Sunday, May 08, 2011

Facetime connections to elderly parents - a Logitech webcam problem

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was testing a Facetime videolink to my mother. It's not my first attempt. I'd tried Google Video Chat two years ago, but after months of struggle I gave up; it had, and still has, dismal usability. iChat was even worse. In all cases I've been using the excellent Logitech QuickCAm Vision Pro for Mac. (Still the best webcam ever sold, though I fear it's going away without a true replacement.)

After a few weeks of testing I can report that Facetime is a big usability improvement over Google Video Chat. I configured my mother's machine to auto-answer my calls; I can call from my phone or desktop and her machine will pick up. Facetime doesn't need to be running, OS X 10.6.x will launch it.

There's only one problem.

After I close the call at my end Facetime continues to run on her machine. It doesn't auto-exit (and, at this time, she can't see well enough to reliably quit the app) [1]. This means her webcam stays powered on [3]. Under some conditions, perhaps mostly time, the embedded OS that manages in-camera focus and exposure control crashes. The Webcam still works, but it focuses to infinity and the light levels are very low. If you pull the USB cable, wait a few seconds, then plug it in again, the camera will reset.

I'm considering a few workarounds. Firstly, it would be great if Apple officially supported auto-answer, so FT could then auto-exit on close. Alternatively I could

I'm leaning to the nightly restart as the simplest fix, but I should also try remote control -- again!

[1] As her macular degeneration has progressed we've been focusing on her iPad use.
[2] Apple needs to kill AppleScript, but I fear there'd be not replacement. 
[3] The webcam then stays in active mode, so it appears like it's always sharing an image.

See also:


When a Google search doesn't return much, it's often because the function one is seeking is now a part of the OS.

OS X Energy Saver allows one to schedule a restart. I'll schedule my mothers machine to reboot at 2am daily, that should clear out any dangling FT sessions.

Incidentally, there's a longstanding, perhaps ancient, UI flaw with OS X Energy Save scheduling. Look at this:

Screen shot 2011 05 08 at 3 20 54 PM

It looks like the first option is available for selection, but the second (schedule restart) is unselectable -- it's "grayed out".

Look carefully (it took me a while). The select box (drop down) on the first row is also grayed out. This is standard behavior. The reason the 2nd row is so confusing is that it starts with a drop down -- there's no preceding text to display in normal font. Despite appearances this row is available for selection. Just click the check box.

I deleted a prefs file and did a number of Google searches before I realized what was going on. I found others who made the same mistake ...


KimH said...

Maybe paint her tilde key bright yellow, and assign CMD-Q to it as a macro. When the chat is coming to an end, ask her to push the yellow button.

JGF said...

Nice idea KimH, I might try that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I've been trying the auto-answer "script" for several days now. It would work once but not on repeated tries. Your post about the needing to close out FT each time pinpointed the problem. I wished more tech folks would give more specific instructions like you did . Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Try this:

Apple has auto answer built in - they just hid it.