FocusUF or how to turn off the autofocus setting of the LifeCam HD-5000 webcam

Welcome to the FuzzyCam

Why am I out of focus? It’s because I have a Microsoft LfeCam HD-5000 and I’m running Windows 10. The LifeCam HD-5000 webcam is a decent webcam with an annoying feature. The autofocus keeps shifting the focus around if you move your head slightly. It goes in and out of focus and locks in after a second or two.  When you are in a video chat, this can get very annoying (very quickly) for the other viewers. Your face will shift in and out of focus and it’s just a distraction.  Microsoft used to supply drivers for the HD-5000 and it had a control app where you could adjust the focus settings. Since Windows 8, they stopped as the OS directly supported the webcam.

I’m not able to sit motionless while on a webcam. I needed a work around. There is a registry hack that lets you turn off autofocus. I prefer to avoid hacks like that when it’s something that I could code around. So after seeing some stuff on StackOverflow on how to use the IAMCameraControl interface in DirectShow, I wrote a tiny command line app called FocusUF.

FocusUF uses the DirectShowLib library library to provide nice, friendly C# access to DirectShow. The DirectShowLib library maps the DirectShow Interfaces for use from a .NET app. With that library, it was little more than a handful of lines of code to access webcam controls. The app is hard coded to connect to a LifeCam HD-5000, but it would be easy enough to change the code for other webcam.

The code was written with Visual Studio 2017, it has not been tested with any other compiler. The source code is up on GitHub via this handy little URL.

How it works

To use the DirectShowLib library, I added it via nuget.

Install-Package DirectShowLib

The next step was to get access to the webcam. Using DsDevice from DirectShowLib, I was able to get the list of devices for the category of VideoInputDevice. Then I do a LINQ query to filter that list for the first match “Microsoft® LifeCam HD-5000”. If you are having a autofocus problem with a different brand or model of webcam, just replace that name with the name of your webcam. You can dump out the list of DsDevices and peek at the name property until you see your webcam.

Now that I have a DirectShow  sDevice that represents the webcam, I create a filter to expose the control interface of the web cam. DirectShow uses a module system called filters to expose device functionality. I create a new object that implements the IFilterGraph2 interface so that we can add a new filter. After getting that filter, I cast it to an IAMCameraControl to get access to the setter and getter methods. I get the current focus level and mode from the webcam.  I then set the focus to the current level and force the focus mode to manual.

How to use

Launch the app that will be using the webcam. Wait until it is in focus and then run FocusUF. It will detect the webcam and flip the autofocus setting to manual and lock it to the current focus setting. The setting will persist until the webcam is reset or another app changes the focus setting.

I probably looked better out of focus…

The name “FocusUF” is a tip of the hat to the YouTube channel AvE, where the host uses the phrase “Focus You F@*&” whenever his video camera loses focus.

Time to repave (slightly) my work machine

After lunch on Wednesday, I rebooted my work PC and it did not come back.  ADB had somehow lost the ability to see my actual Android devices.  I had tried a few things and was at the “Have you turned it off and on again” step.  I shutdown it and restarted it.   Windows 10 was not very happy.  I got the light blue screen of death.  It had a useless QR code and the ever so helpful message “critical service failure” message.

After a few rounds of rebooting and trying the standard self-repair options, I surrendered and handed it over to our IT guy.  I pretty much knew what the end game would be, but decided to let someone handle it.  He did pretty much the same things that I did and we decided to let Windows reset itself.

Windows Reset is both a good thing and a bad thing.  The good thing is that it basically says that your current Windows OS is rubbish and it will install a fresh one.  One that will be hopefully less damaged than the one that you are currently using. Or in my case, not using.  All of your data files are left intact.  Or at least in the condition that they were in before the SS Minnow goes for a  three hour tour.

I’m not sure what the root cause of the problem was.  I was nearly out of space on the primary drive and it’s been my experience that Windows doesn’t behave well when it runs out of room.  I had rebooted the day before and it was just fine then.  Today I had updated the Android SDK and that pretty much chewed through the remaining free space on the primary drive.  I could have probably used used Mike Halsey’s help.  Mike Halsey has xray vision for this sort of thing.

I’m due for a new machine at work and we had ordered it the day before.  So there really wasn’t much point in completely repaving this machine.  I just needed to install the stuff that I would need for the week or so until the new machine comes in.  So it’s time to install the bare minimum I need to get what I need to work on for the next week or so.

Office 2016
We have Office 365 so this wasn’t an optional installation

Android Studio
While I do nearly all of my Android development with Xamarin, there are times where it’s useful run some code in Android Studio.

Visual Studio 2017
This is where the good stuff happens.  I installed the latest preview bits.  I usually leave the preview versions to virtual machines, but this machine will be in my hands for a week or too.

Visual Studio Code
I have a few projects that are firmware that have their own C compilers, but no IDE.  Visual Studio Code is turning into my text editor of choice.  I like the latest and greatest, so I always install the Insiders edition.

SQL Server 2016 Developer Edition and SQL Server 2017 Management Studio
I have data needs.

Chrome
It’s more useful to than Edge for most stuff.  I still use Edge, but most of the time I use Chrome.

Paint.Net
For making a quick hack of the Windows 10 background.  Why isn’t this bundled with Windows?

