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Gadgets For a Budding Geek?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the better-to-give dept.

Christmas Cheer 372

fprintf writes "As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys. In the past he has been really interested in Lava Lamps, Newton's Cradle, and anything magnetic. It seems the knick-knacks that have generated the most interest were small and relatively inexpensive. For example, a small laser pointer keychain I bought him a couple of years ago still provides tons of entertainment. Yesterday I showed him ThinkGeek and he really liked the Levitron. I wanted to ask the Slashdot crowd what were some other really neat, interesting gadgets? Is there anything cool in the under-$50 range that you would like in your stocking this year?"

cancel ×


Cool science toys (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729761)

Get 'im one of these [] ! It'll give him a head start on learning advanced concepts while blowing his mind. As a bonus, the little brat'll never bother you again!

Warning: NSFW link! (4, Informative)

_merlin (160982) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730125)

I just clicked that link at work! You could have warned me at least!

Re:Warning: NSFW link! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730277)


Re:Warning: NSFW link! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730359)

I just clicked that link at work! You could have warned me at least!

Please clean out your desk.

-The Management

ThinkGeek?? (2, Informative)

Zosden (1303873) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729765)

I love getting things from They have "toys" and stuff for all ages.

Re:ThinkGeek?? (4, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730011)

I love getting things from They have "toys" and stuff for all ages.

Yeah, he already said that. Better answers include:

- Kids Electronics Lab []
- Eyeclops Microscope []
- Commodore 64 []
- Lego Mindstorms []

Those are just a few toys that can be used educationally to learn about science, engineering, and math.

Fist pr0st (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729771)

I win.

Re:Fist pr0st (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729835)


Re:Fist pr0st (1)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730347)

Get him a book on Haskell and tell him to get his ass in gear.

"/."liza. (4, Interesting)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729783)

""As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

Why do you hate to admit it?

Re:"/."liza. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729845)

"As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

It's better than having your son following in your footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based boys.

Re:"/."liza. (5, Funny)

chartreuse (16508) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729861)

Why do you think he hates to admit it? /eliza

Re:"/."liza. (1)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730273)

Why do you think he hates to admit it? /eliza

Eliza: Oh, i think he hates to admit it.

Re:"/."liza. (3, Insightful)

kermit1221 (75994) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730357)

Because he waited until his kid was 13 to teach him how to be a geek.

My six year old is pissed I won't let him have his own soldering iron yet. I told him when he can get the spring-post and/or snap terminal circuits built right the first time, then he can solder stuff.

Re:"/."liza. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730363)

Why do you hate to admit it?

I'm sure at first he was elated, but eventually he grew concerned. He proved his genes were grade A, but what of when tables turn?

"As much as I hate to admit it, it looks like my 13-year-old son is following in my footsteps and preferring interesting, science-based toys."

Easy solution: Ship him to Singapore and sell his a** to Nike. "Stitch 'em tight!"

Right in front of you (5, Interesting)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729823)

As I write this the ad under this topic is for the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set.

I think that should settle it.

Re:Right in front of you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729907)

"...When will young people learn that Dungeons & Dragons won't make you cool?..."

Condoms (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729831)

If you hate to admit it, live in denial.

your son is very unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729841)

but i'm sure there are things that come with their own stockings for $50/hour

Re:your son is very unfortunate (2, Funny)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730055)

No, for $50 per hour, they only seem to come with their own stockings - and you probably don't want your 13 year old son to have the "extras" he's likely to get at that rate.

Re:your son is very unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730385)

not sure where you are, but where I am $50 an hour gets you a clean pretty young lady

Same thing but for 7 year olds (4, Interesting)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729851)

There is a cluster of 7 year old siblings and cousins in my family, both boys and girls. I'd love to start a subtopic here on Christmas geek gifts available for this age group. One example: my son is asking for a Rock Polisher.

