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From Tech Guru Rich Dean, Holiday Gift Ideas

As the remaining days of the holiday shopping season slip away, technology guru Rich Dean joins NPR's Liane Hansen on Weekend Edition Sunday to offer gadget gift ideas.

Last year, Dean declared that TiVo -- a device that records TV programs and lets viewers zap over commercials -- was "the most perfect product ever made." This year, Dean's still smitten, calling the gadget "the best thing that ever happened to me," with its ability to figure out viewers' habits and automatically record things they may like.

Hansen asks Dean to address privacy advocates' concerns about that feature: "Are you worried that TiVo is keeping some vast database about you and selling it to someone?" Not really, Dean says: The company that makes TiVo "has repeatedly reassured customers they're not going to track things to the level of individual viewers. Now, might they want to know that 200,000 people watched Survivor on Friday rather than Thursday? Sure. But that's not evil or bad, and it doesn't mean TiVo watches my every move."

And given the extensive profiles kept on consumers by credit card, phone and cable companies, Dean contends, "TiVo is the least of your concerns."

Among other gadgets Dean says could be "the next big thing" on this year's gift list:

-- The Roombavac, which Dean describes as "a round, spaceship-looking thing that crawls along the floor and sucks up dirt on carpets and hard floors. It knows not to fall down the stairs and can find its way around furniture." However, Dean says, the $200 gadget "does have one thing in common with humans: It'll only clean for an hour or so before it needs recharging."

-- The Talking Remote Thermometer. Dean dubs this "the most bizarre product ever... It's almost hard to say it with a straight face. You shove it in the meat, and can wander up to a football field away with the remote. When the meat is cooked, it'll say 'Almost ready' or 'Ready' out loud." (Though Dean predicts the item will sell, he deems it a bit pricey at $75: "For 50 bucks, I'll come over to your house and cook the steak for you. I'll even yell 'Ready' when it's done.")

On Dean's personal gift list this year: a new-age replacement for the "little clamshell" cellular phone he's had for three years, "an eternity in cellphone years." Dean talks enviously about a friend's new Web-enabled Tmobile Sidekick phone: "It's small and the lid slides open to reveal a mini keyboard and black-and-white screen. I'm sure they'll have a color one soon enough. You can get your regular e-mail with it, do AOL Instant Messenger, take and send pictures" -- for $200 dollars plus regular cellphone monthly fees.

To accessorize the cellphone, Dean suggests a solar charger -- "There's a product called the iSun that'll charge pretty much anything. You can hang it in your car window or office window... It's the gift that saves the planet -- or at least is cool for the cellphone user who has everything."

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Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.