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Watch your house
Keep an eye on things with a webcam

01/27/11
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



I never thought growing up I’d be a dog person.

Dogs were always OK with me, but the family was unquestionably in the cat camp. As I got older, I found apartment buildings were much more amenable to feline co-habitants than canines, and I gleefully acquired a purring furball. My future mother-in-law reportedly told her daughter during the early days of our courtship, “Oh, he has a cat? He’s perfect for you!” Even the Internet approved, flooding the Web with pictures of cats in wacky poses and spouting nearly English witticisms in a pidgin grammar for my amusement.

But it couldn’t go on forever. Dogs are, after all, man’s best friend. It’s a saying, so it must be true. Now there’s a dog in my house, and he’s awesome, so I talk about him with coworkers, friends and my exasperated parents, who wonder what they did wrong in my childhood.

What’s really odd is that people with dogs now talk to me. It might never have occurred to them before, but now that I’m in the club, I get to hear dog stories. Including stories of brand new dogs — they’re called “puppies,” did you know that? — and the adventures of raising them.

Very young puppies, for example, need to be taken outside regularly and judiciously watched. Unlike the kitten, who is capable of using a box full of sand to take care of its business from a very young age, the puppy must relieve itself outside, and if not given ample opportunities to do so will pick random spots in your house until properly trained.

With this in mind, a friend asked me about using a webcam to keep an eye on his young pug while he’s at work. He found one service, GoToCamera.com, that lets him view snapshots throughout the day for free, but full-motion video costs extra after the first week. Are there alternatives?

As usual, the answer is: absolutely!

Assuming your webcam is attached to a computer that’s always on, the simplest way to view what’s in front of it is to start a video chat. Many instant messaging programs can automatically accept a chat request, but you have to set it up that way.

In Skype, for instance, under Tools -> Options -> Calls -> Show Advanced Options, you need to select “Answer incoming calls automatically” and “Start my video automatically when I am in a call.” Then, using another account at your other location, just click the Call button. Each account should be on the other’s contact list, and the one at the webcam probably shouldn’t be used for anything else.

If you’d like to make your webcam available to the world at large, there are plenty of websites that are happy to oblige. There’s CamStreams.com, with at least some controls on users so that you’re not sharing virtual porch space with, um, illicit content. Meanwhile, judging from the thumbnails at WW.com, they might at least look the other way if you start broadcasting risqué material.

For more privacy and electricity savings, consider an IP camera. Rather than leave your computer on all day, hook one of these up to your home network and have it automatically upload snapshots or stream its video. Most come with software to access it even if your Internet service provider doesn’t give you the same IP all the time (most don’t). The Linksys WVC80N or Foscam FI8908W can get you started for around $100.

Or you can quit your job to stay at home with your dog all the time.






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