Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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February 2004, Week 2 -- Here's Looking at you, Kid

 

 

  Internet Camera
DCS Model-900W

   An estimated 5,000 video surveillance cameras are continually on watch in midtown and lower Manhattan. In London the nearest number anyone can provide is 150,000. It is estimated that on average, anyone walking or driving around in London, especially central London, is on camera 300 times a day. Over one million cameras are believed to be watching the rest of Britain.

   One U.S. news service recently reported that at least 26 million surveillance cameras have been installed worldwide. Some people are upset about this. But then again, if you can't fight em, why not join em? These surveillance cameras and their remote control systems used to be expensive, but now just about anyone can play. Let's take a look at three new remote control video cameras from D-Link, a company well known for computer networks and Internet connections.

 

   For $150 you can watch the baby, the family, the neighbors or anyone else you want to aim at with D-Link's "DCS-900W" model. The "W" stands for wireless, and that means the picture can be transmitted without cables to a computer with software ready to interpret its image and send it to the web. The receiving equipment can be up to 300 feet away, depending on local conditions. There's a web site already primed to receive the picture and the software provides a unique address for the camera so that only you, you crazy kid, can view it.

 

   Now at $150 we have some limitations: The camera delivers 320x240 pixel resolution at 20 frames a second. Thirty frames a second is full motion, so the view may be a little jerky, and 320x240 is not really sharp imaging. The DCS-900W is also fixed. That means it can only see what passes in front of it. However, the software allows you to split the viewing screen between four cameras at once, so you can have fixed views from several directions.

 

   For $300 (estimated street price) we can move up to the "DCS-5300 Fast Ethernet" model. Now we add tilt and pan: the camera can be remotely controlled to follow the action over three-quarters of a circle to either side as well as up and down. We also add a microphone, and can hear what's going on. Picture resolution moves up to 640x480 pixels (roughly similar to what you would see from a television broadcast) and full motion of 30 frames a second.

 

   Now the camera can be both viewed, heard, and its motion controlled from any remote Internet connection. The camera can be turned on and off through the Internet as well.

 

   Using the software's built-in streaming video and MPEG video compression, the sound and picture come through in real time. The camera can "see" in as little as one "Lux" of light, less than the light cast by a medium candle. Tech support is round the clock, every day.

 

   Finally, if we're willing to spend $400 we can get the same camera with a "W" on the end. Sixteen cameras can be viewed at once on your computer screen. The software can detect motion in the field-of-view of any of the cameras, and can take a brief video clip of that motion and transmit it immediately to an Internet location and will send an email alarm to the controller.

 

   Part of this sounds like fun. We're not inclined toward paranoia and seldom do anything that would be interesting enough for surveillance. Undoubtedly a number of people will be outraged by this casual view. But surveillance technology is obviously useful for businesses, government and institutions, like schools and libraries, that have limited staff and generally open access. Pretty soon, no matter where you go, someone not only may be, but probably will be watching.

 

   You can get a lot more details on this sort of equipment at the D-Link web site: www.dlink.com. Note: There are many other makers of video surveillance equipment and lots of ways to do this. We had to focus somewhere and we settled on D-Link because we had always found their equipment reliable in the past. For a fuller look at what's available in this field, do a search on the topic using www.vivisimo.com.

 

Internuts

* www.soupsong.com  If you're going to sing for your supper, what better song than "Beautiful Soup," from Lewis Carrol's "Alice Through the Looking Glass."  The Soup-Song web sit has dozens of soup songs, as well as soup jokes, news stories and recipes. Try a sip.

* www.hyperdictionary.com An extensive collections of dictionaries and thesauruses, including medical and computer dictionaries. Type in a word and take your choice of dictionaries. Type in "joy" and you find the typical definitions and learn that it is also the name of a computer programming language.

 

* www.webcamlocator.com  A master site for links to public web cameras all over the world. Watch the crowds in Prague or Moscow, or peer into volcanoes and see if anything is about to pop. Want something a little, shall we say, out of the ordinary? How about the web cam at the "Bo Jangles Saloon" in Alice Springs, Australia?

  Joy of Tech

* www.leonardsworlds.com  Another web cam locator. Most sites are also listed in the previous Internut but it's worth checking both to see if there's a camera missing in the other.

Books

   "The Best of the Joy of Tech," by Nitrozac and Snaggy; $15 from www.oreilly.com.

Tech out! A book of computer cartoons and other geek speak. It's not that funny, but interesting as a cultural sidelight. The forward is by Steve Wozniak, designer of the original Apple II.

  Note: Over four years of On Computers columns can be viewed and searched on our web site: www.oncomp.com. Readers can contact  the authors by email at bobschwab@aol.com or joydee@oncomp.com.