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Daniel Rubin | A wakeup call for the new age

Yesterday I woke up to the future. Its name is Chumby. The Chumby turned on at 6:50 a.m. as electronica pulsed from the "Groove Salad" Internet radio station playing on my leather-bound bedside companion.

Yesterday I woke up to the future. Its name is Chumby.

The Chumby turned on at 6:50 a.m. as electronica pulsed from the "Groove Salad" Internet radio station playing on my leather-bound bedside companion.

My one eye unburied in a pillow now focused on a slide show of family photos: the wife, the dog, the kids scrolling across the little screen.

Next came text. First up, headlines from Google News - Hillary's "warm and fuzzy tour," South Korea's new president, earthquake in the Aleutians.

Then, local-local: the starts of stories and columns from the morning's Inquirer and Daily News. By the time the weather scrolled across - a graphic showing the temperature and forecast - I was sitting up, rubbing my eyes, ready to watch the animated cars that demonstrated the volume of traffic on the Schuylkill.

When I finished with stocks and ESPN scores, the Chumby showed the time again: 7:03 a.m. The information junkie in me had just started the day with a spike to the brain.

The folks at Chumby Industries insist that their electronic bundle of joy is still in beta, which means it's not officially launched and won't be until early next year. You can still buy one at for $179.95, which I did two weeks ago, or rather my wife did for me, as a present.

Naturally she hasn't paid it a bit of attention, other than asking "What the hell is that?" the time I mistakenly set the alarm on "Klaxon."

Bedside attraction

Think of the Chumby as an Internet alarm clock with decent little speakers and a color screen that's responsive to touch. You set up the device on a Web site, and let it go to work pulling in the latest feeds. It requires a wireless network.

The beauty of your Chumby is that it's yours - you can program it, customize it, hack it. Users are invited to write their own applications, called "widgets," though this is way beyond my competence. Since the first batch of devices shipped in August, users have created about 3,000 widgets.

No, I don't own stock in the company. Yes, I am a bit of a geek.

Some of the things the Chumby can do: Summon more than 100 Internet radio stations, from WFMU to KRCW. Play the mp3s on your iPod. Show the PandaCam at the San Diego Zoo. Reveal the latest entries on the PostSecret site or any other blog you tell it about.

You can control the order and timing of programming, set different channels that let you wake up to news and information and wind down to satire and snark.

You might wonder just how hard this thing is to program. (Actually, if you're like my editor, you wonder why you'd want all that information flying at you when you could be lounging in bed with a cup of tea.)

If you can customize a Yahoo page without calling a 13-year-old for help, you're in business.

I've been tinkering with the Chumby for two weeks now, and although I'm quite proud of myself, I do have a complaint. Not about it, about me.

The Chumby gives me a blast of the day's info-bits in less than 15 minutes. My worry is that it will satisfy my information hunger, filling without nourishing. Only a few of the newspaper stories and blog posts allow me to scroll down and read beyond a summary.

Maybe this will change with demand - everything about the Chumby seems to. But right now, the Chumby is one of those irresistibly shiny things that seems a mile wide and an inch deep.

The day mine arrived, so did a package from my brother containing a collection of Preston Sturges DVDs and

The Best American Essays of the Century


Instead of reading the essays, I've been drawn to the Urban Word of the Day, Stuff on My Mutt and YouTube videos, transfixed by the endlessly new, and turned off by the timeless.

If the novelty doesn't fade, I'm afraid that my cuddly Chumby is going to be crushed by the growing tower of books that wait for me by my bed.