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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Zack Notes

February 4, 2016

Zack Notes | UncommonGoodsZack Notes, Senior Marketing and Product Manager

My hometown…
I’m originally from Boulder Creek, a little mountain town in the northern California. We lived on Chipmunk Hollow Road, where there were indeed a ton of chipmunks. There were also slightly less cute animals – like scorpions, tarantulas, and mountain lions. We had a vegetable garden and a chicken coop. One time I was collecting eggs and the rooster decided that he wanted the eggs back. A brutal showdown ensued and I lost. Luckily, I was rescued by our dog, Sasquatch. I still have a scar on my cheek.

In our backyard, I had a laboratory under a redwood tree where I worked on my “inventions.” Starting when I was three, I would take stuff out of the trash, bring it into the backyard, and try to build things with it – time machines, etc. I wish I had some kind of baby genius invention to tout, but I don’t think I ever actually made anything other than a mess.

Every now and then someone’s house would go into the creek when we had mudslides. My parents tell me that one of the guys that lived on our street was a Hells Angels gang leader who would frequently throw raging biker parties. One time, the Hells Angels let me shoot a shotgun at a washed up house in the river. That was probably around the time my parents decided we should move.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Thumb Piano “Ka Limba Limba”

March 11, 2013

Research
The Kalimba is older than Jesus. Also referred to as a thumb piano, it has changed form and tuning numerous times over the last 3,000 years. It was initially made of bamboo and then independently created in metal form 1,300 years ago. Small and light, it was the perfect instrument for travelling griot storytellers in West Africa. They believed that the angelic notes could float up to heaven and bring spirits down to earth.

Upon plucking one of the metal tines for the first time, I immediately realized that there is indeed a mystical element to the tone it emits. It is also quite easy to play, especially the version I had, since it consists of only 8 notes. Has someone ever asked you to name one object you would take with you to a deserted island? This has to be it. It makes for great company. I immediately had an innate desire to contribute to the history of the Kalimba by writing a short song for it.

Hypothesis

I figured that the best way to learn this instrument was to make like a griot and play it while I walked. Living in NYC, I walk a lot. I figured I would bring it everywhere I went and play it everywhere I walked. I could probably come up with something decent in a week.

Experiment

I started with my walk home to the subway station. I developed a pleasing four note repetition. Still playing, I made my way down the stairs of the station, caught a train and sat down. On the subway, I memorized a few variations on the loop. It’s a fairly quiet instrument. When the train was moving, only I could hear it. When the train stopped, a man next to me glanced up, curious. I smiled. He smiled back, looked down and continued to read. Nothing is out of the ordinary on the NYC subway. I continue playing on my walk home. Head down, deeply focused on memorizing the verse. The next day I created a complementary verse and walked into a stop sign. No biggie. Griots used to do it all the time, I’m sure.

By day 3 I had a 40 second song that I could repeat. Guessing I would soon forget it, I wrote down the notes. For proper documentation, I named it Ka Limba Limba. It’s 11 lines long.

I recorded it here for your listening pleasure. It’s quiet, so headphones are suggested:

Conclusion
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this little instrument. My thumbs are a bit raw from playing for a week. I’ll likely wait a few days before working on my next song.

The Uncommon Life

MaKey MaKey Meets Frogger – An UncommonGoods DIY

March 6, 2013

The MaKey MaKey is a unique invention aiming to change the way we connect with the internet. Banana pianos, cat controlled cameras and high five orchestras are some of the recent contraptions spawning from this odd new technology which was initially funded from a KickStarter project with over 10,000 backers.

Frogger is a classic arcade game developed by Konami in 1981. Guiding a frog across the road and the river, the player is lost in a mental state of amphibian survival. It’s a simple game, with an addictive quality rivaling that of Angry Birds.

After playing around with the MaKey MaKey for a few weeks, I realized that I could use the MaKey MaKey to improve upon Frogger. For those who have played the game, you may ask yourself, is it even possible to improve on Frogger? Konami might say no, but I say yes. My plan was to put the player in the physical realm of the frog, where your legs are the difference between life and death.

I developed this in two test phases:

Test #1 – Touch Pad
Test #2 – Floor Pad

Out of the box, the MaKey MaKey comes with a circuit board, a USB connect and several wires pinched off with alligator clips.

Frogger frogs move in four directions. Up, Down, Left and Right. (Just like normal frogs). Conveniently, the MaKey MaKey comes with the same four directions. I hooked an alligator clip to each one:

The MaKey MaKey is basically an open source touchpad. You can hack any type of controller. All you need is electrically conductive material. Paper clips, people, spoons, water, apples, paint, etc… They are all compatible. I decided to use the most complex conductive substance known to man:

Play-Doh.

I made four balls of Play-Doh, squished them to a notepad, and plugged in to the other end of the alligator clips. Almost live, all I needed was a grounding wire. At the bottom of the Makey Makey there is long silver grounding strip. In order for MaKey MaKey to work you need to “ground” yourself, which essentially completes the circuit loop. For the last step, I grounded myself to the strip with a bracelet made from heavy wire.

Alternatively, you could just hold the wire, or attach the alligator clip to a metal ring or other piece of conductive jewelry.

*Note – If you are on a laptop, unplug it while using the Makey Makey. Otherwise you may lose your grounding.

I opened Frogger and started to play. I immediately got ran over by a car. Then I drowned. I forgot how intense this game is.

My Frogger skills were way off since my days as a 7 year old, but Test #1 was a success nonetheless. Obviously, Test #2 got delayed by a half hour as I tried over and over again to beat the level. Mustering all of my willpower, I stopped playing the game and moved everything to the floor so I could play with my feet. Oops! The grounding wire is only 1 foot long. I made an extension with a 6 foot piece of hookup wire.

