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Christmas Cheer Toys Education

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Geeky Gift For Children? 204

Everyone's suggesting gifts to teach the next generation of geeks about science, technology, engineering, and math. Slashdot reader theodp writes: In "My Guide to Holiday Gifts," Melinda Gates presents "a STEM gift guide" [which] pales by comparison to Amazon's "STEM picks". Back in 2009, Slashdot discussed science gifts for kids. So, how about a 2016 update?
I've always wanted to ask what geeky gifts Slashdot's readers remember from when they were kids. (And what geeky gifts do you still bitterly wish some enlightened person would've given you?) But more importantly, what modern-day tech toys can best encourage the budding young geeks of today? Leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best geeky gift for children?
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Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Geeky Gift For Children?

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  • Oblig xkcd (Score:2, Insightful)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 )
    One of the books by Randall Munroe?
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Saturday December 10, 2016 @11:57PM (#53461779)

    Without all the action figure stuff that serves as training wheels their imagination, unless they've demonstrated that they need it.

    • Build your own (Score:5, Informative)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:39AM (#53461881) Homepage Journal

      If you are a member of a hackerspace, how about:

      An optics kit [hackaday.io]
      Some lego-enhanced optics components [hackaday.io]
      Other cool optics components [hackaday.io] using legos
      A home built robot [hackaday.io]
      3d-print an industrial robotic arm [hackaday.io]
      A modular clock kit [hackaday.io]
      Any sciency kit [hackaday.io]
      Any sciency toy [hackaday.io]

      There's a long list of interesting things you could *build* for your child, or build *with* your child, and if they break something or want to modify/extend something, you can build them a replacement or an extension.

      • There's a long list of interesting things you could *build* for your child, or build *with* your child

        Just give them a reprint of "Inertial-Electrostatic Confinement of Ionized Fusion Gases" and a bottle of heavy water...

      • LEGO Mindstorm has Simulink Support [mathworks.com].

        They have cheaper home licenses. If your kid can play Minecraft, they can use Simulink. I could hand away half of my job to highschoolers if they knew Simulink. (Job search Indeed in any part of the country).

        For younger kids I really wish they still sold Capsela [ebay.com]. My parents swear it's why I became an engineer.

        On the cheap end of the spectrum: Go to a thrift store. Buy a electronic thing for under $10. Take it apart. Google the chip numbers. (For some things it's a digital

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        How about some lateral thinking. Better gift for geeky children. How about some family MMO play time, parents spending some real time with their children, getting them started on an MMO and playing with them. Not just once but for many hours over many days. Plenty of MMOs to choose from and caring and sharing time is worth more than an crappy nick nack no matter how temporarily educational. So http://store.steampowered.com/... [steampowered.com], LOTRO seems to play well for families and graphically is still hanging in there

    • mindstorm ev3 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:44AM (#53461897) Homepage

      I agree with the lego bricks and if you want to go one step further, get a mindstorm ev3. Yes, mindstorm is expensive but it beats almost any stem toy on the market. It has a low learning barrier to entry but is still pretty powerful and most importantly is not single use. I have bought my kids quite a few other stem toys like sphero, ozobot, mbot, snap circuits, littlebits, preprogrammed toy robots, etc... but most of them either have limited customization or you have to be a programmer to make them do anything cool. The mindstorm kit was the most expensive stem toy I have ever bought but it is the only one that my kids still play with on a regular basis as the rest are now mostly just collecting dust and collectively all the other dust collecting stem toys cost more than the mindstorm set and the mindstorm can basically replicate the functionality of all of them. The only real problem my kids have with mindstorm is that they can only create one thing at a time and must destroy it before creating something new.

      • Agree 100%. Best thing about Mindstorm is that it's LEGO, so you can extend any of their other lego creations with it.

        Got it for my son last year (he was nine at the time). He played with it for a couple months (creating the pre-programmed structures), put it away, and just recently brought it back out and wants to learn the programing that goes along with it.

