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Christmas Cheer Toys

Gadgets For a Budding Geek? 372

Posted by kdawson
from the better-to-give dept.
fprintf writes "As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys. In the past he has been really interested in Lava Lamps, Newton's Cradle, and anything magnetic. It seems the knick-knacks that have generated the most interest were small and relatively inexpensive. For example, a small laser pointer keychain I bought him a couple of years ago still provides tons of entertainment. Yesterday I showed him ThinkGeek and he really liked the Levitron. I wanted to ask the Slashdot crowd what were some other really neat, interesting gadgets? Is there anything cool in the under-$50 range that you would like in your stocking this year?"
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Gadgets For a Budding Geek?

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  • "/."liza. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ostracus (1354233) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:22PM (#25729783) Journal

    ""As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

    Why do you hate to admit it?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:29PM (#25729845)

      "As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

      It's better than having your son following in your footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based boys.

    • by chartreuse (16508) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:31PM (#25729861) Homepage

      Why do you think he hates to admit it? /eliza

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kermit1221 (75994)

      Because he waited until his kid was 13 to teach him how to be a geek.

      My six year old is pissed I won't let him have his own soldering iron yet. I told him when he can get the spring-post and/or snap terminal circuits built right the first time, then he can solder stuff.

      • Re:"/."liza. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:16AM (#25730541)

        I can't get circuits right the first time, even when I'm being paid to build them. That's what breadboards are for. You build it on the breadboard, go "huh, that's not right," fix it, and then transfer it to soldered perf board. You don't build with solder the first time. If you need it right the first time (because you're fabbing a PCB, for example) then there's hours worth of design review and double checking involved.

        If you're worried about letting the magic smoke out... well, you can do that just as easily on a breadboard or spring terminals. Besides, being overly paranoid about the magic smoke is bad for learning. Go buy 100 transistors from digikey ($6 for 2N3904 / 2N3906), a dozen op amps, a couple hundred assorted resistors, etc. Obviously you don't want to teach carelessness, but paranoia about $0.05 components isn't warranted either.

    • by Rei (128717)

      Why do you hate to admit it?

      I'm sure at first he was elated, but eventually he grew concerned. He proved his genes were grade A, but what of when tables turn?

      "As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

      Easy solution: Ship him to Singapore and sell his a** to Nike. "Stitch 'em tight!"

  • by R2.0 (532027) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:27PM (#25729823)

    As I write this the ad under this topic is for the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set.

    I think that should settle it.

  • Condoms (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:28PM (#25729831)

    If you hate to admit it, live in denial.

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:29PM (#25729851)
    There is a cluster of 7 year old siblings and cousins in my family, both boys and girls. I'd love to start a subtopic here on Christmas geek gifts available for this age group. One example: my son is asking for a Rock Polisher.
    • by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:49PM (#25730003) Journal

      There is a cluster of 7 year old siblings and cousins in my family, both boys and girls. I'd love to start a subtopic here on Christmas geek gifts available for this age group. One example: my son is asking for a Rock Polisher.

      But is a beowulf cluster?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Smauler (915644)

      Why not get him a baseball mit and just throw rocks at him? Best of both worlds! (if he's any good)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by scottrocket (1065416)
      I begged my parents for a rock tumbler, when I was 11-12. Biggest mistake they ever made, as we were all not serenaded to sleep by that incessant rumbling, coming from the utility room. But I still have pretty much every rock I tumbled, & will never get rid of them - what are memories worth (and the discipline to add the grits when needed)?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jadin (65295)

      Around ages 7-12 one of my cherished possessions was a small magnet with a super kick. It was a magnet from a junk-yard / recycling center presumably designed to test for metals. It was about the size of a AA battery, give or take, but the magnet in it was one of the strongest I've seen for it's size. What made it fun was things like making paper clips move around on top of my desk using the magnet underneath, the other kids in school would figure it out pretty quick but still found it cool. I can't say how

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by edremy (36408)
        Check out United Nuclear [unitednuclear.com] for insanely powerful magnets. Some of them are rather over the top in that they can break bones if you're not careful about moving them, but they also have lots of the small ones.
  • Arduino (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mishley (1405337) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:30PM (#25729853)
    Seems to me like you can do an awful lot with the Arduino platform. I recommend buying from the Make guys, as you'll also see that they've published a book recently with the Arduino developers/creators that maybe your kid would like as a follow-on? They are only $30.00 and the only requirement is a computer to plug the thing into for programming. I'm asking my wife for one :-). For project examples: http://www.instructables.com/tag/?q=arduino&limit%3Atype%3Aid=on&type%3Aid=on&type%3Auser=on&type%3Acomment=on&type%3Agroup=on&type%3AforumTopic=on&sort=none [instructables.com]
    • Electronics kits (Score:5, Informative)

      by plover (150551) * on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:53PM (#25730033) Homepage Journal

      When I was a kid I loved my 50-in-One Electronics Kit from Rat Shack. They still make some kits: Electronics Learning Lab [radioshack.com] although I don't know if a 13-year-old would care as much as a 10-year-old.

      Here's their kit category: http://www.radioshack.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=2032398 [radioshack.com]

      I see they have one that also includes a Basic Stamp. Or maybe it would better complement an Arduino.

      • Re:Electronics kits (Score:4, Interesting)

        by j_kenpo (571930) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:14AM (#25730207)

        I'm 30, and I still love my 300 in 1 Electronics Kit I bought from Radio shack like 10 years ago. Bought it because it had a breadboard with basic power inputs so I could use it on other prototypes and easy to assemble external pieces like switches. Been using it again recently to build schematics I find off of various sites online. They have more basic kits that have snap in components. Don't know about these kids, but I would have loved one of those at 13 since I was already soldering and wire wrapping basic circuits.

    • What are the benefits/limitations of an Arduino versus an FPGA?

      I recently started messing around with FPGAs, and have found them fascinatingly versatile and easy to program.

  • by engravee (1369623) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:30PM (#25729859)
    Just looking at this tonight: Horizon fuel cell's hydrogen r/c car kit and retrofit for larger models... http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/store/h2go.htm [horizonfuelcell.com] As a kid I loved building my own R/C cars, this would have been amazing to have!
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:33PM (#25729879) Homepage
    I don't want to say the s-word, but after I bought something from ThinkGeek, they started sending me marketing emails. I don't recall being presented with a choice about whether to opt in or out of marketing emails when I made the purchase. It was UCE (unsolicited commercial email), but you could argue that I had already established a commercial relationship with them. All I can say is that personally, if I buy from an online retailer and then they send me ads via email, my personal decision is not to do business with that retailer again. One very practical reason is that once they send me ads, I'm going to blacklist them in my email filter, and that would make it difficult to do business again. I'm not accusing ThinkGeek of being evil criminals with handlebar moustaches or anything, but it's just like any other business -- if I don't find it pleasant to buy from them, then they've lost my business.
  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:33PM (#25729883) Homepage
    ...like a rifle.

    seriously. it's how I learned that kinetic energy varies directly to 1/2 the mass and to the square of the velocity.

    and how rabbits deal with sucking chest wounds and uncompensated hypovolemic shock.

    dealing with sights and optics taught me about angles in degrees and minutes-of-angle and how they work with customay measurements and created triangles of horizontal trajectories. (there's mils for the same thing in metric).

    dealing with virticle trajectory taught me about objects falling toward the center of the earth at 1/2 gravity x (time squared) no matter how fast they are going. and how quadrant is measured to compensate for various co-efficient's of drag and velocities/grains of bullets.

    plus all the responsibility, maintenance, cleaning, and stuff. it was probably the best thing I got at 13. it sparked my interest in science and showed me how physics and math is integral in EVERYTHING you do.

    • by MostAwesomeDude (980382) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:48PM (#25729987) Homepage

      Nice nick. :3

      • Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.


        Mohandas Gandhi

        Ghandi used non-violence against the British because the Brits were basically moral people, and the strategy was clearly successful.

        He knew quite well that non-violence was an unwise strategy in many real circumstances.

    • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:49PM (#25730007) Homepage
      +5 funny???

      I'm totally serious.

    • Wiimotes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker&gnu,org> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:46AM (#25730957) Homepage

      I'm probably not one of the first million people to come up with this idea, but a wiimote can be used as a hook to get the target audience interested (if they like it, of course).

      • There's the infrared camera. You can use that to teach about light and the visible vs. invisible spectrum. If you have a good lens, or a glass of water, you can bend the light of some infrared source and go into optics.
      • There's the speaker, which lets you talk about sound waves. If it ever gets done and I publish it, look out for "wiitones", a program that lets you generate sinus tones with frequencies controlled by pointing the wiimote. Or write one yourself (I recommend SDL for audio: it's simple and portable).
      • It runs on batteries. You can talk about electricity and the chemistry of batteries.
      • There's a circuit board with some logic. That lets you talk about higher abstraction level electronics, and the engineering wisdom of abstraction.
      • There's the accelerometer. That lets you talk about acceleration and Newtonian mechanics. It also lets you talk about how one might build an accelerometer. I think I heard that using conductive springs and measuring the some electric property works. You can talk about springs here if you like.
      • It does communication via bluetooth. That lets you talk about radio, and how it's similar to and different from light.
      • You can drop it and see that it holds together. Then drop it from a taller height and see that it breaks. Talk about the physics behind it [kinetic energy enters into it].
      • If you have two wiimotes and want to find the breaking height of a wiimote on a discrete axis with only one of them breaking, you can talk about dynamic programming.

      And you can bring home the point that there's a lot of science made manifest in the engineering around us all the time.

      • Altimeter (Score:3, Informative)

        by jonaskoelker (922170)

        In addition: explain how one can build an altimeter from an accelerometer of a known mass by using Newton's laws of gravity. Explain that the wiimote is too coarse-grained to measure the difference between ocean level and the peak of mount everest.

        If I remember my calculations right, it might juuuust be feasible to measure the difference between the deepest ocean and the tallest mountain (here on earth, of course), but you need a very steady hand to pick up the difference. It'll be lost in noise.

    • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @09:03AM (#25732749) Homepage
      I second the rifle motion. I'm still amazed at the differential equations that are involved with external ballistics. Did you know that scientists have yet to develop 'closed form' equations for bullet flight? They have excellent approximations, but the formulas rely on empirical measurements of the bullet flight to derive so-called 'ballistic coefficients' for different velocity subranges for each bullet weight and shape. Sierra Bullets [sierrabullets.com] has a wonderful section of the equations of flight in their reloading manual that they have released on the web [exteriorballistics.com]. I recommend it highly to anyone with a mathematics background - check out the 4th edition information starting with section 6.0
  • by dacut (243842) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:34PM (#25729899)

    As much as I like ThinkGeek, their selection is limited to gadgets. I found that assembling and -- to my parents dismay -- disassembling things are what really grabbed my interest.

    I would take a look at the various kits from American Science & Surplus [sciplus.com]. There are a number of other sites (e.g., Carl's Electronics [electronickits.com]) which have even more kits, but I haven't ordered from them so I can't say whether they're worthwhile or not. (These days, most of my toys come from DigiKey [digikey.com], and not in kit form.)

    • by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:07AM (#25730139)
      Seriously. The most interesting thing isn't the gadgets, it's the parts with which to make gadgets. You canget a couple hundred resistors and transistors, some op amps, a few buttons, LEDs, a microcontroller or five, and a breadboard and not go much over the $50 budget.
    • I'll second AS&S and Digi-Key both. Digi-Key was founded by a ham radio kit builder (Dr. Stordahl is still active in the hobby, in fact) and even though they're a huge company now, their customer service is still great, even for hobbyists.

