This year's gadget guide is a doozy. Forged for the first time ever by an alliance of our readers and editors, it is the latest expression of our ongoing experiment in letting the audience join us in the wheelhouse. The result is quirky, fun and speaks for itself, so we'll quit while we're ahead and go straight to the goodies we're hoping to find under this year's Chrismakwanzukkah bush.
These stylishly headless pooches are sure to make you the talk of the town, but only if your tasteful Skandinavian furniture hasn't already. They're no good at playing fetch, but they're perfectly suited to assaulting your guests with 180 watts of throbbing bass. Who let the dogs out, indeed.
|Optimus Mini Three Keyboard
As anyone who has ever tasted the ambrosia of a second monitor can tell you, extra displays, especially touch-sensitive ones, can provide you with the at-a-glance information that your continuous partial attention lifestyle demands. Bonus: when you're done checking stocks while watching your incoming e-mail and tracking the progress of your downloads, this keyboard / monitor's three panes can transform into Vegas-style slots.
|Chronotronix V400 Nixie Tube Clock
Unless you're a baby boomer, you probably don't remember vacuum tubes. That's because they went out right about the time that Scientific American ceased to be typeset by a hardworking group of Old World immigrants whose ink-blackened hands and ties to the motherland were marks of pride. So here's one for those of you who just can't get enough vintage electronic goodness: a clock whose display would have been familiar to your Depression-era forebears.
Fish ponds are cool, but fish ponds that exploit tricks of atmospheric pressure to get your fish swimming up into a big Plexiglass tube so that they're at eye level are way, way cooler. Bad news: to get a Fishloft, you're going to have to be able to understand German, because its makers have yet to translate their site into English. Good news: that should keep the Joneses off your back for a while.
|Dyson Root 6
Are you ready to bust some ghosts? Blow the heads off some aliens? Or, um, clean those crumbs out from the couch that you've been unable to leave since the dual release of the PS3 and Wii? Looking more like the assault rifle in Halo than the highly evolved descendant of a dustbuster, the Dyson Root 6 is guaranteed to suck the stuffing out of a turkey from across the room, or your money back.
|Macgyver 512MB MP3 Watch
While it's doubtful that this piece of merchandise was officially licensed by Richard Dean Anderson, one can't help but think he would approve of its multifunctionality. Between playing MP3s, storing files, recording your voice and, yes, telling time, just about the only thing this watch won't do is fix your messy divorce.
Data centers can take up thousands of square feet, or if you're Google, entire football-field-size warehouses. But what do you do if you don't have that kind of space or power and you need, we mean really need, an enterprise-class supercomputer or Internet hub, like now? (For an answer, check out the "Scenarios" Sun helpfully illustrates on its site--they're priceless.)
"a zillion dollars"
|Flying Alarm Clock
When helicopters made their debut in dubya-dubya II, military planners were convinced they would revolutionize warfare, and they did. But what to do for an encore? How about using this technology to revolutionize waking up after a night out.
|E-Puppy Personal USB E-Mail Communicator
Those of you who can recall the magic of sticking a Slayer tape in a Teddy Ruxpin and watching the bear that love built try to sing along with "Evil Has No Boundaries" will love this e-mail-reading dog, whose belly glows like Sauron's cyclopean eye whenever you have an e-mail waiting in your queue. He'll also read Web pages and Word documents to you, as well as record brief notes.
|Global Warming Mug
The animated gif you're looking at now says it all--fill this mug with hot liquid and watch the coastal paradises of the U.S. sink beneath the waves like so much half-baked climate-change contrarianism. No more effective demonstration of the seriousness of sea levels rising has been conceived, nor could it be. Now drink your coffee.
