About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.


I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.

2020-12-16

Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide - Winter 2020 Edition

 

It's that time of year again. Maybe you’re coming up on Christmas, or it's Hanukkah, or Hogswatch or possibly some other holiday.

Or maybe you're just happy to see the back end of 2020.

Doesn't matter.

You know why? Because December is a big month for gift giving!

And while you're passing around gift baskets, make sure you do right by your nerdy friends. Sure, you could spring for light saber chopsticks, an Enterpise-shaped pizza cutter, but those are the gifts you’ll find on any old “Top 148 Geek Gifts” list thrown together by a news outlet where the nearest thing they've got to a nerd is the reporter who knows the first line of the Spider-man cartoon theme, but couldn't tell you who Miles Morales is.

So you’re here because you want to show that you’ve dug deeper than Buzzfeed and the Dallas Morning Herald.

You're here because you want to show you care!

Hold onto your hat because here it is: the long awaited, extra thoughtful, Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide for 2020, Winter Edition!

Items in this list range from super affordable to fairly expensive, so you should be able to find something appropriate for any nerd you know. I try to locate gifts suitable for nerdy and geeky people of all walks of life, both girls and boys, and I’ve also tried to sort things a little bit to make it easier for you. I do not own all of these items, but I avoid suggesting things that get bad reviews. I won’t recommend something that I wouldn’t buy for my own friends.

Full disclosure: I am not selling any of these items myself, but if you use one of my links I may get a reward, which helps pay for The Nerd Manual. Even if you don’t buy one of these items, I hope the list gives you some ideas for gifts that your nerd friends will love!

Ready? Let's go!


Books!

Super Adjacent by Crystal Cestari

What would you do if you had the chance to work for a superhero team like the Justice League? Would you take the job, or would it be too much like...you know...work? Claire has always wanted to work with superheroes--her diary has a collection of  "What to Say to a Hero"--and now she's landed an internship with the Chicago branch of Warrior Nation. Meanwhile, Bridgette is tired of her job at WarNat and just wants out, but she recognizes that Claire definitely needs a...ahem...wing man. Sounds like another day in the corporate world, but things get exciting when the heroes go missing, and Claire and Bridgette have to save the day

 

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Ivy Gamble is an Oakland P.I. who barely manages to keep the office lights lit with her meager caseload of disability claims and adulterers. When the headmaster of the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages contacts her about the gruesome death of one of their faculty members, Ivy has to make a tough choice. Ivy never had the knack for magic, and spent a lot of time in the shadow of her highly talented twin sister, who made Ivy's teenage years a misery, and now works at the academy. Like any great hard boiled detective story, the promise of a large payday motivates Ivy to take the job, and she quickly finds herself in over her head. This is a gritty tale with a tough-as-nails protagonist out of her league who relies on her wit and instinct to solve the case before anyone else turns up dead.

 

The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Legendary Creatures
by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence

Have you ever played the "Could it be Real" game? You know, the one that happens after you've watched a horror movie and you start discussing with your friends how zombies would work (or not) in real life. This is the book version of that game, although it focuses on movie monsters. You'll find the classic monsters in here--Freddy Krueger, Dracula, Frankenstein--but the book also delves into other horrors like ghosts, serial killers, possessions, and a host of other spooky and creepy movie ideas. Give this a read if you want to liven up your next round of "Could it be Real".



Cubed : The Puzzle of Us All by Erno Rubik

"Puzzles," Rubik writes, "bring out important qualities in each of us: concentration, curiosity, a sense of play, the eagerness to discover a solution." To Rubik puzzles aren't simply games to distract us from daily life, they're devices that inspire creativity. In Cubed, Rubik gives us a bit of insight into his famous puzzle--the problems he experienced as he worked toward the final version of his invention, and the astonishment of worldwide obsession with an object he made for his own play--but that's just the beginning. Rubik encourages us to embrace curiosity and seek out the puzzles that surround us. "If you are determined, you will solve them."

