Remote Presence

[fblike layout_style=’standard’ show_faces=’false’ verb=’recommend’ font=’arial’ color_scheme=’light’]Ever wish you could look at a view or views of your home and/or property from wherever you are? Is it raining or snowing at home? Is the sun shining or is it cloudy? Are the neighbors’ vehicles home? Does everything look as it should?

Ever wish you could monitor the temperature in your house, or easily adjust the furnace or air conditioner settings remotely?

Not that many years ago these were impossible dreams that could only be accomplished by calling someone at or near your home. In more recent years, these things started to become possible but were difficult and/or expensive to implement and even then perhaps didn’t work all that well or weren’t all that convenient.

In the past two or three years these things and more have become not only possible, but inexpensive and easy to implement, especially if you know your way around your home Internet router. In this article, I am going to tell you about specific hardware and software I’m using and how I set it all up. I will be giving very detailed instructions on how to set up a Loftek CSX-2200 WiFi IP camera.

The Nest Remote Control Thermostat

Nest 1.0A couple of years ago the first generation Nest learning thermostat went on sale, and for me it has been a dream come true. I can easily monitor the status of my home HVAC system while I’m gone. I leave the temperature at the minimum 50 degree setting when I’m gone in the winter, and the maximum 90 degree setting when I’m gone in the warmer months. Several hours before I’m due to get home I remotely make the appropriate adjustments to the temperature setting via either my smartphone or tablet apps so it will be around 70 to 72 degrees by the time I step through the door. The first generation Nest learning thermostat sells for $179 on Amazon, and the current Nest second generation unit sells for $249. Both the old and newer generations of the Nest

 

thermostat connect to the Nest server via your home WiFi and keep their built-in battery charged up by the regular thermostat wiring that has a small amount of electrical voltage in it to make a conventional thermostat function. There are no ongoing charges with the Nest thermostat. Once you buy it, you can use your Nest.Com account for as long as the unit continues to function. I’ve had my first generation Nest thermostat for a couple of years now and it continues to work absolutely flawlessly. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Remote IP Surveillance Cameras

Remote IP cameras can be a bit more tricky to set up and access from outside of your home, especially if you have a dynamic IP address on your home Internet connection. Most people fall into the dynamic IP address category. Sometimes your Internet service provider allows customers to pay extra for an unchanging “static” IP address.

There are generally a couple of different approaches to gaining remote access to an IP camera (or other device for that matter) on a home network with a dynamic (ever changing) IP address. One approach is to have a remote dedicated server. The device – a camera or thermostat inside the home is programmed to know the remote server’s address and is able to access your previously-created account information. This is how the Nest Learning Thermostat functions.

This setup works fine, but with remote IP cameras there is usually an ongoing annual fee that can range from $100 on up for the ongoing privilege of accessing the camera manufacturer’s server.

The other alternative is to use a service such as DynDNS.org. One or more devices on your home network, either an IP camera or even a computer is set up to automatically and continually report the home’s public IP address. This functionality can also be programmed in to many routers. I am familiar with DynDNS. I set up a DynDNS account which charges a reasonable $20 dollar per year fee for 1 up to a maximum total of 30 separate devices reporting their ever-changing public IP addresses. For each separate device, simply create a unique host name for each one. I have two cameras set up with DynDNS so far, likely with more on the way in the future, so I simply created a unique name for each host address. The resulting URL looks like http://name.dyndns.org. The second camera has it’s own unique name such as http://name1.dyndns.org. These names are programmed into each specific camera, along with my DynDNS username and password account credentials. Thus, every 60 seconds, each camera calls the DynDNS server and automatically tells it the current public IP address they are hidden behind.

