It's that time again, when the horrors of holiday shopping creep in, and with them, the ultimate fear: where to find the perfect gift.
There are thousands of goodies to buy, but then again, there are several million people--nay, billions of people--who probably came up with exactly the same idea you did.
Palm hand-held? Oh please. The only real decisions here are color and accessories. MP3 player? Let's face it, it's this Christmas' equivalent of the tie. "Diablo II: Lord of Destruction?" Doesn't everyone already have a Level 99 Sorceress?
Sometimes the answer is on the other side of the world. We at Tech Times are not quitters. We firmly believe in the existence of unusual gifts. However, you may have to broaden your horizons just a tad.
To find the unusual, we called on a few of our overseas colleagues to prowl the back alleys of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, scour the gusty streets of Beijing and peer into every nook and cranny in London and Moscow.
Bionica Turbo Ultrasonic Washing Machine
Price: $41.45 (click on the Visa card at www.bionica.ru to buy)
The Bionica ultrasonic washing machine is a must-have for road warriors traveling to Siberia, Chechnya or New York.
The palm-size device weighs in at just 7 ounces, making it perfect for hardened travelers who think sending their wash out is for wimps.
This Russian invention, made by Patriarch Co. of Tolyatti since 1998, uses ultrasonic vibrations to loosen dirt from clothing, allowing the particles to float free in a small tub of water.
Clearly, this is not a present for everyone. Some recipients might take offense at getting a washing machine for Christmas. Others might think a washing machine is a bit too utilitarian for a gift, akin to getting your wife a vacuum cleaner. But at least it's unusual, and at $41.45, it won't break the bank.
The Bionica Web site is in Russian, so it might not be particularly illuminating unless you read that language. But not to worry. You can use the translation service on AltaVista at world.altavista.com to get a rough idea of the device's specs.
The Web site, in translation, proclaims: "On our server you can learn everything about the unique invention of Russian scientists--ultrasonic washing machine on the palm 'BIONICS!'"
Price: $33.99 (buy it online at www.gamespystore.com)
One of the hottest computer games in Russia these days is "Etherlords," a fantasy game created by Russian game developer Nival Interactive.
Elena Churakova, Nival's public relations manager, said 30,000 copies were sold Nov. 9, the day it went on sale. In the last two weeks, sales have totaled 70,000 copies.
"Etherlords" is a turn-based strategy game that is sort of a combination of classic computer game "Heroes of Might and Magic" and popular card game "Magic: The Gathering."
The "Etherlords" world is divided into four rival empires. Your only weapon is magic, and as your power increases, you gain access to more powerful spells to use in battle.
You can buy "Etherlords" versions in Russian, English or German. To be really different, we suggest you get the Russian version. We dare you.
Remember the craze over the Tamagotchi pets--those adorable, weird or annoying (depending on your point of view) palm-size toys that required feeding, coddling and other attentions as they grew older?
They're back, only bigger, mobile and able to dance, sumo wrestle, play soccer and even date.
Robochu, from Konami Corp., is a mini robot that comes in either male or female units. Each looks like a little mouse, complete with whiskers. When Robochu is first activated, it's a 1-year-old that needs nurturing and regular play periods.
Assuming you're a dutiful parent, Robochu's artificial intelligence will allow it to grow and develop to the age of 6 in robot years.
For the little robots to grow up properly, you feed them and give them medicine, when necessary, via a Web site.
You hold a Robochu against the computer screen and the robot's built-in sensors detect patterns to provide nutrients. This can become a bit complicated for some as the Web site is in Japanese only, at least for now.
At age 2, Robochu can play "sing and run," in which you clap your hands to make the robot move in sync. At 4, it learns to race along a track. At 6, comes the sumo wrestling and dating. If two Robochus become a couple, they can then learn to play rock-paper-scissors. Ah, romance.
"The Weakest Link"
Price of electronic version: about $42.
In the grand tradition of close ties with our friends across the pond, many of the same tech items are for sale in the U.S. and the U.K. In both you can get "The Weakest Link" video game for Sony PlayStation (about $30) and PCs (about $20).
But exclusive to England is a stand-alone electronic version of the game with flashing lights, LCD screen and the music, sound effects and Anne Robinson insults familiar to fans of the TV game show.