December 09, 2005

Christmas gifts

I remember having a hard time getting used to Junior High School after K - 6 in the stimulating environment of Lincoln Elementary. Listening to the music of 1979 (REO Speedwagon, Air Supply, Supertramp, My Sharona, the first album by The Police) can tie my intestines in a noose, just like yesterday. I auditioned for a part in a play in those dark days and ended up making a good friend, and because this all happened so long ago I will call this friend B.C. Now B.C. writes asking for help. And I am going to make an appeal directly to you, the readers of Long Burn, on his behalf. The question is perennial: What makes a good gift?

The absolute best Christmas gift of all time came along at about that time from my older brother Lowell: a soldering iron. How did he know I wanted one? I didn't even know it myself until I thought of the possibilities: burning patterns in wood and leather, building circuits, the refreshing smell of solder rosin. I bought some circuit kits from Radio Shack and made a little device with LED lamps that went up and down according to the volume of music in different bands. I took apart the family telephone and figured out how to run an extension line to my room in the basement. I hand-wired a mail-order-surplus keyboard into my Timex ZX-80 computer, and put together a mail-order robot (The robot had about 10 pounds of batteries and you could press contact switches to make it go forward or backward or turn). I even soldered together some sculptures out of copper wire: a globe and a bonsai tree.

Just so you know, here is this year's Christmas list (short version):

High quality prints of scientific motifs that are artistic, e.g. clouds of Jupiter or a single cell or highly magnified grains of pollen or a fly's eye
Bob Dylan in the 60s
David Bowie in the 70s
The Oxford English Dictionary (CD or paper)
Good books

So, its no longer 1979 and all those circuits I built when I was a PhD student took some of the adventure out of soldering irons and so the question remains-- what makes a good Christmas gift? What is the best gift you have received? Have any great gift ideas?? Please post a comment!


At December 09, 2005 10:41 PM , Blogger Kate said...

here are some things I would like to get or to give:

tickets to movie, or a play, or music
membership at a good museum (MN History or MN Science or MIA)
gift cert. for shiatsu massage
something I need but am to cheap to buy (a nice outfiit, some warm boots, etc.)
overnight childcare, so Tim and I can escape for a while

At December 10, 2005 7:01 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

Childcare is a great gift idea.

Good gift ideas:
Custom T-shirt or sweatshirt:
create an image such as a detailed map of a place important to the person and put it on a t-shirt or sweat shirt. There simply aren't enough t-shirts with maps on them.

custom beer (there is a place in town where you brew your own beer, make up your own label and bottle it yourself and then take home a case of it.)
This CD:
makita cordless drill
graphic novel Black Hole (
anything made out of polar-fleece
smart wool socks

bad gift ideas:
black and white film
AOL disks

At December 10, 2005 1:02 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Makita! Makita!

Kate I know exactly what you mean. I just think of all the money I have saved through the years by using razor blades socks boxer shorts and tubes of toothpaste decades past their expected lifetime, and wonder what I could possibly be wasting all that money on because it sure isn't in my bank account.

At December 10, 2005 1:47 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Gift ideas, shooting from the hip:
Encyclopaedia Brittanica DVD-- you can look up anything. Great for ages 8 and up.
Swiss Army Knife with USB connector
A cookbook, like Japanese or Czech or French or a coffee table book about wines and grapes
Kits or plans for making your own canoe/deck swing/grandfather clock
Nautical instrumentation: Polished brass barometer, hygrometer, thermometer and chronometer mounted in oak or walnut
Air Hockey
USB lava lamp or cup warmer(
Home weather station with PC interface

At December 11, 2005 12:48 AM , Anonymous tim said...

Bat house kits

tiny screwdriver set
dremel kit

can't go wrong with an IPOD
GPS unit

for the winter bicyclist:
winterized bike shoes
studded tires
ski goggles
two fingered gloves
gore-tex pants

finally: Life magazines from the 1950's available at Midway books

yup home weather station for PC is a great idea. wireless video camera would be cool too.

At December 11, 2005 7:57 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I would gladly give my wisdom teeth for some Life magazines from the 50s or nearby decades, if someone hadn't already been paid years ago to take them out.

At December 11, 2005 8:39 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

B. C. I highly recommend a set of these for the boys:
(Or you could make some in your shop)

At December 12, 2005 12:10 AM , Anonymous Janie K said...

OK... those abbreviations aren't fooling anyone... at least someone who was also in that aforementioned play!

I went with a huge domino set so the boys could make cool domino set-ups in the playroom and finally got suckered into the GameCube and the Mario games. As for the hubby, 2 cameras from Japan fit the bill.

At December 12, 2005 4:39 PM , Blogger Kate said...

for the family of the winter bicyclist:

life insurance and disability insurance on the bicyclist, please

At December 12, 2005 9:42 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Does Senior Kate wear a helmet? You could get him studded bike tires.

At December 12, 2005 11:38 PM , Anonymous BC said...

Dang. My identity has been uncovered. Now Janie_k will be able to guess what I was going to give her. Fine. Never mind. Maybe next year.

While I'm posting, here's some of my favorite ideas I found around the internet.

These are cool, but I don't think you can buy them.

This is included just in case there really is a santa.

Old-school Pointy things are cool.

I got one of these once. I love it, but I can't play it.

Michael Burke makes really nice pennywhistles that I can kind of play.

At December 13, 2005 4:46 AM , Blogger Kate said...

A helmet won't pay the mortgage when the biker crashes and gets two broken legs.


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