How To Set Up A Loftek CSX-2200 WiFi IP Camera

So far, I’ve set up two identical Loftek CXS-2200 WiFi IP cameras at home, one of them aimed inside the house at a central location, and the other aimed out of a window into the yard, both together giving me a great remote view of what is going on. I can open apps either on my smartphone or my tablets and the images from both cameras automatically pop right up without me having the foggiest idea of what my current public dynamic IP address is at home. I can even monitor sound with the apps or talk back via the cameras if I am using Windows Internet Explorer and have them plugged in to inexpensive self-powered computer speakers. The Loftek CXS-2200 WiFi IP camera sells for $59.99 on Amazon and is an Amazon Prime item. The Loftek CSX-2200 gives tremendous value for a relatively small price.

To set up a Loftek CXS-2200 camera, you MUST have access to a Windows computer. With the first Loftek camera, I used Windows XP running inside of VMWare Fusion on a Mac in order to accomplish the initial detection and hardware setup using the included software. With the second Loftek camera, I used Windows XP running on a netbook. You have to run a small program called BSearch_en.exe you either download from www.loftek.us or that you load from the included CD-Rom installation disc. The Loftek website vaguely states that you can do the intitial camera setup with a Mac alone, but in my experience you cannot. If you are using a Mac to do the initial camera setup you MUST have a copy of Windows running inside of a virtual machine program such as VMWare Fusion or Parallels.

You plug both the Loftek camera and the machine running Windows into your router via Ethernet, and then launch the included BSearch_en.exe program and then click on the button to make it search for the Loftek camera. Follow the instructions included with the BSearch_en.exe program and change the Loftek camera’s default internal network address to match your own router’s internal address numbering scheme. My internal network address scheme is set up for 192.168.254.x. The default Loftek address is 192.168.0.178. So to make the camera visible on my home network I changed the Loftek camera address to 192.168.254.178 and saved the new address to the unit. The first three sets of numbers MUST match your router’s numbering scheme, or the camera WILL NOT be visible on the internal network.

When your web browser successfully connects to the camera’s built-in web interface, you will be presented with a pop-up dialog box asking for the administrator username and password for the camera. The default username for the Loftek CSX-2200 camera is admin and the default password is 123456. If you change these defaults to something else (or add additional usernames and passwords), then you need to be sure to write down the new username and password and keep them in a safe place so you will have them for later camera access. Incedentally, if you should forget the new username and password or for some other reason want to return the camera to factory default values, there is a recessed reset button on the bottom of the camera that can be pressed with an extended ball point pen or paper clip.

You should always leave the camera set up with a static internal network IP address. That way, you always know what its address is. Other devices on your home network that are typically set up to request dynamic internal IP addresses can and do change addresses from time to time when your home router happens to assign them a different address when they reconnect to your home network. Write down the static IP address of the camera so you can know what it is later. This is especially critical if you end up with more than one camera attached to your home network.

Once the camera is set up with a static internal network address that’s visible on your home network while it’s still plugged in via Ethernet, go to any browser on your network and enter http://192.168.254.178 (or whatever you set your camera’s internal address at) into the address bar and press. This will cause the camera’s built-in control page to load. Enter the administrator name admin and the password of 123456 to make the control page display. Once in the control page, you can set many different parameters, including connecting the camera to your home WiFi. In my case, I also set up my cameras to automatically email me a series of images if motion is detected. Automatic emails of images on motion detection can be useful or even fun catching people walking through the frame or even occasional insects flying in front of the camera lens, but it can also be triggered by changing sunlight conditions or wind blowing trees around depending on what the camera is aimed at. This email feature can easily be toggled on and off from an app such as the excellent Tinycam Monitor Pro for Android available in free and paid versions in the Google Play Store on Android. Setting up the email to work properly can be tricky as the settings that you must use for the outgoing email server are determined by the specific email service you are using. You must have two email addresses – the one you are sending the email from, and the email address you are sending it to.

