It seems that the leaves have started changing color and falling while I had my back turned, which can only mean that the holiday season is sneaking up on us again. As such, it behooves you to start giving thought to what to get those you think are deserving of your gifts, before the malls again turn into war zones. It is my honor to once more gather a unique list of items suitable for gifting to those you hold dear, even if that happens to be yourself!
First, in an attempt to reduce the stress that frequently accompanies holiday shopping and trying to find the ‘perfect’ gift for someone, we’ll being with a look at several diverse musical selections that you might find of interest.
Nuclear Blast America is one of the premier Metal labels in the United States, and they have provided a number of items highlighting the diversity of the sounds of Metal.
First up is Helloween (which celebrated their 30th anniversary last year), with their 15th studio album My God Given Right (ASIN: B00V6XU00A, Nuclear Blast America, Item number:104143, CD, $11.99, et al.). For those still following industry music type assignments, they are considered to be “the founding fathers of German melodic speed metal.” Those of you who are only familiar with them from an occasional appearance on the radio or an online music service, may only be familiar with some of their earlier work, such as the songs A Tale That Wasn’t Right, Dr. Stein, Mr. Torture, or Future World. These songs might clue you in that, while the band takes their music seriously, they don’t take themselves seriously. Some music critics have been somewhat critical of this album, which is usually a good sign, and fan feedback has been very positive. Andi Deris (vocals) has been quoted as saying “We’ve always had a liberal attitude towards Heavy Metal: to do anything we want – and not follow the directions the know-it-alls would have pushed on us. We remained unfazed and acted out our vision of “anything goes” in the songwriting process to “My God-Given Right” because we believe that it is our God-given-right (no pun intended) to do as we please and fulfill our musical vision without any boundaries.”
Nightwish‘s contribution is their album Endless Forms Most Beautiful (ASIN: B013YQ7CQG, Nuclear Blast America, Item number:238268, CD, $11.99, et al.). This is the first Nightwish studio album to feature Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen. This album also features Professor Richard Dawkins, famed evolutionary biologist and writer, as a guest artist. According to band member Tuomas Holopainen, the inspiration for this album was Charles Darwin’s quote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”— from On the Origin of the Species.
Several sources indicate that they feel the last song, The Greatest Show on Earth, is the most spectacular thing that Nightwish has ever written. Nightwish has definitely been one of my favorite symphonic metal bands and Floor’s performance blends in with the bands tone beautifully.
For a somewhat different sound, we have the American band Symphony X, which some have raved is ‘the best Progressive Power Metal band in the world’. So, if that term means anything to you, hopefully it will give you an indication of this bands style. Their ninth studio offering, though not a concept album, is called Underworld (ASIN: B00XZABJRA, Nuclear Blast America, Item number:104248, CD, $11.99, et al.), for which they drew inspiration from the works of Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet. Many of the songs in this album were inspired by themes from Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly the Inferno section. If you pay close attention you will notice how they have worked Dante’s use of numbers related to ‘3’ into various songs.
The cover art for this album was designed by illustrator Warren Flanagan, who had previously worked with the band. In this case, after performing his own research, he basically designed multiple icons to be reflective of the nine circles of Dante’s hell.
Our next band has an interesting history, and their music has been described as Hollywood Metal and Film Score Metal, as well as symphonic power metal, though I feel it might also be described by the term Operatic Metal. This band was originally formed in 1993 as Rhapsody, with the driving forces being Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli. Due to rights issues with another band called Rhapsody, in 2003 the band became known as Rhapsody of Fire. In August of 2011, Turilli and Staropoli performed a friendly split to allow them to continue their musical careers in different directions. With this separation, two new bands came into existence. Staropoli’s is maintaining the name Rhapsody of Fire, while Turilli settled on Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. It is this later band that is featured in the recording Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus (ASIN: B00VJZSSC2, Nuclear Blast America, Item number: 104195, CD, $11.99, et al.), which was release on 22 June 2012.
Nuclear Blast America’s final audio submission is Pariah’s Child (ASIN: B00HYQ5AQ2, Nuclear Blast America, Item number:102984, CD, $12.00, et al.), the 8th studio album of the Finnish Melodic Metal band Sonata Arctica. Keyboardist Henrik “Henkka” Klingenberg describes Pariah’s Child as a return to their Metal roots. While he indicates that there are a few ‘oddball tracks’ in the recording, he indicates that this album is their ‘definition of Sonata Arctica past and present’, an approach that has so far earned them nine gold records. This album was produced and recorded by the band itself, with most of the songs being classified as Melodic Metal.
Nightwish’s last contribution, released four years after the musical version, is the theatrical version of Imaginaerum (ASIN: B00WOFOO8S, Nuclear Blast America, Item number:104085, Bluray+DVD, $19.99, et al.). This is not a collection of music videos featuring the original songs, but rather is a full length theatrical release with a running time of 85 minutes. The DVD is encoded for Region 1 and the Blueray disk for Region A/1.
