Wednesday, December 03, 2003 just released its must-have "Geek Gift Guide for 2003". It's definately good for some chuckles, and even the family-favorite, Mr. Billy Boyd, drops a line to say what's on his Christmas List. "This new robot vacuum thing [Electrolux] sounds like the best gadget ever! Just switch it on and it cleans out your room, it can 'see' where your chairs are. And if it runs out of power, it just returns to its docking station and recharges. It's a vacuum cleaner, but it could also be a friend, I think. Like having a dog," Boyd said.

We're seeing more and more science fiction become reality lately, especially with this new 3D computer screen. Now college kids can get up-close and personal with their bootleg games and movies.

     The 3-D screen, a fixture of sci-fi and mad inventor fantasies, is finally getting real. The new tech is called autostereographics, and it applies recent breakthroughs in optical science to traditional LCDs, delivering 3-D video without the dorky glasses. The screens are flat, relatively cheap, and ready for commercial applications like gaming, digital photography, online shopping, and, inevitably, porn. First out of the gate is Sharp with a laptop screen that lets you toggle between 3-D and 2-D - eye-popping games one minute, productivity apps the next. (After all, you wouldn't want to do your taxes in 3-D.)
     When you look around a room, your eyes send two slightly different images to your brain, which interpolates them for depth perception. To make 3-D films and videogames, content producers create two videostreams to imitate left- and right-eye perspectives. Each frame of footage is digitally cut into thin vertical strips; alternating strips are then spliced together to form a single frame in which a line of pixels from the left stream is followed by a line from the right. The resulting image is a blur unless you have the right hardware.
     By carefully directing light, Sharp's display uses a filter called a parallax barrier to transform that blur into 3-D magic - no lame eyewear required. As with any LCD, the RD3D's light source comes from behind, but in this case it passes through the barrier on its way to the screen. The barrier splits the light, creating right and left beams that are directed at each eye. Your brain then combines the two into a single 3-D representation. To return to the drab 2-D world, just flip a switch and turn the barrier off.
--Bob Parks and Michael Myser

Next up, now you can really answer Little Johnny when he asks why his eyes are green and not red like Megazoidatron. Show him life's little building blocks with this kid-oriented, do-it-yourself DNA extracting and mapping kit.

     The Discovery Kids DNA Explorer helps junior scientists extract and map real deoxyribonucleic acid. As third-grade science projects go, this is light-years beyond the ol' baking soda volcano. Next step: cloning Fido.
     Before extracting DNA, your young Dr. Frankenstein has to pick a specimen and prep it. When added to isopropyl alcohol and salt in a beaker and mixed with distilled water, the specimen's cellular structure starts to break down.
     After transferring the mixture to a test tube, Dr. Frankenstein needs to add dish soap. The tube goes inside a splatter-proof magnetic mixer and centrifuge, which splits up the oils and separates the DNA from the soapy liquid. After 15 seconds, Dr. F stirs in a pinch of enzymes, adds alcohol, and the DNA strands float to the surface, where they can be harvested with the "DNA Hook."
     To map the specimen's DNA, Dr. F needs to whip up a sort of conductive Jell-O made from TBE buffer and agarose powder. The gel goes into a battery-operated electrophoresis chamber, where it's poked with a tool to make divots for the harvested genes. The molecules are transferred with a pipette. A zap of electricity sends the molecules - which are negatively charged - moving through the gel.
     A couple of hours later, Dr. F can add a few drops of stain (we recommend a sassy mauve tint) to expose the specimen's genetic blueprint. Watch your toothbrush: Frankenstein may figure out who Daddy really is (or isn't).
--Chris Baker

Finally, for all of you who wish you could see youself walking with elves in Lord of the Rings, this last gadget should definately be added to your list. Just in time for Christmas, this device allows you to insert yourself into any on-screen images.

     Wish you could appear in the final episodes of Friends? The Star Video: Synthetic Reality System lets you insert yourself into any image onscreen. Plug the device into your television via a standard A/V jack, point it at a blank wall, and stand in front of it. Using the same blue-screen front-projection tech that superimposes meteorologists onto satellite images, the little cam puts you on prime time! Stroll through TV shows, home videos, DVDs, even pics from your PC. Groovy special effects let you go semitransparent, or turn black and white to hang with Bogart in Casablanca.
--Chris Baker