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All right – the weather outside is getting colder, and the holiday season is now fully upon us. Decorations and gift giving definitely seem to highlight this time of the year, but that wasn’t always the case. Gift Giving in the modern sense didn’t really get underway until the 1820s. The first advertisements for Christmas gifts hit the US in 1804, and it wasn’t until the 1840s that it had become an integral part of the American Christmas tradition.

And just like our grandparents and their parents before them walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, each generation seems to state that gift giving was never that important when they were a kid. Harriet Beacher Stowe wrote in 1850 that, “the very idea of a present was new!” and that “there are worlds of money wasted at this time of year.” Stowe was a member of the last generation to be able to legitimately make that claim. If you’ve heard similar words escape the lips of anyone under 150 years old, they probably didn’t notice all the commercialism as a kid because they distracted by all the presents they were getting.

However, calling grandpa out on Christmas Eve is not what this BarretTime is about. If you want to go that route, you go it alone. I need to check out Snopes for the real deal, but I suspect that Grandma getting run over by that reindeer was directly related to her always correcting grandpa’s snowy, giftless, Christmas recollections on Christmas Eve. But unlike stories past, Grandma won’t be around to refute the reindeer story and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever be able to produce Santa in court.

So rather than implicating grandpa, I’d like to ask the Technology Bytes crew if they remember the first electronic toy, gadget or game that they received for Christmas. We should probably be pretty loose with what constitutes electronic, as some of us in the room may have received gifts before the birth of the integrated circuit. That’s 1956, for those keeping track.

We could probably open that up to our callers the last half of the show as well…

And speaking of free things, If you’ve heard the comparisons between free as in speech and free as in beer when it comes to Open Source wares, you’re probably aware that speech usually trumps beer. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of free beer going around these days, but that could change tomorrow night, depending on how quickly a firkin of Fireman’s Number Four is drained tomorrow evening at the Petrol Station in Garden Oaks.

The Petrol Station is the new Kaveh Kanes of early Geek Gathering fame and a firkin is an old English unit of volume, equal to nine imperial gallons or seventy two pints. If the crowd at the Petrol Station can drain a firkin of Fireman’s in under seven minutes, Real Ale will open up a free as in beer firkin of Coffee House Porter. You’ll want to arrive a little before 8:00, because by 8:07, it could all be over. The Petrol Station is at 985 Wakefield near Golf just north of the 610 loop.

Another Free as in Beer activity is the Geek Gathering this Friday night at the Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. Bundle up or plan on spending some time indoors, as things will be chilly regardless of any frozen precipitation. Things get started at seven o’clock at 2503 Bagby at McGowan. And be sure not to park along the street on McGowan, or you may be starting to run after a tow truck by eight.

WiFi, Geeky Comaraderie and side hugs are all free. The beer, spirits and food will cost you.

Hit www.geekradio.com for details and directions.

And one last free as in beer related item, though I’m going to make you come out to the Geek Gathering to collect. Open Source Hardware, like the Arduino platform, is free as in schematics, but often falls under the same category as beer. Not this season. A US based Open Source Hardware vendor is giving away $100 of the gear of your choice to all practicing or aspiring tinkers and hardware hackers. The catch is that it is one day only, they’re capping it at $100,000 in total giveaways, and you’ve got to pay your own shipping. This is a really awesome deal from some good people aimed at the hardware hacking community. Ask me about it at the Geek Gathering and I’ll give you the company name, the date and the link.

Knowing that not everyone can make it out to the Geek Gathering, I’ll give a hint to help track down the company. They were recently mentioned in a Canadian newspaper when one of their bluetooth to serial devices was discovered in a mobile credit card processing machine at a restaurant. The photo, intentionally or otherwise, prominently displays their company logo on the nefarious device. Rather than shy away from the news release or burying it, they’re embracing it. After all, serial to bluetooth converters don’t debit card numbers and PINs, people do.

That’s that for your holiday Free One One and that’s that for BarretTime.

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