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.
When I was a kid, my mom had a beautiful old typewriter. I remember carefully inserting bright white sheets of paper, punching those big, round keys, hearing that delightful ding and the unmistakable sound emitted when I pulled back the lever, and the smell of a fresh, inky ribbon.
Although it may not always be practical to type hard copies these days, with liquid paper being more work than hitting backspace and all, just looking at a typewriter does bring happy thoughts to many who have used one, and some who haven’t–but see them in old movies, in antique stores, and on our some of our favorite period TV shows.
Balancing that need to keep an electronic record of our documents with the desire to capture moments in the creative process from a simpler time, inventor Jack Zylkin developed a product that celebrates the best of both worlds–the USB Typewriter.
Delighted by this innovative combination of past and present, I was excited to learn more about what drives Jack’s designs. He happily shared about his inspirations, collaborators, and what’s to come.
Q.) You said that you invented the USB Typewriter as a ‘statement about the disposable nature of modern communication and modern communication devices’. What is it about the typewriter, specifically, that you find so intriguing?
Many people have found that the overstimulation brought on by computers and electronic gadgets, whether it be emails, tweets, viral videos, or other distractions, interferes with the creative process. People dread the boredom associated with being “uplugged”, but without boredom there would be no daydreaming!
While computers and cell phones are increasingly used for consuming media, on a typewriter, there is absolutely nothing you can do except create — it forces you to hone all of your focus and heart onto a single, blank page. Still, the convenience of saving and editing your work on a computer, as well as being able to share ideas and inspiration online, is also an indispensible part of being creative.
With my USB Typewriter invention, I hoped to have the best of both worlds — while writing, you can turn your computer screen off and enjoy a sublime writing experience, directly connecting with a printed page and nothing else. Then, when your draft is finished, you can save it to a computer, edit it, email it, and so on. Even after your work has been polished and spell-checked, you will still have the original hardcopy you typed, to keep as an artifact of your first draft, or to mail to a friend. Hopefully, having a beautiful typewriter permanently on your desk –instead of a computer keyboard — will encourage you to turn the computer off altogether now and then, too!
Q.) You helped found Hive76 in 2008 and designed the USB Typewriter in 2010. How did working with a collective of artists, engineers, designers, and other creative folks influence your invention of this product?
I would never have been able to make the USB Typewriter without Hive76. They not only provided the tools, the parts, and the workspace, but also a group of enthusiastic hackers to encourage me and offer advice. For example, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones and such, so I never would have had the idea to use an iPad with the USB Typewriter — that was actually fellow Hive member Chris Thompson’s idea. And the idea to print my own circuit boards came from a class we taught at Hive76 on making your own guitar effects. Ultimately, its just a really fun place to hang out, which gave me that extra encouragement I needed to come there after my day job night after night.
Q.) This invention takes an old standard and connects it with a “newfangled contraption”, creating something beautiful and functional. Are you working on any similar concepts, or is there another modern marvel with an old-school throwback you’d love to see materialize?
I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I try to just sort of make whatever idea pops into my head, so there is no recurring theme to my inventions. For example, I am very close to finishing work on a futuristic new board game with a very cool electronic twist, which I just filed a patent for…but right now I am working on a cheap word-processor that has an e-ink screen. E-ink would be so beautiful to type on — the next best thing to actual paper!
Q.) If you were to write a novel using the USB Typewriter, what would your first line read?
“Blank pages are the best kind. Write your own story. The end.”
Now that’s a statement we can stand behind! How about you, readers? We’d love to see the first lines of your novels. How does your story begin?
Some people aren’t too picky about their cleaning supplies. For those less-than-germ-conscious types, any old sponge will do. Engineer Michael Frank was one of those folks, but his roommate was far from it. Although Michael now admits that kitchens can be pretty gross, when he first designed his innovative two-teared sponge rack, the Spongester, he did it with the germaphobia of others in mind.
Of course, those germaphobes aren’t scrubbing up the wrong sink. According to WebMD, your kitchen sink can actually contain more germs than your toilet bowl. Fortunately, cross-contamination may have met it’s worst enemy. Spongester is made of industrial-grade stainless steel, is slanted just right to prevent water from pooling up, and features semi-perforated shelves for extra drainage.
Here at UncommonGoods we think the idea is pretty ingenious, but Michael faced a few hurdles before his clever system made it big. The designer took a moment to tell us about how Spongester came to be, describe what makes a Sponge evil, and make us laugh.
Q.In your video, you explain that the product was created to keep the good sponge and the evil sponge from getting mixed up. What makes a sponge angelic or evil?
The original prototype, and the one in the video I made while I was living in Singapore, said “Dish” and “Misc”. I didn’t come up with “Good” and “Evil” until I was back in NYC. Something about this city. But in reality, I always thought the counter and sink were a bit “grosser” than dishes, especially my counter and sink.
