Monday, 23 February 2009

Field Photos in the Kitchen

The idea behind developing the solar powered wireless camera and putting it in the field was to put the photo's it sent on display in the kitchen, to bring the field alive for the family, and remind us that we had it!

Having got the camera up and running successfully, attention turned to the second part of the plan. What I wanted to do was display the photos in some kind of a digital photo frame, that would automatically keep itself up-to-date, so we could always glance at the latest picture without any hassles.

I wasn't starting from the beginning here, as I'd already had a (long-since abandoned) system based around an old Mac Mini, a tiny 7" Lilliput screen and a wooden picture frame, which my friend Richard had neatly carved out to take the screen. This was originally used as a media station to control and play music, but was more trouble that it was worth. Anyway, it seemed like these were the right parts to build a nice tidy picture frame from, with the Mac Mini hidden away, and the little screen on a shelf showing the photos.

A fair bit of Googling and some hackery led to a nice php script to pull the latest picture from my Flickr account, and I worked it up to reload every 10 minutes, so it was pretty up-to-date. I found PlainView a really nice (and free) full-screen web browser for the Mac too, which meant I didn't have to have all the menu's showing - making this look really just like a photo frame!

In reality, just having a photo on a screen seemed a bit dull, so it was back to the hackery to put a "news feed" on the bottom of the screen, underneath the photo. This has worked out really well. We now have a php script which loads up a bunch of rss feeds every 10 minutes (BBC News, Weather, Sport) and then a little piece of javascript which scrolls through the feeds - with a lovely fade out effect.

The system has been up and running on a shelf in the kitchen for a week or so now (though I still need to hide the keyboard-less and mouse-less Mac Mini and tuck the wires away). It has worked out really well. We glance at it often, and see some fantastic blue skies and sunsets, and being able to check the news on the bottom of the screen is a real plus.

Another bonus is that this formerly redundant Mac Mini now properly syncs with iTunes on my Laptop, collecting new music I've bought or downloaded and I can use Apple's FrontRow music software to pick tunes and pipe them through the kitchen stereo - just like I'd previously wanted to do with my old audio system.

The Kitchen Information System is very much alive!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

FieldCam Goes Live!

As you can see from the photo on the right of this page, the FieldCam is now live - and has been for a week or so. 

The wooden sled is attached to a fence post, down towards the bottom of the field and well away from where any lost walkers will wander!

Its not in the ideal postion for the sun, as it gets shady quite early in the day, but I had to make a balance between placing it in a secure, out-of-the-way location and getting a great sunny spot.

I nailed the sled to the fence post, and its also got a couple of cheap bike locks on it, so hopefully it won't be going anywhere!

The system is set to wake up every hour and send me a photo, as long as there is enough life in the batteries. On good sunny days (winter sun, at this time of the year!) I've been getting between four and six photos a day. On the more usual cloudy days, we're down to a couple of photos a day, and there was even one day when no photo was sent at all. Its encouraging that even after this downtime, the system wakes up when it has enough charge and gets on with its job - which I guess means it works!

I have a new processor which will reduce the on-time to only 5 minutes every hour, down from the current 15 minutes, so hopefully when I fit that we should get more photos each day. I'm especially keen to store up enough electricity during the day to see how the night vision works, but may need to wait until sunnier days before we see that happen.

The system is set to email photo's to my gmail account, which in turn forwards it on to Flickr, where I can view the last 200 pictures. The picture on the right is from the Flickr "Photostream" and if you click it (or click here!) you can see the last 200 photos - highlights to date are: sheep, snow, new molehills and a blackbird!