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Persistent Home Videoconferencing Solution? 253

An anonymous reader writes "I'm moving very soon for work, and will be several hundred miles away from my young family for six to nine months. Obviously I'll travel back as often as possible, and there's always Skype and XBLA video, but the whole 'now it's time to talk to dad' thing seems ... a little weak. I was wondering the Slashdot community could help me come up with a more persistent solution. Ideally what I want is an always-on connection between a pc/monitor/camera/speakers in my old kitchen and my new kitchen, so if we're in the kitchens, we can see each other and interact semi-normally. (We're a kitchen-focused family.) Most solutions I can find time out pretty quick, or require some knowledge on the part of the users, and the tech-savvy people are only going to be in one kitchen, to put it politely!" (Read on for a few more details.)
"I do have a reasonable number of Windows PCs and Macs (and game consoles), but no alt. OS machines, so something for retail OSes would be better — I haven't tested the PS3 camera for long durations, but I know the conferencing quality with a PS3 is pretty good, and that could be an option too. Any camera recommendations would be good. We have sweet access at our house, but it will need to be wireless to the kitchen from the router."
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Persistent Home Videoconferencing Solution?

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  • Camera surveillance? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jack Malmostoso ( 899729 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @11:47AM (#33403466)
    Maybe something for surveillance? It's basically what you want to do, just "in a good way".
    • Nice idea. Such software may already support the feature that video is only sent when there is movement/change. So, you're not wasting bandwidth.

      Perhaps this Mac software suits your needs []


  • Creepy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Manip ( 656104 )
    Sorry but that is creepy dude. I do the long distance thing, and trust me, I wouldn't even want what you suggest. But that being said I like to try and be helpful so my suggestion would be a Network Web-Camera which you can purchase from NewEgg (wired or wireless), which you'll be able to remote into, and then have a PC with Skype or Live Messenger running, with auto-answer enabled, that has your face / audio. Then get a router with Dynamic DNS support, you then visit the Dynamic DNS address on a particula
    • Re:Creepy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xacid ( 560407 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @11:55AM (#33403520) Journal

      I'll have to disagree about your creepy statement (but I do appreciate still offering your advice).

      Dads being gone, especially with little ones can have pretty large effects. I think it'd be kind of cool to still be able to have that "hey dad guess what!?" pop out of the middle of no where. It's those unscheduled moments that are going to win with a good set up.

  • Panasonic IP camera (Score:3, Informative)

    by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @11:50AM (#33403488) Homepage Journal

    very IE dependent, but we had a setup with a microphone (internal to the device) and external speakers,

    my wifes family from overseas could manage it without a problem
    the remote viewer had 'click to talk' functionality- we'd be in the office and suddenly the speakers would crackle 'szia' and they could see the grandchildren and we could talk clearly...

    setup was technical, using it was not...

    video was one sided only..

    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      That's the one thing to be concerned about: audio looping back through the microphone from the speakers, around and around and around... it would take a good setup to prevent a horrible echo.

    • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Saturday August 28, 2010 @06:20PM (#33405666) Journal

      Axis IP cameras are cheaper than Panasonic, and aren't as reliant upon IE running on specific versions of Windows.

      (Disclaimer: I sell both.)

      But: The problem with IP cameras is that you still need a computer-ish device to view them with. There are apps for something like an iPod Touch which can do it, but I have my doubts about them having good audio support.

      And there won't be any echo cancellation happening, which is really rather needed if headsets aren't used for audio. (Nothing quite like hearing "Hey Dad!" echo over and over again with a second or so of latency as bounces back and forth across the country...)

      So, it's going to need teleconferencing-specific software. My suggestion, therefore, is a cheap, used laptop at each end, preferably with a built-in camera. Several-years-old laptops are plenty fast enough to do this sort of work.

      For software? Who knows... Try some of the obvious choices [], and see if any are dumb enough to get the job done persistently, while being smart enough to get the things right that need gotten right (echo cancellation, for instance).

