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Simple, Stand-Alone Internet Communication Devices?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the keeping-in-touch dept.

Communications 69

ashitaka asks: "One month ago my father-in-law died leaving his wife to live alone for the first time in her life. She lives in a somewhat rural part of Japan, north of Tokyo, in an area with few neighbors. My wife is her only daughter and we live in Canada; her only son is an engineer for Fujitsu and spends many days on the road. We know she misses our kids and we try to get over to Japan as much as possible, however more than once every year or two is a stretch." What ashitaka is looking for is a simple device that can be used for video conferencing or instant messaging, that can be controlled with a remote and administered remotely. Assuming something like this doesn't exist, what would it take to bend a PC to this task?

"Videophone technologies up to now have required knowledge of computer operation and Instant Messaging software or having to go through the complexities of setting up the traditional video conference. Here we are talking about a 76-year old Japanese granny who has never (and probably never will) touch anything more complex than the phone or the TV remote.

I'm looking for a device which can be administered remotely, has 6-8 large 'quick-dial' buttons and an emergency button which will try to connect through a list of contacts if required. It shouldn't look like a computer but should support connecting to whatever IM clients would be appropriate. It would be nice if it could turn on the TV when a particular Universal remote button or buttons were pressed to save Obaachan an extra step but I'm not sure if current signaling standards for TVs would support that."

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Administered remotely seems unlikely... (2, Interesting)

seebs (15766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277111)

But apart from that, you might be able to make an N800 work.

Failing that, get ready to build your own from scratch.

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (1)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277181)

Yes, build it from scratch and make a ton selling variations of it so people can communicate freely over the internet without a PC or having to pay a ton for "service."

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (1)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277277)

An iMac with an installed VNC server.

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (3, Interesting)

jolyon-wagg (1106833) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277463)

I'm writing this on an N800 and - whilst not as easy to use as a laptop - It's much more convenient. Not sure about remote admin but you can hack it to add an ssh server and there's also a VNC server which I've not tried. [] is the best resource I've foud so far.

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19278999)

Also writing from my N800 :)

You can run an SSH server and administer it remotely faiirly well. You do need an 802.11 or cell connection though.

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279273)

I looked at the N800. Overkill and what the nice flash ads promote as a "intuitive user interface" would be beyond confusing for Obaachan.

From scratch looks like the only option unless I can get an electronics maker interested. But I'm one of those that doesn't know how to go about doing that.

Re:Administered remotely seems unlikely... (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279715)

My Macbook fits that bill - built in webcam, ssh/remote desktop for remote admin, iChat does video/audio if she has an account. I think Spype(s/py/ky/) for Mac has video/audio. Best part is that gran can't really break it if you give her a non-admin account.

It's a bit pricey for what you want to achieve, but it's a good all round solution - I'm sure she'll be happy with it if she tries it.

Poor old thing (2, Funny)

Edie O'Teditor (805662) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277129)

Invite her to live with you, you rotten selfish bastard. Unless she smells of piss, in which case don't.

YELLOW CABS! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19278585)

Japan ? COOL! I'd go there. I'd catch some YELLOW CABS!

Re:Poor old thing (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279257)

I shouldn't respond to such an obvious troll but yes, the idea is for her to eventually come over to Canada in the summers when it's too fricken hot in Japan and stay in Japan for winter which isn't too bad and where she feels more comfortable with neighbours and friends.

However, she won't travel alone.

Re:Poor old thing (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 7 years ago | (#19282135)

I'll tell you my two examples:

1) The idea of her coming to your home more or less the best half a year (by your comment that would be on summer) is not to be disregarded. We did just this with my grandma for her last decade or so (while we got her in winter not in summer). If she's like my grandma, she will be hesistant at least on the beginning (she won't want to be an overload on you and she will feel more free on her own village, that she knows as she knows her friends, her shops, etc.) -of course, your mileage my vary: it is not the same moving an old person about 100 miles, by car, and traveling on my father's car (as it was our case) than trying to move from the other side of the world (not only much more expensive but much more travel time too), by airplane and maybe alone.
2) While my mother is not in the other side of the world, she is still 300 miles away, and his daughter and my sister is some 1500 miles away, so I installed her an old PC of mine with Linux and KDE, Kopete, big icons on the desktop for the three/four apps she will use (kopete for IM, digiKam to manage her digital photocamera, a cards game I found she liked mainly for practising her ability with the mouse and lowering the "frightening effect" on "new technologies" a bit, etc.) and I make sysadmin for her through the net. In your case I'd mix that case with an old client of mine that I installed an VPN device with Linux too.

