Topic: Possible futures

So, as we move to put the back-end systems into a (ideally temporary) low-burn state, we should start to discuss what the ecosystem should be like in the future.

One solution is to simply bring back up a version of the original system pretty much "as is", but streamlined to reduce the server load.

Another solution is to build a system that is *spiritually* like the old system, performing many of the same functions - the ability to choose, configure and deliver widgets to the devices, as well as updates to the firmware and Control Panels, and allow authors to upload widget - but in a different way.

One solution is to replace the widget engine, which is currently Flash-based, to something more contemporary and more Open - options include HTL5 with Webkit, Qt, maybe some reduced version of Android/dalvik, or perhaps something homegrown.

One solution might be to make the entire network peer-to-peer, with a flexible "root node" system to allow for transience.

There are strong (and somewhat evangelical) advocates that want to see the devices completely divorced from an on-line service altogether.  There are such solutions out there in various forms and with various levels of required technical knowhow, but it might be nice someday to craft one that is more tailored for this type of usage rather than a hack to trick a system designed for online use.

Each of these comes with costs (money, time, skills) that must be borne by *someone*, and many other tradeoffs.

There are probably others I've missed....ideas?

Re: Possible futures

I do like options 2/3, as the idea of a centralized system appeals to me for homogeny if nothing else.  With option 3, a "homegrown" system probably wouldn't be a good idea just due to learning curve, unless widgets can still be coded in something more popular (HTML5, python, ruby, etc).

While a peer-to-peer system is nice in theory, issues like users' firewalls, discovery, potential exploits and so on mean a lot more work would be involved in such a solution.

If possible, it might be nice to give a nod to the offline advocate crowd with a firmware that "caches" widgets; we'd need to advise widget authors that devices will begin caching their widgets which in turn will lessen their control over their widgets (i.e. if a user loads and caches a widget then takes their Chumby offline, even if the widget author pulls or changes their widget, cached users may still be able to run the old version until/if they put their Chumby back online).  This way if the new service ever went dark, all users would still have their cached widgets and (mostly) be able to continue using their Chumbies as though nothing happened, but widget authors still have the ability to exercise at least some control over their widgets for the majority of users who will leave their Chumbies in online mode.

Re: Possible futures

I have to admit that my preference would be for either a viable peer-to-peer network or an off-line system. If a centralized system turns out to be more realistic, given the software issues that would need to be overcome, I would like to see things work in a way that allows my Chumby to keep working indefinitely even it it can't phone home. I don't enjoy losing functionality and seeing just the built-in clock. Worse, my wife has much less tolerance for the finickiness of technology, and really gets annoyed when the Chumby in her office stops working.

As for widget development, I would really like to see a more modern platform that has high-quality, free development tools. I struggled with learning enough Flash to write the one widget I have done. I have ideas for a few other things I would like to see implemented, but just have never had the energy to devote the time needed to get to a higher level of knowledge of a product with limited uses.

Regardless of the technical backbone, I want to see continued support for multiple channels. I have over a dozen channels in my account. Chumbys in different locations get different channels. My channels are time of day dependent. There are also condition dependencies. For example, if storms are expected, I switch my Chumby to a channel of just weather radar images so I can watch what is happening.

In other words, I really like what the Chumby platform gives me the ability to do. I just want it to do it reliably and with the ability to develop new widgets easily smile

Re: Possible futures

Because there is so much free infrastructure available out there for providing open source software (sourceforge, github, launchpad etc.) I wonder if any replacement system might be able to load widgets from external URLs, preferably without the site having to provide a crossdomain.xml file.  There should still be a centralized directory of widgets that authors would register those widget URLs with, and a way for each device to select the widgets for its channels from that directory, but the Chumby infrastructure would not have to store the widget files if the author can find or provide alternative storage. I'm not sure about the security implications of the idea, but it would help reduce the amount of central infrastructure and bandwidth that chumby has to provide.

Individuals could switch the directory on their device to a different URL or even a local file to use a private directory instead of the central Chumby one, thus allowing for completely off-line systems.  The device could even have a command-line program that would switch the device to off-line use, download all the widget files (or copy them from a cache directory to more permanent local storage) and change the configuration files as necessary.

I agree with Doktor Jones' skepticism of a P2P solution; both my devices are behind a NAT firewall and are thus inaccessible from outside my home network, and I'd expect the vast majority of home devices to be similarly inaccessible.

