Thursday, 11 February 2010

Facebook chat just got chattier

News today is that Facebook have altered their IM service to use XMPP, the Jabber standard, as used by Google Chat, Jabber (obviously) and many, many others. Some of us nerds even run our own private Jabber servers. And some of us even nerdier nerds use irssi and bitlbee to access IM. Now it's possible to use those great programs to chat to your Facebook friends as well as your IRC and IM contacts.

One problem, though, is Bitlbee's annoying trait of displaying usernames, not real names. When your contacts all have names like u364638 it can be hard to see who you're talking to. Thankfully the whois data provides a real name, but it can be a pain doing that for everyone who logs in.

Fortunately, there is a script available to fix it. Download the bitlbee_rename.pl script (author unknown), stick it in .irssi/scripts and load it. This will detect when a new contact joins, run a whois on them and rename them to their real name. You have to keep it loaded, because it only works when people first come online and so can't see your entire buddy list.

It's not just for Facebook either. If it detects that anyone who joins &bitlbee has the name nick as the username portion of their IM login, it will perform a whois. This means that manually renamed contacts will stay renamed, but new contacts will be updated. The only problem then comes if you want your contact to have the exact same name as their login - it will do the lookup every time they join whether you like it or not. A minor niggle, though.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

iTouch ... mice?

Today I have mostly been playing with TouchMouse, a free iPhone app from Logitech that allows you to control your computer from your iPhone. Strange idea, but interesting, I thought.

In order to control any particular machine, you need to download the TouchMouse server for your operating system (currently Windows or Mac) and, of course, install the TouchMouse client on your iPhone. Starting up the client presents a list of detected servers on your particular wireless network and lets you select one, or enter an IP manually. I've not had to try the IP method yet because it has detected my Windows and Mac laptops perfectly every time.

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In use, the app resembles a cross between a 2D mouse and a 3 button trackpad. The bulk of the iPhone screen is used much as a Macbook trackpad, including 2-finger scrolling (horizontal and vertical) and 2-finger right clicks. Alternatively, you can use the mouse buttons situated at the top of the screen.

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For entering text, press the keyboard button at the bottom and your standard iPhone keyboard pops up. There are extra buttons that allow you to use command, option and control keys (press once to turn on, press again to turn off). Entering text is done in exactly the same way as a normal iPhone app, and the text you're typing appears above the keyboard so you can confirm you've typed what you intended.

In use, it works pretty well. The mouse movement is occassionally a bit jittery and it seems to sometimes detect button clicks when you intend to do short movements, but for short term remote control it would be perfectly acceptable. Another problem is that the keyboard is very limited. There is no TAB key, for example, so entering text in a web form is a bit clumsy because you have to vanish the keyboard, move with the mouse, and reshow the keyboard for each input box.

For all its faults, though, it does what is intended. If you want to control iTunes for a party, or a video player or presentation when used through a projector, it's ideal. And of course, with a few annoying exceptions (TAB keys are important, damnit!) you have a much better array of controls in a remote-sized device than you would with, for example, the Macbook remote. If you are purely using the mouse functionality and have no need for the keyboard at all, you can pop the iPhone down next to you and have a cool little trackpad for firkling with your machine from afar.