So my advice:

Buy an Asus Pundit-like box (a short form factor, noisiless, Linux-compatible PC) with a cheap video camera known to work with Linux, install Debian, be sure to configure hardware sensors and what not, and work a bit on the usability side (as I told you, use KDE, some big icons -double click an icon or click and move can be a challenge for old people). Be sure she has a broadband connection with a fixed IP you know in advance (it'll make things easier) and configure the box locally at leisure. Once it's done send the box to Japan (in my case I am in Spain and sent it to Argentina) and have her Fujitsu son install the hardware for her. If you did your homework properly it will be a case of plug-n-play (as it was on my Argentinian case). From now on, you will have complete access to her box for maintenance ("ssh -XC" will result in a terribly useful tool) and she will be deligthed with the experience.

For an A-grade, you will configure things like cron-apt and write some short scripts and rrd-tools so you will stay informed about how the hardware is behaving (it's awesome how many hardware failures you can prevent in advance by just look at how evolutions hard-disk status, CPU temperature and internal fan speeds).

For an AA-grade you will use some tool (sorry, I don't remember the name, have a look at it on Freshmeat) to make a live-CD from the installed OS (it won't take too much space if you are just a bit careful) once you configured it and previously to send it to Japan, so it can be taken as a rescue-CD your Fujitsu brother-in-law can use in case of catastrophic hardware failure.

It really worked for me, so I don't see why it wouldn't work for you.

Dont have an answer but... (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277271)

I am beginning to see why Japanese companies put so much effort into developing home robots.

It should be possible to throw something together out of fairly standard parts. A PC running Linux, a web cam, a TV tuner and an IR remote control. But I can't see anything off the shelf doing this.

Gee. (1)

newdsfornerds (899401) | more than 7 years ago | (#19292395)

I can't help thinking, "wow. that would be a nightmare to support remotely!"

XBox 360 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19277311)

An XBox 360 would likely fit the bill. Well two actually, one at both ends. Equip both with an Xbox Live Gold account and an XBox Live Vision Camera and you have instant, plug in and go video teleconferencing. This would be very simple, although the cost is going to be about $600 each for the first year (xbox 360, camera, gold account, rechargable battery for the controller). Then just renew the xbox live gold accounts each year for another $50.

Re:XBox 360 (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278513)

That's a lot cheaper than flying the family back and forth to Japan all the time, though.

Re:XBox 360 (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279323)

Hmmm. My son who is waiting with baited breath for halo3 would love that.

However, a shiny box like that sitting in Obaachan's house turned on all the time wouldn't go down too well.

Re:XBox 360 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19280747)

What the hell is "baited" breath supposed to mean? Your son is so mealy-mouthed he can catch mackerel? Cops have a sting operation in his lungs? What exactly?

Or did you mean bated breath?

Please stop trying to using words whose meaning is beyond you. In your case, since you're the type of heretofore unimaginable idiot evidently ignorant of the meaning of "baited," I suppose you'll need to shut up entirely. No great loss.

Re:XBox 360 (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 7 years ago | (#19281201)

You insensitive clod, beyond the rudeness of your post, did you even stop to think of the possibility that the original poster's first language isn't necessarily English? Ignorance does not imply idiocy, and comments such as yours do much more harm than good.

Re:XBox 360 (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284363)

Sadly for you, the bated/baited brain fart was just one of those typos that occur when someone types too fast, too late at night.

It is for this reason I don't try to correct anyone's grammar or spelling on the Internet. Glass houses, you know. But you saw fit to go even beyond that level of pedantry and stoop to insults.

