Comfytube

Any one of you who has kids must know that from time to time you just feel like putting your toddler in front of some kind of entertainment so that you have a few moments of quiet time. Various means exist to do just that, from television shows to smartphone games.

Some of you may be familiar with this thing:

comfy

Yup, it's the comfy keyboard. For those of you who aren't familiar with it - it's a simple child-friendly keyboard that connects through USB, and has various games that come with it to challenge your child. Sounds nice, right?

Yes, but I hate their guts. Here's why.

First, the games don't support anything other than M$ Windows, meaning I can't run them on my Mac or Linux computers.

Second, the games are costly, but I guess you can live with that - although you have to remember you already shed around $60 ($80 if you're in Israel) for the keyboard itself.

Third, the games come on CD-ROMs/DVDs. Apart from the fact that my only Windows laptop in the house now DOESNT HAVE A DVD DRIVE, do you know what happens to CDs in a house with kids? Here's what happens:

A CD after Roni took care of it

Also, Comfy were kind enough to put Lasersafe and other anti-copy measures on their CDs, so I can't even make a backup or run from an ISO. I have to buy the games again. This makes me a sad panda.

Comfy does have several advantages over not using it at all - namely it is a child safe keyboard, which is also visually appealing. Nowadays with notifications and browsers, leaving your kid unattended on your computer keyboard will mean unwanted shares and likes on Facebook, so that actually is important.

So what do we do with the Comfy keyboard we already bought? About a week ago I got an idea while talking to my brother about it. There is one place that I think is a goldmine for keeping your child entertained on the computer: Youtube. There are lots of movies, a lot of which are very educational, and some are even taken from nostalgic child shows we used to watch as kids (and are also very good!). Unfortunately letting your child click randomly in youtube or pressing keys can lead to unfortunate incidents - some of which happened to us more than once - where your child navigates to some horror parody of a child show with blood and gore, and my kid once even navigated to an instructional movie about kids with cancer.

Comfy to the rescue! I quickly hacked together a small web app I call Comfytube. It lets you assign one or more videos to each comfy key, and then each key press chooses a video from the assigned ones at random, and plays it on screen.

Comfytube key assignment dialog

The configuration is saved in the browser's local storage and thus is persistent between visits. The result is a happy toddler:

Roni embraces Comfytube

You are more than welcome to try it out here, Check out the source here, and of course leave feedback and comments. I only gave it a very minimal amount of testing, and mainly on Chrome on Mac OS X - there may be issues on other platforms, so please let me know (unless you use IE - in which case I don't care).

I think the idea can be taken even further - Comfy games are mainly a state machine of videos with transitions based on key presses. It would be very easy to achieve this in Javascript. If interest arises, I think we can even achieve a sharing mechanism in which people can upload the "games" they created and rate games uploaded by others. My wife also added a suggestion that the icons on the keyboard can be changed by using some velcro and printed cardboard, so we can be looking at actual user-created content here. But perhaps that's just aiming too high and the current solution is more than enough.

Enjoy!

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