      The Levitron, by the way, was fun for about 10 minutes. That was 10 minutes after the hour of fiddling with it to make it work, and before I got tired of having to constantly readjust it to KEEP it working.

      My own son is almost 13, and he's gotten a lot of use out of

  • United nuclear (Score:5, Informative)

    by bgalehouse (182357) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:38PM (#25729927)

    Assuming sufficient and sufficiently geeky parental involvement, there are lots of cool things from United Nuclear. http://www.unitednuclear.com/ [unitednuclear.com]

    A collection of the smaller magnets and some ferrofluid are a pretty good combination. Ferrofluid has aproximatly the same danger and potential for mess as old engine oil, so depending on the kid you might need to supervise it. A variety of magnets also add variety to a ROMP set. http://scientificsonline.com/product.asp?eid=EID02&pn=3082172 [scientificsonline.com]

    You might also try throwing some mechanical puzzles at him. One that I particularly like can be found at http://stores.brilliantpuzzles.com/-strse-212/Internal-Combustion-Metal-Puzzle/Detail.bok [brilliantpuzzles.com] but there are many.

  • Buy him one of those $30 helicopters with 3 channels. It is quite clever to really understand what make it spin one way or another, the role of trimmer and conservation of angular momentum. Be prepared to waste lots of money on batteries, though.

  • "It's very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price -- there aren't any rules or instructions for its use," said Christopher Bensch, the museum's curator of collections. I'm willing to bet that a greener toy doesn't exist.
  • Make Magazine (Score:5, Informative)

    by xhamulnazgul (996557) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:43PM (#25729951)

    When I was that age, which was about 10 years ago, I built my first computer. I was also tinkering with the infamous 'bread board' circuit test beds and random resistors and chips that I could get my hands on.

    I would have loved to have a subscription to something so amazing as the Make Magazine at that time. It has some amazing bits in it about almost anything that I could ever have wanted to do or make. Besides that, it would have allowed me to find out about some crazier things to do in your own kitchen or garage to make something fun long before I would have played with it at school or college.

    All in all, I can't recommend Make Magazine highly enough.

  • Lego Mindstorms (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cyko_01 (1092499) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:44PM (#25729959) Homepage
    it is a great way to get creative and it teaches basic programming skills
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Fourpole (1147813)
      I'll second this. It will run you more than 50 bucks but for a geeky toy it is pretty hard to beat. Making your own original machines can be challenging enough that you can get involved in helping out too.
  • The classics... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cgenman (325138) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:46PM (#25729973) Homepage

    Model rockets are still pretty amazing, and pretty cheap. Just keep the engines until you're ready to use them. I would have killed for a radio controlled helicopter as a kid, and they're darned affordable these days.

    For video games, Mindrover [mindrover.com] is still a programming and logic classic.

    • by Wakkow (52585)
      Model rockets are awesome. Just check your local laws to see if they're allowed. I'm in Southern California and it's hard to launch them legally. Although, if it's not legal and you still want to try, just be sure to find a safe place to launch.

      Also, the parent mentioned keeping the engines until ready to use them. I was into model rockets around that age and though I was tempted to launch one on the ground by itself, I wasn't stupid enough to try. Hopefully your kid is mature
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by interiot (50685)
      RC planes [rcuniverse.com] are cheaper than helicopters, and simpler too. You get to play with servos and RF, and once you get the thing up in the air, you learn about control surfaces and stalling real quick. Plus, they've got the power-to-weight to do things helicopters can't do [youtube.com] (if you have enough time to practice).
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Plus, they've got the power-to-weight to do things helicopters can't do

        Guess you've never seen Alan Szabo [youtube.com]. A big RC helicopter has a pretty high power to weight ratio. Yeah, so does a foamie, but that's to be expected when it weighs almost nothing in the first place. I'll give you that they are a hell of a lot cheaper, not just in set-up, but also when it comes to crashes and maintenance, not to mention safer, which makes a foamie a much better choice as a way to get into the RC aircraft world.

  • This is super-super easy. I'm trying to avoid ad-hominem attacks on your geekiness.

