The electric guide

Give your loved ones the boogie woogie best this season.

Make mama happy with thoughtful gadgets!  
PHOTO COURTESY HAWAII.GOV

Make mama happy with thoughtful gadgets! PHOTO COURTESY HAWAII.GOV

Thomas Q. Johnson

Last week, in that section somewhere between the front page and the Sudoku barrier called âÄúA&E,âÄù readers may have noticed the pages not filled with articles, but rather a menagerie of lists. Lists can be helpful. Lists can be good. But as is sensibly said, âÄúGive a man a list and he will make good decisions for a season, but teach a man to list and he will choose wisely for life.âÄù Therefore, in this guide to holiday technology giving, the focus will not be on the list, but on how you can make your own perfect list all by yourself. People have different expectations when it comes to technology. The people you buy gifts for may range from digital natives to your mother who canâÄôt work text messages. It would be wrong to expect all kinds of tech gifts to be suitable for everyone. There is a reason why the Best Buys and Radio Shacks of the world are swamped with returns the day after Christmas. Considering the uses of the technology and the level of expertise of your intended receiver can make the difference between a thoughtful gift and a stupid one. There are four major types of consumer electronics divided by use: novelty, home, utilitarian and hybrid. Novelty electronics are high tech toys that use the power wonders of the modern age to scare your cat or convince small children that you have magic powers. Thinkgeek.com, with its USB plasma ball ($9.99) or R/C Airsoft Battle Tanks ($39.99-$89.99) , is a perfect example of a place to buy novelty gifts. The advantage of novelty gifts is their broad appeal and power to make the gift giver seem clever. ItâÄôs not just for people who like slingshots and whoopee cushions; but for the people that do, novelty gifts are perfect. Home electronics can include the Insignia 5.1-Channel Home Theater Speaker System from Best Buy ($149.14) or a gaming system like the Xbox or the Wii (~$200, depending on the retailer). They sit in the house, generally involve audio or video setups and cost a little more than most other gifts. Look over the intended receiverâÄôs pre-existing home setup and use your gift to patch any obvious holes. A little bit more expensive and domestic than the rest, home electronics can be a great way to impress parents. It takes a grown-up boy or girl to say, âÄúHey mom and dad, you really need a universal remote for that setup.âÄù A utilitarian electronic gift is something that a person would use as a tool to create. These can include cameras, laptops, digital music creators or MP3 players. They can range from the simple HP Mini ($249.99), a new breed of tiny laptops, to a high-end SLR digital camera ($500-$8,000-plus) . Try not to give someone something that they already have, like giving an iPod to an iPhone user, for example. Sometimes people will already have the intended gift in a combined form, which leads us to our final category. Hybrid electronics combine different categories to give your friends and family the best of both worlds. Think those little vacuuming robots, Roombas ($199 at Target) or the Kindle Wireless Reading Device from Amazon ($220). Stores like âÄúBrookstone âÄù are a little heavy on the novelty side but still carry many great hybrid gifts. The final thing to consider is the skill level of the person you are buying for. What youâÄôd like to avoid is giving a gift that is too complicated, too basic or just plain wrong. Buying any old game with a neat box for a serious gamer probably wonâÄôt result in much play time, just as a very fancy home theater in the hands of an un-savvy loved one wonâÄôt get installed. DonâÄôt spend the big bucks on a sub-woofer coffee table or a videogame bookend. Make sure the tech you give isnâÄôt above or below the level of the receiver. Giving the perfect tech gift sometimes requires a little extra thought, but itâÄôs not impossible. And if you donâÄôt get it right and your CD label maker kit or Nerf shooting robot never comes out of the packaging, just remember that itâÄôs the giving that counts, and include the return receipt.