Adventures with Chumby

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Turn the Chumby device into a useful kitchen assistant.
The Chumby as a Recipe Search Engine, Shopping List Creator and Meal Planner

I haven't been able to get all the things I wanted to get onto the Chumby onto it. However, after actually using the Chumby for a couple weeks, I'm not so sure they were good ideas to begin with.

The main reason for this is that my intended recipe search, shopping list creator and meal planning widgets all would require extensive text input, and that is where the Chumby is not ideal. The Chumby is mainly an output device, suited to displaying various bits of information. Input is best limited to simple interactions, such as tapping on buttons and sliding your finger around the screen.

The Chumby can handle text input, and some widgets require it. The control panel, for example, has a simple on-screen keyboard where you enter in your wireless settings during the Chumby's initial setup. Also, in the music interface, there is another on-screen keyboard where you enter in the location of the music stream to which you want to connect. But, supporting text input where required and doing a lot of text input are two very different things.

After entering text in just those two above-mentioned places, I could see it was not something I would want to do on a regular basis with the Chumby, because although it works, it's slow. The problem is that when using the Chumby, the natural thing to do is to use your fingers, and most widgets—if they have buttons at all—keep them large and few in number. For effective text input, you need a lot of small buttons, and on the Chumby's screen, lots of small buttons practically requires you to use a stylus—not something I want to have to use with the Chumby.

I toyed around with using an RSS widget to display recipe data from sites that offer it, such as Taste-of-Home's Recipe of the Day, but as you can see from the screenshot, my testing did not go so well.

Figure 11. Some RSS feeds don't work.

Final Thoughts

The Chumby is an amazing device. It can be adapted to fit in with almost any room in the house and can display any sort of data that can be displayed within the confines of the Flash file format.

New widgets come out all the time, and the basic software is under constant improvement. Check out chumby.com and browse the available widgets; there's something for everyone.

The Chumby is also very hackable. The underlying operating system is embedded Linux, and all the source code (apart from a few licensed bits that they aren't allowed to disclose) and complete hardware schematics are available on the Chumby Web site. The developers really seem to get the idea of making a device hackable, with their only warning being a gentle reminder that if you take your Chumby apart, it will void the warranty. Beyond that, they actively encourage you to turn the Chumby into anything you please and are eager to help you in any way they can through their Web site, forums and wiki.

In these days of locked-down, don't-you-dare-look-behind-the-curtain-or-we'll-sue gadgets, having one that you can mod to your heart's content, with full schematics and source code—and the original developers—to guide you, is a nice feeling.

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