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Gift Lab

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Gift Lab: Can a Fish and a Cat Live in the Same Apartment?

October 1, 2014

Valerie

Product: No Clean Aquarium

Research:
My roommate has been talking about getting a fish for months, but we haven’t had great luck with fish in the past. The first obstacle is our cat, Jack, known to eat a fish or two – and we all have hectic schedules that are not conducive to anything that requires a lot of maintenance (like a traditional aquarium).

Hypothesis:
Described as “Fish Without Fuss” I think the No Clean Aquarium will be a great fit for our apartment. The aquarium is supposed to self-clean, all without batteries or electricity, and most importantly, without a huge time commitment or a need to remove the fish from his environment. We’ll enjoy a new fish addition, Jack will keep out, and maintaining the little guy will be stress free (for the humans and the fish).

Experiment:
I obtained the aquarium and got some rocks for the bottom. My roommate was in charge of getting the fish and a plant. It’s important to note that the No Clean Aquarium is approved only for betta fish. We made plans to set it all up on a night when we’d both get home around the same time. The betta fish was double-bagged from the pet store, and the first thing we did was float the fish bag in a pitcher of water to get the fish acclimated to the temperature. While he hung out in there, we followed the instructions to set up his new environment.

No Clean Aquarium

Setting it all up couldn’t be simpler! The aquarium came with instructions and a diagram, but without any pumps or cords it was really easy. First, we had to rinse all the pieces with water – no soap! The pieces can fit together only one way, keeping confusion to a minimum.

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The instructions recommend using twisty ties to anchor your plants to the mesh piece that sits in the bottom of the aquarium.

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By now the fish had enough time to get used to the temperature of the water, so we poured the water from the pitcher into the aquarium and then added the fish. He looked great inside! We gave him some fish food and watched him explore his new home. We also decided on a fitting fish name – Leonard.

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Jack became immediately jealous and tried to push the aquarium off the counter, so we had to reconsider its location. We moved Leonard to a safer table and surrounded him with objects. There is a cover on top of the aquarium, and we were pretty confident Jack would not be able to stick his paws inside! He spent the rest of the evening sulking.

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A week went by, and it was time to change the water. We made sure the temperature was just right and poured the clean water in slowly. Sure enough water from the bottom came up through the tube, and emptied into the pitcher. It was definitely filthy water.

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Conclusion:
So far, everything is working out as we expected it to – changing Leonard’s water is easy, and he doesn’t seem to mind. We came up with a system to keep track of when Leonard’s been fed – blue card means he ate at night, and yellow card means he ate in the morning. If one of us gets home at night and sees the yellow card, it’s time to feed the fish!

And Jack, well he can’t get into the aquarium. But he did manage to knock it over once. Fortunately, my roommate heard the commotion and was able to rescue Leonard and get everything assembled again in no time. Nothing broke! So, while it’s not completely cat proof, it is still about the most successful aquarium we’ve ever had.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Decoding the Perfect Pour

August 26, 2014

Kris, Danny, & HTML Glasses

Product: HTML Beer Glasses

Research:
I first saw UG’s HTML Beer Glasses in our warehouse – a shipment had just arrived and a few units were pulled out for our Receiving team to quality check. I had no idea what they were for. Honestly, my first thought was, “Why would anyone want a beer glass with weird printing on it?” Then one of the guys explained to me that the idea behind the printing is to help create the perfect pour – ah-hah! That made a lot more sense. So, feeling a bit like an idiot, I researched the seemingly-simply-but-actually-intricate-act of…pouring a beer.

HTML Glasses on Instagram | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:
My initial thoughts: I will likely learn way more about foam than I ever imagined. I will be able to pour a prettier beer, but with little effect on actual taste. I will take regrettable pictures of myself and co-workers “testing” various possible scenarios.

Experiment:
First step – Grab up various coworkers and head to our friendly neighborhood watering hole.
Second step – Make contact with helpful bartender, Mike. Tell him of our educational needs.
Final step – Drink and make merry!

We headed to the Irish Haven in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for their weekly “Taco Tuesday” night. Despite the busyness, Mike was quite cheerful about both discussing our cool glasses and letting us know how they worked. He poured an IPA into one of our HTML Glasses and a Belgian Wheat beer in the other. Both poured perfectly in line with the glass’s indicators, though we were quick to note a difference after the pour.

HTML Glasses Full | UncommonGoods

Taking a tall drink by bar light is great; taking photos by bar light, not so much.

