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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Nerdmas 2014

By Phil Plait

Oh, Black Friday, keep on rollin’.*

Today in the U.S. is that orgy of capitalistic materialism, Black Friday. It’s a big shopping day, with people trying to find good prices for holiday gifts. I don’t have too much of a problem with this in principle, but in practice I’d rather pull my own head off than go into town and fight the maddening crowds.

I do prefer to shop online myself. And I know a solid chunk of my readership is made of nerds or the nerd-adjacent—don’t bother denying it; I don’t—and would like some hints on giftery.

Below are some links to things I recommend. Your kilometerage may vary, but these are things I myself have enjoyed, and almost all are from personal friends whose work I support.

Note: Before you ask, here’s what I have to say about buying a telescope for the holidays.

Like art? I have several suggestions:

→ Get artist Len Peralta to draw something for you! He does the great Geek-a-Week cards, and I really like his style. He’ll do custom holiday art for you.

→ Gavin Aung Than draws the fantastic Zen Pencils comic, taking quotations from people and creating wonderful scenes to illustrate them. He did my “Science Fare” speech, which makes me ridiculously proud. He’s collected quite a few of these into a book called Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks, and it’s great. “Science Fare” is in it, too.

→ You probably read The Oatmeal, right? Matt Inman has an online store with a Black Friday sale.

Kim Boekbinder is a machine for making quirky awesome music. She has a Kickstarter going right now where she will write a song for every $100 pledged. For $100 she’ll write a song just for you based on two words you give her. Anyone who pledges gets access to the songs; she’s posted some you can listen to and get a taste.

→ I don’t know ThinkGeek personally—we’re mutual fans—but they have a planet drinking glass set that looks really cool. I may get this myself.

Red Rocket Farm by Jason Thomas is another favorite of mine, and he has a fun store. I love the shirt with the robot that dropped its ice cream. Not only do I have that shirt, I’m wearing it as I write this!

Like reading? Let me help you:

→ The aforementioned Len Peralta has a new comic book called Exterminite. I read the first issue and I really liked it.

→ He also has drawn a book with MST3K/Rifftrax genius Bill Corbett called Super Powered Revenge Christmas, a maniacal and funny comic book about, um, Christmas.

→ I know you read xkcd. Randall Munroe collected his essays from his series “what if?,” wrote new ones, and put them into a book called, duh, What If? I wrote a post about it, as if you need more info.

→ Also, don’t forget I have three books: Bad Astronomy, Death From the Skies!, and Nerd Disses (with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s Zach Weinersmith).

Like spending money? Some folks may have a little more cash to spend, so in that case I do have a couple of things you could take a look at:

→ I collect meteorites. It’s a lot of fun, it’s educational, and it never ceases to amaze me to hold a 4.5 billion year old chuck of rock and iron in my hand. My good friend Geoff Notkin (you may have seen him on Discovery Channel’s Meteorite Men) is an amazing meteorite hunter and has a shop filled with gorgeous specimens. He has very high-quality space rocks and is also just an all-around good guy.

→ One of the most commonly asked question astronomers get this time of year is, “What kind of telescope should I buy for my kid?” That’s a tough question—it’s like buying a car, with lots of choices depending on what you want to do. I have a post I wrote with some links that might help.

But here’s something different: I recently acquired a solar telescope from Lunt Systems. This is a small but powerful ‘scope with a built-in filter that allows you to safely observe the Sun. The filter highlights solar activity: prominences, filaments, sunspots, and more. I only got mine recently and haven’t had a lot of time to play with it, but so far I’m impressed. The optics are high-quality, and the view of the Sun is jaw-dropping. I got the LS50THa, on their small end, but they have much bigger ones, too. I’ll note you can’t use the ‘scope to do any other kind of observing—a filter designed to block the Sun will make it pretty hard to see anything else—but our ever-changing star provides an endless and fascinating show. Full disclosure: Alan Traino, a partner in running the company, is a friend of mine. But this really is a well-crafted ‘scope, and I recommend it.

→ I like Celestron telescopes, too.

So there you go! I’m sure other folks have suggestions too, so feel free to leave ‘em in the comments. There’s a lot of nerdery to go around, so let others know where your geek flies.

*With apologies to the Doobie Brothers.

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