 


Gifts for nerdy kids...of varying ages

 

Fans of The Mandalorian have already been inundated with the cutest character in the universe--Baby Yoda...er...Grogu--but can you ever really get enough cute? 

Of course not, so here's your chance to build your very own Grogu with a LEGO Star Wars: The Child building kit.



Relive the 90s with a virtual pet that hangs out with your keys. Yes, you can still get Tamagotchi, and Hello Kitty will help you take care of your new pet. 

Bandai offer the Hello Kitty Tamagotchi in your choice of red or white, and Hello Kitty is on hand to double the cute factor contained in this little egg of wonders, and you can play mini-games while raising your new pet into one of 7 different adult forms.


Build your own electronically controlled structures with the Snap Circuits BRIC kit. Snap Circuits is another multi-award winner, and this kit introduces you to electronics in an engineering environment that requires no soldering or glue--everything literally snaps together. The Snap Modules and bricks come with blueprints for 20 projects, and you can use the parts to build your own creations.

I'm a big fan of Snap Circuits, and if you'd like a bit more flexibility, try the Snap Circuits Classic that gives you 60 components for 300 projects including a burglar alarm, and a radio. This kit is upgradeable, or you can go straight for the Extreme kit and get 80 components including an analog meter, photoresistor, power amplifier, and solar cell to build 750 projects.

Did I mention I like Snap Circuits? Elenco the company that makes them also produces several other lines of educational toys, including the Mech-5 Robot, an entry-level kit that teaches robotics and coding using a mechanical interface. It's a very tactile robot that makes satisfying noises, if you're into that sort of thing.



Learn about acids, bases, DNA, electricity, and more with the Playz Explosive Kitchen Lab. This activity kit uses normal stuff you find in your kitchen like lemons and slices of bread as the key components of a series of experiments. The guide is easy to follow, but full of detail. Kids under 10 may need some help, but older kids can probably follow the instructions on their own.

 



 

Ever wanted to be a cosmetics designer? Thames & Kosmos' Soap & Bath Bomb Lab lets you create your own soap and bath bombs while learning the chemistry that makes these products work to keep you clean. The experiments are designed to teach you about pH levels, hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules, and even the composition of human skin.


 LittleBits have earned all sorts of awards for their inventor kits, and their Droid Kit combines robotics, coding, AND Star Wars. What more could you ask for?

Learn how to control electronics with 22 block-based coding missions that are as simple as stacking Legos, but teach you to build an instruction set for your droid. Once you've worked through all the missions, you can build your own code and personalize your droid. Note: this requires an iOS or Android device to load the app for coding.



Botley the Coding Robot is cute as heck and ready to play, but he's way smarter than an Aibo or dancing gorilla. You don't need a computer, or even download an app to your phone, the coding device is a handheld remote with, believe it or not, actual buttons. This is the perfect first coding bot that could lead straight into Lego Mindstorms and perhaps FIRST robotics later on.


The unfortunately named Klutz Paper Flying Dragons Craft Kit will introduce you to six flying dragons from a variety of terrains--even including a steampunk dragon--with a fairly detailed book that not only gives you the lore behind each creature, but instructions for making great folds, checking your dragons' symmetry, and tweaking them so they fly the way you want. Seriously, everything you need to start flying dragons is in this kit, even the tape.



The Kamigami Ladybug Robot is a fairly straightforward build-it-yourself robot, but it does more than just follow a line or light. Kamigami bugs skitter over most surfaces and even work outside, and they come with built in sensors that communicate with your mobile device. You can download the free app to drive your ladybug (or one of the other Kamigami robots), do battle with other Kamigami, or you can program your robot to follow commands and react to its environment. The app is graphical, so it's as easy to use as stacking blocks. There are other bots in this line including a praying mantis bot, scorpion bot, and of course a beetle bot, but the ladybug is definitely the cutest.



