Cool machines for techie fiancé?
December 15, 2011 4:44 AM   Subscribe

[DifficultGiftFilter] My fiancé is one of those techie guys (software architect/developer) who already has all the latest gadgets and is generally hard to shop for. However, one of his most prized possessions is a beautiful little stirling engine. What are some other cool little machines that he might appreciate?

I don't want to just get my techie fiancé another video game or nerdy t-shirt this year. And I promise, I have searched MeFi high and low, and most of the techie suggestions, he already has. A laser thermometer. Bucky balls. RC helicopter. And we're up to our eyeballs in iPads and Kindles and Dingoos. I've been through thinkgeek and boing boing and wired and I can't quite find what I'm looking for.

Because what he really just loves is his stirling engine that he got for christmas last year. He specifically asked for a really nicely made one from a UK company and his family had it shipped to the states. Then we moved to Portugal, with strict weight and space limits on what we could bring, and my very practical fiancé managed to bring that. He shows it off to every new nerd/geek friend who comes through our door, whipping out a bag of frozen peas to really get it going.

He really appreciates cool little machines like that, even if they don't actually do much. But I really don't have the first clue where to look for something else in a similar vein. Please help me! :(
posted by paralith to Shopping (26 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
How about these things? Or other stuff from make?
posted by pmcp at 5:02 AM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

How about an Internal Combustion Engine Kit? This V8 Aero Engine is my favourite.

The joy comes from building them.

Be warned that the kits can be quite expensive, that they will require additional parts, and that you'll need to pay extra for the build notes.
posted by veedubya at 5:43 AM on December 15, 2011

Maybe check out the Geekery over @ etsy?
posted by pyro979 at 5:51 AM on December 15, 2011

Similar to, but different enough from his Stirling engine are Thermo-acoustic engines. Try
posted by handybitesize at 5:52 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let him build his own contraption with an Arduino starter kit?
posted by backwards guitar at 6:12 AM on December 15, 2011

An antique slide rule?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:12 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

An RC car which is also a boat, which also flies. (warning: autoplaying video)
posted by empath at 6:21 AM on December 15, 2011

An absolutely enormous bin of LEGO.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:31 AM on December 15, 2011

A pendulum wave. (video)
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, crud. I wanted to recommend to you some kits I'd seen in a catalog, but unfortunately, the Low-temperature Stirling engine that runs over a teacup instead of a candle flame, as well as the steam engine kit are sold out for 2011 holidays, leaving only their standard Stirling engine kit, which doesn't do you any good because he already has one. Oh, well. Flag it for next year, if it looks interesting.
posted by aimedwander at 7:04 AM on December 15, 2011

Just remembered - my friend who was enthusiastically showing off his Stirling engine (which he made in his mini machine shop) was also very proud of his Turner's Cube, which is a classic puzzle given to young machinists to prove that they know what they're doing on a milling machine. It's only a puzzle in the sense of trying to figure out how the heck it was made/cut, not that there's a "take it apart and put it together" kind of puzzle, but it's still a very cool little geejaw. I tried to find one for sale, but only found cherry, aluminum is way cooler.
posted by aimedwander at 7:14 AM on December 15, 2011

All good suggestions above. I would like to add a nixie clock, preferably in kit form. It does get expensive to get all the tubes, especially the super big ones. You can even find parts to have it sync with GPS, so it's always accurate.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:19 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, this is awesome! Great suggestions you guys, this definitely gives me some good ideas.

Just to clarify, the construction aspect is not something he's especially focused on. The stirling engine he has came pre-assembled. This is not to say he wouldn't take the time to assemble a cool machine, just that he wouldn't really enjoy a gift that is primarily about the construction and not the object itself. So, sorry Tomorrowful, but I'll pass on the bin of legos :p
posted by paralith at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2011

How about a carbide cannon? No idea if they're legal in Portugal.
posted by Jahaza at 7:54 AM on December 15, 2011

This shop has some cool things.
posted by pmcp at 8:41 AM on December 15, 2011

some more stuff
sciency gifts

as an alternative you may want to go in a different direction and get some non-geeky like some awesome accessories or clothes. I got my groomsmen these belts and they loved it. Or maybe an awesome wallet (Geeky or not), or cashmere scarf or something like that.
posted by pyro979 at 8:52 AM on December 15, 2011

autonomous quadcopter kit.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:07 AM on December 15, 2011

A Hoberman sphere, or several. Or the color-changing version, which is still magic to me.

A Klein bottle.
posted by Myself at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2011

My husband builds sterling engines for fun. He has all the things mentioned in your post and a number of the ones suggested here (the ferromagnetic liquid, the strongest laser ("But it can reach to the moon!"), the arduino kit...sigh). Anyway, a few things I can think of:
- A subscription to 2600 The Hacker Quarterly
- Esoteric lenses for an iphone (fisheye, macro, etc.)
- Specialized tools
- A micro milling machine so he can make his own parts
- A DIY theremin (this went over well as a group project one year)

But if it were me, and I were in Portugal, I'd avoid the whole tech dilemma and take him on a long weekend to Lanzarote, Crete, or Fez/Marrakech, and give him a nice pair of binoculars. Good luck, I feel your pain.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 10:50 AM on December 15, 2011

Desktop trebuchet.

Second the Klein bottle, though it's an inert object, not really an interactive. It may, however, be blown by Clifford Stoll, whom I happened to mention elsewere in AskMeFi today.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:48 PM on December 15, 2011

The one item that made my hallway of techie nerd coworkers go "ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" when it arrived in the mail? Collapsible grappling hook. It was heavy duty, too.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:35 AM on December 16, 2011

Its pretty cheap, so maybe not for christmas.
One of those drinking birds.

Its pretty much a low temperature low speed engine. the water in the cup makes the birds head cooler than its bottom so the red juice inside goes up to the top, then when it tips over, the red stuff runs down to the bottom and it starts over again.

Everyone that saw mine liked it, especially because most people have only seen them in cartoons.
posted by Iax at 12:20 AM on December 17, 2011

Fountain pen.
posted by polyglot at 1:12 AM on December 18, 2011

Its probably too late to get stuff delivered from the UK in time for Christmas this year, but how about a Galileo thermometer ?
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 11:35 PM on December 18, 2011

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