In the spirit of last-minute Christmas shopping, I’ll highlight a couple stories with helpful instructions on how to buy better toys (don’t go to Toys R Us) and how to buy cheaper toys (don’t buy pink ones).

The first, a 2013 piece re-posted by Quartz, examines why most toys are downright terrible. “Toy stores, it turns out, are the worst place to buy toys,” author Jenn Choi writes. Her premise is that toys are essentially technologically advanced, overstimulating babysitters designed to absorb kids’ attention while relieving parents from play duty. Anybody who has been toy shopping knows that toys are indeed becoming increasingly complex in the name of “interactivity.” But, in reality, is there anything more interactive than simple toys such as Lego bricks?

Choi lists some of her favorite toys in the article; not surprisingly, they’re ones that require assembly and tinkering: Legos, K’nex, Reptangles.

We pay a premium for pink. Photo by The Washington Post.

When buying presents, keep in mind a lesson from the second consumerism story of the week: Among gendered products, the men’s version is often cheaper. According to a product survey by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, those marketed to women and girls cost an average 7 percent more than those marketed to men.

On the surface, this is gender-based price gouging, but it runs deeper. When you factor in women’s wages, which are on average 79 percent of men’s, then you get a system in which women have less money to spend on more expensive products, something the report calls a “pink tax.”

New York City bans gender discrimination in pricing — a New York barber, for example, can’t charge women more for a haircut than a man; the rate must be based on the labor required to perform the job, not the gender of the customer. But a pink scooter isn’t harder to make than a red one, nor is a pink razor more labor-intensive than a blue one. And women might want to consider swapping hair care products — those marketed to women are 48 percent more expensive than those targeting men.


Speaking of last-minute gifts …

… How about a Starbucks gift card? Everybody loves coffee, and Starbucks shops are everywhere, so it’s a safe bet for a gift. The emphasis on gift cards has also been a safe investment for Starbucks. Since they were launched 15 years ago, more than $25 billion have been loaded onto the cards. As The Seattle Times notes, that’s more than the gross domestic product of Trinidad and Tobago.


Our rich, homogenized area

Times columnist Jon Talton penned a thoughtful year-end and mid-decade review of the area economy. It’s clear Seattle’s undergoing a boom, and its proximity to Asia, affordability relative to the San Francisco Bay Area, and diverse set of anchor companies will keep the capital flowing (though, as Talton correctly points out, we’re still very reliant on Boeing for middle-class jobs and exports).

But there are downsides to the boom. “Seattle mid-decade is more boringly homogenized, a loss that matters not only for nostalgia,” Talton writes. The often indistinguishable skyscrapers popping up in Seattle and Bellevue are pushing out low-rent housing, family-run shops, and other hallmarks of economically and creatively diverse areas. It’s also worth wondering, given Seattle’s good-but-not-great startup scene, whether this increasingly homogenized region will eventually consist solely of the current major headquarters and satellite offices of Silicon Valley giants.


Fight! Fight! Fight!

Sorry, Google and IBM — it’s becoming clear that it’s a two-horse race in the cloud. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure are the clear frontrunners in this burgeoning sector, and one market research firm believes “2016 will be a 206 area code street battle for the cloud.”

Aside from FBR Capital Markets not acknowledging Microsoft’s 425 area code, its assessment is widely upheld by analysts. AWS was first in the cloud business, and it has proven surprisingly nimble. Microsoft has thrown significant emphasis and capital behind cloud computing, and it has a suite of platforms and applications that work well with Azure.

That latter element is a perk, but it can also be damning when it comes to customer acquisition. Deutsche Bank noted that Azure is a “Microsoft-centric” option for cloud customers, while AWS is a more “generic platform.” For new cloud customers, it might be easier and simpler to jump to Amazon’s system.


Elsewhere on the Web

It’s the season of “best of” lists, so FiveThirtyEight compiled a crowdsourced one.

Boeing’s Machinists are an old bunch, and 2016 could be the year many retire as pension growth stalls.

2015 was a year full of mergers and acquisitions. Here are the 10 biggest ones among Seattle-area companies.

Microsoft went on a spending spree in 2015, buying a company-record 20 firms.