end kvetch

Macs, productivity, &c.

My Experience with Chumby

chbablk_side_500x450I’m one of those people who dreams of the days when, upon waking, a pleasant, synthesized voice announces the weather, our schedule for the day and all that business (think Jarvis in Iron Man or S.A.R.A.H. in Eureka).

If I wanted to have my computer talk to me in the morning, I could do something like this. However, there’s no way to have my MacBook rattle off the weather or my agenda (although, if I told it to say “School: 8:15 AM to 3:45 PM. That is all.”, it’d probably be right 90% of the time). Also, if you’ve played with your Mac’s speech settings lately, you’ve probably noticed that none of the voices really fall into the “pleasant” category.

Considering that Pipe Organ is the zenith of our current progress in the synthesized voice field, it might be best to stick with a less chatty morning briefing system for the time being. Short of hiring a personal assistant (I would totally settle for my own Pepper Potts), Chumby seems like a pretty slick system. Basically, you keep the cute little duffer by your bed and it makes a lot of noise when you tell it to (i.e., it’s an alarm clock) and then it plays a stream of information including weather, your email inbox, Facebook updates, Google Calendar agenda, and, of course, Chuck Norris facts. In theory, it sounds pretty swell, but there’s a couple things that make this $200 alarm clock sub-par.

The biggest problem with the Chumby is its internet connection. Since basically everything is stored on the Web (rather than on the device itself), the Chumby can only do four things without an internet connection: 1) display the time, 2) do its whole alarm thing, 3) play music from your iPod or computer and 4) be cuddly. This wouldn’t really be that big of a deal if the internet connection wasn’t so flaky. My Chumby loses its connection much more often than my computer or iTouch and when I try to reconnect, it frequently doesn’t work.

Even when I can get the Chumby connected, another problem presents itself. At 6:00 AM on a weekday in the pitch black and freezing cold of a winter morning, I suddenly find that squinting at my calender or the weather isn’t as fascinating as I thought it was (especially when the latter is easily summarized as “damn cold”). Granted, this isn’t really the Chumby’s fault, but I can’t help but think that a nice big LCD monitor next to my bed would improve on the concept.

The default clock (i.e., the only one which works without a Web connection) isn’t too hot either. It’s low contrast and fairly small, so I can’t see what time it is from across the room (without my contacts, at least).

Of course, Chumby has his good qualities, he can play Pandora (often haltingly due to a poor wireless connection), he can play music from my iPod (although, it doesn’t work with my iTouch, just my old Nano. Oh, and it can’t play anything with DRM). My Chumby’s coolest function (arguably) may also be the creepiest: With the right widget, you can view the feed from random security cams around the world.  While the footage of snow-covered Helsenki streets isn’t exactly exciting, there are some more interesting feeds mixed in.  It’s great preparation for a career as a security guard.

Really though, after seeing just how bad things can get when S.A.R.A.H. malfunctions, maybe I should be counting my lucky stars that the cute little Chumby doesn’t holler at/try to kill me when it malfunctions.

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