Daily Archives: February 11, 2012

XMPP for Children

When Jacob was just born, I wondered how I might introduce them to computing. I thought over various things, but that wasn’t really the most pressing thing right then.

I don’t suppose that I could have predicted installing an XMPP IM server (Prosody) for the boys. And I certainly couldn’t have predicted creating accounts named: jacob, oliver, butterfly, bear. Because, as Jacob pointed out to me, if (Jacob’s favorite toy) butterfly is typing with his wings, then he shouldn’t be logged in as Jacob. I admire my 5-year-old’s security consciousness…

Anyhow, as I mentioned yesterday, Jacob and Oliver enjoy “their” computer, which I recently put on the LAN. The firewall does not pass any of its traffic to the Internet, though, with very limited exceptions.

Jacob can read, and is starting to enjoy typing as well. So I thought he would enjoy sending IMs to me. As his computer has no GUI, I needed a text-mode client. Something with an IRC-like interface that could be scripted to open up a window with me directly sounded perfect. Initially I tried irssi’s XMPP plugin, but it proved to be too buggy (wanting to always latch on to a particular resource on the remote end, not having very predictable window behavior, etc.) So I switched to mcabber. With a couple of quick configuration bits to get him automatically logged in, remove superflous windows, and connect him directly to a chat with me, it was set. And well-loved. He sent me a mix of real words and random things he created by replacing letters in “Jacob” or by holding down keys.

In the mcabberrc, besides the obvious setting of username and password, there is:

set log_win_height = 1
set hook-post-connect = source ~/.mcabber/post-connect.rc

The hook is simply:

roster search Dad
roster hide

After awhile, Jacob wanted to switch computers. He wanted to use my laptop, and me use his computer. He refused to switch back. I asked him why. “Because on your computer, my name is red.” I should have known. I set it to bright white on his computer, but I think tomorrow we may need to upgrade him to the color monitor I’ve been saving for just such an occasion… It will be a whole new set of discoveries, I’m sure.

Update: I also tried out freetalk, which looked like it would meet my goals nicely. The problem was it didn’t have a dedicated “everything typed goes to this person” mode. It did have a mode where it put the person’s JID on the command line by default, but excessive use of backspace key by a 5-year-old could wipe that out and leave it in a state where he’d be confused.