Turns out, given the height and shape of these glasses, they should be used for ales or lagers. The tall, thin style will keep them colder longer, and the relatively light head those beers come with will be well-showcased by the lean shape. Lighter beers will evaporate more quickly. Something like a good quality ale will work fine in this glass, but when you go lighter, like the Belgian we tried, it will evaporate too quickly and the head will be lost. If pouring a “sturdier,” heavier beer, it would make sense to have a wider glass, as this will allow the beer to breathe more. Those beers tend to have heavier foaming characteristics anyway, so one has to worry less about the head evaporating.

HTML Glasses | UncommonGoods

Mike explained that the quality of the beer also matters. The better the beer, the better the pour, the better the taste. If we poured a typical American ale into one of these glasses, it would likely not retain a good amount of foam on top, regardless of the quality of the pour or the quality of the glasses.

Conclusion:
Beer, in all its forms, is wonderful. But if you want to get the perfect pour of high quality lager or ale, these glasses will show you the way with style.

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Boombox Touch Speaker

July 2, 2014

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Product: Boombox Touch Speaker, a portable speaker that’s cord free and will blast out your tunes by simply setting a smartphone on top of it.

Research: 
I love to jam out (preferably to Motown, MJ, or the Rent soundtrack ) while taking my morning showers, prepping dinner, or cleaning my apartment. And although I could play music out loud with my iPhone, it’s never quite loud enough. As a temporary solution, I used to walk around with my iPhone in my back pocket and wear headphones in my apartment, but that quickly became a nuisance. So I decided to search for a convenient speaker that I could use with my iPhone. I wanted something that I could easily bring from room to room without a hassle of setting up or constant plugging and unplugging.

Then I discovered the Boombox Touch Speaker while browsing UncommonGoods at work. I have to admit when I heard that this speaker could play music if I just simply placed my iPhone on top of it, I was definitely skeptical. Trust me, I’m usually a glass-half-full type of gal, but I felt like this little tech discovery was too good to be true. The description claimed that there was no need to set up Bluetooth and no cords were needed. For such a great price, what exactly is the catch? Poor sound quality? Needing to download a $3 smartphone app? Will it break easily?

Skeptical and hopeful at the same time, I’ve decided to test it out on my own to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis: 
I was sure that the product would work, but definitely with a couple of setbacks. I was expecting to hear a bit of static or that the music wouldn’t be as loud as I would want it to be. (And super loud Billie Jean is always better than I-could-kinda-hear-you Billie Jean.)

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Experiment: 
I planned to test out the Boombox Touch Speaker at my neighborhood park for a nice little lazy Sunday. Nothing at the time sounded better than flipping through fashion magazines, snacking on guacamole and chips, and chit chatting with my good friend, Christina, while listening to a few Motown favorites in the background.

When I got the speaker I was immediately surprised by three things: the size, the weight, and the feel. I expected it to be bigger because in my mind “big sound equals big speakers.” But I guess we’re not living in the ‘80s anymore and this doesn’t necessarily need to happen anymore. It was nice to know that I could pop it into my tote bag and still have room for other gadgets and gizmos.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

The weight was lighter than I expected as well, even after seeing its small size – I thought it would still be a bit heavier than it was. That was a relief because it would have been a hassle if I had a heavy speaker weighing down on my shoulder during my commute or if I had to complete errands. I hate being slowed down!

The last thing I noticed was the feel of the entire speaker. It’s surprisingly soft, smooth, and easy to hold and carry around. I could place it on my nightstand, fireplace mantel, kitchen counters, or on the shelf in my bathroom. I love that it’s so versatile and doesn’t necessarily need a specific spot to live in my home. So far, I was definitely impressed. (But still skeptical!) I was ready to test the speaker! Off to the park we go.

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The next step was simply to just turn on the speaker. I turned it on from the switch in the back, and a blue light popped up. I was happy I didn’t need to charge it or place batteries in.  I was like a kid opening up her birthday gifts. I wanted the toy to work – no time for other nonsense!

In the photo below I was so excited that the speaker weighed less than the bag of tortilla chips I was holding!

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Now, for the moment I’ve been waiting for! Without reading directions, I placed my iPhone on top of the speaker… and….I didn’t hear one sound come out of the speaker. I knew it! Too good to be true! I turned the switch back on and then off. Tried again. And again. And again. Nothing.

But right when I turned the phone around, I heard good ol’ Marvin Gaye crooning loud and clear, literally. The sound quality was amazing. Success! It was a lot louder than I expected it to be and I actually had to turn down the music through the volume control on my iPhone. (Although, I’m sure others at the park wouldn’t have had any objections to Marvin being a part of their Sunday!)

