Tag Archives: webcam

One man and his vlog

Yesterday I realised I was looking particularly suave and debonair, so decided it would be the right time to point a camera at myself. Mmm…

If you want to try using a decent digital camera for videoconferencing, you normally either need:

  • something which will capture an HDMI output signal from your camera and feed it into your computer over USB, like the Elgato Cam Link,

  • or you need some software which can capture the live preview output and make it available to your operating system as if it were a locally-connected camera. On the Mac, I do this with a combination of Camera Live – which makes it avaliable as a ‘Syphon’ server – and CamTwist, which can take a variety of inputs, including Syphon, and blend them into a ‘virtual camera’ output. There are various tutorials online on how to do this. OBS is a similar popular app, but doesn’t yet support virtual camera output on the Mac.

  • Finally, for some versions of some Mac apps, you may need to remove the app’s signature (which identifies it with a certain set of permissions), to enable it to see virtual cameras as well as physical ones. At the time of writing, Zoom needs:

$ codesign --remove-signature /Applications/zoom.us.app/

P.S. Sadly, various other people have used the phrase ‘One man and his vlog’, so I can’t pinch it on any kind of long-term basis 🙂

The Ring cycle?

I have a Ring video doorbell. When there’s movement in front of my door, or when someone rings the bell, it captures a brief video clip and saves it to the cloud.

It occurs to me that:

  • Amazon owns Ring.
  • Amazon delivers to my door.
  • Amazon could register that they had successfully delivered to my door by holding the delivery (or its barcode) up to the doorbell’s camera.
  • Perhaps I should patent the idea?

An early webcam TV appearance

In October 1999, I was interviewed by Leo Laporte on ZDTV’s ‘Call for Help’ programme. Yes, this is just another interview about the Trojan Room Coffee Pot, but it’s interesting to me for several reasons.

Firstly because, even though it’s nearly 20 years ago, I’ve only just seen it! They kindly sent me a VHS tape of the episode at the time, but (no doubt with good intentions) they encoded it with a rather unusual 50Hz variety of NTSC, and I’ve never been able to play it. It was only last week that, before throwing it out, I went to the trouble of tracking down somebody who was able to tell me that, yes, indeed, there was actually something on the tape…

Secondly, it was quite a challenge to do the recording. They sent me a camera in advance, and I had a slightly older PC which didn’t have the brand new USB ports that were just starting to appear, so I had to dismantle it, install an ISA card, and then repartition my hard disk and install Windows 95, because neither the Linux nor the Windows NT operating systems I had on there were supported by 3Com’s software.

But chiefly, it’s a nice nostalgic snapshot of tech life not too long ago. The rest of the episode provides helpful hints like: you’re probably used to installing hardware in your machine before inserting the CDROM or floppy with the drivers, but with USB it’s a good idea to install the drivers first. Files you download over your modem may be compressed and you’ll need a thing called WinZip to see what’s inside them. And Chris Breen (later an editor at MacWorld), comes on to explain that if you’re trying to play DVDs on your computer and they keep skipping, it may be because you’re connected to a network that does something called DHCP. The PC can’t do that and play back smoothly at the same time, so it may be worth disabling DHCP before you start watching. Oh, and there’s also a section about how, if you have a laptop, you may find it a pain to be tethered to your modem, but there are some wireless networking options becoming available, and the one that looks most promising for the future is this thing called 802.11…

The clip I’ve uploaded shows the interview from the studio in California, with me in Cambridge, and we’re joined by Don Lekei from Canada a bit later. It’s hard now to remember just how rare it was at the time to see people on TV live from remote locations. That normally needed satellite linkups, or very costly kit attached to extremely expensive international ISDN calls. For Don and I to talk casually from the comfort of our own homes on opposite sides of the world was enough to get the hosts of a tech show pretty excited. You’ll note that we both use telephones as well, though, because there wasn’t any suitable audio channel…

Anyway, Leo is now the head of the substantial TWiT netcasting network, so I guess networked video worked out well for him too 🙂

A quarter-century of coffee pots…

The Dutch RTL News programme did a short piece last week on the fact that the webcam was now about 25 years old.