As one might suspect, Imaginaerum is a musical fantasy film. It was co-written by Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen and Stobe Harju, who directed the film, which was developed from and features the music of Nightwish.
A thumbnail description is that it consists of two converging stories. The initial story follows 75-year-old musician Thomas Whitman, suffering from dementia, who lapses into a coma, entering a fantasy world, reliving his life as a 10-year old orphan. This story is complemented by the converging story of Tom’s daughter, Gem, who has been estranged from her father for years, returning in a reluctant attempt to discover the mysteries of her father’s life.
While produced on a very limited budget with a small cast, there have been some very good reviews of it. The cinematography is said to be reminiscent of Tim Burton. It is not a cartoon, but was primarily filmed with the actors in front of a green screen, with extensive CGI effects integrated later. The movie itself is supplemented with a 46-minute documentary covering the various aspects of its production. Both videos include appearances by Nightwish’s former front woman Anette Olzon.
However, Metal, even Symphonic Metal, doesn’t appeal to everyone’s taste, so we are featuring a number of contrasting types as well. Still classified as Rock, sometimes sub-classified as their own unique genre called Renaissance Rock, is the sound of Blackmore’s Night, here featuring their new release All Our Yesterdays (ASIN: B010FWO3ZA, Frontiers Music, Item number: FR CD703, CD, $14.69, et al.), their 9th studio album. While this album maintains the uniquely recognizable Blackmore’s Night sound, the one surprising thing about it is the number of cover songs included from other artists, though these too have been touched with the magic of Blackmore’s Night.
While it’s not unusual for them to include a reworked song by another artist, it is unusual for them to include so many, particularly when their own compositions are so good. Fortunately, between the album including a majority of their songs and what they have brought to the cover songs, this album still works well, and I definitely recommend it.
Candice Night, front woman for Blackmore’s Night, has released her second solo project Starlight Starbright (ASIN: B014OLQ3OC, SOULFOOD MUSIC, Item number: MHM 0207, CD, $10.99, et al.). While accompanied by Richie Blackmore on some of these songs, this is a distinctively different project than Blackmore’s Night. Inspired by the birth of her children, this CD is a combination of traditional and new soothing songs. Think of it as a lullaby full of love, if you will. Selections range from the very traditional Rock a Bye Baby, featuring a new lyrical arrangement by Candice, to more evocative songs like Fireflies and Return to Pooh Corner. These are complimented by new compositions, such as Lullaby in the Night, Once in a Garden, and Misty Blue. After all, music is a gift not only for adults, but children as well, though with all of the crises that adults have to deal with, an occasional return to more comforting times might not be a bad idea either.
Finally, to help eliminate any residual stress from your giftee’s day, there is the Mythos Project. As with Rhapsody, tracing it back can be somewhat tricky, as there have been at least four music groups that have used the Mythos name, without even considering the other types of projects that are using it.
This Mythos is a new-age musical project started by Bob D’Eith and Paul Schmidt in 1996. It has a rather eclectic sound which features acoustic guitar and piano at its core, but frequently includes the use of synthesizers and guest vocalists. Adagio Media was kind enough to supply me with one of their Mythos 5 CD Box Sets (Adagio Media, 5 CD, Mythos-Box set 5 CDs, $39.99).
This set includes the CDs Mythos (ASIN: B00000DCIT, Adagio Music Inc, CD, $9.99, et al.), The Reality of a Dreamer (ASIN: B00004SQW3, Adagio Music Inc, CD, $9.99, et al.), Eternity (ASIN: B00006EXFW, Adagio Music Inc, CD, $9.99, et al.), Purity (ASIN: B0012CQTVE, Adagio Music Inc, CD, $9.99, et al.), and Journey (ASIN: B00D9FKCOC, Adagio Music Inc, CD, $9.99, et al.). All of these CDs are available individually and as MP3 downloads, but at this price, I highly recommend purchasing the boxed set. Note, the album cover shown is for The Best of Mythos CD, not for the boxed set. It is used because it shows the covers of the 5 CDs included in the boxed set. Also, to clarify, if you wish to purchase a CD from their Web site, you should click on the ‘Buy Now’ button for the specific album. However, if you wish to buy the albums as music files, click on either the iTunes or Amazon logos.
Wikipedia’s description of Mythos reminds me more of a wine review, stating “Critics have described Mythos as New Age, Ambient, Ethereal, and Film-Oriented, with influences from Jazz, Classical, Gospel-Soul, and various World styles.”1 I’m not quite sure what they mean by all of that. All I can say is that I really like their music and highly recommend them.
