Friday, December 5, 2003

Holiday Gift Picks

This holiday season we once again take a look at three of the hottest gift picks on our wish lists. Take gander before heading out to the mall (twice if you're shopping for any of us):

Patrick Greer – DVD Camcorder
I think most of my generation has fond memories of dad pulling out his camcorder to make a family video of us at 7 o’clock Christmas morning. I tore through presents not worried about how this footage would be used against me in the future. It is these memories that are brought to mind when I look at the current line of DVD camcorders – and how I will have this kind of superior technology to use against my children...

Current DVD camcorders can hold up to 4.7 GB of information – 30 minutes to 2 hours of footage, depending on image and sound quality. This is not the reason for my current desire, though. It is the ease of transfer to my computer while still in the original DVD format. Camcorder-recorded DVDs come with all the features that we love and expect from finished DVD movies: Instant scene selection and, most importantly, higher image and sound quality. I can’t wait till I find one of these in my stocking – albeit in 3 to 4 years when the price comes down to a rational level – but I will be looking forward to it nonetheless.

J.D. Jordan - Roomba Robotic Floor Vac

It is distinctly possible that I am getting far too domestic in my old age – or it might just be that I have no love for my upright vacuum cleaner or the endless pursuit of dog hair detritus scatted across my hardwoods. Regardless, iRobot, a commercial robotics company founded by MIT ex-pats, has answered my prayers. They've developed Roomba, hopefully the first in a long series of robot slaves!

Roomba is a self-operated robot vacuum cleaner that, according to independent testing, cleans better than uprights costing twice as much, cleans more of your floor (especially under beds and other conventionally inaccessible areas), is easier to use and adjust than leading uprights, and (for gravy's sake) is quieter than traditional vacuums. Onboard guidance leads the Roomba to cover every surface of the room and prevents it from falling down stairs or crossing digital barriers (provided with the vacuum). The three Roomba models cost between $200 and $250 and come with a variety of accessories. But what isn't calculated into these prices is the best feature of all: You won't have to vacuum ever again. Just kick on the little robot and leave for work. By the time you get home, Roomba will have cleaned house and turned itself off. Now if only that toilet cleaning robot was ready for the market, my life could be complete...

Fleming Patterson - Laks Memory Watch
Remember when you thought having a calculator on your watch was unheard of? Well now you can still look classic while hiding away a hard drive of personal files, pictures, passwords, mp3 sounds, and even movie clips on your wrist. Paris Hilton “watch” out. Laks has introduced the Memory watch.

Just when you thought you were safe to strap on that wristband. Laks designed a watch with an integrated USB-plug in strap and a rewritable memory chip from Toshiba. The classically designed watch comes in several styles and cleverly hides the USB-plug that can be easily plugged into your computer. It's even water resistant.

The watches come in four different versions, ranging from 32MB to 256MB of storage.The prices range from $42 to $165, depending on drive size and style. It may not have a calculator, but this watch can now become the next briefcase handcuffed to you wrist. The watch is even password protected to protect you against file theft. fb

Christmas in September

We love the holidays at Cloudjammer, not the least because it provides for much needed time off and excuses the arbitrary company holiday bacchanalia.

But all good things come in moderation...and to those that wait (to pile clichè upon cliché). We considered this recently when discussing holiday shopping habits. I, for one, always delay until the week of Christmas, list in hand, pounding my feet through local malls and zipping all over town to find the perfect gifts.

But why do I wait so late? Is it work? Lifestyle? Reaction? Perhaps some of each. Perhaps mostly the latter.

I recall visiting a Pier 1 Imports in North Georgia in late September (three months before Christmas, mind you) only to find Christmas merchandise squeezing onto the floor – just in case you needed that wooded reindeer door stop really early. Christmas. September. The mind reels.

My local mall even brought out Santa's trappings (faux house, faux snow, winding queue) the week following Halloween. To be fair, Santa was the last decor added. Most of the mall was holiday festive, visual and audio, before October 31.

I wonder if my late-term holiday shopping might be a direct result of such an over abundance, and premature display, of holiday themes. After all, how much can we cherish and enjoy this brief festive season – which most of us really only appreciate for a few days or a long weekend – when it runs two or three months long?

Is an inner Scrooge peering out from beneath my Christmas sweater? Are those brave department store interior designers and lawn art enthusiasts bringing something joyous and positive that my critical and bitter perspective distorts?

But when is too early?

Is Thanksgiving, that traditional carte-blanche date for holiday decor and marketing, too much to ask? Can we not at least get the trytophan into our systems before Starbucks ramps up the Bing Crosby remixes over our snowflake latte?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps the Thanksgiving deadline is as antiquated as the Red Rider pellet gun or a partridge in a pear Tree (clever rhetorical tie-in, eh?).

Either way, the lights don't go up at Cloudjammer offices until the leaves outside change color. And, until further notice, mall Santas at large before turkey day had better keep their eyes open for three interactive designers with a reindeer door stop. fb

Five Rings to Rule Them All

Most of us know the "The Twelve Days of Christmas" – even if we can't remember how many lords were leaping or maids were milking. At the least we know there were five gold rings and a bird in a fruit tree.

But beneath the nonsense rhyming and hideously antiquated notions of good gift giving (seriously...who needs all those drummers and their incessant drumming!). And while the authenticity of the hidden meaning of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" remains a subject for historical and religious debate – at least among academia – popular opinion holds that the the song is actually code for twelve significant elements of Catholic catechism.

Those sneaky Catholics...

On the surface, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" are just that – the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (December 25 to January 6). Various Christian traditions interpret these days differently, but in the West, these are counted as the days between Christ's birth and the visitation by the three eastern kings.

For the symbolic gifts of the song, however, there are purported hidden meanings.

From 1558 to 1829, it was illegal to openly or privately practice Catholicism in England. As a result, English Catholics developed subtle ways to teach their catechism and practice their fugitive faith. One example may be the "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The song served as a mnemonic device relating the "true love" – God – to the individual Catholic, which each day's corresponding gift symbolic of an important religious lesson:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The partridge is Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge feigning injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem.

Two Turtle Doves

The Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible.

Three French Hens
The three theological virtues: Faith, hope, and love.

Four Calling Birds
The four Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Five Gold Rings
The first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation, as described in Genesis.

Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion.

Eight Maids A-Milking
The eight beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.

Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Ten Lords A-Leaping

The ten commandments: You shall have no other gods before me; do not make an idol; do not take God's name in vain; remember the Sabbath; honor your father and mother; do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet.

Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven faithful apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas bar James. The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth; I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried and descended into hell; On the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; He will come again to judge the living and the dead; I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

It should be pointed out that this interpretation of the "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is not universally accepted. Likewise, the evidence supporting it is not clear – the contemporaneous production of explanatory material during the time of England's religious wars would have been foolhardy at best, suicidal at worst. On the inverse, dispelling evidence is equally lacking.

Regardless, this theory gives an otherwise nonsensical rhyme more meaning and significance. And it teases us with another fine example of pre-modern communication design. fb