      • You should also go one step less. I suggest one, or two, days per week that are electricity-free. Permitted would be sports, hikes, splitting wood, gardening, or just time spent at the kitchen table with a large artist's pad full of blank sheets of paper, with a stack of pencils, pens and sharpies nearby.

        • You should also go one step less. I suggest one, or two, days per week that are electricity-free. Permitted would be sports, hikes, splitting wood, gardening, or just time spent at the kitchen table with a large artist's pad full of blank sheets of paper, with a stack of pencils, pens and sharpies nearby.

          I agree with this. The only thing I would add is that sometimes you also need to change up and limit the choices too. One of my sons actually spends most of his free time at the kitchen table with blank paper and a pencil. I think this is great but just like a kid that spends all his free time reading, I feel that sometimes it's the parent's job to encourage a kid to try different activities other than their standard fallback activity.

    • When they were younger, I bought my nephews Lego. Now they're getting older, it's Meccano.

      Reflects my transition between the two many decades ago, although both have transformed and enhanced in the meantime!
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      When I were young, Lego was for the 80% kids. Geeky kids would have Meccano or do wood and metal working.

      As for what I'd give a kid today?
      It would depend on the age and how much the kid has been allowed to grow up and learn, I guess.
      For a 10 year old back when (which possibly equates to a 30 year old today), something like a geiger counter kit, perhaps?
      For a younger kid, a good Mora or Puukko style knife with a kid sized handle. Including spending time teaching the kid knife safety.
      Or a kid size workbench [rockler.com]

      • I'd say a chemistry set, but they have been completely nerfed to the point of not being interesting anymore.

        Yes, there has been a war on chemistry now for at least 30 years. Most outlets selling chemicals to hobbyists have disappeared.

        However even now there are some decent options.

        The only chemistry set on the market worth considering is the Thames & Kosmos C3000 [thamesandkosmos.com] set for $280. The less expensive Thames & Kosmos chem sets are not bad - they all have some real chemistry in them - but too limited. The Thamses & Kosmos set might get you busted in Texas though since it contains an Erlenmeyer flask [texas.gov] (a speci

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          The Thamses & Kosmos set might get you busted in Texas though since it contains an Erlenmeyer flask (a special license is needed to possess one).

          Dafuq? Are they scared of their own shadows down there?
          I use one all the time for woodworking. Dissolving shellac flakes is so much easier in a flask I can swirl without spilling, and see how much alcohol I have added.

          Anyhow, looking through the instructions for the German set, it has some good features, but it looks like most of the experiments need additional ingredients not shipped with the kit. For the American market, some of them might be hard to get without special ordering, given that drugstores

    • Screw lego and mindstorm and mechano. Your kids would probably prefer a guitar, especially since their peers will see it as a cool gift. It's something that is hard for them to learn but will give them a well-deserved boost in self-esteem each time they learn something new. It's also a gender-neutral gift, so no issues there.

      Plus, there's the opportunity to bond by teaching them to play Stairway to Heaven, etc. The Stones ain't dead yet.

  • A Sphero. They are extra cool, programmable, and there is a platform for people to make and share educational content
  • They have enough useless crap as it is.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Graphing and tracing paper and a rotring/rapidograph pen set would be an awesome present for smart kids.

  • ...and they can create and print their own toys.
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      A good knife will let them do that too. And they'll even understand what they're doing and discover how's and why's.

      Kids have too many magic boxes. What those teaches them is that they're too stupid to fully understand anything, and that they have to be good robotniks who don't question things, but push a button and things beyond their understanding occurs.

      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

        If they have to build their own 3D printer, even from a kit, they'll understand how it works.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          If they have to build their own 3D printer, even from a kit, they'll understand how it works.

          No, they won't. They may understand the mechanical part, but how the 3d image gets into the printer and makes the servo motors move is still black magic. In this case, observing is not understanding.

          Starting with a CNC router with a very limited instruction set is far more instructive, but even that has black box elements that defies understanding for most kids.

          • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

            No, they won't. They may understand the mechanical part, but how the 3d image gets into the printer and makes the servo motors move is still black magic. In this case, observing is not understanding.

