How to use a webcam as a home security camera

Over the years as I’ve acquired various bits of hardware, I’ve somehow ended up with a few ‘extra’ webcams. Not really wanting them to languish in my parts bin, I figured I’d take a stab at setting them up as home security cameras. And, I wanted to check out what my dogs were up to during the day 🙂
My kitchen was the perfect test area, as I already had a windows-based PC there. All I needed to add were some USB Extension cables and I was set. So for you list-minded folk, here’s what I used:

I positioned the cameras where I’d have a good view of the floor-space and entrance. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the right angle and in one case I had to use a weight to keep the Logitech Camera in place…the twists of the cable wouldn’t let the camera sit flat.

On the software side, I chose to go with an online solution, This was much simpler than setting up a home web server and webcam capture solution. I wanted something that was pretty much plug-and-play.

Our subscribers use HomeCamera’s built-in motion detection for security cameras, to receive image and video intrusion alerts on their email and mobile phones. Features like automatic recording schedules enable you to see what happened in your home throughout the day, even while you’re on an out-of-town work trip. Business customers use HomeCamera to watch over their factories, their shops, warehouses, and more.

Setup was pretty simple. I tweaked the camera settings using the camera manufacturer’s setting software, then ran the client.

The Client allows you to set up and share your cameras. Again, very easy.

Since is in beta, their service / performance may fluctuate — though I’ve never had any issues.

As well, service is free during this beta period. According to the site, there will be a free option, but also a paid one too:

We expect to exit beta and go commercial in early 2010. At that time, we will offer two service plans: FREE (which is pretty much the service you see now, with a few limitations on number of online cameras and server storage) and the full service (with video streaming) at US$ 29.95 YEARLY. Yes, that’s $29.95 per year – we want to keep the price low enough for regular people to easily afford the service. At this price, it’s cheaper than a cup of coffee a month…

So, I now have a video-based home monitoring system. Basically free, as I had all the parts anyway.

There are other online monitoring solutions out there, but this one just seemed to be the simplest for me…got any ideas how I can improve this setup? Let me know!

A simple and easy way to back up your Google Docs

If you do a lot of your work on various computers in different locations (as I do), conveniently accessing your documents is important.

Though I carry a 2GB USB drive everywhere, I actually find it easier to use Google Docs and store my work ‘in the Cloud’, so to speak.

But, that amorphous blob of computing-storage could crash, or my Internet connection could be down. My productivity would end unless there was a way to backup and continue my work on my USB drive too. And there is.

FireFox + GreaseMonkey script + DownLoadThemAll == Solution
If you understood the above heading, then you can see how I solved it. If not, bear with me and all will become clear(er).

First, install and run FireFox. You can’t continue (and your browsing experience will be greatly improved) until you do.

Next, if you’ve not yet installed GreaseMonkey, do so now. This little application runs sophisticated scripts within your browser to improve your online experience. There’s a whole host of cool GreaseMonkey scripts to explore.

Thirdly, install DownloadThemAll — a nifty FireFox addon that automagically downloads all the links or images on a web page. You’ll see how that works for us after the next step.

Finally, install the Google Docs Download GreaseMonkey Script. This is the crux of the solution. To quote the documentation, once inside your Google Docs account:

Just navigate to the document list that you wish to download and select the documents you want to download by clicking their checkboxes or click the select: all link at the bottom of the page. Click the drop down menu on the right side of the page that reads “Download Your Documents” and select a format. A new window will open and you now have a list of links to download all of the documents that you selected.

The beauty of this script is that it you can select which format you’d like for output (PDF, TXT, CSV, Open Office or Microsoft Office), and it works with regular Google Docs accounts, as well as Google Apps for Domains accounts.

To summarize
By simply navigating to my Google Docs main directory, selecting ‘All Documents’ (making sure they’re all checked), and then launching the DownloadThemAll Add on (now in your FireFox Tools menu), I’ve easily created an editable local copy of all my work stored in the G-Cloud. And any work I do on a local copy can be easily imported (as a new file) back into Google Docs.

Admittedly, it’s not as easy as storing it all on a USB stick. But a stick can be lost, and I’d rather have my backup go south, than all my finished work should I actually lose the stick.

Your thoughts? Would this work for you or am I too paranoid?  🙂

Reasons why I unfollow someone on Twitter

Recently I had a great discussion on Twitter about Unfollowing…a much discussed topic of etiquette amongst the Twitterati.

One school of thought is that when someone follows you on Twitter, it’s proper for you to follow them back.

That’s not my belief though. If that were the case, then it would be impossible for me to derive any real value from Twitter (the tool) or the people I follow (their content). The Twitter stream moves too fast.