Re:Same thing but for 7 year olds (4, Funny)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730003)

There is a cluster of 7 year old siblings and cousins in my family, both boys and girls. I'd love to start a subtopic here on Christmas geek gifts available for this age group. One example: my son is asking for a Rock Polisher.

But is a beowulf cluster?

Re:Same thing but for 7 year olds (2, Funny)

Smauler (915644) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730181)

Why not get him a baseball mit and just throw rocks at him? Best of both worlds! (if he's any good)

Arduino (5, Interesting)

mishley (1405337) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729853)

Seems to me like you can do an awful lot with the Arduino platform. I recommend buying from the Make guys, as you'll also see that they've published a book recently with the Arduino developers/creators that maybe your kid would like as a follow-on? They are only $30.00 and the only requirement is a computer to plug the thing into for programming. I'm asking my wife for one :-). For project examples: []

Electronics kits (4, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730033)

When I was a kid I loved my 50-in-One Electronics Kit from Rat Shack. They still make some kits: Electronics Learning Lab [] although I don't know if a 13-year-old would care as much as a 10-year-old.

Here's their kit category: []

I see they have one that also includes a Basic Stamp. Or maybe it would better complement an Arduino.

Re:Electronics kits (3, Interesting)

j_kenpo (571930) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730207)

I'm 30, and I still love my 300 in 1 Electronics Kit I bought from Radio shack like 10 years ago. Bought it because it had a breadboard with basic power inputs so I could use it on other prototypes and easy to assemble external pieces like switches. Been using it again recently to build schematics I find off of various sites online. They have more basic kits that have snap in components. Don't know about these kids, but I would have loved one of those at 13 since I was already soldering and wire wrapping basic circuits.

Re:Arduino (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730129)

What are the benefits/limitations of an Arduino versus an FPGA?

I recently started messing around with FPGAs, and have found them fascinatingly versatile and easy to program.

Re: "/."liza. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729857)

Home chemistry kit....

MAKE METH 24/7!!!

Don't forget about the $$$$$!

How about a hydrogen powered RC car? (4, Informative)

engravee (1369623) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729859)

Just looking at this tonight: Horizon fuel cell's hydrogen r/c car kit and retrofit for larger models... [] As a kid I loved building my own R/C cars, this would have been amazing to have!

ThinkGeek's marketing emails (5, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729879)

I don't want to say the s-word, but after I bought something from ThinkGeek, they started sending me marketing emails. I don't recall being presented with a choice about whether to opt in or out of marketing emails when I made the purchase. It was UCE (unsolicited commercial email), but you could argue that I had already established a commercial relationship with them. All I can say is that personally, if I buy from an online retailer and then they send me ads via email, my personal decision is not to do business with that retailer again. One very practical reason is that once they send me ads, I'm going to blacklist them in my email filter, and that would make it difficult to do business again. I'm not accusing ThinkGeek of being evil criminals with handlebar moustaches or anything, but it's just like any other business -- if I don't find it pleasant to buy from them, then they've lost my business.

Re:ThinkGeek's marketing emails (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729997)

Mod parent up!

I hate it when businesses do that. Sometimes they then go on to complain about how their newsletters are constantly being rejected as spam. Boohoo. Cry me a river.

It's insulting and inept for companies to assume that just because I bought their widget I want to hear about everything, or anything, else they have to offer. It ticks me off every time one of those messages arrives, and every one reinforces my distaste for the company.

For companies considering pissing people off with opt-out mailing, or no choice mailings, or with tiny hidden checkboxes on order forms asking me if "I'd like not to opt in to not opting out of not receiving a stream of marketing drivel," I'd like to point out two things: a) the Internet is big enough that you can be trivially replaced by another vendor; and b) go crawl under a rock and die.

Re:ThinkGeek's marketing emails (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730069)

Actually, there's a little checkbox where you can disable emails about other products. I've bought plenty of things from ThinkGeek and I have never gotten an 'UCE'. Is pointing-and-clicking really that hard?

