Daily Archives: Wednesday, 6th Feb 2008

V+ – One Month On

Well, it’s been just over a month since I had the V+ box installed, so I thought it might be a good time to post an update on how I’m getting on with it.

In the first couple of days, it seemed to reset itself a couple of times. And on another occasion, it lost sound to the radio channels – not TV channels, just radio, which was odd, and required a reboot to fix. But apart from that, it’s been very well behaved – certainly more stable than the old box. It’s recorded everything I’ve told it to, and I’ve been able to watch the programs I recorded without any trouble at all.

In short, it works. It does what it says on the tin, and I’m very happy with it. The ability to record a whole series is great – unlike my old HDD recorder, which only allowed me to set a weekly recording at a fixed time, V+ deals with series that have varying start times[1]. I find it really handy to be able to set it to record things that look like I might enjoy, but I don’t want to watch at the time[2].

It has actually changed the way I watch TV – there are now very few programmes that I watch “live”. I find myself catching up at the weekend, or at odd times in the evening. Some things I might leave for a week or two before I watch them. Some things I might never watch, but I can leave them on the box, as there is more than enough space for the TV I want to watch.

So if you’re thinking about upgrading, my personal experience suggests that it’s a Good Thing. Your mileage may vary, and other such disclaimers.

[1] Such as Primeval, which has been shuffling around a bit.
[2] Like Columbo rereuns on Hallmark at 6am on Sundays, for instance

Weight Report – 6 February 2008

Oh no!! My weight’s gone up!! Shock!! Horror!!!! Disaster!! Well, it’s only gone up a teeny weeny bit, and it’s definitely well within the normal daily fluctuation range, so I don’t think it’s actually a problem. So there. :tongue:

Just Passing Through

Yes, it’s another bird picture already!

Just Passing Through

Just Passing Through

Dramatic Avian Action on the Quayside!

More nice detail captured here – it could have been a wee bit sharper, but it was about the best pan I could manage at the time.

In flight

I’d had one of those mornings[1], so it was a Good Thing that I had my camera with me and it was a nice day, as I really needed to get all that nasty work stuff off my mind for a while.

So I had a bit of a wander, ending up at the Quayside. Just for fun, I went out with my 100mm macro lens. Using a prime lens[2] makes a photo session a slightly different experience. You have to make a little more effort to get yourself in the right place to take the picture you’re after, and have to think a little more about what you can and can’t do. This is quite healthy, really – I find it encourages me to try to get better pictures, which is what it’s all about. Well, relaxing and doing something that doesn’t involve answering the phone or beating up computers for a while it what it’s really all about, but the getting better at it thingy is in there somewhere.

Anyway, I took plenty of pictures, some of which are usable, some aren’t, and others may need more work before I decide if they’re usable or not. A lot of the pictures involved the birds which were swooping over the river. I think this is a kittiwake – they nest under the Tyne Bridge and generally hang around between the bridges. They were moving quite fast, and without the convenience of a zoom lens, I had to keep trying to catch one[3]. But my persistence finally paid off. Well, I think it did, anyway. This shows the bird flying in front of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, and I’ve caught some nice detail.

In flight

In flight

One of the many kittiwakes[1] seen on the Tyne at lunchtime.

More pictures later. Maybe even later today, if I don’t run out of tuits.

[1] Installing a new server turned out to be more “interesting” than normal. I ended up bouncing the thing so many times, I came close to naming it “Tigger”, even though that wouldn’t have fitted in with our naming convention…
[2] One that has a fixed focal length, rather than a zoom lens that covers a range of focal lengths
[3] I do have some nicely blurred birds :cheesy:


Having sorted out the hardware, the next stage in moving the Lescam was, of course, getting some software that would do much the same thing as Webcam32 has been doing for the last few years. Webcam32 isn’t the slickest of programs (it hasn’t changed in a long time)[1], and for Windows users who want to start with a webcam, I usually recommend WebcamXP these days. But it’s been working for me, and I never saw any reason to replace it (well, I’d paid for it, so I wanted my money’s worth, which I’ve probably had by now).