I wonder if the act of configuring a channel shouldn't result in the device permanently downloading the widget files, and we give up the idea of automatic widget updates.  The channel configuration screen could have a "check for updates" button that would do that manually, which should significantly reduce Chumby's bandwidth requirements.

Re: Possible futures

songmaster wrote:

I wonder if the act of configuring a channel shouldn't result in the device permanently downloading the widget files, and we give up the idea of automatic widget updates.  The channel configuration screen could have a "check for updates" button that would do that manually, which should significantly reduce Chumby's bandwidth requirements.

Why not have it permanently download the widget files (which was sort of what I was trying to suggest with the cache -- just a cache that wouldn't get automatically cleared at reboot or whatever), but still check for updates every so often?  Just send a small HTTP request containing the widget ID and a checksum of the widget's file(s).  If the server returns "302 Found" then the Chumby should get the widget from the URL specified in the response; if the server returns "304 Not Modified" then the Chumby knows the widget is up to date; if the server returns "410 Gone" then the widget has been removed by the author and should be deleted; if the server returns anything else (or times out), the Chumby assumes there's a problem with the server and continues running off its cached version of the widget.

Maybe add a control panel page that shows widget update status, that might look something like so (with buttons being indicated [ in brackets ]):

Widget Update Status

Widgets Last Checked: 03 Feb 2013 11:20PM
Response: All OK

[ Show individual widget statuses ]
[ Check for updates now ]

Possible "Response" values might be:

  • "All OK" (basically every widget got a 304 response)

  • "X updated" (some got 302's)

  • "X removed" (some got 410's)

  • "X updated, Y removed" (some got 302's and some others got 410's)

  • "Invalid response received!" (the server responded, but not with one of the expected responses)

  • "No response received!" (no response from the server -- timeout, DNS error, etc)

The "Check for updates now" button might be disabled if a check was successfully run in the last 24 hours (with anything other than a "No response received!" result, which could have been caused by a misbehaving internet connection).

The "Show individual widget statuses" button would take you to a screen like so:

Individual Widget Status

Albert Einstein Quotes: Updated 01 Feb 2013
Animal Screen Saver: Updated 16 Apr 2012
Dictionary.com Word of the Day: Updated 23 Jul 2012
EarthQuake: Just Updated!
Hacker News: Updated 18 Sep 2012
Miley Cyrus Flickr Photos: Removed 29 Jan 2013
PHPShow Plus: Updated 22 Oct 2012

(and so on, scrolling if there are too many widgets to show on a single screen)

Of course once a widget is removed, the Chumby would no longer attempt to check for updates on it (thus saving a little more bandwidth), and the purpose of showing it in the individual status is just so the user knows why they're not seeing it any more; perhaps they could tap the "Removed" line (or maybe have a little graphical [X] button next to it) to remove that entry from the Chumby itself so the deleted channel doesn't show up in the status list any more.

6 (edited by bobsz 2013-02-03 22:49:35)

Re: Possible futures

msharp42 wrote:

well thats the real question isnt it ? How will those 40,000 device owners react -- spring clean it by dumping it on ebay after it hangs and/or reboots with a single clock and cant get to any of their widgets or keep using it as is.

@msharp42- On another thread the OP was looking for a Chumby substitute, because he wasn't tech savvy enough for the solutions he'd read here. As usual, you suggested he just download and unzip zurk's firmware to a USB stick. I know a few people who are online all day but have no idea what it means to unzip a file.

Most of those 40,000 are probably not as technically sophisticated as you. Many would not be able to install zurkware if they wanted to. And most would certainly not be able to SSH into their Chumbys, grab their profiles, and modify the offline software.

In that other thread your solution for the non-tech person was

"get a usb stick, unzip the offline firmware, put it in the chumby and your chumby is going to be unaffected and fully functional forever."

First of all, if they could do that, they'd end up with a Chumby that told them the weather for another city, graphs of wind gusts, maybe a German calendar, a photo frame that shows obscure scenic pictures, and an egg timer. Certainly not the widgets they've been used to.

Second, the idea that the widgets would run "forever" is pretty far-fetched. You've pointed out that a number of widgets are currently 'broken.' In fact those widgets haven't changed, but it's the Web that has changed, and will keep changing. The current Chumby server system allows things to be updated. If the system is just locked in a Chumby box you're assuming the connections to the Web will stay static. We've seen such basic things as the National Weather Service change in the past year.

Zurk's firmware is a good solution for you, but in a discussion of "the future" we need to find solutions for the broad base of Chumby users.

