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Gift Lab

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Gift Lab: How To Be a Real Smooth Guy

April 29, 2013

Research
Hard work comes at a price; rough hands! I chose the 7 Day Hand Repair Kit for Men for my experiment because it seemed like the perfect product to give my hands an overhaul. The designer of this kit was a mechanic for 20 years, and his damaged hands pushed him to make this product. Coupled with the fact that I have never tried anything like a hand repair kit before (although my neighbor wore gloves everywhere because she was a hand model), I figured that this might have interesting results.

Hypothesis
I was very active as a teenager, and I work in a warehouse now, so this seemed ideal given that my hands have lost many battles in the hand-aesthetics department. I predict that I will have softer, more moisturized hands by the end of the seventh day of me using this repair kit.

Experiment
I figured that Monday morning would be a good day to start this experiment. I opened the kit, which includes soap, hand repair lotion, knuckle wax, night salve, cotton gloves and butter nub along with instructions.

The instructions on the kit state that there is a morning and evening routine. The first step in the morning routine was to thoroughly wash your hands with the hand scrub soap. The soap actually made my hands feel smooth and soft after using it.

Next, the instructions state that after the soap, I should use the hand repair lotion followed by the knuckle wax. After the first couple of days I did not really notice much of a difference. However, at around the fourth day, my hands did in fact feel somewhat softer.

The evening routine varied slightly. After using the soap and hand repair lotion, the instructions stated that I must coat my hands with the night intense salve instead of knuckle wax and then cover them with the cotton gloves. The main ingredients in the salve were cocoa butter and shea butter, which left my hands shiny and slippery (even after rubbing the moisturizer in for a couple minutes). I left the gloves on overnight and took them off when I woke up the next morning.

The butter nub, which has skin healing oils and is meant for on-the-go moisturizer, took a bit of extra effort to get out of the container as it was of a more solid consistency. My wife described the smell of it as similar to shea butter, although it definitely seemed harder than the night salve. Throughout the seven days of hand repair, I used the butter nub in an attempt to moisturize my hands while at work and home.

Conclusion
My hypothesis was correct. My hands actually felt softer after using the 7 Day Hand Repair Kit for Men. This was a cool experiment that allowed me to improve my hand texture and keep them moisturized. If I did this again, I would probably use less of the butter nub as that seemed to have the least effect on my hands. Overall, though, the morning and night time routine seemed to work after a few days, and now I have great hands! Well, maybe not great, but definitely smoother than before I started using this kit.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Fruit-flavored H2O

April 18, 2013

Research
A glass water bottle with a built in fruit infuser. What a brilliant idea! is the first thought that came across my mind. I’ve never heard about this product and finding out about it would make a change in my lifestyle. All of my life I’ve grown accustomed to drinking soda and juice, neglecting water which is necessary to keep our bodies properly hydrated. Breaking this bad habit by using the Flavor Infuser Water Bottle would help me transition from my lack of water intake.

Hypothesis
Infusing fruits into water on a daily basis will lead to a healthier lifestyle and water being an essential part of my life.

Experiment
With a variety of fruits I will mix and match them and properly infuse them into water creating a couple of different types of fruitful H2O. Below was my favorite concoction.

Watermelon Lemon Basil Water
Step 1: Finely slice lemons into 6-8 pieces
Step 2: Cut watermelons into small cubes (10-12 cubes)
Step 3: Chop 8 basil leaves in half
Step 4: Take the center piece of the infuser and add lemons, watermelons, and basil leaves together.
Step 5: Place the top onto the center piece.
Step 6: Fill the glass water bottle with water.
Step 7: Place the center piece inside of the glass bottle and place the main top on to seal the bottle.
Step 8: Let the infusion begin! Wait 30 minutes until you drink the water. Enjoy!

Conclusion
This infuser is definitely a hit. After experimenting with different fruits my outlook on drinking water has changed. Using this product created a fun experience. Researching the different fundamentals of fruits and water helped me in having a want to drink water. It’s simple, it’s easy and I am becoming a water-loving person.

