Eee 701 Planetoid


Review: Turpial

Filed under: Raspberry Pi, Reviews, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 21:12

It might surprise readers to learn that I’ve had surprising difficulty finding a “lightweight” graphical Twitter client for Linux, that works comfortably on a small screen and (for good measure) has a multi-column display mode.

For some time, my favourite Twitter application has been TweetDeck—either in its “native” form (usually on the Mac) or its Chromium app version (Arch Linux on my Eee). However, whilst the Chromium TweetDeck app “does the job”, I have used it while at the same time, watching out for a “native” app which might function usably on the Eee’s more constrained hardware. (This became more pressing when I acquired my Raspberry Pi Model B, as the Chromium browser doesn’t run particularly comfortably on the machine.)

Screenshot of Turpial

Turpial running on the Eee 701SD (thumbnail – no larger version available)

The other week, I searched the Arch Linux package listing of Twitter clients, and amongst the fairly lean selection—much of which were text-mode/console programs (which perhaps I’ll check out another time), I found a client I hadn’t heard of previously: Turpial, created by a self-professed “bunch of crazy people” (!) in Venezuela. (I don’t think I’ve seen so many coders credited by name for an open-source app before, but the project seems to benefit 🙂 )

Turpial can be found in the Arch “community” repository, so installation is simply a matter of entering (as root)

pacman -S turpial

It’s a Python program, so if you don’t already have the dependencies installed (and there are quite a few, mostly python2 and related packages), pacman will need to retrieve them. Once it’s installed, Turpial will ask you to enter your account details and authenticate with Twitter; the latter will ask you to enter a number into Turpial itself, to ensure the app has permission to interact with your Twitter account.

In action, Turpial runs reasonably smoothly, considering it is a Python program. “Out of the box”, it displays three columns at a time in its window, and you can toggle between two “sets” of three columns:

  • “Master” timeline, “at-replies” and direct messages; and
  • Your profile, favourites and a search column.

The window maximises comfortably and tidily into the Eee’s 840×480 display, without looking particularly squashed-up. If you’re using a larger screen (hold that thought), Turpial doesn’t take up much space, though I am curious to find out whether the program can be set to display fewer columns (or even a single one), for use on a very low-res display, such as VGA (640×480) or a non-widescreen SD television set. I may soon get that very opportunity…

If you have a notification daemon running, Turpial will let you know when new tweets are received. I use the XFCE notifier on my Eee and RasPi, with no problems experienced.

A row of pictogram buttons below the message columns, takes the place of a text-menu, giving you access to the application’s other options, including posting a tweet, finding and following other users, posting an image (but not other multimedia) and the program’s preferences.

The “update status” dialogue box has a handy “add friend” option, to choose friend(s) from a list box to include in a tweet. There is also a separate field for shortening URLs (you set the shortening service of your choice in the preferences). Both handy features, and not always implemented in more “modest” Twitter clients—thumbs-up to the Turpial team here.

Image-uploading is relatively straightforward as well—again, you set the Twitter-image host of choice in the Preferences. Almost all the common services are present in the list, with the notable exception of Flickr (which my favourite mobile phone social-networking client, Gravity, includes). It would really “put the icing on the cake” for me if Flickr support could be added in a future version of Turpial; however, it is not a “show-stopper” for me, as I usually upload images from my phone to Flickr, which then updates my Twitter timeline. (I don’t mind using Yfrog for more “ephemeral” images, either.)

Turpial also packs a couple of useful features which are rare on Twitter clients:

  • If you’re a Twitter regular, you’ll occasionally (or more?) find that a user may start sending a large amount of posts (say, “live-tweeting” an event), which may clog up your timeline, or otherwise make you feel that you’d rather not see all their tweets, without actually un-following them. Turpial offers an ingenious solution: a “mute” option. Just tick the box next to the “friend(s)” in question, and the application will not display their tweets until you un-tick them in the list. Potentially handy, but if you use this, just remember to take said friends off the list… 😉
  • Similarly, the “filter” option allows you to specify words which you would rather not see in your timeline. I haven’t tried this yet, so I don’t know whether it “bleeps out” words or hides entire tweets containing them, but it could be handy if you want to hide a certain hashtag!