Fittingly, you posted as Anonymous Coward. However, even ignoring that, your words say more than enough about your character.

Call me insensitive but..... (1)

BestNicksRTaken (582194) | more than 7 years ago | (#19318967)

So let me get this straight, you want:

Simple device
Instant messaging (multiple protocols)
Video conferencing
Remote controlled
Remote admin
Preferably not PC-based/roll your own
Large buttons
Emergency facility (including multiple contact list)
Automatically turn on the TV

And when presented to a solution to most of this ridiculous list of requirements, YOU COMPLAIN BECAUSE IT WON'T LOOK NICE?!

or the Wii (1)

SetupWeasel (54062) | more than 7 years ago | (#19280449)

While you won't get video conferencing or even true IM, the Wii can send and receive messages to and from standard email accounts. Put her family's emails in it with cute Mii versions marking them, and it should be really simple to understand.

That may not be enough, especially for emergencies (don't they have something like Life Alert in Japan for that?), but it may be a simple work around for non-phone communication.

Re:XBox 360 (1)

Tickletaint (1088359) | more than 7 years ago | (#19280833)

Uggh, no. The Xbox 360 is wholly anathema to the Japanese aesthetic—and I don't just mean in appearance, I mean in design, concept and execution. Here I am, an American-born Japanese, and my gorge rises at the mere mention of that paragon of bad taste. What sort of Japanese-hating sociopath do you have to be to suggest inflicting such an aberration on the innocent grannies of my homeland?

Re:XBox 360 (1)

twistedsymphony (956982) | more than 7 years ago | (#19338255)

while I don't know about the aesthetic tastes of the typical Japanese consumer the Xbox 360 was designed by Hers Experimental design lab in Japan. And it won the Good Design Award [] in Japan in 2006.

What is it about the console you find so appalling?

Pepper Pad (1)

ArcticFlood (863255) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277315)

The Pepper Pad 3 [] isn't quite there with video messing or VoIP, but it might be adaptable. It's Linux-based, which is nice (even though it is Fedora Core 4 based).

Semen-frosted tentacles? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277353)

Perhaps she needs a semen-soaked tentacle or two?

Video phone from D-Link (2, Informative)

stinkbomb (238228) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277589)

D-Link makes a video-phone [] type device that seems to fit your requirements, but does require a broadband connection.

Re:Video phone from D-Link (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279215)

Interesting, looks like the Packet8 device above.

A broadband connection would not be a problem. This is Japan where 100Mbps fiber connections are $40 a month and ADSL connections which would be enough for this without any construction work required are even less.

Nintendo Wii has possibilities. (0, Offtopic)

fhage (596871) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277677)

It's small, simple and one can "surf" with a remote. Upload family videos to Youtube and have her watch them using the "Internet Channel". Send her messages via the built-in service or set up a g-mail account. I'd bet she would also enjoy the News channel and the other social activities on it, like the poll channel.

Nintendo! Market a USB web cam with a mic. and make a video conferencing "channel" for this man's mother!

Huh? (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278111)

Sounds like you're trying to make his problem fit your solution instead of the other way around... his mother-in-law doesn't NEED to watch YouTube, she needs to talk with her kids!

Re:Huh? (1)

fhage (596871) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284735)

Sounds like you're closed to considering all possibilities. No, the Wii is not a "solution" to the problem. I didn't say that. I suggested it had possibilities. Maybe someone from Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft will read this thread, will see the need and they will develop a complete solution. Given the problem and its constraints, I don't think any home-brew solution would be successful.

Obaachan has had a video tape player in her house for close to 15 years and has never, ever used it. My mother-in-law is similar. If it has more than 3 buttons on it, she is uncomfortable using it. The Wii uses some very compelling technological approaches which are intended to appeal to people such as these. Maybe a little white box, with her Family's Mii's inside would fit into Obaachan's home, and actually get some use. It's disappointing to think that these considerations are rated "off-topic" by our moderators.

Grandkids fill the age gap (1)

techsoldaten (309296) | more than 7 years ago | (#19277879)

You tell someone they get to see and talk to their grandkids, they learn how to use a computer. I had to do the same thing for my father once, he's the guy who would keep me tied up on the phone for 4 hours trying to learn how to make letters bold in Word.