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Gift Lab: The Levitron Lamp’s Floating Fluorescence

March 20, 2013

Rocky tests the Levitron Lamp | Uncommongoods

The Levitron Lamp in action. Read on for Rocky’s Step-By-Step floating lamp tutorial.

Research
I remember it like yesterday..

About 6-7 weeks ago I’m sitting at my desk, headphones on, Spotify playlist blasting, putting in work on the current task at hand. I get to a point where I feel like a mini break is warranted and decide to relax a bit, sinking into my chair and mentally preparing myself to go full on into daydream mode. However, right before I get the chance to picture myself on a foreign beach, drinking margaritas out of umbrella decorated coconuts, something catches my eye…

Sitting on a shelf behind the neighboring desk to mine, there is a fairly large box with “Levitron Lamp” in bold print, accompanied by a photograph of a lamp underneath … I think. Why the uncertainty? Because according to the picture I’m now staring at, the lamp’s shade that sits on top, actually doesn’t “sit” at all, but FLOATS. Yes.. I’m sure now. There is definitely a minimum of 1-1.5 inch of space between the lamp’s shade and its base, with nothing connecting the two..

W. T. F. ?

See, working at UG for about a year and a half now, I’ve grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected when it comes to the products we carry. Time and time again, I find myself floored by the level of creativity and innovation applied. So much so, that I’ve made myself a permanent resident in the Merchants’ area of our office so I can scope out the samples of potential new products as they come in. (Marketing team, I promise I love you guys.. but yes, I have something on the side with the merchants.) Needless to say, this just became another time to add to that list of ‘time and time again’ I mentioned earlier.

*Pauses music. Snatches off headphones. “KATIE.. What.. is… that?!”. *

Katie (UncommonGoods Associate Buyer and my desk neighbor) informs me more about the newly received lamp and confirms that it purportedly does have floating pieces incorporated, although no one has yet to see it with their own eyes. Then after a brief pause, she adds…

Hypothesis
I have to assume that because someone out there took the time to mass manufacture, officially name, professionally package, and ship this product to our office, there is some truth about what it claims to do. However, I’m suspicious about how well it will work and for how long. My past experiences from life teach that often, things like these don’t stick around for very long, once out of the box and put to continuous use (and of course, that doesn’t fly at UG). That said, I’m predicting ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ for a short-lived amount of time before it becomes a has been.

Experiment
Setting up the lamp is fairly simple, just pay close attention to the directions, because between the different parts to the lamp and the various laws of science at play, there’s a chance of some confusion if you do not. Take it from me–I admit, at first I quickly threw the directions right to the side and had at it.

It took 1 minute and 20 seconds for me to pick them right back up again… which brings me to

STEP ONE Use the directions to identify all the pieces.

You see that first picture on the left up there? Take a real good look at it. It identifies all the pieces you will need to put the floating lamp into play and gives you the ABCs of what goes where, when, and why. You will see later that this is very key to this whole operation.

STEP TWO Read the directions thoroughly.

By now you get the point. Directions = good.

STEP THREE Find desired location for lamp and plug it in.
You will want to do this. Trust me. You will see why.. eh, I’ll just tell you now. Once setup is complete, you will not want to A. Unplug it (unless you want to practice setting it up all over again), because the way it floats is due to electromagnetism. That’s short for ‘no electricity, no magnetism.’ B. Even if you do not need to unplug your lamp, sliding or carrying it will require very slow movement. The lamp’s magnetic field is easily thrown off balance (causing the shade to fall off) when knocked too hard.

STEP FOUR This is where you get your David Blaine on and make some magic happen.

Grab the clear plastic disc and find the side that has a tiny peg poking out from the center of it. Then look at the top of the lamp’s base and find the little hole at the center of that. Once found, place the clear plastic disc, peg side facing down, on top of base’s center and slide it around until the peg falls into the little hole, securing the disc in place.

Now grab your black cylinder/tube/thingamajig. Notice one end will have a thick border and the other end will not. Place the end that doesn’t have the thick border into your clear plastic disc. (You will know you’ve done it correctly because it also will slide securely into place.) At this point, find your little hockey-puck-looking magnet, hold it over the top of the cylinder as if you’re going to drop it in and take a trip down memory lane to junior high science class. If you feel that the magnet is trying to run away from the cylinder’s opening, that means it is repelling and you need to flip the magnet over for the side we need to work with. If there is no repelling, then we’re good to continue.