A tip, which I originally didn’t spot: to exit the program, don’t simply close the main app window, as this leaves Turpial running (and consuming resources). Instead, the application places an icon in your system tray, so you need to right-click this and select “Quit” to exit. If you’re using the keyboard only, or for whatever reason your desktop environment/window manager doesn’t have a system tray, I’m not quite sure what you do, but neither apply to me in this case…

Overall, with Turpial, I feel I have found the Twitter client I have been watching for all this time, and not only for my Eee 701: it works usably well on my Raspberry Pi too. Being a Python program, Turpial doesn’t require separate compilation for the Pi’s ARM processor, so new versions generally arrive around the same time in the Arch repositories for ARM and x86. Turpial takes around thirty seconds to load on the Pi, but once it’s running, I find you can leave it up without great impact on the system.

Want an uncluttered, native, graphical Twitter client with a multi-column interface, which will run comfortably on a modestly-specced machine? Tall order, but I think Turpial meets these requirements, and is well worth a look.



Lightweight network access with wicd

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 18:42

One of the double-edged features of Arch Linux, is that it encourages the user to put together a software system which suits their needs, and not necessarily the system which someone else has assembled for them.

That’s not meant as a criticism—Linux distros like Ubuntu are great if you want/need a workable OS “out of the box”. However, as I’ve written here before, it’s not what I wanted for my Eee 701—my aim was to put together a “leaner” OS for the machine, which would use as many “lightweight” alternatives to the usual GNOME and KDE applications as possible.

Desktop environments like GNOME do a lot for the user, that they don’t always realise—one example is GNOME’s NetworkManager. It sits unobtrusively in the GNOME panel, quietly doing its best to connect the user to wired and wireless networks. If you want a Linux setup without GNOME and its associated apps, but would still like a measure of “hand-holding” managing your network connections, what is the alternative?

Image of wicd graphical and console clients

wicd graphical and console clients, running under Arch Linux (with Fluxbox)

For me: the answer is wicd. Wicd (pronounced “wicked”, apparently) is a network manager for Linux, which at its simplest has no GNOME or KDE dependencies, so it is well-suited to running under lightweight window managers like Fluxbox or IceWM (and is installed as part of quite a few “light” Linuxes, such as Zenwalk). In fact, wicd doesn’t need to run under X at all—it operates as a client-server application, where the server (daemon) does all the network-connection work, and you use a client application to interact with it. There are graphical (Python/GTK+) and console (ncurses) clients, so you can choose which you prefer (or need) to use.

Should you wish to give wicd a spin on your Linux system, you should be able to install it via your package manager, or compile it if you prefer. You need to start the wicd daemon at boot time; in Arch Linux, I add it to the “daemons array” in /etc/rc.conf. (For the finer points of setting-up, the wicd page at the Arch wiki is most useful.)

Most of the time, I’ve found wicd a “set it and forget it” kind of application—it stays in the background and just gets on with managing your connections. It’s not perfect—sometimes it fails to reconnect a dropped wireless link (giving a “bad password” error, even if the password is given correctly), though I believe I read this is a DHCP client issue, rather than wicd specifically—but in general I find wicd a pretty essential part of my Eee’s software setup. I especially appreciate that because of its client/server design, wicd is always running on the Eee, whether I am using the graphical interface or console. In X, the graphical wicd client can always be found in the system tray, and checking the network link is just as easy at the command-line.

Compared with GNOME NetworkManager, there are a few missing features; the main one that I would like to see, is a graphical interface for managing VPN connections. The wicd FAQ states that direct VPN support is planned for version 2—in the meantime, wicd offers the option to trigger per-connection scripts (a bit fiddly-looking to set up, but probably better than nothing). The developers have also expressed an interest in adding options such as management of 3G modem connections, but it looks like a lack of resources is holding this back for the moment. I think I’d like to keep an eye on the VeryPluggableBackends development branch, though…

In short: if you’re looking to build a Linux system without GNOME or KDE, but still want help managing your network connections, wicd is definitely worth investigating.


Using Ekiga with Sipgate

Filed under: Internet, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 18:11

Let’s begin with a fairly obvious statement: one useful function of an “ultra-portable” computer such as the Eee 701, is for making voice and/or video calls over the Internet, from wherever one can find a suitable connection.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a keen user of Skype—largely, but not exclusively, because it is convenient, widely-used (including by our family and friends) and free. However, there are other services offering VoIP (or “Internet telephone”) facilities, usually based on the SIP protocol. In my household, we use Sipgate for reasons going back some years, including low call charges to Korea (where my wife’s family lives) and the existence of SIP-compatible hardware VoIP telephones (from the days when we didn’t want our then-toddler daughter breaking the laptop).

