Shopping for a techie can be tough, especially in a world where what’s new moves at lightning speed and self-driving cars are still, well, a wee bit expensive. Thankfully, UncommonGoods has your back this year. Of our many out-of-the-box gifts designed for the tech-inclined, we’ve selected ten of our favorites, from super-smart grow-it-yourself herb gardens to iPhone cases that defy the laws of physics. Maybe “UncommonGizmos” wouldn’t have been such a bad name after all? But I digress. Read on for more.
I tend to do a lot of long weekend getaways throughout the year. But firstly before I go any further let me just state that I HATE ironing and tend to mostly pack clothes that don’t require any ironing. However, since I have not yet mastered the art of packing by rolling my clothes up some things still end up getting wrinkled while en route to my destination.
Additionally – I am a bit of a germaphobe, so the idea of using random irons in hotels and/or rented homes/condos for the weekend does not appeal to me AT ALL! I’ve been the victim a number of times to burnt blouses and the ever-so-hated stained clothes as a result of the rusty water coming out of the provided irons.
After watching the video on our product page for this compact iron I was eager to try it out since it can be used for much more than just the collar. The bonus here for me was that it doesn’t require the use of water. It was also like nothing I’ve personally seen before, so I was even more excited to get my hands on it.
I predict that the Collar Perfect-Compact Travel and Touch-up Iron will be added to my list of traveling must-haves!
A decade ago, Steven Johnson countered conventional wisdom with the audacious proposal that electronic media consumption is a beneficial societal force in Everything Bad is Good For You. Johnson makes a thoroughly convincing argument that an all-you-can-eat diet of TV and video games is actually good for people’s problem solving skills and overall IQ. Still, some will always be wary of too much technology, and more recent initiatives like Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School seem to encourage a return to hands-on experience and inventive play. Today, some trends try to reconcile these directions—tinkering with the inner workings of the diode and microchip world all around us. Ironically, other trends use invisible technology to encourage communication through playful interactions.
For those who may not even know they’re interested in electronics, Ayah’s invitation to play is enticing: “we’re trying to make [these modules] as accessible as possible and as instantaneous as possible, so you can see the results.” In her commitment to democratizing technology, she echoes cyberspace-defining writer William Gibson observation that “the future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” For that matter, the culture behind these kits features an open source component, encouraging the sort of tool and material innovation fostered by Tulley’s tinkerers. Ayah comments on this aspect of her system:
We started to lose this ability to play with technology as technology started to become more finished and closed…[our goal] is to demystify technology…the magic of electricity is everywhere around us—it’s beautiful, and we have to contribute to it and be creative with it.
Still not convinced that a focus on the inner workings of electronics is a good idea? Allow us to introduce Milksop the Bear, a toy-meets-digital-communication critter that’s designed to divert kids from the inevitable pull of grown-up social media. He’s the invention of Guari Nanda, also a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, who comments “there are so many apps today that isolate kids from family…we wanted to create one that does the opposite.” Through his Wi-Fi connection and custom app, Milksop allows adults (mom, dad, grandma, grampa) to send messages to his kid companion. When Milksop grunts to say “you’ve got mail,” the messages are delivered in a whimsically modulated voice. Then, kids can respond by recording a voice message that’s sent back to their adult admirers through the app. No screen, no typing, no direct contact with the pitfalls of too much technology. Milksop utilizes kids’ natural tendency to have conversations with their toys, applying electronic components, code, and the cloud to connect generations, rather than giving kids too much screen time too soon. At the same time, parents can choose to use Milksop’s gentle take on cloud-based communication as their child’s first introduction to the digital world.
While we live in a culture of saving everything (voicemail, emails, social media feeds), I feel it’s important to celebrate the impermanence of things, to cherish the moment you’re living in. Take that moment, create within it, laugh, play, build a memory; then move forward into the next moment. It’s here that I find myself encouraged by the creative timing without being inhibited by comparing the past to present. This creates a space that allows us all—kids and adults—to play and create without inhibition.
From their handmade wood bodies to their whimsical, silkscreened “faces,” Zoots, Lil’ MIB, and Loopy Lou share the mission of Ayah’s modular bits—to make electronics accessible and endearing. For more on Richard’s easygoing but innovative approach to designing and building technological toys, follow along with our recent tour of his studio.
In a world with endless options, some of us suffer from some form of analysis paralysis. We over-think the pros and cons of our gifts, fearing buyer’s remorse or another oversight. This is especially true when we encounter those guys on our wishlists who appear to own every cool thing ever made. Whether he’s a modern-day Renaissance Man, or just a distinguished hoarder, he is completely immune to any fear of committing to a collection of very useful, fashionable, well made things. And why shouldn’t he? You only live once! But fear not! No one has it all and it’s not impossible to find him a gift he wouldn’t want to add to his collection. We’ve picked out 14 cool and unique items that will be sure to impress that special man who seemingly has everything.