Re:ThinkGeek's marketing emails (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730197)

Opt-out sucks and well run companies rarely resort to using it.

Re:ThinkGeek's marketing emails (1)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730355)

Is it so bad if a business that you have chosen to buy from in the past will try to maintain a relationship with you? I mean, seriously, you get a lot more real spam. Surely a fortnightly or monthly newsletter containing something that might mildly interest you is only a very minor inconvenience at worst.

I agree that they should have an opt in or out at the time of initial contact.

nothing teaches physics... (5, Interesting)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729883) a rifle.

seriously. it's how I learned that kinetic energy varies directly to 1/2 the mass and to the square of the velocity.

and how rabbits deal with sucking chest wounds and uncompensated hypovolemic shock.

dealing with sights and optics taught me about angles in degrees and minutes-of-angle and how they work with customay measurements and created triangles of horizontal trajectories. (there's mils for the same thing in metric).

dealing with virticle trajectory taught me about objects falling toward the center of the earth at 1/2 gravity x (time squared) no matter how fast they are going. and how quadrant is measured to compensate for various co-efficient's of drag and velocities/grains of bullets.

plus all the responsibility, maintenance, cleaning, and stuff. it was probably the best thing I got at 13. it sparked my interest in science and showed me how physics and math is integral in EVERYTHING you do.

Re:nothing teaches physics... (5, Funny)

MostAwesomeDude (980382) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729987)

Nice nick. :3

Re:nothing teaches physics... (3, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730007)

+5 funny???

I'm totally serious.

Re:nothing teaches physics... (4, Funny)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730049)

Well... see... um... you do go by the name "Ghandi"... ?

Re:nothing teaches physics... (4, Funny)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730121)

No, he goes by Ghandi 2. As in, no more Mr. Passive Resistance [] .

Re:nothing teaches physics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730297)

He goes by "Gandhi", you fucking illiterate.

Re:nothing teaches physics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730115)

dealing with virticle trajectory

Too bad nobody bought you a rifle with a spellchecker.

How about building/deconstructing? (5, Insightful)

dacut (243842) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729899)

As much as I like ThinkGeek, their selection is limited to gadgets. I found that assembling and -- to my parents dismay -- disassembling things are what really grabbed my interest.

I would take a look at the various kits from American Science & Surplus [] . There are a number of other sites (e.g., Carl's Electronics [] ) which have even more kits, but I haven't ordered from them so I can't say whether they're worthwhile or not. (These days, most of my toys come from DigiKey [] , and not in kit form.)

Re:How about building/deconstructing? (4, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730139)

Seriously. The most interesting thing isn't the gadgets, it's the parts with which to make gadgets. You canget a couple hundred resistors and transistors, some op amps, a few buttons, LEDs, a microcontroller or five, and a breadboard and not go much over the $50 budget.

Re:How about building/deconstructing? (1)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730267)

Yeah, build something with a 555 [] .

Re:How about building/deconstructing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730303)

I agree with dacut about this. A true gadget geek enjoys the discovery of how it works more than just the gadget itself. I would recommend a stirling engine kit. You can find a few online for $50 or less. I would also like to suggest a microscope or possibly a Theremin kit.

Re:How about building/deconstructing? (1)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730367)

I'll second AS&S and Digi-Key both. Digi-Key was founded by a ham radio kit builder (Dr. Stordahl is still active in the hobby, in fact) and even though they're a huge company now, their customer service is still great, even for hobbyists.

The Levitron, by the way, was fun for about 10 minutes. That was 10 minutes after the hour of fiddling with it to make it work, and before I got tired of having to constantly readjust it to KEEP it working.

My own son is almost 13, and he's gotten a lot of use out of his Lego Mindstorms kit. Lately he's been into pure software, though - he's gotten pretty good at Scratch, and I'm working on getting him to make the transition to Java. Not my favorite language, but it seems to be the best option for the sort of stuff he wants to do.

