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Gift Guide for a Techonomic Holiday

Unless you manage somehow to live off the grid (in which case you probably don’t read articles at Techonomy) you are no doubt getting inundated with holiday promotions, news about Black Friday, and reminders of your gift history from any website where you ever bought anything. All of these signs point to a central conclusion: it’s time for the second annual Techonomy holiday gift guide!

The wishlist below should appeal to those in your life who value science and technology, sustainable living, or just cool stuff.

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Buy Time for Wine

Got a discerning oenophile on your list? Check out the Coravin wine preservation system for $299. Sure, there are other options for keeping that wine for a while after you uncork it—but none has this level of sophistication. Developed by MIT-trained engineer Greg Lambrecht, the Coravin system is notable because the reason the wine doesn’t spoil is that you don’t remove the cork. Instead, the system inserts a long, fine needle, removes some wine, and leaves the rest of the bottle undisturbed. (I’m glossing over a few details; check out the technology here.) The tool has been adopted at famous restaurants in New York, revolutionizing by-the-glass offerings to include precious wines.

For the Green Thumb

ag_ultra_blk_ff_mg_ghIf your giftee is more garden than vineyard, try the AeroGarden Ultra for about $200. It’s an indoor hydroponic planter that will let your sustainable-living-conscious friend grow his own tomatoes, herbs, flowers, lettuce, and more—no matter what the season. The LED-powered, soil-free system allows plants to grow much faster than they would in a regular garden, according to the website.

And for the gardener who wants a project bigger than cherry tomatoes, check out a tree-growing kit for $25. You can choose between an apple tree and a dawn redwood. Not suitable for those anxious types on your list who insist on instant gratification.

Microbe Mapping 

Did you know that for every one of your human cells, you’re lugging around 10 additional ones belonging to microbes that call you home? Or, as a scientist put it to me recently, in the democracy of you, you’re a minority party. As biomedical experts learn more about how microbial populations (also known as the microbiome) contribute to your health profile, a startup company called uBiome is already providing a service to offer a snapshot of what’s inside you. Or, for the purposes of our gift guide, what’s inside that family member who is so difficult to buy for. For $89, you can give a lucky recipient a kit to analyze the microbes living in her gut (the collection process is less icky than you might imagine). Spring for the $399 deluxe package and your person can learn about the microbes in her gut, nose, mouth, genitals, and skin.

For a person who might not want to know about the microbes in her gut, consider signing her up to help create the PathoMap, a research project run by Weill Cornell Medical College that is analyzing microbes in public places (currently in New York City). Participants get a kit with instructions and materials needed to swab locations of interest—such as the turnstile at a favorite subway station or the handrail on a crowded escalator. Along with the fun of finding out what microbial DNA lurks in these areas, volunteers get to know they are furthering biomedical research. (Since PathoMap is all volunteer-based, we suggest making a donation as part of your gift.)

Cloak and Dagger

You never know which person on your list is a secret agent, but any Techonomic person might enjoy this spy pen (we think even James Bond’s Q would approve). The functional pen sports a 4 GB drive and high-def video camera to record up to 2 hours of footage, and only costs $40. The pen also records audio, in case your recipient is more into storing personal memos than trying to figure out which kid has been trying to hack the TV’s parental controls.

0065356951963_500X500Robots for All

It’s truly the rise of the machines on our gift guide this year. The Programmable Robot Rover Toy, targeted at kids 8 and up, uses basic programming functions to perform tasks, dance, carry messages, and more. It’s $55 at RobotShop. For the Star Wars fans on your list, consider this voice-activated R2-D2 robot. For $199, it responds to about 40 commands and can follow you around.

And in the “is that really real?” camp is this UFO toy whose flight is powered by brain waves. Your gift recipient will wear a not-terribly-attractive headset that measures electrical activity in the brain and pairs with an infrared transmitter on her smartphone to remotely control the $230 UFO. But hey, if you’ve conquered mind control, who cares what you look like?

Don’t Forget Fido

Gift giving can be about your loved one’s loved ones, too. DNA testing services can analyze your friend’s dog and settle the breed history debate once and for all. Check out Wisdom Panel ($65 on sale) or DNA My Dog (CDN$60) for a full genetic analysis that will reveal all the breeds that went into creating that furry little friend. The kits are simple to use and require sending in a cheek swab from the dog.

Truly Over the Top

12245_1000x1000If you have $58,000 to spend on your favorite person this year, consider this honest-to-goodness hovercraft from Hammacher Schlemmer. Billed as a golf cart, we imagine that it would just as easily transport people around your backyard as it would around the back nine. According to its description, the machine holds four people, can go up to 45 mph, and hovers about nine inches above the ground, protecting the grass below. For anyone who grew up envisioning himself living like the Jetsons, this one’s a winner.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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