Next, drop the magnet into the center of the cylinder. The directions say to start much higher for this to work, but I found that starting right over the cylinder is fine. When dropped into the cylinder correctly, it will float on its own directly in the center. If done incorrectly, it will still float, but also rest on the walls of the cylinder. That’s a no-no. You will have to redo it.

Once you have the magnet floating in the center, you can now take the cylinder off by pulling it straight up. After that, push the plastic disc off the side. Neither of these are needed anymore.

STEP FIVE Place your lamp shade on the magnet.

So after spending some time looking at how cool the magnet looks floating there (because you’re definitely going to), you’re now ready to place your lamp shade. There is a groove in the bottom of the shade that allows it to sit perfectly on top of the magnet. Using some finesse (so to not knock the magnet out of ‘orbit’), place the shade on top.

WALLAH! Floating Lamp Goodness complete.

Conclusion
I also want to highlight that besides the floating feature, the lamp itself is pretty nice. As you can see from the pictures, it has a modern, sleek/Jetsons futuristic hybrid look to it. The light comes from the top of the base and the bottom of the base, with two separate touchpad light switches controlling the different sides.

Wherever you find yourself setting up this lamp, it will be a conversation starter for sure. My desk has easily become the coolest desk at UG (I’m accepting any challengers, what up?!) and anyone who notices it while walking by stops to take a closer look.

WARNING: With great power comes great responsibility. Like I said, this lamp will draw people in to take a closer look. They also WILL play with it, and they will knock the shade off over.. and over.. and over again. So get use to setting it up. But after the first couple of times, it’s easy as pie–Scratch that. I don’t know how to make pie, bad example. It’s easy as buying pie–and you’ll come to enjoy watching people’s expressions when they do knock it off. (Everybody’s face always look like they just broke an irreplaceable ancient artifact and are about to get hauled off to serve hard time for it.. or at least have to buy me a new one.)

At the end of the day, simply said, this is one cool lamp. And today it’s still on my desk, working as great as the day it came out of the box.

Also, that ‘lil guy basking in the lamp’s light in the picture? That’s Blocky. He makes sure my pens don’t go missing while I’m away from my desk.

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.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: It’s Written in the Tea

February 27, 2013

Research
I was always attracted to the world of mysticism and fortune-telling. I’ve had my Turkish Coffee Cup read and it was the most accurate “psychic reading” I’ve ever had— and I’ve had quite a few. The second I saw the Tea Leaf Reading Kit, I had to have it… immediately.

Hypothesis
With the help of the instructions, I will be able to read the futures of my friends and co-workers.

Experiment
The first step is finding a few victims test subjects. I found myself eyeing up friends and co-workers and wondering if they would think I was crazy or play along. Luckily for me, I found some who would!

Meet Lauren and Seneca, my two favorite Uncommon sisters.

Okay, so maybe they thought I was crazy, but they were willing to play along, which is really all that matters.

The kit comes with a mug, tea leaves, instructions and a symbol dictionary. All we needed to add was a spoon, some napkins, boiling water and somewhere to pour the excess liquid. It’s safer to use a bowl or a sink, as the instructions recommend. We used a cup. Don’t do this! We might have made a bit of a mess…

First up was Lauren.

We put in a half teaspoon of the tea leaves and just enough water to cover them.

The person who is getting their tea leaves read must then put their hand on top of the cup to infuse the leaves with their energy, making sure to focus on what they would like to know. Lauren did this while focusing on her future.

After a minute or two, that person then holds the handle of the mug, swirling it three times to pour out the excess water and line the sides of the cup with the tea leaves. This was the messy part! A piece of advice: have a nice amount of napkins readily available to you. You will need them.

Once the water is almost all poured out, flip the cup upside down on a napkin or paper towel for a few seconds. Then, spin the cup three times to seal the leaves into place, turn over, and start reading!

As you can see, all of Lauren’s leaves decided to band together to form one big animal. In person, this looked more like an owl. Here, however, it seems to be a cat.