The other critical part that MUST be present for remote monitoring to function is port numbers and open ports on your router. There are tens of thousands of port numbers that you can use. In my case, I am using port number 1029 in one camera and 1030 in the second camera. These port numbers are programmed in to the camera’s web control page interfaces. In each camera I turned on the UP&P protocol, which in my case was successful in automatically updating my router to automatically route any external traffic utilizing these specific ports to the correct internal IP addresses. So for example, the camera I have set up on my internal network at 192.168.254.178 automatically receives traffic that is specified for port 1029. The second camera is set with a static internal IP address of 192.168.254.179 and it automatically receives traffic that is specified for port 1030. So, if I am outside of my home network and I type http://name.dyndns.org:1029 into a browser, I will automatically see the camera’s control web interface page open up in the browser. Remember that the word “name” in the address must be whatever you have named your DynDNS host.

If you cannot get UP&P to work in your router, you can always go into the settings for your router and set up port forwarding manually. This process will vary from one router to another. Generally, the idea is this: when traffic comes in on your external dynamic IP address with a port number specified such as http://name.dyndns.org:1029 the router will automatically know to route the traffic to the specific internal network static IP address you type in. That’s one reason why you need to write down and remember the IP address you set up for your camera.

If you run into problems, chances are good that they revolve around port forwarding not working in your router. I have had one DSL router that port forwarding does NOT work on, even though it seems to allow it by saving my port forwards in its configuration screen. Go to a site such as http://www.canyouseeme.org/ and type in the specific port number you wish to use to see if your router is actually opening up the port that you are specifying for it to forward. If the port is not open after you have set up port forwards within the router, there’s a problem with the router not functioning properly and you will likely have to get another one.

Once you have gotten your camera working, be sure to write down the various things that you did and parameters that you set, just in case you ever have to set it up again with a different DSL or cable router, or if you wish to add additional cameras.

I have plans to add at least one more camera to my setup at home in the near future. This third camera will likely be a Loftek Nexus 543 WiFi outdoor camera, which will enable me to utilize the built-in infrared capability of the camera to illuminate and display a clear image of a completely dark outdoor scene. The second camera I currently have aimed out of a window into my yard will not display infrared illuminated images at night because it is aimed through glass. Nothing shows up but glare.

Once the Loftek CSX-2200 is properly set up and visible on the home network, it can be disconnected from the included Ethernet cable and placed anywhere that it can be supplied with AC power that’s within the network’s WiFi signal range. The built-in infrared LED’s that surround the lens have a range of 15 meters and can easily illuminate the image in a totally darkened room. The camera is also motorized and has a motion rage of 90 degrees vertical and 270 degrees from side to side. It can be remotely triggered to pan to predetermined saved positions, or simply pan from left to right and then return to it’s initial position. As previously mentioned, once an email account’s credentials are properly configured it can send emails automatically to any second email address when it digitally detects motion in the scene it is looking at.

Remote IP Camera Access

For primary remote access via my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone and my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet, I purchased the pro version of the excellent TinyCam Remote app from the Google Play Android store. To make it work, you simply plug in the appropriate values, including the DynDNS address of your IP camera, the camera’s port number, and the camera’s username and password. If everything is functioning properly, you can simply open the app to the live view and your camera or cameras (if you have set up more than one) will automatically display. When a particular camera is brought up in full screen mode, you can turn on the audio to monitor the sound as well as the video from the camera.

I have yet to find an Android or Apple iOS app that can utilize the microphone function and send audio back to the Loftek CSX-2200 camera. The only thing I have found so far that is capable of sending audio back to the camera’s audio out function is accessing it via the Windows Internet Explorer browser with the appropriate browser plug-in installed. This fact is actually stated by the manufacturer and seems to be true.

Remote IP Camera Recording

It is also possible to set up software on a computer and record the camera’s video. I am currently using an excellent free program installed on a Mac Mini running Mountain Lion on my home network called IP Camera Viewer 2. It will continuously record video from the camera and analyze it for motion and face detection. It even has a second part of the program that enables the user to quickly scrub through the recorded video to find the action parts, and even has the ability to export just the period of the video you have marked. The program is free in the Mac App Store. In the free configuration, it can record one camera. If you wish to record video from more than one camera at a time, then additional camera recording capability can be added for small fees outlined on the company’s website located at http://dcomplex.com/products/mac/ip-camera-viewer/.

