Still hurting for gift ideas? Never fear. The inventive and iconoclastic TED Fellows are coming to the rescue with the recent fruit of their labors. These inspired and unusual items — from Chinese-inflected banjo music to a remote-controlled underwater vehicle — are sure to delight your loved ones. Just be gentle stuffing that all-terrain vehicle into the stocking, or Grandpa George into the mushroom burial suit.
The gift: The littleBits Synth Kit
Perfect for: Aspiring musicians and actual musicians
The latest ingenious offering from Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits electronic building block company lets you snap together a modular synthesizer from 12 pieces. The product of a three-way partnership among littleBits, comedian-musician-anthropologist Reggie Watts (watch his TED Talk) and famed synth maker KORG, the littleBits SynthKit can be mixed and matched with any other littleBits kits to create all manner of musical artworks and toys with sound.
Get it: Order it through the littleBits website ($159)
The gift: The Muslims Are Coming!
Perfect for: The social-justice-minded comedy fiend
Comedian and filmmaker Negin Farsad‘s hilarious documentary follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they tour Middle America on a mission to combat Islamophobia and convert it to Muslim love. Featuring Farsad, and co-produced by TED Fellow Andrew Mendelson, TMAC also features public interventions like the “Ask a Muslim” booth and the game show “Name That Religion” — not to mention special appearances by comedy heavyweights Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.
Get it: Order the DVD ($15), or purchase it via iTunes or Amazon ($9.99)
The gift: OpenROV Kit
Perfect for: Explorers, your resident Jacques Cousteau
David Lang and his friend Eric Stackpole wanted to explore an underwater limestone cave in California, but they didn’t have the remote-controlled robot that would make it possible. So they decided to build one — opening up the process for instructions and advice from the public. In the process, they not only invented the OpenROV, the world’s first affordable, open-source, remote-controlled underwater robot, but formed a thriving global community of underwater explorers.
Get it: Buy the latest iteration of OpenROV ($849)
The gift: City of Refuge
Perfect for: Fans of pop, folk and bluegrass, and folks with eclectic ears
Singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based, Chinese-speaking clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn weaves together disparate musical traditions and genres from the past and present to create an exuberant and soulful sound. Features My Morning Jacket’s Carl Bromel, the Decemberists’ Chris Funk, Turtle Island String Quartet’s Jeremy Kittell, atmospheric jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and Mongolian string band Hanggai.
Get it: Available via Amazon ($14)
The gift: Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture
Perfect for: Information junkies, data devotees, geeks
Data scientist Jean-Baptiste Michel’s new book, co-authored with colleague Erez Aidan, tells how they teamed up with Google to create the Ngram Viewer, a groundbreaking tool that analyzes the data from millions of digitized books to offer an unprecedented means to analyze and interpret human history, society and culture.
Get it: It’s being released on December 26, but is available for pre-order via Amazon ($20)
The gift: Mobius Two
Perfect for: Residents of rural Africa who are ready to roll
Across rural Africa, 320 million people lack access to transportation. Tough vehicles that can handle difficult road conditions are expensive, while more common forms of transport like rickshaws and motorcycles can’t easily carry cargo or a large group of people. So, car innovator Joel Jackson came up with the no-frills but hardy Mobius, with a robust steel frame and lighter aluminum/fiberglass body. The 8-seater Mobius Two is designed to be affordable for the middle-income market, and is excellent for small businesses like transport, delivery and medical care.
Get it: Pre-order by subscription through Mobius Motors ($9,841)
The gift: A class from Skillshare
Perfect for: The young and the curious; lifelong learners
Michael Karnjanaprakorn’s peer-to-peer education platform Skillshare hooks up people with skills to teach — whether it’s math, cooking, logo design, app design, website building or audio mixing — with those who want to learn. Skillshare started out facilitating offline, in-person local classes (still available throughout the United States), but now also offers online classes, which lets teachers and students connect from anywhere in the world and learn at their own pace.
Get it: Order a gift card through Skillshare (price varies by class)
The gift: Literary swag
Perfect for: The bookworms in your life
Say it with satire. Safwat Saleem’s posters, cards and animated shorts offer a twisted take on the absurdity of racism, politics, basic BS — and the holidays. For those of a bookish bent, Saleem has recently taken time out from his sharp satire to design a line of literary greeting cards, T-shirts, tote bags and art prints, inspired by classic stories but with a humorous spin, as part of an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for an independent bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona.
Get it: Order through Safwat Saleem’s website ($9 and up) or support the Indiegogo campaign for Changing Hands Bookstore ($10 and up)
The gift: MEJDI Tours
Perfect for: The thoughtful globetrekker
Founded by Middle Eastern American peace activist Aziz Abu Sarah, Mejdi Tours is a travel company that offers intercultural, bridge-building tours led by with two guides, each representing unique cultural, religious, political and ethnic narratives. Launched in Israel and Palestine with guides from each, Mejdi now offers the same in such destinations as Egypt, Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan. Cultural immersion and customized itineraries offer tourists otherwise hard-to-reach places, people and experiences, enriching both travelers and the communities they visit.
Get it: Head to the Mejdi Tours website (prices vary)
The gift: A mushroom burial suit
Perfect for: Hard-core environmentalists, goths
Anyone can be a “decompinaut,” by becoming an early adopter of the future of death (hopefully not too early, though). Jae Rhim Lee’s Mushroom Death Suit is a bodysuit infused with flesh-eating mushroom spores. It puts a personal spin on the cradle-to-grave concept. Her Infinity Burial Project — still being developed and refined — promotes an environmentally friendly alternative to the current embalming and cremation process, which is both energy intensive and toxic to the ecosystem.
Get it: Lee is offering 1,000 memberships to the Inner Circle of her Decompiculture Society ($65), which includes an Inner Circle T-shirt and rights to the next iteration of the decomposition system — a burial pod.
The gift: Tap dance lessons
Perfect for: Closet hoofers
Sometimes you’ve just gotta bust a move. New York City–based tap dancer, choreographer and dance historian Andrew Nemr — who studied under Gregory Hines — offers private tap lessons as well as webinars on subjects like how to build your very own approach for learning to tap. Not in New York? No problem. Nemr will coach you one-on-one over the internet.
Get it: Contact Nemr about private coaching (from $50)
The gift: A donation to help recovery in the Philippines
Perfect for: Those with hearts of gold
Filipino Fellows Xavier Alpasa and Susie Ibarra are working to support relief work in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the country, killing 6,033 to date, with 1,779 still missing. The best way to contribute is through their associated organization, the Philippine Jesuit Foundation.
How to give: Head to the foundation’s website to donate (any amount is appreciated)