Miscellaneous Gift Ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

Sometimes life is random. So is this list. These gift ideas were so rebellious that we couldn’t fit them into a category, so they get the nice title of “miscellaneous”. We also throw our robots in here.

Products reviewed in this category:

  • Spike Your Juice kit
  • Terracycle recycled products (chip bag speakers, circuit board frame/clipboard)
  • ThinkGeek Electronic Rock Guitar T-shirt
  • Bedol Water Alarm Clock
  • S2H Replay wristbands
  • Neato XV-11 Robotic All floor vacuum system
  • Mint robotic floor cleaner
  • Finis Circuit Trainer (audible workout timer)
  • Finis Swimmer's Snorkel

Spike Your Juice beverage kit, at spikeyourjuice.comThis kit is like a science projects for adults that produces alcohol in the end. You pick up a 64-ounce bottle of juice and then dump in the Spike Your Juice packet of yeast, close with the provided airlock, and let your juice sit out for 48 hours as it turns to alcohol. This is where it really feels like a science project, because it looks like the juice is foaming, you can see the yeast floating up and down in the juice, and the airlock releases gases. I found it fun to watch.

The box suggests which type of juices are ideal for this science project, based on necessary sugar count, real sugar, etc., so I chose Ocean Spray Cranberry juice. My spiked juice sat for 2.5 days due to timing with work, and I found it absolutely delicious. The first thing I learned though, is tno not smell the bottle to give you an idea of how it will taste! The bottle smells like rotting juice, but the juice still tastes good, but with extra fizz.

After tasting the juice, I could see myself getting drunk off a little cranberry bubbly, but I’m not terribly sure, because Spike Your Juice can’t actually give an alcohol content rating, because of the many variables. What I can see is really enjoying my Spiked Juice at parties, as well as making it a fun conversation piece. For adventurous friends and family, this would also make a great Yankee Swap gift or a stocking stuffer.

The instructions do mention that after tasting at the 48-hour mark, if you’d like a stronger and dryer taste with increased alcohol content, reseal the airlock and continue storing at room temperature until satisfied. The box comes with six yeast packets, the airlock, instructions, and stickers. The stickers are for the bottle of juice, reminding you (or unknowing roommates) that the juice was spiked and on what day.

Cool Yule Rating: 4 starsPrice: $9.99Company Web siteReviewed by Jennifer Finn

Terracycle recycled products, Terracycle.netThe next time you throw out that bag of potato chips or box of M&Ms, it could end up in your next consumer electronics gadget. Terracycle.com offers a whole bunch of cool items made from recycled material, and the company sent us a bunch of fun stuff. My favorite was the pair of speakers made from a box of Peanut M&Ms, which created a nice pair of portable speakers for my iPod. The cool part? The passive speakers required no batteries! We also got a clipboard made from a recycled motherboard, a set of circuit board coasters, and photo frames made from old circuit boards.

The site also features non-gadgety items, such as vinyl record coasters, a kite made from Oreo cookie wrappers, and photo frames made from old bicycle chains.

If you’re looking for a unique gift idea that also helps the environment, check out the site for a great bunch of ideas.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: Varies – M&M speakers cost $14; check site for other prices.Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Electronic Rock Guitar T-shirt, from ThinkGeek.comThis T-shirt includes a raised guitar fret and a picture of a guitar – that would be cool enough for some people on your holiday wish, but this shirt raises the bar – literally – by allowing you to place your fingers on the fret bar and then strum a guitar to make some rocking sounds. The bar is wired and attached to a mini-amplifier, which you can keep tucked into the shirt in a little pocket, or you can clip it onto your belt. You then use a magnetic guitar pick to strum in the “string” area of the shirt, and a chord sounds. Changing your fingers creates different notes, and you can also adjust the tone control and volume knobs to go louder and higher. Yes, the volume goes to 11 (very nice touch!).

While this would be aimed at Guitar Hero and Rock Band video game players, knowing how to play the guitar might give you an advantage, because you could probably play a real song with this guitar – unfortunately, I don’t know how to play, so my guitar strumming was more annoying than entertaining. Still, it’s a neat gift for any guitar fans on your list.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $29.99Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Bedol Water Clock Smiley Alarm, by BedolNo batteries needed! The Bedol Water Clock Smiley Alarm is an alarm clock that runs on water power. Simply fill the clock with about 4 cups of tap water, and the clock will run for 10-16 weeks. The clock even has a memory chip that will last for 2 minutes, so you won’t have to reset the clock when you change the water. You’ll know that you need to change the water because the LCD screen will begin to fade. The design of the clock looks like a water droplet as it hits the ground.

The concept of this clock is really cool, but unfortunately, the clock itself only earns a “meh” rating. The clock comes with an alarm feature. The alarm can be “daily,” which means it goes off at the same time each day, or hourly, which means it goes off at the same time past each hour (like 4:05, 5:05, 6:05, etc.). Personally I can’t think of any uses for an hourly alarm (home-school classes maybe?), but maybe some others can. Beyond that, the alarm itself is pretty lame – it’s about as loud as a watch alarm, there’s no snooze, and you have to hit a tiny button in order to turn it off.  In addition, setting the clock isn’t user friendly – if I needed to change the time (Daylight Saving Time, for example), I would need to locate the user manual.

The idea of a water-powered clock is cool in an eco-friendly way, but the actual execution of the alarm didn’t make a splash with me. Bedol also makes simpler water-powered clocks that start around $16 that may be better executed and more worth their cost.