Screenshot of setup for Sipgate in Ekiga

Setup dialogue box for Sipgate in Ekiga

There are numerous “softphone” applications available for all sorts of computing platforms, and Linux is no exception. On distributions using the GNOME desktop (such as Ubuntu), a popular SIP/H.323 Internet phone program is Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting), and as I have this installed on my Eee (running Eeebuntu v3), I thought I would show how it is relatively straightforward to set up Ekiga to work with Sipgate, as they don’t provide setup instructions for the program on their site (AFAIK).

To get you started, Ekiga provides a “Setup Assistant”, which guides you through the information you need to supply to configure a SIP account. You will need a SIP service provider before you do any of this—although I am talking about Sipgate, this is simply because we have an account with them. Ekiga provides their own service, which you can open an account with during the Setup Assistant if you prefer.

However, if you are using Sipgate, here are the items of information you will need to supply during the Assistant process:

The name you want this account to appear with in the list (“Sipgate” will do :-))
Your Sipgate user number
Authentication user
Your Sipgate user number (same as “User”)
Your Sipgate password
My setup has 3600 set here, so I have left it “as is”

If you have already set up the account but want to change the settings, this is straightforward. As in the screenshot, select Edit/Preferences… from the main Ekiga window, then select the account you wish to edit, and choose Accounts/Edit… to bring up the main account details.

Other useful information

  • The STUN server, if one is requested or required, is
  • If you have a firewall set up on your machine, you may need to open the following ports for Sipgate to work:
    • 5060 (UDP)
    • 5004 (UDP)
    • 10000 (UDP)

If Ekiga still won’t let you connect to Sipgate after all this, then it’s time to head for their online “help centre” (log into the Sipgate site first), as the problem could lie with your machine’s network settings, the network you’re connecting with, and so on. Be aware that some, if not many, mobile networks (T-Mobile UK is apparently one) block VoIP traffic if you’re not on one of their “higher-level” packages, so this is worth considering if you’re trying to call over a 3G data connection.

Hope this helps other Linux-sporting Sipgate users, anyway 🙂


Two quick tips for KeePassX

Filed under: Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 18:31

If I were writing my post “Ten programs I want on all my computers: the Eee 701 view” today (and I might still do an update sometime), I would definitely include one application which wasn’t present in the list at that time: KeePassX, the cross-platform encrypted password manager. (Actually, I did mention it in passing in the article, but I was still getting familiar with the program at the time.)

To cut a long story short: since I posted the above article, KeePassX has become one of those apps for me—you know, the programs you wonder how you ever did without. Basically, KeePassX—and its Windows cousin Keepass Password Safe—is a password manager for Linux and Mac OS X, which stores your login details for all those Web sites you visit, in a 256-bit-encrypted database file.

I could write a much longer article about why I think this is such a great app, but at this point I just want to share two tips for KeePassX which I have learned, and which I find very useful.

  • KeePassX uses the same database file format across platforms (I assume the Windows version does; certainly, Linux and Mac do), and you can customise the app’s settings to point to wherever the file is located.
    If you use Dropbox (and I can hardly imagine my Eee 701 without it 🙂 ), you can place the KeePassX database anywhere within your Dropbox folder, and the file will be synchronised across all your computers, thus ensuring you have an up-to-date password database.
  • The Linux version of KeePassX has a handy feature: “auto-fill”. (I haven’t tried the Windows version, and I couldn’t get this feature to work in the Mac version, though that could’ve been my fault…)
    In the menu, go to Extras/Settings…, select the Advanced tab and place the cursor inside the field next to “Global Auto-type Shortcut”. Then, press the keys you wish to use for a keyboard shortcut—I use Ctrl-Shift-A—and this will appear in the field.
    Now, when you visit a site where you have to log in, select the entry for that site in the KeePassX list, place the cursor inside the username field on the form in your Web browser, and type your keyboard shortcut. If all goes well, the fields should be populated from KeePassX, and the form submitted. This usually works in Firefox, though with all the “variables” involved, “your mileage may vary”.

Hope these are of use, and if you’re looking for an app to keep your Web and other passwords secure, I warmly recommend giving KeePassX a whirl.


