NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2003
by Ima Clueless & M.C. Esse
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I.C.: My youngest bitch, "Boots", was nesting, and we were all eagerly anticipating the new arrivals . Since everyone in this particular household was grossly inexperienced in midwifery, it required tons of research & development! To quote Pitipat, "I don't know nuthin' about birthin' no babies, Mz. Scarlett!" Fortunately, today's Internet offered us a plethora of information on the subject of whelping a healthy litter of puppies.

MC: I'm thinking at this point, "Puppies are carbon-based. Now, how can I tie in some silicon-based technology" and maybe even learn something new about networking while I'm at it?

I.C.: We chose a particularly remote room in the basement for her whelping nest, as it afforded her ample comfort & privacy, would be easier to clean as the litter produced more litter, but it did make it more difficult for the humans, as we had to negotiate the stairs much more than we were accustomed to.

MC: There is a walk of almost 100 feet including a set of stairs to get from office to nest. I knew there would be lots of desire to check up on mother and babies. Although 100 feet doesn't sound very far, it is when there's a set of basement stairs involved as well as a few turns and twists around "stuph" in the basement. On top of the climbing, it will be a disturbance every time someone pokes their head in the nesting area. So, how about a web camera? We've set it up several times before, just not for this particular application.

I.C.: To alleviate some of the stair-climbing, we decided to use today's technology to make our lives easier. Can you say..... "Web camera on a wireless network?" Doggy monitor? Wireless, as we didn't want to string a lot of cables throughout the basement & upstairs rooms.

MC: I've been told that I can't drill holes in the flooring between the upstairs office and the basement. Not only am I not allowed to drill holes in the floor, I'm told that stringing network cabling in the basement would not be appreciated as it would have to traverse the basement steps, wind around two doors on the main floor, and finally go thru a portion of the living room before reaching the office. Becuz I could take a couple overland routes, tho, I really only needed 60 feet of network cabling. I'm also thinking it sure would be easier in the long run!

I.C.: As we already had a good deal of the necessary hardware available, it was not as expensive for us to set up this unorthodox use of new technology. Basically, we used one computer for transmitting the video from the web cam, another with a wireless hub for receiving the video and then sending it to any computer in the house using Netmeeting. Unfortunately, we both had to admit that wireless technology is not sophisticated enough for streaming video, and after all the network card shuffling, it was abandoned. The picture just did not transmit well, Netmeeting kept freezing the computers, and it defeated the purpose of less stair-climbing, as we had to keep rebooting _all_ the computers.

MC: In a word, "Wireless Sucks!" Yeah, I know, that's two words. It's also not the whole story. Most of the hardware was already on-hand. We'd been dabbling a bit with wireless for some time. It worked well going from a notebook computer (1.1 Ghz, 256 MB Ram, Win2Kpro), thru a wireless access point, onto the office LAN, and then thru DSL to the Internet. There was not a significant amount of delay for surfing the web or for getting Email. So at this point I'm thinking we'll use an older PC (Pentium 450, 128 MB RAM, Win98SE) in the basement and broadcast upstairs to the WAP. Had to purchase the internal wireless card for this machine. Unfortunately, in our zeal to be security-conscious with the wireless LAN, we'd purchased a WAP that included a lot of built- in security, never thinking that we'd have to open up a bunch of IP ports to allow NetMeeting to go in and out of it. This is sort of like contracting for a battalion of US Marines to guard the backdoor of your house. When you realize all you really needed for this particular application was a surveillance camera, you also realize you're not going to be able to terminate the contract with the Marines with a wave of your hand. It's way too secure for what you want to do. Lots of reading and lots of configuring and I got it to work sort of, but it wasn't anywhere near reliable.