As always, I highly recommend listening to sample tracks, either on the bands Web site, Amazon, or one of the Web music services, such as Pandora, to ensure that a band’s sound matches your giftee’s taste. Keep in mind that our goal here is to stretch people’s appreciation of different types of music and give them more eclectic tastes, not to hit them with something totally clashing with their tastes, further alienating them.
Of course, you don’t want your giftee to feel tied down while attempting to enjoy your musical gift, so you might also want to consider a gift to cut this leash, as it were. For that, let me suggest a pair of Bluetooth headphones from Zound Industries UrbanEars brand. The pair I tried is listed as their PLATTAN ADV WIRELESS on ear headphones (Plattan ADV Wireless, UrbanEars, $99). Available in 12 different colors, this model includes a built in microphone allowing you to pick-up calls without having to fumble for your phone. Functions and volume are controlled via a swipe interface on the right ear cup. In addition to providing up to 14-hours of playtime before recharging, these headphones allow one to share their music, by allowing a standard pair of headphones to be plugged into the integrated ‘ZOUNDPLUG’ port. Sound reproduction is good, though as they are on-the-ear, rather than around-the-ear, they might not be a good choice for anyone using a behind the ear hearing aid, as the hearing aid’s microphone would not be able to pick-up the audio output of the headphones. Both the ear cups and the fabric headband are removable and machine-washable.
Of course, there could well be times that access to a wall charger is unavailable for more than 14 hours. That could leave your giftee out in the cold, with no way to listen to their music, or for that matter, recharge their smart phone, the battery of which is probably almost dead by now as well. But don’t fret, we’ve got you covered! When their smart devices go anemic, there is the BRV-BANK Ultra-Rugged Portable Backup Battery (BRV-BANK, Black / Blue / Black SKU: BRVPBB08 or Gray / Red / Black SKU: BRVPBG08, Braven, $99.99) from BRAVEN. At 5” x 1” x 3” and weighing in at 9.8 ounces, the BRV-BANK is larger and heavier than other back-up batteries of similar capacity. On the other hand, it is clearly designed to stand up to more wear and tear than most other back-up batteries. Its rubberized body makes it impact resistant, and it has an IPX5 rating. This means that it can handle rain, sleet, snow, or even getting splashed on, though it is not designed to actually be immersed in water. Effectively, it is designed to survive where most backup batteries would die.
Available in two color combinations, the BRV-BANK packs in 6000 mAh of power storage. With people so used to dealing with micro this and that regarding smart devices, some might not realize that this converts to 6 Ah, which is sufficient to charge most smart phones several times and most tablets at least once. As shown, the BRV-BANK has two charging ports. Port 1, on the left, is designed to supply 2.4 A of current for charging tablets, while Port 2, on the right, is designed to supply 1 A of current, so the user can actually recharge two devices from it at once. The micro USB port in the center of the panel is for recharging the unit. There are five LEDs on the top of the unit that indicate the batteries current state of charge. Bracketing these are two buttons. One button for turning the unit on and off while the other turns the units Bluetooth transceiver on and off.
Yes, Bluetooth! Why, you might ask, does a back-up battery need Bluetooth? However, when you stop to think about it, there is some sense to it. Paired with the BRV-BANK app, that can be freely downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play, you can start to see the possibilities. This app allows remote control of the BRV-BANK, allowing you to power it up or down, as well as remotely monitor its capacity and the percent charge of the devices plugged into the BRV-BANK. It also makes possible the BRV-BANK’s ‘Find Me’ feature, triggering an alert tone to help you locate your errant device. You can also use this app to activate the units SOS mode. When this is activated and the accompanying 100 lumen USB flashlight unit is plugged into the charging port, the unit will flash the Morse code distress signal. Finally, you can use the app to activate what is euphemistically called its Bear mode, which sounds an audible alert if the unit’s motion sensor is activated. Also included is a lanyard and a ruggedized USB cable that includes what appears to be a woven protective braid of Nylon with major strain reliefs.
Our friends at ThinkGeek have also provided a number of new items for this year’s gift guide. The first, for those on the go, is their Cryptex Steampunk USB Drive (ThinkGeek, 16 GB, $49.99). According to the box, this device was engineered according to original sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci. While I have no trouble believing that Leonardo Da Vinci could have conceived such a device, I fail to see why, as there were no known USB ports to plug it into. Each drive has its own preset and unique 5-digit code, included with the unit, which must be correctly set to unlock the mechanical combination lock. Please remind your giftee to keep track of this combination, else they will have to resort to trying all possible combinations. The case is composed of a zinc alloy and comes with a bonded leather strap and a velvet pouch. The Cryptex is 2 1/2” long by 1” across, with a weight of 3 ounces.