All of this incredible level of remote presence functionality has been possible for a while, but has traditionally come at a fairly steep cost. With today’s advanced hardware, software and network availability, far superior functionality can be set up for a fraction of the cost. I’m carrying direct instant access to my home right in my pocket.

PopClip A Productivity Tool for the Mac

PopClip If you use a Mac and want to increase your productivity one of the applications I recommend taking a look at is PopClip. PopClip is like cut and paste on steroid. PopClip is available in the Mac app store and on-line. Once you download and install the application it will appear in your menu bar as a black and white rectangle. Now when you highlight a piece of  text a small menu bar will pop up above the selected text. By default it shows copy or paste, correct spelling on misspelled words, and define selected words. PopClip will also detect links and email addresses and let you open or copy them, and can start a web search for anything you’ve selected.

In default mode PopClip isn’t that exciting its real power are the extensions that are available for it. Some of the extensions that are available are add a note various application including Evernote, Nvalt or Notepad.  Send tweet to not only thru Twitter but also thru other applications such as Tweetbot or Buffer. You can also use it to the send a piece of text to various getting thing done apps like Omnifocus, Things and the Reminder App. PopClip also has other capabilities you can use it to search for a product on Amazon, find a piece of music in Spotify, or search for a video on YouTube. These are just some of the things that you can do using PopClip, the whole list of extensions are available on the PopClip Extension Page. Normally you use the mouse to activate PopClip however there is an Apple Script  you can install to activate it using a keyboard shortcut. PopClip is available in the Mac App store for $4.99. If you want to try it out there is a free trial version available through the website.

Lightworks by EditShare

lightworks-monitor-gui-new2EditShare is introducing the Mac version of Lightworks. Lightworks is a cross–platform film editing software. Lightworks has been used by some of the best film makers over the past two decades. It now works seamlessly on Mac OS X.  Film makers who love their Mac’s, will now have the option of using it for their film editing. EditShare will be showing off the Mac version at NAB and will be starting the new alpha program in the near future.

EditShare is also releasing the full version of the new Lightworks version 11.1 for Windows on April 30, 2013. The Linux version has successfully completed the Alpha program of version 11.1 and will begin the public beta on April 30, 2013.

EditShare is already working on Lightworks version 11.2 which will add:

  • Added support for AJA I/O hardware
  • Support for screen capture using the record panel
  • An improved import panel: now behaves similarly to bins, mark/park clips before import
  • Native H.264 MOV playback
  • Added curve effect to FX color correction effects

If you are or want to be a film maker you owe it to yourself to take a look at Lightworks, by EditShare. If you are at NAB they will be at booth SL9010 showing off the new Mac version of Lightworks.

Buffalo Launches Thunderbolt Portable SSD

Buffalo LogoFollowing on from GNC’s review of the MiniStation Air earlier this month, Buffalo have a launched the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD. As you might guess from the name, it’s a portable SSD with a Thunderbolt connection so it’s ideal for connecting up with Apple Macs.

Combining the SSD with Thunderbolt, the MiniStation has a read performance of more than 370 MB/s and a write performance that exceeds 250 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book. And I think those are Bytes and not bits. PC users aren’t left out with a USB 3.0 connection too, though it’s not as fast as the Thunderbolt connections.

MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD

Paul Hudson, Sales Director for Northern Europe at Buffalo, said: “The MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD combines a highly robust and aesthetically pleasing design with exceptionally fast data transfer speed. We have seen how Thunderbolt hard drives have transformed the available speed for read and write to storage devices, but with the additional of SSD in the Buffalo range, the speed stakes are raised again providing astounding performance.