  • Skype + Auto Answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by petree ( 16551 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @11:55AM (#33403514) Journal

    Create a dedicated Skype account which is set to auto start video and accept calls from it's contact list, add your skype to that contact list and you're all set. All you have to do is click call whenever you're in your kitchen and there will be a video uplink. Runs on windows or mac with any old x86 box and webcam, pretty close to $0. Just make sure the PC doesn't go to sleep (more than $0).

    • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:03PM (#33403570) Homepage

      With Skype for...TVs [] it even begins to look like the old scifi dream...

      Might be interesting if TVs/large displays on both sides are at the ends of tables.

      • With Skype for...TVs [] it even begins to look like the old scifi dream...

        Might be interesting if TVs/large displays on both sides are at the ends of tables.

        Yes, I've used Skype and other video conferencing apps on a 56" HD TV. It really is cool to see larger-than-life representations of people on the other end. Kinda like being on the bridge of a typical Federation starship, where everyone you interact on-screen with is bigger than you are. Well, okay, like that minus all the nifty consoles, pointed ears, warp drives and hot Bantu women in miniskirts. But other than that.

        Unless he's has a corporate-level Internet connection, he'll probably not want the thi

        • by sznupi ( 719324 )

          Federation solutions aren't perfect [] (warning: NSFW, in a way, I think...well, mostly deeply disturbing)

          All this makes me want to try videoconferencing using some decent projector - as long as it won't be in the field of view of the camera (fairly easy with many projectors & their mechanisms to correct image geometry when not projecting at a wall "head on"), the results should be really cool. Might even help with eye contact issue, if the camera will be somewhat "hidden" in the screen...

    • by spasm ( 79260 )

      Add a motion detector, use the skype api to link the motion detector to 'call [skype account]' at each end, and the thing will connect whenever anyone walks into the kitchen at either end..?

    • This is chat I have right now. Works great. Even get skype on your mobile so you know if they "called." I agree with top poster. This is almost free and very effective. For me at least.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:01PM (#33403558)

    quit your job, or move your family with you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gman003 ( 1693318 )

      I'm pretty sure that was his first idea, but for whatever reason, was unfeasible.

    • I agree. If you already have this much separation anxiety, you're asking for nothing but grief and stress in your life by being apart from your family for so long.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by anethema ( 99553 )
      I agree to this. If you're working away from home this often, the chances of your wife cheating on you or leaving you increase tenfold.

      "Lonely" is the absolute worst thing you can make your wife feel if you want to keep her, and is the reason most often given for infidelity.
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:11PM (#33403628) Homepage
    I live overseas, and a couple of times I tried to "sit in" on family gatherings (Thanksgiving & Christmas) by virtually "being there" via a webcam and wireless laptop. I literally had a seat in the living room with a laptop sitting there. It didn't work as well as I would have liked. Why? Well for one I couldn't move the webcam about, so as to look at people. Eye contact is very important, I discovered. It gets tiring staring at the same scene directly across from the laptop, and people can't be bothered to move you about. Sort of like being a head in a jar on Futurama - they all have Kabuki-style dedicated assistants to carry them (or robotic bodies). Second, as you're remotely in and your voice is tinny by being on a laptop speaker, it's kind of distracting for everyone else. It always seemed to sidetrack the discussion whenever I said anything. Maybe this was due to novelty, I'm not sure if your family would get used to it after time. Third, even though I was eating the closest thing I could get to a nice dinner (the fanciest bento box they had at the department store, like fifteen bucks which I would have never bought ordinarily), it still wasn't the same as having dinner with the family. Fourth, the time zones although if you go north-south this isn't an issue. I gave up after a few times and just telephoned in and the family handed the phone around until I had had a chat with everyone. Maybe if they fastened the laptop onto a Roomba or something that would have helped.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree with DNS-and-BIND. We (me and my girlfriend) used to play RPG with a group of friends and when we moved to another city we setup a skype call so we all could keep playing together. It was awkward, video quality was not as good as we were expecting. Sometimes there were frequent crashes, which was really annoying and took away most of the fun - it's just not nice to be interrupted when you are having a lot of fun... you can shrug it off at the start but in the long term it starts to hurt. Even with a

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Thelasko ( 1196535 )

      Maybe if they fastened the laptop onto a Roomba or something that would have helped.

