Odds & Ends

Mindtribe Holiday Gift Guide 2016: Insulated Mugs, Synthesizers, and Puzzles

Gift giving season is upon us once again and we’re back with our annual suggestion list of things or activities to share with you and yours.  All suggestions, and many of the first hand descriptions, are contributed by actual Mindtribers and reflect a broad range of interests, though we tend to lean towards technology, science, games and food.

As always, we receive no sponsorships. We just want to help inspire your own ideas for gifts or things to do for the holidays with some ideas you won’t find on many traditional gift lists.

Mini Electronic Music Synthesizers

For your electronic music makers we suggest taking a look at Pocket Operator Synthesizers from Teenage Engineering. These look deceptively toy-like, but are actually fully functioning synthesizers that are surprisingly cheap. You can daisy chain them and they have a click track that synchronizes them so that you can use multiple modules together, so a Rhythm, Robot, and Factory Pocket Operator can be linked together to create a custom synthesizer. They’re printed onto little PCBs that use a clever combination of painting, copper, and silkscreen to decorate their boards. The speaker is located behind the display. And it’s a Teenage Engineering product so of course it has a quirky fun aesthetic. You have to experience these to really get it, so here’s a video of the rhythm one in action.

Image source: Teenage Engineering

Image source: Teenage Engineering

Ember Temperature Controlled Mug

It’s funny, but having a hot drink stay at an optimal drinking temperature for longer than just a dozen minutes is really a novel simple pleasure.  Ember is an insulated mug that can both quickly cool down a drink that is too hot and then actively warm it to keep it at its perfect temperature…FOR HOURS. It even comes with an App for total control. It will literally change how you enjoy hot drinks. Full disclosure, Mindtribe contributed to the development of Ember. 

Image source: Embertech.com

Image source: Embertech.com

Jigsaw Puzzles

Many of us at Mindtribe love working on jigsaw puzzles, especially on cold rainy days. There is an amazing range of jigsaw puzzles out there with lots of innovation in the graphics, shapes of the pieces, and materials ranging from cardboard to wood to plastics. One puzzle that caught our attention recently is the Gradient Puzzle which presents a particularly challenging build due to the essentially featureless graphics aside from a gradual change in hue across the face. Infuriating, yet satisfying. 

Image source: Areaware.com

Image source: Areaware.com

Lumio

Not sure what it is about Lumio, but it defies classification and we love it. It is a portable, rechargeable lamp that looks like a book and lights up when you unfold it and there is nothing too techie or crazy about it. It is just a beautiful, magical product.

Image source: Lumio

Image source: Lumio

The Best Plastic Part Nipper

We love good tools and people who build a lot of models or highly finished prototypes will understand this one. Evocatively called “God Hand,” these are a pair of nippers to clip off the nubs and sprues off of model kits that come with all the parts still connected to their runners. Instead of two sharp blades hitting each other, the God Hand has a very sharp blade hitting a flat anvil face, which results in a knife-going-through-butter cut. The cut is clean and eliminates the residual stump that is left behind by conventional cutters. To use this tool is to love this tool. And the name cannot be beat. 

Image source: Amazon.com

Image source: Amazon.com

Car Tracker and Data Logger

Do you want access to data on your car’s health, performance and driving history? Easily document your car trips for your business or to see if your kids are driving safely? Would you like help to remember where you parked? There are a variety of 3rd party data loggers for cars that conveniently plug into your OBD 2 port under your dash.  Automatic Labs makes a couple versions, with and without a cellular connection, with control via their mobile App.  As a bonus, it can also decode what your check engine light means and will even detect a crash and send out alerts.

Image source: Automatic Labs

Image source: Automatic Labs

A Better Wifi Router

With ever expanding numbers of smart devices in homes and increased entertainment delivery via WiFi (Apple TV, Netflix, etc) there is no patience for slow or spotty wireless internet. Until now, people have been forced to try out various modem + extender combinations in apartments and homes with very mixed results. eero solves this problem by creating a WiFi Mesh Network for your home. Believe us, this is a non-trivial technical achievement. Just like office WiFi with multiple access points, eero provides a strong WiFi signal from multiple access points throughout your home, but without any of the painful setup.