Who knew composting could be cute? Or easy? Anyone who's ever made a failed attempt to turn a pile of kitchen scraps into something usable will appreciate a pig with cleverly constructed internal chambers that make composting a cinch. Kids will probably also love the fact that you "feed" the pig through its mouth and take the compost out of its single, all-purpose cloaca.
|USB Missile Launcher
Those of you who don't have a computer with a USB port are really missing out on this year's gadget guide. If anything could convince you to upgrade, it would be this little baby, which Think Geek unabashedly advertises as "WMD at an affordable price." Don't worry--these kid-safe foam missiles aren't actual munitions, but they do allow 180 degrees of freedom when you're aiming for the neatly-coiffed head of that guy in marketing who makes you wish you were shooting real missiles. (Those of you who prefer to kick it old-school will appreciate this USB cannon.)
Yeah, we said it, the new Wii rocks. And all you PSP fanboys out there can go tell it to our mailroom. In all seriousness, there is one major breakthrough here that's worth noting, not that we'd be the first to do so: the Wii's new motion-sensitive remote will have you playing video games in ways you never thought possible, whether you're swinging your arms as if you were wielding an actual sword or working on your form while playing Nintendo Bowling. Not to jump the gun or anything, but this definitely means that in 10 years you'll be wearing a spandex bodystocking and spinning around in a giant ball like in that virtual-reality movie Lawnmower Man.
Topping the list of things to do before you die: Fly 140 kilometers above Earth's surface, experience zero gravity for a handful of fleeting moments, and look back on the pale blue orb which brought forth and sustains everything that has ever had meaning in your life. Virgin Galactic will make it happen for you--and all you have to do is pony up $150,000 for the privilege. (While SpaceShipTwo has yet to fly, Virgin, which was also responsible for the Ansari X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne, is already accepting reservations.)
|Micro Mosquito R/C Helicopter
It used to be that remote-controlled helicopters were noisy, messy, gasoline-powered beasts that required actual helicopter piloting skills, but not anymore. The Micro Mosquito R/C Helicopter has banished those days to the belly of the Sarlacc, where they will find a new definition of pain and suffering as they are slowly digested over a thousand years. Even our news editor was able to pilot this little flyer, which at 20 grams would be button cute if you weren't sure that it had military applications.
Artificial Intelligence has been invisibly worming its way into our everyday lives, whether it's the smarts behind your spam filter or the automated face recognition system the UK police have started using in a completely un-ironic attempt to realize George Orwell's most terrifying nightmare. Now a group of software wizards has applied the technology to figuring out when the good parts of a baseball or soccer game happen, and deleting the rest. The result is a highlight reel minus the filler. (Soccer matches have been known to collapse into 30 seconds of "goooal!").
It used to be that there were only two ways to cook food: microwaves and plain old convection heating (or three, if you count being Superman and cooking a souffle with your laser-beam eyes). Then the geniuses over at Black and Decker realized that there was this entire swath of the electromagnetic spectrum--infrared light--that had so far been completely neglected by the otherwise cutting-edge realm of home appliances. The result is the Infrawave, which yields "oven-quality appearance and taste at microwave-like speed." It's not astronaut ice cream, but we applaud any effort to achieve better living through science.
Described by one commentator as "TiVo for electricity," the Gridpoint Connect Series is more than just a big battery that stores electricity when it's cheap so you can use it when it's not. It's also a computer that intelligently manages your energy use while telling you about it through a private Web portal. Less creepy than other forms of total information awareness (for example, those GPS bracelets folks have started slapping on their kids) and about twice as useful, this system might just convince you that remembering to turn off the lights makes a genuine difference.
Call us sentimental, but we're big advocates of teaching kids what the night sky looked like before widespread light pollution made the stars but dim shadows of their former selves. Just be careful not to spill any Olde-E on this prosumer-grade planetarium projector as you're pouring one out for your dead (or merely invisible) homie Orion--this thing isn't waterproof.
|The Total Blender
If Zeus had a fight with Yahweh, then afterward they went drinking with Shiva and the three of them did something they all ended up regretting, and nine months later the result was a blender, it would be this blender. There is nothing we can say about this appliance that could not more perfectly be expressed through this video clip, in which the Total Blender transforms a fistful of glass marbles from a solid into a gas. Take that, Salad Shooter!