Laser Pointer (-1, Redundant)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729915)

Not one of the higher-power green ones obviously, just a regular 3-5mw red pocket one. Much fun to be had with these, and I wish I had access to them when I was a kid.

Does anyone even read the post these days? (3, Insightful)

spoco2 (322835) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730067)

Bloody hell, do people actually READ the post before commenting? First someone posted a $150 item when he CLEARLY asked for sub $50 ones, and now this! A suggestion for a laser pointer where he said "For example, a small laser pointer keychain I bought him a couple of years ago still provides tons of entertainment. "


The mind boggles. (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730117)

We don't ask that you read the articles but what kind of drooling idiot can't even get to the end of the summary before being overwhelmed by a feverish desire to post something, anything, on Slashdot ?

Geomag (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25729919)

It's not cheap, but these are pretty intense toys. You learn a lot about magnetics, geometry, structure, and much much more. By far the best toy I've ever seen. You need a lot of them. Good for all ages. And much stronger and safer than the inferior knockoff brands (like Magnetix).

Don't get all the random panels and stuff; just balls and rods.

You'll be amazed by what some people have built from these things. How tall a tower can you build? How long of an unsupported span? Etc.

United nuclear (5, Informative)

bgalehouse (182357) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729927)

Assuming sufficient and sufficiently geeky parental involvement, there are lots of cool things from United Nuclear. []

A collection of the smaller magnets and some ferrofluid are a pretty good combination. Ferrofluid has aproximatly the same danger and potential for mess as old engine oil, so depending on the kid you might need to supervise it. A variety of magnets also add variety to a ROMP set. []

You might also try throwing some mechanical puzzles at him. One that I particularly like can be found at [] but there are many.

helicopter (1)

PineGreen (446635) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729937)

Buy him one of those $30 helicopters with 3 channels. It is quite clever to really understand what make it spin one way or another, the role of trimmer and conservation of angular momentum. Be prepared to waste lots of money on batteries, though.

The Stick (2, Funny)

icyandunapproachable (1004849) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729943)

"It's very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price -- there aren't any rules or instructions for its use," said Christopher Bensch, the museum's curator of collections. I'm willing to bet that a greener toy doesn't exist.

Make Magazine (5, Informative)

xhamulnazgul (996557) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729951)

When I was that age, which was about 10 years ago, I built my first computer. I was also tinkering with the infamous 'bread board' circuit test beds and random resistors and chips that I could get my hands on.

I would have loved to have a subscription to something so amazing as the Make Magazine at that time. It has some amazing bits in it about almost anything that I could ever have wanted to do or make. Besides that, it would have allowed me to find out about some crazier things to do in your own kitchen or garage to make something fun long before I would have played with it at school or college.

All in all, I can't recommend Make Magazine highly enough.

Lego Mindstorms (4, Informative)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729959)

it is a great way to get creative and it teaches basic programming skills

Re:Lego Mindstorms (2, Insightful)

Fourpole (1147813) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730051)

I'll second this. It will run you more than 50 bucks but for a geeky toy it is pretty hard to beat. Making your own original machines can be challenging enough that you can get involved in helping out too.

Re:Lego Mindstorms (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730119)

BUT, it uses LabView. And LabView sucks. My robotics team had a choice between LabView and C++. I proposed a contest. I would use C++ and the rest of the Software team would use LabView and we would see who could get the robot working within the hour. I had working non-template code within 10 minutes. And by the end of the hour, the LabView team had a robot that could move forwards and turn. My code controlled a camera, and arm, had the robot mobile, as well as some nice flashing LEDs and an EEPROM for defining preset sets of actions for the robot. Can you guess which one we picked?

Re:Lego Mindstorms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730305)

And this is relevant, because obviously just like the kids that try to learn basic programming with Mindstorm, you also had little or no previous programming experience?