Another interesting gadget from ThinkGeek is their RETREEV- Compact Grappling Tool (ThinkGeek, $29.95). Now, whether you are a fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Batman, who wouldn’t love to carry around their own personal grappling hook? However, before your giftee tries to climb any walls with this tool, I should caution you that it is unlikely to support their weight. This mini grappling hook is 2.9” long and 0.5” in diameter. With the grappling spikes installed, the maximum diameter is 2”. The unit comes with two sets of grappling spikes, three of aluminum and three of stainless steel, all of which are stored in the body of the unit. The body itself is machined from aircraft grade 6061-T6 aluminum with an embedded rare-earth magnet in the head, with the whole unit weighing less than 1 ounce. So, while it might not be useful for scaling tall buildings in the middle of the night, it can prove a lifesaver for retrieving those keys dropped down a storm drain or extracting the errant R/C helicopter that somehow wondered into a tree that suddenly jumped in its way. Combine this with a spool of 1/16-in Braided Nylon Rope from your local hardware store to make an extremely useful, yet inexpensive gift.
While it seems that just about everyone has a smart phone these days, there are still plenty of times when it just feels more satisfying to write your thoughts down on paper. Whether it is keeping a private journal with your confidential musings or the intimacy of receiving a personal letter in the mail, there just seems to be more intimacy when you manually write your thoughts down on paper, rather than typing them into a keyboard. In recognition of that, this year we are featuring a virtual do-it-yourself gift set that you can customize to fit the personality and needs or your giftee.
To start off, for those who like to keep a journal, whether just a log of daily happenings, musings on the meaning of life, or speculations on their latest invention, I would suggest considering Oberon Design‘s hand made Large Leather Notebook Covers (Large Leather Notebook Cover, Oberon Design, $72). The sample I examined was their Celtic Braid design, which is available in three color choices: Green, Saddle, Wine. The example shown here is Saddle. The covers are 6” x 9” and are designed to fit 5.25” x 8.25” notebooks, which are not included with the cover.
As the Oberon Design notebook covers do not include a filler, I recommend checking out the Rhodia Rhodiarama line imported by Exaclair (Rhodiarama A5 Notebooks, Multi-color, Exaclair, normally $30.00, on sale for $19.95), manufactured with 96 sheets of 90g brushed Vellum paper from Clairefontaine, one of the premier paper companies in the world. These notebooks are available in both lined and unlined formats, with a choice of 12 different color covers: Black, Chocolate, Taupe, Beige, Anise, Turquoise, Sapphire, Iris, Purple, Lilac, Raspberry, Poppy, Tangerine, Orange & Yellow. The A5 size is a snug fit, but is usable in the leather notebook covers. I’ve found that it helps to put some slight tension on the elastic band on the interior back cover of the binder while sliding in the filer. This helps prevent the notebook covers from being snagged by the elastic retainers in the sleeve of the cover.
Another interesting item from Exaclair, which might be perfect for some of the people on your list, is their Multimedia Enhanced Journal (ME Journal) (Multmedia Enhanced Journal 749, Exaclair, $28.00) which allows them to link digital files to handwritten notes. This is accomplished by having a unique Quick Response (QR) code printed on each page, which is then linked to files using their app available on Google Play and in the Apple App Store. Of course, if you have people on your list who would rather carry a notebook they could fit into their pocket, there is the Mini ME pocket size version. (Hey! I swear! It wasn’t my pun!)
One of the reasons for recommending the above fillers is that the Clairefontaine paper takes fountain pen ink very well, not acting as blotting paper as in some notebooks. The implication of this is that you might want to consider including a fountain pen in your gift package. There is something about a fountain pen that adds an aura of prestige and class to your writing, besides, they are fun! The pens featured in this guide were supplied by the Paradise Pen Company, headquartered in Denver, Colorado. The 5280 brand is custom manufactured for them, have a three year warranty, and are available in a number of models. (For the perplexed out there, 5280 happens to be the altitude of Denver, the mile high city, in feet.)
The first of these pens is from their Ambassador line. The 5280 Ambassador Burgundy and Rose Gold Fountain Pen comes with a medium point nib (Paradise Pens, Item #7838, $155.00). The Ambassador is also available in Black and Gold, Black and Silver, as well as Blue and Silver. It features a clip-on cap and comes with a converter, allowing the recipient to use bottled ink.
This series of pens are 5 3/4” long and still weighs under two ounces when filled with ink. I found the ink converter very easy to use and the pen wrote very smoothly, without snagging on the paper. It is a relatively narrow pen, but not so narrow that your hand would become fatigued by the pressure.
The second pen is from their Majestic line. The 5280 Purple Majestic Fountain Pen is available in both a medium and fine point nib (Paradise Pens, Item #6661, $225.00). The Majestic is also available in, Black (Medium Point, Item #5614, $210.00), Blue (Medium Point, Item #5792, $225.00), Copper (Medium Point, Item #5776, $240.00), and in Carbon Fiber (Medium Point, Item #5617, $225.00), as well as in a striated gunmetal finish with a PVD ceramic coating (Medium Point, Item #5864, $265.00). Paradise Pen’s Lilac purple ink complements the color of this pen well. While not obvious in this photograph, the finish of this pen has a shimmering appearance, which is very attractive.
