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Tying It All Together

February 13th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been on somewhat of an optimization kick lately.  I’ve been looking at some of the things that I do on a regular basis, and trying to make those things more streamlined.  I started with a couple of Python scripts to make importing and managing my photos a bit easier.  Neither script is very fancy, but they save me a minute or two each time I use them, which adds up considering that I copy photos about once a week.

Today I took on another mini-headache: controlling Netflix from across the room.  Dore and I don’t have any fancy-schmancy video game consoles that have built-in Netflix apps, so we have to watch movies online the “old fashioned” way: by lugging our laptop next to the TV and plugging in an HDMI cable.  I know… primitive, right? 😛

Well, as relatively simple as this is, it does pose one nagging problem: whenever we want to pause the video for a second one of us has to jump up, run across the room, and hit the button.  And then we have to go through the reverse hassle to start playing again.  Over the course of a long movie it gets annoying.

Now I could buy a cheap Netflix box with a remote or a wireless mouse, but the last thing I need is yet another gadget.  So I decided to do it the nerdy way: by figuring out how to remotely control my laptop using… another laptop.  I’ve got a couple of those lying around the house.  Why not put them to good use?

So off I went to the Internets, and downloaded fresh copies of Synergy for both computers.  I’ve used this program before at work and highly recommend it.  Basically, the program allows you to control several computers with one mouse and keyboard.  It’s a bit tricky to set up, but once it’s there it just works.  Nice!

I did run into a couple of stumbling blocks:

  • To my mind, the “server” and “client” labels that Synergy uses are confusing.  But once I figured out that the keyboard and mouse I want to use are the “server” it all made sense.
  • For some silly reason you have to configure both forward and backward links between the computers.  It’s not enough to say “ComputerA” is to the left of “ComputerB”.  You have to tell it that “ComputerB” is to the right of “ComputerA”.  As if it would be any other place!  (I suppose that the program will work great in non-Euclidean geometries, but honestly, isn’t that just a bit too much flexibility?)

After a bit more struggle I got it all set up, and hooray!  I can now use my netbook to control Netflix on the computer across the room.  Success!

But not to rest on my laurels, I decided to go one step further.  Dore and I recently got new Virgin Mobile Android phones, and I wanted to see if I could use that to control playback.  And it turns out that you can using a slick little app called RemoteDroid.  This app was a breeze to set up, and does pretty much exactly what I want.  The only drawbacks I see with it so far are that it seems to be built for phones with slightly different buttons, so I can’t use all of the features.  That doesn’t affect my original goal of controlling Netflix (since that only needs basic mouse support), but might limit the number of things I can do with the app as a general computer remote control.

Anyway, back to bumming around on my Sunday afternoon.

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