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Christmas used to be a time for stuffed animals, toy wagons and Barbie dolls. In the 1990s, however, Barbie has her own CD-ROM and Santa is more likely to send a naughty child the STONED virus than a lump of clay.
If you're a technophile like me, you already know that the holiday season means new gadgets under the tree. But perhaps you're wondering what great new software, hardware and electronic devices you should add to your wish list.
Or maybe you're one of those surrogate Santas who is on the giving and not the receiving end, and you have no idea what your computer-savvy roommate would like to find under the tree.
Well, wonder no more. This Christmas offers an unprecedented number of snazzy gift options for the technically inclined. Bring your gold card, though; some of them may be a bit pricey.
Topping almost any game lover's wish list this year is the new Nintendo Ultra 64 (www.nintendo.com). Sure, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn are fun, but the Ultra 64 is perhaps the most anticipated video game system in history. Forget your finals, an Ultra 64 will turn your common room into Arcade Central.
While titles for the new system are few and far between, the vast technical superiority of the system makes it a sure winner for years to come. The graphics and sound on the new Nintendo are, put simply, better than anything in home gaming history.
The bad news is, if you haven't already bought one of these gems, you probably won't for a few months. Nintendo sold out their original U.S shipment of 750,000 units within days back in September, almost all through advance orders. Ultra 64 units are being hocked for as much as $750 this season, almost four times the sticker price of $199!
If you want to entertain your roommates at a lower price, you might want to consider You Don't Know Jack, a popular and addictive trivia game for Macs and Windows PCs. It's a Jeopardy-like computer game with irreverent questions and an attitude, and it's already a best-seller. Plus, at only $19.95 retail, it won't set you back much.
For those who eschew competitive entertainment in favor of more relaxing pastimes, PF Magic has a solution with their hit programs, Catz (www.catz.com) and Dogz (www.dogz.com). When you install either program on your system, you get a "virtual pet."
Spend too long on your Stata homework and your cat will come over and play with your cursor. Each program starts your pet at the puppy or kitty level and their "personalities" are determined by the amount of attention you provide to each one. If you know someone who feels stifled by Harvard's no-pets policy, let the computer be the next best thing.
If you want to give a slightly more productive gift, you might want to consider giving the Pilot digital organizer (www.usr.com/palm/) discussed in this column a few weeks ago.
The Pilot has become a runaway sales hit, and US Robotics has responded by lowering the price to just $249 for the 128 Kb 1000 model or $299 for the Pilot 5000 with 512 Kb of memory. Either way, it's a great deal.
In addition, a California tech start-up firm called Nikean Corp. (www.nikean.com) is currently working on a wireless cellular data modem to allow you to use the Pilot as a wireless e-mail/Web appliance and another accessory to turn the Pilot into a text pager. Look for these to hit stores in July.
In case the Pilot is a little too small to put under the Christmas tree, you might want to consider buying a new monitor, CPU or scanner for a very, very special person in your life.
If so, be sure to check out Harvard's Technology Product Center (TPC) before going to a chain store. The TPC now features a new "closeout" area which sells floor demo models, returned items and scratch-and-dents at a fraction of their original cost.
Selection and support are both scarce, of course, but some of the deals are too hard to pass up. A friend recently bought a 14.4 PCMCIA modem for a notebook computer for $50 at the TPCs new closeout area, and Pentium computers have been on sale for as little as $600.
Of course, for the ultimate shopping experience, why not practice what you preach and shop on-line? PC Warehouse and Mac Warehouse (www.warehouse.com) are well-known in the direct-sales fields; now you can buy on-line from their Web site.
And if you are a real gadget guru, you already know about the Sharper Image chain of stores. Save time on the T by visiting them on-line at sharper-image.com and buy gifts from the comfort of your bedroom.
Kevin S. Davis '98 is the coordinator of HASCS' Advanced Support Team and an independent computer consultant. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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