Browsing Tag

DIY

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.

Gift Guides

How to Repair a Wool Sweater

February 22, 2013

Getting the opportunity to try uncommon products is one of the great things about working at UncommonGoods. While many of these product-testing experiments become gift labs, every now and then we find a new good with so many uses we can’t fit them all in one “report.” The Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is an example of just such a product, AND, since associate buyer Katie and community moderator Cassie both had their eyes on this winter must-have, we decided to diverge from the traditional gift lab format and see just how many uses we could come up with for this clever kit. Four are outlined below, but Cassie and Katie agree that the fun doesn’t have to stop there!

Katie: Having spotted the Woolfiller at a major New York trade show last year, I was anxious to get such a solution-oriented product into our assortment. A fun, hands-on kit to patch up an old favorite or add some flair to a basic sweater seemed like the perfect DIY project nearly anyone could adopt.To put this product to the test, I decided to tackle two specific projects, the first was to patch the embarrassingly large (and winter chill-inviting) elbow holes on one of my favorite sweaters. After completing the elbow hole patches, I wanted more – I had seen some fun images the company provided where people used the bright colored wool to add some creative patches as flair and I wanted to try this out, which lead to Project two: adding flair.

Cassie and I decided to each purchase one kit – a match made in heaven as this green-adoring girl, could partner with Cassie’s purple-loving self and combine to make a cornucopia of rich, jewel-tone wools mixed with solid staple colors (greys, blacks, beiges) which came in extra handy for my second project. But I would also say that one kit is entirely sufficient – each comes with bright color options as well as neutral, basic colors which should cover a range of sweater needs. And to that point, upon unloading our kits onto a communal table, we were both surprised by how much wool comes in each kit – we went about tearing each ball into half and divvying up our goods.

Project 1: Bold Elbow Patches

Katie: After some deliberation, I chose to patch the elbows of my dark, gray sweater with the natural beige wool – aiming for a contrast patch look – like your grandfather’s sweater.

After choosing the color of wool, I reviewed the simple instructions and went to work. I used a pair of scissors to make the first of my ragged elbow holes into a smooth, even oval to ensure my patches would be as clean-looking as possible. Next, I ripped a decent amount (maybe the width of a lime) of wool off the main piece, turned my sweater inside out, put the provided foam piece in the sleeve, laid the wool over the hole, and began poking!

After completing the first of two patches, I turned my sleeve right-side out to inspect my work. Herein I learned one of the bigger lessons of the project – while the instructions suggest turning your piece inside-out to use the product, I found that by doing that I was less aware of the exact line of the hole (because the piece of wool covered it) and as a result I ended up with what can only be described as a “halo” effect around the patch – one sold patch, with a light ring of excess wool surrounding it.

On elbow #2 I decided to try another approach – again I cut away the ragged edge to make a smooth hole, but this time I left the sweater sleeve right-side out, I inserted the felt piece, and lined the wool up perfectly with the hole and started poking away. I found when I did it this way, I was able to guide the wool into a perfect oval while poking and overall felt much more in control of the overall work. When complete, the patch appeared much more perfect and solid.

After completing the elbow patches, I moved onto my next experiment…

Project 2: Adding a Little Flair

Katie: I decided to do a simple trio of mini circles with bright colors. Having learned from my elbow patches, I left my sweater right-side out, tore of tiny circles of wool (about the size of a quarter), and started poking away! I found my technique was much-improved, I used my fingers to expertly guide the wool and before I knew it I had my little flair added in.

In the interest of science, here are my key Findings:

Finding #1:
This kit comes with a lot of wool. I was surprised by how little wool it took to patch up my rather large elbow holes. I have a lot of wool leftover and am just waiting for a quiet Sunday to get to patchin’ my slew of other well-worn sweaters.

Finding #2:
The more you poke – the more “felted” the wool becomes. Good thing poking is super fun.

Finding #3:
As mentioned above, the kit recommends turning the piece inside-out and then using the wool filler, however, I found this created a slight ‘halo effect’ around the actual patch, and when I tested using the kit the opposite way – with the sweater turned right-side out, I was very pleased with the results – I could control the pokes more and create a clean oval with no halo.

