THINGM NEWSLETTER, MAY 5, 2010

CONTENTS
- 18 months since the last newsletter! OOPS!
- New product: LinkM, a low-cost easy-to-use USB-I2C bridge
- New product: MinM, a tiny BlinkM for wearables
- ThingM forum on GetSatisfaction.com
- “Crystal Monster,” a sculpture made with BlinkMs
- Crash Space, a hacker space in LA
- “Smart Things,” Mike’s new book
- Appearances

18 MONTHS!
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Although it’s tempting to pretend that there’s nothing odd about missing eighteen months of newsletters, we can’t. The truth is that we’ve been busy with more projects than we can count, but–as our grandparents would certainly point out–we know that’s no excuse for not writing or calling.
This newsletter has several announcements that tell some of the story, and we will have more exciting news in the months to come.
Also, since we last sent out a newsletter, Twitter has exploded in popularity. Of course we have a Twitter account — @thingm — and we plan to tweet to it regularly.

NEW PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT: LINKM
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LinkM is our newest product, and we’re very proud of it. It addresses the most frequently-asked question about BlinkMs: how can you easily program or control multiple BlinkMs simultaneously?
It’s a USB adapter about the same size and shape as a thumb drive that works as a universal USB-to-I2C converter. I2C is the protocol that BlinkMs and BlinkM MaxMs speak. LinkM makes it easy to individually program many BlinkMs simultaneously for untethered use (where BlinkMs are not connected to a computer), or to send commands to individual BlinkMs.
LinkM offers a compact, inexpensive interface for situations that do not require a general-purpose I/O board or which require a robust, enclosed programming and control device. For example, a real-time energy display designed for extended installation could use a LinkM attached to a small networked computer (say a Linux-based router) to display the results of fluctuating electricity prices streamed to it through a free data feed provided by pachube.com.

In addition, LinkM:
- Is driverless. It uses the USB Human Interface Device class, which nearly every operating system supports without requiring additional drivers. You can just plug it in and go.
- Requires no additional hardware required to program or control BlinkMs. All you need is one LinkM, BlinkMs and a computer with a USB port.
- Can program multiple BlinkMs without having to disconnect them, thus making it possible to preview complex patterns and effects.
- Can send data to multiple BlinkMs.
- Works as a generic USB->I2C device, making it compatible with hundreds of standard I2C devices, which includes everything from simple digital to analog converters to specialized speech synthesis chips.
- Has no exposed components. Its hard plastic case makes it appropriate for long-term installation.
- Has Open Source firmware, available from Google Code.
- Has Open Source libraries for C, Java and Processing, also available from Google Code.
- Acts as an I2C master device, synchronizing groups of BlinkMs so that their patterns do not drift with time
- Has secret additional I/O pins on the board. AVR hackers can crack open the case to get access to digital I/O pins and use LinkM as a standalone microcontroller platform.

You can find more information at www.thingm.com/products/linkm/
LinkM will be available at many of our distributors in June.

NEW PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT: MINM
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MinM is our latest smart LED. It’s a tiny BlinkM that’s designed for wearable technologies, UAVs and handheld devices. It uses a wide angle SMD RGB LED to shrink the footprint to be 0.5 cm on a side, and less than 0.25 cm high.

In addition, MinM:
- Has no protruding components, so it lies smooth and won’t snag.
- Has open through-holes make it easy to sew onto garments or mount in unusual locations.
- Comes packaged with an unsoldered 4-pin header that can be soldered in or friction fit for programming using standard 0.1″ headers, like a standard BlinkM or MaxM.
- Smoothly mixes colors from the individual LED dies using an integrated diffuser.
- Runs BlinkM Firmware 1.1, so it can read inputs on its programming pins, which means that it can run standalone and switch between sequences with no external control.
- Can be a drop-in replacement for existing BlinkMs in tight spaces.
- Is very bright (of course!).

The first place you’ll be able to get MinMs is from us at Maker Faire in San Mateo. We’ll have a table inside the Maker Shed, where we’ll be showing (and hopefully selling) BlinkM MinMs.

You can find more information at www.thingm.com/products/blinkm-minm/
LinkM will be available at many of our distributors in June.

OUR GETSATISFACTION FORUM IS FULL OF GREAT INFORMATION
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Since we launched, we’ve used GetSatisfaction as our tech support forum. We love their product and the discussion there has been first rate. The forum is searchable and allows us to identify the most valuable responses.
If you have any questions about any ThingM products, we suggest you first check out:
www.getsatisfaction.com/thingm/
Of course, if you’d like to contact us for some other reason (your BlinkM arrived broken, you bricked your BlinkM while reprogramming its firmware, etc.), please send us a note at blinkm@thingm.com.

CRYSTAL MONSTER
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In one of our more exciting side projects last year, Tod collaborated with sculptor Beverly Tang on a large public sculpture (currently permanently installed in downtown Los Angeles) called the Crystal Monster.
The piece was fabricated at ThingM’s research facilities (aka Tod’s garage) and uses a large number of BlinkM MaxMs controlled using custom controller hardware that Tod developed specifically for the project.

See pictures and videos of the Crystal Monster on Beverly Tang’s site:
www.sublimina.com/work/crystal-monster
And on Tod’s Flickr stream:
www.flickr.com/photos/todbot/sets/72157618422344389/

CRASH SPACE, LA
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Another of Tod’s side projects has come to fruition. Along with several other prominent LA makers, Tod cofounded Crash Space, a Los Angeles hacker space. It’s located in Culver City and features a workshop, a meeting space and, most importantly, a community of artists, tinkerers, special effects designers, and other folks interested in experimenting with the bleeding edge of technology.
For more info, see:
crashspace.org

“SMART THINGS,” MIKE’S UBICOMP UX DESIGN BOOK
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Mike, meanwhile, spent most of 2009 working on his next book, which is now done (whew!). It’s called “Smart Things: ubiquitous computing user experience design.” It’s a guide for practicing designers, design students, or anyone who is developing interactive digital technology beyond the desktop and Web. It has dozens of examples and case studies from consumer electronics, mobile devices, reactive architecture, electronic art, academic research and appliance design. It provides both a theoretical approach and lots of pragmatic advice.
It is ISBN 0123748992 and available for preorder from Amazon, Borders and many other online vendors.
Mike is sharing select chapter drafts from it on his blog. You can find the first chapter here:
www.orangecone.com/archives/2010/04/smart_things_ch.html

UPCOMING APPEARANCES
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May 22-23, San Mateo, CA. Tod and Mike will be at Maker Faire showing off the latest BlinkM and MaxM hacks, giving demos and selling LinkMs and announcing and selling their SECRET NEW PRODUCT. C’mon by!

Also, Mike’s presentation for LIFT09, “When atoms meet bits,” is online:
Video: vimeo.com/8814822
Blog: www.orangecone.com/archives/2009/07/readwrite_mater.html
In it, Mike makes the case that the fundamental nature of making things changes as the cost of moving atoms goes up and technologies for exactly reproducing physical objects mature. He also talks about how the original Apple Laserwriter and Thomas Chippendale have lead us to Fablabs. It’s a short, fun talk.

Posted in May 2010