Category Archives: Digital Photography

Canopus on my cheap webcam!

Here in Phoenix we’re fortunate enough to get a glimpse of Canopus every winter at it rises a few degrees above the southern horizon. Tonight, I pointed the $65 webcam atop the roof at the saddle between Camelback Mtn and Mummy Mtn, and waited for Canopus to ease into place.


There’s some thin haze and wispy clouds tonight but not too much. The neighbor’s porch lights are at the bottom of the image, and the ghostly rise of the palm trees across the street are visible in silhouette. From the camera, the bearing to Canopus is about 189.8° az by 2.8° elevation, a line that crosses over the east end of the runways at Sky Harbor and also over a lot of city lights.

Not bad for a $65 camera.


Mobius ActionCam

Some of you may remember that I bought a Mobius ActionCam and installed it in the truck just in front of the rear-view mirror, in order to capture my travels for posterity. That installation, way back in February(?), seemed to work pretty well. The Mobius is configured as a USB camera for the Window 7 PC built-in to the truck, and I use Yawcam to grab a snap from the camera about every 10 seconds, and store that to the hard drive.

This has been working fairly well until recently. The most recent stills are always available at , and you can even see one of the time-lapse videos “wardrive to/from the Peooria Artisan Brewery” from it at the aforementioned link. The time-lapse video is stitched together using the neat tool IPTimeLapse, which I highly recommend.

Sadly, the Arizona summer has not been good to the ActionCam. The black plastic case has suffered a bit being exposed to the heat and direct sunlight (even though filtered through the truck windshield and the extraheavy tint at the top of the window) and the internal LiPo (I know, shouldn’t have ordered the ActionCam with a battery, but with a supercap instead) swelled up and the plastic case of the camera was deformed by the pressure from the battery swelling and the high temperatures. This swelling caused the camera to come loose from its camera mount a month or so ago, at first I thought it was just vibration, but yesterday took the camera out of the truck and was impressed to see that the case was permanently deformed.

A few clicks later, I now have a ActionCam replacement case, an ActionCam supercap, and a nice 90 degree angle miniUSB to USB adapter cable on the way.  When this all arrives, I’ll finally do the permanent installation of the USB cable routing from the top of the windshield to the computer. Have to make sure to avoid those pesky airbags.


Rooftop Network Outage at Mi Casa

In case you’re wondering where my webcams and weather station have gone, it appears that I’ve got a local problem with the power supply to the rooftop from the shack in the house.

Up on the roof is a GigE 8 port switch, two IP cameras, an ancient Linksys WRT54G router to provide Wi-Fi coverage around the property, a Raspberry Pi and SDR USB dongle running as an ADS-B receiver, and a UBNT 5 GHz bullet supplying a link to another Bullet over on the roof of the garage, to get my local network out to stuff in the garage. In addition, in the box on the roof, there’s a 12 vdc to 5 vdc converter to supply power to the Raspberry Pi. All told, this is only about 20-25 w of power consumption, which at the fused voltage of 12 vdc, should only be 2 A or so. So I can’t see the reason that a 10 A fuse is getting taken out.

I supply both 12 vdc and 48 vdc to the roof via a cable from the shack. There’s a 12 vdc to 48 vdc 150 w dc-dc converter in the shack to generate the 48 vdc. Both that and the raw 12 vdc are sourced from the 12 vdc deep-cycle battery in the shack, through a single 10 A fuse.

For some reason, yesterday I discovered the 10 A fuse had blown. Not good. I replaced the fuse and it appeared to start working again. However, I see this morning that the cameras and wx station were last heard from around 0641 local, so I suspect the fuse blew again.

Looks like this afternoon will include a visit to the roof to see what’s up.


City-Wide (sort of) Wi-Fi Service

I spent much of last year in the boroughs of NYC, and a bit up the Hudson and Bronx river valleys, as well as some time along the rails in CT up to New Haven. What I started to notice was a great number of Wi-Fi access points called “CableWiFi” or similar. I also discovered that, in the right areas with enough signal strength, I could associate to these and get a login screen which asked me if I was a cable service subscriber for any of a number of cable ISPs. One of these was Cox, and as we’re a Cox subscriber here in Arizona, I eventually figured out which username/password to enter into the authentication page and BOOM I was on the Internet. Speeds were often (if not always) better than what I could get on the hotel Wi-Fi.

A number of large cable ISPs have gotten together and are rolling out in volume Wi-Fi access points in major metro areas. In the NYC greater-metro-tri-state area, there are apparently well over 250k APs now available. You can recognize them certainly by seeing SSIDs that are “CableWiFi” or similar, but also the physical devices hanging along the distribution cable on phone poles. As far as I can tell, it’s only in areas where there is above-ground ISP coaxial cable hanging on phone poles.

I grabbed a few shots of one hanging on the line near the house. Sorry about the poor resolution, all I have is my iPhone to snap pictures with. The boxes are Cisco APs, hardened outdoor devices in cast metal cases, with three antenna bumps on the base of the case. Here’s a few pictures.

General View, Cable Provider Wi-Fi AP (circled) hanging from Cable Messenger
Close-up View of the 3 Antennas on the Base of the Enclosure (note the F connector on the side coax)
Another View
Another View
Detail of Cable AP Wiring

This last photo gives some insight into how the Cisco AP is connected into the cable. Here, at least two coupler/splitters (left boxes) are visible, with the AP to the right. There are also 3 distribution coaxes visible, one coming from beneath the ground (the one exiting conduit on pole). There has to be power supplied as well for the AP to work, I don’t know the details but there’s likely a constant source of DC or AC impressed on the coax. The smaller grey coupler (most left) has a connection directly to the Cisco AP, and supplies both the backhaul connection and power via the thin coaxial jumper cable. If I had a camera with a real optical zoom lens, I could read the labels and perhaps decipher a bit more about the setup.

