rabble's 2016 gift guide for the nerds on your list

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Once again it's time to buy gifts for the gadget nerd on your list. And, once again I'm here to offer sage advice to prevent you from getting him or her the totally, completely wrong thing.

As I mentioned last year, picking a gift for a nerd without guidance is about as safe as juggling flaming chainsaws drunk.

Dongle deluge

This year, computer, tablet and smartphone ports have gotten more confusing. Does your lovable nerd have a phone with a headphone jack or just a Lightning port? Does her laptop have USB-3 or USB C ports? Does that same laptop have HDMI, mini displayport or Thunderbolt output to a TV or monitor? Choose wisely.

More and more laptops are adopting the very versatile USB C standard port (Google's Pixel, Apple's new MacBook Pros). Casually ask your nerd about it. Try: "Wow, all those holes in the side of your computer all look the same, what's with that?"

If the answer is: "Because they're all USB C ports. Duh." You're on to something. Why? Because a USB C port owner can never have enough dongles. What's a dongle?

It's an adapter that allows USB C devices to connect to monitors, storage devices, chargers and card readers. Dongles can make even the most svelte laptop look like Medusa on a bad snake day.

Nerds need to carry them everywhere. So, once you know he or she has a USB C port, get them a dongle for Christmas. It probably doesn't even matter if they already have one.

An extra dongle just means another bag that can contain that dongle they accidentally left at home. This is especially true of dongles that will connect a laptop to a display. USB C to HDMI or VGA is a sure winner. Here's a whole variety of dongles to pick from.

Blue(tooth) Christmas

Next up, headphones. 2016 has been the year of Bluetooth headphones. Those are headphones that don't have a wire attaching them to a nerd's gadget. Almost any modern device will be able to make use of Bluetooth headphones, so they're a safe bet. There are basically three types of wireless headphones to consider: over-the-ear (so your nerdy pal looks like Princess Leia), earbuds or exercise headphones.

Geeks who spend their days anchored to a computer will want the over-the-ear or earbuds kind. If they run or go to the gym they'll want a sports model. Keep in mind, even wireless earphones have a wire that connects the left earphone to the right. Don't let that put you off. They're wireless. The sports models normally come with ear hooks to keep them secure when the owner is active. They're also water and sweat resistant.

Apple was supposed to come out with completely wireless earphones called AirPhones, but, as of this writing, they haven't shown up yet. One of my favourite gadget ranking sites, The Wirecutter, has a great rundown on the best in each category here and here.

Whatever the style, Bluetooth headphones offer users a great deal of freedom and will allow them to get about 40 feet from their device, like that's going to happen.

Gifts for little engineers

Now, if you have a nerdy niece or nephew there are lots of options to consider. One I'd suggest is getting them an Arduino starter kit. Arduino is an inexpensive micro controller even kids can program to do amazing things. They can use the computer they already have to program the Arduino so it can control all manner of sensors and devices. It's a great way for kids to learn programming and robotics. This one is a good choice.

So, whether it's dongles, headphones or micro controllers, I've got you covered this Christmas. You're welcome.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Bukowsky18/flickr

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