Best of

The Best of Tech for the 2014 Holiday Season!

We know you’ve been chomping at the bit for an excuse to buy some good geeky fun for your family! Here’s our ultimate tech gift list, just in time for the Black Friday sales.

We have chosen products that align with our own mission to empower people with tech skills and get really creative, rather than come up with a list of gadgets that you’ll have forgotten about in a few months. These are all super cool things that you can learn from, tinker with and build upon over the next year.

1. Belkin WeMo: A simple switch with endless possibilities

Who’s ready for the Internet of Things? There are quite a few ways to get this started in your very own home. The easiest to get sorted out is the Belkin WeMo switch, which goes for just £29.99 at Maplin. This is an internet–programmable plug to get your sitting room lights or your coffee machine connected to the web and your phone. Add-ons include motion sensors, wifi cameras with night vision, iPad enabled switches, and more. We discovered WeMo through our involvement with the Future8 competition this year celebrating the achievements of young people in the digital sphere. One of the prizes was a trip to LA to work with the Belkin WeMo team. Here’s a whole tumblr devoted to creative ways to use your WeMo! I’ve already ordered mine.

How the WeMo phone-compatible switch works

2. Spark: Accessible tools to connect your world

If you want to get plugged in and are ready for some programming, we would recommend the spark.io, taking the maker world by storm. This wi-fi enabled microprocessor lets you create a connected product in the cloud, using your own code, or something from the library created by other makers. It’s meant to be simple enough for students and sophisticated enough for industrial designers. This plus a bit of Rapid Prototyping and you are ready to invent the future! Have a look here to see what others have already hacked up with their Sparks.

As Spark requires some programming knowledge, it might make for an interesting challenge for our Teen Hardware / Physical Computing with Arduino alumni!

3. Raspberry Pi: New models and a book to get you started

While we’re on electronics, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that there are two new models of Raspberry Pi out. The Raspberry Pi B+, which solves a lot of the “fiddliness” problems of the original RaspPi, improving the spec with 4 USB ports (so you don’t need an additional powered hub), lower power consumption, better audio, and more GPIO for inputs and outputs. They’ve also come out with an “A+” model, which is an even cheaper, smaller format RaspPi, perfect for embedded projects. To buy or get more info on both of these, and ideas for how to use them, check out the element 14 community page.

You may have heard that there are quite a few Raspberry Pi’s collecting dust as they are not the easiest kits to get started with. We have a plan to help you with that! But until we can sort that out for you in person, we recommend Carrie Anne Philbin’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi book (and we recommend buying it from Pimoroni, one of our favorite UK vendors).

Image credit: pimoroni.com

Win yourself a present!

We are giving away a Raspberry Pi with the book as part of our Recommend A Friend to Fire Tech Camp promotion. Enter before 19th December.

4. Coding and Electronics with Minecraft

With or without a Pi, one of our favourite learning gifts this Christmas is the Adventures in Minecraft book written by our friend and camp tutor David Whale and his co-author Martin O’Hanlon. The book uses Minecraft Pi, which works brilliantly on the Raspberry Pi, but the programs can also be run on a PC or Mac. To get the full benefit, be sure to get SK Pang’s companion electronics kit, to build your own Python/Minecraft games controllers.

If it all sounds a bit daunting on your own, keep an eye out for the class we are running – Python Coding and Electronics with Minecraft– all sold out for December, but we’ll be adding inventory for upcoming camps!

5. Circuit Stickers: Electronics for young tinkerers

Sticking with the electronics theme, but looking for something for the younger crowd? Check out Circuit Stickers. These are stickers and copper tape that allow anyone to get started building circuits. Here’s a starter kit at £22.50, and here’s an add-on kit with sensors, for another £22.50. The manufacturers, Chibitronics, have a great learning portal too with free video tutorials.

6. Bare Conductive: Electric paint and the new Touch Board

There are so many cool hardware kits at the moment it’s hard to choose which ones to feature, but there’s one more that we love too much to skip. Many of our campers will be familiar with Bare Conductive, as we have used their conductive paint in our classes from the very beginning. The London-based team is actually a product of Imperial College and the Royal College of Art’s jointly-run Innovation Design Engineering course, who we look to for tutors for our Rapid Prototyping courses.

Bare Conductive paint in use at the Fire Tech Digital Music Production Camp

Bare Conductive recently introduced their Touch Board making platform. All the power of an Arduino, but with music! The Touch Board lets you turn almost any material or surface into a sensor, using its Arduino-compatible microprocessing board. We love the fact that beyond the integrated sensors it also has an on-board MP3 player so that MIDI music is an integral part of your inventions. You can buy the board on its own for £55.00, but you may want to go ahead and spring for the inventors kit, which includes speakers, power, jumper cables, electric paint, stencils, everything you need to get creating without additional Maplin runs!

7. Fire Tech Camp Gift Vouchers

Of course, we can’t complete this list without a mention of our own camps! Give your teens something to look forward to in the New Year and check out our weekend coding and programming courses with dates starting in January and February. There’s also lots going on for teens and younger children during the February half-term and the April holidays. If you want to leave the choice of course up to the person you’re buying for, then you can buy a gift voucher (£25, £50, £100, £250 or a whole course). Take a look at the Fire Tech Camp courses we currently have available and get in touch to arrange gift vouchers.

Happy Holidays!

One of our favourite thing about holiday periods and winter weekends is the chance to spend cosy days at home with family working on projects. We hope that this will give you some ideas for gifts we wish you many merry hours of making in the New Year!

If you have any more recommendations for awesome tech gifts that we should share with other Fire Tech Campers, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.