I set up a web cam and AIM for him and showed him how to start and stop the thing a couple times. Then I let my daughter talk him through the process once or twice and it stuck. They talk all the time.


Re:Grandkids fill the age gap (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279201)

Not gonna happen. Obaachan has had a video tape player in her house for close to 15 years and has never, ever used it. She finally broke down and agreed to let my wife buy her a washing machine (no dryer) because washing clothes outside at the cold water tap was getting too harsh in winter.

There is a cultural aspect at work here as well since although a lot of European and North American elderly people will take up the challenge to learn to use a computer elderly Japanese, especially in rural districts see absolutely no benefit or requirement to bring the complexity into their lives.

Re:Grandkids fill the age gap (1)

techsoldaten (309296) | more than 7 years ago | (#19282749)

Hey man, I know I have no clue what the realities of life are in Japan or the cultural differences that exist. It's just surprising the way people change when kids are involved, children are just such a polarizing force people will go to great lengths to be part of their lives.

There are cultural forces here too which, contrasted with those of your mother, may be interesting to talk about. My dad was a typical Irish American tough guy growing up, had no time for gadgets and used to blast me for spending so much time with computers. When I was 9, he smashed my Apple II with a baseball bat, drove me to the park, handed me the bat and told me not to come back until I was registered on a team. The only time he started using a computer was after he found out he could do his banking online, I had to buy it for him and he actually did not touch the keyboard himself for the first year he had it (I or my brother would have to log in for him). The guy had the worst relationship with technology I have seen in any human being, anything that lit up or went beep would deeply anger him and was inferior to his ideal of getting out and doing it yourself.

My father loves my daughter. There is a deep relationship between the two where you can feel the joy they experience in each other's company. When I moved to Las Vegas, the most painful thing for either of them was being so far apart. Similar to your mother, he had a vcr that he had personally never used, until the day I started sending him tapes of my daughter playing soccer. When I told him about video conferencing, he asked me what it would take to get it going, and actually went out and bought the web cam himself. I was almost crying when he told me he did this, this was such a shock coming from someone with a such a violent disposition towards gadgets.

This is what I mean about kids being a polarizing force, they have the ability to fundamentally alter people's belief system and encourage behaviors which simply were not there before. I know the reality may be different in Japan but I like to think some things are universal. Maybe your mother is never going to use a computer, but I do wish you luck finding a way to help her build a relationship with your kids.


Re:Grandkids fill the age gap (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284389)

Thanks for the message. You are right that grandkids can be a huge factor in making a change, but for something like this those grandkids need to be right there giving a helping hand. Being 4000 miles away makes that direct contact rather difficult.

It took my wife living at my in-laws house almost continuously for three months to convince Obaachan that it was time to end 60 years of washing clothes in a basin outside the house.

Mod Up (1)

michaelredux (627547) | more than 7 years ago | (#19285483)

really a touching story, and a good suggestion. thanks for sharing.

OLPC - OCPG (One Computer Per Granny)? (3, Interesting)

pschmied (5648) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278161)

It seems like the OLPC has the right idea with respect to how to use Linux: Simple, consistent, limited scope system designed for a uniform hardware platform.

Right now one of the biggest hurdles for Linux uptake is the critical mass problem. If you take all of the technologies loosely associated with Linux right now, there is probably plenty of critical mass for Linux to take off in a meaningful way. However, it's not really about Linux adoption, it's about vertical stacks of technologies in the Linux universe.

In short, we don't have "Linux" users. We have Linux + Gnome + Firefox + Debian system managment-isms. For programmers, it gets worse: We have Linux + GNU + X11 + Cairo + GTK + Python + Gnome APIs. Now, at each level imagine somewhere between one other and 50 other competing technologies.

If you don't believe me, feel free to respond to this post and tell me what the best development environment / language to write Linux desktop apps in is. Okay, now what's the best distribution? While we're at it, what's the best text editor? With that as a context, now tell me about UI guidelines and keychain standards.

