Chipmunk - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 05-31-2006, 01:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Has anyone tried the Chipmunk software for basic automation tasks? I've been messing with Girder, but I'm not enjoying it much. I'm a programmer, and the weird GUI, which is essentially trying to disguise programming flow-control and logic in tree-form, strikes me as extremely counter-intuitive. I am (and have been) a fan of Lua though, and while browsing the Lua site I noticed another new-looking home control system that is Lua based.

http://www.chipmunkav.com/
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post #2 of 9 Old 06-01-2006, 06:19 PM - Thread Starter
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Apparently not. :)

Here's a quick rundown of my initial impressions:

I found it very easy to get Chipmunk up and running. It's new so the plugin library is a bit on the thin side compared to an old-timer like Girder, but I found the plugin selection adequate for my needs (mostly, as I'll explain momentarily). The currently available plugs provide USB-UIRT support, RS232 support (send and receive), an on-screen display plugin, a fairly flexible event scheduler, and an integration plugin for Chipmunk's own software "remote control" applications.

At first glance, it looks similar to Girder: you have group folders, macro commands, script commands, and events all arranged in a collapsible tree structure. However the similarities are mostly cursory, and as I mentioned earlier, the tree does not represent any Boolean relationships (and/or/not).

One thing I immediately missed from Girder was the ability to control Windows applications. Chipmunk didn't have this. My main concern was distributing IR signals and RS232 control of matrix switchers, but I liked the idea of remotely controlling Winamp, PowerDVD, and similar apps on the PC in the AV closet. At first, I was ready to dismiss Chipmunk, as this appeared to be a major shortcoming. However, I've been a programmer my whole life, and I did notice Chipmunk offers an SDK, so I decided to have a peek before I turned my back on it. It turns out the SDK (which is the actual code used for the OSD plugin) is very easy to use for anyone versed in C# .NET programming, which I am, so I said what the heck: I rolled up my sleeves and wrote a plugin today which lets the program issue low-level Win32 window messages to other applications (with several extra features, such as starting the app if it isn't already loaded, timing control, and the ability to force the target app to the foreground). Since everything in Windows operates on the basis of these messages, in theory you can control just about any application.

I haven't "officially" released the plugin yet (I only finished it a few hours ago), but it will be available very soon (within days), free of charge, hopefully on the Chipmunk website. This plug-in makes it possible to control Winamp, dscaler, PowerDVD, or whatever other windows apps you need to operate remotely. So with that, Chipmunk can now handle every task I had envisioned using Girder for, but with far less setup hassle.

I also liked the fact that Chipmunk saves your settings in files in locations that you choose, and all the files are in plain-text format (the Lua files are just text, and everything else is XML -- mostly .NET serialization output, but simple enough that someone could conceivably edit them by hand if necessary, and they're very readable).

I also like that it can *learn* (not just read) incoming serial port traffic and respond to it as an event. I'm not sure whether Girder can do this -- getting started in Girder took so long, I never got around to working with the serial ports, but I don't remember seeing anything about it.

Chipmunk doesn't really have the concept of a pre-configured remote which exists in Girder. Since I'm doing a lot of custom stuff with a bunch of Philips Prontos, I'm not sure this matters much to me. In any case, I was very dissatisfied with the inflexible approach to remotes in Girder, so I can't say I'll miss it much. However, I can imagine some beneficial scenarios to establishing IR remote profiles.

Speaking of remotes, one of the original goals of Chipmunk's developers was to create software "remote controls" for operating AV equipment. Consequently, Chipmunk includes a designer that allows you to draw your own remotes and wire up their events to the hardware you've defined in Chipmunk. These software remotes can also be run on PocketPC devices, or on other computers across the network. It sounds sort of cool, although I haven't messed around with that part yet.

The developers are very responsive, and seem to be putting a lot of work into improving the application. I exchanged e-mails with the main guy several times. They're planning another release that expands on the plugin/Lua-script interactions and improves other plugin functionality, and they have a partnership arrangement with GlobalCache (makers of IP-based automation and IR equipment) and RedRat (a device popular in Europe, similar to the USB-UIRT).

I haven't really loaded the system down yet, but I haven't encountered any bugs at all, and I've been working with it for nearly 20 solid hours over a period of two days.

All in all, if you're not already tied to Girder, I'd recommend giving it a whirl.
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post #3 of 9 Old 06-01-2006, 08:41 PM
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You drive a Viper and visit JaxRacing, no?
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post #4 of 9 Old 06-02-2006, 03:10 AM - Thread Starter
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Yep. I noticed somewhere else on AVS that you said you work for GA DOT.
You guys keeping track of me? :D
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post #5 of 9 Old 06-02-2006, 06:03 AM
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Nah. I know you're up here a lot at the track though. I haven't checked JaxRacing in a long time. Did you ever buy that kit car you were wanting to get?
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post #6 of 9 Old 06-02-2006, 06:39 PM - Thread Starter
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The only two cars I've given serious thought to recently were the Ariel Atom (but only if I can do something about it's embarassingly low top-end), or maybe some kind of Frankenstein variation on a Porsche 550 kit, most likely running way too much boost courtesy of Tracy at Speedfab. But we're working on building that race track down here, and I'm building this house at the same time, so right now my own racing activities are back-burnered.

Hence the renewed interest in getting all this AV stuff straight -- the new house should be done soon.

Do I know you by some other name?
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post #7 of 9 Old 06-03-2006, 03:13 PM
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Nope. I never posted over there, just lurked. I know a few people down there but probably nobody you'd know. The Atom beat a Murcielago around the track on Top Gear. Are they legal stateside?
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post #8 of 9 Old 06-03-2006, 04:08 PM - Thread Starter
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Yeah, but the Top Gear track they use for lap times isn't exactly good for top-end runs. They have that long runway available, but it isn't part of the timed course. If I remember correctly, it isn't even two miles long. I like places like Road Atlanta and Sebring that give you LONG straights. My Viper manages 165 at Sebring (the longest straight of any tracks I run), depending on how well I take the turn leading into the straight and how happy I am with my brake situation at the time.

Ariel did a deal late last year with a company in Oregon to start importing them into the US outfitted with a variety of GM Ecotec engines. They're taking the street-legal status on a state-by-state basis. Last I heard it was only certified in a handful of states so far.

I like 'em but 120 MPH top-end just wouldn't be much fun on the tracks I like.
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post #9 of 9 Old 06-04-2006, 03:57 AM - Thread Starter
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In case anyone is still reading this for Chipmunk :) ... I submitted that plugin as a release version. It supports Windows SendMessage and PostMessage calls, issuing keystrokes based on text characters, or issuing keystrokes using Windows Virtual Key codes, both with any combination of shift-state keys (Shift, Ctrl, Alt).

I included a pair of exported folders of commands and related Lua script for basic control of PowerDVD, as well as a fairly complete WinAmp implementation. It also includes about eight pages of documentation.
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