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Beyond Legos, Building with littleBits

Posted by Caroline Fong December 13, 2013 12:30 PM

What is littleBits? littleBits makes an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping, learning, and fun.

How does it work? These tiny circuit-boards with specific functions work like LEGO™ in that kids or adults can put them together to create all sorts of fun things like robots, night lights, spinning wheels, and more -- no soldering, no wiring, and no programming required!

How do you join in the fun? littleBits is built on a community of sharing templates and plans for the creations. Members upload photos & videos of final products. You can build your own thing that lights, twists, bends, or blinks, and post your own creation template, videos, or photos!

For some of our favorites at The Grommet, here is a roundup of four creations shared in the littleBits community:

1. Light-up Celtics Sign

littlebits celtics sign.JPG

Klan and his son Zach designed the sign in TinkerCAD and 3D printed it. Then they built the light-up stand out of Legos and and littleBits.

Difficulty: Easy
Parts Used: 1 bargraph, 1 dimmer, 1 LED, 1 power, 1 RGB LED, 1 wire
Tools & Materials: Legos, MakerBot

FULL ENTRY

Handcrafted Gifts for the Craft Fair Lover

Posted by Caroline Fong December 6, 2013 09:30 AM

We all have that one friend who eats only organic foods, enjoys yard sales and craft fairs, and makes her own beauty products. She's not exactly down-to-earth, but she sure is earth-loving. And we adore her to bits because not only does she make up for our less than environmentally-friendly habits, she's a true friend and makes you some darn good deodorant.

To celebrate your friendship, gift her a handcrafted item. If you don't have the time to make something yourself, support a local artisan so that your purchase will also go toward the preservation of craft.

FOR HER LOVELY SELF

craft fair lover fashion collage.jpg

Evelyn Claude Designs (Cascade Earrings, $45) (Dominion Necklace, $41) -- These lacquered and gold leafed accessories are handmade, using a thousand-year-old Japanese antique paper-making technique called Kin-maki-e.

Scents and Feel Towel, Multi Fuchsia ($69.50) -- These lightweight Tunisian fouta towels are made of 100% handwoven cotton and are wonderfully versatile. They can be used as a shawl, bath or beach towel, picnic blanket, bed cover, or table cloth.

FOR HER CREATIVE DESK

craft fair lover table collage.jpg

Moss & Stone Gardens Moss Rocks! (Starting at $14.99) -- Each moss garden is a work of art, pre-hand planted in a sculptural, stone-like container that contrasts with the tufted greenery. It's also very easy to care for due to the patent-pending reservoir system and the frost-resistant ceramic.

On The Hook Crochet Lace Bowl ($28.95) -- Looking for a modern fruit bowl or knick knack holder? Hand crocheted from 100% cotton thread, these seemingly delicate beauties are actually sturdy enough to store heavier items, such as apples and oranges.

FULL ENTRY

Unique DIY Gifts: Give an Adventure

Posted by Caroline Fong November 25, 2013 02:30 PM

This past weekend, my mom and I were having dinner when she showed me the bracelet a co-worker had made for her. It was intricately weaved together, using strands of many different colors.

“Her wrists were full of them!” mused my mom. “It’s so popular to make things now.”

I chose this opportunity to tell her about the Maker Movement. Even though its roots stem from more tech and hardware, there is an overall interest in DIY, homemade, and homegrown. My mom should understand as she herself was the proud curator of a blooming summer garden this year.

This holiday season is the perfect time to dip your toe into DIY. Whether you’re a cheese aficionado, jewelry lover, or paper craft buff, here are six fun DIY Grommets that you can gift or share with a friend (or mom). Now wouldn't be a bad time to put your gin connoisseur friend to the test.

For the love of homemade food and drink

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Urban Cheesecraft (Goat Cheese, Chevre) -- This delicious kit includes everything you need to make 10 batches of goat cheese, including easy-to-follow instructions. Just add pasteurized milk and enjoy homemade cheese in about one hour.

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The HomeMade Gin Kit -- This is a great DIY project for grownups who like to imbibe. It comes with everything you need to make a small batch of high quality, subtly fragrant gin at home. And it's all ready in 36 hours.

FULL ENTRY

Mason Jars and Bacon Trucks

Posted by Caroline Fong October 2, 2013 10:45 AM

Believe it or not, popular items bacon and mason jars have been longtime American favorites. Despite their places in history, the timeless appreciation for them can be gleaned from the hundreds of Pinterest pins dedicated to these two items.

The mason jar was invented and patented by John Landis Mason in 1858. Since modern heat-based canning was too cumbersome and unreliable for the average home cook, the mason jar was a godsend with its transparent body and screw-on lid. Industrial advances and World War II then sparked a mass-production of mason jars during which Americans were encouraged to plant victory gardens and preserve their own food.