      There are companies [] that offer such [] things. [] Probably impractical for the OP though.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      I understand that it won't work as it is basically looking for a technical solution for a social problem.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Ekdar ( 1237418 )

        I've never really understood this argument. Surely using technology to stay in contact with distant family members at least improves the situation?

        And imagine that 500 years from now we have extremely sophisticated androids or 3-D holograms (to the point that they are nearly indistinguishable from humans) which can be controlled (perhaps via a direct brain link) by a remote person. Will you still just throw your arms up and claim that the "social problem" just can't be solved by technology?

        I agree that th

    • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @03:39PM (#33404878) Homepage

      This is a bit more expensive, but solves the problem. []

      It's a standalone device, so no computer to run, and probably a minimal power draw.

      You'd need to run ethernet or a wireless to ethernet adapter for each device.

      You do, however, get remote pan and tilt functionality. That should be a boon if you're changing between talking to kids and adults.

      Some criticism as to durability, but those folk were running them for a couple of years. Low light problems are always an issue for webcams, I'd highly recommend visiting Ikea or similar and adding several lights to the kitchen to make it really bright if it's not already.

  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) * on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:15PM (#33403642) Journal

    Is your wife tech savvy?

    If you follow a nerdy slashdot suggestion and something breaks, can your wife fix the problem?

    I would say just use iChat on two Macs. Keep it simple.

    It's not what you asked, but maybe you should reconsider what you are asking.

  • Two Laptops? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jarich ( 733129 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:17PM (#33403656) Homepage Journal
    I'm not seeing the most obvious answer. Put two laptops in the kitchen. Use wireless internet. Use laptops with built in video cameras. Run any of the IM programs that have video capability. Just leave the laptops turned on. Someone walks in, looks over, and says "Hi!"
  • you have your kids turn on chatroulette, and you do the same. if you don't see each other, and you're kids are still not mentally scarred, you bogosort until you find each other

  • If all you need is a persistent video stream between two locations, isn't this just setting up a PC/laptop with a webcam in each kitchen, openening an IM video chat session, and leaving the session up and running?


  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 28, 2010 @12:34PM (#33403774)

    What if you or your wife want to bang someone on the kitchen table?

    • by brusk ( 135896 )
      Then you move the kitchen table into the living room.
    • by Qubit ( 100461 )

      What if you or your wife want to bang someone on the kitchen table?

      Two kitchens == two kitchen tables?

      I mean, presumably, anyhow. Having just one table betwixt the two would be poor planning.

      Or were you more concerned about the video equipment? I mean, I assumed it was a given that you'd mount the stuff on the wall to keep it away from food spills, hot pans, or whatever else goes down in your kitchen.

  • Keep it simple, mate. Use a telephone. Or Skype. If you want to see pics of the family, have them email them to you. Gmail account is good for this. Having dad call around dinner time could become a very treasured memory for the family. Also remember, you're the one who's taken the remote job, you didn't have to do that.

    Now, if you are thinking surveillance, that's a whole different ball of wax. Might want to have a chat with the fam about that.

  • Presence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RJFerret ( 1279530 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @01:06PM (#33403974) Homepage

    Since there have been useful direct suggestions already, some of which have pointed out the liability of not actually feeling "there" by virtue of separation by screen, I have an alternative that can actually help you feel together, as if you are both in the same place (although not useful for kids).

    "Second Life"

    Lots of people in long distance relationships use it to actually feel as if they are together sharing space. Businesses have found the same thing, instead of feeling the "distance" video conferencing confers, everyone feels as if they are in the same room.

    You can present yourself how you desire and decorate how you all desire including have pics of kids on the nightstand. You can have shared experiences like going to live music events, dancing together, attending Burning Life (the virtual Burning Man alternative), participating in games or treasure hunts, watching videos, sailing, amusement parks, exploring different places, etc.