On the other hand, I think the idea of widgets semi-permanently held on the device is a great one, some scheme like mentioned above. On my computers, I try to avoid auto-updating in general.

Re: Possible futures

As both a former chumbian and a chumby fan I like the idea of a spiritual successor that retains the clock/alarm/media-streaming/data-dashboard idea of chumby but separates it from both the existing Flash player architecture and the existing hardware (though I am fond of the hardware).

I think it makes sense to take advantage of the current explosion in cheap off-the-shelf system-on-a-chip devices like the Raspberry Pi and the upcoming Exynos/imx6 devices to create a system that will run on virtually anything that presents itself as some baseline Linux compatible system.

As far as the online/offline divide goes, I would advocate a bit of a hybrid mode that incorporates the current chumby-esque device sync model but with more active support for having widgets run offline, something like a dropbox/google drive style syncing system where apps don't have to be downloaded all the time if running on a device with an appropriate amount of local storage, but the configuration for them (and the apps themselves) are synced as appropriate.  Technically something like this could even be built off google drive to offload the bandwidth though I'm not if that flies with the google drive EULA if the system were at all a commercial venture (it might be fine, I've never read the GDrive TOS).

Re: Possible futures

msharp42 wrote:

well thats the real question isnt it ? How will those 40,000 device owners react -- spring clean it by dumping it on ebay after it hangs and/or reboots with a single clock and cant get to any of their widgets or keep using it as is.
if i didnt know about the offline firmware i'd be dumping it on ebay or the nearest garbage bin. not worth the hassle as an unreliable alarm clock which needs a wifi network to function and is plugged in all the time. a new alarm clock with a single clockface is like 20 bux and has batteries with no wifi requirements.

msharp42, the only explanation I can come up with for your constant advocacy for dumping Chumby devices is that you are hoping for a crash in the selling price of Chumbys, with the goal of scooping them up at bargain prices, reselling them in April once you have cornered the market and introduced your own firmware and support system. Or is it that you have a stock of a few thousand USB sticks with zurk's firmware installed that you are waiting to unload????

Either way, I wish you luck. As much as I might hope otherwise, I sincerely doubt that selling either Chumbys or Chumby-related products within the next year or two is likely to make anyone a millionaire. But heck, I am definitely not known for my financial acumen.

Re: Possible futures

The real issue is what existing users will do.

I certainly don't understand the logic of throwing away a device that still plays Internet radio, and operates as an alarm clock, with the real possibility of doing more, and subsequently running out and spending more money to buy a new device that does even less.  Why not use what I *already* own - yes, it may do less than it did for the moment, but it's still quite useful.

It's also an incorrect assumption that the clock widget I intend to deploy will remain with just its current functionality forever.  There's absolutely nothing preventing me from adding more stuff to it over time.  There is, in fact, a "super widget" version of that exact widget that was prototyped out for the dash - it wasn't ever released, but I still have the code.  It's what on the dash is called a "theme", so it's not exactly a widget at the moment, but a good basis for creating one.

What most of you *don't* see is the flurry of emails and private posts coming to me from existing users since this all went public.  I have yet to have even *one* that tells me they want to throw away their device - most tell me they'd be quite happy with the internet radio functionality alone, and would stick around to see what happens.  That seems like a eminently rational position to me.

I've even had requests asking where to buy new devices, even fully knowing the current situation.  The used market is quite active - I get many requests for reactivation every day for all types of devices.  I've reached out to various entities to see if there's any piles of unsold inventory sitting in various distributor's warehouses out there - not holding out much hope there, but it's worth a shot.

Frankly, if I didn't think this would work, I wouldn't bother - that's the curse of being burdened with actual facts and interacting on a constant basis with actual customers.

Re: Possible futures

I could live with that - lower server bandwidth bill for me, elimination of users that don't actually care about their devices.  It's just a variable cost to me at this point.

This gives people the choice they wouldn't have had if the servers had gone completely dark, which is one of my goals.

Chances are these devices would end up on eBay rather than thrown away, so those who want one could get one.

Or, I could just set up an exchange on the new site.

Re: Possible futures

Duane wrote:

I certainly don't understand the logic of throwing away a device that still plays Internet radio, and operates as an alarm clock, with the real possibility of doing more, and subsequently running out and spending more money to buy a new device that does even less.

If someone can point me to a device which plays mp3 files & streams via wifi, has decent sound quality & is a v. configurable clock radio with a small footprint that can go completely dark at night, I'd be interested to know. I've been looking, but so far the chumby is the only thing which fits the bill. I'd be one of those looking for a 2nd hand replacement should my current chum curl up its toes.

