Monday, December 13, 2021

2021 Online Holiday Gift Guide


Well, as the pandemic drags on for another holiday season, it kind of makes sense to do our gift shopping online. But where do we start? This year I consulted a number of gift guides in magazines, which are super helpful except the magazine is getting paid  by the manufacturer, so they tend not to mention any gotchas about these products. My blog is different: I’ll steer you toward some great gift ideas, but I’ll also point out any landmines I happen to see. So here is the 2021 collection … happy gifting!

Heartwarming message candle – $20.99

Here is a nice candle you can give as a gift. And it’s not just nice; according to the manufacturer, it is “hand poured [by] skilled artisans in the USA using only premium and cleanest soy wax available,” and is “ideal as an aromatherapy candle or relaxing candle for yoga, meditation, and stress relief.” And best of all, it is “decorated with a cute, fun, adorable, and always heart-warming message of assurance.”

One word of caution, though: the recipient of this gift needs to be a person who feels that violence against women is funny. And since the burn time of the candle is 45-55 hours, you’ll want to consider whether or not the joke is likely to get old.

Long distance touch bracelet – $108

It took me a moment to understand what these touch bracelets are for. The idea is, if you’re separated from your significant other for long periods, you can use these to stay in touch. Just “download the app that connects the set and tap your bracelet to send a Bond Touch™ to your loved one. Theirs will light up and vibrate, so they'll know you're thinking about them.”

You might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t I just send a text?” Well, what if you can’t think of anything to say? That’s the beauty of these … you just tap it every so often, mindlessly. And if you’re too busy to tap (for example, if you’re on a business trip) you could have a colleague, your personal assistant, or just about anybody tap it periodically. And if you get distracted and totally forget to send Bond Touches™? No problem—just blame the technology!

Shiitake mushroom log kit – $30

This mushroom log kit is perfect to give as a gift because if it proves defective and doesn’t produce any mushrooms, that’s not your problem. It’s based on kind of a far-fetched idea: the manufacturers “salvage recently felled trees and plant organic spores inside” and then you soak your log, keep it in a dark, damp place, and in six weeks you’re a grower! Myself, I never liked the dirt-like taste of shiitakes (my brother calls them “shitcakes”) but imagine how magical it would be if this actually worked.

A disclaimer: just about all the reviews I’ve read complain that nothing ever grows. It’s kind of heartbreaking how long people have stuck it out waiting: “more than a year,” “over 18+ months,” “17 months,” “almost a year.” That’s a mighty long time to have a damp log sitting around your house. But remember: you’re giving this away, so you can just give, forget, and move on!

Smartphone controlled coffee mug – $130

You know, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. I do a basic pour-over, and I grind my beans with an antique hand-cranked mill my daughter gave me.  Generally I drink the coffee over a period of about five minutes as I read the paper, so it doesn’t cool off, though occasionally I abandon it and then have to chuck it in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. Well, obviously this system isn’t good enough for a lot of modern types. Enter the Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug. This is utterly sophisticated and in fact is controlled by an app on your phone!

You can dial in whatever temperature suits you (for example, you might go a little cooler if you have a canker sore in your mouth, or a little hotter if you’re adding milk instead of a smaller quantity of cream), and you can do customized presets (though I’m not sure why), and can even receive notifications. That way, if your coffee is in another room and suddenly hits that magic temperature, it’ll summon you and you can go fetch it. (Why would your coffee be in the other room? Well, I don’t know … maybe you run a lab or something?) This electronic mug/coaster is really impressive … I mean, coffee has always been satisfying, but imagine the sense of utter fulfillment you’ll get every time you successfully complete a firmware update.

My only complaint with this product is that the app doesn’t appear to offer very robust analytics. I’d like to see temperature performance, tracked via charts and exportable CSV files, along with real-time and historical client data on the apps interfacing with the mug, and ideally an event log just to make sure everything is humming along smoothly.

Bourbon nosing expansion kit – $79

This handy assortment of aromatic extracts enables the bourbon aficionado to develop a huge new vocabulary of annoying scent terms so he can bloviate even more excessively than he does already, and take even more pride in his inflated sense of epicurean sophistication.

This product pays off in two ways. First, during the sniffing phase your spirits-loving man may be too busy to talk, giving you some much-needed respite. Second, when he has finished his education and starts pontificating at vast length about the hints of rose, plum, and graham cracker in his Parker’s Heritage 27 Year 2nd Edition bourbon, somebody is bound to finally lose patience and tell him to shut up, following which he’ll pout for days. More peace and quiet for you!

Illegal soap – $10

This Duke Cannon soap may seem like good clean fun, but it’s also kind of badass:

To be honest, I’m not sure where legality or even cutting of wood comes into play, because the pine in this soap is just a scent. But if the recipient of this gift gets off on people breaking the law in pursuit of luxury bath products, you won’t find a better gift anywhere.

Brain sensing headband – $200

So-called mental health experts (like these ones) have long advocated for disconnecting from all our tech and spending time offline, to try to relax. Well, that touchy-feely crap might be good enough for some people, but perhaps you know someone who prefers a more data-driven approach to mindfulness and downtime. For that type of digital maven, technology saves the day once again, in the form of the MUSE 2 Brain Sensing Headband. It measures your brain activity, heart rate, body movements, and breathing and gives you feedback through headphones (sold separately) and your Muse smartphone app. What could be more relaxing than downloading the app, upgrading it, syncing the phone with the headband, and then being told, though the app’s sounds, whether or not you’re relaxing properly?