The service is pretty good. I have a Win 7 PC in the truck which has one of the Amped Wireless UA230A dual-band Wi-Fi transceivers installed, and the YAWCam application pulling images every 15 seconds from the Mobius ActionCam attached to the windshield. When the PC detects the Cox/CableWiFi connection, it associates and then can push an image or more to my main website page.

I’m slowly collecting position information data for CoxWiFi / CableWiFi APs in the greater PHX area, and will publish some maps soon. Until then, it’s possible to get that kind of information from Cox’s website.


What Good Is a Wireless IP Camera?

I recently installed a new weather station here at the homestead. With a weather station, it’s always nice to be able to have a picture of the sky to see what the sky looks like, to augment and bring to life the sparse yet functional gauges and dials.

The world of digital image capturing devices is a miasma of terminology, mis-terminology, ignorance and sometimes (at least so it seems) a bit of disingenousity. Go to eBay, type in “IP network camera outdoor”, and there’s at least a zillion, give or take, cameras available from no end of sources, mostly in Asia.

Not being really up on the latest and greatest for IP network cameras, all I really knew going in was what I wanted. The camera needed to be 1) able to withstand living outdoors, in the direct sun and rain; 2) at least 1080p vertical resolution; 3) as sensitive as practical, so I could see an image at night, and hopefully see a few stars; 4) cheap (hard to define); 5) have an included webserver so that with a browser it’d be possible to see the image, and be able to ftp an image on a scheduled (not event) basis to the WUnderground site where my Personal Weather Station data is displayed; and 6) straightforward to configure and tweak. I know, it’s a lot to ask, especially with 4).

One thing that is missing in the above list, and some might wonder why, is the choice of wired vs wireless for the connectivity. After all, it’s the “WirelessJon” website! For this particular installation, it really wasn’t much of a decision to make. A camera takes a significant amount of power to operate (several watts at least). A wireless camera takes at least as much power to operate as an equivalent wired camera. Since a wireless camera would need a source of power, likely the house mains, a cable would still have to be run to supply the power to the camera. If I’m going to the trouble to run wire, I might as well kill two birds with one stone and use that wire to supply connectivity as well. Also, my desired camera might be streaming video on occasion, and that could end up being a significant load on my home wireless network. Finally, ensuring that the wireless coverage from the inside of the house would be good enough for robust connectivity to gadgets on the roof would mean that there’d be a constant unknown as to whether or not a problem in viewing the camera’s image was caused by RF propagation or by some hardware issue. So, like I said, the decision to go wired was pretty straightforward. I have another reason which made it simpler to go this way, which I’ll discuss in a future post on rooftop routers.

As can be imagined, many of the requirements listed above are mutually incompatible. And by “cheap”, I was aiming for somethiing under $100 delivered. Nonetheless, I started my search through Google and eBay as well, working to figure out some of the more esoteric terms (RTSP, DNC, AE, etc.) and attempting to validate things like FTP server and web browser functionality and configurability. A simple thing that I wanted was a scheduled capture on a regular, timed basis – something that doesn’t seem to be offered in most cameras listed on eBay – most offered appear to target the surveillance video market, and the cameras trigger video based upon events like movement in the field of view, or whatever. There were some challenges to figure out what many of the cameras actually did.

Another minor tricky thing was camera sensitivity to light; remember in my wish list I wanted a camera that could even see stars (not just the Sun). I’ve always had in my mind something that I call the PoleCam, which is a camera trained at the north celestial pole and capable of watching the current pole star, Polaris, in its daily orbit around the north pole, Yep, it’s true, Polaris isn’t really at the celestial pole. It’s close (about 3/4 of a degree away, close enough for government work), but it’s not stationary. The ideal camera would allow me to see the movement of Polaris as well. But, I digress: the main purpose of this camera is weather observation.

Cameras come with two different types of image sensor, CCD or CMOS, and a variety of lenses with different angular fields of view (FOV). Some cameras have varifocal lenses, where the “zoom” factor of the image can be changed to accommodate. For me, CCD is the only way to go for improving low-light sensitivity; compare a CCD imager with its equivalent CMOS imager and you’re sure to find that the CCD imager provides a higher quality image with better low-light performance. As far as lenses, it seemed that there were generally 4 mm, 8, mm and 12 mm used on the cameras for sale. Since I’d never bought one of these cameras before, I didn’t know how difficult it’d be to change the lens, so I decided to go with an 8 mm lens which should have about a 40 degree horizontal FOV.

A tricky thing I discovered (I know, I was born yesterday) was that some of the eBay ads had confusing, conflicting, or flat incorrect information about the product offered. Doing searches which included “CCD” didn’t always return only cameras with CCD imagers – in fact, some sites would use the term “CCD” in several places when selling a CMOS camera. Also, attempting to figure out if a camera had a webserver built-in, and whether that webserver could respond successfully to queries that came in on Chrome, or Firefox, or whatever, not just IE, is quite challenging.

Suffice to say, I did find a camera which appeared, at least in theory, to meet many (but not all) of my desirements. The camera I discovered appeared to have the following features: 1) outdoor operation, with an included sunshade; 2) 1920 x 1080 resolution; 3) CCD imager for good low-light sensitivity (hard to tell until it’s in your hands, though); 4) $70 delivered; and 5) built-in webserver, FTP server, etc. The things it didn’t appear to have included: 1) power over Ethernet (PoE), so I’d have to do that externally; 2) no idea of what the software was or how to configure the camera for my desired operating method; no idea if the camera was any good at all given the low price, and many other unknowns which wouldn’t be answered until I had one in my hands.

So, I placed the order on eBay and awaited delivery of my amazing new $70 super webcam. More soon on what I found out when I opened the box!