The only thing the chumby lacks is a decent mp3 player with the ability to FF & pause. One day... wink

Re: Possible futures

msharp42 wrote:

dont be silly. im advocating dumping the online system not the devices. if chumby inc couldnt make it no one else will be able to. fyi you get iphone dock alarm/radios for $30. cheaper than bom of the chumby with the touchscreen power of a $600 iphone.

Fascinating. I'm not quite sure how in one post you talk about people dumping their Chumbys on Ebay, and in the next reverse course and say you are not advocating getting rid of them. In a different thread, you talk about a $30-60 clock radio, with a link to one that (for me anyway) is in the mid 60s. But in this post, your price is $30. Of course, even at $30, I would still need to add an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. It hardly seems like an economical way to go, considering the average cost of my Chumbys is around $25, and I don't think any of my Apple products cost me under $100.

Perhaps if Duane is not able to perform his magic, Chumbys will turn into simple one-widget alarm clocks. But, I doubt it. At this point, I'm betting on him. Even if he does not know it, he has been of great help to me over the last couple of years. And if his day job keeps him from succeeding at this transition, well, all I have lost is about $100 that I invested in four Chumbys.

Thanks to you, now I even know where to buy a clock radio that provides ALL the functionality of a Chumby. So I guess I have a backup plan. Right?

Re: Possible futures

The other thing to consider whether this project will succeed, when Chumby didn't, is the difference in purpose and cost structure.

Unlike Chumby, I don't have to pay salaries, rent, parts inventory, a manufacturing and supply chain in China, capital equipment, G&A, etc.  I also don't have any investors expecting some sort of return.

The cheapest thing in Chumby's business model was the service itself, especially after the shift to the cloud.  By the standards of an *individual* to pay for, it might have been a lot, but that's fixable, since it was built for something that had a different goal.

I'm not trying to build a business here.  If I make enough to pay for what I'm spending in direct costs and taxes, and perhaps a little more to offset the labor I'm putting into it, I'll be happy.  Oh - and the personal jet.  I really need that too.

Re: Possible futures

Duane wrote:

Oh - and the personal jet.  I really need that too.

All I'll ask for is a ride... big_smile

Linux Guy - Occasional Chumby Hacker

Re: Possible futures

Materdaddy wrote:
Duane wrote:

Oh - and the personal jet.  I really need that too.

All I'll ask for is a ride... big_smile

I won't even ask that -- just fly out here to Mass (when it's not so freezing-ass cold that salt water is getting iced up) and let me take you out to lunch tongue

Re: Possible futures

You get that jet and you can fly some of the regulars down to south Florida and I will take you all fishing.

Tar, feathers, congress. Some assembly required.

17 (edited by bobsz 2013-02-04 22:07:20)

Re: Possible futures

I think our ideas are getting a little too narrow here. About a dozen of us have been talking about what 40,000 people probably want. I rarely go near Facebook, but took a look at Chumby's Facebook page yesterday. The folks there are really "the users." There's a good amount of activity over there. Those are the folks who might not understand what a "forum" is, let alone what an HTTP Request is. I was surprised to see about 60 recent comments from people about "the future."

@Duane, I know you read these. But for the rest of us, some examples:
-----------------------------
Lorelei Azarian- I've got 2 chumbys. They're my favorite electronic gadget... company, cute, informative. I'd pay 10$ a month to keep it alive. I cannot see the video (thank you windows 8 Grrrr)
January 31 at 11:27am

Jim Klingenfus- No. Say it aint so. I'm running the zurk software on one of mine... but it is tortuously difficult to set up (so mines still got portland weather... only 3,000 miles away..) What is it going to take to keep the servers running?
January 31 at 10:23am

Matt Henzel- Come people.. there are nearly 4,000 "Likes" here.
Show some love for the Chumby!
If you Kickstart it, count me in.
January 14 at 2:43pm

Walt Campbell- Huge bummer ... we've gotten huge life out of our little pal -- passed from me to my older daughter ... and was planning to pass it again to our younger daughter. Alas, not to be ...
January 14 at 9:41pm

Matt Henzel- It's hands down the best alarm clock.

Nothing on the iPhone comes close to this. Ever try to find and turn off your iOS alarm clock when you are half asleep? Not fun! Hitting the bean bag top of the Chumby = FUN!