Finding #4:
The Woolfiller is a really easy, creative way to patch.

Having now completed two projects on one beloved, well-worn sweater, I can vouch for the usability and honestly–the fun– this product provided.I passed the DIY-sweater-patch torch along to Cassie.

Project 3: The No-Show Repair

Cassie: I also had a beloved sweater with a hole in it. Unlike Katie, I didn’t want my repair job to be super noticeable. My hole was just under the arm of a multi-colored sweater, so I hoped I could blend the new wool in and make the sweater look like new. Taking her findings into consideration, I began my exercise in craftology.

I started out the same way, by finding the hole, turning the sweater inside out, and inserting the foam block. Then I picked out a couple of colors that I thought would mix nicely with my sweater’s pattern.

I placed the wool over the holes and started poking. It was really fun, and, because the sweater is 100% wool the new wool took almost instantly. I pricked at the wool with the felting needle for less than a minute before the patch was completely attached, but I kept at it for a little longer, just to make sure it was blended well.

I turned the sweater back inside in and gave it a few more pokes, just to give the wool a smoother look. The finished product looked good, and the patch feels just like the rest of the sweater.

While I agree with most of Katie’s key findings, I found that starting with the sweater inside out worked great for a small, blended patch. She preferred the look of the patch when she placed the wool directly over the hole without turning her garment inside out first. I’d recommend doing a test on your own piece, by woolfilling just a small section of the patch, before completing your own project.

Project 4: Super Star Style

Cassie: Giving my sweater a quick fix was fun and easy, but after seeing Katie’s bold patches and the little bundle of flair she added to her project, I was a little jealous. I wanted to give my own colorful creation a try, so I decided to add a little shape to an old cardigan.

First I drew a star shape on a small piece of scratch paper. Then, I cut out the star, leaving an outline. Next, I placed the outline over the elbow of my sweater. (Remember to insert the foam block first.)

I didn’t turn the sweater inside out this time, since I wasn’t actually making a real “patch,” I was just covering up the existing material with new wool.

I put a little ball of bright pink wool in the center of the star shape, then started stretching it out to fill the cutout as I poked it with the felting needle. I didn’t secure the star before starting this process, which made it a little trickier than it had to be. Next time I’ll hold it in place with some fabric tape or a safety pin.

I gradually added more wool and pulled it into the shape of the star as I worked at it with the felting needle. Once I had the outline filled in I removed the paper and then poked carefully around the outside edges of the star to give it a sharper shape.

Since the cardigan isn’t entirely wool (it’s a blend also containing nylon and cotton), it took a lot longer for the woolfiller to adhere this time than it did with the 100% wool sweater I’d used it on before.

The star turned out well, but there was one problem. I was so focused on creating my shape that I forgot to move my foam block the whole time I was poking. The wool (and the sweater) got stuck to the block, so It was somewhat difficult to remove when I was done. Make sure to readjust the block several times during your project to make sure this doesn’t happen!

I’ll definitely try this again next time I want to give an old sweater a new look. Next time, I might try a heart, a triangle or square, or maybe even a letter.


Through our multiple sweater patching projects, we learned that the Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is a great way to repair a damaged sweater, give old wool a new look, or add a personal touch to your favorite pieces.

And, bonus, it’s not just for sweaters. It works on any pretty much anything made of wool!

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Pinterest Addict

November 28, 2012

She knows her way around the craft store and will try any slow cooker recipe at least once. She’s quick to reuse scraps of fabric, empty mason jars, and even old cardboard boxes. She’s got a new quote daily, which is perfect, because those canvases and sticky letters aren’t going going to put themselves together to create inspirational wall art. She’s the queen of the color palette. The creator of copious cupcakes. The steward of style. Now, thanks to Pinterest, all her DIY dreams are just a click away. But, even the most persistent pinner needs a break during the holiday season. Help her take a load off by presenting her with one of these pinworthy products perfect for the Pinterest Addict.