Overly complicated? (0, Troll)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729961)

A 13 year old boy... it doesn't matter if he is geeking or not, 13 year old is THE perfect age for some good wholesome porn.

Re:Overly complicated? (3, Funny)

rob1980 (941751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730045)

Yeah, but half the fun of obtaining porn at the age of 13 is doing it behind your parents' backs. Getting it in your Christmas stocking takes the fun out of it!

Re:Overly complicated? (2, Funny)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730233)

Nothing takes the fun out of porn.

Re:Overly complicated? (3, Insightful)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730345)

I think it also might be illegal.

Re:Overly complicated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730407)

Good old KIRT Cobain. Shame he offed himself, really.

The classics... (4, Informative)

cgenman (325138) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729973)

Model rockets are still pretty amazing, and pretty cheap. Just keep the engines until you're ready to use them. I would have killed for a radio controlled helicopter as a kid, and they're darned affordable these days.

For video games, Mindrover [] is still a programming and logic classic.

Re:The classics... (1)

Wakkow (52585) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730203)

Model rockets are awesome.  Just check your local laws to see if they're allowed.  I'm in Southern California and it's hard to launch them legally.  Although, if it's not legal and you still want to try, just be sure to find a safe place to launch.

Also, the parent mentioned keeping the engines until ready to use them.  I was into model rockets around that age and though I was tempted to launch one on the ground by itself, I wasn't stupid enough to try.  Hopefully your kid is mature enough to think the same.

Re:The classics... (1)

shadowturtle (960092) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730241)

I agree about the model rockets. I spent a ton of time as a kid with them. It was relatively simple, but it was still fun to build one from a kit then shoot it off. I never bought it, but there was even one that went up a little bit then dropped an egg from that height.

Toolbox and Building Materials (1)

foo fighter (151863) | more than 5 years ago | (#25729985)

This is super-super easy. I'm trying to avoid ad-hominem attacks on your geekiness.

Electronics Kit.


Chemistry Kit.


Toolbox full of basic carpentry and mechanic hand-tools.

Plus cold-hard cash for materials and an equivalent donation to his college fund if you are a relative and not the parents.

A college-level physics, chemistry, or engineering 101 type book could be inspirational too.

Don't forget lots and lots and lots of one-on-one time working together. Best gift my parents ever gave me.

Since you are a geek, and I'm lazy, I'll let you do the googling instead of linking to specific kits and advice.

13 and moving into geekdom? (-1, Troll)

sleeponthemic (1253494) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730005)

Big box of hand lotion.

a couple of ideas..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730013)

-A USB key for his p0rn (you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will discover it).

-get all the relatives to buy various pieces of Lego Mindstorm for him

-RF scanner (hours of entertainment to keep him away from p0rn)

-$50 gift card for MicroCenter/Frys, let him get what he wants.

Despite the increase in technical toys in the US, (4, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730017)

the very best mechanical- and engineering-oriented building sets are still Fischer Technik (sometimes spelled here with no space). Made in Germany for decades, and still being made with new kits updated all the time, Herr Fischer designed the best engineering building blocks on the market today. They are still being made, and are often used by universities for mechanical and computer engineering projects.

These kits make Lego Technics and Erector building sets -- even the new ones -- look like, well, child's play. But they are not cheap.

You can often find used Fischer Technik kits on ebay, some of them 30 years old, for sale at a good price. Even at 30, if they are not abused they are quite usable. (I know, because I bought some and use them.) Unlike some other building sets, there is no shortage of replacement or add-on parts.

There are sets that go from basic building, like bridges and little toy push cars, to electric motors and pneumatic controls (compressor, air tank, air pistons, etc.!), R/C vehicles, and all the way up to computer control with feedback. The main direct-buy sites in the U.S. are: [] and [] but don't forget to look on eBay.

You will not be disappointed by the quality.

AND... you might also enjoy this: []

I should add (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730073)

that the website is not exactly friendly to navigate. Try "products" under "Site Contents", then the subcategories in the bar along the top.