Since at that point we saw an owl, we went with that description.

It looks like Lauren’s future is full of wisdom and reflection. I wasn’t entirely sure how to turn those two words into a cheesy reading speech, so I went with one sentence: “You will soon gain insight and wisdom from reflecting on your life and choices so far.”

Seems legit.

Seneca’s turn!

Seneca had quite a few shapes going on in there. It was pretty difficult to decipher them, but I found some winners. I didn’t take pictures because you would all think I was crazy and imagining them.

Don’t judge me.

After deciphering four different shapes, Seneca’s fortune turned out to be pretty promising: “You will receive some new, positive information that will result in a journey with a faithful companion.”

We took that as “Some really great news is coming that will send you and your guy on an adventure down a new path in life.”

Conclusion

This item is just as awesome as I expected it to be. Cheesy mysticism aside, the two “readings” seemed to coincide with their current life-events. Okay, so it could just be the Forer Effect. Please don’t ruin my moment.

Yay for the Tea Leaf Reading Kit and its fortune-telling abilities!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Pocketful of Convenience

January 30, 2013

Background Research
The Pocket Utensil Set is an exciting new addition to UncommonGoods’ collection. In the world of utensils, I had only experienced traditional silverware, plasticware, and chopsticks until now. This new option could open up an entirely new realm of utensils for me.

Hypothesis
Since I dislike the feel and overall experience of plasticware, and I often find myself in situations where plastic is the only option, I predict that always having stainless steel flatware on hand will improve the way I enjoy meals every single day. I predict that I will be much happier always having this option available to me.

Experiment
I began by examining the packaging. It’s quite simple, and leaves minimal waste. (Good for the environment, which is always a plus for me.) The back of the packaging has simple directions for separating the device in two.

My friend’s dog Max watched as I learned how to split it in half. This was really easy to do. (It’s also very easy to re-assemble).

When I first set out, I wanted to use the pocket utensil is every possible scenario until my experiment was done. I took it everywhere I went. In some situations, such as when having dinner at a friend’s home, where a table is set and so forth, it really made no sense to pull out my own silverware, so I figured I would refrain. However, I found it most useful when my roommates have left all the silverware dirty in the sink, and I didn’t want to dig for a dirty fork to wash, and then subsequently, use. I now ALWAYS have a clean fork, knife, and spoon available to me!

The feeling of using the pocket utensil is much nicer than the plastic variety; however, there are a few things I’d like to point out. The fork, spoon, and knife are scaled down a bit. Which makes them still useful, and, of course, portable–but it is harder to grab a bunch of spaghetti on this smaller fork than with a larger, traditional one.

The spoon is most certainly not for soup, but it is fine for cereal or any food where it makes sense to have a smaller amount in each spoonful. It’s great how easily you can separate the fork/bottle opener end from the spoon/knife side. If you had a meal that requires a spoon, fork, and knife all at the same time, you may find yourself rushing to the kitchen to wash off the knife and spoon alternately, as needed. This could be a bit annoying, but luckily most meals do not require that many utensils.

The Pocket Utensil is cool-looking, portable, and useful. It definitely improved those meals where I would have had to wash my silverware right before eating, or where I would have had to use wasteful, flimsy plasticware.

Conclusion
My hypothesis was proven to be true. I enjoyed meals with the Pocket Utensil far more than without. The only real ideal situation is to always have traditional silverware ready, clean, and available to you, no matter what. When you can’t have that, the Pocket Utensil is a brilliant alternative.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: The Perfect Wingman

October 29, 2012

Let’s just say I’m a bar guy. Want to see my friends? I go to a bar. Want to watch a baseball game? Bar. Play Jenga? Well, you get the idea. But, how do you stay lubricated in between a barhop? With a flask!

Being a design-focused guy, however, made me very judgmental of most flasks. Your local liquor store usually has flasks that an ex-con named “Spyder” would appreciate. Not exactly my style. So, I’ve been on the lookout for a good flask for a very long time.