            First, a small correction: almost all consumer-grade 3D printers use stepper motors, not servo motors.

            Starting with a CNC router with a very limited instruction set is far more instructive, but even that has black box elements that defies understanding for most kids.

            If they're building from a kit and need to sen

            • by arth1 ( 260657 )

              First, a small correction: almost all consumer-grade 3D printers use stepper motors, not servo motors.

              I stand corrected. My CNC table has servos, so that's what I thought of.
              Servos might make sense for my use with lots of diagonal cuts (like mitres) and doing many identical jobs without cooldown periods. For a 3d printer, and one that is affordable, I can see how stepper motors make more sense.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:28AM (#53461845)

    - old tube AM radio to take apart (I was 5 years old and had already been passionate about electricity and electronics for the previous 3 years or so)
    - crystal radio kit
    - build-it-yourself motor kit (very cool - I had to wind the armature myself)
    - countless ignition cells and lantern batteries
    - 100-in-1 electronics educational kit
    - walkie talkies
    - wood burning kit (never did any wood burning 'art' with it, but it was my first soldering iron)

    Along with new geek gifts for kids, consider old 'junk' that they can take apart, experiment with, and learn from; it won't cost much, and they won't be worried about breaking some new bit of shiny and pissing off Mom and Dad. And remember that the greatest gifts a parent can give to a geek child are TIME and COMPANIONSHIP. Take them to places that they'll love, but that they wouldn't normally go to or wouldn't discover on their own. When I was a kid my father took me to a local hydro-electric generating station. (I grew up in Niagara Falls Canada). And this was no tourist visit; he had a friend who worked there, and we were up on a narrow, high catwalk above the generators - a place where only employees were supposed to go. I'll remember that 'til the day I die.

    The above ideas aren't specific to Christmas - but this is a good time to remind ourselves of the gifts we can and should be giving kids all year to feed their passions and build their confidence.

    • Funny, I took my kids on a tour of a hydro plant last month. Not a sanitized tour either. At least they now know where electricity comes from.
      • Electricity is the stuff that comes from the sockets in the wall and tastes ouchie!

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Touching your tongue to the copper blades of a 4.5 V battery was part of primary school education when I grew up. Most thought it "tasted ouchie", like you said, but some of us loved the tingles and verdigris taste combination.

          • by Squeak ( 10756 )

            It is still how I test a 9V PP3 style battery. If it hurts, the battery is still new. Not a method I would encourage my five year old son in though. Yet.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      - old tube AM radio to take apart (I was 5 years old and had already been passionate about electricity and electronics for the previous 3 years or so)

      Dilbert, is that you [youtube.com]?

      • Dilbert, is that you [youtube.com]?

        Thanks - that was fun! I never had "the knack" in quite that way though. It took me quite a few years to learn how to put stuff back together after I had taken it apart, and longer still to acquire significant troubleshooting skill. (And I'm still just OK at troubleshooting - I'd rather design and build). But I was always fascinated with electricity. When I was being wheeled through the five-and-dime at the age of 2 or 3, I usually wasn't much interested in the toys. But electrical connectors and adapters,

    • - old tube AM radio to take apart (I was 5 years old and had already been passionate about electricity and electronics for the previous 3 years or so)

      I have to warn against this advice. Many US-made "Old Tube Radios" were manufactured with a primitive power system (not transformer coupled) and a "Hot Chassis". They employ a 2-prong AC plug (not a modern 3-prong plug) and since polarized sockets were not used at the time, the plug is unpolarized (can be inserted either way). This type of construction is cheaper and is therefore quite commonly found. Depending on how you insert the AC plug, the chassis is either hot when the radio is on, or hot when the r

      • by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

        That style of design should never have been allowed. Can't believe how many corners get cut in product design, though really, it should simply have been legislated for.

        Chassis should always be at earth.

      • They employ a 2-prong AC plug (not a modern 3-prong plug) and since polarized sockets were not used at the time, the plug is unpolarized (can be inserted either way). This type of construction is cheaper and is therefore quite commonly found.