Calendar conundrum

Filed under: Mobile, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 20:17

Just thought you might be interested in an article I’ve posted over at my main blog, Sidingsound: “A four-way calendar conundrum“. It has a partial relevance here, as my 701 is the fourth device (or “node”, if you like) mentioned in the article; as you’ll read, I’m still having a little trouble finding the ideal calendar-syncing solution…

Enjoy 🙂


Ten programs I want on all my computers: the Eee 701 view

Filed under: Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 12:52

Last September, on my “main” blog, I posted a list of ten applications which I would want to have on every computer I owned.

To save you looking ( 😉 ), these were:

  1. Firefox
  2. VLC
  3. OpenOffice
  4. TweetDeck
  5. Inkscape
  6. The GIMP
  7. Audacity
  8. Skype
  9. Miro
  10. Stellarium

This isn’t an exhaustive list—and isn’t intended to be—but I thought I’d revisit my choices, insofar as I’ve been able to get them working (or not) on my Eee 701 (running, at the present time, Eeebuntu 3).

Mostly, the news is good. Eeebuntu 3 comes with a number of the above apps (Firefox, VLC, OpenOffice, Inkscape, The GIMP) preinstalled, meaning that I had to install only the other five myself. (Of these, I found four in the software repositories—easily installable via apt-get or Synaptic—whilst the last one (TweetDeck) just took a few moments to install via their Web site.)

(In passing: if you’ve been following E7P since late last year, you may recall that at that time I reported being unable to get the Adobe AIR runtime installed on my 701 with the default Xandros OS, meaning that TweetDeck was, literally, a non-starter. Fortunately, under Eeebuntu, TweetDeck installs without complaint, although how well it actually works on the 701 is a subject I’ll come to shortly.)

OK, that’s getting the ten apps onto the 701 in the first place. How well do they run, once they are on there?

Well, for the most part, well enough, as long as you’re not too demanding and bear in mind that the Eee 701 isn’t going to go toe-to-toe with a fast desktop any time soon. Skype works beautifully on the 701, with the proviso (on Eeebuntu 3) that the sound may take a bit of tweaking to get “just right”, though that’s not Skype’s fault. Furthermore, Miro does a sterling job as a video podcast “catcher”, within the caveats connected with the 701’s small screen (of which more shortly, though it’s not a deal-breaker for me).

Firefox and OpenOffice won’t usually tax the 701 that much, though obviously if you’re viewing a document/page with lots of graphics and/or other multimedia, you might start to run up against memory issues, or (at worst) the processor could begin to struggle with (say) heavy-duty embedded video or Flash. (I haven’t seen much of this myself, but acknowledge that it could happen.)

Similarly, even with Eeebuntu, a high-quality video can leave the 701 a bit “out of breath”, especially if it’s running off batteries and therefore in “reduced power” mode. If you want to watch a DVD-rip captured at full quality (even standard-definition) with VLC, I’d advise a fast USB storage device and AC power to hand, or that playback will end up choppier than the Atlantic in a hurricane.

Unsurprisingly, the 701’s WVGA (800×480) screen can mean that some apps struggle to fit into the available space. Inkscape and The GIMP are usable enough if your imaging needs are modest, and/or don’t mind scrolling around a bit, whilst you’ll need to play around with Audacity’s toolbar settings if you want to see more than about 50 pixels’ height of the waveform you’re editing.

Furthermore, TweetDeck can fit only about three columns in a maximised window (with their “narrow” setting enabled), and about two entries in each column vertically if you have the “entry” panel open. If this doesn’t bother you, no problem—I like TweetDeck enough that I can live with the constraints, but I keep Twitux on my 701 just in case.

TweetDeck can take over twenty seconds to load, but at least it runs tolerably well. Unfortunately, Stellarium (with its heavy 3D-rendering) struggles to manage more than 3-4 frames per second, making it all but unusable on my 701; astronomy types may wish to consider a less demanding application for their sky views.

There are a few apps I would now want to add to my “must-have” list—Dropbox, TrueCrypt and KeePassX, to name but three—and as it happens, I am writing a follow-up post to the original which I hope to publish at the Sidingsound blog within the next couple of weeks. Until then, I’m pleased to report that, as long as you’re prepared to make an allowance or two for the Eee 701’s reduced size and power, it’s a capable enough platform to run some favourite useful applications.

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