For older nerds who like putting things together


The Lego Apollo Saturn V Building Kit is still the heavy hitter in this category. It's a drool-worthy model that, at $120, is definitely a splurge gift, but if you know a space nerd who enjoys assembling things, this is worth it. You get 1,969 pieces (commemorating the year Apollo 11 launched) that assemble into the Saturn V rocket with all its stages, the command and lunar modules, splashdown version of the capsule, two astronauts, and even a flag. This thing is huge, a meter tall, and can be displayed vertically, ready for launch, or horizontally on the included display stands.


As always, I'm recommending the Raspberry Pi. It isn't new, but it's still one of the coolest gifts for nerds who like to build their own computers. Raspberry Pi is basically a very small computer that you can program and add to, so you can make anything from a media server to a home security system. 

You can get everything you need to start out in a Raspberry Pi 4 starter kit, and there are tons of add-ons including an HD camera, a sensor kits, and even a touchscreen.

 

In life things break. Be prepared with Sugru Mouldable Glue

This is like Play-Doh, but infinitely more useful because it can be used as a structural element to hold things in place, join things together, repair breaks in objects that aren't flat, and quite a bit more. 

It's flexible, waterproof, heat resistant, cold resistant, and non-conductive up to 24 volts.

 

Get a set of these "Neon" Light Strings and turn your life into a perpetual 1980s video. The electroluminescent wire is flexible enough to bend into almost any shape, and it's water resistant so you can use it outdoors if the mood strikes you. The uses are endless--party decorations, car customization, cosplaying details, fashion accenting, music video effects, and whatever else you can think of doing with a non-toxic, cool to the touch, nearly amorphous, glowing light strand. 

 

Did I mention that things break? 

That includes your phone, and you may need more than Sugru to deal with that scenario. The iFixit Pro tool kit gives you the tools you need to repair phones, tablets, and computers. Tackle all those different screws, safely remove adhesive, and get under those expensive screens without destroying them. Your iFixit kit also gives you access to over 60,000 repair guides, so if you can't find a YouTube tear-down video, you're covered.



For nerds who like gadgets



Do you know someone who wants to get into drones, but hasn't made the leap because it's an expensive hobby? The Tello Quadcopter is an easy gateway. 

For under $100 you get a camera quadcopter that's smaller than a paperback book, but takes photos and streams 720p video to your smartphone. I've used mine to inspect roofs for leaks after a storm came through...and drone derby day.



If your gadget nerd prefers to keep their camera in-hand, DJI has you covered with the Osmo Mobile 3 camera stabilizer. 

The mount holds a standard phone, and it has a 3-axis gimbal--the arm pivots to keep the phone camera steady--with smooth motors to give your footage rock solid stability. There are different in-app functions you control from the handle, and the whole thing folds up so you can store it easily.


If you've got a gadget lover who's prone to misplacing things, whether that's car keys or quadrotor drones, Tile has a solution. Use the Tile Essentials Pack to keep track of whatever you attach these little guys to. I've heard that people have found their lost dogs thanks to Tile, but you might come up with other creative uses.



For quirky nerds


Behold, the TriceraTaco.

Yes, you can serve your tacos in a triceratops!


What else can I say about this item? Nothing says nerdy like a dinosaur taco holder. Don't eat tacos? No problem. Use it for your sandwiches, your waffles, heck, you can put your wallet or mail in it. 

 

Funwares is also the creator of the Wash n' Roar T-Rex shower head, in case you make a mess while eating your tacos.



The Ototo Nessie Tale bookmark is is by far the cutest bookmark I've seen. The shy and elusive Nessie may not like cameras, but she'll happily keep track of where you are in your latest book adventure. If you don't have them already, be sure to check out the Nessie Family strainer, ladle, and tea infuser.


Do you know an older computer nerd who remembers the days before WiFi, when you had to sneakernet files between computers using plastic encased floppy discs. Give them a set of Floppy Disc Coasters to rekindle that nostalgia. Unlike the hard plastic originals, these are made of colorful silicone, so you can use them as drink coasters, spoon rests or hot pads, microwave them, freeze them, and pop them in the dishwasher when you're done.



