Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Annie scales the gate, and AnnieCam is born

For the last seven months, we've had a pretty simple system with Annie,
our dog: When we go to work, we'd put her in the bathroom behind a baby
gate. We'd leave some toys, water and her bed, and she'd hang out in
there all day. We have a dog walker who comes once a day in the
afternoon to take her out. And it worked well.

Not anymore. For the last two days, Annie scaled the baby gate, roaming free in our apartment.

We've been considering giving her free reign of the apartment anyway. Now, she's taken the decision into her own paws.

brought me to my next project: AnnieCam. Since Annie's going to roam
free throughout the apartment, we'd like to be able to keep a bit of an
eye on her.  My laptop has a built-in webcam, and we have an older
external webcam, so I can actually create a two-cam setup.

In my past life as an online editor for newspapers, I've experimented with several live-streaming web sites. My favorite is So I created an AnnieCam channel on ustream.

I needed to decide what software I would use that would let me use 2
cameras. I've done some experimentation with this kind of thing before,
too, in my newspaper life, exploring what programs could be used to
join feeds from multiple cameras and make a feed look professional. I
wanted to use one called WebCamMax - but new there wasn't a 64-bit
Vista version of it.

But out of curiosity, I went to its site anyway, and discovered that there's an alpha of a 64-bit version of WebCamMax.

wasn't sure what to expect from an alpha, but was pleasantly surprised
- it seems to be a pretty full-featured program. It does all sorts of
things to manipulate a webcam feed. I can add text, graphics, photos, a
feed of my desktop, etc. And most importantly, I can take in feeds of
two programs.

Knowing that Annie loves to hang out on our couch,
I decided I'd set up the two cameras facing the couch, each covering a
different part of it (yes, it's a very big couch). I then used the
program's Picture-in-Picture functionality to display both feeds at

At first, the PiP was blocking a key part of the screen,
which was a little problematic. Then I realized I could just move the
PiP box around, so I put it in the upper left-hand corner of the
screen, and voila - perfecto!

The software isn't perfect.
There's one feature I'd really like -- the ability to rotate between
feeds every X seconds. So I can set it to show one camera full-screen
for 90 seconds, then switch to the other camera for 90 seconds, then
back, etc.  So WebCamMax people, if you're reading this, please add
that function!

Below is some video testing out AnnieCam. And
I'll probably have AnnieCam running pretty much 8-6 on weekdays, so
tune and see our cute cockapoo hanging out on the couch!

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