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The Intern vs. The Machine

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Given the positive feedback Intern Steve received for his starring role in the Indy's first 2006 gift guide, we've surmised two things. No. 1: You, the reader, appreciate affectionate intern torture as much as we do. No. 2: You like it so much, you want more of it.

So welcome to our second gift guide, to be followed next week by our last-minute gift guide. In this guide, we've polled community leaders, business owners, arts enthusiasts and other figureheads to find out what they do and don't want for the holidays. Believe us: They loved being put on the spot and forced to say something, anything to get us off the phone. What fun!

And to satiate your desire for more intern-related hijinks, we conducted a little stunt called "The intern vs. the machine," in which we pitted our very own Steve Kline (what a sport!) against online gift-idea generator gifts.com. Here's how it worked:

At gifts.com, we created seven different demographic profiles that described friends and members of our staff. One by one, we assigned a gift budget to each profile, then asked the site to find the perfect gift for each.

Next, we took the same specs to Intern Steve, and had him explore the town and the Internet for what he considered to be the perfect gift to fit each profile. Actually, we gave him $5 more to spend than we gave gifts.com. (See, we're not jerks.)

After we had a computer selection and Steve's selection for each profile, we approached the real people and asked them which gift they'd prefer. Best of seven won like the World Series, just more subjective.

To elevate the stakes, if Steve beat the machine, we would award him $35 to shop under his profile on gifts.com. If he lost, well ... we'd award him a tattered copy of that old story of John Henry, steel-drivin' man. (OK, we are jerks.)

Enjoy.

Profile 1: Bookworm Kid $15 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: Moleskin large squared notebook and a used copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Price: $14.49 and 50 cents, respectively

Purchase place: Amazon.com

Why buy: "A notebook seems boring, I know. But this threadbound mutha will hold together even if you throw it against the walls, drop it off the back of a bike or run it down with chained tires. It'll be with you until you're 80. With the 50 cents I have left over, I'm throwing in a used copy of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It'll inspire you to fill those pages up quickly."

Gifts.com:

Product: Brain Quest Grade 5 Q&A flash cards

Price: $10.95

Why buy: "Road trips, waiting rooms and rainy Sundays have never been so great for little smarties!" Gifts.com guru Dana S.

Point: Machine (1-0, Machine)

Participant explanation: "Because it's a game."

Profile 2: Surf n' Skate Teen Guy $35 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: Suffer the Joy DVD by Toy Machine

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Price: $24.99

Purchase: ccs.com

Why buy: "In the halcyon days of the Clinton presidency back when hating the Dave Matthews Band was rebellious and the greatest video game was Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64 Toy Machine made the best skate videos around. My hoodlum friends and I watched Welcome to Hell so much the tape stretched out in the VCR. So, I'm going to assume that nothing's changed in the past decade and send on the Toy Machine video."

Gifts.com:

Product: The Ear Muff Headphones

Price: $34.95

Why buy: "When I go running outside in winter, my ears feel like they are going to fall off. These earmuff headphones will keep their ears warm and tunes rockin' so they stay comfortable and motivated. An awesome gift for runners and winter athletes." Gifts.com guru Megan H.

Point: Intern (Tie, 1-1)

Participant explanation: "Because my mom won't buy me an iPod."

Profile 3: Cooking & Entertaining Woman $35 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: Aerobie Coffee Press

Price: $29.99

Purchase: Manitou Kitchen Shop, 906 Manitou Ave., 685-9900, information at aerobie.com.

Why buy: "There's always that dinner party lull that sets in while people are awaiting an after-dinner caffeine shot to perk them up. This nifty little coffee press pumps out some of the smoothest Texas tea you'll ever taste, and in record time. Trust the Aerobie people to know entertainment their main product is a Frisbee. They've got to be pretty confident in this coffee maker to move the Aerobie brand name away from "stuff you want to chuck at your friend's head.' (Can a computer gift-giver read between the lines like this when it comes to marketing decisions? I didn't think so.)"

Gifts.com:

Product: Mingle Plates (handheld cocktail plates with built-in slots to hold your drink)

Price: $30.95

Why buy: "These fun plates allow guests to eat, drink and mingle at once, to ensure a legendary party. What a great hostess gift!" Gifts.com guru Gillian J.

