What's With the Camera?


My office has a pile of computers in it, but the most important one is a screwy little Compaq 486/25. Yes, it really is a 25 MHz 486, and it's really running Windows. It's got a very old hard drive in it, and it stores all of the whitepapers and presentations I do both internally at Microsoft and externally at conferences.

It also has a Connectix QuickCam attached to it. The Connectix QuickCam software is set to take a picture every five minutes. I wrote a console-based MFC application which uploads the most recent picture to my web site every fifteen minutes.

The pictures often fail updating for several reasons. The most common is that my internal network password expires. When that happens, the program can't get to the FTP gateway to send the picture to my website. The next most common problem is that the machine crashes a lot. The old machine can barely run Win95--the biggest problem is that the network drivers don't seem very stable. As a result, the machine sometimes bluescreens. Very occasionally, some access mechanism will be changed; in the Spring of 1998, for example, the way the FTP gateway worked was changed. Sometimes, the name of the internal FTP gateway server I need to use changes, too.

I will eventually post the source for the uploader program, but I've been too busy to finish it lately. I want to make it a little bit more configurable--and I also want to have it capture its own pictures. Instead of having a Rube Goldberg mechanism running on the underpowered little box, I can have something a little smoother and hopefully more stable.

Anyway, the little app rips through a directory, deletes the old files, and then connects to the FTP server at nwlink.com. There, it deletes the old image, uploads the new one, and uploads a new HTML page to indicate the time of the picture and point at the new image. The program isn't done yet: it's not robust at all. There's more logging than error handling. And I don't do things in a very logical order--for example, the app deletes the existing picture before uploading the newer one. If something happens during the upload, the page is left broken. Since I hold myself to pretty high standards, even for frivolous things like webcam software, I refuse to share the software with the world just yet.

There's really no reason to have a webcam. If you're considering it, just take the hundred dollars you would spend and buy some stock.

The camera is mounted on an angle iron I bought at the local hardware store. Nothing is very secure, so the camera might point at something else later. I'm in Building 42 on the Microsoft campus, and my office faces 156th Street. I'm on the ground floor.

The shades are at the left of the picture, but might not be visible if I have recently reset the picture. The monitor closest to the bottom of the screen is the secondary display for my test machine. Next to it is my boombox, which is towards the left and closer to the window. Between the two close monitors is a valley where my phone lives. The second most distant monitor (which I'm most likely to be looking at) is hooked to my laptop. The monitor sits on a pedestal over my docking station. I use my laptop for mail and bug tracking while I'm in the office. If I'm on the road, I'm probably using my laptop to edit slides, demo code, or give a presentation.

The monitor you can almost read is my main development machine. If I'm not sending mail or covering my tracks in a bug report, I'm poking around on my development machine. There's a machine to the right of my development box, and that's just another developmnet machine. It might be a server while my development machine is a client, or visa-versa. Or, I might use one for a test build while I diddle with the other.

There are papers everywhere; some are specifications, some are hockey and motorcylce magazines. (Most of the magazines are on top of the specifications. Somehow.) The bulletin board is behind the monitors on the far wall. I use it to tack up tickets and itineraries for pending trips, as well as expense reports for previous trips. To the left of the bulletin board are a couple of calendars. One is this month, the other is next month. One is of motorcycles, the other is a bunch of hockey stuff.

Big deal.


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Last modified 12 December, 1998