By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine
Coffee AND a gadget - what's not to like?
Mug warmers that plug into your PC, humane spider catchers and chocolate fountains - gadget peddlers are already gearing up for Christmas. Yes, in July.
It's difficult to see why a mug warmer that plugs into the USB port of your computer is an essential gift for your loved ones this Christmas. Useful on train journeys perhaps, where there are no other power sources. But do they have mugs on trains?
And the use for a keyboard that rolls up neatly is not immediately clear in the absence of a computer that rolls up neatly. One also struggles to think who would want a branding iron to put their initials on their steaks.
And yet ever since the glory days of the infamous Innovations catalogue, Christmas has been a time of gadget heaven. Who could forget their gold-plated golf ball holders, or sonar devices to harass garden moles.
The WHO wouldn't approve
Pure genius lived in the pages of the catalogue and now lives on on sites such as the gadgetshop.com, Firebox and BoysStuff. And they are even now gearing up to take away your Christmas pounds.
Stuart Grant, head of gadgetshop.com, is already offering his Christmas tips. Roboreptiles are billed as the "ultimate cold-blooded predator", a kind of cross between a velociraptor and Big Track. The Pyramat Sound Rocker is a tiny rocking chair with built in speakers for video games enthusiasts.
Then there is Cube World, a kind of Tamagotchi meets Lego meets HMP Wakefield. Interconnecting cubes contain little electronic men who do various "amusing" things. The fourth tip is chocolate fountains, a favourite on gadget websites, but the kind of gift that the World Health Organization would not approve of for a nation careering headlong into obesity.
It would not need a degree in social anthropology to realise these gadgets and gizmos are for the most part aimed at men - indoor remote control planes, sponge dart guns and various Byzantine variations on the Swiss army knife define the market. But there are also gadgets aimed at women - items often containing the words "aroma" or "mood". And, of course, the aforementioned fountain.
The whole concept is strange - in a world drowning under stuff, we buy each other more and more bizarre items every Christmas. And who doesn't feel a pang of guilt when the item eventually wends its way towards the charity shop.
For sentimental sporty types?
But it's difficult not to find somewhere in your heart for a salesman trying to shift microwaveable/freezable teddy bears by suggesting they would make a handy ice pack for a sporting injury.
Perhaps most extraordinary of all the gadgets available is a ball for playing "hot potato" which sporadically delivers a surprisingly strong electric shock. If you have the kind of child who loves licking the top of 9v batteries, then this could be the gift for you.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
To Caroline Brown, Rochester, UK. You can get them! They sell them in Japan, and they're great!
I heard that you will soon be able to buy a "nodding" K9 (from Dr Who) for the back shelf of your car. If that's not true, then I want to know why not!! Surely that will be the greatest invention of all time!?
Robert Phillips, Cardiff, UK
Somebody, somewhere must be selling a loo seat warmer. I'd buy that before I bought an iPod carry case or a 75cl wineglass (holds a whole bottle) or a neck massager (yeah, right).
Caroline Brown, Rochester, UK
Don't forget thinkgeek.com, combining two 'Magazine' stories of cool gadgets and cool outsiders
Steven Bakker, Colchester
This is exactly the kind of useless, wasteful rubbish that I hate recieving (and giving if someone has asked for it). This is where the resources and creativity of modern civilisation goes - into making electronic tea cup warmers?! Try wrapping a tea towel round the cup and buy something useful or beautiful instead.
A Capes, Edinburgh
For God's sake, don't mention christmas. It is bad enough that the shops start selling decorations and cards from the end of August, and adverts are on telly from September. I think all Christmas selling etc should be against the law until Novemeber.
Cube world is amazing. My daughter got the full set of these for her 8th birthday and within 20 minutes of opening she was bored of them but when they met my office they were and still are ( 6 months later ) the greatest gadget to hit my office desk. Next stop the Gattling Rubber band gun.
Tim , Bristol
Now if the chocolate fountain was USB powered we could fill our mugs up from it and then keep them on the mug warmer to stop the chocolate going solid in the mug!
Jonathan , Bedford, England
The USB coffee warmer mat sounds like a brilliant idea to me. I've lost count of the amount of times I've sat at my desk with my coffee going cold while I get stuff answering a million boring emails. The Cubeworld things are brilliant fun, I thoroughly recommend it.
The chocolate fountain has achieved what I always thought was impossible and made chocolate look completely unappetising. Also as a note to friends and family, if I recieve anything at Christmas that incorporates the words 'aroma' or 'mood' it's going straight into the charity bag!
Having spent a lot of time in seriously impoverished areas of the world, I find items such as these audaciously offensive. The cost of one of these unnecessary toys could feed a village or provide desperately needed equipment for basic survival. If you have money to throw away, why not throw it toward a charity?
Jean Upton, Chelmsford
I have a USB cup warmer - it's absolutely superb. It also works as a USB hub. That's the most useful thing I've ever been given (by my Mum as a birthday present) to plug into my PC. I'd recommend that gadget to everyone.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK
"But do they have mugs on trains?" - Yes, but they are usually called passengers. Now, a gadget that reduces the cost of my daily commute would be useful.
Innovations? showing my age here, but what about Innovations spiritual parent Ronco?
Sion Hughes, Northampton
It tends to be best to wait a few months after Xmas before getting (or not) most of these gadgets. A certain product very similar to "robo-reptile" doesn't work nearly as well as the makers claim. Reading online reviews from owners before buying can stop you wasting upwards of £100. The item in question is now half its Xmas price too.
Just to point out that I have one of those roll-up keyboards, and that it's incredibly useful when plugged into my palm pilot on the train. The "you're a weirdo" looks take a bit of getting used to, and i am highly aware of looking like a ninny, but surely that's half the fun?
Fiona Martin, London
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