it anymore, and can you blame them? Keeping people from getting music for free is maybe the most pointless pursuit on the Internet, other than Rickrolling.

Musicians themselves, however, are moving on. Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers was the first known artist to tell me that he considers the band's recorded music an advertisement for their live show at this point, but I've heard the sentiment echoed endlessly since. Others are taking it even further—Billy Corgan recently announced his upcoming 44-song album will be available completely free on the Internet.

However, Corgan's underlying strategy is part of a new approach becoming increasingly popular among artists and labels: give the music away, but offer something tangible that can't be digitized, torrented, uploaded or otherwise shoved into any hole in your computer and spread around the world in seconds. The music industry has discovered what I call The Unpirateables.

Corgan will be offering "highly limited edition EPs" of the music he's releasing for free. Yes, they will likely be expensive collector's editions for superfans willing to pay for extras: art, liner notes, the works. It's a strategy popularized by Radiohead in 2007 when they more or less gave away the MP3s for In Rainbows but offered pricey and loaded special edition sets that sold extremely well.

Here are this season's biggest, coolest and strangest Unpirateables, hoping to find the right fan:

Pixies 'Minotaur' Box Set

The most controversial of this year's Unpirateables, even the Pixies themselves were said to have initially given the idea the thumbs down, before seeing the light. Jeff Anderson—who founded Artist in Residence, the company producing these sets—says he didn't want to screw with the music, so nothing has been remastered. There is a Deluxe Edition, which includes the Pixies' five studio albums on 24k-layered CD as well as Blu-Ray, and a DVD of the band's videos and a 1991 live show. It also includes a 54-page book and new art from the men who made the Pixies' covers famous, Vaughan Oliver and Simon Larbalestier. It costs $175. For $450 comes the Limited Edition—everything from the Deluxe Edition plus the albums on vinyl, a 72-book book and a giclee print of an Oliver art piece. The backlash has come from fans who don't want to pay so much money for music they already own (there are no bonus tracks). Of course, no one is making them, and as pricey as these things are, you can be sure there are some fanatics out there who'll snatch up these sets before they end up going for twice those prices in a few years.

Neil Young: 'Archives, Vol. 1'

Geez, how many volumes can there be? This set is 10 discs of concert recordings, unreleased demos, studio albums and a 1973 concert film, all cleverly packaged with plenty of documentation and lots of extra bits.

Beatles Remastered Stereo Box Set

If you liked the Beatles Mono Box Set, you may or may not love the Beatles Stereo Box Set. A collection of 13 remastered albums, a DVD of mini-documentaries, intricate liner notes and crazy packaging. It's often a risky move to repackage popular back-catalog material once again, but EMI and Apple have gotten glowing reviews for this one, with some fans calling it the definitive Beatles box set.

Radiohead Special Collector's Editions

The band that started it all is back this year with special editions of all their individual albums. They include a CD of the original album, a second CD of rarities, a DVD and exclusive postcards.

The Smiths 12-CD Singles Remastered Box Set

Oh, it's a bit ironic now that Morrissey once bemoaned how labels "reissue, repackage, repackage" their rock stars in "Paint a Vulgar Picture," isn't it? Here's the latest: a CD version of the Smiths' Singles Box that comes in a clamshell card box with the records' original picture sleeves, and two 12-inch versions ("This Charming Man" and "Barbarism Begins at Home") not released in the previous set. Limited to 10,000 copies, it also includes a poster featuring the singles' art.


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Outdoor Gear

by Eric Johnson

SKI SLOPES, mountain trails, rivers, lakes and surf are hard on gear. And outdoor recreation, more than almost any other human endeavor, rewards those who are packing good equipment. Below are some newly invented wonders and a few time-tested treasures that will make it easier to go out and play.

Burton [ak] 31L Pack

It makes sense that a snowboard company designs excellent backpacks. For Burton's core customers, this piece of equipment can mean the difference between a sweet back-country expedition and a deadly slog.

Manufactured for the company by the legendary Gravis, formerly of Burlington, Vt., and now of Irvine, Calif., the [ak] 31 does everything an ordinary back-country pack does, but its action-sport pedigree means it's a much less obtrusive presence on your back. Which is nice whether or not you're going for big air.

Primus EasyLight Lantern

It is not necessary to pollute your campsite with the deathly white glare of halogen, nor the deafening hiss of a white-gas lantern. Primus, the Swedish company that invented the backpacking stove, makes an elegant gas lantern that silently emits a warm yellow flame-glow that can be adjusted for 80-watt dinner prep or 40-watt late-night chillin'.

With a clouded-glass globe and brass fittings, it recalls the days of Byrd and Mallory (both of whom carried Primus products, to the North Pole and Everest, respectively) and is conveniently fueled by an MSR isobutane canister.

REI Candle Lantern Uco Candlelier

Little monuments to frugality and simplicity (and excellent stocking-stuffers), the REI Candle Lantern and Uco Candlelier work so well it's almost amazing. The Candle Lantern is ideal for sleeping-bag reading, while the Candlelier, which burns three candles at once, will fill a wall tent with plenty of light for 10 solid hours.

Asolo Power Matic 500 gv Hiking Boots

The lightweight boots so popular these days—glorified trail sneakers—feel great in the store. But out on a rocky trail, after five-plus hours walking with something on your back, those "boots" are worthless. John Muir didn't wear wimpy boots—hell no. Asolo's, made in Italy since 1975, employ industrial-strength materials and high-tech design, including the most complex molded soles on earth. These boots are designed for serious alpinists, but there's no reason the weekend warrior on your "Nice" list doesn't deserve a pair.

Superfeet Premium Insoles

A great pair of socks is the classic stocking-stuffer. These insoles are an update on the classic—equally pedestrian (ahem) and just as practical.

The foot is made up of more than 100 moving parts. Outdoor activity puts a strain on all of them—which puts extra stress on the rest of the body's moving parts. These insoles are more like custom orthotics than Dr. Scholl's; with sturdy heel-cups and arch support, they turn any pair of shoes into high-performance footwear.

Apple iPhone 3GS Compass

There is something deeply comforting about knowing exactly where you are. This is particularly true in the case of outdoor enthusiasts, for whom that information can be essential to survival. The iPhone compass uses the 3G network, an onboard GPS, and cell phone towers to function exactly like a magnetic compass. Granted—that is a bit ridiculous; but then, who carries a magnetic compass around? And granted, the iPhone will not work in any remote location when it would be a matter of life and death. But still. There is something deeply comforting about knowing where you are, and that is particularly true for outdoor enthusiasts—even when they're in the city.


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