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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Kelvin Eweka

May 4, 2014

Kelvin Eweka | UncommonGoods

Kelvin Eweka, UncommonGoods Software Developer

My hometown is…
Torrance, California

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?

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Andrei Gaidai

April 25, 2014

Andrei Haidai | UncommonGoods

Andrei Gaidai, UncommonGoods Software Developer
My hometown is…
I grew up in Grodno, Belarus and I am currently living Brooklyn, NY.

The word that best describes me…
“Let’s try.” I couldn’t fit it in one word, but these are the two words I think best describe myself. I love to try new things and get new experience.

I’m inspired by…
Purposeful people. I respect them and try to learn to be one of them.

When I’m not working I’m probably…
Spending time with my family. I have a wonderful wife and daughter. They are my everything. We try to spend all our free time together having fun or visiting friends.

An uncommon fact about me…
I can sleep whole night in the same position without moving at all.

If I won the lottery, I’d…
Spend the money wisely, trying to make the world a better place. Like giving money to people who really really need it (e.g. those who are waiting for expensive surgeries).

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
A lot of new technical things, and I met a lot of people who are interesting and dedicated to their work. I am proud to be part of this amazing team.

Would you rather…be a human being with the mind of a robot, or be a robot with a human mind?
Be a robot with a human mind; I believe eventually this is what will happen with human beings. Robots don’t get sick or tired–and having your own mind you can enjoy life even in a robot body. Nobody will hack your mind [if it’s human], but if you are a human with a robot mind you have a risk to be hacked.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Jonathan Medina

November 18, 2013

Jonathan Medina

Jonathan Medina, UncommonGoods Security Engineer
My home town is……
Brooklyn, NY

I’m passionate about……
Innovative technology advances and the open source community.

I’m inspired by……
The open source and scientific community as well as anyone who has ever made a mistake while trying to succeed.

My guilty pleasure is……
Ordering more food than I can eat at a restaurant so I can take it home and eat it later.

The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is…
Autonomous drones the size of a small birds. We are a few years away from have fully autonomous robots in our everyday lives.

An uncommon fact about me……
I can juggle.

Since working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned……
How to make more with less waste.

Would you rather…… use off-the-shelf computer software and hardware without modifying it for a year, or never again play ping pong with your teammates (or anyone else)?
I would be able to give up ping pong to modify something.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Casey McCarthy

November 11, 2013
UncommonGoods Chief Technology Officer Casey McCarthy
Casey McCarthy, UncommonGoods Chief Technology Officer

My hometown is…
I was born in Toronto, Canada, raised in rural New England, and I moved to NYC when I was seventeen. I will always love nature, but my goal since my mid-teens was to move to NYC for all the cultures and excitement.

The tech project I’ve most enjoyed working on at UncommonGoods (so far)…
When I got here a little over a decade ago, the tools for other departments to control data and process were severely lacking. I created an internal administration site from scratch to greatly increase company efficiency and automation.

I’m inspired by…
People that make the world a better place.

My favorite place to visit in New York City is…
All the parks, particularly Central Park and Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

An uncommon fact about me…
I love to travel the world. After growing up without much money, I’ve been to 30+ countries since I graduated college. Early on, I used any extra money I had to pay off student loans and visit other cultures. Scandinavia, Switzerland, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Costa Rica have been my favorites and I have been on repeated trips.

When I’m not working, I’m probably…
Playing with my two year old girl and hanging out with the wife, reading history and philosophy; watching great comedy, adventure or documentary films; or listening to music.

The words that best describe me…
“Adventurous Scientist.”

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
That people are the most important part of life and business. That I’m not as smart as I thought I was and I can learn from people from all walks of life. Spending time with people from every department made me realize that, and I truly appreciate the experience at UncommonGoods; it’s a great group of people.

Would you rather …travel the world alone or travel the US with your family?
I can’t imagine someone would choose alone if they have a wife and kid : )

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Albert Tingson

October 29, 2013
UncommonGoods Senior Software Engineer | UncommonGoods
Albert Tingson, UncommonGoods Senior Software Developer
My hometown is…
Manila PhilippinesThe word that best describes me is…
Funny.

I’m passionate about…
Surfing the net and playing guitar.

What I do to relax is…
Playing computer games, playing guitar or watching movies.

If I could be the world champion of something, it would be…
Nascar driver.

If I won the lottery, I’d…
Still keep my job and invest my money to something that can help many people.

An uncommon fact about me…
I’m a church band member playing as lead guitarist. Every Sunday we play music to our worship service in Queens, NY.

Would you rather…end world hunger, or find a universal cure for all diseases?
I’d prefer to find universal cure for all disease, because if everybody is healthy, they have better chance to find their own way to fight hunger. Everybody can have a chance to find their own job.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Shah Murshed

August 16, 2013
Shah Murshed | UncommonGoods
Shah Murshed, UncommonGoods Software QA Analyst

My hometown is…
Sylhet, Bangladesh, a very small and humid town which was perfect for my very own orchid garden.

The tech project I most enjoyed working on at UncommonGoods was…
Working on checkout redesign, email and home page, and shipping software projects have given me insight in ecommerce and I also gained a better understanding of how customers are widely related with every aspect of the retail business. It was a whole new experience for me and I enjoyed it a lot.

I’m inspired by…
Great people who lived very simple lives but were able to change people around them and the society through peaceful means.

My favorite place to visit in New York City is…
Too many! I love this city. I just love to stroll around in the city. Sometimes, I just walk from Wall Street to Times Square. People, colors, the life of this city attract me and have become a part of me.

An uncommon fact about me…
I have a certificate in Quantum Meditation.

When I’m not working, I’m probably…
Playing with my daughter or walking around the city

The word that best describes me…
Random …

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
I am learning everyday and each day about technology and the people around UncommonGoods, including employees, employers, vendors and the customers.

Would you rather… Swim in a pool filled with goldfish or walk barefoot in worm-ridden dirt?
Maybe both. Reason: I am very random.

Gift Guides

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.

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.

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