It's only prudent to warn people when you're transporting dangerous liquids, so carry your dangerous liquid in this WARNING Dihydrogen Monoxide container and rest easy knowing that no one will accidentally inhale it, make contact with its irritating solid form, or get contact burns from its gaseous form.

DISCLAIMER: The Nerd Manual admits no liability for people who choose to knowingly transport dihydrogen monoxide across state lines, or within 100 meters of a day care center.


For gaming nerds


If you don't think it's too creepy to play a game about a pandemic during a pandemic, then Z-Man Games has a board game for you. 

The aptly named Pandemic puts you and up to three other friends on a disease fighting team tasked with keeping the world safe from epidemics. This might be your chance to put your recent experience with COVID-19 to use.


 

Do you have friends who are into roleplaying? I bet they can always use a new set of dice. 

Why not give them something classier than a box of colored polyhedral plastic? Spring for a set of metal gaming dice. Heavy, shiny, available in different colors, these are a delight to use. 

 

NOTE: it's a good idea to avoid scratching your Game Master's furniture. A simple dice tray keeps the polyhedrons from getting away, but some gamers might like the looks of a dice scroll that doubles as a storage tube, or perhaps an elegant combination of dice arena tray and storage box. No matter what you choose, it shows the GM that the player cares. 


 

Some nerds argue Star Wars vs. Star Trek, while the deeply geeky still morn the end of Joss Whedon's Firefly. But the Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats board game lets you skirmish with with goons in the Eavesdown docks. This is a fairly sophisticated tabletop game with a unique turn order mechanic, and characters who all have different abilities. Terrain is included, even the bottom of the box has a role to play in your adventures.



Finally, if you've got a video gamer friend who isn't already on a Humble Bundle subscription, you need to remedy that situation. Humble offers bundles of games worth at least $100 each month, and you'll pay less than that for an entire year's subscription. The best part of this deal is that Humble donates 5% to charities.


And why not throw in a few more books?


The Noma Guide to Fermentation by RenĂ© Redzepi  and David Zilber This may be a beginner's guide to the fundamentals of fermentation, but it takes you through several fermentation processes step-by-step, with delicious recipes and elegant photographs. Yeah, it's a cooking book, but there's a heavy science component that delves into how microorganisms react with our food to create different flavors, and who doesn't like experimenting with science while creating delicious sauces and sides for your meals?



It's been out for a few years now, but this book still tops my personal favorites list. Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana is a gorgeous tome for D&D nerds, particularly those of us who grew up with the earlier editions of the game and remember the old artwork. Its illustrations trace the development of D&D art across the game's entire history from it's formation under Gary Gygax, through the Wizards of the Coast years. Art comes from core rule books, supplements, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels, Dragon magazine, advertisements, and previously unreleased preleminary art work. If you really want to splurge, there's also a Special Edition with Ephemera that includes a special cover box and extra material.



When the Earth Had Two Moons : Cannibal Planets, Icy Giants, Dirty Comets, Dreadful Orbits, and the Origins of the Night Sky by Erik Asphaug

In 1959, the Soviet Union launched Luna 3, a probe that sent back the first images of the far side of the moon. Rather than the vast lava-plains we see on the side that continually faces the Earth, the far side was covered in enormous mountains. It raised a LOT of questions, not just about the moon, but about the entire solar system--the planets, comets, asteroids, satellites, and rings, are intriguingly distinct from one another, much like the sides of the moon. Asphaug takes us on an exhilarating tour through the farthest reaches of time and our galaxy to answer why, so we not only understand our moon but also our own place in the universe.


What would you confess if  a stranger was willing to listen with no judgement, no stigma, and no consequences? Craigslist Confessional started as a simple ad: "tell me about yourself." Helena Dea Bala promised to listen, anonymously, to whatever the speaker felt like saying. The response? Thousands of emails flooded her inbox, and she now does Craigslist Confessional full time. This book collects  forty confessions, told in the confessor's voice, and they range from dark secrets to musings on love to reflections on hard choices. While there's nothing specifically nerdy on the surface, this does offer significant insight into the human need to confess, and is simply an engaging book.













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