It seems to me that, for better or worse, the OLPC project the potential to create a huge, gigantic mass of individuals with a more heterogenious understanding of what Linux "looks like" than has ever existed before.

Apple has differentiated itself by creating a cohesive environment. Apple users get angry when applications don't conform to specifications. If within the "Linux community" enough people could agree to write apps to a specification, Linux's popularity would rise and we'd see broader uptake.

Sugar could be that for a certain 90% demographic of Linux users. Imagine: A uniform display canvas, UI standards, consistent technology stack?

I don't even know that Sugar's technology doesn't suck, but at least it gives some architectural direction.

Anyway, lest some overzealous moderators accuse me of drifting dangerously off topic, I see a huge need for the sort of limited-purpose system that the original poster is looking for. My parents, my wife's parents and grandparents, (Myself?!) etc. I'm sure there are more than a handful of people here who wish they could set up a system that had some basics like video conferencing (to talk to the grandkids), web surfing, and... what else?

*The* killer feature would be having a big enough body of users that you knew patch management, upgrades, and hardware compatibility would be automatic. Maybe an OLPC with a bigger screen and keyboard for grandma's eyes and arthritic fingers would fit the bill?


Re:OLPC - OCPG (One Computer Per Granny)? (1)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278567)

I agree. The problem is, Desktop Linux needs to be more like Embedded Linux. Every once in a while, some magazine columist will claim that there are too many distros and that users are confused about while to use. They are missing the point.

There are a lot of manufacturers of embedded devices that run Linux, but their customers aren't confused about which distro to use. The maker picks a distro and makes it work on their platform, and that version gets shipped with the hardware. Sure, you can flash other distros, but it comes out of the box with something that "just works" and 99.999% of the users will never want to change it.

Microsoft, through various licensing agreements, guaranteed that anyone making desktop systems would have no reason to ship any other OS; BeOS found this out the hard way. Fortunately, most if not all of those agreements have been invalidated, but even so it's taking a while for the manufacturers to pick a distro. Linspire got Walmart to include their disto on some low end PCs, but Walmart hasn't wanted to commit the resources needed to make things take off; they need an 800 number for people to call when they have problems. Dell has announced that Unbuntu is their choice for their PCs, and have guaranteed that every system that they ship will have drivers for every piece of hardware that's installed. Some people are waiting to see what other distros will be supported, but I don't think that multiple choices are a good idea.

Psychological studies have proven that people want choice, but they don't want too much choice. The US got by for years with just three television networks, and I think that for in the near future the same should be true of operating systems. In the near term, all of the major manufacturers should support just Windows, MacOS and Ubuntu. In the long term, everyone will follow Oracle's lead (where they introduced their own brand of Linux) and Unbuntu will fork into Dell, HPQ and IBM versions.

And then Linux will take over the desktop!

Crazy Talk. Free Software is Easy. (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19280275)

Freedom, not a lack of it is the answer to the problems you think you see.

If you don't believe me, feel free to respond to this post and tell me what the best development environment / language to write Linux desktop apps in is. Okay, now what's the best distribution? While we're at it, what's the best text editor? With that as a context, now tell me about UI guidelines and keychain standards.

I don't believe you because every useful program has been made to work with every distribution without a lot of effort. Gnome, KDE, X, etc all works together in a way non free junk never will. It's about freedom, not marketshare or "standards". When you define real standards for interoperability, the rest takes care of itself.

Others have pointed to dlink [] and packet8 [] phones. Because free software has swept up the embedded market, they both probably use some form of gnu/linux. If they don't now, they will later. All that's really needed for these devices to thrive is well regulated public networks. Without that, we will probably waste another decade while "broadband" and IM providers battle it out with incompatible crap.

Re:Crazy Talk. Free Software is Easy. (1)

PipsqueakOnAP133 (761720) | more than 7 years ago | (#19281215)

Either you're trolling or you've simply missed his point completely.
The poster above has it right.

The problem isn't freedom or lack of freedom. If you're given a linux-based device with the ability to install software of your choice, you have your freedom.

