Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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November 2004, Week 3 -- Here's Looking at You Again, Kid

 

 

 

 

 

   Wherever you go these days, someone is watching. And it may be you.

   Magazine reviewers have gone nuts over D-Link's wireless Internet camera, the model DCS-5300G, and we can see why. It is one of many new video surveillance cameras on the market these days, as we find that keeping track of things and people is becoming common practice.

   The neat thing about the D-Link wireless is, one, that it is wireless, and two that you can control it from the Internet. You can pan, tilt and zoom the DCS-5300G while you are watching on the web. That means you can follow movement in almost any direction and can sweep across a room to see if anything has been disturbed. A built-in microphone monitors sound. The camera transmits using the high-speed 802.11g protocol, which means you can also pick it up on some picture cell phones.

 

   The Windows software that comes with the camera allows you full remote control. It can capture motion at 30 frames a second -- about the same as what you see in a movie. It can be set so that any movement or sound will trigger an alert for you to tune in and see what's happening, or, if you're not available, automatically record it to your hard drive. The software can also encrypt the video and audio transmission so that only you get the picture, so to speak. You can monitor 16 such cameras simultaneously on the computer screen, but it will cost you.

 

   This is definitely the kind of thing to bring out your inner James Bond, and you may need his budget as well. List price on the DCS-5300G is $550, though we found it for $395 at www.ebuyer.com and around $410 elsewhere. If you set up half a dozen or more it can cost a pretty penny, but it's a dandy camera and well worth the price. D-Link is well known for its wireless devices and has a great reputation.

 

   If you want to go cheaper and are willing to forgo the wireless feature, Plustek www.plustek.com just came out with a slightly more limited pan, tilt and zoom camera for $99. This is the OptiCam M1.

 

   Like the D-Link camera, the OptiCam M1 has a built-in microphone and can capture full-motion video at 30 frames a second. It can also be remotely controlled through the Internet, using Microsoft's "MSN Messenger" or "Net Meeting" software, which come with most new Windows computers or can be downloaded for free from www.microsoft.com.

 

  With Plustek we again have a well-regarded maker, known for quality equipment. Losing the wireless capability certainly limits camera placement, but it simplifies set-up: The OptiCam M1 is basically plug and play with a USB connector.

 

   If you do a web search on surveillance cameras you will come up with literally hundreds of suppliers and dozens of camera choices. As you go up in price you get cameras with higher resolution (sharper images) and features like infrared night vision. Some are surprisingly inexpensive (under $500) for what they deliver, but setup is up to your own expertise.

 

  If you're a handy Andy with electronics you can buy very cheap video cameras from suppliers who run ads in magazines like "Nuts and Volts" <www.nutsvolts.com>. You can buy pin-hole cameras for less than $50. (A pin-hole camera has no lens, but captures an image by the bending of light as it passes through a narrow opening.) These are about the size of a quarter, but connecting them is up to you.

 

Cheap Inks

laser monks

   The huge response to our recent column on outrageous prices for printer inks leads us to a few more words on this dark subject.

   A reader's letter led us to Laser Monks http://lasermonks.com, a monastic group that refills ink cartridges (we are not making this up). They characterize themselves as the modern equivalent of medieval monks who produced wines, jams and breads for income. (Monks invented champagne.)

 

   Their prices run about half what the original equipment manufacturers charge for replacement cartridges (inkjet or laser) and slightly less that what we found at most other replacement cartridge sellers. Complete trustworthiness and high quality is claimed and our only hesitation is the philosophical one that what we have here is a tax exempt organization competing with businesses that pay taxes. This is a matter for much vigorous political argument of course.

 

Internuts

-- www.blueray.com Unusual dictionaries: A dictionary of words composed entirely of consonants ("sky," for example). A dictionary of words composed of just vowels; another of words containing just one letter (surprisingly, there are hundreds.). They have links to many similar sites, like the one below.

-- www.baac.net/michael  A dictionary of vanity license plate terms. "2DAY" for "today," for instance.

-- www.kli.org  Stands for "Klingon Language Institute." They have Shakespearean plays in Klingon, among other oddities. This is worth a little reflection on the nature of reality: What we have here are translations to a language that never existed, written and spoken by a people who never existed -- except on Star Trek TV shows. As a sidelight to this phenomenon, the German public radio network recently began providing online reports in both German and Klingon.

.Blackmoor Manor

Mystery

   A new Nancy Drew has entranced us as usual. It's "Curse of Blackmoor Manor," $20 for Windows, from HER Interactive www.nancydrewgames.com. Once again our intrepid teenage sleuth sets out to find the solution to mysterious events. This is number 11 in the Nancy Drew series, and we must confess that while we think they're great, we've never been able to solve any of them. On the other hand, lots of 12-year-old girls seem able to handle it. What is their secret?