The holiday season is rapidly approaching, which means it’s time to put on our thinking caps and begin pondering that annual question: what’s new and different that I can give to the special people in my life this year?
Here are some suggestions for gifts that are a little bit out of the mainstream, but still within the realm of conventional wisdom and common sense – no left-handed smoke-switchers or 1951 Hoffman’s here.
- Smart Speakers
Easily the most popular electronic innovation of 2018 was the smart speaker. In case you didn’t know, a smart speaker is a wireless speaker and voice-command device that is equipped with a virtual, personal assistant.
This assistant is really an artificial intelligence computer application that is programmed to ‘listen’ for certain ‘hot words’, that you speak, and then implement the command implied from these words on either the speaker, or some other device that is hooked into your home’s computing system. For example, you could say to your smart speaker, “It’s too hot in here” and it would interface with your home’s HVAC system and lower the thermostat.
The possibilities for control of the various consumer devices in your life are practically limitless – as long as these devices have a computer interface capability, your smart speaker could potentially control them, based upon your simple voice commands.
Smart speakers range in price from about $40 all the way up to $500. The more you spend; the more capabilities they offer. The leader in the field, up until now, has been the Amazon Echo system with its virtual assistant, ‘Alexa’, whose soothing voice can be delivered in three languages: English, German and Japanese. So the next time you crave Japanese chocolate candy, just ask Alexa where you can find “Chokorētokyandī” and she’ll be glad to oblige.
- Aerial Tours
If you live anywhere near a prominent, man-made or natural wonder, there are most likely aerial tours offered to view them. These tours can take all sorts of different forms: from hot air balloon rides, to helicopter tours, and even rides in a vintage, open air biplane or military warbird. The main thing you want to be mindful of here is to suit the aerial medium to the gift recipient.
Hot air balloons are big beautiful things that gently lift you up into the air in a charming wicker basket. But climbing into that basket can be a chore and the very loud whooshing racket that’s generated from the propane burner heat source, used to fill the bag with hot air and, thus, lift you into the air, can be disconcerting.
If a less cacophonous aerial experience is preferred, opt for the helicopter tour, and particularly request a Bell 206l-4 LongRanger, one of the roomiest and quietest helicopters available for civilian use. But be mindful, riding in a LongRanger, even as smooth and comfortable as it flies, can cause disquiet in people prone to motion sickness.
If your gift recipient is a military enthusiast, just be sure he’s ready for a loud, raucous and bumpy ride if you choose to go the vintage warbird route.
- White Water Tours
Many of our cities are situated upon rivers, and these rivers often have small, untamed tributaries where wilderness outreach companies offer white water boat tours. These are usually all-day excursions down a river with intermittent rapids, sections where the river elevation drops far enough to cause wild currents and gyrations around rocks. These conditions cause the water to appear white and, thus, the name.
It may look a little dangerous but insurance companies would never underwrite these white water tour companies if there was a likelihood of injury for the customers. Just know that it is going to be a loud, rough ride, and that your gift recipient is going to get seriously wet, and maybe more than a little cold.
- Food Tours
We all would like to think that we’re pretty bold and outgoing when it comes to trying new and exotic foods, but you’d be surprised how many ethnic cuisine delights probably exist in your town, right under your nose, that you’ve never heard of, much less tried. That’s why a local food tour can be such a wonderful gift to share with a special person this holiday season.
Many of these tours take advantage of local, permanent outdoor markets, such as Seattle’s Ballard Farmer’s Market, to introduce tasters to the wonders and exotic flavors of food from as far away as Tibet, or as close as that city’s Puget Sound. Al your gift recipient needs to bring is an appetite and an open mind.