    Electronics Kit.

    or

    Chemistry Kit.

    or

    Toolbox full of basic carpentry and mechanic hand-tools.

    Plus cold-hard cash for materials and an equivalent donation to his college fund if you are a relative and not the parents.

    A college-level physics, chemistry, or engineering 101 type book could be inspirational too.

    Don't forget lots and lots and lots of one-on-one time working together. Best gift my parents ever gave me.

    Since you are a g

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:51PM (#25730017)
    the very best mechanical- and engineering-oriented building sets are still Fischer Technik (sometimes spelled here with no space). Made in Germany for decades, and still being made with new kits updated all the time, Herr Fischer designed the best engineering building blocks on the market today. They are still being made, and are often used by universities for mechanical and computer engineering projects.

    These kits make Lego Technics and Erector building sets -- even the new ones -- look like, well, child's play. But they are not cheap.

    You can often find used Fischer Technik kits on ebay, some of them 30 years old, for sale at a good price. Even at 30, if they are not abused they are quite usable. (I know, because I bought some and use them.) Unlike some other building sets, there is no shortage of replacement or add-on parts.

    There are sets that go from basic building, like bridges and little toy push cars, to electric motors and pneumatic controls (compressor, air tank, air pistons, etc.!), R/C vehicles, and all the way up to computer control with feedback. The main direct-buy sites in the U.S. are: http://www.fischertechnik.com/ [fischertechnik.com] and http://www.studica.com/Fischertechnik/ [studica.com] but don't forget to look on eBay.

    You will not be disappointed by the quality.

    AND... you might also enjoy this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmYDgncMhXw [youtube.com]
    • that the fischertechnik.com website is not exactly friendly to navigate. Try "products" under "Site Contents", then the subcategories in the bar along the top.
  • Build his own (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037)
    I don't know if Radio Shack still sells them, but back in the day before they started pushing cell phones, they were an electronics store, and sold howto booklets and kits for building relatively simple hobbiest electronics. I remember my dad got me one that showed how to build an infrared transmitter/decoder. I won my eighth grade science fair with it showing that it was possible to transmit radio signal through infrared light and convert it back to audio. I think the hillbillies in the town I grew up i
  • my stuff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:53PM (#25730031) Homepage

    When I was a kid I enjoyed the Radio Shack electronics kits. I have not seen them recently, but they can be built rather easily with a piece of thin plywood and a bunch of nuts and bolts, plus the actual electronics which can be culled from scrap equipment. There are ample schematics on the web for building anything from simple radios to logic gates to metal detectors. Once they've been prototyped on the kit they can be built for a few dollars worth.

    If you want to go the programming route, there are a few cheap boards out there. They're not very powerful, but good enough to run Linux, serve web pages, control lights, etc.. At 13 he's old enough to learn programming too :D

  • Cheap magnets (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:53PM (#25730037) Journal
    If you have a ton of old hard drives laying around, break out the torx drivers and extract the magnets. The mirror-like surface of the platter is interesting, too.
  • Physics, electronics, aerodynamics, all rolled into one.

    or all the parts to build something from scitoys.com.

    or, a basic set of hand tools, and the proper dad instruction on how to use them and build things.

    My son, at age 9, found the plans for a basic platform hovercraft online.
    "Ok, dude...here's the circular saw and a tape measure, let's go".
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:01AM (#25730101) Journal

    The way that you have described your child is about how I would have been described as a young lad. Since you asked...

    I was given an erector set, had my parents understood, my use of it would have called for additions to it, but we didn't do things like that much back then. I have found that Lego technic and Mindstorms/robotics sets would have totally caught my attention back then.

    In lieu of those, the old Radio Shack electronics experiments kits were 1000s of hours of fun. I did not then fully understand how a radio transmitter worked, but I did understand that it was possible to make one, they were not magic, and the components were not expensive nor complex things. A rudimentary understanding of logic and electronics formed then. It's all like a puzzle. Puzzle solving has rules so all you need to know is the rules and get some practice.