Q. You said that your former roommate is a germaphobe. Any other examples of the lengths you would have to go to keep things clean/prevent cross-contamination?
I’m actually pretty bad about this, and I have to admit I sometimes clean the counter with the good sponge, then feel bad about it. I’m a biomedical engineer by training, so I do spend a lot of time wondering how much mold I’m ingesting when I use a smelly sponge on a drinking glass.
Q.Spongester has been a big hit among germaphobes and those who like to stay organized. Did you expect such a great response?
The idea to actually sell them outside of my friends was formed during business school last year in NYC. My professor said it was the stupidest thing he ever saw, and I also got rejected from the entrepreneurship funding program because no one understood why anyone would want one. Despite this, I always thought there were at least 100 other people out there who shared this problem, so I kept pushing it despite the skepticism.
Q. Be honest-would you rather lick a used sponge, dirty dishes that have been sitting in the sink overnight, or the kitchen floor?
For me that is an easy question; I have a niche brand of OCD which requires me to lick the kitchen floor three times whenever I open the fridge and microwave. The sink I only have to lick on Thursdays. And I don’t use dishes, just ice-cube trays to partition food by color and type of animal.
Not coincidentally, I live alone with my cat, Eki, in Soho.
We’re pretty sure he’s joking about the last one, but we know that there are some interesting cleaning quirks out there. What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to avoid germs?
“Pass me the White-Out!”
Christy Eichers had just realized she had no card for the birthday girl, so she quickly fixed up an old card of her father’s.
The result was fairly tacky, but she was certain there was a business idea there somewhere.
And regreet was born:
With regreet, you can upcycle your old cards in style, and take away the stigma of passing along a card that’s been doctored with whiteout or eraser marks. Christy’s even thought of a way for you to track your card’s journey, and see just how many times it gets regreeted.
According to Christy and the Encyclopedia of American Industries, the greeting card industry is a $7.5 billion business with 90% of households purchasing cards each year. The typical household purchases 30 cards annually.
So regreet kits, made from earth-friendly materials with a minimum of 30% post-consumer waste and printed with soy inks, can have a huge impact on reducing the amount of paper we waste each year.
Christy is winning a $1,500 cash prize, along with the chance to show off her designs at World Maker Faire NYC and sell the regreet kit at www.uncommongoods.com.
Leave a comment below to congratulate her on her idea– eco-friendly, clever, and well designed. A perfect YouGoods design for National Inventors Month!
Last night, a group of us met with the YouGoods guest judges at the Tribeca Grand in downtown Manhattan to pick our finalists among all the great entries we received.
And the finalists are:
The Grocery’minder by Francene Pisano Dudziec. With a wet-erase front, this bag is perfect for making your grocery list, checking it twice, and heading off to the market. . Judges thought the concept solved a basic problem; sure, everyone tries to be a good person and bring their reusable bag to the grocery store. But it’s hard to remember every time. With your grocery list stuck right on the front of your bag, the grocery’minder tote makes it hard to forget.
But the judges did have some questions.
1. Would you be more likely to use the grocery list if the bag were easily attachable to your refrigerator?
2. Are there enough blank spaces for you to fill in your personal shopping list?
If you’re a fan, you can vote for the grocery’minder tote through Sunday, August 29 at 11:59 PM ET.
The Double Wall Tea Cup by Endrit Hajno. The judges admired the basic concept of this tea cup made of glazed porcelain or ceramic. Each cup has an insulated double wall for keeping your drink warm, but not burning your hands. The bottom strip of color is notched, allowing you to tuck the string of your tea bag out of sight. While the judges expressed some reservations about how difficult it could be to make this cup and the choice of materials, they all agreed that with a little tweaking this tea cup had a lot of potential!
If you enjoy the idea of a Double Wall Tea Cup, vote for it through Sunday, August 29 at 11:59 PM.
And last but not least, regreet by Christy Eichers. regreet offers you a way to reuse old greeting cards without the stigma of seeming cheap. Judges thought of this entry as a great social concept. These greeting cards make “regifting” cool and give senders a way to reuse last year’s greeting cards. The designer even included a way for you to track your regreet-ed card’s journey using Google maps.
Judges were curious to know what the environmental impact is of using additional paper to regreet an old card. And judges also wondered if after seeing the idea of regreet, you wouldn’t just use your own scrap paper to reuse your stack of birthday and holiday cards. But everyone acknowledged it was a great way to inspire us all to be more sustainable during the holiday season.
If you love the regreet gift card set, vote for it now through August 29 at 11:59 PM.
If you like them all, don’t worry. You can vote for each entry once, through August 29. And feel free to leave a comment if you have a question or idea about the designs. We’ll announce the winner on Monday!
Special thanks to our guest judges: Becky Stern, editor at CRAFT and Make: Online, Debera Johnson, Academic Director of Sustainability at the Pratt Institute, Allan Chochinov, Editor-in-Chief at Core77, Coroflot.com and DesignDirectory.com, and Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com.