The Majestic is 5 5/8” long and somewhat thicker with a 15 mm diameter. It is also slightly heftier, weighing in at 2.6 ounces. While heavier, it is well balanced and I had no problem using it. Unlike many pens, its pocket clip is spring-loaded, so you don’t have a problem when trying to clip it into a pocket made of a heavy fabric. Perhaps its most interesting feature is that unlike the Ambassador line, the Majestic has a screw-on cap, providing a better seal for less ink evaporation. The top of the Majestic is also threaded, so you can easily post the cap by simply screwing it in place. This feature also provides more flexibility in terms of who can use this pen. As the posted cap shifts the balance of the pen, the decision as to whether to post it or not would likely be determined by the size of the recipients hands. Someone with small hands would likely use this pen without posting the cap, since their grip would be closer to the nib and the extra weight of the cap would over balance it. Someone with large hands would probably find it more comfortable to use this pen with the cap posted, as their grip would be further away from the nib.
Like the Ambassador, the Purple Majestic comes with an included ink converter. Note that unlike most cartridge fountain pens, you do not insert the cartridge into the barrel of the pen and screw it down to puncture the seal of the cartridge. When using cartridges, just insert the stepped end of the cartridge into its socket in what is called the Section and push the cartridge in firmly, until the seal of the cartridge breaks. The Section, sometimes called the Grip Section, is the part of the fountain pen you grip. It houses the Nib and Feed in one end, while the barrel typically screws on to the other end. It is the end that the barrel screws onto that the cartridge is inserted in.You might hear or feel a slight click when the seal is punctured. If desired, you can store a spare ink cartridge inside the barrel as well, though occasionally this second cartridge will get hung up in the barrel and you might have to tap the barrel against a hard surface to dislodge it. Both the Ambassador and Majestic models use the International Style Cartridge. I’ve noticed that some office supply stores have been restricting the brands of ink cartridges they carry, so it may be easier to purchase these online as well.
For those preferring to give a set, these are all available in matching ball point and roller ball styles. In addition to their own line, Paradise Pens carries fountain pens from nearly two dozen manufacturers, so you can find something to suit anybody’s style or price range, whether that price is $6.75 or $5,770.00. In addition to their on-line service, they have 16 retail locations scattered throughout the United States. Considering the investment that this can be, it might be wise to enroll your giftee in Fountain Pen 1012, so they’ll know how to properly maintain them.
Getting into the spirit of things, in this day and age, there is nothing quite like receiving a handwritten letter in the mail, well… unless you receive a handwritten letter with a wax seal! For this you need two things, and Lightbringer Designs provides them both. Shown here is their Awen Seal (Bronze-infused stainless steel with visible print lines and rough feel, Lightbringer Designs, $59.95), which is also available as a Signet Ring. The Awen is a Welsh symbol that is colloquially translated as “poetic inspiration” and apparently has been adopted by many modern Druidic groups as well.
As these products are basically made to order, they are available in a variety of materials and finishes. The Bronze-infused stainless steel has a definite textured feel to it resulting from the 3-D printing process. For products manufactured out of more precious materials, such as silver or gold, the surface is much smoother, as they are 3-D printed in wax and then cast using the lost wax process, though the cost will go up in proportion to the metal used. In addition to the diverse designs shown in their on-line stores, Lightbringer will also work with you on custom designs.
Lightbringer Designs is also the world’s largest distributor of Atelier Gargoyle Flexible Sealing Wax ($5.99 for one stick of wax. Dimensions are 0.495″ x 0.410″). In addition to beeswax, natural resins, and essential oils for scent, this sealing wax also contains synthetic polymers. This results in a flexible sealing wax with a very aggressive attachment. It adheres so strongly to the paper that the paper is more likely to tear than for the seal to break. This isn’t a big problem for documents sealed in envelopes, but could be problematic if you sealed a folded document with writing on the reverse side. Unlike most sealing waxes, Atelier Gargoyle Flexible Sealing Wax has a somewhat rubbery feel to it. Depending on the size of your seal and your skill level, you can normally get between 20 and 40 impressions per stick.
Another superior brand of sealing wax, with a more traditional feel to it, is produced by J.Herbin, which was established in 1670 in Paris, France. They actually manufacture two types of sealing wax. The first is called Official (or Traditional) Wax. This is available in 16 colors, with 10 sticks of 8 3/4” x 3/8” x 1/2” wax per box ($69). This wax is designed to be rather brittle to conform to one of sealing waxes original purpose, to provide proof of tampering. With care, you can generally create ~20 seals per stick. J Herbin also sells what they call Supple Wax, which does not crack, chip, or break. This version is more suitable for use on letters sent through the postal service. It is available in 10 colors, with 4 sticks of 3 3/8” x 3/8” x 3/8” per box ($16). These shorter sticks generally produce around 7 seals per stick. For those who reject the traditional, they also sell 5 different colors of Pearlescent Supple Wax, 7 colors of Kings’ Wax with Wick, and for those true non-traditionalists, 10 colors of Glue Gun Sealing Wax Sticks and 7 colors of Pearlescent Glue Gun Sealing Wax (How gauche!).
