Our Annual Gifts Column
December 2007

    Each year, at this time, I scan through notes gathered throughout the year, the press releases that have descended into my mail and e-mail in boxes, the magazines and newspapers and the usual web sites,  for suggestions of technology gifts that a lawyer might like to give to partners, staff members, parents, spouses, children or even humble legal technology columnists. (If any reader is really interested, you can find my wish list at amazon.com. )  It is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

    Although shares of stock in many a mortgage companies or banks have descended into stocking stuffer prices, new homes have not fallen to such levels. Maybe next year.  Of course, if you've accumulated a stash of Euros you can give away real, American dollars at a substantial discount.
    But my philosophy is that tech toys are the best toys. Although there is a lot of improved technology this year, little I've seen has the same "wow" factor that I felt when I saw my first demonstration of an electronic spreadsheet decades ago.  The only new Operating System on the market seems to be Leopard, the latest version of Apple Macintosh OSX.  And there aren't even new game systems being touted (although there are lots of new games for the latest Play Station and WII – Play Station's electronic guitar and drum simulations, cranked up loud, will literally blow you away.)

    Let's begin with a rundown of perennial recommendations.

[Every Year Suggestions] 
    My first suggestion each year are prescription reading glasses, ground for about 16 inches, the typical distance between the eye and the computer screen. Your secretary, you, or anyone spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen will benefit the user and may even allow the user to do better work, particularly towards the end of the day.  Feedback from last year's column noted that tri-focals, with the middle section at computer distance, work too.

    Flat-screen LCD monitors (or plasma); are slightly less expensive than last year, and are easier on the eyes than traditional CRTs.  If you have yet to go flat screen, this may be a good year for a round for the entire office.  I renew prior advice that replacement Mouses and MousePads can be imprinted with your firm logo and given away.  Add USB flash drives to the list, in 512 Kilobyte or 1 Gigabyte sizes.  Depending on memory size and quantity purchased you can order them, complete with imprinted logo, preloaded with a self-serving information firm information, and the recipient will remember you every time the drive is used to carry important data. I don't have a particular vendor to recommend, but search Google for "promotional USB Drives" to develop a list of likely suspects.

More memory, if you haven't maxed out your computer, is still the least way to enhance the performance of your machine.  For years I've recommended additional memory to permit a computer to work better and faster; today, however, we're beginning to see software and even hardware that requires more memory than a basic 512 Kilobytes to work well. (And we won't even talk about Microsoft's Vista operating system.)   My favorite place to select the proper memory for a particular application, with good prices as well as good advice, is still www.crucial.com.  
    Hard drives get bigger, perhaps less expensive on an absolute basis, and certainly less expensive on a Dollar per Gigabyte basis. And you'll need that extra hard disk space for backing -up those multi-Megabyte digital photograph files taken with the new eight or ten MegaPixel  digital camera.
     If you're looking for a new model, a couple of hundred dollars will now buy not only very high resolution pictures, but built-in software that does a better job of balancing color and controlling lighting, but stabilizes the image for sharp pictures even if you move the camera,  finds faces in the picture to aid the focusing process and generally takes better pictures than last year's model.
    If your intended recipient is an avid digital photographer,  buy a couple of those digital frames that display a continuous slide show. $100 a year ago, $60 today. This is nothing that your PC can't do with a slideshow screen saver, and the display is low resolution, but for a recipient with lots of digital pictures and a  empty spot on desk or wall, such a display will be welcome..

[New This Year]
    Perhaps the product of the year is the Apple iPhone.  Early adopters suffered a few of the arrows typical for real pioneers — registration problems, modification problems, AT&T phone service and, of course, the indignity of having paid the original $600 when Apple lowered the price to $400 in a matter of weeks after introduction — but those that I've spoken with wouldn't part with their combination TV, MP3 and video player, address book, camera, flash driver text messaging unit, and, lest we forget, cell phone.
    There are other "smart phones" around, including different versions of the ubiquitous Blackberry, and the Centro, this year's latest form Palm. The Centro is apparently a standard Treo but smaller, lighter and faster and better equipped.  The unit includes MP3 player, TV, camera, and the ability to use the wide variety of game, utility and business applications available that is the inheritance of any Palm and requires Sprint service.  The Centro isn't an iPhone, but is less expensive — $100 with new Sprint service –- and should be compatible with the software and data you have in your current Treo or non-smart Palm.
    I've also been intrigued, but haven't tested, new combinations of WiFi and SD memory cards, The Eye-Fi, at about $100, can be used to transmit digital pictures to your computer, as you take them, while SanDisk sells a WiFi-enabled SD card to be used to download pictures and music and so forth directly to your handheld. We'll get to both next year.
    Of course, as technology moves, items may become obsolete.  In prior years I've mentioned GPS units, the Sling Box, WebCams for video conference,  Satellite Radio and TiVo Digital Video Recorders, as possibilities for more upscale techy presents.  Any of these can still be a welcome gift, although GPS receivers are almost commodities,  it looks like the two Satellite Radio systems may be merging, which may make receivers for one system useless,  Cable and Satellite TV systems rent their own DVR systems and the market still hasn't decided between HD DVD and Blu-ray. 
    We do know that unless the FCC changes policy, your current, unmodified, analog  TV receiver will become obsolete for broadcast reception in February, 2009.  There's no room here to discuss the relative merits of 780 or 1080,  I or p, LCD or Plasma or other Digital and HD options.  But I'll definitely be including a new digital TV receiver for next year's column.  

[Where To Shop]
    Of course, you're going to purchase your gifts online. The process is fast, as safe as handing your credit card to a waiter in a restaurant. you can easily compare prices and online vendors are discovering that prospective purchasers like inexpensive, or free, shipping.   Amazon.com seems to be selling everything this days, and is as good a place to begin looking as any, whatever you are seeking.  But use a pricing service such as Search Google for Product Search — I still think of it as Froogle, and still get there by entering froogle.com — or Pronto, Pricescan to see who has what for how much.   Once you have found what you want at a good price at a specific site, surf to your favorite search engine and look for "coupon  <Web site>" to see if there are any special "deals" available.  And check to see if the credit card you are using has some special  "rewards" for shopping online.  It can't hurt.

    Finally, don't forget your intended recipient's "wish list",  on Amazon and elsewhere.  My suggestions are good, but you might as well get something that the recipient really wants.