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.



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 🙂


Setting up a Nokia N95 as a 3G modem in Eeebuntu 3

Filed under: Hardware, Internet, Mobile — Tags: , , , , , , — Tim @ 19:13

In yesterday’s post on Eeebuntu, I mentioned in passing that I wished Eeebuntu made it easier to configure PPP-over-Bluetooth, to use a mobile phone as a 3G modem wirelessly.

Whilst that particular gripe still stands, I’m pleased to report that if you don’t mind using USB instead of Bluetooth, the maintainers of Eeebuntu have made it quite straightforward to set up Internet access via a 3G phone (and, according to this forum post, at least some USB 3G broadband “dongles”).

The author of the above forum post, stated that all he had to do was plug in a USB dongle, and a “wizard” dialogue box popped up, allowing him to configure the device as a modem. I wondered if the same would happen if I plugged in my phone (a Nokia N95), so I did so, remembering to set the phone’s connection type to “PC Suite”.

Lo and behold: up popped the “wizard”, asking me for my country and 3G network provider; within sixty seconds, an option for a 3G connection was added to my list of available networks.

Yes, a wireless (Bluetooth) option would really “ice the cake”, but for now, I’m pleased to report that in many cases, setting up a 3G modem in Eeebuntu is as easy as plugging it in and following a couple of easy steps.


Adobe AIR won’t fly

Filed under: Internet, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 13:06

The “factory reset” of my 701 yesterday seems to have achieved the desired effect, and I’ve managed to reinstall many of the apps I wanted (thanks to apt-get, it took less than half an hour). Better to get it over with now, I thought, rather than soldier on a while longer and have to do it anyway with more hassle. Ho-hum.

However, to save me getting too carried away with success, I’ve encountered a boulder in the road to mobile computing perfection…

…which is, in a nutshell: the Adobe AIR runtime won’t install on the Eee 701.

Yes, I know, not the end of the world, but rather annoying all the same. This is a problem to me, almost entirely because it means I can’t then install TweetDeck, my favourite app for working with Twitter and Facebook.

I won’t touch on the Twitter/Eee 701 issue here, mainly because I want to return to it in a future E7P post. However, I was puzzling over why the AIR runtime wouldn’t install: despite my every effort, I just couldn’t get past a generic “failed/something went wrong/er, try contacting your administrator, yeah?” message.

Finally, I gave in and called for help at the EeeUser forum, where a kind passer-by patiently suggested that I might check the system requirements for AIR (and helpfully posted them to save me the trouble of hunting them down 🙂 ).

Here’s the ‘nub’ of the matter: “officially”, the Eee 701 is too under-powered to install Adobe AIR, let alone run it.

Yes, I know the 701 is underclocked to 630MHz, and can be sped up to its “native” 900, but that’s not a step I’m willing to take quite yet (I mean, asbestos trousers aren’t as easy to come by as they once were). It means that I’m not going to be able to run TweetDeck, or most other multi-column Twitter clients, which inexplicably seem to be AIR-based these days.

So, for the time being, my search for a decent Twitter program continues. If you were thinking of getting AIR running on your 701, I just hope that this post saves you the trouble…

…unless, of course, you’ve found a way round it?


Using a calendar with the Eee

Filed under: calendar, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 19:02

One omission from the Eee 701’s otherwise pretty wide roster of applications, is a PIM (or if you prefer, calendar) program. (Update (2009/10/29): Actually, I discovered after I published this post, that this last (first?) statement is incorrect—the Eee’s Linux OS includes KDE’s suite of PIM apps, including KOrganizer and Kontact. Apologies for this, and to do penance I’ll try and take a look at these programs in a future post. But back to my original post…)

Whilst this is not entirely surprising given the machine’s original target audience (e.g. schoolchildren—don’t they need to be organised too? 🙂 ), I’ve been looking into how best to use my 701 to help keep myself organised, and have a couple of ideas to share at this point.

There are two sides to this from my perspective:

  • an Internet-hosted calendar, via a service such as Google or Ovi (both of which I use); and
  • an “offline” calendar on the Eee itself, for when I’m away from an Internet connection.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: it is quite possible to access online calendars on the Eee via Firefox. Google Calendar works quite well this way, with the usual provisos of how much you can fit on an 800×480 screen.