Spotify
Sometimes I need some music to help me concentrate.  I have the attention span of a mal-adjusted toddler, playing music with a good beat tends to keep me focused.

Since I installed Android Studio before Visual Studio, it installed the Android SDK and assorted tools first.  Visual Studio installs a second set and in a separate location.  Android Studio places it a user profile folder, Visual Studio in a Program Files x86 folder.  Since I’m using Intel’s HAXM kernel driver to accelerate Google’s Android emulator, I need to know which IDE’s Android SDK installed HAXM.  When I get the new machine, I’ll install the Android SDK first and set each IDE to use that SDK.

In the meantime, I’ll starting making a list of the tools that I need to install on a new machine.  There is considerable overlap with what I install on my Macbook these days, but there are still key differences.

Using console jQuery to scrape lists from Apple’s developer portal.

Scrape
I needed to grab the lists of registered devices and developers from our company’s Apple Developer portal. Unless I’m being particularly obtuse (an outcome that I never rule out), Apple does not provide any means of exporting the lists.

Apple only allows 100 devices of each type (iPhone, iPad, iWhatever) to be registered as development devices. No matter how many iOS developers that you have at your company, 100 is the limit. And if you remove a device from that list, it still counts towards that total.  Once a year, you can reset the list and carry over the devices that you still need and drop off the ones that are not needed.  To make this easier to manage, I wanted to get a list of the devices and their ids and have the developers pick the ones that they still need.

So I wanted to export that list.  And Apple doesn’t let you export that list.  You can see it on the screen and work with the items in the list, but no export.  I figured that I wasn’t the only person dealing with that limitation so I did a quick search on Stack Overflow and found this little gem.

var ids = ["Device ID"];
var names = ["Device Name"];
$("td[aria-describedby=grid-table_name]").each(function(){
    names.push($(this).html());
});
$("td[aria-describedby=grid-table_deviceNumber]").each(function(){
    ids.push($(this).html());
});

var output = "";
for (var index = 0; index < ids.length; index++) {
    output += ids[index] + "\t" + names[index] + "\n";
}
console.log(output);

To use that code, you would go to the list of devices in the browser. Then open up the developer tools for that browser. For example, in Chrome you would press F12 to open up the developer tools. Staying with the Chrome example, you would click on the Console tab in the developer tools and paste that Javascript code in and then press the Enter key. The code would execute within the domain of the page and generate a two column list of device ids and names.

To understand what that code does, you need to look at how the data is rendered on the page. The device list is stored in a HTML table, with each row looking like this

<tr id="1" tabindex="-1" role="row" class="ui-widget-content jqgrow ui-row-ltr">
    <td role="gridcell" style="text-align:center;display:none;width: 34px;" aria-describedby="grid-table_cb">
        <input role="checkbox" type="checkbox" id="jqg_grid-table_1" class="cbox" name="jqg_grid-table_1">
    </td>
    <td role="gridcell" style="" class="ui-ellipsis bold" title="iPad" aria-describedby="grid-table_name">iPad</td>
    <td role="gridcell" style="display:none;" class="ui-ellipsis" title="c" aria-describedby="grid-table_status">c</td>
    <td role="gridcell" style="" class="ui-ellipsis" title="twletpb659m0ju078namuy8xnv2j0fzt1kytanfz" aria-describedby="grid-table_deviceNumber">twletpb659m0ju078namuy8xnv2j0fzt1kytanfz</td>
</tr>

Looking at the highlighted lines 6 and 9, we can see the device name and device id as the text of table cell tag. Each cell has a aria-describedby attribute to identity the type of value being stored. We can search on the values of the attributes to locate the data that we want. Going back to the javascript, look at the following lines:

var names = ["Device Name"];
$("td[aria-describedby=grid-table_name]").each(function(){
    names.push($(this).html());
});

The first line declares a Javascript array with an initial array element of “Device Name”. The next line performs a jQuery select for all of the <td/> elements that have attribute of aria-describedby with the value grid-table_name. The next part of the statement iterates over the list of matching <td/> elements and uses the jQuery html() to get the text value of the cell and add it to the array. We then can then do the same technique to get the device id and then build a list as a string and finally dump it to the browser’s console.

I also needed to the email addresses of all of our registered developers. The email addresses were not in a table, but part of a list. Each email address is wrapped inside a section element like this

<section class="col-100 ng-scope">
  <p ng-bind="::person.fullName" class="ng-binding">First Last</p>
  <a class="smaller ng-binding" 
    ng-bind="::person.email" 
    ng-href="mailto:first.last@yourcompany.com" 
    href="mailto:first.last@yourcompany.com">
    first.last@yourcompany.com
  </a>
</section>

I just needed the text part from the <a/> element. Getting the email addresses was a simpler version of the code to get the devices. I just a jQuery select on the ng-bind attribute and matched on the value “::person.email”. That ended up being a single line of code to run in the browser’s developer console

$('a[ng-bind="::person.email"]').each(function(){
  console.log($(this).text())
  });

And that’s how you can screen scrape data from a web page that doesn’t provide any support for exporting the data.

Bonus round
The aria-describedby attribute is a commonly used accessibility element used to describe the element that the tag is part of. The “aria” part of the attribute name is an acronym for Accessible Rich Internet Applications. Among other things, it was designed to allow assisted reading devices help parse a page for users with visual difficulties. It’s a good technology to use on your web pages.