What the parent wants is uniformity and proper user interface design. A singular target for support.
If you're of the minority who doesn't like that singular target, it's no problem. You can go take your hardware and compile your own distro. Nothing's going to stop you. Don't get me wrong, the standards you talk about for interoperability are important. But you could have some 50 different linux VOIP phones and it wouldn't help if every single one of them have horrible UIs, right? Same thing applies to computers.

For the less technical people, the "one true Linux distro" would help greatly in getting users adjusted to Linux. This is necessary for acceptance. If every single Linux box looks completely different, wouldn't the average user get confused? Heck, think about helping your mom's friend learn how to use their new Linux box. If they can't tell you what desktop enviroment they're running, how are you to know that they're using KDE, Gnome, fwm95, xfce, or blackbox? Even among techies like us, there's merit in having the "one true Linux distro" in that sometimes, we don't want to take the time to learn about all the different tools before making a choice. We just want one good enough until we feel it's not, and the freedom to change it.

A singular Linux platform benefits us all.
One consistent UI for n00bs.
One consistent UI for writers to write books about to help users.
One consistent UI for us programmers to help the n00bs learn.
One consistent target for writing apps in any language the programmer prefers.
One consistent target for companies who just can't release their apps as open source, and one consistent platform to officially support. (Users of any other distros can support themselves as they do now)
One consistent target for hardware manufacturers to write drivers for. (If we don't freeze a kernel interface for hardware drivers, we're doomed. Freeze one interface. If there comes a time where we must change it, we can always have a 2nd interface.)
One starting point for users to learn with, but the flexibility for them to load anything else they want.

My distro of choice for making servers and stuff is Gentoo. But until there's a sign that Linux will become easier to support, my main computer will be my Mac.

Re:Crazy Talk. Free Software is Easy. (1)

bit01 (644603) | more than 7 years ago | (#19282317)

It's called a free market. Like most every other market on the planet. There's nothing stopping you or a new user making [shudder] choices for all of the things you mention. In all the things you mention there's only a limited number of mainstream choices.

Sure it's inefficient having multiple projects competing in slightly different ways. It's called capitalism. Maybe you'd prefer communism?

If you want a true standards mess forget about linux, just look at web technologies, particularly flash interfaces. I don't see many people avoiding those.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging standards, but not at the expense of a competitive free market. Just like every other market.


WGA. Guilty until proven innocent. For millions. Again and again.

Yet more crazy talk. (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284951)

You suggestion is really an insult that makes no sense:

What the parent wants is uniformity and proper user interface design. could have some 50 different linux VOIP phones and it wouldn't help if every single one of them have horrible UIs, right? Same thing applies to computers.

So really, what you are saying is that KDE, Gnome and friends all suck. That's fine, go find something you like. What you claim you want is:

A singular target for support.

This is a foolish and impossible goal. Even if you chose some non free "singular" platform, you have chosen from one of many systems. As long as you have your freedom, you and your users will have to make choices. In the free world, the best methods migrate between interfaces so nothing is really lost and in the end you can find something just right for you. Without your freedom you won't be able to make any choices and everything will suck anyway because those making the choices for you are guided by their best interests not yours.

Whoosh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19281285)

You completely and utterly missed his point. Harping on about how it's so fantastic that there are nine desktops and fourteen distros is not exactly addressing his (very real) concern. "Crazy talk", free or not, "non-free junk", that's not the point.

If you're not going to contribute anything to the discussion, refrain from posting altogether.

Re:OLPC - OCPG (One Computer Per Granny)? (1)

dodobh (65811) | more than 7 years ago | (#19283779)

If you don't believe me, feel free to respond to this post and tell me what the best development environment / language to write Linux desktop apps in is. Okay, now what's the best distribution? While we're at it, what's the best text editor?

The one that suits your needs best is the one for you. For me, it's vim, Perl, Gentoo, vim. For others it could be different. The point is that there is no best solution out there. I have a solution for my needs. For people with different needs, the solutions are different.

I am seeing Myth working here.... (1)

VE3OGG (1034632) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278199)

While I supposed an N800 working here, I think the best bet is a MythTV setup working best here. I have heard of IR remotes working with it, and IM is a cinch. Not only that but the TV funationality is built in, and you can expand it as you see fit.