But that’s not all! Maybe you had a good meditation session yesterday, but what if today your performance declined? That’s where the robust analytics come in. Look at all these stats … they’re like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your relaxation! You could totally paste these into PowerPoint slides for your guru, your sensei, your therapist, or your significant other to review.

I suppose I should mention that there’s no real explanation of how exactly this device works, and that a number of users gave less than favorable reviews. For example, one one-star review states, “I can only assume that the positive reviews have come from people who want this thing to work rather than any kind of basis in reality. The EEG was showing I was calm as a cucumber when I was wide eyed or thinking as hard as I can about the most stressful things in life. The heart rate sensor was about 30bpm out from my actual heart rate. The soundscapes are clunky, distracting and annoying.”

Albert Clock – $400

Remember when your brother bought your kids that incredibly loud and irksome electronic toy? Well, here’s your chance to get him back, with the most annoying clock ever made: it’s the exclusive Albert Clock. Feast your eyes on its diabolical face:

When do people check the time? It’s when they’re concerned about having enough of it, and the distance between that minute hand and the top of the hour can be reassuring. But the owner of this clock will have to stop, shift gears, waste valuable time calculating the hour and minute, and then spend more time trying to calm back down because he’s pissed off now about having had to do that. But he can’t complain to you about it, because that would set you up to say, “Surely a little simple arithmetic isn’t too much for you? I’d have thought you’d welcome the challenge.” It’s really the perfect revenge gift.

Art-themed enamel pin – $10

Here is a nice pin you can give to any friend or loved one who enjoys wearing pins.

Ah, but it’s more than just nice: it’s compelling. What’s with the nonstandard spelling of “guarantee”? And who is LB? Well, the lucky recipient of this pin, if she’s done her homework, can talk all about Louise Bourgeois, the eccentric French painter on whose work this pin is based. Of course, wearing this pin will mean answering the inevitable question, “‘Art guarantees sanity’ … is that even true?” It will also beg the follow-up question, “What about van Gough?” The best comeback to that? The pin-wearer can say dryly, “Actually, Bourgeois spent decades in therapy.” So, yeah ... this isn’t just a nice pin … it’s all ironic and provocative, too.

Stained picnic blanket – $150

Is this picnic blanket a manufacturer’s second? Nope, it’s meant to look like a painter spilled on it, or it went through the wash with your wife’s weird new Thai fisherman pants that always bleed on everything. Its stained/ruined look is what makes it artsy and sophisticated!

The only problem with this blanket is that the recipient might think you got it at a garage sale, or Goodwill, or that it’s a remnant from a fabric store. So you’ll have to somehow convey that it cost you 150 bucks, so your friend or loved one doesn’t use it in the garage, or get rid of it, etc.

Gorilla night light – $11

Maybe you’re that cool aunt or uncle that always needs to give the interesting, cool gift … and yet you don’t want to be edgy or anything, if your niece or nephew is very young. What, then, could be niftier—and at the same time cozier—than a gorilla-shaped nightlight?

Look how relaxed that kid is! (Full disclosure: that picture looks obviously photoshopped, but you get the idea.)

Of course, this nightlight is also remote controlled so using it will really make the kid really advanced and technical. And perhaps he or she will stare at it for long periods, wondering if all gorillas have Popeye-like forearms, and why this one has grid-covered body hair.

Bitcoin gewgaw

A certain type of blowhard just loves to blather about cryptocurrency. This is easy to do, since so many people know almost nothing about it while having the nagging sense that they should. Wouldn’t it be great if you could help your mansplaining friend lead people to this topic? Well, in that vein, what could be a more thoughtful gift than this non-fungible trinket, symbolic of a Bitcoin?

Now, I suppose this could backfire: what if the recipient loves its good looks and wants to display it, but isn’t actually comfortable talking about cryptocurrency? Well, then, as a separate gift, print out this blog post on the topic, which explains everything he’ll need to know to talk about Bitcoin long enough to exhaust anyone’s patience.

Gucci slipper-shoes – $995

And now it’s time to talk about the perfect gift: something utterly useful, but also fun, and decadent, and sophisticated, and—most important of all—is a product that your loved one never even knew existed. You’ll knock ‘em dead with the amazing Gucci dress shoe/slipper . Check these bad boys out.

I know what you’re thinking: “Am I fucking hallucinating?! Are those really a dress shoe in the front, and fur-lined flip-flops in the back? Like if Chewbacca went to prom?!” Yes. That’s exactly what they are.

Now, I’ll freely acknowledge that giving these as a gift does involve some risk, and not just because they cost almost a grand. Your recipient will need to ask himself, “Could I pull these off?” If he doubts himself, that’s when you lay this photo on him: because if this dude here can rock these slipper-shoes with aplomb, anybody can.

Take the plunge and buy them. You’ll thank/think me later.

A gift for the blogger?

I’ll bet I know just what you’re thinking: what gift should I get for Dana, as a reward for his tireless blogging all year? Aw, shucks … you don’t have to get me anything! But if you feel you must, just send me a nice card with some cash in it. I’m kind of sentimental that way.

Other albertnet holiday posts

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