5 open source gift ideas for non-techies

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Gift box opens with colors coming out


It's getting down to the wire here for the holidays. You know, that time when we all realize that we've completely neglected to get gifts for people. While reading through our very excellent gift guide, a thought occurred to me: Those unfortunate souls with lives devoid of technological wonder ... they need presents, too. So what do we get them? What do we present to these people whose interests diverge so greatly from our own? I'm glad you asked. I made a list.

The gift of fire

Now I'm not trying to suggest that our non-tech brethren are mere cave dwellers, huddled in darkness. OK, maybe I am a little. But in seriousness, introduce a little bit of technology into their lives.

Set up Retro Pie on a Raspberry Pi 3 for some excellent retro gaming fun. Then explain how they've got a full-blown computer that's capable of doing so much more, should they be interested.

If they have creative leanings, sit them down with Krita or Hydrogen and simply let them play.

We're not evangelizing here. We're finding the cross-roads between what they love and what we know. Who knows, maybe you'll become their modern-day Prometheus (without the liver-wrenching punishment) and open the doors to an interest in technology that they never knew they had.


Eating is important, right? It's one of those things on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And, yeah, you could go out and buy some cookies or chocolate or bacon in a pinch. Those things are all pretty much universally loved. However, most of the makery-tech people that I know are also big fans of experimenting in the kitchen. They're making their own beer or salsa or confectionery concoctions. If your talents and interests are here as well, then you can use them to make perfectly delicious gifts for the people you love.

Or, worst case, you could print pancakes for them in the morning. Fun for you. Tasty for them.

Make a thing

People like things. If it blinks or shines or otherwise moves on its own, their eyes light up at the magic of it all. And if you tell them you made it yourself, the gift holds even more value to them. Build them a clock and weather display that shows the forecast or turn their houseplant into a theramin-like musical instrument.

If you have a 3D printer, a whole world of possibilities open up. However, since time is short, I'm sure they'd love a pencil-holder or a toy top. They'll like it even more if you can put their name on it.

The awesomeness that is you

You know things. You have ninja-like tech skills. You also have no time available to make or buy anything for other people. You're down to the last option: the cop-out gift... your time.

Now don't get me wrong, your time is your most valuable commodity. You shouldn't just freely give it away without due consideration. But, if you do it right, it can be a meaningful gesture that is sure to be appreciated. Get some heavy card stock and print out a "Get out of technology free card," redeemable for that one time they get into a pinch with some tool or device or (shudder) a computer.

And by making a card, not only do you now have a physical gift to give, but you've also cleverly imposed a limit on the number of times your loved one can call you for help. One card, one problem solved. (If the gift is for your mom, consider giving her two cards.)

Be there

This isn't so much a gift as it is a reminder. And it's not so much for you as it is for me. As a geeky, makery, technology-enamored ape, I know that I'm prone to get lost in my own head thinking about all of the fun little projects I want to work on. This is particularly true over the holidays, where the lure of vacation-enforced free time calls me to a computer or a workbench or a drafting table. If any of that sounds familiar to you, then take a pause. Realize that just being there—truly there—with your friends and family is a gift in its own right... and not a cop-out gift. These people actually like you and like spending time with you. Hang out with them. Laugh and have fun. Your projects will be there afterward.

Of course, if all of that fails, just get them a Pi Zero. It's cheap and they'll thank you for the "really neat novelty keychain" you got them.

Jason van Gumster mostly makes stuff up. He writes, animates, and occasionally teaches, all using open source tools. He's run a small, independent animation studio, wrote Blender For Dummies and GIMP Bible, and continues to blurt out his experiences during a [sometimes] weekly podcast, the Open Source Creative Podcast. Adventures (and lies) at @monsterjavaguns.

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