Boombox Touch Speaker | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Conclusion: 
I’m glad I was very skeptical of the Boombox Touch Speaker because I feel if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been as eager to test it out. I’m 100% happy with it, and would recommend it to any music lover. (AKA: everyone!) My only tip is to make sure that your phone is facing the right way. For the iPhone, make sure the top of the phone sits closest to the speaker, its screen facing up. (Seen in the photo above.)

Now I am able to listen to loud music at home in any room (headphone free!). Also, it’s always a fun to bring out  and show off to my friends on any of our rooftop parties or afternoon picnics. I honestly had three people ask me in absolute awe “How is that even possible?” And just as the description advises to do here, I shrugged and said, “It’s magic.”

Watch me test out the speaker and bust a couple of moves in the video below. Happy grooving!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Breakfast For Your Face

June 19, 2014

Gift Lab: Breakfast for Your Face | UncommonGoods
Product: Breakfast For Your Face, a set of three all-natural powders for concocting different face masks.

Research:
I have a confession: I am a beauty product junkie. For the past 9 months I have been addicted to BirchBox (they just emailed me to remind me of our anniversary) which means a bounty of new cosmetics every month, and numerous orders in between. I was the kind of kid who would rather spend her Saturday night perfecting a smokey eye or dumping a bottle of Sun-In on her hair than go out with friends. As an adult I approach finding the best eye cream and dumping my paycheck at the Dry Bar with the same enthusiasm.

I am going home to spend a weekend with my cousin Annie in New Jersey. Annie is 14 and has Down’s Syndrome–we’ve been best friends pretty much since she was born. Although she is a veritable mini-me and loves everything I love, I’m not completely sure if she will enjoy slathering something strange on her face.

Annie chose the Cafe Mocha mask | Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsHypothesis:
There are two parts to this hypothesis–how the experience will go over with Annie and what I will think of the product itself. I knew selling this idea to Annie will be a test of my marketing skills. I should tell her we were going to have a girly sleepover with music, movies, snacks, and face masks. Special needs children can be fussy and I anticipate she might not be down with something strange on her face, so I hope the tactile experience of picking her mask and mixing it herself would make it less strange when we apply it.

When it comes to me, I am hesitant about the mask itself. I have had reactions to masks in the past–the worst resulting in a huge burn on my face the night before my first modeling shoot (I have one of those moms). However I have learned a lot about my skin at recent facials and think I am better at making decisions on what my dry skin can handle. Also, this kit is all natural–I can literally see all the ingredients–which makes me trust it even more.

Gift Lab: Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoods
Experiment:
I pull out the almond milk, honey, coconut oil, and yogurt from the kitchen as these seemed to be the ingredients we will be using to mix our masks. Each mask has suggestions for how to mix the mask for different skin types–normal, oily, and dry. I already prepare to mix whatever Annie picks for normal since her skin tends to be very reactive, and the ingredients for dry skin for myself. I let Annie chose which mask she wants to make–not surprisingly she chooses the Cafe Mocha (it looks and smells delicious!). This leaves Yogurt and Oatbrasion for me. Since I am in the midst of an oil-pulling detox (told you I had an addiction) and my face is broken out, I choose the Oatbrasion mask which is exfoliating and can offer me a fresh layer of skin.

I pour Annie a tablespoon of Cafe Mocha and some almond milk and tell her to mix. The bottle didn’t tell me how much almond milk to use and it turns out I poured too much. I add more powder but the mixture is never anything but runny. I clean out her bowl and add yogurt this time which works out a lot better and I imagine it will have the same hydrating properties of milk.

Annie mixing her mask | Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsIn my bowl, I pour a tablespoon of Oatbrasion, a teaspoon of coconut oil, and a glob of honey (I have a bad habit of not measuring honey when I bake so I figured why start now). Mixing this reminds me a lot of the all-natural face scrubs my mom used to make when I was a kid. It smells amazing and although I give most pleasant-smelling concoctions a taste test (like these in a sample meeting, which was a mistake) I refrain since the bottle is one step ahead of me and suggests that it not be eaten. Okay, bossy bottle, you win this time.

Now for the fun part–slathering this all over our faces. I apply the mask on Annie’s face since I foresee lots of messes if I leave it to her. She giggles incessantly at how cold the yogurt is and steals glances in the mirror to see her face transform into a mud monster. I’m barely done when she runs away to show her brother her face. My mask is a lot less noticeable–there are some clumps of oat bran but overall it’s a really clear mixture. I was feeling a little lazy, and proud of my blow-drying skills, so I didn’t pull my bangs back to apply the mask onto my forehead.

