2010 Hacker Gift Guide

You’ve probably been fantasizing about getting amazing gifts this December, like robots with servo-mounted laser pointers and authentic battle damage. It’s time to realize that it’s unlikely that this will happen. Stay calm. You can still get sweet hacky things if you just forward this gift-giving guide to your friends and loved ones.

Join us after the break to see what we want and be sure to let us know what you’ve got your eye on.

Basic Tools

Everyone needs a good set of tools, but a depressing number of people lack even the most basic elements of an electronics workshop. Teeth may have served you for years but we highly recommend an adjustable wire stripper (fun fact: if you dress it up with googly eyes it looks like a dinosaur). This pair of flush cutters is honestly the most fulfilling hand tool available, making every hacking session a cathartic series of precise snips. For the ultimate experience consider the ever-useful electronics multitool. You can’t very well make good use of these tools without good visibility, so shed some light on the situation with the humble clamp lamp and its more capable cousin, the magnifying clamp lamp.

Luxurious Options

If you’re more of a martinis-and-caviar hacker you can spare some cash for fancy kits like those drool-worthy makerbot apparatuses or the succulent-sounding synth kits from PAiA. For a homegrown approach, you could put together simple kits for your own project ideas–a perfect excuse to teach the little ones how to solder!

Development Platforms

Nothing beats the narcotic possibilities of powerful general-purpose hardware. For an affordable and pint-sized software dev machine this Dell Mini comes to mind, great for a hackintosh. Does your hacker giftee really want a dog but can’t handle the constant stream of cleanups? Give them a beagleboard and encourage them to build a no-mess robopuppy. If you’re comfortable giving a child’s toy to a grown adult, don’t forget the ever-hackable furby. For a more personalized approach we recommend hacking a dancing santa from the local department store and converting it into a terrifying and festive Santapede gift–win prizes while you’re at it, but you’d better have it done by November 30th!


You can always go the route of gift certificates and let people pick out their own gift, you uncreative buffoon, to juicy sites like Adafruit, Seeed Studios, Sparkfun, Macetech. seeedstudio, littlebirdelectronics, and MakerSHED.

If you have more gift ideas please for goodness sakes share them in the comments! We all need to band together, some of us are really sweating about the holiday season. Whatever hacky loot you end up distributing, don’t forget to include the greatest hack of all: love.

28 thoughts on “2010 Hacker Gift Guide

  1. If only there was a company that kits and other hackful goodies in the UK, I bought some stuff from adafruit earlier this year and the shipping was nearly the same price as the actual items…

  2. If the UK treated Engineers with more respect in the business world, then you would enjoy the same access to technology that US and other modern countries do.

    It’s a real shame that a inventors and scientist (as we call them in the US) in the UK is labeled a “tinkerer” and looked down on. The sciences in the UK take a back seat to economics and business.

    This is why Germany, Russia and of late India and other Asian countries have accelerated in Engineering while the UK has stagnated.

    I hope we don’t start going the same way in the US or I’ll be screwed too.

    Sorry.. off topic I know..


  3. Enhanced pat down + 1 oz tube of chocolate, caramel or fudge frosting from grocery store. It’s amazing how quickly you can get through the grope when the results come back “positive for brown”.

  4. @ Tweeks,
    I understand that your opinion is that your country gets no respect/sucks at engineering, but you don’t get respect AND THEN all of a sudden get good at engineering. You first must make feats such as the USA that was the first to put a man on the moon, will be the first to put a rover on mars, the hoover dam, the first airplane, world trade center, and the golden gate bridge, and that is why USA has respect. Or germany with the first car. So I’m confused why you think that were heading in the wrong direction!? HAHA. I think you’d be lucky to and also many people would agree!


  5. That pair of flush cutters may be the most fulfilling hand tool available, but it also has an annoying tendency to shoot little wire spikes all over the place (In your eyes (ow), subtle shorts in exposed circuit boards sitting on your bench, into your keyboard…).

    Sorry to sound like an advertisement, but Xcelite’s ‘175D’ flush cutting shears with safety clip and ESD protection are $1.17 cheaper, and have a neat safety clip on the blades that grabs the wire chunks so you can neatly drop them in the wastebasket. The clip is ust a little chunk of wire, but it makes a big difference. Take a look at them here:

  6. i can buy a laser cutter at dollar tree. $1.
    will cut a laser right in two (and more little pieces if you want bc i’m talking about cutting pliers, “wirecutters” and using them to crush a laser diode.

  7. @ Tweeks

    The last time I checked Lotus (One first things GM had them do when they bought them was redesign the Z1 Vette), Rolls Royce(jet engines), Cosworth, Williams and McLaren were all based in England. I would have to say that qualifies them as having some decent engineers.