Bacon, in a similar vein, has been popular even during the diet-crazed 1980s and 1990s. And with the production of artisanal bacon and the publishing of Everything Tastes Better With Bacon, the popularity of bacon took on a life of its own. Since the early 2000s, bacon mania has brought this delicious meat onto fast food menus, into restaurants, and even food trucks. Most notably, bacon is a popular merchandise item, an internet meme, a rallying cry for carnivores (and men), and a symbol of America.

To further indulge my fondness of mason jars and bacon, this is a roundup of clever mason jar accessories and places to eat bacon:

Using Mason Jars

Mason jar accessories collage.jpg

BNTO ($9) is a canning jar adaptor that turns your mason jar into a lunchbox or snack pack. It conveniently and securely separates your jar into two compartments so that you don’t need a separate container for your dips or sauces.

Cuppow ($7.95) is a lid that instantly turns your mason jar into a portable coffee or tea mug. And if your coffee’s too hot, wrap your mason jar in a Holdster USA ($26.95), which acts as an insulating sleeve. Each sleeve comes with a wide-mouth mason jar.

Tribest collage.jpg
Photo Credit (Fruits): John Mason via SXC

The Tribest ($85) is perfect for mason jar enthusiasts who are always on the go. It's a mason jar personal blender set, which makes single-servings of smoothies, protein drinks, and more. You can blend, serve, and store right in the mason jars.

Eating Bacon

Bacon Truck collage.jpg

The Bacon Truck and its menu of bacon deliciousness debuted at the Sowa Open Market last month. I made sure I paid them a visit that day. I ordered the B.L.A.T. and while it was delicious, my toasted sandwich was cold when the order reached my excited hands. I chalked it up to first day operations so I will definitely return for a second try. Other than at the Sowa Open Market, you can also find the Bacon Truck at fairs, events, and food truck festivals around Boston.

Baconkit collage 2.jpg

For the chefs at heart, the Original baconkit ($24.95) contains everything you need to make five pounds of bacon. The pork belly is not included, but a quick trip to the local supermarket or butcher shop will have you making tasty bacon in the convenience of your own home in no time.

What are some of your creative projects or recipes with mason jars and bacon? Share in the comments.

Maker Faires and DIY Toys: Tapping Into The Maker In You

Posted by Caroline Fong September 25, 2013 11:00 AM

This past weekend, I hopped on a bus and traveled to New York to attend the Maker Faire. Walking up from the train station as I neared the New York Hall of Science, I marveled at the big colorful banner that greeted visitors. On the faire grounds, the sights and sounds of tents, tables, food trucks, and games beckoned onlookers.

Making my way through the mini golf games and pop-up tents selling innovative designs, I ducked under the Maker Pavilion first. Everyone had to squeeze through the ever-growing crowds to peer at the displays. The number of 3D printers and printed trinkets astounded me; Google+ Local and maybe two other exhibitors were the only exceptions.

Throughout my day, I tried to cover as much ground as possible while still talking to folks. Looking through the other tents and areas, I found food artisans, jewelry crafters, lamp makers, circuit board printers, tool builders, and of course, big companies like Microsoft and Google.

My favorite exhibitor, however, was a 3D printing hobbyist, who had built his own 3D printers. His loud and friendly demeanor drew me and a few others to his table. Jeff, with passion pouring from his soul, tried to persuade me to build my own 3D printer after ascertaining that I had “asked all the right questions.”

“It’s only $580,” he proclaimed. “Don’t buy one; build one. Look up where you can get the least expensive parts.”

After shaking hands with Jeff, I wandered off to watch the race track. But more than once, the thought of possibly building my own 3D printer entered my mind.

For those who’d like a DIY adventure without foraying into the complicated world of 3D printer-building, here is a roundup of fun maker possibilities:

1. Makers Toolbox: Scribbler The Drawing Robot Kit (Starting at $25)

Makers Toolbox 1.jpg

This little spectacle was immensely popular at the Maker Faire. I saw kids run up to the tent and tell their moms they wanted it -- to which they would agreeably reach into their handbags for the wallet. After assembling all the electrical parts, you get a fun boxy robot that scribbles designs as it moves across paper. It’s meant for tweens who may be a bit too old for conventional toys, but it’s still a fun project for folks of any age.

2. Makers Toolbox: Cardboard Proptracter Kit (Starting at $35)

Makers Toolbox 2.jpg

From the same makers of the scribbler robot, this kit lets you build your very own aeronautical vehicle that actually flies with remote-controlled command. After playing with your flying toy, you can also display this cardboard creation anywhere in the house or dorm to add a bit of maker sensibility to your decor.

3. MaKey MaKey Invention Kit ($49.95)

MaKey MaKey 1.jpg

Remember how everyone scrambled to listen to Mozart for the Mozart effect? Well, how about an imagination-fueled kit created by two final-year PhD students from the famed MIT Media Lab? Type a poem, play the drums, or play a digital game -- using a collection of items as keys. You can transform any object that can conduct electricity into a touch interface (a “button” of sorts) or computer keyboard controller.

