Saturday, January 26, 2008

BlinkM out.

I'm tempted.

The problem with this being my "year of hardware" is that this means buying stuff rather than just downloading it free off the internet ... :-(

Thursday I went out and bought a soldering iron and multi-meter (the latter amazingly cheap) 15 Reais (about 4 quid). OTOH, I didn't buy breadboard which seemed (by comparison) pretty expensive to me. Does breadboard really cost 80-120 Reais (equiv. 20 - 30 UK pounds) for a small piece? Maybe it does and I'll need to get some.

At around 13 dollars (24 Reais / 7 quid) each, the blinkM looks pretty good value.

Actually, the price of coloured LEDs and microprocessors is now very, very cheap. We bought a 3-LED table decoration from a guy selling them in a bar the other week, for 8 Reais (2 quid, 4 dollars) The materials are easy to get hold of and cannibalize.

What makes blinkM interesting is that it's "programmable" - although they've had to make use of the Arduino to help with that. That makes everything more exciting. All the cheap LED novelty lights and nick-nacks being pumped out of china are just so much more useless junk. We don't want or need this stuff cluttering up our lives and environments. (The pollution cost is huge.)

But ... they are very, very close to becoming connected to the network. (Note the novelty USB hubs.) Once wired (or wirelessed) these items are no longer brain-dead successors to christmas tree fairy-lights. They are enchanted into information appliances, tendrils of the internet that can be used to convey useful information.

They aren't things that look beautiful and impressive for a minute / hour / week and then get put back in the box and forgotten about. Once, "smart", the life-span of a little ubicomp light or other device can extend indefinitely.

This is what Bruce Sterling is hoping for when he talks about spimes. A spime is an object who's identity and history are more important to us than its physical instantiation. Because we value these, the objects become individuals. We are less likely to dispose of them so easily, and when we do, we have a wealth of knowledge about how to disposee of them well. It's an ecologically optimistic vision of where we're heading.

My cheap table decoration, however beautiful, is likely to be landfill within 6 months (actually in my case, likely to be butchered) once we're bored and the batteries die. And then its on to buying the next shiny geegaw.

A BlinkM-like LED, by contrast, that found a useful niche in my personal information-flow ecology can sit around for years. I'm likely to maintain it (at least by buying it new batteries) and care about it.

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