Test #2 – Great success!

As I considered the possibilities, I realized that by expanding the distance between the foot pads, I could create a physical difficulty level much more in line with the frog’s predicament. It also became apparent that this was going to be quite an awesome gaming experience.

To take this to the next level, I needed a big room, more Play-Doh, a projector and Swedish House Mafia. Luckily I work at UncommonGoods, an office where it’s okay to ask your boss for such things with a serious look on your face.

I grabbed a few friends from the office and we found a nice big open space to lay down foot pads. We hooked up a projector for Frogger, connected it to my laptop, and hooked the laptop to the MaKey MaKey with the USB connect. For foot pads, we used aluminum foil, a little strip of Play-Doh to help keep the wire in place and painter’s tape to seal the deal.

Once the floor pads were tested, we fired up Frogger, killed the lights in the building and blasted Swedish House Mafia. Why Swedish House Mafia? Watch this video and it will all make sense:

As you can see, we took Frogger to a whole new dimension. The next morning my legs hurt.

MaKey MaKey is an amazing invention with endless applications. If you want to try it out for yourself, you can buy one here.

If you already have one and you’re looking for ideas you should start with YouTube. There are already hundreds of videos out there. Here are my personal favorites:

Top 10 MaKey MaKey Ideas:

1. Banana Piano
2. High Five Orchestra
3. Robot Boy
4. Musical Paintings
5. Birthday Flowers
6. Cheese Controlled Race Car
7. Kissing Karaoke
8. Electric Wind Chimes
9. Horse Simulator
10. Veggie DJ

For more ideas, you can check out the MaKey MaKey forum here.

If you have used MaKey MaKey to invent something we’d love to hear about it. Email us at makeymakey@uncommongoods.com.

The Uncommon Life

5 Original Christmas Cocktails

December 13, 2011

The first bloody mary was mixed at the St. Regis in NYC. Mojitos were invented by Cuban sailors. And apparently Mai Tais were first enjoyed in the tropical paradise of Oakland, CA.

Unfortunately, some cities aren’t lucky enough to have a hometown drink. To help fill this need, we’ve concocted some cocktails for several identity-starved cities. After all, it’s holiday party season, and every city deserves a reason to say cheers. Whether you hail from these cities or not, you can celebrate by toasting with these unique traditions-to-be.

Wondering how we picked these cities? Well it’s funalytics my friend! We wanted to find the thirstiest cities in America, ones who would really appreciate our cocktail chemistry. So we looked at sales data from our popular Whiskey Stones and Bike Chain  Bottle Opener. We figured that if a city was buying up whiskey stones at a faster rate, they would probably love our amateur mixology skills.

Here’s a toast to the thirstiest cities in America. Join us in raising a glass, won’t you?

DUMBO BUBBLYORLANDO, FL

(image courtesy of Disneyland Bronze-Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse; Denise Cross)

Remember when Dumbo got drunk with Timothy Mouse? Here’s a Disney-inspired punch that will have you hiccuping and seeing everyone through a rose-colored glass.

– 2 bottles of champagne, chilled.
– 4 oz X-Rated Fusion Liqueur
– 1 cup passion fruit juice
– 2 blood oranges, juiced

Mix ingredients in punchbowl.  Serves 8.

FROSTY THE SLUGGERLOUISVILLE, KY

(image courtesy of Baseball on a Mailbox; Noah Sussman)

Iced and peanut-flavored, it’s equal parts snow balls and ball park.

– 6 oz. coffee liqueur (Kahlua)
– 12 oz. milk
– 4 scoops vanilla ice cream
– 4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
– Club soda

Blend liqueur, milk, ice cream and peanut butter until smooth. Pour and top with splash of club soda. Serves 4.

GOVERNMENT GRADE EGG NOGARLINGTON, VA

(image courtesy of the nog, the stache or the sweater?metropolitician)

This ‘nog could be considered a weapon of mass deliciousness- thick, creamy and not intended for civilians.

– 12 egg yolks
– 12 egg whites
– 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
– 1 quart brandy
– 1 pint rum
– 1 gallon heavy cream
– 1 cup powdered sugar

In an extra large mixing bowl, beat yolks until lemon colored. Add sugar and beat until creamy. Add brandy and rum, alternating between the two. Mix well. Stir in 3/4 gallon heavy cream. In a separate bowl, lightly beat 6 egg whites and then fold into the large bowl mixture. Reuse bowl to beat remaining whites until very stiff, and add powdered sugar and rest of heavy cream. Fold remaining egg white mixture into eggnog mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 12.

COLUMBUS WASSAILING CIDERCOLUMBUS, OH

(image courtesy of Christopher Columbus; Conspiracy of Happiness)

Columbus wassailing, and now he’s not.

– 2 quarts apple cider
– 1 1/2 cups orange juice
– 3/4 cup pineapple juice
– 1 tablespoon brown sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
– 2 cinnamon sticks (3 ins)
– dash ground cinnamon
– dash ground cloves

In a large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-30 mins. Remove cinnamon sticks. Serve pioneering carolers in blue vessels for a mariner feel.  Serves 10.

SWELTERING SANTAPHOENIX, AZ

(image courtesy of Arizona Christmas; Kevin. Cochran)

A festive, frozen margarita to get you in the (slightly sweaty) spirit.

– 6 oz. white tequila
– 6 oz. Triple Sec
– 8 oz. cranberry juice
– 6 oz. lime juice
– 6 oz. sour mix
– 8 cups ice

Mix ingredients in blender until smooth. Serve in a coupe glass. Serves 4.