Instrumental Lighting–Trumpet / Upcycled Sweater Moose Head / Hattie Apron / State Table / Instabook / Felt Animal Kits / Upcycled Sari Clutch / Cake Pops Stand / Flavor Infuser Water Bottle


And while you’re pining for pin-ables, don’t forget to stop by our Pin the Halls Holiday Pinterest Contest for a chance to win a $250 UncommonGoods shopping spree.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: DIY Lip Balm Kit

October 15, 2012


Research:
I am a total lip balm addict, as is our entire family. I have two on my desk at work, a few stashed in my bag, and always one in the car. The thing about my lip balm is, frankly, I do not like to share, and therefore I can never have enough of fresh sticks or tins of fresh balm on hand!

Hypothesis:
I am thinking that since I am a creature of habit and typically buy the same flavors, making my own lip balm with the DIY Lip Balm Kit will give me an opportunity to experiment with a different range of scents; and since everything is provided for us it should be fool proof!

Experiment:
I knew my 12-year-old daughter Tea was super excited to experiment with me and could not wait to open the box and check out the contents. We decided to make a variety of flavors instead of 6 tins of the same flavor, so we raided our cabinets for essential oils and found a few interesting base scents. The kit comes with peppermint, so we opted for the peppermint, our tangerine oil, and added a chocolate oil to the peppermint (for the “never yet seen on any store shelf”) chocolate-peppermint lip balm.

Everything is well labeled in the kit and very organized and the instructions were very easy to follow. Basically all that was needed was a scale, a few mixing cups, a spoon, and a double boiler. It was very nice to see the cards had details on all the ingredients – informative and educational.

We wanted a “plain” balm first, so we threw all the ingredients to melt together–basically beeswax, cocoa butter, and sunflower oil–let that melt and filled the first tin with the unscented mix. There are really clear instructions on how to get the balm to be smooth on the top, and what to do if it coagulates.

Since we were doing a variety of flavors, we had to plan out the best way to achieve our assortment, and it seemed like the best way was to just mix the plain base with the oil right in the little tins.

We discovered that if you add too much essential oil, it becomes too strong and can burn your lips, so in this case less is more, as the natural oils are very concentrated.

Next came the peppermint, and since this was our last base flavor, we added peppermint right to the boiler, and mixed it well. After we filled the tins with peppermint, we added some chocolate to the nearly empty boiler, making our last mixture of chocolate peppermint.

The instructions recommended a curing/hardening period of a few hours. In the meantime Tea labeled the tins so we could be ready for action when the balms were set.


Conclusion:
This was a super fun, easy activity that was basically fool proof. We over-scented one tin but found you could dilute the mix by added more wax/base… so all in all it was very fun, we achieved great results and had a lot of fun doing this together! I was very happy to have all the instructions ingredients provided for us, and know that if we want to continue another time, we just need to seek the ingredients. We still have the tins and the recipe, and the know-how; I am sure we’ll give it another try and even experiment with some more flavors next time!

