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Stumped for what to put on your Christmas list? Or perhaps you're out of ideas for what to get that special web developer in your life? Let us help! This bumper roundup of gift ideas is two lists in one: the first half is to help developers figure out what to ask for, and the second is to help their friends figure out what to get them!
Being at the end of the year, Christmas is a great time to prepare for the future. The first half of this list is aimed at web developers that are making a list for Santa or their friends and family; if you're buying a present for another web developer, skip to the Just For Fun section!
General Web Development
Essential ActionScript 3.0
If you want to stay relevant as a Flash developer, you'll need to have very sharp AS3 skills. Colin Moock's excellent book will fill in any gaps in your knowledge, covering everything in "classic" AS3 (meaning there's nothing on Stage3D and the other newer features).
Warning: This book is not for beginners!
Head First C#
C# is a flexible language; it's directly relevant to us because it can be used to develop Unity games and Silverlight apps, but it can also be used to make server-side apps (through ASP.NET), mobile and desktop apps (using Visual Studio), and Xbox 360 games (with XNA). From my own experiences, it's also a fun language to use, and has a lot in common with AS3. If you're looking to experiment with something new, it's a great choice.
Head First C# is a great guide to get you up and running with the language as fast as possible; however, if you're an experienced programmer already, you may find it a little slow-going. In that case, check out C# in Depth, as well.
Head First Design Patterns
If you work with any class-based OOP languages (AS3, C#, etc.) you must read this book. The only exception is anyone that read, absorbed, and fully understood the original GoF book.
Head First Design Patterns is the book that let me understand when the heck we'd ever use an
Interface. It takes the theoretical elements of OOP (inheritance, polymorphism, and all those other definitions from Wikipedia) and makes them practical. And it does that in the brain-friendly way that's typical of the Head First series, so you'll actually understand it.
Adobe Web Premium CS5.5
I'll admit: this is expensive. If you've managed without Web Premium so far, you'll probably continue to manage just fine - though that's not to say this isn't useful. I own Web Premium CS5 and get a lot of value out of it (particularly Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash Pro).
If you're currently using CS4, I recommend upgrading - not because CS5.5 is so much better, but because when CS6 comes out in a few months, you won't be eligible for upgrade pricing otherwise. See this article on Psdtuts+ for more info.
WebStorm is great for browser-based apps and games; check out Jeffrey Way's thoughts over at Nettuts+ for more info.
Head First HTML5 Programming
If you're a little confused about what HTML5 actually is (besides a buzzword, apparently), and you're only familiar with HTML...4, then this book will clear everything up while teaching you how to develop HTML5 apps along the way.
Design for Hackers
Programmers do not have a reputation for being good at design. This book aims to remedy that, by teaching the basic principles of design as they apply to web apps and mobile apps, in a way that can be understood by hackers.
Another excellent book on the topic is the Non-Designer's Design Book, although that focuses on print and static web design, rather than interactive apps.
Head First jQuery
I would have picked jQuery: Novice to Ninja for this roundup, and that's still a great choice - but I suspect you'd be better off waiting for the new edition of that book, which is due on February 22, and reading Head First jQuery in the meantime.
Guide to Robotlegs
Unity Game Development Essentials
This is the definitive book for Unity beginners. Throughout the book, you'll build a single 3D game, adding new features and learning about new aspects of Unity in each chapter.
Check out our interview with Will Goldstone, the author.
Unity Game Development by Example
This is the other definitive book for Unity beginners. It takes a different approach to Will Goldstone's; Ryan's writing style is very different (you'll know what I mean if you've read his blog), and he builds up a selection of games in both 2D and 3D, rather than focusing on one big project. If you're new to Unity, get both!
Check out our interview with Ryan Henson Creighton, the author.
Making Things Move!
The full titles of this book is Foundation ActionScript Animation 3.0: Making Things Move! - but don't be fooled, this isn't about hand-drawn, frame-by-frame animation or tweens. This is about making things move through code: billiard ball physics, kinematics, collision detection, momentum, gravity, and other such topics are covered, as well as the relevant areas of maths and physics that you might not remember from school.
There are plenty of books about Flash Game Development, but in my opinion this is the first one you should read - at least if you're making a platformer, a shoot-'em-up, a breakout clone, or anything else involving motion. For card games, strategy games, hidden object games and the like, you might want to look elsewhere.