Build his own (2, Insightful)

dyingtolive (1393037) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730029)

I don't know if Radio Shack still sells them, but back in the day before they started pushing cell phones, they were an electronics store, and sold howto booklets and kits for building relatively simple hobbiest electronics. I remember my dad got me one that showed how to build an infrared transmitter/decoder. I won my eighth grade science fair with it showing that it was possible to transmit radio signal through infrared light and convert it back to audio. I think the hillbillies in the town I grew up in might have thought me to be a wizard Anyway, back to the point. It was one of the cooler things I'd ever gotten as far as gadgets come, because it required me to understand how it worked. Simpler projects (if you don't think a 13 year old should be soldering) might include a roll your own AM radio.

my stuff (2, Interesting)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730031)

When I was a kid I enjoyed the Radio Shack electronics kits. I have not seen them recently, but they can be built rather easily with a piece of thin plywood and a bunch of nuts and bolts, plus the actual electronics which can be culled from scrap equipment. There are ample schematics on the web for building anything from simple radios to logic gates to metal detectors. Once they've been prototyped on the kit they can be built for a few dollars worth.

If you want to go the programming route, there are a few cheap boards out there. They're not very powerful, but good enough to run Linux, serve web pages, control lights, etc.. At 13 he's old enough to learn programming too :D

Cheap magnets (3, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730037)

If you have a ton of old hard drives laying around, break out the torx drivers and extract the magnets. The mirror-like surface of the platter is interesting, too.

RC aircraft (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730063)

Physics, electronics, aerodynamics, all rolled into one.

or all the parts to build something from

or, a basic set of hand tools, and the proper dad instruction on how to use them and build things.

My son, at age 9, found the plans for a basic platform hovercraft online.
"Ok,'s the circular saw and a tape measure, let's go".

Personal experience... (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730101)

The way that you have described your child is about how I would have been described as a young lad. Since you asked...

I was given an erector set, had my parents understood, my use of it would have called for additions to it, but we didn't do things like that much back then. I have found that Lego technic and Mindstorms/robotics sets would have totally caught my attention back then.

In lieu of those, the old Radio Shack electronics experiments kits were 1000s of hours of fun. I did not then fully understand how a radio transmitter worked, but I did understand that it was possible to make one, they were not magic, and the components were not expensive nor complex things. A rudimentary understanding of logic and electronics formed then. It's all like a puzzle. Puzzle solving has rules so all you need to know is the rules and get some practice.

I was also the kid that took everything apart as soon as I got it so I would understand how it worked.

Looking back, anything that helps your kid understand how stuff works is probably a really good bet. Much of what I worked with allowed me to discover things about mechanical motions, electronics, physics, and math... even though I did not understand that is what I was doing at the time.

Magnets, magnifying glasses, telescopes, and some guidance to understand them faster than just playing around and waiting for school will teach him is the best bet.

In this day and age, you might want to let him help you put a computer together, explaining what he is curious about. No time like the present to start him off on that path.

Basically, everything has an explanation. Explain everything he asks about. I remember at the age of 5 asking why traffic lights had shades over them, then answering my question before he could tell me. For anyone that is inquisitive, explanations are as good as anything else can be, especially if you follow up with tools and toys that help him to build on that knowledge.

I've seen toys that allow you to build things like a double helix strand of DNA etc. but without explanation they are puzzles without rules, and those are no good as you can't understand how to play the game.

There is nothing stopping a child from designing a hybrid engine except knowledge and practice. I find that the Lego robotics kits mixed with technic parts allows you to experience hands-on a lot of mechanical systems, and how they produce motions. Not to sell Lego strongly but there are lots of opportunities there. You can build working engines, cranes, there are even ackerman steering parts. They have a lot of specialty parts that give you a lot of room to play and learn. There is eBay and bricklink for finding parts without having to buy whole sets, so support for continued use/learning is good.