    I was also the kid that took everything apart as soon as I got it so I would understand how it worked.

    Looking back, anything that helps your kid understand how stuff works is probably a really good bet. Much of what I worked with allowed me to discover things about mechanical motions, electronics, physics, and math... even though I did not understand that is what I was doing at the time.

    Magnets, magnifying glasses, telescopes, and some guidance to understand them faster than just playing around and waiting for school will teach him is the best bet.

    In this day and age, you might want to let him help you put a computer together, explaining what he is curious about. No time like the present to start him off on that path.

    Basically, everything has an explanation. Explain everything he asks about. I remember at the age of 5 asking why traffic lights had shades over them, then answering my question before he could tell me. For anyone that is inquisitive, explanations are as good as anything else can be, especially if you follow up with tools and toys that help him to build on that knowledge.

    I've seen toys that allow you to build things like a double helix strand of DNA etc. but without explanation they are puzzles without rules, and those are no good as you can't understand how to play the game.

    There is nothing stopping a child from designing a hybrid engine except knowledge and practice. I find that the Lego robotics kits mixed with technic parts allows you to experience hands-on a lot of mechanical systems, and how they produce motions. Not to sell Lego strongly but there are lots of opportunities there. You can build working engines, cranes, there are even ackerman steering parts. They have a lot of specialty parts that give you a lot of room to play and learn. There is eBay and bricklink for finding parts without having to buy whole sets, so support for continued use/learning is good.

    If you can explain magnetism to him, you're probably going to be a very good teacher. That one is tough for people at any age. There is invisible stuff that just works... it's like magic.

    • by zappepcs (820751)

      Damn, forgot to mention, Google for Lego robot and you can see some of what is possible. There are Lego robotic systems that actually solve Rubik's cube, a full sized pinball game, functioning legal mail stamping maching and tons of others. There are tons of inventive Lego artists using the Mindstorms/robotics kits to build huge awesome things. If you like things that do nothing, but do it well with class, try searching for the Great Ball Contraption. It will give you ideas on how you can build mechanisms w

  • On the same theme as the Levitron is the Levitating Globes [thinkgeek.com]. Small ones are $40.
  • by Rix (54095) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:07AM (#25730143)

    Budding is not a natural process, even for the loneliest geek.

  • Cool Science Stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phat_Tony (661117) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:09AM (#25730157)
    The Mirage [google.com] optical illusion is pretty amazing. I have it, and a Levitron, and while they're both really amazing for a while, there's not a lot of stuff to keep doing with them.

    Those electronics kits from Radio Shack and other places with the resistors, diodes, etc and little springs and wires to use for breadboarding are pretty cool and educational. If he actually digs into those, it's pretty cheap to buy a real breadboard and a power supply and a bunch of real components and he can start making real stuff. If he graduates beyond the lessons in the book that comes with the electronics kit, pick him up a copy of Horowitz and Hill's The Art of Electronics [amazon.com], and let him get started with real stuff.

    I think they're over your price range, but Lego Mindstorms are great.

    You can always get him started with elementary computer programming. If "real" languages seem too challenging, HyperCard is great for starting programming, especially since pretty soon you start to find stuff you want to do but can't, and then find out that HyperTalk is a real programming language that you can start adding in piecemeal to your project, gradually learning programming.

    If there are local scout troops, building and racing Pinewood Derby cars can be great if you get serious about going for either style or speed.

    A basic model rocketry kit can be fun. It's cool to see it launch.

    There are lots of cool science related toys/kits/gadgets here [teachersource.com].
  • Board Games (Score:2, Informative)

    by CubeDude213 (678340)
    I know board games don't leap to mind, but check out some of the recent German games.

    (I assume you can google these. Trust me, it's worth it)

    Settlers of Catan
    Carcassonne
    Ticket to Ride (extra points for spotting the mistake in the game)
    Puerto Rico
    San Juan


    Yes, these are just games, but they also aren't the garden variety he-with-the-best-luck-wins type of games. Settlers, a little bit, but the rest are intense strategy games. You may not be learning math or physics, but there's just as much va
  • Tons of geek toys at Gizmodo.com [gizmodo.com]. I'll have one of each.