Cool Yule Rating: 2 starsPrice: $39Company Web siteReviewed by Jennifer Finn

S2H Replay wristband, by Switch2HealthIf you’re looking for a way to get your kids more active, or if you’re looking to improve your own activity level, the S2H Replay wristbands might be the motivation you need. The flexible rubber wristband – it looks like the same material as one of those Livestrong bracelets – includes a sensor that monitors your physical activity. When you’ve built up 60 minutes of activity, you receive a 12-digit code. Uploading that code to the S2H Web site gets you a reward – things like iTunes and Barnes & Noble gift cards, or ring tones or other kid-friendly items.

The wristband doesn’t just reward any activity, though – it says a regular walk won’t cut it – it measures moderate to brisk activity, so you really have to get the heart rate pumping in order for the time to count. Just walking around the office didn’t do it for me.

On the plus side, the wristband also functions as a watch, and it comes in different colors for the style-conscious. It’s not big and bulky, either, which means it isn’t uncomfortable to wear.

Cool Yule Rating: 3 starsPrice: $19.95Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

XV-11 Robotic All-Floor Vacuum System, by Neato RoboticsRobotic vacuum cleaners aren’t that new – iRobot and its Roomba and Scooba have been at the top of the market for years now. But now we’re starting to see some competitors out there, so we were excited to try out the XV-11 from Neato Robotics.

The vacuum includes a charging center that you place into the corner of a room, and this acts as the robot’s home base. When it’s ready to go, you press a start button, and the vacuum goes to work. The XV-11 works the room like a pro, with sensors that can detect if it’s going to bump into something, and working around such obstacles. It’s low enough to go under a lot of areas that normal vacuums don’t go.

The vacuum also can detect doorways and room openings, so it can vacuum multiple rooms at a time (if the battery has enough of a charge in it and the dirt bin isn’t full). The robot won’t move to another room until the last room is complete, so the robot won’t be moving around from room to room unless its cleaning is done. The XV-11 can also work on different types of floors – it’s not just for carpets, it works on hardwood floors, kitchen floors, etc. If there’s an area where you don’t want it to vacuum, you can place down boundary markers that tell it to stay away, but we found it was easy to just create our own boundaries – boxes, chairs and other things told the robot to just stay in the room we wanted cleaned.

You can also schedule the robot to clean on a regular schedule, or at a specific time – I don’t recommend a 3 a.m. cleaning, because the vacuum is pretty noisy (it sounds like a jet engine warming up when it starts). The hardest part for the owner is making sure that small items are not on the floor (yes, just like regular vacuuming, it pays to pick up the floor first).

The vacuum did a great job of picking up dirt, dust and our biggest problem – pet hair. The dirt bin is easy to open and empty into the trash, the XV-11 notifies you with a beep and flashing light what its issue is. After it completes a room, it moves back to its home base for recharging.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $400Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Mint floor cleaner, by Evolution RoboticsIsaac Asimov came up with the three laws of robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I’m not Isaac Asimov, but my first law of household helper robots goes like this: A robot must be an improvement over doing the job yourself. In the case of the Mint Automatic Floor Cleaner, the results are mixed.

Yes, the Mint can navigate across a hard surface (tile, wood, vinyl, laminate). Yes, it’s kind of cool with its minimalist white/black design.  Yes, in many ways it’s the anti-Roomba – square versus round, silent versus noisy, navigates in straight lines versus bouncing around at odd angles.

Except the Roomba is basically a sweeper. It has rotating brushes that sweep up dust and debris and deposit the dirt into a container that you empty out. Roomba runs on all surfaces, it gets under beds and couches, and it’s kind of fun to watch it spin around and bounce off things as it navigates a room.

Mint, on the other hand, is basically a Swiffer. You attach a cleaning cloth to the bottom of the Mint and send it off to dust the floor. I found the Mint, at less than 10-inches wide, to be underpowered and underwhelming. It moves at a glacial pace, and it’s so small that it takes seemingly forever to cover an area that a human could handle in less than five minutes. Plus, since it doesn’t pick up dirt, you basically have to pre-sweep the floor, pick up everything, move stuff out of the way, etc.

The technology behind the Mint is kind of cool. There a cube that shines a beam onto the ceiling, and the Mint uses the beam as a kind of North Star for its navigational system. The Mint does navigate well, it gets into corners, it successfully avoids obstacles and ledges. But once the novelty wears off and you’re interested in your floors being clean, DIY might be a better option than the Mint.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: About $250Company Web siteReviewed by Neal Weinberg

Finis Circuit Trainer, by FinisWith resolution season coming up soon after the holiday season, many people start thinking about exercising, and this is a gadget that might be able to help out. Unfortunately, the Finis Circuit Trainer is not a product for everyone. When I first looked at it, I thought it would help the average person have a more effective workout. It won’t.

The Circuit Trainer beeps when it’s time to rest, when it’s time to stop resting, and when you’re halfway through your exercise period. I don’t think it’s ideal for every user because you have to input the amount of time you want for your exercise, resting periods and how many circuits. Therefore, you have to have an idea of what you’re doing for this to benefit you. This gift would be great for personal trainers to use for their trainees, or maybe for sport coaches while they warm up their teams, etc.

The Finis Circuit Trainer is about the size of an open book, and weighs a little over one pound. It can be powered by an AC adapter or by two 9-volt batteries, allowing you to take it outside for your workouts. The volume is loud enough to use in a field. I can’t guarantee that a large group of kids running around would hear the horn sound, but the coach would. The exercise and rest periods can last from 1 second to 19 minutes and 55 seconds, and can have 99 circuits at a time. All circuits must last the same amount of time.

Cool Yule rating: 2 starsPrice: $129.99Company Web siteReviewed by Jen Finn

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