The drive is bus-powered and will be available in two storage sizes, at a recommended price of £229.99 for the 128 GB product and £349.99 for the 256 GB version. There’s a .pdf spec sheet here.

Hopefully GNC will be bringing you a review of the MiniStation Thunderbold SSD in the not-too-distant future.

BlackMagic Intensity Extreme with Thunderbolt Connection [Review]

Blackmagic Intensity Extreme

Blackmagic Intensity Extreme with Thunderbolt Connection

Two weeks ago, I wanted to bump up my live camera action. Knowing that camera companies like Canon have decided to remove DV and component video connections on their newer lines of cameras, I had to find a solution to pull video from the HDMI output. Therefore, I bought the Intensity Extreme.

BlackMagic Intensity Extreme Advantages

The biggest feature on this device is that I can connect directly to the Thunderbolt™ port on my MacBook Pro. This is the machine I do the majority of my video, using Wirecast to record and broadcast.

The BlackMagic Intensity Extreme can also get video from a composite source, using the breakout cable (included). Therefore, it’s a perfect way to stream your gaming session to uStream or Justin.tv. If you have an SD camera, you can also connect to the Intensity Extreme to broadcast. Therefore, I could connect my Kodak Zi10, or a Flip camera using the composite cable.

Intensity Extreme is compatible with Avid, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier, DaVinci Resolve, Wirecast, and many other programs. You can even use it for a program like Screenflow, to enhance the video with your face in the corner.

No Windows Drivers – Yet

The Intensity extreme does not have Windows drivers just yet, so you Bootcamp users out there will want to use your Mac for recording. It doesn’t mean you cannot get it to work in Windows, but you will not have support just yet. You will have to purchase the Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle to have Windows support.

BlackMagic Intensity Extreme – Overall

The device is simple to set up (camera to Intensity to computer). There is no external power, so you don’t need to worry about a battery or plug. The Thunderbolt cable does not come with the Intensity Extreme, so you will have to drop another $50 for that.

The BlackMagic Intensity Extreme is $284, and is a perfect way to add a 16:9 camera to your mix (like the Canon VIXIA R20 I used). This can give your recordings more depth because you will have focus, white balance, exposure, zoom, and other features a webcam cannot offer.

The Blackmagic Intensity Extreme is also part of Todd’s new High Definition Mobile Broadcast Studio.

iTwin Creates a Personal Cloud

iTwin Infinite Capacity Thumb DriveiTwin is billed as an “infinite capacity thumb drive” but this sells the device short – it’s much more than this. Andy finds out what its capable of from Akash at CES Showstoppers.

The basic premise of iTwin is a pair of USB devices, one of which goes in your work desktop, the other in your home (or laptop) computer. Files can then be copied securely to and from the work computer across the internet to the laptop.

The devices are cryptographically paired together to ensure the security of the connection and the creators seem to have solutions for most of the issues that might arise, such as dynamic IPs or theft.

The brilliance of iTwin is that it offers a personal cloud solution where the data is completely under your control but not actually in your possession. No risk of theft, loss or nosey border guards rifling through your files.

Works with both Windows PCs and Mac – available now for $99.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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KB Covers Keyboard Overlays

KB Covers offer specialised keyboard covers for Apple Macs and MacBooks. Rather than dust covers, these are keyboard overlays which re-label for foreign languages or show keyboard shortcuts.

KB Cover Keyboard Overlay

A good example for the former is a foreign language student who wishes to use a keyboard with the studied country’s layout and alphabet. Imagine the convenience for students of Arabic or Cyrillic languages. For software packages, the overlays highlight keyboard shortcuts to enhance productivity – it’s much faster to press “alt-f” than it is to use the mouse to select an item from a pull-down menu. All major software is covered – Photoshop, Final Cut, Media Composer, Sibelius, etc.