Several of my contacts indicate that they discourage the use of sealing wax with a wick, as these generate specks of carbon that tend to mottle the seal. With some of the darker color waxes, this may be the effect you want, as it adds some visual texture to the seal. However, on lighter color waxes it tends to just make the seals look dirty.
There are several ways recommended for making a good seal impression, with a number of good tutorials online, although I don’t think I’ve seen any that used exactly the same technique. The takeaway is don’t get stressed out trying to follow the directions exactly. Experiment and figure out what works for you, using the tutorials as general guidelines. Just remember to be careful, as you literally are playing with fire. I strongly suggest you point out these links to anyone that you might gift these to.3-6 One of the traditional ways, particularly with the brittle traditional waxes, is to break off small pieces and place them in a spoon or small ladle. You then hold this over a flame to melt it and then pour the molten wax where ever you want to make the seal. You can use the bottom of the spoon to shape the pool of wax appropriately before applying the seal. Best results are usually obtained by allowing the wax surface to partially solidify before applying the seal. The other approach, which appears to be more popular, is to melt the end of the wax stick using a small torch, such as a cigar lighter or a crem brulee torch. However, as the important aspect is that the device is capable of generating a horizontal jet of flame, so that the melted wax doesn’t just drop down into the lighter, you can probably find something suitable at your local hardware store. The general technique is to roll the stick of wax while heating the end, so it melts evenly. Once you have sufficient wax melted, you can use the end of the stick to shape the pool of molten wax. The exact procedure used will vary with the type of wax, as there is great variety in their physical properties.
For those looking for a gift for a special lady, particularly if you’ve just gifted her with some of the writing supplies above, you might want to consider one of the hair combs or clips from Oberon Design (Ginkgo, Narcissus, and Celtic Hair Combs, Oberon Design, $28 each) Since she is already feeling like a Lady, she might as well look it as well! In addition to the hair combs pictured here, Oberon Design features a large array of hair clips hand cast from lead free, food grade Britannia metal. The hair combs are approximately 5 3/4 inches long, 1 3/8 inches wide on bottom and 1 3/4 wide on top. Comb prongs are 4 1/2 inches long. You might even consider a matching bracelet or earrings as well.
For those tired of trying to get the right timing sequence with The Clapper, there is the Smart Outlet Wireless Power Outlet Home Automation Switch (SS20) (Smart Outlet, Model SS20, Nyrius, $39.99) from Nyrius. This is in essence a Bluetooth controlled switched power outlet, which you plug into a standard outlet and plug the device to be controlled into it. It does have some interesting capabilities up its sleeve, along with a few caveats.
It is designed to work in coordination with your smart phone and there are apps for both Android and iOS devices. Among its various features is the ability to:
- Turn electronics on or off from your smart device
- Supports both resistive and inductive loads, though only up to 1/3 HP.
- Set schedules to save on energy costs and to fit your lifestyle. Set ON time, OFF time, and on which DAYS to switch. Once set, the timers will activate even if your device is outside of Bluetooth range.
- Activate proximity control so that the switch turns on or off depending on whether it can sense your smart device.
- Apps support multiple devices. An iOS device can support 3 Smart Outlets and an Android device can support 7.
- You can rename each device and assign an individual PIN to each one.
- One year parts and labor warranty period.
Outlet specifications are the following:
- Bluetooth version 3.0
- Wireless Range: 33 feet
- Compatibility: 3-prong 120 volt 60 Hz standard AC outlet
- Current Capacity: up to 15 A 1800W/8A 960W Tungsten of current (1/3 HP load)
- Temperature Range: 0°C (32°F) to 40°C (104°F)
- OS Compatibility: iOS v6.4+, Android v3.2+ (Does not support Windows or Blackberry)
The caveats are that you can only manually control one outlet at a time via the app, though you can configure timers and proximity sensing in multiple switches to operate simultaneously and independently. Some of the promotional literature and Web sites oversell the devices capabilities, stating that you can set the Smart Outlets to turn on or off when you enter or leave a room. The reality is that they switch on or off depending on whether they can sense the Bluetooth signal from your device. As this version of Bluetooth has a range of approximately 33 feet, you could easily be in an adjoining room, or even outside, and one of the switches might be activated. The instruction manual is more specific regarding this, using the more correct example of when you leave the house, which still isn’t all that bad. With a large home, this proximity feature might still be useful, just be aware of its limitations.