I’d heard of Mozilla’s Sunbird project (basically, a standalone calendaring application), and this can be installed quite easily via apt-get. However, there is an easier option, in the shape of another Mozilla project: Lightning. This is an add-on for the Thunderbird e-mail application, and as Thunderbird comes pre-installed on the Linux Eee 701, there is no need to install a separate program via apt-get.

Thunderbird with reduced font size and Lightning

Thunderbird with reduced font size and Lightning

Moreover, Lightning gives you the features of Sunbird within Thunderbird, with the added benefit of integration between the e-mail and calendar facilities, so unless you have specific reasons to keep them separate, I’d be inclined at least to give Lightning a try if you want a PIM facility on your Eee.

As well as giving you a “local” calendar on your Eee, Lightning (and Sunbird) also offer CalDAV functionality, which means you can subscribe to calendar services on the Internet that have a CalDAV facility. You will need to check the service you use to find out whether it offers CalDAV; Google Calendar certainly does, so I will use them as the example here.

As Google has gone to the trouble of providing instructions for setting up Sunbird/Lightning with Google Calendar via CalDAV, I’ll just refer you to them if you need them 🙂 Once you get this set up, you can then add, edit and delete calendar items on your Google Calendar from Thunderbird, as easily as if you were using GC via the Web (with the odd caveat, but I haven’t found those yet).

As with quite a few apps on the Eee 701, the small screen means that space is at a premium, and that affects Thunderbird and Lightning. The ever-handy Eee User Wiki has a page on how to “shrink” Thunderbird, and I thoroughly recommend it (just change the point size in the chrome CSS file to 8pt!); however, you may find that certain views look a bit less ‘squashed’ than others. If I have any useful tips in that direction, I’ll be sure to let you know here.

In the meantime, if you want to use your Eee to help keep on top of your schedule, I hope this has given you a pointer or two to get you started.


Recording a VNC ‘screencast’

Filed under: Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 18:28

Amongst the features I’m hoping to add to this blog, are ‘screencasts’ (“desktop movies”, or “animated screenshots”) made with my Eee 701, to demonstrate how to perform certain actions, show off applications, and so on.

I’m looking at various ways to achieve this, and the method I’d prefer is to run a VNC server on the Eee (probably using the “krfb” screen-sharing app, which I understand is based on VNC), then connect to this from our Mac and record the output, if possible adding an audio commentary as I go along.

However, I’m writing this post mainly to ask: does anyone know of a Mac application which can record screencast movies from a remote VNC session, and do so with a nice easy-to-use GUI?

I’ve searched quite extensively for such an app, and to date have only found two which come even close. The first is vnc2flv, a cross-platform program which can capture a VNC session to an FLV (Flash movie) file. This program is available for Linux and Mac, and comes with a script which can combine the movie-recording with a simultaneous audio track.

Whilst vnc2flv would certainly do the job (and may have to), it’s console- instead of GUI-based, and looks as if it could become quite fiddly, particularly if using the script to record an audio commentary simultaneously. As a result, I wondered if there was a more “polished” Mac application with the same features (and hopefully more).

The only other candidate I’ve found so far is ScreenToaster, a screencasting app which can capture output from a VNC session. I’ve yet to try it, but apparently it runs on Macs, it can record the output of a VNC session, and it’s free.

What’s not to like? I don’t know yet, but on the face of things: it’s Java-based; the movies are Web-hosted, so I don’t yet know if/how easily I can export them; and I have to see if it can work within a home LAN.

I’ll come back here and post further details when I have them, but ScreenToaster could turn out the most “polished” screencasting/VNC solution I’ve encountered… or perhaps the only one!

(Updated 27/10/2009, to reflect the fact that I found ScreenToaster as I was writing the article, but didn’t update the earlier section of vnc2flv to reflect this. Oops.)


Using an S60 phone as a modem with a Linux Eee 701

Filed under: Internet, Mobile, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 20:50

One of the first features I wanted to set up on my Eee, was the ability to use my mobile phone (a Nokia N95) as a modem, as a backup in case there’s no WiFi or Ethernet connection available.

I’ve found a couple of guides on the Web for how to set up a Linux-running Eee for this, but have found that they didn’t quite work “out of the box”. The closest I found was these instructions on the EeeUser forum; what follows is heavily based on these tips, but with a couple of changes and clarifications based on what worked (or not) for me.