More of the usual searching and reading led me to EvoCam, which looked like it would be a pretty much exact replacement for Webcam32. Indeed, their own site mentions that WebcamXP is an equivalent program for Windows users. So I downloaded a trial, and set it up.

Getting it talking to the camera was simple. Getting it to upload images by FTP did require a few changes from the default settings (no temporary file, use passive FTP), but nothing too tricky. Overlaying text on the image was several million times easier than with Webcam32 – it all integrates well with Mac OS X, so colour pickers are available, and it’s all nicely point and clicky.

Then came the final test – getting the live Lescam working, so suitably insane visitors can see me moving. A quick look at EvoCam suggested that this might only work with a Java applet (which I’d rather avoid) or by constant page refreshes, which would be a bit 1999. However, a more detailed look at the docs showed that the software will cheerfully serve up the image directly. So all I had to do was change the script that runs on the Lescam page to match the syntax for EvoCam (not much more than adding “webcam.jpg” to a path).

Then I just had to get the outside world pointing in the right direction. A little bit of tweaking on my router was needed to point requests to the port I’d configured to the Mac rather than the PC (and to give the Mac a fixed IP address to make sure it stays pointing there) was the first step. That was easy enough, though I did manage to forget to click the “Save Settings” box the first time. :duh:

Finally, as the Windows PC is now off, I needed to add a DynDNS Client to the Mac, so that the address I use for the image always has the right IP address. That was even easier, as DynDNS have produced a nicely behaved Mac OS application.

And after all that, we have a working Lescam, as far as I can tell. I’ve got a few days to try out EvoCam before I decide if I want to keep it (it costs the hideously large sum of $25, so it’s not much of a decision, really!).

This has been another “Les goes Mac” post. There are more to come, including a bit of muttering about office suites…

[1] And as of May 2009, it seems to have vanished. It is an ex-program. It has ceased to be. It is no more.

Microsoft Live Vision Camera

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been working towards my complete (or as complete as I can get) Macification at home. An important step in this process was getting the Lescam working, so my legions of fans[1] can see me in all my, err, me-ness. Anyway, as I mentioned, Mac-compatible webcams aren’t all that common. Apple used to sell apparently rather good (and very expensive as such things go) Firewire cameraa, but these have been discontinued. And did I mention that they were expensive? There are also some creditable open-source efforts to produce drivers that will make more mass-market webcams behave nicely. I tried one of those with my Logitech camera, but the results weren’t too good – it connected, but seemed to stutter and not load the whole image. So I did some more reading and found this little beauty. The camera is sold bundled with a headset and a trial X Box Live membership[2]. It is, in fact, designed to work with Microsoft’s XBox 360 console. And it also works with Windows XP. But what Microsoft don’t tell you is that it also works as a “Quicktime Compatible Camera” on Mac OS X. Yup. Plug it in and it works. No drivers required.

With the software I’ll talk about in another post, the image is bright and clear (much better than I was getting with the Logitech, in fact). And it has a focus ring! Now that’s something I haven’t had since my first webcam some time in the 20th Century. That was a nice thing – a bit big, quite expensive, fairly low resolution, but it was good stuff at the time. Most webcams are fixed-focus, relying on a lot of depth of field to get the subject in focus, which might be nice for monitoring a room, or some such, but a bit rubbish if you want to show one thing (such as your face) clearly. OK, some people might suggest that I’d be better off out of focus, but we’ll ignore them.

I don’t know how it performs on Windows PCs, but if you’re using Mac OS X and you want a webcam that plugs in and works without needing any fiddling or muttering, this is worth a look.

And there is a certain amusing irony in having to buy a webcam for an Apple computer from Microsoft…

[1] :lol: :laugh: :lol: :laugh:
[2] Some sort of games console thinginess. Not something I pay any attention to these days…