    You can even explore intimacy, including in ways you might not feel comfortable in your own bedroom. (I know a couple who both logged on in their apartment together, one in one room, the other in the living room, who enjoyed certain adult activities that just made them giggle were they trying them in their own bedroom together.)

    The only big catch is there is a significant learning curve, many people log on and try it, to never log on again--so you might not "get it" (it seems more women and stay at home moms do).

    But I can tell you that it's amazing how good a virtual hug feels when someone gives you one and you virtually experience it happening, far more than a verbal "love you" or textual "*hugs".

    I know there are many here who ridicule Second Life, but this is an area in which it excels, and I know of no other similar substitute--plus it's free!

    • While I don't agree with the virtual world ideal you are putting forward, I can respect that some people do. However, people like myself prefer video conferencing over a wholly abstracted world. I know some people get the whole "we are together" thing from second life and what not, but I'm much more interested in seeing the actual person, and their body language and expressions. Once you abstract the interface layer, you lose a considerable amount of data.
  • Faux Portal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @01:12PM (#33404006)
    I would use projectors not screens. Set up a whole wall of the room (or a large bordered portion) to act as a window.

    The goal is to have it close enough to something that people are comfortable with allowing for some suspension of disbelief. Working towards that end have the camera in each room in a similar position to make it as close as possible to acting like a window. Stick a pointless frame/trim on the wall to encourage the illusion. Continuous lines and such when standing and looking into the 'window' from the most common position are important. Similar rooms would help as well. Or common elements ... little things like cameras being the same height off the table are important to make it feel continuous.

    It would not be the same thing as a window of course because of the lack of 3d. One thing you could do though to partially alleviate this would be to use head tracking to determine how close you are to the camera and as you move closer have it zoom to match the right field of view that you would expect. This would help add some realism. Another thing you could do would involve 3d sound recording + reproduction which is doable. It makes the connection feel more real if they can hear you move across the room.

    More expensive the better pretty much. Costly internet connection helps a lot. Good camera and microphones would be good. Good projector would be very important. Fancy business telepresence stuff probably is good and expensive too.

    I'm sure a good driven programmer/engineer could set this up and get it working smoothly with under 20k and a month or so ...... But it'd be pretty damn cool!
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      I would use projectors not screens. Set up a whole wall of the room (or a large bordered portion) to act as a window.

      ...If he has no practical limit to cost.

      I got rid of my TV and moved to a projector about two years ago (needed a new TV and discovered that a decent projector costs about 2/3rds what a decent TV with half the screen size would). And I absolutely love it, no regrets, but I watch very little TV, basically just one or two hours every other day or so, perhaps four hours on a rainy weekend
    • I would use projectors not screens. Set up a whole wall of the room (or a large bordered portion) to act as a window.

      That would require a high-res webcam to work well.

      And you'd need to set it up to reproduce at 1:1 scale, no larger; this means that with a projector you're wasting a whole lot of real estate on irrelevant stuff (i.e. not the person but his kitchen). Having a nice large monitor is good; a projector is overkill, IMO.

  • Check out [] one channel going either way seems like it would work.
  • Some years ago I saw a paper (maybe ACM Siggraph) on something related. A meeting room had a video camera every few feet and the stitched together signal was then projected from a few projectors onto a wall. I made it seem as though you were looking at another room, with a table and the people sitting behind it. Using multiple cameras / projectors (and maybe rotating their orientation) allowed a big portion of the room to be transmitted, while maintaining enough resolution to see their faces, it was all abo

  • Words of support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @01:32PM (#33404132)

    I'll be honest; I don't know the solution to your problem. But I've been reading the replies, and between people giving you career advice (without any concept of what your job is, how much you love it, how hard it may be to change it, etc.), disregarding the flamingly, ass-poundingly obvious (normal IM won't work because you have to be close to the laptop, it times out on its own, etc.), or simply telling you that what you're asking about is creepy, I can see you have your work cut out for you.