Silly faces | Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsWe wait for ten minutes while the masks do their thang. In case you were wondering how to measure ten minutes–it is approximately 7 selfies, or four “Let It Go”s.

Some selfies | Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsAfter our ten minutes is up, we go upstairs to the bathroom to wash our faces. I clean my face first to show Annie how it’s done. The mask comes off very easily, but I scrub a bit to take advantage of the exfoliating properties of the mask. Annie’s is a lot tougher to remove since it dried a lot more on her face than mine did. I help her with a washcloth but the coffee grounds in the mask are kind of a pain to get off her face.

Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsWe head back downstairs for the rest of our sleepover activities–strawberries and cream, Monsters University, and texting boys (well, only I do that last thing). Uncontrollable giggles commence once she realizes I am texting a boy, and I can’t help but wonder if her energy is at all caused by the tablespoon of coffee that just soaked into her face.

Conclusion:
Breakfast For Your Face definitely created a successful girls night. We had a project and a beauty treatment all in one. Mixing was easy and fun for Annie which makes me believe girls of all ages, and developments, would really enjoy doing this too.

Fresh-faced after Breakfast For Your Face | UncommonGoodsI loved the way my face felt after I removed the mask. It was smooth and fresh. I totally wish I had pulled back my bangs because I could feel how different my forehead felt (umm, gross)–I got them wet anyway. My worries were for naught–no terrible reaction to my mask. However, I wouldn’t consider the Oatbrasion mix a mask, it definitely is more of a scrub. My aunt loved the way Annie’s skin felt after the mask, which was a relief, so I left the Cafe Mocha and Yogurt mixes for them to enjoy.

This product gets my two gel-manicured thumbs up!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Guy’s Guide to Beard Grooming

June 7, 2014

Beard Kit |UncommonGoods

Product: Beard Pack

Research:

A beard care kit isn’t something I’d heard about until recently. I generally keep facial hair so I was intrigued, but I wasn’t sure what it would be good for. If it made my beard grow slower or faster, I would have been sold right away. Upon reading the box I saw that the kit contains Whisker Wax, Moustache Wax, and Beard Oil.

Beard Pack | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:

I’d gotten away without these grooming products for so long, I thought that if I were to add them to my daily routine they had better be good. The ingredients in the beard oil included rosemary oil and vitamin E, which sounded like they might make my beard softer and healthier. The moustache wax also contained rosemary and vitamin E, but also had natural oils and wax. If I were to use any moustache product, I’d want it to be all-natural, so we were all set there. Finally, the whisker wash ingredients sounded as though like they would smell great–which is important since your whiskers are all right below your nose.

Men's Grooming | UncommonGoods

Experiment:

As I had never used these products before, I took them down to the barber shop below my Brooklyn apartment for some assistance.

Matt's Beard

The barber Brent, I was disappointed to discover, had never heard of these products either. After some convincing he agreed to partake in my grooming adventure. Naturally, we started with the whisker wash. Brent made a good point that he didn’t know if it was working since it didn’t foam up very much. Even after using twice the recommended amount it didn’t foam up a bit. We decided that the low-foam characteristic may have been a result of the all-natural ingredients and that although it may get some getting used to, it is probably better than anything you’d find in the average beard soap.

Beard Wash

After the wash my beard definitely felt cleaner and smelled nice. Then Brent dove right into the beard oil, massaging it into my freshly washed and rinsed beard. The result was that my beard got much softer and smelled vaguely of fresh and natural oils. It was really nice.

Beard Massage

Lastly, to truly try out the moustache wax, I needed a moustache so I asked for a quick shave around my moustache. We put in the wax while twisting and sculpting to get a good hold. Even with that effort we really weren’t able to transform my ‘stache into a work of art but it was fun nonetheless!

Mustache Wax

Conclusion:

After using these products for the first time it became clear that the beard oil was the best part of this kit. I didn’t know my beard could be so soft and hippy-smelling (in a good way, of course!). The whisker wash was nice and probably better than alternatives, but it didn’t do anything new for me so when it runs out I probably won’t replace it. The moustache wax was the least effective on my facial hair, because even after using different amounts, sculpting and adjusting, it really didn’t deliver that perfect ‘stache shape I was hoping it would. Despite that, the moustache wax was fun to try out as I was my first time. Overall, I would recommend this kit for those seeking to improve their beard using natural, pleasant-to-use products.

Beard Kit Result | UncommonGoods