Flash Stage3D Game Programming
HTML5 may be catching up to Flash in certain areas, but the Flash Platform isn't standing still. The most impressive new feature of Flash Player 11 is Stage3D, which adds awesome 3D rendering capabilities to the Player. Like Will Goldstone's Unity book, this will take you through the process of building a 3D game from start to finish, adding more each chapter.
Check out the author's page for a look at the final game!
The Art of Game Design
This book takes a look at game design in general terms, without being tied down to a specific platform - indeed, one section of the book recommends building some physical board games or card games, to get to the heart of what makes game mechanics work.
I can't praise this book highly enough. It's fascinating and fun to read, as well as being packed with practical information. By the end of it, you'll be able to say, "I am a game designer."
A Theory of Fun
Another excellent book on game design that's not tied down to a platform. This book centers around one concept - that the fun in games comes from the player attempting to fully understand a pattern - and explores it in depth, with a ton of examples and illustrations.
Take a look at the early comic form of the book to see whether it's the sort of thing you'd enjoy.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tuts+ Premium. The amount of material available on the site today is staggering: ebooks, full courses, and of course all the tutorials. Check out my earlier post for the reasons why I recommend signing up. You can buy a year's subscription at a 20% discount compared to paying monthly.
Safari Books Online
I've written a full review of Safari Books Online on my own blog; in summary, it's the Netflix of technical books. Almost every book listed in this roundup is available for you to view in your browser, meaning you can read them on your computer, your tablet, or your phone.
There are different payment plans: the cheapest lets you read up to five different books a month, while the most expensive lets you read as many as you like, and gives you full text search across the contents of the entire catalog.
Dropbox takes a section of your hard drive and shares it across all your devices, so you can access your files on any computer or smartphone and via their web app. What's really impressive is how it remains so invisible: it just sits in the background and syncs everything, without you having to think about it or do anything.
The only problem with the free version is that it's limited to just 2GB of space. A subscription can bump that up to 50GB or 100GB, and also allow you to access previous versions of files, and files that were deleted, via the Pack-Rat add-on.
I love Evernote. Like Dropbox, it syncs things across different devices, but unlike Dropbox, it's focused specifically on notes rather than general files. At its core, it gives you an interface for typing in bits of text, and letting you search across all of them later. But there are plenty more bells and whistles, like tagging, the ability to extract text from images, rich text editing, and so much more. I don't use bookmarks any more: I use the browser extension to clip the most interesting parts of the page, and tag it so that I can find it later.
The Premium program gives you more space, lets you view previous revisions of notes, and gives you the ability to share notes with other people, as well as some other enhancements.
Just For Fun
Okay, that covers stuff that developers need. Now, how about stuff they'll want? If you're a developer reading this, maybe you should send the article to your family and friends, and stop reading here so that you don't spoil the surprise...
Cooking for Geeks
Cooking is great fun; it's creative, and at the end of it, you have something delicious to eat. This book makes cooking accessible to geeks that don't know their way around the kitchen yet, but contains plenty of inspiration for those that have been cooking for years.
It also contains plenty of ideas for cookware and gadgets to buy for those that love to cook.
Arduino is like LEGO Mindstorms for grown-ups. In brief, it makes it much easier to design and build electronics. This means it can take programming away from computers, and into the physical world.
The start kit suggested here is just one of many that are available; check out the Arduino homepage and search Google for others. There are plenty available to fit different budgets and interests.
The Best of Instructables
Instructables is a website for Do-It-Yourself projects that aren't just about putting shelves up. Food, furniture, toys, and costumes are covered here, so there's plenty of inspiration for someone wishing to get hands-on with their creativity.
Geocaching Phone Starter Kit
Geocaching is modern day treasure hunting. Over a million "caches" are hidden across the world, and geocachers use the website and a GPS device to find them, logging their name when they do.
Most web developers will already have a phone with GPS, which is enough to play the game, so this kit just adds a bit more fun to the hunt (as well as making it easier to participate in bad weather).
If you're buying a gift for a photographer (hobbyist or professional), check out The Official 2011 Phototuts+ Holiday Gift Guide on our sister site Phototuts+. For illustrators and designers, Vectortuts+ has a great gift guide too.
A lot of amazing games came out in the last couple of months, let alone the last year: Skyrim, Arkham City, Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3, Assassin's Creed 3, and many more. Rather than turning this into a "best games of 2011" roundup, I'll mention my two personal favourites. The first is the latest Zelda game, Skyward Sword.
This is an RPG without the grind; it's part adventure and part puzzle. The controls make full use of the WiiMotion Plus (so it requires the right attachment or controller): as well as letting you aim and pilot by pointing and tilting the Wiimote, it also moves Link's sword to follow the Wiimote, leading to some great puzzles. I can't do it justice in this small space; read Edge's review for more details.