    Hang in there, man...and remember, this very thing that you are doing, this clear and persistent description and communication of a need, is what drives innovation in the IT and consumer electronics industries. Go for it, and keep it up until you get what you want!

  • Not a complete solution, but possibly part of a solution. WowWee (The company that made the Robosapian) has a mobile webcam 'robot', the Rovio []

    They sell it for pretty much your situation. So, whenever it's wondering around, the family can know "Dad is here !"

    • That's really cool. Robot navigation is always a problem, so it's interesting how they've dealt with it.

      If that thing had an LCD on it to make the link two-way, it'd be basically perfect. Well, that and if the camera and LCD were mounted at normal eye level.

  • Sounds to me like you're trying to virtually join 2 separate houses together. Perhaps this is the future for all of us.

    Seems to me that always on web-cam solutions have been around for a decade or more. Some number of young women paid for their college educations that way.
  • you might "walk in" to see something you didn't want to. Or even worse, one of the "home team" might catch something from your (remote) end!
  • Have you looked into Google video chat? I haven't used it as a regular consumer (I'm an employee) but it seems to work pretty well. It's probably at least worth checking out. []

  • Apple's iChat works excellently for me for long-distance connectivity. We connect via Jabber rather than Apple's MobileMe ($$$$!) service. It works flawlessly, in my opinion.

  • by Lunch2000 ( 701764 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @02:49PM (#33404600)

    Video conferencing is for two parties to voice chat, video chat, and share data, etc for a set period of time. I think what you really should think about is a webcam streaming service. There are many sites out there that allow you to embed a live feed from a webcam in a webpage for a small fee. A lot of them will provide the page and give you direct URL and provide the local client software to stream the feed to the web page. You get one for your computer, your wife gets one for the home PC. You watch their page and they watch yours. All of this is designed to run full time as long as the PC is on, can be set to start at boot up, will save your settings and logon info etc. That way you have an always on solution. I don't remember the service I used to use. A quick look at google got me to

  • At work we sometimes work on projects which span multiple offices. We have used a pair of Tandberg units, one sitting on our desk in California, the other sitting on a desk in New York. It is great to be able to say "hey Bob, can you explain this bit of code?" when you see that Bob is sitting at his desk and not deep in conversation with someone else. Much more productive than resorting to email, phone, or IM all the time.

    Sadly, I've heard that those Tandbergs are super expensive...

  • I would look into the Slingbox. It is designed to send full TV channels to remote devices, so it should be able to handle a very good picture with good quality for long periods of time over the internet.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    1. Tandberg or Polycom. I would guess this is out of the question due to price, but it needs to be mentioned since these folks install systems like this all the time and is used in mission critical operations.
    They'll support remote pan&tilt of the cameras, microphones placed throughout your kitchen and lots of nice options. Be prepared to refinance your mortgage, though.

    2. Surveillance cameras + PC on both ends, with a web browser w/ full screen camera view bookmarked. Expensive, and the picture quality

  • This solution is not cheap but it will give you the best quality for the price and the hardware is really nice. Feature-rich, Full HD Video is Here Full High Definition video communications - Now more accessible than ever Extending the capabilities of the award-winning LifeSize® Express system, LifeSize® Express 220 is an enhanced Full HD video communications system that is both affordable and scalable. Ideal for small working groups, teams or individual knowledge workers who want to take comm
  • SIP Videophones? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DrogMan ( 708650 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @05:07PM (#33405290) Homepage
    A Pair of Grandstream video phones will fit the bill (although they're not Wi-Fi - so run a cable), however can you afford the bandwidth? You're talking about 250Kb/sec each way more or less 24/7 ... That's close to 500MB a day, each way. OK if you have unmetered access, but I've really no idea what your internet conneactions are like... If they meter both ways, budget for one GB a day...

