Shows 12.08.08

Monday mornings I'm on the air sharing more stories about how people are living better through computers. I'll tuck field notes from those shows right here. You'll also be able to dig into the archives to explore previous shows as I determine how best to share some of the highlights of the past 9 year's worth of adventures.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Big Heart but a Tight Budget? 5 Favourites for a Heartfelt, Homespun, Tech-Assisted Christmas

With the economy spinning out of control and many families facing one or more members losing their job, it's an unusually difficult holiday season for many people this year. I wanted to share some tech-inspired ideas for gift-giving and festivities that fit a big heart on a tight budget. The only thing I love more than receiving a gift that truly came from the heart is giving one. Here are a few ways to make the holiday incredibly personal without breaking the bank:

1. Homespun gifts

Hit recipe and crafts web sites for ideas on some of the best homespun presents, including baked goods and an armful of rustic and personal treasures. Some sites worth exploring include:

If you're particularly handy at making homespun things, you might even consider using a web site like or to sell your creations, offsetting the cost of the Christmas festivities.


2. Home movies and a family tree

One of the best gifts I ever received was a set of home movies that my brother paid to have converted from celluloid and then burned to DVD to give to family and friends. Services like can convert your film to DVD for as little as $20, and can even transfer your favourite music from old vinyl LP's. From there you can buy DVDs at a local electronics store to burn inexpensive copies to share as gifts for many people. Want to find someone local to digitize your favourite family media? Try to search for local help.

Once you have your movies digitized you might choose to add an even more personal touch, using free software like Windows Movie Maker to create professional style DVD, separating clips into chapters, and adding favourite music and special effects.

You might also consider a service like or other web-based collaboration web sites to upload and share those movies, along with favourite pictures and personal stories. It's a wonderful way to bring people around things that matter, rekindling memories of good times and putting a real smile on faces.

3. Software "mix tapes"

Remember when it was cool and wildly romantic to make a mix tape of your favourite music for someone you were sweet on? It was a labour of love that said you took the time to gather up an armful of things that were of personal significance. Why not give a favourite old tradition a tech-savvy twist by combing digital haunts for tools and toys that will make someone's life easier or simply more fun? Tool-based download sites like ZDNet/CNet and PCWorld offer a fairly safe way of discovering a bevy of really terrific new free and inexpensive software, sorted by category to make it easier for you to find productivity tools, digital photography or music apps or killer games, with ratings to guide you to the real gems.

A few good places to start?

4. Gift cards for online music, movies and books

Use gift certificates hubs like to make it easy to treat someone to the movies, a meal at their favourite restaurant or something decadent at local haunt, or buy a "GiftPass" for as little as $25 allowing friends and family to choose their own favourite gift certificates from nearly 50 different Canadian-based merchants. You might also tap in directly to popular online retail sites such as (where you can spend as little as 99 cents per song to build a custom mix tape), or and to find favourite books, movies and other gifts.

5. Giving gifts that give twice

Web sites like, and give you the ability to buy a gift certificate that allows someone to find their favourite giving opportunity in a way that changes lives. Let your mum, kids or friends choose to buy a goat for a family in Africa, help stock a medical clinic for AIDs orphans, buy school supplies or drill a well. One of my personal favourites is a micro-finance site called, where I can invest in the working poor. My purchase is actually a loan that gets paid back, and that I can choose to reinvest again and again and again, helping many different people in many different places around the world. There is no better way to instantly feel better about your own lot in life than to reach out and lift someone up that's in an even tougher spot than you might be. Kiva puts a face to your gift and gives you a simple and immediate way to see the difference you make.


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