Research:

The flask was actually recommended to me by a friend of mine, Leah Bourne, editor at Stylecaster’s The Vivant, a luxury and lifestyle blog. I immediately took a liking to it. It’s not so obvious to say “hey, look at me! I’m a writer/photographer/owner of a free-range, grass-fed, localvore farm that offers free massages and tucks in each of its cattle individually each night.” But, it has some subtle humor with the wingman vibe.

Hypothesis:
As pouring liquor into a flask is not exactly rocket science, my hypothesis was more about social acceptability than function. So, the question to test is: will people think I’m a crazy loon when they see a bespectacled, nerdy-looking guy whipping out a flask in a bar, and on a successions of stoops in the stroller mecca called Park Slope? Will they think he is even loonier when he strikes up a conversation about data and statistics as he swigs from his flask full of bourbon?

Experiment:

Step 1: Fill the flask with Bulleit Bourbon.

Step 2: Meet Leah at Barbe’s, a local watering hole in Park Slope.

Step 3: Engage in a little stoop drinking.

Step 4: Have the flask take me to Talde, a restaurant and bar nearby. (Remember, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says, “I’m not going to Sardi’s, the Tony is taking me to Sardi’s.”)

Step 5: Break out the flask! It helped me supercharge a Moscow Mule.

Results:

The bartenders were remarkably tolerant of the flask! That was unexpected. And the stroller-chasers of Park Slope? Too busy replaying their Dora the Explorer videos in a desperate attempt to put the kids to bed to notice. However, the in-depth discussion of polynomial regressions did confuse a few passers-by.

Conclusion:
A big hit! The flask will be very useful for barhops/concerts/weddings/bar mitzvahs/Tuesday afternoons. It will especially help dull the pain of watching daytime TV when I wait for the doctor or dentist.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Pizza Cones Kit

October 23, 2012

Research
I have lived in Brooklyn my whole life, so I know myself a good slice of pizza when I see one. With what seems like another pizzeria on every other corner, I have also tried many types and styles of the delicious and cheesy treat. Slices, squares, thin crust, deep dish, on a bagel, on an english muffin, with toppings or plain. I thought I had seen and eaten it all.

I was wrong. I must eat what few pizza-lovers have ever eaten before – the pizza cone.

Hypothesis
Pizza is already awesome. I predict that mixing things up with a new shape will only make pizza more awesome.

The Experiment
I started by assembling everything necessary to make my pizza cone:

  • the Pizza Cone Kit
  • Dough – The set comes with instructions to make you’re own. I bought mine from a local pizzeria for $4.
  • Cheese
  • Sauce
  • Optional toppings
  • Flour for working with the dough
  • A rolling pin

The pizza cone set comes with the tools necessary to cut and shape the dough so that you can roll it into a cone. This is my first time working with fresh dough and it feels so right. I think I was born to play a part in this evolution of the pizza. Just look at my hands go:

Next, I had the need to knead. As per the included instructions, I wanted a flat piece of dough measuring about an 1/8 of an inch all around. The dough should be wide enough to cut out two bell-shaped molds that would form two pizza cones.

Once you have the initial pieces cut, you fold them over in half and crimp the edges sealed. You leave the bottoms unsealed so that you can later place them over the pizza cone form. I used the included crimper tool to finish the job.


My expectations were rising as I prepared the dough to go into the oven for the first time. I carefully placed my creation onto the pizza cone form (which is made of no-stick materials).

After 6-7 minutes of baking, the dough was starting to brown. I removed them from the oven and let them cool before removing them from the pizza cone forms and placing them upright in the pizza cone stands. I brought over the rest of the ingredients and got to work filling the cones with sauce, cheese, and other toppings (sliced pepperoni in the pictures). Like an artist finishing his masterpiece, I used my spoon to splash sauce along the inner walls of the cone. I sprinkled cheese throughout until it filled up completely. I cleverly hid pepperonis in any unused pockets of air.

After a few more minutes in the oven, right up until the insides start bubbling, I was able to meet my creation.

Conclusion
I was wary at first. However, I have confirmed that the deliciousness of pizza has no bounds. Pizza cones are a fun new way to eat pizza, especially during the upcoming winter, when ice cream cones are just not as practical. I approve.

Dexter has volunteered as the next test subject when I run this experiment again.

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