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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 get’s 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!