The Uncommon Life

A Rockin’ Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice) Recipe

August 31, 2012

I had a bunch of leftover cooked jasmine rice in the fridge and a new UncommonGoods gadget I wanted to try, the Garlic Rocker. So I did the math and came up with Garlic + Rice = Garlic Rice. Clever, eh?
Googling “garlic rice” in search of a recipe led me to the discovery that in the Phillippines, it’s a breakfast staple called “sinangag” in Tagalog. Garlic for breakfast?! I was on it like white on rice.
Because fried rice doesn’t require exact measurements–you can judge just by looking how much of each ingredient you want to add to it–I looked at several recipes and more or less winged it from there. (The recipe links are at the bottom of this page.) I also consulted UncommonGoods’ two Filipino software developers, Albert Tingson and Orlando Geronimo.
Orlando (right, in photo) said, “How about if you bring the sinangag to work and we’ll have a good breakfast with some tapa and fried egg. We call it ‘Tapsilog.'” All three of us were enthused about this idea until we remembered that we have no way to cook fried eggs at work.
With any kind of fried rice, you want to get all the elements (except herbs, if you’re using them) cooked and chopped before the “frying” begins (actually, sautéeing in my case, as I used a flat pan instead of a wok).
I put some “fancy” generic store brand frozen peas in a bowl and defrosted/cooked them in the microwave. When they were done, I set them aside.I started scrambling a couple of eggs. The secret to good scrambled eggs is low heat, minimal scrambling, and removing the eggs when they’re still slightly underdone, because they’ll cook a little more from their internal heat. That way, the eggs turn out soft and delicious rather than rubbery and tasteless.
When the eggs were done, I sort of stab/chopped them into irregular, bite-size chunks with the plastic spatula I was using in the non-stick pan. Then I set them aside.I took my leftover rice out of the fridge and broke up the stuck-together hunks so that it’d be ready to be scattered into the pan when the time came. I set that aside, too.Then I cut each garlic clove in half lengthwise so that it would lay flat and stable.Now I was ready to ROCK. I pressed the rocker down onto a nice, fat garlic clove and rocked it back and forth to cut through the whole clove.Oh, how beautiful the results were. Perfect little bullets of garlic that resembled part of a honeycomb. Without bothering to scrape off the “bullets,” I put another couple of cloves underneath the tool and pressed/rocked them, too.Because I’m a garlic glutton, I rocked a few more cloves. Then it was time to sauté the garlic bullets.
I used peanut oil. Chinese cooks normally use it because it has a high “smoke point” – meaning it can get a lot hotter than, say, canola oil, corn oil, or butter, before it starts smoking and burning. Also, its flavor goes better with Asian food than olive oil’s does. (If you live near an Asian grocery, buy it there. It’s a lot more expensive at typical American groceries.)I put maybe three tablespoons more into the pan than I needed for sautéeing the garlic, so that there’d be plenty of gloriously garlicky oil left over to fry the rice with.
I’m an impatient cook and I hate to watch over things, which is why I very often overcook my hamburgers and burn my garlic. Burning garlic ruins it. It tastes really acrid and bad. So I made myself pay attention and kept the heat low-ish. I didn’t ruin it! OK, actually a few pieces were overcooked, but I deleted them.One of the recipes I’d found said to add the rice to the garlic in the pan, but I didn’t want to risk cooking the garlic any longer. Instead, I set it aside with the other prepped ingredients, leaving as much as possible of the now-flavored oil in the pan.
It was time to put together the sinangag. I raised the heat to high and added the rice, stirring it in order to make sure it all got some oil on it. I cooked it for maybe three minutes, not enough to brown it, but sufficient to get it hot and give it some of the character of the hot oil. You can smell when it’s right — it’ll remind you a little bit of popcorn cooking in oil.
I added the peas and eggs and stirred to more or less evenly distribute them in the rice and to get all three elements to flavor-kiss a bit. Then I turned off the heat, added the garlic, and stirred some more. A wave of garlic bliss came over me while putting so much into what was only a couple of servings of rice.And there you have it. In imitation of the photo accompanying one of the recipes I’d found, I pressed it into a little bowl-type thingy (I don’t know what to call it because it isn’t round like a bowl — mini-crock?) and made it look all nice and photogenic.
I served some of it into a bowl that I know is an actual bowl because it’s rounded, added a couple of dashes of soy sauce, and dug in. It was a beautiful, heavenly, garlic symphony, much more than the sum of its humble parts.

Recipe: Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice)

Ingredients
(I’m not giving amounts because it’s up to you and how much leftover rice you have.)

Leftover cooked rice (it should be at least one day old)
Frozen green peas
Eggs
Garlic cloves (lots)
Peanut oil
Salt or soy sauce

Preparation steps
1. Break up the rice if it’s sticking together; set aside.
2. Defrost and cook the peas. Set them aside.
3. Gently scramble the eggs; then break them up into small pieces. Set them aside.
4. Peel and cube (or “rock” – but do not use garlic press) the garlic into quarter-inch-size chunks and saute until golden–not dark–brown.
5. Set frying pan or wok on a burner and set heat to high.
6. As soon as oil has a subtle, shimmery sheen (but before it smokes), add rice and cook for about 3 minutes, until the rice is hot and perhaps very slightly browned in a few places, but no more. Turn heat down to medium.
7. Add the peas and eggs and stir to mix; cook for about a minute.
8. Turn off heat; add garlic and stir.
9. Add salt or soy sauce to taste.