Sonic Generations complements Skyward Sword nicely: Skyward Sword is only on Wii, while Sonic Generations is on every platform but Wii; Skyward Sword is best enjoyed in chunks of an hour or two at a time, while Sonic Generations is still fun in ten-minute doses; Skyward Sword requires a lot of thinking, backtracking, and solving puzzles, while Sonic Generations is fast-paced, almost like an arcade racing game.
Sonic Team has put out some real stinkers over the past decade, but Sonic Generations finally gets it right. It features revamped levels from previous games - Chemical Plant in full 3D! - so there's a great nostalgia kick to it as well.
In the Plex
Again, with so many non-tech books released in a year, it's impossible to write a comprehensive roundup, so I've just picked my favourite.
In the Plex is essentially Google's biography, from the founders' days at Stanford, through their hiring of a CEO, past the invention of Gmail and the troubles in China, up to the present day with the launch of Google+. It's a fascinating story for anyone that's interested in the web.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
I've never met anyone that dislikes Calvin and Hobbes, but geeks seem even more aware of it and fond of it than the general public. This collection contains almost every single comic (in glossy full colour where appropriate), with an introduction and commentary by Bill Watterson.
For someone that's new to the pair, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes would be a better (and cheaper, and easier to read) introduction, but for a long-time fan, the Complete box set is a wonderful thing to own.
Go the F--k to Sleep
This is a book for parents with young children and a sense of humour. As you can probably guess by the title, it's a children's bedtime story with a lot of profanity. Even better: the audiobook version is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
The Wire, Breaking Bad, Misfits, Game of Thrones... again, plenty of great TV box sets to choose from. So why Community? Because it's consistently smart and funny. The first two series are some of the best TV I've ever seen.
Amazon Kindle (E-Ink)
With all the books recommended above, perhaps it's time to go digital. I've had a Kindle 3 for just over a year now, and I love it. It doesn't sound like an amazing invention - "it's basically a cut-down tablet, right?" - but anyone that enjoys reading would benefit from owning one.
There's no hassle in it being electronic: the display uses actual ink that's rearranged electronically, which makes it sharp and clear (and not like staring at a lightbulb), and even with daily reading, it can last a few weeks without needing to be recharged. But it reduces some of the hassle you probably don't even notice is in a book: any book you order is delivered in seconds; no matter how many books you own, it doesn't take up any more space in your bag; you can look up the meaning of any word with a few key presses, and you can highlight passages and keep notes on them that get synced to the internet.
The model shown here is a Kindle Touch, though there are others available, with different designs and at different price points.
Some tech sites speculate that tablets are going to cut in to PC sales, with more and more people buying a new tablet instead of a new laptop. I don't think this is going to be the case for web developers, so a tablet still remains a luxury as far as I'm concerned - although one could justify such a purchase to the tax man, since it's handy for cross-browser testing.
The iPad 2 is still the device to beat here, but some very nice Android alternatives are popping up: there's the Transformer Prime, with optional keyboard dock that turns it into a netbook, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab's 8.9" and 10.1" models. For those on a budget, the Kindle Fire is probably the best, although reviews have expressed disappointment.
For years I carried my computer in a cheap old laptop bag that looked awful and hurt my shoulder. Splashing out on a decent bag felt like overspending on a luxury, and the amount of choice was paralysing. I'm very glad I got past that to buy a Timbuk2 D-Lux (pictured), because now I take it everywhere. It carries my shopping, it has a Napoleon pocket for my Kindle, it's my in-flight bag when I go on aeroplanes... I love it.
Like I say, there's a lot of choice available - take a look at Rands's excellent post on choosing a bag to see what I mean - but this might make it a perfect gift.
I'm not going to prioritise one cause over any other, but as a gift, a Kiva card makes a lot of sense, because the recipient gets to make a personal choice over what to donate it to.
Actually, "donate" isn't quite the right word; Kiva works through micro-loans. A Kiva user might lend $25 to a third-world school that needs to buy books, or a market seller who needs to buy his initial stock, or a farmer that needs to buy new livestock. Over time, these entrepreneurs make the money back, and repay the loan - which can then be lent to another worthy cause. This means it's literally a gift that keeps on giving.
I hope that's helped inspire you this Christmas! Don't forget to check out the other Tuts+ sites for their gift guides over the next few days.
If you've got any other gift ideas, please share them in the comments!