That welcome purveyor of electronic knowledge to the masses, SparkFun Electronics, has supplied a diverse selection of microprocessor kits for this year’s guide. Whether your giftee is just starting to explore electronics and microcomputers or is trying to figure out how to write a LabView program to control an instrument in the lab, there is something here for just about everyone.
Their first selection is the SparkFun Starter Pack for Intel Edison (KIT-13276, SparkFun Electronics, $119.95). The Intel Edison is a full computing platform with an ultra-small form factor to allow your giftee to experiment with embedded electronics. Despite its small size, it incorporates a cornucopia of features. The Edison alone incorporates:
- An Intel Atom SoC dual-core CPU
- Integrated WiFi
- Integrated Low Energy Bluetooth
- A 70-pin connector for interfacing with other Modules, ‘Shields’ or ‘Blocks.
To make the Edison more useable right from the box, this starter pack also includes three additional modules/boards developed and manufactured by SparkFun Electronics. These boards include:
- A Base Block
- A General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) Block
- A Battery Block (400mAh) with integrated LiPo Charger
The Base Block allows the attachment of various peripherals to the Edison via two micro AB USB port, supporting USB OTG and FT231X respectively. Peripherals might include a key board, mouse, thumb drive, or any other USB based peripheral.
As usual with SparkFun projects, all of the schematics and manuals are downloadable from their Web site, so you can get a good feel for the complexity of the system and how well it matches the capabilities and interests of your giftee before purchasing anything.
Additional modules available that are compatible with this kit include, but are not limited to, the following:
- SparkFun Interface Pack for Intel Edison (KIT-13738, SparkFun Electronics, $69.95) – This Kit includes four interface Blocks to provide an I2C interface, a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) interface, an Analog-to-digital converter (ADC) interface, and a Dual H-Bridge interface for bi-directional motor control.
- SparkFun Block for Intel Edison – 9 Degrees of Freedom DEV-13033 (DEV-13033, SparkFun Electronics, $34.95) – This Block includes a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis gyroscope, and a 3-axis magnetometer. By default it connects to the Edison via the I2C bus. This Block is based on a LSM9DS0 multifunction chip.
- SparkFun Sensor Pack for Intel Edison KIT-13094 (KIT-13094, SparkFun Electronics, $69.95) – This Pack includes a 9 Degrees of Freedom Block, an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display Block, and a microSD Block.
Next we have the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit (SIK) for LabVIEW (KIT-13271, SparkFun Electronics, $149.95). This SIK provides everything one needs to learn how to program and interface a system using the LabVIEW graphical programming environment from National Instruments without having to perform any soldering. The included breadboard and components allows your giftee to complete 14 circuit experiments. These experiments, designed in cooperation with the LabVIEW MakerHub, are intended to teach one how to use LabVIEW and to perform basic functions, such as reading sensors and controlling motors. SparkFun insists that you need no previous experience in programing or electronics to use this kit, though I suspect you can make it do a lot more things if you do have the experience!
Purchase of this kit include a download of the LabVIEW Home Bundle. This bundle is a specially licensed version of LabVIEW that is targeted for home and maker use. With LabVIEW you basically design your application by dragging and dropping components onto your screen and define the connections between them. Each bundle includes an extensive set of components, including I/O, signal processing, analysis and math functionality.
The SIK for LabVIEW tutorials on SparkFuns Web site include both video and text instructions on how to connect the components of each experiment. However, you also have access to all of the application notes, projects and applications available on both the National Instruments and LabVIEW MakerHub Web sites.
Note that the LabVIEW Home Bundle is licensed for personal, non-commercial, non-industrial, and non-academic purposes. However, for anyone that needs to learn LabVIEW, this is a great way to do it. Another caveat is that the LabVIEW Home Bundle is designed to run on Microsoft Windows platform only, with the generated application being downloaded to a SparkFun RedBoard for execution, so it would be prudent to check the system requirements before purchasing this as a gift.
We have also been provided with a sample of the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit (SIK) for Photon (KIT-13320,SparkFun Electronics, $114.95). This SIK is based on SparkFun’s Photon RedBoard, which in turn is designed around the Photon P1 Wi-Fi module from Particle. This SIK is a great way to start exploring the capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT). The Photon RedBoard is basically a Wi-Fi/Microcontroller development board for the Photon that incorporates the Arduino form-factor. That last item is important, because it allows you to take advantage of many of the shields available in the Arduino ecosystem. Just make sure you check the pin-outs and voltage levels of the shields first, as there is some variance.
