DECEMBER 12, 2007



- Product Announcement: WineM
- Product Announcement: BlinkM
- Tod’s Class Notes
- Mike’s IDEA presentation notes
- Mike’s book in Japanese
- Appearances
- Unsubscribe

As we move into the holidays, we wanted to tell you about some of the exciting things that are happening in the ThingM world.

We developed WineM, a smart wine rack prototype over the summer. We are very interested in the intersection of physical objects and their data selves (as described in the last newsletter). For us, every object has two lives: one physical and one informational. We call the second an “information shadow,” and every object has one. Books have extensive information shadows, accessible through their ISBNs. You can interact with a lot of information about a book without ever touching the physical object. Other objects, such as an old fork, have much less exciting information shadows (maybe just a maker’s mark on the back), but they have them nonetheless.

Wine casts an incredibly rich information shadow and WineM’s goal is to reunite wine’s information shadow with actual bottles. We also wanted the user experience to stay close to the traditional experience of wine drinking, while providing the benefits of new technology. Working with industrial designer Ryan Duke we developed a walnut veneer RFID tag and a walnut wine rack that communicates that this is a new kind of wine rack, but uses traditional materials to not freak folks out too much. The rack has RFID readers and RGB LEDs in every cell and a Flash program running on a Nokia tablet (written by Brian Hinch of Tellart) acts as a faceted classification browser with the results displayed on the bottles themselves as colored lights.

What all this means is that we search information an immense amount of wine information without having to remember what or where every bottle is. For example, we can ask the rack to light up all the wines from a certain region in different colors based on what grapes were used to make the wine; then we can ask it to display the current market value of just the Napa Cabernets. If connected to the Internet, every bottle can be an RSS subscription to its winery’s news feed. You wine can now get its own mail.

Extending the power of computers into the physical world is the cornerstone of ThingM’s philosophy and we’re so excited about WineM that we decided to make it into a product.

We’ll be announcing prices, options and delivery dates in the first quarter of 2008. If you’re interested in hearing more about WineM, please contact us and we’ll put you on the pre-order list:

- Tod’s gallery of WineM photos:
- Ulla-Maaria Mutanen’s Thinglink project is a database of ISBN-like numbers for enabling easy access to arbitrary objects’ information shadows:
- Faceted classification:
- Tellart:

Prototypers, hobbyists, tinkerers, designers, experimenters, have you wanted one of those slowly pulsing LEDs in your project, but you don’t want to learn pulsed width modulation with a microcontroller? Have you wanted it to fade from deep red to bright purple? Flash like a police light? Turn on with the subtle fade of an incandescent bulb? Flicker like a candle?

Have we got the product for you! (or we soon will ;-)

In a couple of weeks we will begin selling BlinkM smart LEDs through Sparkfun Electronics. In Tod’s Sketching in Hardware presentation last year he described how cheap, low-power computing make it possible for even basic electronic components to be smart. BlinkM is an ultrabright wide angle RGB LED with an attached CPU running firmware that makes tricky LED control much easier. Using BlinkM Sequencer, our control software that fuses a color picker with a drum machine, you can program BlinkM to be any color, and blink and fade in virtually any pattern. When you’ve programmed your BlinkM, you unplug it and pop it into your project. Apply 5 volts, and it does its thing, whether that’s glowing your favorite pinkish purple, or pulse like an old neon light. All for under $15.

We’ll be making a more formal announcement in a couple of weeks, but we thought you’d appreciate the heads-up.

- Tod’s “Smart Interface Components” presentation (2.5M PDF):
- Sparkfun:

For the last two years in a row, Tod has taught a “physical computing for artists, designers and everybody else” class at Machine Project in LA. Last year it was Halloween-themed. This year, the class was called “Bionic Ardunio” and featured detailed instruction on doing everything from blinking an LED to hacking a Wii nunchuck into a mini Segway.

Many people have used Tod’s notes earlier learn the basics of physical computing without attending the classes, so we thought you may find them interesting.

Tod also lectured at Kimiko Ryokai’s “Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces” class at UC Berkeley last month. This is a more theoretical lecture than his Arduino classes, and it covers a range of topics including treating information as a design material, smart components (like BlinkM!), sketching interactions and Tod’s philosophy of reversible hacking.

- Bionic Arduino:
- Spooky Arduino:
- Machine Project:
- Tod’s Berkeley presentation (8MB PDF):

In early October I got the honor to share a stage at the IDEA conference with David Rose, CEO of Ambient Devices. We spoke about “Digital IA in a Physical World” (“IA” referring to information architecture, as IDEA is sponsored by the Information Architecture Institute). My presentation was called “ThingM Makes a Smart Object.” The presentation tells the story of the development of WineM, and the larger context in which we do our work. It also discusses the fundamental changes objects experience when information processing becomes ubiquitous and how interaction design changes in these circumstances.

- My presentation (684K PDF):
- IDEA Conference:

“Observing the User Experience,” Mike’s book on user research methods, is available for pre-order in Japanese. It should be shipping in the next couple of weeks.

- Japanese version (ISBN 4798112941) on
- English version (ISBN 1558609237) on

On January 9, Mike will be in Portland, OR, presenting a talk entitled “Sketching Smart Things” at CHIFOO, the Computer Human Interaction Forum of Oregon.

Posted in December 2007