Joe's 1st Annual Christmas Present Common Sense Guide

It's coming up on holiday gift buying time. Yay for presents! Buy me presents! Okay, I'm kidding, you don't have to buy me presents*.

I am getting asked a lot for advice on gifts. People know I'm into all sorts of shit -- technology, gadgets, comic books, anime, movies, video games -- and they want to know what I think. To save all of you time asking (and then ultimately foregoing my sage advice and buying the thing you really wanted to buy in the first place but asked me advice in the hopes I'd lend some weight to your poor judgement), here's all my gift giving advice, in one quick post.

Understand, this guide has nothing at all to do with telling you what YOU should like and get for yourself when you're being self-indulgent. This is a guide for what you should get other people. So spare me the whole "BUT I HATE APPLE" and associated crap. What you like is what you like, because you're a hardcore nerd like I am. How many other people in your family and life can name every color of the Darkest Blackest Night rings? (Thanks, Anonymous -- I originally wrote about "The Dark Knight Returns" and rethought it, deciding instead to go with something modern. Also, I'm an idiot). 

For friends and family:

1) It's a no brainer -- if you're buying a slate/tablet device for anyone, pony up for the iPad. The HP and Dell tablets are at least 2 years behind it in usability and platform. I get that some of you are into "openness" and "extensibility" and whatnot, but buy your own slate / tablet on your own time for your own experimentation. Don't subject grandma or non-techies to a sub-par user experience. 

2) No, seriously, I don't care what your justifications are. GET THE DAMN iPAD. 

3) DO. NOT. BUY. INTO. THE. BLURAY. BULLSHIT. Most of us are already watching movies through Netflix streaming. In 5 years, EVERYONE will. If you're a hi-fi snob, good for you, go waste your money, but don't force your relatives and friends who don't share your penchant for $4000 stereo systems to invest in yet another physical media format. Get them a Roku Netflix streaming box and 6 months worth of subscription for less than the price of just the BluRay player. The quality isn't as high, sure, but for 90% of the movie watching public, 720p is inperceptable from 1080p.

4) If you're going to get someone a Nano, go ahead and get them the watch strap. I bought my wife a Nano for our dating anniversary (yes, we celebrate our dating anniversary after 9 years of marriage. Why? Because not only do I get laid, but I get popcicle makers and other kitchen gadgets. You'd think it would be to keep romance alive and whatnot, but no, it all comes down to popcicle makers). My wife has lost three iPods in her lifetime. Three. So to keep her from losing something 1/5th the size of an iPod, I got her this nifty watch strap. It's my favorite of what's out there -- but there's a really great Kickstarter project for a VERY nice Nano strap in process right now. If you want to be pilanthropic AND get a watch strap out of it, consider that. There's also this really interesting "slap bracelet" style Nano watch strap coming from Griffin, which I dig.

The Nano Watchband is pretty darned great.

5) Netbooks are dead. You are stupid for buying one in 2010.

6) 3D TV is a "leapfrog" technology, in that the world will likely leapfrog over it for the next thing. Even ESPN gave up on it. You should too.

7) LCD or Plasma: LCD. They last longer. I like my plasma, and it's really beautiful. In about 6 more years, I won't be saying that. But with the LCD, even though it may not be 100% capable of the depth of clarity as the Plasma, it'll still be tickin'. And don't let Best Buy and others deceive you into the refresh rate myth to the tune of several hundred dollars for special cables and whatnot. It's a scam

For the kids:

1) Game consoles:

If your kid is...
  • 4-12: Nintendo Wii
  • 12-18: Xbox 360
  • 12-18 and a total shut-in with no interest in playing decent games with friends: Playstation 3
  • A chubby little bastard who needs exercise but refuses to go outside (or, you as a parent are so overprotective you refuse to let them go outside on their own and experience what the rest of us had: A normal childhood): Xbox 360 with Kinect

2) Yes, Call of Duty Black Ops is a great game. No, you shouldn't get it for your 9 year old, unless your 9 year old is a lot like I was and is already so much of a handful that watching humans get their heads blown off and hearing curse words would actually be a catharsis that keeps them from setting fire to things.

3) Yes, your kid is going to absolutely destroy any remote control flying device on the first day. I don't care how good he is with his toys, he's going to destroy it. You hear me? Destroy. So, buying the Parrot AR Drone for your spawn is tantimount to putting your $299 in a stripper's garter. It's gone. You've wasted three hundred bucks on a damaged child.

It's cool and it's awesome and it'll be in pieces within an hour.

4) I gotta say no on the trampoline. And it really hurts to say it. I wanted one SO bad when I was a kid. In fact, I became friends with one of the most dispicable kids in our neighborhood when I was growing up specifically because he had a trampoline. But before you judge me, he did the same to me -- the fat kid was always the best for setting up double-bouncies. It was a win/win... Until I double-bounced him off the sucker and into the wooden privacy fence, breaking two of his ribs and his wrist. And when you factor the deductable of the emergency room visit into the cost of the trampoline, you're way better off taking your kids to an aventure world / theme park every other weekend during the summer.