1. Rain or shine, the guy who has it all should never find himself out of stock! Now if only he would remember to leave the toilet seat down. | Cloudy Day Toilet Paper Storage
2. Sticks and stones will break his bones, but they will also make for a very sophisticated drink dispenser. | Stone Drink Dispenser
3. Cheers to whiskey on the rocks that isn’t watered down! | Whiskey Wedge
4. He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, he’ll prefer the Beer Opening Glass.
5. Whether he’s lusting after a cold one, or indulging in the gluttony of a third, these witty glasses will ensure that his bros won’t lose track of their brews at the next house party. | Seven Deadly Sins Pilsner Glasses
6. It would be wise to gift this companion before the next beer run! | Wise Beer Growler
7. He has the newest smart phone, but does he have a smart speaker? | Boombox Touch Speaker
8. From his beloved Vitamix to his people-pleasing pasta maker, we know he’s got his home cooking routine down to a science. Shake things up by introducing this uncontrolled variable to his foodie lab! | Foodie Dice
9. Help him suit up like a gentleman and a scholar. | Literary Cufflinks
10. He already has the iPad, but we doubt he has a bunch of those little wooden soccer guys lying around! iPad Foosball lets him transform his tablet into a Foosball table in no time.
11. If he’ a pizza fan, he’ll love it. If he’s a pizza fan and a cyclist, he’ll love it even more and burn off the extra calories during his next ride. Double win. | Fixie Pizza Cutter
12. Speaking of biking–really cool, super strong magnets first. Uh, we mean “safety first.” In this case, it’s actually both. | Magnetic Bike Lights
13. Why yes, that is a futuristic Laser Projection Keyboard with motion sensing technology that turns any flat surface into something that looks like it was pulled from a sci-fi film.
14. Good hygiene is one of the things the guy who has everything already has, so he’ll love this collection of high-end men’s toiletries. He’ll also love that they come in a real, upcycled US Army supply can, because that’s just cool. | Mens Military Field Grooming Set
When I first heard about the E-Tablet Sounds Speaker, I don’t remember being impressed. Considering that the description explaining the two capabilities of this case is 1. It protects any standard sized tablet from water or sand and 2. It functions as a speaker for the device inside, I think it’s more factual to say that I wasn’t slightly fazed.
To be honest, I figured this isn’t amazingly revolutionary for a society with flying drones and glass lens’ sized computers but I see how this would make the day of an iPad touting, Beach going enthusiast. Nevertheless, I being none of those, didn’t care.
But here it was, included in the group of products that my colleague, Adam, and I were mulling over and brainstorming product demonstration ideas for. That’s when he says something along the lines of, “You know what’s funny, Merchants want me to make a video for this beach product now and it’s the middle of winter… especially this winter.”[Light bulb clicking on sound here.]
But first.. let me explain this winter. Over the last few months NYC has gotten smacked with Mother Nature’s back hand. Snow, sleet, heavy rains, ice, hail, flooding, polar vortexes, perfect spring days… we’ve seen a lot this season. That day was no different. As we met, snow was accumulating outside and forecasted to continue until 5-7 inches of fresh powder joined us on our commute home.
Conditions were even worse the following Thursday. Downpours of rain, snow and hail made an exciting combination. The lines between sidewalks and roads didn’t exist and the game of guess-which-puddle-is-actually-a-lot-deeper-than-you-think was in full swing. Nonetheless, E-tablet Sounds in hand, Adam and I made our way to Coney Island Beach.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well, the video above offers pages about the results from our experiment. Throughout all of the activities, the E-tablet Sounds provided the soundtrack needed to pump up the volume out there and keep my thoughts off of how much snow made its way in my boots. Once we’re able to experience dry beach sand in the Northeast again, I easily see a follow up trip happening where the only place I expect to see ice is in my drink.
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:
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.
*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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
To lovers of techie toys, the latest gizmo is one part puzzle and one part solution. The thought of figuring out its new features and functions fills them with happiness, and the notion that mastering its mysteries might lead to an easier existence keeps them on the hunt for the next incredible invention. Sure, some folks don’t understand their obsession with digital devices; but when called a geek, these collectors of computerized contraptions just smile proudly and say “thank you.” Unfortunately for eager gifters, the die-hard tech-thusiast often already owns the latest and greatest big-ticket electronic item before the holiday season even starts downloading. But never fear, our uncommon gift guide features iThing accessories, new takes on old favorites, and unexpected innovations sure to get your gadgeteer powered up.