Simple gift ideas at the click of a mouse are certain to thrill

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 December, 2004, 12:00am

It is time to be thinking about holiday gifts again and, in my experience, the best gifts are those that have been made by you, or that you have had custom-made for the recipient.

In the old days, I used to go into the workshop and whip out a few cutting boards or wooden jewellery boxes, but now I make much nicer, more treasured gifts on my Mac.

The simplest and perhaps least expensive gift is that of music. Burning a CD made up of songs that have special meaning to the recipient can be a very memorable gift.

If you want to ensure the CD will be even more appreciated, take the time to create artwork for the case from personal photographs.

Burning a CD is as simple as creating a new playlist in iTunes (first button, bottom left) and dragging the songs you want recorded into it. When done, select the play list and click Burn Disc (top right button).

Now, many of you are saying: 'But what if I don't have a CD burner?' And to that, I say: 'Perhaps you should check'. I am amazed at the number of people who have CD and even DVD burners on their Macs and do not even know it. They have been standard on most Macs for the past four years.

To find out, start the System Profiler in the utilities folder and look under Hardware/ATA/. If one of the drive types is CD-RW/DVD-ROM it will burn CDs and read DVDs. This is referred to as a Combo Drive.

If the optical drive is a CD-RW/DVD-RW it will read and burn CDs and DVDs. This drive is referred to as a SuperDrive. If you do not have either, they can be installed for very little if you shop around. I have seen SuperDrives online for less than US$80. You can also get a Firewire portable SuperDrive drive for a little more.

Most graphics programs have a template for designing labels for CDs and their jewel cases. You may have a CD label aligner, a gadget that centres a label on your CD, because these usually come with CD design software. If not, there are a bunch of applications that will fit the bill. My favourite is the shareware CD/DVD Jewel Case and Label Creator for Word, which is at http://www.amf for US$15. It comes with Microsoft Word templates for precut CD/DVD labels from a dozen manufacturers.

Other exceptional gifts that can be created on a Mac are large photos, retouched and framed. These are always a hit. I have two secrets I use when creating mine. One is to use one of the new printers with archival inks that render a photo that, once hung on the wall, will last for 30-plus years. I use an earlier version of the Canon i9900 that prints 13x19-inch images with breathtaking colour and detail.

The cost for paper and ink is about US$3.50 per poster. The other secret is to select a photo that has meaning to the recipient, such as a time when they were having fun at a party or a portrait of one or more of their favourite people or places. The ooohs and ahs will make the effort worthwhile.

This year I am going to invest in another photo gift available online. Because granny is rather fond of our 11-year-old, we are going to take advantage of the Photo Book feature in iPhoto.

Like burning a CD from iTunes but with photos, you create an album (same way you create a playlist in iTunes). After the album is selected, click on the Book menu in the lower centre of the iPhoto page. From there select the type of book and cover you want and add any text and comments. IPhoto will then arrange the photos in a book form. When approved, the photo book will be sent to a printer that will bind the pages into a hardbound book and mail the finished work of art back to you.

The 10-page book contains about 25 photos and costs US$29.99. You can add more images to the book but the price goes up considerably after 10 pages. (My first edit had 45 images and cost US$129!)

In all, though, it is a darn cheap heirloom that has the potential to bring tears of joy to grannies and mums for years to come.

E-mail Dave Horrigan at with your Mac queries.