Only four days remain for Hanukkah, which ends on the evening of Dec. 16. After that, it's only nine days until Christmas (except for many Orthodox Christians, who will celebrate on Jan. 7). Kwanzaa begins Dec. 26.
However you look at it, there's not much time left for shopping.
Here, then, are the first of some last-minute gift ideas, suggestions and strategies.
START WITH MUSIC — I'm a big fan of gifting music, especially gift cards for Apple Inc.'s iTunes service or Amazon.com's MP3 music store. The Apple gift cards are widely available in many retail outlets, including Target stores and others. Amazon.com will sell you virtual gift cards you can send via email or Facebook, or real ones they will deliver via a courier.
You can also offer a gift subscription to a music service, such as Pandora or Slacker, that delivers a lot of music for the money. These are online services compatible with many different mobile devices and desktop systems; Pandora compatibility is also found in some car audio systems and the Sonos (www.sonos.com) line of Internet-friendly audio systems.
CONTINUE WITH BACKUP — One of the interesting things about the digital age is that while we may have lost some of the paper in our lives (a subject I hope to explore here early next year), we still need the information. Here, having a good backup hard drive is essential. It may not be the "sexiest" holiday gift, but savvy recipients will appreciate it, especially when they need to recover crucial data.
My personal last-minute shopping place for such items is either Costco (www.costco.com) or a brick-and-mortar store such as Staples (www.staples.com). Both should have a good selection of Western Digital and/or Seagate external hard disc drives, ranging from under $140 for a 3 Terabyte drive on up. Again, there's little glamour, but data protection is important.
For more portable (and of necessity) selective storage, I like the Victorinox Swiss Army 8 Gbyte Jetsetter Flash Drive, a $39.95 product designed for Mac users and available at the Apple Store (http://bit.ly/QUBsGk). The manufacturer says you can "encrypt files, securely store personal information and browse the Internet in Swiss Army style, without leaving traces of browsing history, files or cookies." Plus there's a scissors, nail file with screwdriver end, a tweezers, a key ring, a ballpoint pen and a "clamshell opener," great for opening those hermetically sealed plastic packages.
Higher-capacity versions of the product are available, with additional tools. I'm just glad to have the 8 GB model in my pocket.
GO MOBILE FOR DATA — The AT&T Mobile Hotspot MiFi Liberate is a $199.99 device that will serve as a wireless "hot spot" for as many as 10 Wi-Fi enabled devices: Notebook computers, tablets, phones, whatever. Made by Novatel Wireless, the cost drops to $49.99 if you sign up for a two-year AT&T mobile data plan, which starts at $60 per month.
I'm not thrilled with the data plan pricing, but if you travel throughout the country (or work locally where you would like a secure, private, Internet connection), this device is a great product offering powerful service, a touch screen, color display for settings and information, and up to 11 hours of use. Not everyone will need this, but if you know someone who does, they might bless you for this gift.
ADD THE NET TO YOUR TV — If you don't have the latest HDTV, but want to access the Internet and streaming services, check out the under-$50 SmartStick HDTV enhancer from FAVI Entertainment. Plug it into an HDMI port on the TV and you can grab movies, music, apps and games via the device's Android OS and your wireless home network. There's an optional wireless keyboard available for $39.99, but it's of the tiny, hand-held variety.
This is another good idea, I think, and perhaps even a useful stocking stuffer.
Need more ideas? Come back next week.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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