It's USB slots are also powering my iPod cradle and charge my PS3 controller, Vita, 3DS, wireless KB.
January 14 at 3:01pm

Decio Trinca- Chumby has been by my PC monitor side, since the first days ... Now I have two kids and two chumbies(Lil'one and BigOne)! It's part of my life, it keeps me connected to the net during night online night sessions, it reminds me of the time ... and make my two little kids smile when playing with the bubbles or watching the kitties. Can't even think about not hearing anymore its "popping" when switching on. Ready to do whatever needed, and already following you on the forums.
Friday at 6:18am

https://www.facebook.com/chumby

Re: Possible futures

Duane wrote:

Oh - and the personal jet.  I really need that too.

PunBB bbcode test

Brian, #1 Joan Jett Fan

Re: Possible futures

Joan Jett wrote:
Duane wrote:

Oh - and the personal jet.  I really need that too.

PunBB bbcode test

+1 to you, ma'am, for giving me my first laugh of the morning.

Re: Possible futures

Including the two Chumby Ones in my immediate vicinity, and a bunch more I know of that I was instrumentally in getting placed, my sense is that Internet radio functions -- My Streams, Shoutcast, etc. (followed by the trickier ones like Pandora) are by far the key desired functions to keep running, even beyond basic alarm functionalities in many cases.  And in my own case, also the integral Wi-Fi serving access point capability as well, that is now serving me pretty much constantly.  The broader universe of widgets are fun, but would be significantly less missed in a pinch.  But I am starting to get questions about what is actually going to happen on Feb. 28, and I need to make some decisions about what I'm going to do to existing units while hopefully avoiding flashing them to a state that would be difficult to adopt to a new regime!

I've known Richard Stallman pretty much since the dawn of time, and been dealing with GNU license issues nearly as long.  Getting tangled up in GNU source release requirements can be real trap in the context of a case like we're in now with keeping these marvelous little boxes running.  It is not at all obvious that a GNU license is the right choice in our situation.

Re: Possible futures

It is getting unwieldy to figure out what direction things are going.  All I can say is I love my devices... would really miss my particualr clock faces, including the imminenet demise of Alderan, CF Kane clapping... the Duff Clock, the rectangular talking clock etc.

I've got both an infocast 3.5 and a chumby 3.5 and it would be a shame to have to toss them or settle for the meager( though reliable) offerings of zurk.

Someone let me know what we can do.  A paypal donation site?  A kick starter page?  Buehler?

Re: Possible futures

I think Duane is spending most of his "spare" time working on the project and will let people know how everyone can support the effort. I do not find him to be concerned primarily with the money but no one should want to leave him with the total bill. I am getting somewhat tired of msharp42 and his poor social skills. I guess we need to be the gracious ones and continue to allow his grumpy self to hang out even though he is "biting the hand that is feeding" his chumby(s). I congratulate Duane on his patience in light of the lack of from others. Anyone can grumble and complain. It takes a big man to work in spite of criticism.

Do we have a D-Day for the transformation? I know Duane said it would be before the 28th to make sure he still had the old site to refer to. I look forward to having something settled and all the techies in the bunch to work together and make this a grand new page in the life of Chumby. Here's to the future!

Re: Possible futures

At this point, my intention is to switch to the new "stub" service on Feb 20th, which will give me 8 days to still have access to the old servers in case I need something.

I've been watching the logs on the test server to see if there's anything I've missed, as well as sifting through the current production logs for any anomalies (like devices with very old firmware, etc).

Once the switch happens, I'll be taking a snapshot of the database to preserve it for eventual restoration.

Yes, I've been pretty busy on this, so I apologize for not being as chatty lately.  Very busy at my day job too, plus kid's birthday, etc.

Anyone wanting to know how it will be after the switch can try it out now on their device, see this thread.

Re: Possible futures

Duane wrote:

Anyone wanting to know how it will be after the switch can try it out now on their device, see this thread.

I've left my classic on the stub server continuously now.

Brian, #1 Joan Jett Fan

Re: Possible futures

Hi guys!

I'm really glad that chumby will "go on"!

Here are my 2 cent for the future:
At first I'd like to have a flash free device! There are so many open source or free languages. The widgets and control panel could be (re)written in Java, Python, Mono (C# or VB) or even HTML5 (even if hate it). My favourite would be Python with Qt. I also would prefer the option with offline device with the possibility to install the widgets from the homepage, just like in Google Play Store or the chumby page but the widgets should be downloaded to the device and installed there. It can be difficult to install the widgets from the device it would be more comfortable to install from homepage.