Illustration by Mark Araya
Odds & Ends

Mindtribe Holiday Gift Guide 2015: Lenses, Virtual Reality, and GoPeds

Crowdsourcing is all the rage these days, so why not crowdsource coming up with holiday gift and activities for you and yours? We’d like to share some of our ideas and experiences to help prime your idea pump for this year’s gift giving season. As in previous installments, the following is an eclectic selection of activities and objects that we’ve either had experience with or simply thought were very intriguing, and that are less likely to show up on other gift lists out there. At the very least, we hope these suggestions help inspire gift giving ideas for y

Classes at your Local Maker Space

The maker community is incredibly vibrant these days. There are now classes and places to learn about and practice just about any technical or crafting skill and combo you could hope for. Learn how to laser cut chocolate! Program Arduinos! Weld metal or learn how to use a mill! Check your local listings, but one of the best known outfits we’ve been known to frequent is the Techshop They have branches around the country and offer numerous introductory classes and make their equipment and build spaces available for a fee. For Bay Area locals, we also enjoy the Crucible when we want to do things that involve a lot of sparks and flame. Both the Techshop and the Crucible offer gift certificates for classes. Get out there and build something

Accessory Lenses for Cell Phone Cameras

Cellphone cameras are ubiquitous and have pretty much replaced dedicated cameras for most people. For enthusiasts that want to do a bit more with their cellphone cameras, external accessory lenses are just the ticket. Lens options range from macro lenses for super close up detail shots, to fisheye lenses that capture a full 180 degrees of view. Photojojo, with some help from Mindtribe, just rolled out a handsome lens system called Iris which is currently compatible with the most recent iPhone and Galaxy phone models. Uniquely, it can be used whether the phone has a case or not and does not require anything to be stuck to the phone using adhesive. Check out the image quality on their website.

A Truly “Instant Read” Cooking Thermometer

Quite a few Mindtribers are cooking enthusiasts and the Thermapen came up as a genuinely loved piece of cooking hardware. A tiny sensor tip means low thermal mass which means that this instant read cooking thermometer is actually close to instant. You can literally watch the temperature of your roast vary as you insert the probe and find the coolest spot. While other thermometers may take tens of seconds to get an accurate reading, the Thermapen gets an accurate reading within a second or two which makes it awesome instead of frustrating.

Kick Scooters for Commuters

Forget scooters for kids. For that last mile between the train and the office, we utilize adult size kick scooters. One of our favorites is the Know Ped from Go Ped. The extra wide solid rubber wheels ride easily over pavement cracks and other road hazards and you’ll get your daily bit of exercise to boot. It folds up nicely to fit on the train, though we’ve modified ours with a narrower deck and shorter handlebars to fit even better. There is quite a thriving community of powered short range vehicles as well, from powered skateboards to single-wheeled contraptions. This is an area where the range of designs is likely to consolidate over a few years, so check out the variety while you can!

Whale Watching

If you happen to live near the sea, check out your local whale watching options. Mindtribe is located in San Francisco which is an easy drive to Monterey Bay, one of the best spots for whale watching in the world. Twice a year, California gray whales migrate past the coast, and the rest of the year humpbacks, blue whales, the occasional orca and pods of dolphins make their appearance. Numerous whale watching cruises are available around the bay or you can often spot whales offshore directly from the coast, especially during the gray whale migration seasons in January and March. If you go for a cruise, try to pick a relatively calm day to limit the chance of seasickness!

Board Games

If you have not played any board games since Risk or Monopoly, you should take a look at the renaissance that’s been happening for the past couple of decades. Settlers of Catan is a well known pioneer in the “modern” wave of board games (Catan is 20 years old!), but board and card-based games continue to be a font of creativity. Two current Mindtribe favorites are Ricochet Robots and Hanabi. Ricochet Robots is a board-based geometric puzzle game where you compete against other players to figure out the most efficient way to relocate a game piece on the board, based on the game’s rules of motion. Great for those competitive geometricians out there. Hanabi is a card-based cooperative game where players have to work together to create the best possible outcome. No one can see their own cards so you have to rely on your comrades to help you play the right ones at the right time. Grab some friends and give these new games a try!

Virtual Reality Viewers

Virtual Reality (VR) viewers are moving into the mainstream with a variety of head mounted hardware and applications to support them. For those that want to dabble in VR with a minimum of commitment, Google Cardboard is hard to beat. Cardboard requires that you already own an android or iOS smart phone and uses the smart phone’s display to display stereoscopic video. A cleverly designed cardboard headset turns your smartphone into a VR viewer which you can then run Cardboard compatible applications on, such as games and 3D video players. The Cardboard viewer costs just a few dollars or you can make one yourself and many of the Apps are free.

Hybrid VR Game

Speaking of virtual reality, there is a hybrid computer-VR-paper game making the rounds that has piqued our interest called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. The premise is that you are defusing a bomb, which you view and manipulate in virtual reality via a computer monitor or compatible VR viewer. Your team can help you using a printed bomb defusing manual, but unfortunately, they cannot see the bomb so you can only communicate verbally with each other. Can you defuse the bomb in time? This is a fun amalgam of VR and physical reality which is hopefully a taste of things to come

Ridiculously Strong Coffee

Regular readers of our blog may have noticed that we have some coffee fans here at Mindtribe. One amusing product we ran across recently is called Black Blood of the Earth (BBotE) from Funranium Labs. Frankly, we’re scared to try it, but it claims to be an evil brew roughly 25 times more concentrated than a normal cup of coffee. Their blog entry detailing the creation of BBotE is worth a read all by itself. It is sold in bottles, perfect for gifting to those caffeine fiends in your life who are interested in gaining the ability to “vibrate through walls”

Books by Randall Monroe

We’re fans of Randall Monroe and his webcomic xkcd. He has published a few books chock full of his brand of scientifically grounded yet often absurd humor, including What If?, a collection of ruminations on often very strange hypothetical questions, and Thing Explainer, an attempt to explain various scientific and technological concepts using his trademark stick figure drawing style and only the 1000 most common works in the English language. Great to curl up with in front of a fire (assuming the fire is contained and intentional)

Happy Holidays everyone, and we hope that you find as much magic in the world as we do.