  8. Just to weigh in on the UK engineers thing, I think it’s probably worth mentioning ARM, the highly underrated success story whose processor designs power most of the cell phones and embedded computer systems in the world. Let’s also not forget the turing machine, the steam engine, the world wide web… Engineering in the UK is alive and kicking!

  9. I certainly think the UK has had some of the cleverest designs over the years, but let’s stick to the facts. Lotus designed the 32 valve DOHC heads for the (previous) Corvette ZR1’s engine, which was built by Mercury Marine. They did NOT redesign the car. They were too busy pioneering active suspension systems, a much less mundane undertaking than designing a mass production car. Think drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico is challenging? Try the North Sea. Other cleverness? Gloucester Meteor, Colossus, radar… but yes, those were a long time ago. I agree that UK tinkerers get short shrift, but so do many of those in the US. For every acclaimed Dean Kamen or successful Vernon Gleasman, there are thousands who remain anonymous and pennyless and whose ideas are stolen, regardless of what patents they held.

  10. You guys don’t get the point, the commenter meant that there’s no popular support for people into technology, not that there aren’t any british engineers at all, nobody in his right mind would claim that, in fact nobody out of his mind would manage to claim that.
    You can list so many british engineering that hackaday would go bankrupt from the hosting of the list, but that doesn’t change anything if the general society sneers at the concept of tinkerers in technology and there are not enough sources to get supplies in a normal fashion, (normal not being ordering it from australia).
    I think it’s a more general problem in all of europe though and not specifically british, and I think the high tax rates in the EU and all the regulation have a lot to do with it too, makes setting up small shops that make enough profit a lot harder I imagine.

  11. @whatnot

    Technology is like Art. An artist makes things because he or she wants to (see note 1), and money, fame or recognition isn’t usually the driver behind such creation.

    It’s the same for “Tech” – the people who do it for money are seldom as good or as driven as those who do it for other reasons.

    Society does not sneer at the general concept of Tinkerers, at least not directly. It’s just that the people you’re talking about tend to be short on good looks, money and social graces. They would much rather more discuss and debate topics many find to be tedious – these are far more exciting for them than being a good listener.

    Finally, the “inventor class” tend to be solitary animals, and thus are marginalized. Nothing has changed since the 1300’s – sometimes engineering and tech are in vogue, and sometimes they are not. However, three things remain constant:

    1. If you want to be considered an idol/rockstar/famous, you need to learn to hack the publicity machine. Steve Jobs is not brilliant. Steve Job’s publicists are very brilliant.

    2. Being a tinkerer will never get you laid by the kind of chicks who happen to be most desirable. Even Leonardo DaVinci, one of the greatest tinkerers of all time, had to satisfy himself with a rotating cast of young male groupies. That had to hurt!

    3. You can be brilliant, but if you cannot transmute solder into gold, brain cells into bullets and sketches into licensing agreements (on behalf of rich and/or powerful men), you will never be rich. Your ideas will be stolen and improved upon.

    Way of the world, man.

  12. note 1:
    Actually, the artist generally creates because of a damaged and twisted childhood, but it’s not like engineers have much room to brag. I don’t see a lot of difference between doing advanced analysis of the Riemann-Darboux Definition and the practice of cutting. Same results.

  13. Engineers are NOT respected. I got so tired of hearing MBA types saying, “Let me ask my Engineer” or “I’ll have my Engineer get back to you”; like Engineers are farm animals – I quit.

    Now I’m a free-lance Hit-Man…

  14. Why isn’t there some sort of sweet electronics probing/scope/etc tools on this list?

    I think I will ask for one of those this year. I hope I can get a scope for under $100. That would be nice. Then I’d have to figure out how to use it.

  15. My recommended hacker gifts would be:

    *Aoyue 968, the best 3-in-1 soldering station for about $100. Reviewed here on Hack a Day somewhere
    *Proxxon TBM220/110 drill, for super clean PCB holes and PCB mods (when you gotta destroy and retap a trace, save so many board re-dos). Also reviewed here on HaD
    *That new 5x head visor from Adafruit, that’s on my personal list this year, I’ll let you know how it turns out :)
    *Jewelers loupe and bright light, for inspecting SSOP soldering
    *00 tweezers, scalpel, and other surgeons tools for placing SMD parts by hand, other ‘corrections’
    *real debuggers: ICD/PICkit, FT2232-based JTAG debugger for OpenOCD, MKII (or whatever AVR is doing these days), something MSP430 (if you’re into that kind of thing)
    *Prototyping tools like the bus pirate/bus ninja, a logic analyzer (Saleae or Logic Sniffer)
    *Flux. lots and lots of flux. You can never have enough really.

    Maybe an o-scope, but I’ve never needed one.

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