Devil makes work for idle geek

I have this thing about Webcams. They fascinate me.

When I say “webcam” I don’t mean chatting online, Skype, or even taking-ones-clothes-off-in-front-of sort. No, I mean the original webcam idea – camera pointed at something, computer takes picture every few minutes and uploads it to website.

If you want some examples of what I mean, how about the collection of BBC Webcams, such as The Eden Project or Plymouth Sound. Or try and spot Nessie on the Loch Ness Webcam.

And for a quick history lesson (so I can pretend this Blog is educational) how about reading all about the Cambridge Coffee Pot, the first ever webcam?

I have this dream that one day I’ll quit my job, sell all my worldly possessions, and then travel around the world. I’ll go to all the places with Webcams, stand myself in a prominent position until the picture is updated, then visit the website and grab it. I’ll publish a book of all my adventures, and call it “Where’s Oddbloke?”. I might even wear a red and white stripey scarf in each photo.

Anyway, I thought I’d have a go at building my own. Interesting project for a week or two.

So I acquired a “shuttle” PC case, and put a silent mini-ATX motherboard in it (no cooling fan needed). I used a silent power supply. I dug out an old PCI video capture card from my junk-PC-bits collection, and spent some money on a composite video camera.

I installed Linux on the PC, including recompiling the kernel to support the video capture card.

I searched online and found all the documentation for controlling capture cards under Linux, and wrote my own software. After a week of evenings, I had it grabbing single frames, colour correcting, motion sensing, blur-removing, adding of caption and timestamp, encoding as a JPEG, and uploading to my website every five minutes.

I laid network cable to the front bedroom (lifted carpet, floorboards, laid cable, wired-sockets, tested – the whole thing), installed the computer on top of the wardrobe, and fitted the camera to point out of the window onto our street.

I did all this “for a larf”.

And after a week of running it and watching it from work, I can conclude … I live in the most boring street in the known universe.

You’d think after all that trouble to go to, that my neighbours would at least try and put on a bit of a show. But apparently not. No fighting, no car accidents, no drunken cavorting, no stabbings, no streaking, no orgies or wife-swapping parties (I’ve read the Sunday Express, so I know these things go on). Nothing but the occasional cat crapping on my drive. To be honest, I could have just used a digital camera to take a photo out of my front window, stuck that on my website, and just pretended that it was a webcam. It would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever.

I think I need to move to an area with more street theatre.

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posted in Diary, Geekery by Oddbloke

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