Need more convincing? Just Google "Trampoline accident" and watch any of the videos that show up... Or just watch this one:

(Can't see the video? Click here)

4a) But if any of your neighbors ask, you tell them absolutely YES on the trampoline. You get all of the benefits with none of the lawsuits. And it gets your kids out of the house.

5) Your kid is actually pretty much ready for an iTouch. You may think it's a bit beyond him/her, but I have seen with my own eyes a three and a five year old pick up an iPhone for the first time, consider it for a minute or two, and figure out how to not only get Angry Birds to launch, but how to play Angry Birds... Better than I do, in fact. And these aren't abnormally advanced kids who were grown in a vat with Vivaldi piped into their tubes while being fed genetically engineered fish-and-carrot souflee. And the reason I recommend the iTouch:

6) Yes, your kid's going to lose a Nano or Shuffle. Hell, YOU are going to lose a Nano or Shuffle. See my suggestion on that below in "For friends and family."

7) Gift certificates are a lame present for kids, but they're perfect for teenagers. Little kids want what they asked for. A gift certificate isn't received very well by them, and not for the reasons that adults like to hate them. They don't show lack of initiative or thought or whatever to a kid -- all they represent is opening a present and not getting what they were hoping for. It's SO MUCH BETTER for a kid to get duplicates of what they wanted than for them to get a stupid gift card. Seeing the 2nd Buzz Lightyear means "I asked for a Buzz Lightyear, and I got TWO!" Seeing a gift card means "I asked for 19 things, and this stupid plastic thing was given to me instead of one of the 19 things." Don't be lazy, get the kid a present.

But with teenagers, it's perfect. Teenagers are growing into their little consumerist materalistic selves, and love the idea of a) getting the hell out of the house and b) acquiring stuff while they're gone. Getting the gift they asked for is nice and all, but teenagers, more than anything, are turned on by the thought of possibility and discovery and wonder. And gift cards mean not only being away from the parents for a while, but getting anything. they. want. But all of that is gone the second they get a gift card to someplace lame, like Men's Warehouse or Applebees. For boys, it's Best Buy. For girls, it's Kohls. Don't be an idiot. And pony up if you're going the gift card route. A $10 gift card to anywhere but Starbucks blows.

8) No clothes. Ever. I don't care how bad they need them, just don't do it. Take them shopping, but don't give clothes for Christmas. The only exception to this are super fresh sneakers or a jacket they asked for. But shirts, jeans, socks, underwear... Lame.

Don't do it. 

7) Ditch the dolls and action figures. Get them something that makes them creative. When I was a kid, I wanted Transformers. I adored Transformers (and still do). In 1986, I wanted Ultra Magnus more than anything. Now, we were very recently poor. Like, bone dry dirt poor. We were living with my grandfather at the time because whe had to hastily leave our former house, and along with it, every Transformer I had collected up to that time.

The only thing that gave me any comfort whatsoever about leaving Optimus Prime and all of his heroic Autobots behind in the former house was the fact that I was going to get "Optimus Prime but on steroids" for Christmas in the form of Ultra Magnus. I begged for Ultra Magnus. I put him on my Christmas wish list every single week. I left torn pages from Sears, JC Penny and Speigel catalogs with Ultra Magnus on my mom's bed.

I bet you can surmise by now that I didn't get Ultra Magnus for Christmas that year. I got my first ever set of "real" markers (not Crayola, Faber-Castell professional markers), my first comic book (Transformers:Universe #1) and a pad of Bristol board instead.

What kid WOULDN'T want this glorious primary-colored piece of plastic?

I hated that Christmas at the time. It was so damn lame. I wanted one and only one thing, Ultra Freakin' Magnus. And here I had some stupid markers and some stupid thick paper and a stupid comic book. So, I started drawing Ultra Magnus. I drew Ultra Magnus a lot. And he looked a lot like how a 9 year old would draw Ultra Magnus, provided he never drew anything really ever. But I drew him anyway, and then moved on to draw Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Megatron, Soundwave, and so on.

I went on to really love drawing and illustration, and that goes double for comic books. I spent most of my high school days drawing and reading comics. I left college after 6 months go to build and design websites, and my early interest in drawing and layout got me there. I love who I am, because I didn't get Ultra Magnus -- a plastic figure which would have held my interest until the next fad toy showed up -- in 1986. And yeah, someone reminssing about his misspent youth being poor might bore you, but the point is important: When you take your kids' life as a whole instead of just a fleeting moment on December 25th, 2010, you'll realize that foregoing Barbie and Yu-Gi-Oh cards for something that gets them actually thinking and doing stuff is the better investment.

Or, you know, don't. I don't care. I hate children.

*No seriously, buy me presents.