As for remote administration, that is as simple as adding an SSH server, and possibly something like FreeNX/NoMachine or VNC (I recommend the former, as I seem to be able to do anything, including remote video) from it...

Not to mention, other than the hardware, its free.

Re:I am seeing Myth working here.... (1)

rerunn (181278) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278371)

mythtv for this?? LOL He wants something simple! What part of that didnt you get?? I don't need to elaborate any further.

That sounds like a stock iMac (4, Interesting)

SmoothTom (455688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19278469)

Built in camera, software included, toss in Apple Remote Desktop 3 and it is remotely administrable. Very stable, not as subject to thousands of viruses, very decent power consumption, etc.


Re:That sounds like a stock iMac (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279313)

An iMac or any computer would work for that matter, but the idea is it shouldn't appear to be a computer and doesn't require any functionality other than to act as a visual communications device.

The remote administration ability is both so that we can resolve any problems but also to allow us the ability to turn on the camera if we cannot contact her by the usual means just in case.

Re:That sounds like a stock iMac (3, Informative)

UnderCoverPenguin (1001627) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279895)

An iMac can be setup to require nothing more than then the mouse as an input device. I beleive it is even possible to to configure it to auto-start iChat on power-up.

Re:That sounds like a stock iMac (1)

Tickletaint (1088359) | more than 7 years ago | (#19280969)

...allow us the ability to turn on the camera if we cannot contact her by the usual means just in case.
You could VNC into the built-in Remote Desktop client and initiate a video iChat.

Re:That sounds like a stock iMac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19298819)

What if you were to take the iMac and build/buy a case that will hide the keyboard from view (with possibly a way to access the power button) then have a USB keypad attached and have the keypads buttons set to do things like run what ever IM program you choose, and any other functions she would need to use.

Don't know how fesable that would be to do though.

Re:That sounds like a stock iMac (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#19281717)

From what I hear, Apple Japan is mostly populated with buffoons. Macs are very easy to maintain relatively speaking in regards to computers, but I don't know how a computer-illiterate person would fix it in case you can't connect into it.

Found it! (Sort of) (3, Informative)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19279987)

Looking at the D-Link videophone that was suggested I also found they have a stand-alone unit [] that connects to your TV to display the video and audio. It also has jacks for external audio input an external phone/answering machine to take voicemail messages even from video callers and comes in wired and 802.11b wireless models.

Control is through a TV-remote control device so it's close perfect. I would have to see how well it could be remotely controlled from outside but I'm sure some hacking possibilities are there.

Now to get Obaachan a broadband connection and we're in business.

Thanks all!

Re:Found it! (Sort of) (1)

howman (170527) | more than 7 years ago | (#19281653)

A broadband connection..... In Japan.... Never... ^_-... lol

Re:Found it! (Sort of) (1)

Hercynium (237328) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289497)

I work with some real tech junkies and so I know a couple of people who have this device. They started playing with it and found it was so simple it was perfect for using with family and (gasp) even managers!

Since it uses fairly common standards for everything - video, audio, connection setup and control, they were even able to make operate with a number of different software packages, including some on Linux.

Re:Found it! (Sort of) (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19296365)

Since it can talk to anything that does H.323 it should work with any standards-compliant VOIP device or software. Were they able to get into the box itself from the LAN side an change the internals??

Re:Found it! (Sort of) (1)

Hercynium (237328) | more than 7 years ago | (#19301623)

Hmmm... not sure about that part. However, I remember seeing my manager playing with it, connected to someone else who was working @ home and that the picture quality was quite decent. Not Hi-Def, but much better than your average webcam. (It's so subjective...) He was also planning to send one to his parents - they recently moved to Florida

Everything you want is free (1)

sglines (543315) | more than 7 years ago | (#19281961)

Just sign her up with Skype.

Re:Everything you want is free (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284437)

And how does she connect to Skype?

The software and carrier is not the problem, it is completely the hardware and user interface. It must be as non-threatening as a regular telephone.