        Thanks - that's a good point. IIRC, my parents had cut the plug off. It would probably be two or three years before I would have had the ability to reverse that...

        This type of construction is cheaper and is therefore quite commonly found.

        Back then it was the ONLY type of construction to be found. Grounded outlets weren't at all common then, (at least in the houses I lived in or visited), nor were polarized plugs and outlets. I was probably 10 or 12 when I saw my first 3-prong plug. Even our all-metal drill only had a two-prong plug - and it wasn't "double insulated" either.

      • Oh what a pussy.

        We all survived "hot chassis" radios and TVs.

        If you're so worried, include an isolation transformer.

  • Lego (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdFORTRANflat.com minus language> on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:34AM (#53461867) Journal
    suitable for all children from age 3 to 123
  • I believe these [zometool.com] provide immense fun.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:39AM (#53461883) Homepage Journal

    What about for the geology geek/rock hound/pebble pup? They'd love for you to get them some opals, or fire agates, or celestite, or maybe some lapis, or perhaps a massive Moroccan trilobite.

    Not all geeky children gifts need to be technology-based. You aren't going to get a rockhound geek encouraged to get out and learn more by giving them a calculator.

    Slashdot's playing a really stupid exclusionary game by basically denying geekdom to massive subsets of science with this Ask Slashdot thread, especially since the originally-referenced thread practically was meant for Geologists.

    WhipSlash, you and everyone else should know better than this. What a goddamned shame.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:44AM (#53461895)
    Assuming they're old enough. Lego's suck for learning real engineering. If that's a no-go maybe Lego Technic, but I still think the Erector sets your better buy.
    • If they've outgrown Legos, maybe a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook ?

      • No. Full of disinformation designed to get morons (e.g. Weather Underground) to kill themselves.

        US army improvised weapons manuals are a much better choice.

        But in point of fact a .22 rifle comes after legos, but before five pound tins of powder. (a pellet rifle come before lego)

    • One, the plural of Lego is Lego.
      Two, you don't form plurals with an apostrophe.

  • by tgibson ( 131396 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @12:59AM (#53461931) Homepage

    A rock tumbler [amazon.com] requires patience but has an awesome payoff.

    A metal detector [amazon.com] has a sense of adventure, finding bits of jewelry and coins at a playground or park.

  • I would have originally said a mac laptop..... but, apple have destroyed what was insanely great.... ,and left the world with massively overpriced computer like objects that you cant even plug in a usb memory stick. You could go windows but that would be selling your kids heart to the devil, along with his browsing habits, shopping preferences and anything else microsoft want to monitor. You could go with a linux laptop like...erm....... errr.... Cant find one for sale. Scrub that. You could go with a
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      I bought a really nice 2012 15 inch Macbook Pro for a little over 600 on ebay recently. 2.3Ghz Quad i7 with16GB of Ram and discrete Nvidia graphics. It's pretty sweet. I guess you can't upgrade anything on the newest ones though. This one is difficult but possible to change the battery. I think it's not necessary to keep shrinking everything to ridiculous proportions.

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      A Core 2 Duo will not "easily" run the latest OS. Don't get anything below an i5, please.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        A Core 2 Duo will not "easily" run the latest OS. Don't get anything below an i5, please.

        Oh, it certainly will. You just have to control what you run, and not have hundreds of resource hungry applications running in the background when you don't need them.

        My main server here runs on a PIII, with the OS (Gentoo) being up to date as per yesterday. E-mail server, DNS, DHCP, NFS, web server and at present the 15 minute load average is 0.01. It's overkill.
        One of my laptops is a Core 2 Duo, and it has no problems either.

        • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

          tonywestonuk was talking about Mac laptops, so I was assuming the latest version of macOS.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        You can still do stuff with the powerpc macs FFS.
  • by tonywestonuk ( 261622 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @02:08AM (#53462071)

    Pine Book laptop. $89. Awesome.

    https://fossbytes.com/dollar-8... [fossbytes.com]

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @02:26AM (#53462101) Journal

    Just kidding

  • Let them learn about the old days when there was nothing to do on Sundays but watch guys throw a weirdly shaped ball around. Let them learn tech by 'rebelling' against your wishes, "Don't go into to tech, go outside and sports!"
  • Best geeky gift for kids? Time to play, have fun. Less tech toys that are meant to 'train them for tomorrow'.

