Last-minute gift ideas

Welcome to this year’s Gift Guide, a piling-high of our most loved items from 2014 and beyond. Books, comics, games, gadgets and much else besides!

Read the rest

Areaware Bottle Opener

This bottle opener takes a relatively mundane task and turns it into a pleasurable aesthetic experience. The beauty of this opener is in its design simplicity. It is made of a piece of wood, a bent nail and two magnets. That’s it. The leverage from the nail opens beer bottles easily, one magnet catches the bottle cap and the other magnet makes it easy to mount on a fridge or other metal surface.

I have owned one for over a year and it is always my go-to bottle opener above any of my skeleton key style bottle openers. The handle is comfortable and, while the magnetic cap catching capability might seem superfluous at first, I am always grateful for it once I’m a few bottles into the evening. The mounting magnet keeps the handle open from the perspective of the plane of the surface to which it is mounted making it easy to grab in a time of need.

I was originally gifted this tool and have gifted it myself on several occasions. All recipients have reported back with delight at this opener’s simple beauty and practical usefulness.

Of course, there are much less costly alternatives (including your teeth, the edge of a hard surface or the lighter trick) to opening bottles and the size of the handle does not make this tool something you want to carry around in your pocket all of the time, but that isn’t it’s point. This opener combines a sophisticated design sensibility with functional effectiveness that elevates the status of an every day utility to a cool tool. -- Eoin Russell

Areaware Bottle Opener in Walnut ($14)

Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World's Most Interesting Facts

When I was a kid, I devoured Frank Edwards' 1959 book of weird "true" stories, Stranger Than Science, and C.B. Colby's book of "hair raisers and incredible happenings," called Strangely Enough. The story about the Inuit village that mysteriously became a ghost town (with cooking fires still burning), and the one about the man who vanished on his front lawn in front of his wife and kids enthralled me and my friends.

Unfortunately, most of the stories weren't even "true." They were flat-out false, as I learned in recent years when I googled them.

A couple of months ago I received a review copy of Dan Lewis' Now I Know, which has 100 strange phenomena stories that are just as fun as Stranger than Science and Strangely Enough, with the bonus of being true. (UPDATE: It's on sale as a Kindle ebook for just $2.99)

Read the rest

My 15.6-inch Android device is smeared with food and grease, and I love it

The Astak Neos Touchscreen Smart Display looks like a very large iPad, but it runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, has a backstand, and must be kept plugged into a wall outlet. It's got a USB port, a webcam, an SD card slot, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth network. I set my review unit on a shelf over the kitchen sink, and it's been in heavy use ever since.

Read the rest

Toymail: send mail to toys from your phone

The folks behind Toymail sent me one of their Mailmen toys to try out. It's a Wi-Fi connected creature that plays audio recordings that you make on your smart phone and send over the Internet. The toys also record messages spoken into their microphones and send them back to the smart phone. It's a neat idea and the critters are very cute. The company was cofounded by Gauri Nanda and Audry Hill. Gauri is the inventor of Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away. (I bought a Clocky for my daughter Jane a couple of years ago and she loves it.) The iPhone app is clever and shares the same adorable design as the critters.

They have nine days left to go on their Kickstarter and are over halfway towards meeting their goal of $60,000. A pledge of $50 or more will get you one of these Mailmen.

Toymail. Send mail to toys from your phone.

Last week to subscribe to Mark's 5th Quarterly.co mailing

Quarterly.co is a subscription service for wonderful things. People can subscribe to a curator (such as me, Joel Johnson, Veronica Belmont, Tim Ferriss, Joshua Foer, Gretchen Rubin, and others) to receive a box of items selected by the curator.

My previous four mailings have included packages containing multiple items such as microscopes, Mexican jumping beans, magic tricks, a nice-smelling piece of wood that sells for $25,000 a pound, and berries that make any sour thing you eat taste sweet. I'm excited for my next mailing, which is a secret.

Mark's Quarterly.co subscription

The Trouble with Tribbles

David Gerrold carefully documented the story, from first draft through airing, of his fan-favorite Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles. I've carefully guarded my copy of this paperback since my teens.

Gerrold's memories of working on the set are fantastic:

One day, I showed up at the set and William Shatner said, "Hi, kid. What're you writing now?"

Kid--? (All right, so I still looked like an eighteen-year-old; did he have to rub it in?).

I said, "I'm doing a story where you lose your voice in the teaser and don't get it back till the tag."

His reply wasn't unprintable-- just deadly. I won't repeat it here.

Suffice it to say, plowboys should never pull on number-one guns.

The book also includes gems about other episodes Gerrold worked on, including the oft discussed by Pesco and I City on the Edge of Forever.

If you love Star Trek, check out this book!

David Gerrold's The Trouble with Tribbles

New art book by Ragnar: Aphorismyth [gallery]

I've long been an admirer of the clean-lined work of the artist-designer Ragnar. He's uses an interesting color palette that cleverly hides and reveals details. Ragnar's got a new book out called Aphorismyth, which is loaded with his latest illustrations. (As a bonus, I met him last year at Baby Tattooville and he is a very nice person.)

Ragnar is inspired by the things he loves; film noir, classic cartoons, mid century design and punk rock. After stints in Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and San Francisco he landed in Los Angeles to attend Art Center College Of Design. For the better part of a decade he has worked as a character designer and art director for virtually every studio in town including Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Sony, MTV and Warner Bros. His punk rock ethos eventually drove him back to the do-it-yourself world where he's garnered a large and growing following of fans and collectors.