I really did find almost exactly what I was looking for in the D-Link DVC-1100. As long as the receiving party has the same type of unit you can dial it with a regular telephone using the recipient's existing phone number. A proprietary directory service maps the telephone number to an endpoint IP address. For other H.323 contacts you can set up quick-dial numbers that are chosen using the TV-remote-like controller. Perfect.

Re:Everything you want is free (1)

really? (199452) | more than 7 years ago | (#19286457)

Skype USB phones, that hook up to your computer, are less than $20 at Anitec on Kingsway.

So, get the phone and on your way to baachan's place cruise Akihabara for a cheap used laptop.

Finishing the project will be left as an exercise to the reader. :-)

Solutions are Out There (1)

Thumper_SVX (239525) | more than 7 years ago | (#19282545)

In Japan, the fact is the solutions are already available, and ubiquitous: Cellphones. Most of the mid range and higher cell phones in Japan already have front-mounted cameras for video-conferencing and can integrate pretty well with software-based video conference systems (though you may want to do a lot of research).

Now, obviously the resolution isn't great and you're at the mercy of signal... but I've already used a cellphone in Europe with a front-mounted camera to keep in touch with my family back in the US and it worked like a champ. It was connecting to my home MythTV system so the kids could see me on the screen. It wasn't perfect, but it was a far better communications medium for me since I was always on-the-go and didn't feel like carrying around a device all the time other than a cellphone.

Now, if you wanted something more permanent there are other net-connected solutions out there. However, few of them would give the kind of freedom a cellphone does.

Re:Solutions are Out There (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19284561)

Interesting concept, but the choice of cellphones in Japan boggled even me. The user interfaces are also way beyond what Obaachan could deal with. We really are in an interesting age where although we and our kids can easily pick up even the most bizarre computer or phone interfaces, some elderly can't even comprehend what is being shown on the screen. A simple phrase like "Click on the dial icon" is completely incomprehensible. What is an icon? What does it mean to "click" on something? and most important of all is the fear of: What happens if I do it wrong?

To show you the level of simplicity I had in mind check out the solution I did discover: D-Link's DVC-1100. A little grey box that sits innocuously under or on top of the TV. You connect it to the TV and a regular old analog phone handset. The caller can dial the other party's regular phone number using the handset and they are connected by way of a directory service if the other party also has a similar unit, or by an on-screen quick-dial list accessed by using a TV-remote-like controller for any other H.323 client.

Re:Solutions are Out There (1)

Thumper_SVX (239525) | more than 7 years ago | (#19285411)

You know, looking at that device I think that's the way you need to go. Simple, commercially supported (if she has a problem she can call their support line) and relatively inexpensive :) I might buy one or two of these for my family in the UK so we can video-conference as well :D

Thanks for the heads up!

Illegal immigration... (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#19282623)

Everyone else is doing it.


heres my advice (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290059)

get a PC

install a linux distro you can admin remotely and that won't need to be upgraded to a new release too often. something like debian stable or one of the rhel rebuilds.

install a nice lightweight desktop and customise it to have easy links to the instant messaging and videoconfrencing apps, possibblly a web browser too. Set up all the software so it just works for her.

for emergency communication i think your better off sticking to the phone even if it is a little expensive, maybe get her a standalone VOIP desk phone.

8x8 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19296163)

check out packet8's video phone solution

`nuff said

macintosh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19300809)

Get her a MAC.

P.S. I'm a total pcuser

What's the budget? (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 6 years ago | (#19305355)

We have units from Polycomm at work. You can remotely control the camera, zoom, etc. They're compatible with standardized video-conferencing software, and can dial from a list much akin to a video-phone.

They also plug directly into a TV, or video projector, and can be set to "follow" noise.

They can also be rather extensively expensive, of course, but I've seen some on eBay for not too bad a price (up to the discretion of the buyer).

Here [] is some stuff from their website. It doesn't seem to mention pricing though, but I do remember that it isn't cheap, especially since it is more centric to a business environment than a home one. But it's fairly easy to use... enough that non-technical exec and boss-types manage nicely.
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