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May 01, 2005

Happy May Day

For years now, I've been intending to put up a web cam outside our house, but Internet bandwidth and camera capabilities have both been obstacles. Who wants to see a 320 x 240 image delivered over a dial-up line?

Recently, though, I got both a low-end broadband connection and a high-res webcam. And the cam's up now. After a lot of tedious fiddling with its settings (while on a ladder), it seems to be delivering decent images. You can view them here.

Naturally, Mr. Murphy wouldn't be happy unless there were some caveats. Those are:

1. The image is large: at 1280 by 960, it's pretty mambo. So it can be a little slow to load. In addition, the page is set to refresh at a short interval; this will make your bandwidth problems on a slow connection even worse.

UPDATE 05/04/05: The tech support guys at StarDot Tech advised me that I'd get a sharper image with a smaller size, due to the type of CCD they use in their Netcam. So I've changed the size to 640 by 480, which is just over 25% of the 1280 image. It's correspondingly faster. We'll see how much sharper it looks.

2. Because of its size, the image will fill (or be too large for) most displays. So you will need to scroll within the browser window to see the whole image unless your display resolution is 1280 by 1024 or higher.

"Oh," you may be thinking, "the image-size control in Internet Explorer will adjust the image size for me." Nope. That won't work because of the way the page's CSS is coded. (Bwa-ha-ha!) However, you can save an image you like and edit it later to suit your tastes.

3. You will not be seeing Yosemite, the Champs-Elysées, or even the St. Louis arch. What you'll see is a rural setting in a river valley in east-central Missouri. If you like pastoral pix, you're in luck. You can count the cows.

4. Adjustable size and refresh rate have been deemed "revision II features." They're on the list. (But there is no schedule.)

5. Unfortunately, the cam shows only about 20-25% of the valley. (There's more to see than cows.) I may be experimenting with a wide-angle lens, or I may add another cam, or I may do both. Things Will Change, in other words.

6. I added a permanent link to the sidebar on the right so it'll be easy to find again (assuming you want to find it again).

7. Since we turn the lights out at night here in Missouri, the image is only available between 4:00 AM and 9:00 PM, US Central time (1000Z to 0300Z).

Sunrise, when the fog comes up out of the valley, and sunset, when the shadows crawl across it to the east, are the most interesting times, IMO. You can get local sunrise and sunset times from the St. Louis weather forecast.

All that said (whew!): Enjoy! If you like it, post a comment and let me know.

If you're interested in the technical details, this is a NetCam Megapixel camera from StarDot Technologies. It runs uClinux, a Linux flavor for embedded systems. You can telnet into the cam and run vi, if you like. (Timo, he just smile.) You can also run shell scripts and awk to control the serial I/O and relay ports.

The downsides are...

(a) no pan,
(b) no tilt,
(c) no zoom,
(d) no remote focus control and
(e) no remote iris control

...which explains all that time on the ladder. Neither is there any audio capability nor any streaming video mode. Luckily, I don't care about either of those.

When you buy this thing for the resolution you pay a price. Axis and Sony cams have a lot of features this one doesn't. But those two don't come close to StarDot's NetCam for image size and resolution.

Well, let me amend that. I couldn't find a cam that would do all that for less than $1,000.00. I know someone will send me a link to a camera that does everything I want, including hi-resolution - but it will cost $5,000.

Posted by joke du jour at May 1, 2005 06:09 PM

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