  • by gustep12 (1161613) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:12AM (#25730191)
    I enjoyed two particular things a lot. The first one was any kind of experimentation kit, i.e. for building simple electronic circuits, or a chemistry experimentation set, etc.

    However, the other thing that was really a lot of fun and very instructional is being given something valuable that just happens to be broken - but hey, I could fix it after I learned enough about how it works! A good example might be an video projector (be careful with the high voltage and temperature), a cleaning robot that broke down, or any other high tech gadget that cost a fortune yesterday but is only modestly valuable now.

    Another suggestion that's cool is to wire up your pet, i.e. with the CAT-CAM (battery operated mini digital camera that snaps one photo every minute and documents where your cat roams), or maybe GPS tracking for your cat or dog. The hardware to do this should be quite cheap now, i.e. just buy a small battery-operated GPS logger on ebay.

    Last suggestion: Go to Fry's and buy the toy you would like most, then give it to your kid.
  • Nothing says love like using an enormous amount of electricity to wirelessly light a flourescent bulb

  • by shbazjinkens (776313) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:21AM (#25730263)
    A microscope was my most beloved science toy when I was young. The low cost ones aren't lab-grade, but they work.

    At age 13, the kid is starting to get old enough to do more than just play with gizmos - maybe it's time to start making them? I was building radio-shack springboard circuits when I was younger than that. Maybe an Arduino board would be appropriate - nobody has to know how to program to use it because there are lots of projects online, but it's a great way to get started tinkering with a hands-on implementation of code! I have a boarduino from Lady Ada. It's only about $25, that should leave you some extra $$ to spend on a breadboard, wire and maybe some other parts.
  • Simple... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Commander Doofus (776923) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:32AM (#25730309)
    just consult this [slashdot.org].
  • If UKers are looking for similar ideas, http://www.iwantoneofthose.com/ [iwantoneofthose.com] has a myriad of sciency toys, and stupid stuff you know is completely stupid but you still want it anyway.
  • I'd like to say a Mr. Wizard Chemistry Set, but those are impossible to find, and I'm not giving up mine.

    I was looking at the science toys locally, and I'd be embarrassed(sp) to hand one to a kid. It's no fun if you don't risk injury.

  • So many ideas... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dzimas (547818) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:38AM (#25730353)

    How about:
    - A subscription to Make magazine
    - A chemistry kit
    - A Velleman Electronics kit (he could build a pong game or whatever else catches his interest)
    - A robot kit from Parallax.com
    - Build a crystal radio with him. Even cooler, build one out of household junk. [retrothing.com]
    - A Digicomp [retrothing.com] mechanical computer.

    Heck, rather than me writing a long list, you should visit the DIY section on my site [retrothing.com] It should give you a few dozen good ideas. Just be sure to drop me a line if you actually build an ALTAIR 8800, tube amplifier or homebuilt ultralight, though.

  • Books (Score:3, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:49AM (#25730415) Homepage Journal

    The Cucko's Egg [amazon.com]

    The Dangerous Book for Boys [amazon.com]

    There are multiple types of geekery, best to satisfy the possibilities.

  • by Schemat1c (464768) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:00AM (#25730465) Homepage

    For a young geek nothing inspires more than:

    - BB gun
    - can of gasoline
    - old plastic models
    - illegal fireworks
    - magnifying glass
    - bag of army men
    - hot wheels
    - pile of bricks

  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:13AM (#25730525) Journal

    You might also be able to pick up a pair of cheap binocs for under $50. 7x50s are great for astronomy. The optics won't be anything to write home about and there will be some purple fringing but I have bought usable binocs for under $50. (Note: DO NOT buy a cheap department store telescope. I have seen some nasty nasty rubbish for $50).

