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Tech

Gift Guides

STEM Gifts for Kids (Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.)

October 21, 2015

STEM Gift Guide | UncommonGoods

We encounter the principles of STEM every single day. From navigating our natural environment, to the devices that we incessantly tap our thumbs all over, we’re constantly interacting with feats of science, technology, engineering, and math. While we value the much-discussed professional benefits of STEM education, what gets us most excited about these studies is that they encourage kids to be curious about the world around them. Without curiosity and questioning, life would be rather boring! Unfortunately, the STEM world tends to get a bad rep for bordering on stuffy. Here at UncommonGoods, we know that diving into STEM education doesn’t have to be void of creativity. We’ve gathered our favorite educational gifts for kids of all ages to explore this holiday season and into the next school year. Let the experiments begin!

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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

Uncommon Gifts for the Gadgeteer

December 7, 2012

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.


Nerd Herder Gadget Wallet / New Decider Watch / Computer iPhone Art Case / USB Typewriter / Silver USB Cufflinks / Portable Magnetic Speaker / Stop Motion Camera / ReFleece iPad Sleeve

The Uncommon Life

Tech Week

September 24, 2012


We’re not the only ones with tech on the brain. With the launch of the iPhone 5, the whole world has been talking about operating systems, hardware and accessories. And how about that map app!?! Well, UncommonGoods has been stirring up some exciting news alongside Apple and we’re happy to announce that our Artist iPhone Cases are available for preorder so you can dress your favorite gadget in fine art.

Check out some other ways we are talking about tech this week!

Laura from Customer Service takes the Portable Magnetic Speaker on a camping expedition in Upstate New York.

Maggie Ryan, blogger of Very Pretty Please stops by to get inspired by our Artistic iPhone Cases.

Systems Administrator Jonathan shares his favorite UncommonGoods tech and gadget picks.

And last, but never least, check out our Tech, Gadgets and Geekery Pinterest board. Have a tech-related Pinterest board of your own? Leave a link below so we can check it out!

Design

Artistic Apparel by Maggie Ryan

September 24, 2012

We are big fans of Design for Mankind over here and every week we look forward to Artistic Apparel, the regular contribution of Maggie Ryan, blogger of Very Pretty Please. Each week, Maggie builds an outfit from a work of art. We wanted to see what could be inspired by our new Artist iPhone Cases so we sent her Hanna Kim’s Dreamscape Escape. Check out Design for Mankind to see what Maggie created from Lara Mann’s Rhythm for Color.

  1. Mini Peplum Pencil Shift Dress ($92) at Topshop
  2. Alexis Peep Toe Heel ($49.95) at Sole Society
  3. Flower Lattice Necklace ($228) at J. Crew
  4. Bangle Bracelet ($85) at Endless
  5. Gumdrop Stud ($38) at Kate Spade
  6. Leather Pouch ($70) at Furbish
  7. Dreamscape Escape iPhone Case – Colors and Textures ($39) at Uncommon Goods
Gift Guides

Top Picks from a Tech Guy: Our Systems Admin’s Favorite Goods

September 24, 2012

Greetings! My name is Jonathan, and I am currently on the Sysadmin team here at UncommonGoods. Around this time of the year, my team and I work extra hard to make sure your gift giving and receiving experience are the best you have ever had. But in the midst of all this preparation we still manage to play with the some of the many cool toys and gadgets we carry. Here are a few of my favorites.

Cube LED Alarm Clock
In Technology you can find just about anything to fit your needs even if your needs are to just to be woken up on time. This alarm clock keeps things simple. It serves its main purpose as an alarm clock and it’s aesthetically pleasing to boot. This battery powered box can be placed anywhere! No, really, you can put it anywhere without the worry finding a power source. So far this little box has woken me up out of my bed and onto my favorite part of the morning, the coffee part.
Wooden Gizmos

Mini Wooden Speaker
I like to listen to music at work, and usually I just go with my earbuds. But sometimes the whole tech team agrees that we need some background music. In that case, this little speaker is great.

MaKey MaKey
Even if you’re a beginner to the world of microcontrollers, you should be able to grasp the concept of this little device. Anything can be turned into a controller (no really, anything) with just a little bit of creativity. So far we have made buttons and triggers from simple objects such as marshmallows, fruit, doormats, doorknobs, cups of water, ink, and just about anything else we could find lying around. This is a great tool for children and adults alike who want to tinker with electronics without the risks of real power or breaking the device itself. I recommend this product to my fellow gamers, tech enthusiasts or anyone who likes to play with well, anything.



Message Stamp Kit
Let’s face it, birthdays are happening all around us. So if you have a stamp to say happy birthday for you–why not?! If you’re like me and have trouble finding the time (or space on the card with those good-wishes-packed company birthday cards going around the office all the time) to scribble a little something for someone on their birthday then this gift is for you. Sure, it would be easy for me to just send an email from my desk–but this feels a little more personal and it is just as easy. This handy box has helped me with greeting cards for birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and those monthly letters to the in-laws. This kit contains the all-in-one emergency sentiments you could ever need; it can even go as far as calling it a Swiss Army sentiment box.

Mushroom Kit
Another non-gadget pick, but perfect for many tech department offices. We aren’t quite in the basement, but we don’t have a lot of natural light. I’ve been meaning to get one of these, because windows or none, it will be nice to get something to grow in our work space. (Especially something we’ll get to eat in a few weeks!)




If you like Jonathan’s picks, don’t forget to check out our other gadgets and tools.

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