Read the rest

My latest Quarterly.co mailing - a precious fragment of oudh

Quarterly.co is a subscription service for wonderful things. People can subscribe to a curator (such as me, Joel Johnson, Veronica Belmont, Tim Ferriss, Joshua Foer, Gretchen Rubin, and others) to receive a box of items selected by the curator.

In my most recent mailing (MLF03), I sent my subscribers a fungal infection. From my letter:

Before you call a hazardous waste team to dispose of it, though, read what what Chandler Burr, author of the fascinating book, The Emperor of Scent, has to say about the odor of oudh:

It's a drop-dead smell, very complex, honey, fresh tobacco, spices, amber, cream. ... Incredibly strong, first of all. It knocks you over, clubs you like a falling stone. But its vast dimension is what astonishes: a huge smell, spatially immense, and incredibly complex, a buttery layer as deep as a quarry…

Oudh grows inside a particular species of evergreen tree in south Asia. When the fungus attacks the tree, its wood becomes dark and resinous. Oudh is arguably the most-highly prized ingredient for perfume makers and a pound can cost as much as $25,000 (making it over six time more costly than high-grade medical cannabis).

Below, more photos from my mailing.

Read the rest

We Can Fix it! - a graphic novel time travel memoir

Cartoonist Jess Fink, creator of the erotic Victorian-era robot graphic novel Chester 5000-XYV has a new memoir out called We Can Fix It: A Time Travel Memoir.

It's got a premise that reminds me of something Nicholson Baker would come up with: Fink invents a time machine and travels into the past to visit younger versions of herself to warn herself not to do things that she ended up regretting as an adult. She visits her college-age self and tries to stop her from taking a drug that gives her a bad trip. She tells her high-school-age self not to make out with an unsavory boy. She tries to save her elementary-school-age self from a scary encounter with her mentally ill, violent father when he goes on a rampage with a crowbar. She intervenes dozens of times, but does it do any good? I'll let you read it and decide for yourself.

Unlike Chester 5000-XYV, there's no nudity involved in We Can Fix it!, but it does contain a fair number of scenes in which Fink has sex with versions of herself, and many of the incidents are about Fink's sexual encounters as a teen and young adult. Despite some of the heavy subject matter, Fink tells the story with charm and a light heart and renders it with appealing art.

We Can Fix It: A Time Travel Memoir

$10 gadget contains "the entire English Wikipedia with 3 million topics" (now $25)

(UPDATE: They've jacked the price up to $25 $29!) I don't have a WikiReader so I don't know if it's any good or not, but I love the idea of a $10 hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. I ordered one just because it has a "Random" article button. If you have one, please let us know what you think of it in the comments.

  • Palm-sized device contains the entire English Wikipedia
  • Pre-loaded content, no internet connection needed
  • Ready to go right out of box
  • Touchscreen controls and keyboard
  • Uses 2 AAA batteries

Get in the know with the WikiReader. This palm-sized electronic encyclopedia contains the entire English Wikipedia covering 3 million topics -- equivalent to more than 1,000 volumes. No internet connection is required, it comes preloaded with the entire Wikipedia and is ready to use right out of the box. Easy touchscreen controls and touchscreen QWERTY keyboard allow you instant access to a world of knowledge. Never be out of date, either, as the content can be updated quarterly via online download or via MicroSD card. Runs on 2 AAA batteries which will last approximately 1 year.

UPDATE: I'm going to do this when I get mine.

WikiReader Pocket Wikipedia $10

Pirate pancake griddle

Joe Sandor is looking for $13k on Kickstarter to fund his Pirate Pancake griddle project. It's a beaut. (I wrote about Joe's successful cast iron crepe pan Kickstarter last year).

Pirate Pancake griddle project

Hepper cat bed has groovy appeal

It took a day for our cat Louie to fall in love with his Hepper cat bed. After assembling it (5 minutes) Jane tried to push him into it, but he backed out and ran away, eyeing it with suspicion. The next morning he was like a peanut in its shell. Now he spends hours a day in it. I wish it were big enough for me.

Hepper Cat Bed $110

Volcano Dust - made from ghost chili peppers

Volcano Dust is a brand of powdered bhut jolokia chili peppers. Also known as ghost chills, bhut jolokias are mind-bendingly hot. For example, an average jalapeño pepper measures about 5,000 on the Scoville heat scale; a bhut jolokia measures 1,000,000 Scovilles.

The manufacturer of Volcano Dust sent me a box of samples, and I carefully tried them out. They are certainly the hottest powdered chili peppers I've ever tasted, but I like them. A slight dusting of the Hot Italian Blend on my easy-over eggs or chicken soup turns them into an exciting culinary experience. Here's to blown-out capsaicin receptors!

(I gave Cory a jar of the pure powdered bhut jolokia when he came to visit a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully he'll share his thoughts on it.)

Volcano Dust

Exclusive video for Bob Staake's new book, Bluebird

As I've said before, I've been a fan of Bob Staake's illustration ever since David and I stumbled across his ABC and 123 books at SF Moma in 1998. Bob's art is appealing in its simplicity, but it's also sophisticated and wry. No surprise that he has illustrated quite a few New Yorker covers. He does all of his illustration work using a pre-OS X version of the Macintosh operating system and Photoshop 3. He doesn't use a stylus, and instead does everything with a mouse.

It's with great pleasure that Boing Boing gets to premiere the trailer for Bob's new book, Bluebird. He's been working on it for 10 years, and it's a mind-blowing story aimed at 4-8 year olds. It's told without words, and it's about a boy, a bird, and some bullies. I don't want to spoil the story so I'll stop there. I agree with Kirkus Reviews assessment: "Like nothing you have seen before." Is it Bob's magnum opus? I'd say "yes.. so far." Who knows what he'll do next?

Bluebird