This guide assumes the following:

  • Your Eee is the Linux version, running the “stock” Eee/Xandros OS. It doesn’t matter if you’re using “Easy” or “Advanced” (KDE) mode, though I’m still running mostly in “Easy Mode” with the big icons (I plan to ditch these soon and just run the IceWM window manager, but that’s for later.)
  • You have an S60-based phone (mine is a Nokia N95, but other S60 3rd Edition phones, and possibly S60 5th Edition ones like the Nokia 5800 and N97, should work the same).
  • You have a data package with your mobile network provider, and the SIM card in your phone is set up accordingly. If you already use the Internet on your phone, you should be fine. (Some network providers don’t like you using your phone as a modem unless you upgrade to a higher-level—and usually higher-priced—data package, so check your contract’s terms and conditions to see if this is the case.)
  • This method involves a USB (cable) connection between your Eee and your phone. Apparently, it’s possible to do this over Bluetooth if you have a USB Bluetooth dongle plugged in and configured, but I haven’t got round to this yet—if/when I do, I’ll post back here with how it goes (or not).

The steps to take are as follows:

  1. Connect your Eee to your phone using the USB cable. Assuming that the phone then displays the “what connection mode” list, choose “PC Suite”. Keep the phone connected and powered up throughout the following steps.
  2. Bring up the “Network Connections” utility:
    • In Easy Mode, choose the “Internet” tab, then the “Network” icon (not “Wireless Networks”).
    • In Advanced Mode, there’s a Network icon in the “tasktray” at the bottom of the screen, where you bring up the menu and select “Configure Network Connections”.
    • Alternatively, if there’s no icon in sight, fire up a Terminal (Ctrl-Alt-T) and enter “sudo kcontrol &” to bring up the KDE Control Center (sic), and select “Network/Network Connections”.
  3. Select the “Create” button.
  4. Choose “Dial-up” as the connection type.
  5. On the “Select Hardware” screen, you should see your phone listed as “/dev/ttyACM0”. If it’s not there, check the cable connection and the phone (is it switched on (!), in “PC Suite” mode, etc.). Select the phone from the list, and then the “Next” button.
  6. Enter “#99*” as the dialup number (this is standard for GPRS/3G “modem” dialup connections), and a single space as the username/password.
  7. Complete the wizard process, and don’t opt to auto-connect on boot, or connect straight away (we’re not ready yet).
  8. You now need to edit two files as per the EEEUser forum post, so go on over there and follow steps 5 and 6 🙂 (Note particularly the part about your phone’s data access point, as this depends on the network you’re using. If you can’t find this on your phone, you’ll need to do a Web search for your network “APN”; it shouldn’t take you long to find, but please don’t ask me!)
  9. Once you’ve saved and closed these two files, return to the “Network Connections” utility, highlight the new connection you’ve just set up, and select “Connection/Connect…”.
  10. If all goes well, you’ll see a dialogue box appear, reading “Initializing modem…”. (In my experience, this stage can take some time (20-30 seconds or so), so please be patient.)
  11. When connection is completed, the dialogue box will disappear and the connections utility will show that you are connected to the Internet via your phone.

(I must make it very clear once again that 95% of the hard work here was done by “Buxton” at the EeeUser Forum, and I have only added to his efforts above where I found my experience differed from the post, and where I felt some points needed making more clearly.)

A point or two to make from my testing so far:

  • Be aware that unless your phone can access a 3G or 3.5G data network where you are, you’re going to find that Web pages, etc. load rather more slowly than they would via a home LAN/WLAN connection. If you only have GPRS or (worse) GSM data to call on, you’re about to get a history lesson in what the Web was like to access in the mid-1990s (i.e. at 56K modem speeds), except that the Web has become a whole lot more “bloated” in that time…
  • Watch your data consumption, especially if you’re on a tight data limit with your network provider, and definitely if you’re roaming abroad. In fact, to be careful, I’d recommend you just don’t do the latter at all, unless you are very careful and know exactly what you’re doing, or else you could be hit with a heart attack-inducing bill when you come home!
  • If you can access WiFi where you are, I’d do that instead…

However, this is a handy backup option to have if you and your Eee find yourselves out of reach of an access point. Hope this is useful, and if I get this working over Bluetooth in future, I’ll let you know.

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