Each P1 module comes pre-loaded with Particle’s OS firmware and access to Particle’s basic cloud service. Other features that make this board useful for prototyping include:
- STM32F205 120MHz ARM Cortex M3
- 1MB flash, 128KB RAM
- Single band 2.4GHz IEEE 802.11b/g/n
- Supports wireless data rates of up to 65Mbit/s
- Ultra low power sleep, stand-by and stop modes
- Supports Open, WEP, WAPI, WPA and WPA2-PSK WiFi security modes
- Input voltage – 4.5-15V
- 8 Digital I/O Pins
- 6 Analog Inputs
- ARM JTAG Hook-up
This board can be powered through either its USB connector or integrated barrel jack. As the board includes an integrated voltage regulator, it will accept anything between 4.5 VDC and 15 VDC without damage. The associated breadboard in this SIK makes it easy to develop circuits without having to perform extensive soldering. For those already familiar with the Arduino, most Arduino code will run without modification. For those who want even more control, you can write applications in C, C++, or even ARM assembly. While SparkFun provides extensive documentation and learning resources for download, additional documentation and development tools can be downloaded from the Particle Web site as well.
Finally we have the FreeSoC2 Development Board – PSoC5LP (DEV-13229, SparkFun Electronics, $49.95). SparkFun Electronics says that this board is their take on the PSoC5LP ARM Cortex. PSoC stand for Programmable System on a Chip. It is a ‘programmable system,’ because it merges the features of both a standard programmable microcontroller system and programmable logic devices into a single chip. SparkFun describes this as placing a programmable fabric between the devices peripherals and its pins. Among other things, this allows you to reroute any signal to any pin.
This board actually contains two processors. One is the target of the applications you develop while the other is the debugger/programmer for the application. The Arduino core has been ported to the PSoC5LP, allowing you to generate code for the board using the standard Arduino IDE. In this mode, the PSoC5LP emulates an Arduino Uno R3. This allows you to use many Arduino libraries and programming examples with this board without modification. However, SparkFun does caution that to fully take advantage of this board’s features, you will need to use the PSoC Creator IDE, which is freely downloadable from Cypress Semiconductor. There is of course a caveat, in that the PSoC creator software currently only runs under Microsoft Windows.
Other features of this board include:
- CY8C5868LTI-LP039 & CY8C5888AXI-LP096 Cortex-M3 Processor Cores
- 256kB of Flash Memory (each Core)
- 64kB of SRAM (each Core)
- 2kB of EEPROM (each Core)
- Arduino Uno R3-type Headers
While this board does not require any significant soldering or electrical prototyping skills, it is recommended for experienced programmers and would probably be a poor choice for someone first sticking their toe into the computer pool.
To wrap things up for this year, as is tradition, we have a book suggestion. New from No Starch Press is The Maker’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse: Defend Your Base with Simple Circuits, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi by Simon Monk (ISBN: 978-1-59327-667-6, No Starch Press, Print Book: $24.95, Ebook: $19.95) [Get 30% off with the coupon code SCICOMPUTING]
Okay, perhaps this gift suggestion is just a little bit tongue-in-cheek. However, for those just getting up to speed designing circuits and programming the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, this is a good book to get started with. For one thing, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, can you believe it? The result of this is that, instead of it being a dry classroom project, it injects a level of fun into the learning process. Let’s face it, even the well-written books that are intended as manuals for the Arduino or Raspberry Pi can be very intimidating to someone who has never taken a peek inside their computer before. In any case, who can resist learning how to monitor trip wires and motion sensors, not to mention building Arduino and Raspberry Pi surveillance systems?
Besides, to paraphrase an old adage, do you believe in zombies? Half believe? Or are you just afraid of them? After all, in the quantum mechanical zoo we live in, just about anything is likely to happen somewhere, sometime! It’s always wise to be prepared and, if you don’t have your sonic screwdriver with you, this might be the next best thing! Brains anyone?
- Wikipedia. Mythos (musical project). Wikipedia Free Encycl. 2015; published online May 26. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mythos_(musical_project)&oldid=664072086 (accessed Nov 3, 2015).
- The Goulet Pen Company. Fountain Pen 101. Goulet Pens. 2015. http://www.gouletpens.com/fountain-pen-101 (accessed Oct 29, 2015).
- Atelier Gargoyle. How to Use Sealing Wax & Other Sealing Wax Information. Atelier Gargoyle. 2012. http://www.ateliergargoyle.com/pages/waxes/howto.html (accessed Oct 29, 2015).
- Mckay B, McKay K. Wax Seals: A History and How-To. Art Manliness. 2013; published online Feb 13. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/02/13/wax-seals-a-history-and-how-to/ (accessed Nov 3, 2015).
- The Goulet Pen Company. Ink Blot #02- Making a Wax Seal. 2010 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1J1yAW6nt4 (accessed Nov 6, 2015).
- Lightbringer Designs. How To: Using wickless sealing wax. Light. Des. 2015; published online Oct 24. http://www.lightbringerdesigns.com/2015/10/24/howtomeltyourwax/ (accessed Oct 29, 2015).