4. MakersKit Herb Terrarium ($24)

MakersKit Terrarium 1.png

For a more organic DIY venture, you can make your own low-maintenance terrarium. The kit comes with all the needed materials and directions. Once constructed, they’re perfect for setting on a desk, on a coffee table, or even by your bed.

Is there a maker project you're working on? Share in the comments.

Fall Fashion Trend: Leather

Posted by Caroline Fong September 11, 2013 11:30 AM

This fall, chunky sweaters, oversized coats, repeating patterns, and leather are fashion’s favorites on the runway. While it’d be expensive to implement an overhaul of your entire wardrobe, a smart way to stay hip without completely changing your style is to simply integrate the trends as accessories into your existing outfits.

While I doubt that chunky sweaters and oversized coats are easy to pull off for many people (or escape the fashion world’s rapid shifts), leather, on the other hand, is a classic.

As one of the “it” accessories of the runway, leather is an easy runway staple to work into your style. Here is a roundup of leather items that will give your everyday clothing an edge, without going over the edge:

Trades of the East: Crisscross Bracelet or Woven Ring Leather Bracelet ($38)

Trades of the East collage.jpg

These textured leather bracelets are made in Spain and give outfits a boost whether out for a night on the town or in the office. More than an accessory, it’s a piece of art, featuring handcrafted rustic leather strands and sculptured metal detailing.

Alicia Klein: Solle 2-Bottle Wine Carrier ($135)

Alicia Klein collage.jpg

Simple, elegant, and functional are what Alicia Klein strives for in her signature line, having honed her skill for design while at Burberry. She builds her unisex bags with a focus on luxury with built-in practicality. The Solle wine carrier is made of pebbled leather cowhide and is an impeccably fashionable way to bring your wine bottles for picnics or dinner parties.

handcandy: Leather Earbuds ($49.95)

handcandy 2.jpg

Mix up your look by contrasting leather earbuds with your sleek iPad, smartphone, or iPod. Hand-braided of genuine leather, the strands are tangle-resistant and the earbuds come with three different sizes of silicone extras for maximum comfort.

With these leather accessories, you're ready to hit the town -- or office. According to Harper’s Bazaar, leather has an urban sensibility that's a little bit tough, a little bit punk — indeed, rebellion has never looked so chic.

What are some of your favorite leather looks? Tweet me your best accessories.

Foods Trends We Want To Try

Posted by Caroline Fong August 28, 2013 10:00 AM

Kale Chips

This has been a food trend for a little bit, but it's still fresh and new as there are so many delicious ways to dress up your kale chips -- with sesame seeds, fleur de sel, or whatever your favorite seasoning is. The basic process of making a batch is to remove the leaves from their stalks, wash, dry, and lightly coat with oil and salt before baking.

Kale Chips.jpg
Photo Credit: www.acozykitchen.com

A great way to try making these natural chips is to stop by your local farmer’s market, pick up a fresh bunch, and cook up a batch. If you’ve never been to one, a quick search on Local Harvest will you give a few options.


Avocado Beer
Photo Credit: www.psfk.com

Avocado Ale.jpeg

With the multitude of recent articles on the nutritional value of avocadoes I've been seeing across a range of food sites, now's the time to enjoy avocadoes. As part of Avocado Festival, Angel City Brewery will be unveiling ‘Avocado Ale.’ The blend will contain cilantro and other ingredients that would go into guacamole.

If you can't make it to L.A. to try this new beer blend, bring the cutting edge to your home still with the Molecule-R Cocktail Classics Kit, which gives you three easy molecular recipes. This do-it-yourself kit will turn your kitchen into one of molecular gastronomy, which may prove more popular with your guests than avocado ale.

Mojito.jpg


French Fry Vending Machine
Photo Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP

Belgium Frites Machine.jpg

Belgium claims to be the country to have invented french fries. Now, they’ve created a coin-operated vending machine that dispenses fresh french fries made from gold-standard animal dripping and vegetable oil.

You may not have your own french fry vending machine, but you can bring another crispy treat into your home with The Original baconkit. Cure your own bacon, and enjoy tasty homemade bacon that won’t shrivel during cooking.

baconkit.jpg

Which food trends do you have your eye on? Let me know in the comments.

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Buy Differently is a sponsored blog powered by The Grommet, and part of Boston.com Finds, a site you can count on to bring you the best discoveries around Boston and beyond. This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or Finds. The author is solely responsible for the content.
CONTRIBUTOR
Caroline Fong
Caroline hails from a tiny tropical island originally, but calls Boston home. A curious bird, she spent a spring trekking all over Ireland, has been an Air Force Junior ROTC cadet, and worked at Disney World as a merchandising intern. With a love for all things interesting, she found herself at The Grommet, where she gets to eat, sleep, and breathe innovative undiscovered products. Say hello to her on Twitter.
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