Ars Father’s Day Gift Guide: Hacker Dad Edition

June 17, 2009

Product: Giant Swiss Army Knife

Manufacturer: Wenger

Price: $999 (Buy)

The Giant Swiss Army Knife is a monument to the hacker ethos. It includes 85 separate tools for over 100 functions, ranging from a laser pointer to a fish scaler. Its unparalleled assortment of features has enshrined it in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most multifunctional penknife. At nearly three pounds and over 8 inches wide, it’s a good gift for dads who like functional pocketknives, even though it won’t fit in his pocket.

Product: U-HID Board

Company: U-HID

Price: $79 (Buy)

For the hacker dad few things are more satisfying than being able to get your hands dirty with a good hardware hack. Programming impresses the geekier friends in his life, but nothing grabs the masses like push buttons and flashing LEDs. The U-HID is a USB-connected board with 50 connections which can be configured to a variety of standard inputs, such as gamepad or mouse buttons, keyboard keys, an analog input, even the aforementioned LEDs, and it’s all HID compliant and compatible with standard drivers. Custom game controllers, specialized interfaces for a PC-controlled juke box, servo controllers for a Rube Goldberg toaster—imagination is the limit. Because it’s USB- and native driver-compatible, even novice hardware hackers will be able to jump in quickly and turn out something to impress the plebes in no time.

Product: Rodenator R2

Manufacturer: Rodenator

Price: $3,220.20 (Buy)

Elite gardening dads demonstrate their devotion to the art by buying riding lawnmowers—enormous machines that are a status symbol among the upper echelon of gardening fanatics. If your dad is a fastidious maintainer of the backyard and already has a lawnmower of epic proportion that’s the envy of his peers, then maybe you can help him take his obsession to the next level. There is a new yard maintenance product that has recently displaced the riding lawnmower at the pinnacle of the pantheon of manly gardening tools. It is called the Rodenator R2, it’s the ultimate instrument of pest control. It’s the perfect gift for merciless dads who take no captives in the war against burrowing vermin. The Rodenator injects oxygen and propane into rodent holes and then ignites the mix. The resulting detonation effectively decimates uninvited critters and collapses the tunnels. The R2 is a new model that has a wireless control system and delivers 20% more concussive power than the original Rodenator Pro.

Product: Komodo IDE

Developer: ActiveState

Price: $245 (Buy)

If your dad is a web developer or a scripting guru, then he might like Komodo IDE, a comprehensive development environment that supports a multitude of popular dynamic programming languages. Built with the same Mozilla technology that powers the Firefox web browser, Komodo is very customizable and easy to extend. It has built-in debugging tools, project management capabilities, version control system integration, excellent Vim and Emacs modes, syntax highlighting and completion, powerful search tools, and many other compelling features. It’s great for programming everything from Tcl scripts to sophisticated Ruby on Rails web applications.

Product: BUGbundle

Manufacturer: Bug Labs

Price: $579 (Buy)

Bug Labs makes a hackable hardware platform for gadget geeks. Individual components are sold as modules that can be plugged into the BUGbase, a tiny computer with an embedded ARM processor, memory, and a rechargeable battery. Available components include a motion sensor, LCD touchscreen, GPS, and speakers. Gadgets built with bug bits can be programmed using the Bug Labs SDK. You can get dad started by buying him the BUGbundle, which includes the base and several components.

Product: iRobot Create Premium development package

Manufacturer: iRobot

Price: $299.99 (Buy)

Everybody loves the Roomba, the adorable robot that keeps the carpets clean. For hackers and robotics enthusiasts, Roomba maker iRobot has an even cooler gadget called the Create, a fully programmable robot that shares the Roomba’s disc-like form factor but omits the vacuum. The Create has over 30 built-in sensors and a serial interface for programming the bot with a computer. The premium development package also includes the Create programmable command module, which has an 8-bit microcontroller and expansion ports. Dad can use it to make an army of hamster-controlled doom machines.

Product: Build This Bong: Instructions and Diagrams for 40 Bongs, Pipes, and Hookahs

Author: Randy Stratton

Price: $12.95 (Buy)

If dad loves to smoke (not that we at Ars endorse tobacco use), then he might enjoy Build This Bong, a detailed instructional guide that describes how to build bongs and pipes using simple household items. The broad selection of designs range from the sublimely simple to the stunningly sophisticated, including gravity bongs and even a vaporizer. Be sure not to let dad bogart the book, because bong projects are fun for the whole family. Just remember to bring righteous munchies for an optimal father’s day trip.

Product: TuxDroid

Manufacturer: Kysoh

Price: $149 (Buy)

The TuxDroid is a programmable robot penguin that can be made to do dad’s bidding. This lovable toy can be controlled from a Linux desktop computer and programmed with Python. We conducted an in-depth review of the Tux Droid last year, and we demonstrated how it can be plugged into the XChat IRC program via D-Bus. If your hacker dad is a penguin-loving Linux junky, then perhaps he needs a TuxDroid.

Product: Apple iPhone developer account

Company: Apple

Price: $100 (Buy)

Maybe dad will never write the killer iPhone app and allow the family to travel aimlessly around the world, coasting on the revenue checks as they come in from Apple. But, for $100, you can get your dad the ability to play around a bit inside Apple’s walled garden. That fee will get dad the ability to not only run any software he’s hacked together on his own iPhone or iPod Touch, but to bring up to 100 of his friends and colleagues along for the ride. Or, he can act as a conduit to make sure that any open-source projects have a way into the App Store. As an added bonus, you can always renew the account for him next year, meaning that it can save you from agonizing over gift ideas next year.

Product: 101 piece Security Screwdriver bits

Manufacturer: Anytime Tools

Price: $14.99 (Buy)

Product: 30 piece micro precision screwdriver set

Manufacturer: Anytime Tools

Price: $13.96 (Buy)

These two screwdriver sets are a great gift for hacker dads who want to be able to disassemble anything and everything. The 101 piece set is an impressively comprehensive collection of bits for heavy-duty hacking. The micro precision kit will allow dad to open up consumer electronics devices, such as handheld gaming products and cell phones.

This post has been written by Ryan Paul on June 16, 2009 11:32 PM couresy of


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