    You might be able to buy a cheap camera, but it'll be rubbish.

    Good gadgets seem to start at around $200. At that price, you can look at a radio scanner, a GPS...something of that nature.. Also you haven't told us how old your son is.

  • A solid pocket knife (Score:4, Informative)

    by Brianwa (692565) <brian-wa@noSpaM.comcast.net> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:28AM (#25730597)
    If he doesn't have one yet. Preferably one with a proper locking blade.
  • Gyroscope (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:01AM (#25730755) Journal

    I remember waking up from (then fashionable) tonsil surgery to be given a pull-string gyroscope, over which I went batshit.

  • by steveha (103154) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:08AM (#25730795) Homepage

    This web site is perfect for inquisitive teens:

    http://scitoys.com/ [scitoys.com]

    It's crazy cool. He shows you how to make your own working spectroscope with a box, a CD, two razor blades, and some tape!

    The guy who put up that site has written some actual paper books, so you could give one or more of those. Or, just order some magnets and diffraction gratings and such for building the gadgets, from the catalog:

    https://www.scitoyscatalog.com/ [scitoyscatalog.com]

    I really wish I could have had access to that web site when I was 13. Oh, well... at least I have access now!

    steveha

  • by wolf12886 (1206182) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:32AM (#25731165)

    Drive around to a couple of thrift stores or garage sales and pick up a couple interesting appliances he can take apart, give the boy a box of nuts and bolts and some tools and let him go to town.

    YMMV, but when I was that age, returning home to find a new appliance on my workbench was like a tiny Christmas.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @04:11AM (#25731325)

    I heard this great story from a friend of mine; his grandfather sent him a tool box filled with broken clocks. That's it. Best gift ever!

    As a kid, I had lots of internal drive; I was into model rockets and building my own toys and even a full-size R2 robot. But the basic foundation which allowed this was my Dad having introduced me to do-it-yourselfmanship. Give your son tools. Heck, set up a work shop in the house, and build things yourself; kids emulate, and plus you'll have fun. My father would re-model rooms and build walls and decks and all kinds of cool stuff. He was really good at it, too, and he'd explain what he was doing while doing it if I asked.

    Pre-packaged science toys are neat, and I went through a few of them, but they also stream-line a kid's awareness; make them think that knowledge comes in shrink-wrapped, consumer packaging. Pre-packaged reality is for the sheep, and it teaches a subtle lesson in dependence on the system rather than giving them the confidence to work, literally, outside the box in the real world.

    One of the ways my father got my mind ticking was when I started pining for a pinball machine, clearly well beyond my pocket allowance budget. My dad said, "Well, heck. Let's build one."

    So we did. And it was lame. --My Dad thought pinball was about trying to launch marbles into little holes. We did build a cool wooden table which was the right shape using a jig-saw, and he came up with a neat spring-loaded plunger, but I wanted electronic bumpers and blinking lights and such. So on my own steam, I visited electronic parts stores in search of various bits and pieces to create my vision. I learned about basic electronics and how to rectify AC current by bugging the shop owners with lots of newbie questions, etc. It led to a half-assed pinball machine, but it was still pretty cool for my age, and I learned a ton. --But none of that would have been possible if my Dad hadn't taught me how to use a soldering iron and power tools. He had given me the confidence to know that humans are smart and that with an inventive mind, you can do almost anything.

    If I were you, I'd take your son to public science fairs and rocketry clubs and robotics clubs and whatnot. Stuff to fire the imagination. Also be sure to introduce him to the wonderful world of surplus electronic parts stores.

    But above all. . .

    Tools.

    Buy tools and show him how they work, how to respect them. Build a decent work bench. Set it up with a good, solid vice. Lead by example. Build some awesome projects around the house, and make getting the tools a part of the game. In short, be an empowered geek. While pre-packaged stuff is fine sometimes, never let it dominate. Don't let other people do it for you if you can avoid it, because building stuff yourself is half the fun. This attitude will help your son in life in ways you can't even imagine!

    -FL

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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