- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

Oh drat, you’re thinking. Old Uncle Filbert isn’t dead after all; his Web page merely looks atrocious. Now, you’ve got to find a last-minute gift to bring him or overnight mail, if the timing is right.

Some suggestions:

Blank CDs and DVDs. These are today’s floppies, and a “spindle” or two of disks are always welcomed by those burning music compact discs or backing up photo collections. The blank digital video discs are more expensive than blank CDs, and you need to be sure that Uncle Filbert’s DVD-writer format matches the discs you buy, or else he gets to stand in line at the return counter.

On the CD side, it’s much easier and much cheaper. A great stocking stuffer — or stretcher, if you will.

CD labeling software. Again, something touted here before, but perhaps now even more important. With blank CDs are as cheap as they are, burning a bunch is easy — but you need to know what you’ve created. I like Avery’s “AfterBurner,” which includes a starter set of labels, software and an applicator, but there are others, including the CD Stomper system. Both are sold in many electronics stores.

Utility software. The advent of a new year is also a good time to make sure your uncle’s computer is protected from viruses and other nasties. My preferred brand is the Norton series from Symantec, but Trend Micro and McAffee are two other useful brands. Deals abound at office-supply stores. Mac users are likely to find the Norton offerings most helpful, especially as these have just been updated for Mac OS X 10.3, also known as “Panther.”

A portable stand. Mention was made here in June of Laptop Desk v.2.0, from LapWorks of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., a platform that protects your lap from a portable computer’s heat and lets air circulate under the computer.

Folded, it becomes an angled stand for desktop use (and better viewing) of a laptop, even more so when connected to an external keyboard and mouse. The price is $29.95, and a swivel base is another $19.95. It’s one of the best products I’ve seen in a long time, and the firm’s commitment to customer service is remarkable. Details are at LapWorksInc.com.

These gifts are all available for well under $50 in most cases, though utility-software bundles run in the $60 to $70 range. Moving up the food chain, however, you can venture into some higher-priced ranges.

Miniature USB drives, which work with Windows, Macintosh and Linux systems that have USB ports and software, are a great way to carry files around. I saw a co-worker the other day wearing two of the drives on a lanyard around his neck. Sizes range from 16 MB to 128 MB and beyond. It’s a great way to move data in large quantities.

An external hard drive, particularly with either a USB or a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection, is also desirable, as you can shuttle drives between several computers. The FireWire drives, particularly those using the new FireWire 800 standard, are quite fast in data transfer, but these require computer connections that are compatible. Expect a good drive to start at about $200.

Also in the $200 and up range is an unsexy tech gift, but perhaps a necessary one: an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. These, properly charged and installed, will keep Uncle Filbert’s computer going for a few minutes after a power outage.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com, or visit www.kellner.us.

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