  • How geeky? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @04:00AM (#53462237)

    Geeky like me? Get him an assortment of tools and all the cardboard, construction paper, popsickle sticks and rubber bands you can find. Hell, if I hadn't run out of that earlier I would still be in the basement building my own toys!

    Then I turned 30 and my dad said I'm too old ... other story.

  • Maybe a snow, scate or surfboard or perhaps a climbing harness ( depending on where you live) might be a better present. Maybe its just me, but I think the first world kids today might need encouragement _not_ to sit inside.

    My 2 cents.

  • Geeky children have specialized interests, so there is no one-size-fits-all Science Barbie that would satisfy them all. Depending on your geeky kid's particular talents get a telescope, a chemistry set if you can sneak in a real one, a computer with specialized software of some appropriate kind, a paint set, a camera, or an Estes rocket kit.

    With the right gift, your geeky kid can get the start in life that he/she needs to be the billionaire boss of those ACs in this thread who have given up all hope for the

  • Good parenting goes a long way.

  • They are turning 7 soon.

    Legos and the basic Perplexus. The latter is a difficult game of angular motion.

    Here it is:
    https://www.amazon.com/Perplex... [amazon.com]

  • A lot of people are rooting for Legos and I don't really disagree, but my personal experience as a kid was waaaaay better with Meccano. The box had a booklet with instructions for various stuff, but at the end it had an "advanced" category where each model was only shown using three pictures. You had to figure out the rest yourself. It was awesome.

  • Give your kids something of everything and let them chose their own life.

    I remember getting a Chemistry set, bug catchers + biology kits, toy microscopes, lego, a telescope, and at some point I received "The Fun Way Into Electronics Part 1". Then I asked for part 2, and 3 and a few years later a university degree.

    I'm an EE now.

  • I don't have any great suggestions for others because I can't seem to find what I think should be out there right now based on where tech is at. I'm looking for things for an advanced seven month old to enjoy over the next year, and I'm seriously thinking I may just have to get some little WiFi or bluetooth device (preferably cheaper/smaller than Alexa or Google's new offering), cut a stuffed animal open, and sew it in.

    Does anyone know of a stuffed animal or something similar that has a bluetooth microphone

  • Runs Linux pretty much "out-of-the-box". All sorts of deployment options for kids with software or electronics aptitude.

  • One fun thing to play with is a USB microscope: even with low magnification (x50 or x100) can be really interesting for looking at both man-made objects as well as insects and plants. It's engrossing. Get a pad- or phone-connectable one to take into the field.

  • Some tools. Needle nose pliers, wire cutters, wire strippers, small ratchet wrench set, nut drivers, screw drivers, a cheap multimeter (analog so they don't get dumbed down). A small hammer, some vice grips, dikes, soldering iron and solder.

    Then get them a book on electronic projects and some old piece of crap TV or radio that no longer works. Have them take it apart. Try measuring stuff with the multimeter. Maybe a crystal radio kit.

    If you're really in to it, find an old Heathkit shortwave receiver th

  • How about a nice little Dobson telescope plus sky chart? You might add in a sun filter. You're good for many hours of admiring celestial objects with your kids.

    For kids of a certain age, a light equatorial mount plus 'scope may enable them to start taking their own pictures.

    There's also lots of opportunities to make your own accessories, way cheaper than what you can buy.

  • I had such awesome fun building stuff with mine. And not the "build this thing" stuff - find a proper, old fashioned, box with 300 pieces you can build anything with.
    My little one is still a bit small for mecano (even for lego actually - her fingers aren't that nimble yet) but it's definitely on the list for when she's a bit older.

    And a little after that, a raspberry pi ! Best thing I had growing up was my own computer I could mess with and learn to code on, I would not deprive her of the same opportunity.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus

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