    You'd need to do some port-forwarding in each router (UDP 5060 + the RTP ports) and 'dial' the other site by IP address - it's not hard on the GXV phones and it saves setting up proxys/sip servers/asterisk, etc. If you set each phone to auto-answer then it's not hard to re-establish the link if it fails for whatever reason.

    Failing that, if you want to be PC/Laptop based - look for Ekiga...

    I use a combination of GXV3000 video phones, Ekiga and my Nokia N900 to make/take video calls from my family and in-laws, although I use an Asterisk server to co-ordinate everything and we don't stream 24/7!

    • by jesup ( 8690 ) *

      Or look at a couple of Ojo 900's (also SIP) - not large screens, but rock-solid 30fps even at low bandwidth; they'll run 24-7 and the fee is low (and they're cheap). You can dial the bandwidth down if you want; they'll run a nice experience down to 120Kbps, and can do down to 80K@30fps. At 250K they're great. I know someone who had dinner with his fiance every night, 1000 miles apart, using Ojos. They'd leave them on as soon as both of them were home, in the kitchen while they both cooked.

  • You could always use something like tinychat. Just create a room and password protect it so you don't a bunch of horny perverts telling your wife to show her boobs. It may not be completely private as I'm sure that someone at the provider could monitor, but who cares. If someone wanted to hear me talk to my kids about Mickey Mouse or my wife about the electric bill, I pity them because their life must suck.

  • use iPhone4 FaceTime (Score:4, Interesting)

    by codgur ( 1518013 ) on Saturday August 28, 2010 @07:05PM (#33405940)
    I have been on the road for 3 weeks using iPhone 4 daily for over an hour after work talking and interacting with my family. My 4 year old calls me and says "Daddy we're almost home so we can FaceTime." He knows WiFi is required and we only have that at home. Whatever hotel I'm in I make sure I have wifi and if not I bring my AirPort Express to set up the wifi. I do have to reboot the iPhone sometimes before the video works but here's the real reason to use a mobile solution: My family was working on the backyard and they could show me what they were doing. It was awesome. Also my little ones would show me what they are playing with and I would show them the hotel room I was currently in and it was just so much more like being there and not having to be stuck with a 6-8 pound laptop on my chest. It kept me sane and I highly recommend it for anyone with a family in an extended work situation away from home. The little ones forget so easy what you look like / and they are SO much more engaged with conversation when they are stimulated with their eyes and ears. My conversations before with just voice were like (literally): Hi Dad. Hi love you how are you. Good. What's new. Nothing. Bye Dad. It really sucked and there was no bonding. This way the bond was kept and interestingly enough made stronger cause when I got back on Friday my little one said, Dad I wish you go back again. I said why. He said so you can bring me more presents and we can do FaceTime. It was priceless.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by neilah ( 547160 )
      I'm with codgur on this. I have kids that live with their Mom far away (messy divorce, etc.), and this is the setup I'd have them use. Although it's not PCs, and cellphones break, get lost, stolen, etc., this is a significantly better system. Here's why I think so: 1. timothy, the original poster, didn't tell us the age of his kids, but says he has a 'young family', and the kid(s) are old enough to spontaneously say "hey dad check this out". This tells me that they are likely pretty tech savvy, like my
  • ... one of those little Atom based mini PCs on each end. They are truly tiny and you can get versions for under $300 each. Now they even have dual core models.

    Stuff the PCs in a cabinet and hook them up to a wall mounted flat screen monitor with built-in speakers and a USB Camera(wide angle)/Mic attached. The bigger the monitor you use, the more "telepresence" you'll experience. You can get a 20" for $120 or less. Then just run Skype w/video, 24/7.

    I'd recommend this setup over a netbook or laptop sol

  • They are pricey but what you want are a couple of Polycom VSX 5000 or similar units. Maybe you can find some on ebay or something. They are nice because you don't need to be technical to run them and they come with an easy to use remote control. You can even control the other units camera direction and zoom. The quality of both the audio and video are very good but, and this goes for all of your solutions, depends on the reliability and quality of your internet connection. You just need a TV or Monitor

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern