Writing in Place: A (Tragically) Beautiful LED Matrix

Writing in Place: A (Tragically) Beautiful LED Matrix


Making the leap from old-school, commodity, coffeemaker LCDs to blinktastic L*E*Ds was not easy. 

The first solution I came across, the Beam, was very promising, possibly just what I needed.

Here they are chained together, 4 of them, enabling just the sort of scrolling I was looking for.

I ordered a three of them, even though they were pricey: around $30 each.

Unfortunately, the Beam fell victim, tragically, to the economics of small-scale Maker-level products: there just wasn't enough of a market to justify the continued attention of the two founders/inventors. 

At least that's what I assumed was the case: when Beam went from an ambitious launch, to a slow motion decline: in new features, bug fixes, and customer support. Eventually, the Beam online store no longer had any Beams in stock, for months, and months. 

The Challenges of the Maker/Entrepreneur

This is a fate that plagues the many Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects that sort of f..a..d..e.. away. It's difficult to create a cool device that has the pop to attract short-term crowdfunding support, and keep the kind of sustained interest that enables you to stay on top of it, and keep iterating, and marketing, and improving.

One persistent challenge: the numbers just aren't that big. There just aren't that many customers for an elegant, LED dot matrix module. 

Another challenge: some makers, like me, depend on some level of company support to get our pathetic projects off the ground.  This can hit these early entrepreneurs hard, I imagine. Just when they are trying to launch their tech side hustle without attracting the attention of their day job bosses. 

After I ordered my Beams, and started talking them up, I discovered that Richard, the Cambridge Hackspace founder, had ordered one. So had a few people on the Particle community boards. I knew this because they were on the the Particle Community Boards, seeking help and support from fellow early adopters.

Because it wasn't coming from the Beam guys. By now they were probably just trying to keep their Beam project in an after-work-and-weekends box. 

Amirite, Beam guys?

If you're out there: get in touch. I'd love to hear your side of the maker/entrepreneur story.

Moving on 

My dalliance with Beam ended one night at the Cambridge Hackspace, as I was trying to figure something out, without any support from the guys who had sold me $90 worth of LED promise. I felt like I was out there, alone.

Then Marcelo, a Cambridge Hackspace member with extensive software and hardware experience, said, "These Beams are slick, but you can get commodity stuff just like this from China." 

So I dialed back my expectations, and checked out Alibaba. 

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