If you can explain magnetism to him, you're probably going to be a very good teacher. That one is tough for people at any age. There is invisible stuff that just works... it's like magic.

Re:Personal experience... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730169)

Damn, forgot to mention, Google for Lego robot and you can see some of what is possible. There are Lego robotic systems that actually solve Rubik's cube, a full sized pinball game, functioning legal mail stamping maching and tons of others. There are tons of inventive Lego artists using the Mindstorms/robotics kits to build huge awesome things. If you like things that do nothing, but do it well with class, try searching for the Great Ball Contraption. It will give you ideas on how you can build mechanisms with Lego. The Robotics sets are programmable, with the GUI type programming, or you can roll your own with NotQuiteC (NQC) or the Java variants etc. Lots of wiggle room on all sides of it.

Re:Personal experience... (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730369)

Erector sets were fantastic back in the day. I still have mine, all those sharp edges made me carefull around stuff made of metal that had sharp edges.

Levitating Globe (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730131)

On the same theme as the Levitron is the Levitating Globes [] . Small ones are $40.

Re:Levitating Globe (1)

AmigaHeretic (991368) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730249)

A little more, but so much cooler. Levitating Globe []

Seek medical attention (4, Funny)

Rix (54095) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730143)

Budding is not a natural process, even for the loneliest geek.

Cool Science Stuff (5, Informative)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730157)

The Mirage [] optical illusion is pretty amazing. I have it, and a Levitron, and while they're both really amazing for a while, there's not a lot of stuff to keep doing with them.

Those electronics kits from Radio Shack and other places with the resistors, diodes, etc and little springs and wires to use for breadboarding are pretty cool and educational. If he actually digs into those, it's pretty cheap to buy a real breadboard and a power supply and a bunch of real components and he can start making real stuff. If he graduates beyond the lessons in the book that comes with the electronics kit, pick him up a copy of Horowitz and Hill's The Art of Electronics [] , and let him get started with real stuff.

I think they're over your price range, but Lego Mindstorms are great.

You can always get him started with elementary computer programming. If "real" languages seem too challenging, HyperCard is great for starting programming, especially since pretty soon you start to find stuff you want to do but can't, and then find out that HyperTalk is a real programming language that you can start adding in piecemeal to your project, gradually learning programming.

If there are local scout troops, building and racing Pinewood Derby cars can be great if you get serious about going for either style or speed.

A basic model rocketry kit can be fun. It's cool to see it launch.

There are lots of cool science related toys/kits/gadgets here [] .

Warhammer 40k (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730159)

Get him Chaos space marines and let him assemble, and paint them, and read the chapters.

He will be better off for it!

Blood for the blood god!

Board Games (2, Informative)

CubeDude213 (678340) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730177)

I know board games don't leap to mind, but check out some of the recent German games.

(I assume you can google these. Trust me, it's worth it)

Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride (extra points for spotting the mistake in the game)
Puerto Rico
San Juan

Yes, these are just games, but they also aren't the garden variety he-with-the-best-luck-wins type of games. Settlers, a little bit, but the rest are intense strategy games. You may not be learning math or physics, but there's just as much value in reading people, long-term planning and anticipating others' actions. Sure, these aren't as tangible, but they're also real-world skills.

I know you've already been through ThinkGeek, but the Cuboro marble sets, if they still have them, continue to fascinate me.

Oh, and magnets. Magnets rock.

One more thing: Old cameras. If he likes to take stuff apart and put it back together, plus learn about optics and light, buy him an old film camera. Look up Canon AE-1 on eBay. Add in a few cheap lens and he'll be able to dissect the camera and examine all the lenses, mirrors, gears and everything. Easily under $50.

Try (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730187)

Tons of geek toys at [] . I'll have one of each.

An expensive broken machine, plus a screwdriver! (3, Interesting)

gustep12 (1161613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730191)

I enjoyed two particular things a lot. The first one was any kind of experimentation kit, i.e. for building simple electronic circuits, or a chemistry experimentation set, etc.