MC: Next thought we'll cut the WAP out of the picture. So, we were broadcasting on a peer-based network directly to the notebook computer we'd been using before to experiment with wireless on a LAN. That means the only way to see mother and her babies is to have the notebook computer running upstairs in the office. Not a big deal, but still not reliable nor was the picture what I'd expected. Thinking it was the webcam, I checked it out on the office LAN without wireless running. Nope that wasn't the issue. Then, I took the notebook downstairs and tried the connection there. The connection was better, but not great. It got much better when I used a crossover cable to tie the two machines together. For the time being, we'd be running NetMeeting on the downstairs machine using wireless to send to the notebook PC upstairs.

MC: Over the course of almost two days, the machines were rebooted, on average, every 2 hours. So much for not climbing stairs, huh? With that, it hardly made sense to keep it up and running. Some of the issue was wireless and some of it is that the nesting area is not well lighted so the webcam was already struggling a bit. Going to monochrome helped some with the quality of the picture, but we were still regularly rebooting both machines.

I.C.: So on to Plan B. We wired the computers together with lots of cabling across basement, up stairs, around doors, & into the office computer. Not the best solution, but cement is difficult to drill holes in, and at least now we can see the picture without all the blocks of transmission lapses that wireless was giving us. We also changed from NetMeeting to a viewer that came with the 3Com Webcam, and downloaded another viewer that would allow us to remotely control the basement computer. The definition in the picture was greatly improved, and I could see much better detail of what was happening in the whelping room.

MC: I still wasn't allowed to drill any holes in the floor. So, 60 feet of cat5 network cabling later, we were in business mostly. NetMeeting was still giving us fits and requiring reboots of the downstairs PC. I'm convinced part of that was becuz of the low light in the nesting room and NetMeeting not being able to keep up. The 3Com Webcam came with several applications for sharing video. I finally settled on using the WebCam32 viewer. It seemed easiest to manage, gave what I felt was the clearest picture, and took up the least amount of resources. To send the pictures upstairs to the office/home LAN, I downloaded a viewer I've used several times for remote control of other PCs -- VNC (Virtual Network Computing). It's a FREE download (www.tucows.com), developed by AT&T Bell Laboratories, Cambridge. There's a server side (the basement machine that's transmitting) and a client side (the upstairs machines that will be viewing).

MC: After the new installation was complete with wiring and software, we were in business. The picture was consistently clear and the machines didn't require constant rebooting. The other advantage was that we were now able to do what I'd wanted to do in the first place view the nesting area from any machine on the office/home network. >I.C.: We also had Plan C, which we also established as a backup. Wise people have always told me you can never have too many backups! We had a motion sensitive surveillance camera from Radio Shack that we could connect to a television, and for this we used the holes that had already been drilled in the floor for cable TV. It works like a charm, and if you wish to check the status of the nest, you just change the TV to the "Doggy Channel"! Just make certain the sound is turned down, because the audio on this camera is amazingly clear.

MC: Oh, yeah, this would've been the easiest solution in the first place had there been a TV in the office. There's not even room for a portable in there. Besides, it's so much more geekier to have the Webcam setup, isn't it? In this case, the camera will only broadcast from the nesting area in monochrome. Color is not available becuz of the low lighting conditions. Well, that's OK. The purpose was not to get great video, but to be able to check on the situation down there without disturbing mother and babies.

I.C.: What's that? You want to know the specifications? The Motherboard multitasks amazingly well. The six females and five males have rather slow processors, but that is improving every day. Their storage is rather limited at the present time, but it, too, is expanding considerably. They are all equipped with decent sound cards, rather good speakers, but their video cards and controller cards will need to be refitted in a week or so, and their RAM will need to be upgraded on a regular basis. _Their_ wireless network cards are communicating extremely well at the present time, but this will change after a few weeks, I'm afraid. However, they do have an awesomely beautiful case which seems to accomodate any and all upgrades, hopefully for many years to come.

MC: Mother and babies seem to be doing quite well. As the veterinarian who checked them out the morning after birth said, "They're not puppies, they're horses!!!"

This article was brought to you by Judy Lococco, Past President of APCUG. If you use this in your newsletter please send her a message at judyl@apcug.org. There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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