December 18, 2006
Making a List Checking it Twice
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This is an article about gifts for our parents or grandparents. It features electronic gift suggestions from 12 graduate students, and 18 people beyond grad school, that work in and around high-tech. Based on their suggestions, I took my mother out to Best Buy and had her take a look at some of the items on their lists to evaluate her ability to understand how to use them. It was a lot of fun and I'm grateful for her help. Of course, I'm also grateful to everyone who contributed feedback for this article.
We hear so much about the consumer electronics market (and are so inundated with ads at this time of year), yet we rarely hear about how middle-aged or senior-citizen users might interface with those products.
My mother is 84 years old and, although my father passed away several years ago, she continues to live on her own. She still drives, is extremely active in the community, and uses her cell phone to stay in contact with friends and family, including 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Three years ago, Grandma Jones cancelled her long-distance phone service and since that time has relied solely on her cell phone for long-distance and international calling.
through religious tolerance.
Grandma Jones has a DVD player and a VHS player hooked up to her TV, and multiple remote controls to manage it all. Although she didn't do the initial hooking up, she is currently the only one who seems to know in which order the various remote controls have to be activated in order to show a movie or tune into her favorite late-night show, Charlie Rose on PBS.
My mother is a somewhat atypical senior citizen, but she is far from unique. Many of her friends and cohorts in their 80's and early 90's are also on email, use digital cameras, and access photos of grandchildren and great-grandchildren through the Internet. Not surprisingly, however, the majority of her friends are completely flummoxed by the whole idea of being online or using a computer in the first place.
As far as gifts are concerned, the one thing Grandma Jones could really use is faster Internet access. She thought about getting DSL several years ago, but was concerned she would have to give up her AOL email, so she got a second land line instead. Now she has one line for receiving phone calls and for her LifeLine access, and one dedicated to her dial-up Internet access.
After talking with her at length about all of this, and based on our 'market research' at Best Buy, she has agreed that the one gift we could give her this Holiday Season is to help her negotiate high-speed Internet access linked to her cable TV subscription. She's now willing to get higher performance even at the risk of having to relearn how to access her AOL email account.
She may also upgrade from Windows 95 to a new computer that has the oomph to store and manipulate digital photos. To date, she's been unable to see any photos sent to her by anyone at any time, and she knows she's missing out on something there. There will be some serious learning to do if she does get a new computer, however, so she may hold off on that for a while.
Now that you know something about Grandma Jones, please read what some really smart technology folks think they might like to buy for their own parents or grandparents. Following the feedback, there are some brief notes on our trip to Best Buy to find out what the average 84-year-old consumer might find intriguing. There are also a couple of Bah Humbug sentiments about everything electronic, and some gift suggestions for the grad students in your own life.
Gift ideas from grad students
This year was the 5th annual CADathlon, held in conjunction with ICCAD. Per the organizers, "The CADathlon is a challenging, all-day programming competition focused on practical problems at the forefront of CAD and EDA."
The 2006 event included 18 two-person teams of graduate students from a range of universities working from 8 to 5 on banks of workstations in a hotel ballroom in San Jose on Sunday, November 5th. Winners included a first place team from U.C. Berkeley (they shared a $2000 prize) and a second place team from University of Michigan (they shared a $1000 prize).
Professor Marc Riedel from the University of Minnesota is part of the CADathlon organizing committee. He helped put me in contact with the 2006 CADathletes, and I'm grateful to those in the group who were able to take the time to respond. My question to them was, what electronic gift would they like to give to a parent or grandparent, and did they think the recipients would know how to set it up and/or use it?
* Andrey Mokhov is a 2nd-year grad student at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K., working in the area of algorithmic design for asynchronous systems. Andrey was a CADathlete at the CADathlon at ICCAD, and says, "I think my parents would prefer to receive a digital camera or an iPod."
* Ashma Sethi is a 2nd-year grad student in EE at Syracuse University working in the area of digital design and verification of digital systems and submicron chips. Ashma was a CADathlete in November and says, "I am going to be working for a while after finishing my MSEE, although I might do a PhD or an MBA later. Currently I'm interviewing for jobs with some of my dream companies."
As far as gift giving is concerned, Ashma says, "I would buy a digital camera or camcorder [as gifts for my parents]. I would have to help them a little bit to learn to use it initially, and I guess I would look for a user-friendly interface when purchasing those."
* Ashutosh Chakraborty is a 1st-year grad student in ECE at the University of Texas, Austin, doing work on nanometer design closure and placement algorithms. Ashu was a CADathlete in November and says, "I am currently doing my MS at UT Austin. I will follow it up with a PhD and then a faculty position either in India or in the U.S. I worked with Mentor Graphics for 2 years, however, I have always envied the job of my professors."
PDF attachment from mobile to a Bluetooth-enabled printer?"
* Han Liang is a PhD grad student in ECE at the University of Illinois in Chicago, studying computer-aided design, high-performance power-efficient and fault-tolerant VLSI systems, and high-speed hardware architectures of cryptographic protocols and algorithms. Han says, "I might buy a new kind of cell phone , or a new multifunctional cordless phone for my parents."
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.