Shopping for a techie can be tough, especially in a world where what’s new moves at lightning speed and self-driving cars are still, well, a wee bit expensive. Thankfully, UncommonGoods has your back this year. Of our many out-of-the-box gifts designed for the tech-inclined, we’ve selected ten of our favorites, from super-smart grow-it-yourself herb gardens to iPhone cases that defy the laws of physics. Maybe “UncommonGizmos” wouldn’t have been such a bad name after all? But I digress. Read on for more.
I’m always trying to fit podcast listening into every at-home task that I can: cooking, folding laundry, braiding my hair. I also like to listen to music while I clean my apartment, shower, and start my work day. My phone speaker isn’t loud enough and doesn’t provide good enough sound quality to be used without headphones. I’ve tried other Bluetooth speakers and because they’re bulky or a pain to move around, they typically hang out in one room. I don’t think this will be the case with SoundFlex because it’s small and slim.
Roman Korsunsky – UncommonGoods Senior Software Developer, Technology
My hometown is…
I’m inspired by…
The constant evolution of technology.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) as we know them have only been around for about 15 years, but like so many things in modern culture, they may have ancient ancestors. Best known for their controversial military uses, drones also have many peaceful, civilian applications, from sweeping aerial shots for films to dropping off your packaged instant gratification. But the oldest aerial drone or robot might just be the steam-powered pigeon of Archytas. In the 5th century BCE, the Greek polymath Archytas invented a self-propelled, pigeon-shaped flying machine. Assuming his design worked, it may have flown several hundred meters, powered by a jet of steam or compressed air from an internal bladder. Archytas may have been most interested in testing theories of aerodynamics, rather than spying on the Spartans, and his wooden robot bird is a far cry from the hovering, high-tech drones of today, but I’m droning on…and this history is for the birds anyway.
Formation | $225
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!
A decade ago, Steven Johnson countered conventional wisdom with the audacious proposal that electronic media consumption is a beneficial societal force in Everything Bad is Good For You. Johnson makes a thoroughly convincing argument that an all-you-can-eat diet of TV and video games is actually good for people’s problem solving skills and overall IQ. Still, some will always be wary of too much technology, and more recent initiatives like Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School seem to encourage a return to hands-on experience and inventive play. Today, some trends try to reconcile these directions—tinkering with the inner workings of the diode and microchip world all around us. Ironically, other trends use invisible technology to encourage communication through playful interactions.
For those who may not even know they’re interested in electronics, Ayah’s invitation to play is enticing: “we’re trying to make [these modules] as accessible as possible and as instantaneous as possible, so you can see the results.” In her commitment to democratizing technology, she echoes cyberspace-defining writer William Gibson observation that “the future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” For that matter, the culture behind these kits features an open source component, encouraging the sort of tool and material innovation fostered by Tulley’s tinkerers. Ayah comments on this aspect of her system:
We started to lose this ability to play with technology as technology started to become more finished and closed…[our goal] is to demystify technology…the magic of electricity is everywhere around us—it’s beautiful, and we have to contribute to it and be creative with it.
Still not convinced that a focus on the inner workings of electronics is a good idea? Allow us to introduce Milksop the Bear, a toy-meets-digital-communication critter that’s designed to divert kids from the inevitable pull of grown-up social media. He’s the invention of Guari Nanda, also a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, who comments “there are so many apps today that isolate kids from family…we wanted to create one that does the opposite.” Through his Wi-Fi connection and custom app, Milksop allows adults (mom, dad, grandma, grampa) to send messages to his kid companion. When Milksop grunts to say “you’ve got mail,” the messages are delivered in a whimsically modulated voice. Then, kids can respond by recording a voice message that’s sent back to their adult admirers through the app. No screen, no typing, no direct contact with the pitfalls of too much technology. Milksop utilizes kids’ natural tendency to have conversations with their toys, applying electronic components, code, and the cloud to connect generations, rather than giving kids too much screen time too soon. At the same time, parents can choose to use Milksop’s gentle take on cloud-based communication as their child’s first introduction to the digital world.
While we live in a culture of saving everything (voicemail, emails, social media feeds), I feel it’s important to celebrate the impermanence of things, to cherish the moment you’re living in. Take that moment, create within it, laugh, play, build a memory; then move forward into the next moment. It’s here that I find myself encouraged by the creative timing without being inhibited by comparing the past to present. This creates a space that allows us all—kids and adults—to play and create without inhibition.
From their handmade wood bodies to their whimsical, silkscreened “faces,” Zoots, Lil’ MIB, and Loopy Lou share the mission of Ayah’s modular bits—to make electronics accessible and endearing. For more on Richard’s easygoing but innovative approach to designing and building technological toys, follow along with our recent tour of his studio.
Milford PA; as seen on Dale’s shirt in the movie Step Brothers.
The tech project I most enjoyed working on at UncommonGoods was…
The bios page, it holds a secret.
I’m inspired by…
Animation from interactivity. Static elements are boring.
My favorite place to visit in New York City is…
A local, non Starbucks, coffee shop.
An uncommon fact about me…
I was in flash mobs. It’s okay to act crazy in public if everyone else is doing it!
When I’m not working, I’m probably…
Making witty jokes about whatever current situation I’m in.
The word that best describes me…
Working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned
How to work on a team and how valuable I am to said team.
Would You Rather… have to relive the same day over and over for a month (but get to pick up right where you left off) OR fast forward a month (but get thrown into the middle of things without knowing what happened in the month you skipped over)?
Do I get control that day? I’d definitely pick that one. The other just sounds like having been in a coma.
My hometown is…
I’m inspired by…
Strong-willed, outgoing, yet humble people. I believe success in life starts with how well you act and interact with other people positively.
My relationship with Mother Nature is…
Not as strong as I’d like it to be. I need to visit more often.
The best luck I’ve had in my life so far was…
It’s hard to say, I feel I’ve been pretty lucky throughout life with the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met. It’s hard to pick out any one thing.
In my next life, I want to come back as…
A slightly shorter person; I’ve discovered too many things to hit my head on while walking. But seriously, just myself in a different time and a different place to experience life from a different perspective with different decisions.
An uncommon fact about me…
I’m a fourth generation descendant of King of the long existing Benin Kingdom, Oba Eweka II. If my Great Grandfather was born first instead of second and my Father was also born first instead of second, I would have had a completely different life.
Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
That the company values quality, friendly and well-mannered people. It’s always a joy coming into work knowing you’re going to see friendly faces.
Would you rather… not need sleep or not need food and water?
Not need sleep! Who wouldn’t want more hours to get work done or do fun things?