However, the other thing that was really a lot of fun and very instructional is being given something valuable that just happens to be broken - but hey, I could fix it after I learned enough about how it works! A good example might be an video projector (be careful with the high voltage and temperature), a cleaning robot that broke down, or any other high tech gadget that cost a fortune yesterday but is only modestly valuable now.

Another suggestion that's cool is to wire up your pet, i.e. with the CAT-CAM (battery operated mini digital camera that snaps one photo every minute and documents where your cat roams), or maybe GPS tracking for your cat or dog. The hardware to do this should be quite cheap now, i.e. just buy a small battery-operated GPS logger on ebay.

Last suggestion: Go to Fry's and buy the toy you would like most, then give it to your kid.

tesla coil (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730193)

Nothing says love like using an enormous amount of electricity to wirelessly light a flourescent bulb

Can I suggest? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730211)

A Fleshlight?

This post should be modded down immediately.

KOSMOS Web Shop (1)

gustep12 (1161613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730231)

This is my favorite: []

- Chemistry
- Electronics
- Physics
- Microscopy
- Crystal Growth

Sadly, they all are a bit expensive.

Microscope? Logic board? (4, Interesting)

shbazjinkens (776313) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730263)

A microscope was my most beloved science toy when I was young. The low cost ones aren't lab-grade, but they work.

At age 13, the kid is starting to get old enough to do more than just play with gizmos - maybe it's time to start making them? I was building radio-shack springboard circuits when I was younger than that. Maybe an Arduino board would be appropriate - nobody has to know how to program to use it because there are lots of projects online, but it's a great way to get started tinkering with a hands-on implementation of code! I have a boarduino from Lady Ada. It's only about $25, that should leave you some extra $$ to spend on a breadboard, wire and maybe some other parts.

Simple... (3, Informative)

Commander Doofus (776923) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730309)

just consult this [] .

This is a bit expensive but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25730321)

Why not build a reprap ( as a joint project? It's a 3d printer that can print 60% of its own parts. Version 2.0 Mendel will also print metal as well as plastic and will be capable of printing circuit boards. I'm sure it's a more interesting project than a lot of the little electronics kits but putting it together will teach a lot more than those kits as well.

Electric Guitar (1)

Kallahan (599898) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730325)

I know it breaks the budget, but an electric guitar and amp is a dream for geeks. You can build most effects pedals as they are not all that complicated, there's the music element, the chicks, the drugs. plus you get to rock out. Honestly I learned as much about electronics from playing guitar and building effects pedals as I did building robots in FIRST Robotics competitions. [] has all the appropriate links.

I want one of those *points* (1)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730339)

If UKers are looking for similar ideas, [] has a myriad of sciency toys, and stupid stuff you know is completely stupid but you still want it anyway.

It's not like the old days (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730341)

I'd like to say a Mr. Wizard Chemistry Set, but those are impossible to find, and I'm not giving up mine.

I was looking at the science toys locally, and I'd be embarrassed(sp) to hand one to a kid. It's no fun if you don't risk injury.

So many ideas... (4, Informative)

Dzimas (547818) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730353)

How about:
- A subscription to Make magazine
- A chemistry kit
- A Velleman Electronics kit (he could build a pong game or whatever else catches his interest)
- A robot kit from
- Build a crystal radio with him. Even cooler, build one out of household junk. []
- A Digicomp [] mechanical computer.

Heck, rather than me writing a long list, you should visit the DIY section on my site [] It should give you a few dozen good ideas. Just be sure to drop me a line if you actually build an ALTAIR 8800, tube amplifier or homebuilt ultralight, though.

ThinkGeek Newsletter (1)

arhhook (995275) | more than 5 years ago | (#25730433)

I actually received this email today [] from ThinkGeek and it looks like it could be aimed directly at you.

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