Point: Machine (Machine, 2-1)

Participant explanation: "They're great for parties. You don't have to worry about seating or places to put stuff. And they're plastic, so they won't break."

Profile 4: Music Teen Girl $30 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: Audio DB5 Source Portable Powered MP2 Speaker System

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Price: $29.99

Purchase: Amazon.com

Why buy: "This thing is normally about $80, but is on sale at amazon.com right now in our price range. Hook up your laptop, iPod or (God forbid) Zune to this puppy, and your friends can listen to your music alongside you. Perfect for impromptu breakdance competitions, camping and laptop DVD players with horrible speakers."

Gifts.com:

Product: Animal Speakers

Price: $25.00

Why buy: "Sure, they have an MP3 player but do they have cool speakers to match? Surprise your little monkey with these hilarious animal speakers. Works with a laptop, iPod, CD or MP3 player so they will never be without their tunes." Gifts.com guru Megan H.

Point: Intern (Tie, 2-2)

Participant explanation: "What the hell? Well, the penguin speakers are kind of cute but the others are stupid. I hate the monkey and the turtle looks stoned."

"[The MP3 speakers] look like better quality ... I'd like them."

Profile 5: Active & Healthy Man $45 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: Discovery Massage Cushion with Spot Therapy

Price: $39.99

Purchase: shopping.discovery.com/product-63515.html

Why buy: "What's better than being active and healthy? Why, being comatose while under the power of a massage chair that has five customizable zones, heat, 10 motors and four massage styles, of course. This looks like one of those things that, after a long day of bettering yourself, relaxes you so much you feel dirty. And, for those, "I'm on an icy mountain road ... what could go wrong?' moments, it comes with a car adapter, too!"

Gifts.com:

Product: Euro-Pro Stackable Steamer

Price: $39.99

Why buy: "We're all trying to eat healthier these days, which is especially tough when you're busy. These multi-function food steamers help you prepare a full meal all at once and all steamed for good health! A great gift for busy & health conscious folks." Gifts.com guru Leigh Z.

Point: Machine (Machine, 3-2)

Participant explanation: "Self-massage tools are creepy."

Profile 6: Creative Artistic Woman $30 limit

Intern Steve:

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Product: FOUND books I and II

Price: $39.99

Purchase: foundmagazine.com/books

Why buy: "FOUND is a collection of the scraps people find on the ground from grocery lists that end with "get life together" to teenage love letters. It's a wealth of inspiration. Each little trinket, wrinkled photograph, third-grade history essay and comment card has a story behind it that you can fall back on if you're experiencing some sort of creative block."

Gifts.com:

Product: Pop Art Holiday Theme 2-Slice Toaster

Price: $24.99

Why buy: "Why not help kickstart their day with this unique kitchen gadget it "toasts" fun pictures right into the bread! Who says you need 2 eggs and a piece of bacon to make a smile? For the practical cook with a sense of creativity and of humor." Gifts.com guru Leigh Z.

Point: Intern (Tie, 3-3)

Participant explanation: "I don't really like toast that much."

Profile 7: Gadget Guru Man $30 limit

Intern Steve:

Product: A quarterly subscription to MAKE Magazine

Price: $34.95

Purchase: Makezine.com

Why buy: "Two esoteric magazine recommendations in a row. I'm not quite sure if "Gadget Guru' means you collect or make gadgets, but this little magazine should come in very handy. It tells you how to hack an iPod, make an aerial camera out of a kite, and basically fiddle with everything you own. You get Web site access, too, so you can exchange tinkering tips with other gurus."

Gifts.com:

Product: Universal Voice-Activated Remote

Price: $39.99

Why buy: "Historic inventions: The Wheel, Sliced Bread ... the Voice-Activated Remote! This baby accepts over 50 voice commands from up to 4 different voices. For TV nuts of all ages and ideal for those who may have difficulty seeing/working small buttons." Gifts.com guru Dan T.

Point: Machine (Machine wins, 4-3)

Participant explanation: "I think an audio-activated remote would be wicked."

Final tally: Machine 4, Intern 3

This just goes to prove it: The Matrix and Terminator movies are indeed true prophecy the machines will one day rule. Before we know it, we'll be human batteries walking endless hamster wheels. Thanks for the glum outlook, Steve.

And happy holidays, everyone.

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