The overlays are a ultra-thin and made from high quality silicone. There’s a big selection of overlays for different countries and software packages. Prices are in the range $20-$40 and I think they’re great value.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Dolly Drive Cloud Backup for Time Machine

Dolly Drive Time Machine Cloud DriveApple’s Time Machine has been a lifesaver for many people, especially when they’ve accidentally deleted an important file. However, it doesn’t protect against fire, flood or theft when everything is lost. Enter Dolly Drive, a Time Machine-compatible cloud-based backup service.

Available as a subscription service based on data usage, Dolly Drive looks like another Time Machine target to OS X and once setup, will store revisions and changes to the cloud, giving the security of off-site backup.

Included as part of the deal, subscribers are sent a hard drive via courier to return and seed their Dolly Drive for the first time. This avoids a lengthy upload over broadband when the service is first started and the whole disk is copied.

Prices start at $5 per month for 50 GB but a more representative subscription is $10 pcm for 250 GB. As a bonus, 5 GB is added each month for free.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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j5 create’s Wormhole Station

j5create logoj5 create‘s background in USB display adaptors means they know a thing or two about using both hardware and software to create unique solutions. j5 Create’s Wormhole cable is one such solution as it joins two computers into one…and they don’t even have to be running the same OS. Fred shows Jeffrey and Steve some of the benefits of this innovative technology, which won a CES Innovation Honoree award.

At its most basic the Wormhole switch is simply a USB 2 cable that connects between two computers, but clever software allows the computers to work together, with one keyboard and mouse being shared between the two. The OS of the two devices doesn’t have to be the same and an Android tablet being controlled by a Windows PC is perfectly possible. Files can be seamlessly transferred between the two machines as well. Pretty smart.

Moving on to a second product, j5 create has a very desirable line of small docking stations for laptops that are little more than foot-long shiny tubes with a plethora of ports. Branded “ultrastations” and connecting via USB 3, these take full advantage of the faster data rate to provide a myriad of connections, including HDMI, through a single USB 3 cable. Nice.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Steve Lee of Netcast Studio.

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SurfEasy On-line Privacy Debuts at CES

Canadian firm SurfEasy will debut their eponymous USB key-based private Internet browser at CES, Las Vegas, next week. The portable USB key launches its own web browser which uses strong encryption to keep your surfing habits secret and holds all your personal information such as bookmarks, history and web passwords on the password-protected key itself. Nothing is left behind on the computer itself.

SurfEasy Secure Internet

When you stop and think about it, we use many different networks and computers to access our online lives. Whether it’s connecting from the office or using a Wi-Fi hotspot, we’re providing a lot of personal information to computers, networks and websites that are not designed with our personal privacy in mind,” said Chris Houston, founder and CEO of SurfEasy Inc. “SurfEasy lets people take control of protecting their online privacy and security by simply plugging in a USB key.

One of the biggest potential benefits is when using unsecured WiFi in places like coffee shops. As SurfEasy creates an encrypted tunnel from the SurfEasy USB key across the Internet, no-one can see any detail about your browsing. All they can see is the encrypted data and the volume of data. SurfEasy encrypts the web traffic using SSL and passes the traffic through its own servers, stripping the client IP from the data stream.  The proxy network is hosted in Canada and the US, with other international locations to come soon.

As the data stream passes through SurfEasy’s servers, SurfEasy publish a Customer Bill of Rights which is upfront about what you can expect from the company in terms of keeping your activities secret. Basically, unless you come to the attention of the legal authorities, no usage data is held.

The SurfEasy browser is powered by Mozilla and is compatible with Microsoft Windows XP, Vista and 7. Apple users needs to be on Mac OS X 10.5 or later. The SurfEasy USB key costs $60 and this includes 2 GB per month of encrypted traffic through the SurfEasy network. Additional data costs $5 per month for 25 GB and $10 for 75 GB. Product delivery is expected in February.

I can see this being very handy for backpackers and other travellers who have to use Internet cafes while travelling and are rightly concerned about security. Plug-in the SurfEasy USB key to a public computer and you’re instantly secure wherever you are.