The Gifts That Keep on Giving


Dave Johnson recounts readers' tales of gadget gadget gifts gone wrong. This is the transcript of Dave's original audio commentary. You can listen to that here.

Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus -- no matter what you call it, this time of year seems like it was invented for us gadget lovers. It's when we get to receive cool electronic stuff that you just can't quite rationalize any other time of year. Sure, you've had your eye on that USB-powered tequila maker or the solar-powered combination electric razor and night light. But buying one in July seems kind of decadent. And in the case of the razor/night light thing, probably a little dumb any time of year. But come December, all bets are off. Slap that Homer Simpson-themed AA battery charger on your wish list, and wait for the goodies to come rolling in.

Gifts don't always go the way you planned, though. Last month, we asked readers for their worst gift disasters -- this year or sometime in the past. As you can imagine, we heard about some real doozies. Like one reader from Watertown, who decried, "I got a Tickle Me Elmo. Good grief, I'm 45 years old!"

Creepy, semi-animated dolls made for pre-schoolers might be bad, I'll agree. But nothing beats Classic Bad Gifts. You know, like The Clapper. But as a reader named Z, who apparently got one, says, "at least there's a market for them on eBay."

There's another class of gadget gift out there -- the half-hearted gadget. Here's the logic that apparently takes place: "Dave loves gadgets! So he'll like anything that takes batteries. What's the cheapest thing that takes batteries? Hey, I know! Batteries! Technically, batteries don't take batteries, since they actually are batteries, but it's close enough. He'll like batteries." And that's why I end up with a bag of AAs under the tree on Christmas morning.

A similar phenomenon apparently happened to Alan, who says that he received a digital camera with no flash, no zoom, and pretty much no controls at all. In other words, he got a CCD connected to a memory card by a couple of loose wires, contained in a plastic shell about the size of a single-pack cereal box. Hey, Alan -- if you need some batteries for that thing, just let me know.

Cipher says that upon learning he was a computer technician, he was given a 14-piece tool set that apparently cost about a buck to manufacture. "The first time I tried opening a computer case, the screwdriver turned to mush in my hand." And then there's Clint, from Florida, who says that his worst gift ever was a VCR. What's wrong with a VCR, you ask? He got it this year.

Can it get worse than that? Probably. A reader from California says that he received a dried out printer ribbon for a dot matrix printer. The package was unopened, he says, but apparently manufactured or purchased so long ago that the ribbon was desiccated by the time he tore the wrapping off the box.

Some gifts are apparently a matter of taste -- literally and figuratively. GFC, from New Jersey, was apparently unimpressed with his battery-powered pepper grinder with a light. That one sounds cool to me -- ideal for spicing up your food in a power failure. Likewise, John M, from Washington State, describes his ice cream scoop with integrated thermometer as his worst gift ever. Does he not realize how important it is to get your ice cream to exactly the right temperature before serving?

I'll have to end on this note: one nameless reader claims the worst gift she ever got was a mouse thong. Because she wasn't any more detailed than that, I don't know if the garment was intended for her computer mouse or her pet mouse. And when you get right down to it, I suppose I really don't want to ever find out.

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