Recipe links
Sinangag – Filipino Garlic Fried Rice
Garlic Fried Rice
Sinangag – Eggs and Peas Fried Rice
How to cook fried rice (Sinangag na Kanin)

The Uncommon Life

Baby Shower Decor: DIY Tassel Garlands

July 30, 2012

Paper tassels garlands are so popular now. And rightly so – they add the perfect pop of color and whimsy to any room or party space. And they’re fairly easy to make… with a small team of crafty friends you can get through a couple yards of garland. Last week I embarked on making over one hundred paper tassels for a friend’s shower and thought it would be the perfect decor DIY to share during Baby Week!

Here are the steps I took to make my paper tassel garland:

Lay the tissue paper on a flat surface so one of the shorter sides of the rectangle is facing you. Fold the tissue paper in half lengthwise. Turn the tissue paper so the long, open edge is facing you and the folded side is on top. Fold in half twice widthwise.

Cut thin strips from the bottom, open edge to the folded edge, leaving a one inch space. I used a rotary cutter for speed but plain craft scissors will do.

Open up the paper and lay it out with the fringe out to the left and right. Comb all fringe so the paper lays flat.

Roll the paper up from one end to the other.

Now your tissue paper should look like a pom-pom or Red Fraggle’s hair. Make sure your fringe is combed while you are rolling. Once the entire piece has been rolled up the delicate fringe can break if you try to comb it.

Twist the center of the pom-pom.

As you twist, fold the pom-pom in half creating a small loop. Use glue or a clear twist-tie to secure your tassel on string or twine.

Marvel at your perfect tassel, but not for too long. Get back to work! One tassel does not a garland make!

Have you made a paper tassel garland? Tweet photos of your tissue paper masterpiece at @UncommonGoods.

The Uncommon Life

DIY Project to Welcome Baby by Rubyellen of My Cakies

July 30, 2012
baby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby art
Collaborative family projects are the best. We first did a family art piece (see here) before Soul was born and now we finally got around to creating one for Glow. I asked the girls what colors come to mind when they think of their baby sister and those are the colors we used. All of us took turns painting on it and we went back a few times to let layers dry before adding more. It’s a sweet pop of color perfect for a baby room! 

We loved Rubyellen’s idea of coming together before a new baby is born and creating a piece that is unique and memorable from the entire family. It not only can serve as a personalized piece of art but a special keepsake for the rest of their life! Visit Rubyellen’s blog, My Cakies, to learn more about her incredible family and check out her hand-picked collection of UncommonGoods baby gifts.

The Uncommon Life

Oh Baby! A Week of Baby Gifts and DIYs!

July 30, 2012

It’s a Boy! It’s a Girl! It’s Baby Week here at UncommonGoods. We are celebrating everything related to the little bundle of joy — from baby shower DIYs to gifts for babies.

Visit the hand-picked collections of UncommonGoods baby gifts from our featured bloggers like:

Justina Blakeney

Design For Minikind

Cakies

Oh Dear Drea

Browse through our Oh Baby Pinterest board dedicated to the pitter-patter of little feet and all things baby.

Don’t miss the blog this week! We have DIYs for baby showers, baby gift ideas, Justina Blakeney’s favorite baby Pinterest boards, and more.

Sweeten Up A Baby Shower

Raising Your Kids Green

Top Baby Gifts From Our Buyer

Baby Carrier Gift Lab

A DIY Project to Welcome the Newest Addition to Your Family by Rubyellen of My Cakies

Justina’s Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

DIY Baby Shower Decor: Paper Tassel Garlands
 

 

Pin It on Pinterest