A Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Light Switch. Really.

IMG_4647.jpgI don't do a lot that is not kids-music-focused here, but I think you'll understand why I've made an exception for this item. It's the Blue Canary Night Light, and, yes, it's an homage to They Might Be Giants' super-catchy "Birdhouse in Your Soul" from their album Flood. (An album which, I might add, was released more than 20 years ago. Pardon me while I feel old.)

But not only is it an homage, it's a darn fine nightlight. I am a happy customer, and it occurred to me that the Venn diagram of people who read this site and those families who might, for many reasons, want a Blue Canary Night Light could be sizable. I also liked simple statement on the website -- "We needed a night light for our daughter a few months ago, and really wanted a blue canary night light, but couldn't find one. So I made one!" That sort of attitude merited further investigation. So I got in touch with Brock Tice, the creator of the night light, who kindly answered a few questions. So read on to find out what it takes to manufacture a nightlight, Tice's favorite TMBG album, and a picture of the nightlight lit up while, yes, in the (OK, my) outlet by the light switch.

Zooglobble: When did you first hear Flood?
Brock Tice: I was introduced to TMBG when my sixth grade (read: around 1995 or '96, can't recall for sure) drama teacher did a class on the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul". I also heard "Particle Man" around that time on Tiny Toon Adventures along with their amusing illustration of the song. After that it was a while before I heard more of Flood, but in college with the advent of Napster I ended up listening to a lot more of that album. I also really loved "Why Does The Sun Shine", which is not on Flood.

Regarding the nighlight's creation, you written that you "needed a night light for our daughter a few months ago, and really wanted a blue canary night light, but couldn't find one. So I made one!" How long had you been thinking a blue canary night light would be a cool idea? (Was it since before your daughter was born?) What pushed the idea from "that'd be cool" to you investigating manufacturing techniques?
I had thought on and off since college (2000-2004) that a blue canary night light would be pretty cool to have, but from time to time I'd search the Internet and stores, and not find anything. A combination of having a daughter and wanting a night light for her in 2008, plus a second reading of Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work-Week inspired me to try building the light, with the eventual goal of selling it to others if it worked out well.

How long did it take you from concept to production?
Once I decided to give it a go, it took me about three months to hand-made production. I drew up a 3D model in Blender (a free and open-source modeling program), had the first prototype printed by Shapeways, and found some LED night lights from Walgreens. It was another year beyond that before I went to mass production.

IMG_4655.jpgWhat did you learn along the way?
The first prototype had legs, was much too small, and the night light base was not satisfactory. I ended up making a larger prototype, but the guys at Shapeways told me the legs kept breaking off during printing, so I nixed the legs. They made it sit kind of funny anyways. Then, when staying at a friend's cabin, I found that they had some LED night lights with much better bases, so I went on the hunt and found them for sale. Once I had the shape all settled, I had to learn how to make silicone molds and blue-dyed resin castings. At that point I had a night light I was happy with for my daughter's room, and I started selling hand-made lights from the website.

Over time I learned that my time was the biggest expense in making the lights, that packing and shipping also took a lot of time, and that my method of pouring the canaries by hand was too sensitive to temperature and humidity to allow me to get the consistent quality I wanted. I ended up selling a lot of 'seconds', birds where the finish didn't turn out right, for half-price. This prompted me to learn about the world of manufacturing, and I went to a manufacturing fair in Minneapolis.

The night lights are now manufactured in China, and I've had some potential customers express displeasure about this. I tried to have them made in the United States, but it turns out that unless I was going to order by the semi-truckload, nobody here wanted to make my lights. At that manufacturing fair I found a company that would get the whole product sourced and manufactured for me at a reasonable price, and they ended up sourcing from China. I had to pony up for quite a large order, though by no means a truckload, and they arrived in October. To handle the overhead of packing and shipping, I turned to Amazon Fulfillment. It adds a few dollars of expense for every light sold, but it's well worth it for me, and people get the benefits of ordering through Amazon directly, like free shipping.

What's next for you, night-light-wise?
Many people have expressed interest in lighthouse pictures. Since I live in Minnesota, near many beautiful lighthouses on the Great Lakes, I've been looking around for a good lighthouse to photograph and sell photos of. I'm not sure if this is going to be worth doing, it's still under investigation.

Friends and family who don't get the TMBG reference ask me why I don't make lights in other colors, or with other things on them, but I don't really have any interest in that.

What's your favorite TMBG album?
I really like The Spine, but I must say that Flood remains my all-time favorite. It may be largely because of the nostalgia and because it's the album I know best, but I really like more than half the songs on the album, which is a high percentage for me (compared with most albums I like).