As many of you who’ve read my past posts know, I tend to tweet a lot.  I tweet about things I find of interest, and that I think my followers also find interesting. Follow me to see if my twitter stream appeals to you 🙂

If they’re not interested, then I have no problem with them unfollowing…I don’t want to waste their time.

I just realized that I cut and pasted out this section…doh! So, why do I unfollow? If you’re not interesting to me, if you spam me, if you try and get me interested in YOUR make money fast scheme, if you don’t tweet in 300 days, or if, after I search your tweet history, I find you’re mostly talking about things I’m not interested in….if you fit into any of those categories, odds are I’ll not be following you for very long. Sorry, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t have the time or bandwidth to follow you in a meaningful way.

To assist me in managing who I follow, I’ve used the following tools:

  • Friend or Follow (thanks @frostedbetty!) – a simple way to check out the status of folk you follow
  • Twitter Twerp Scan – applies analysis and ranking to people you follow to derive a ‘value’
  • Twitter Karma – a great interface to ‘batch’ manage who you’re following
  • Twitoria – checks the last tweet age of folks you’re following

And finally, your opportunity to let me know why you’re unfollowing a funky new poll format via PollDaddy…back in the upper right corner of this blog post. Or let me know via the comments below.

Getting Things Done with Gmail?

GMail for Apps adds simple Task function

Usually Google Apps for Business is the last of Googles free online application suites to receive new features, but ever since Google enabled Google Labs within Apps for Business, new features are rolled at the same time.

Today Gmail received a simple Task List manager:

Google Tasks in action

Like many of Google’s enhancements, it’s a very simple implementation — but it works quite well, and means that I can remove another plugin from my poor oversized Firefox browser.

To enable Tasks, go to Settings, click the Labs tab (or just click here if you’re signed in). Select “Enable” next to “Tasks” and then click “Save Changes” at the bottom. Then, after Gmail refreshes, on the left under the “Contacts” link, you’ll see a “Tasks” link. Just click it to get started.

More at the Gmail Blog.

What to know when changing website hosts

A couple of weeks ago I found the following in an email from my webhost:

Your web hosting account for has been deactivated (reason: site causing performance problems).
Although your web site has been disabled, your data may still be available for
up to 15 days, after which it will be deleted.

After a quick call to the ever-helpful customer service line, I’d learned that I’d exceed my allocated CPU or SQL cycles. With my simple little WordPress blog.

It seems that a plugin (or two) had taken too many resources too many times for them. They are a very large (perhaps the largest) webhost offering unlimited everything…except CPU and SQL cycles.

Continue reading “What to know when changing website hosts”

Google Chrome: a quick look and how to block ads with Privoxy

Google Chrome Logo
Creative Commons License photo credit: Randy Zhang

Google Chrome is no Firefox (yet).

For the last week and a bit, off and on,  I’ve been using Google Chrome (Google’s new entry into the browser wars). On the 3 XP-based systems I’ve used it on, I’ve found it to be very fast, very efficient, and stable. Pretty good performance for a ‘beta’.

I do have concerns about the way Chrome appears to ‘monitor’ my surfing activity (by using Google Gears functionality), but then again, I use Gmail and other Google Apps so I’m sure the Big G knows all about me at this point.

But, without plugin extensibility, Chrome is currently a curiosity. I won’t be using it for my daily work.

One major annoyance is the lack of Adblock. The web is a very marketing-heavy place, and I prefer to selectively view my advertising. The Adblock extension for Firefox allows this.

To achieve an advertising-reduced surfing experience with Chrome, I need to use Privoxy, a local privacy managing Proxy server. It’s a quick install and seems to work flawlessly.

A solution to this for now is

1.) Install Privoxy
2.) Click on the Wrench icon in Chrome in the upper right corner
3.) Choose options>Under The Hood>Change proxy settings
4.) A windows box pops up, choose LAN settings (at least this is what it’s called in Vista)
5.) Check off “Proxy settings” and in the address setting add127.0.0.1 and in the port 8118
6.) If you have the option, you can also check off “Bypass proxy for local settings”
7.) Click “Ok”, close chrome and restart it. 

Tada. Enjoy.

Geekzone provided the process (thanks guys!)

I love mashing technology! (freebies)

Moo + LinkedIn = Free Business Cards

I’ve written before about Moo (cards & stickers) and LinkedIn (the business social network), but this is the first time I’ve written about both in the same post.

Short story.
Moo is letting you make 50 of their beautiful photo-enhanced business cards for free!

It’s really mashup2
Moo itself is a mashup of the traditional business card printing business, an online card creation and billing model, and an ability to import images from Flickr and other sources. The new mashup component is that you can import parts of your LinkedIn profile into the card creation process.

And 50 free Moo cards is always cool.

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