Image source: eero

Image source: eero

Toe Sandals 

Great for people who like flip-flops but hate that all the force of each step is concentrated in the gap between your big toe and little toes. Why not divvy up the force between all your toe gaps? Be kinder to your feet. No need to sacrifice for flip-flop convenience. While you’re at it, think about this: most of our shoes compress our toes together. Try a shoe that does the opposite – gently pushes your toes apart! Toe bliss.

Image Source: Toesox.com

Image Source: Toesox.com

Educational Electronics Kits  

One of our Mindtribers worked for Circuit Scribe and witnessed first-hand the awe that kids have when they are able to draw and complete circuits using the conductive ink pen. The kits come with an activity book and the components are well designed.  There are many other electronics kits out there, but the conductive ink pen used to literally draw the circuit traces on any surface really sets this one apart.

Image source: circuitscribe.com

Image source: circuitscribe.com

DIY Home Automation

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, for super cheap you can control AC power in your house via Wifi (and also a 433MHz remote control).  The Wifi Smart Switch from ITEAD is inexpensive ($5-$7), has both iOS and Android apps to be able to use it and is HACKABLE!  Using many different platforms (including MQTT), the internal ESP 2866 can be reprogrammed to perform the tasks and interface you want it to perform. Our contributor ran AC to his entire back yard with 6 separate outlets and outdoor lighting controlled via these switches. Definitely a step up from your old X10 setup. 

Image source: itead.cc

Image source: itead.cc

Some example hacking pages:

Board Games

This is a perennial favorite category.  Here are this year’s suggestions:

Above and Below – Gorgeously illustrated, this game plays a little bit like a cross between Settlers of Catan and Dungeons and Dragons.  You’re in charge of a village in a fantasy world – do you have your villagers build buildings?  Gather fruit? or do you send them into the caverns to adventure for fame and fortune?  Above and Below features indirect competition, engaging storytelling, and a fun world that make the long setup and explanation worth it.

Image source: Amazon.com

Image source: Amazon.com

 

One Night Werewolf – If you’ve ever played Mafia or been to a murder mystery dinner party, One Night Werewolf is a fast-paced, fresh take on traditional hidden identity games.  Everyone starts out with secret identities, which are then traded, stolen, and swapped during the “night phase” of the game.  Then, the players (who have often unwittingly switched teams during the “night”) have five minutes to try and untangle who is who before the werewolves take over! Fast to play, this game’s combination of lies, deduction, and trickery has quickly made it a Mindtribe favorite.

Image source: Amazon.com

Image source: Amazon.com

 

Splendor – If you have someone on your list who likes deep, strategic thinking, Splendor is for them.  Splendor is all about watching your opponents, figuring out their strategy, and beating them to the punch.  It’s deceptively simple rules and color-based gameplay set up a rich world of strategic possibilities that will have you playing it again and again. 

Image source: Amazon.com

Image source: Amazon.com

 

Sushi Go – Adorable illustrations, simple rules, and quick gameplay make Sushi Go an enjoyable romp of a game.  As rival chefs, players vie to create the best plate of sushi, but there’s a catch – every turn, you pass all of your cards to the chef next to you, so you have to make sure you’re not all trying to make the same thing!  An approachable (and seriously cute) introduction to the draft mechanic, Sushi Go is great for players of most ages (and levels of inebriation, if your celebrations head that way).  

Image source: Amazon

Image source: Amazon

Your Local Science Museum

Don’t forget how awesome your local science museums are.  Here in San Francisco we’re blessed with hands on museums like the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences.  A visit is always worth your while and never fails to remind us that the world out there is pretty amazing.

Image source: California Academy of Sciences

Image source: California Academy of Sciences