They interviewed me for just a few minutes, after, ironically, having to spend about 45 mins getting their Skype working.

If, like me, you don’t speak any Dutch, you can hear me at about 0:16 and 1:24, and, in between the two, see some pictures of a much younger me!

Caian coffee

There’s a nice post about the coffee pot webcam on the Gonville & Caius College website this morning. Thanks, Lucy!

All you need is Lovie?

Last night we went into London because the kind people at the Lovie Awards, the European branch of the (rather better-known) Webby Awards, had been good enough to give me an award, mostly for the work that friends and I had done in creating the first webcam.

I was a bit embarrassed about this, partly because I didn’t think I deserved it, and partly because of the name, but I got over the latter, at least, when I discovered that it’s in honour of Ada Lovelace.

Anyway, the tradition is that you have to give a little speech containing the word ‘Love’. The other tradition, which nobody told me, is that the speech should be about 30 seconds, which is why I look a bit more flustered than usual here! I was trying, not very successfully, to edit my speech on the fly. But I got away with it because mine was the last award of the evening.

It was a great and responsive audience, which, sadly, you can’t hear on this video.

Computerphile

Sean Riley creates the Computerphile YouTube channel, which has clocked up nearly a million subscribers, and produces some great stuff, especially for the geeks among us.

I had fun talking to him about the early days of the Trojan Room Coffee Pot.

A quarter-century on…

On Friday, I was interviewed by phone for the Dublin-based Moncrieff radio show on the Newstalk network.

A fun, light-hearted 10-minute phone discussion about the origins of the webcam on what, I realised, must be very close to its 25th anniversary.

A little slice of oral history?

Brian McCullough hosts the rather splendid Internet History Podcast, and a few days ago he asked me to talk about some of the stuff I’d been involved in over the years.

You can find the interview here if you’re curious. You have been warned – it’s just over an hour long, and it’s something of a monologue, for which I apologise, but Brian encourages that; he’s a great listener and many of the episodes have a similar format.

It was great fun – my thanks to Brian for letting me natter away.

How the Archers sounds, for people who don’t listen to the Archers.

BBC Radio 4, poking a bit of fun at itself. Very nicely done.

How The Archers sounds to people who do not listen to The Archers

(This will probably be completely meaningless to anyone who hasn’t spent significant amounts of time in the UK in the last 60 years. Of course, The Archers does include some important news stories occasionally…)

Many thanks to Tom Standage for the link.

Canadian Coffee

Another radio interview about the good ol’ coffee pot – this time with CBC.

You can find it here.

It was done over Skype, and is heavily edited, but it mostly makes sense! Just about 4 mins long.

Digital Archaeology: Ode to a Cantabrigian Urn

Tucked away on a backup disk yesterday, I discovered a few thousand of my emails from the 1990s. And in the folder from late Feb 1992, I found something I thought was lost forever.

Bob Metcalfe was visiting Cambridge, on sabbatical to the University Computer Lab, just as we were setting up the Trojan Room Coffee Pot camera. He wrote about it in his column in Communications Week, a publication which, sadly, closed down not long afterwards (roughly at the time when the camera was connected to the web and became quite famous). This original article was therefore, unknowingly, the first published reference to what was to become the world’s first webcam.

But I didn’t have a copy, and nor did Bob – the old Mac floppy on which he saved it would have been hard to read now even if he could have found it – and if anyone kept an archive of CommWeek articles, I haven’t found it on the web. (Few people in 1992 would have heard of the World Wide Web, even those reading this kind of technical article.) But, as it went to press, Bob sent me a copy by email, and, sure enough, just over 20 years later, there it was, easily readable by my Apple Mail program. There’s probably some useful lesson there about the longevity of different data formats…

Anyway, while it may have little interest to anyone not closely involved with networking technologies at the time, I’m still very glad that, with Bob’s kind permission, I can now make the article available here.

And I must take more care of my email archives in future…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser