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Archived Posts from “Hardware”

FishCam and CrabCam

04

June

A Message in a Bottle from a Mac Island

I thought I might share a little project we started in our Year 6/7 class at Beachlands Primary School two weeks ago. It was prompted by a question from John Akhurst of Wollongong West PS who asked on the MacEd mailing list:

“My class is in the process of setting up a yabby tank. The kids have asked me if they could watch the yabbies from home via a webcam. We are a NSW DET school running macs (10.4) and have a few iSight cameras. Is it possible to do this, and if so how do I go about it?”

The response from Warren McCulloch was swift, such is the power of mailing lists and switched-on educators:

“Pretty easy to do (in a techo sort of way!) Have a look at EvoCam.
http://www.evological.com/evocam.html

The only downside is that you will need a computer within firewire-cable distance of your camera.

Then set up evocam to FTP the camera output into your DET web account.

Also, my experience has been that this is a good use of an older computer.

I am currently using an old ruby imac to do this.”

“Aha!”, I thought, Judy (Judy Kealy, my long-suffering partner in crime teaching the Yr 6/7s, and our intrepid ICT co-ordinator) and I had just set up a terrarium and a fish tank for our Science and S&E studies.

“We could do FishCam!” shouts Reg. “I’ve got a spare iBook (let’s not go down the DET iBook lease thread just now but this is in fact my DET lease-expired “iPilot” G3 iBook 600, waiting for replacement) and I could use my iSight camera and set it up in the classroom to watch the plants and the fish”.

” Yeah, right Reg!”

Never let common sense get in the way of a great idea!

Downloading and setting up the EvoCam software was easy and it has proven to be quite powerful. It comes with a free 15 day fully functional trial before you are required to fork out between US$25 - 35, depending on OS. There are several techie points to note here for the unwary, however.

Firstly I downloaded the Tiger (OS X 10.4.6) version to install onto my PowerBook. When it came time to install it on the iBook running Panther (10.3.9) I needed to download an earlier version as the Tiger version is not compatible with Panther. (Damn cats!)

Secondly when clicking on the video settings, it kept crashing. A long study of the EvoCam FAQs on the website revealed a possible clash with a macam plug-in in Quicktime so into the trash it went. I must add here I also sent an email to EvoCam Tech help and that Nick responded promptly, giving me several tests to run, and even asking for the “crash log” to be sent to him for analysis.

The third techie caution is a bit stranger. After we had set up the iBook and iSight at school one of the kids noticed that I’d set the Date a day ahead. EvoCam has a date/time display option and it uses the computer Date and Time settings for this. We wound the clock back a day and all was well; so we thought. However, later I needed to quit and restart the application, and when it did so it curtly informed me that my 15-day trial period had expired - after just one day! “On what planet does 15 days equate to one of ours?” I asked the kids, to stunned silent reply. Anyway, by this time I had resolved that the software was worth the US$25 so, risking life and limb, I logged in and paid Kagi my hard-earned $$$.

So how did it all work out? Really well indeed.

The iSight comes with an assortment of mounting brackets, all designed for various Macs, but none really for fish tanks or hermit crab tanks (more on them later). However by taping one to the top of the aquarium we were able to focus down into the top of the tank. Just don’t drop the iSight into the water. I’m sure it wouldn’t do the iBook much good shorting out the firewire connection. Sort of fried fish and chips perhaps?

We set the image to a suitable size for viewing over the intranet, inserted a suitable date, caption and logo into the image, hooked the iBook into the school network and set it to become a web-server, all done from within EvoCam. (I think it uses OS X’s built in Apache Web Server for this.)

Now when the wise ladies and gentlemen from our central office tell us you can’t connect a Mac into a Windows network, please simply ignore them. Our iBook is running as a FishCam webserver within a 100% Windows XP environment. The only thing I needed to change was a port setting, and as I’m a bit of a mug about that sort of stuff, this was trial and error.

EvoCam wanted to use port 8080, which I tried, but it wouldn’t work. As 8080 is the school’s proxy server port, I guess the server didn’t like this little white upstart Mac trying to muscle in. EvoCam then suggested port 80 but then promptly told me I couldn’t use it as it was reserved for something else, so I typed in 8081 and it worked. Perhaps someone with better understanding of networks and ports might like to explain all this to me.

With a bit of deft left and right clicking on an admin Acer, we put a link to FishCam on the school’s intranet home page, and within minutes every classroom in the school, and every admin computer, could access the intranet and watch the fish live in action. (Something to soothe the boss in a savage moment perhaps!)

The kids think it’s fantastic being able to see the fish live, are constantly asking how it all works, and are actively coming up with bright new ideas to observe. We even watched a caterpillar eating a leaf in the terrarium! In fact, last week we had a time for parents to visit for learning journeys following our class’s assembly and every child wanted to show what they were doing with FishCam.

The concluding activity for the week involved shifting the entire setup to our Year 3/4 class who are studying the oceans, and have Heidi and Hermie, two hermit crabs, in residence. Welcome to Hermit Crab Cam! Suddenly the fish have gone and crabs have arrived.

This prompted us to try an overnight experiment. A powerful feature of EvoCam allows it to take a series of photos that it stores in an archive folder. Timing can be set from 1 second to 48 hours. We set ours to 2 minutes. In addition EvoCam uses these images to create time-lapse movies so the bright idea was, “Let’s put the crabs somewhere and watch them for 24 hours. We can see what they’re up to at night time (with the light on of course until - we set up infrared cam!) Where could we put them where it’s quiet and safe?” “Aha, the music room!”

You’d think that would be an oxymoron but it’s not, particularly after the drummers and trumpeters have left at lunchtime Thursday. So enlisting the help of two intrepid Year 3/4 techies we took Heidi and Hermie, tank, iBook and iSight and their security light and set them up in the corner behind the guitars. Once the ethernet cable was plugged in they were up and running; as well up and running as hermit crabs can ever be; and the time lapse evidence suggests that they really do run! (See the link at the bottom of the page for a Mini movie of our running crabs.)View the Crab Movie

At 8am Friday morning, kids were arriving, wanting to get into their classroom to watch the crabs on the intranet. There was great excitement. At 2 o’clock that afternoon we brought Heidi and Hermie back to the classroom, set up a data projector, hooked up the iBook, and watched them on the big screen. What a fantastic end to a very exciting week.

To conclude, I won’t venture into the curriculum aspects of such a project, suffice to say that they go far beyond Science, S&E and T&E. The project was set up on a whim, as a spontaneous way of sharing with children. It may develop, grow and change during the next few weeks.

Already the kids have suggested watching the clouds with it, setting up and observing a carnivorous plant terrarium and even watching the classroom and playground - an interesting thought, especially coming from the kids.

One young girl from our Year 5/6 class, who has a brother in the CrabCam class, is planning to bring a bird to school so that her class can watch it, and her teacher has even asked me when she was going to get a camera to use in her class too.

One future step would be to get the images outside the school network to be viewed from home, but that’s a later project, perhaps linked to a longer-term plan to set up a complete school website.

As a footnote, clearly this project uses Apple technology. However it is the educational aspects of ideas such as these that are the most important. EvoCam will work with a range of cameras, not just the iSight. It “uses QuickTime to capture video, so you can use any QuickTime-compatible camera or video input device with EvoCam. Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4 supports FireWire DV camcorders and FireWire IIDC cameras (like the iSight and iBot) without the need for additional drivers”.

I cannot advise on how to set this up using Windows and “PC” technology as I’ve never tried it, but I can head you in this direction, courtesy of EvoCam FAQs: http://www.evological.com/evocamfaq.html

I would think that if you have an old Windows computer sitting there doing nothing, just like Warren’s ruby iMac, it could be set up as a webcam server. Perhaps a Linux box could do it too.

Is there a PC version of EvoCam?
No, but if you’re looking for Windows webcam software we recommend webcamXP. This software is very similar to EvoCam and runs on Windows 98, ME, NT, XP, 2000 and 2003 http://www.webcamxp.com/.


a brief history of robotics, numbat style

06

May

here is a brief introduction to how we got robotics off to some sort of start over here in the west a few years ago. i wrote this for a list run by educational experience and though it may be of interest to readers

Introduction

for me (mark weber), the journey began when my daughter enrolled in primary school. I was really keen to get her into some form of komputaring and in grade 2 we started with simple email projects to places like email to antarctica.
the next step (a complete failure) was to interest primary school teachers in some sort of programing, in some mad attempt to get them interested in mathematics.

about as realistic as the dockers winning a final.

anyway, i was also teaching information systems in high school, and i met the late jim fuller at a conference. he had designed a board to plug into a printer. we could see leds turn on as the letters were set to the printer. from there, he developed some interesting exercises in teaching kids about ascii. (http://www.southwest.com.au/~jfuller/)

remember, there were the days before windows xp, and most of this stuff was done at the command line using turbo pascal and basic. and of course, we wrote it all up using wordstar.

why logo ?

we chose logo (http://www.softronix.com) because

  • old croc teachers from the seventies had some exposure during their training
  • it was free
  • it was supported
  • it looked clean and would appeal to girls

enter the peripheral

it then occured to jim, that you could pulse a signal through a cable, and connect it to a special device called a stepper motor. these motors were salvaged from old 5.25 inch disk drives. it wasn’t long before he had designed a board based on a darlington driver to drive these motors, and we were plunged into finding how to program steppers and apply them to simple projects. jim designed a puppet called woody that jiggled around.

mike leishman and jim fuller developed both pascal and vb code that would run these steppers using jim’s board.

genesis

another group connected with uwa saw these ideas and began projects of there own. a lecturer in the electronic engineering department, keith godfrey, designed a board thet ran four steppers from a printer port, and developed a much more sophisticated puppet. they even designed and produced a turtle.

these both ran on mswlogo as well as c.

rcx bricks

around this time, lego produced their rcx bricks. under the sponsorhip of educational experience, a lady named helen deacon in this state have made tremendous advances promoting legotechnics and things like the robocup and robo soccer.
paul dench started mucking around with a version of logo that progammed the brick in direct mode. so we hung a tower over a table and drove a brick around the floor, controlled from the keyboard.

conclusion

we lost two pioneers for educational computing in 2005, jim fuller and ken hopkins. the genesis group broke up, and computing generally in this state has taken a bit of a nosedive.

however, if i were predicting a direction to go to, i would look to picaxe.
in an effert to promote robotics in britain, the oil and gas industry sponsored a project that provides low cost electronics, projects and worksheets. (http://www.rev-ed.co.uk/picaxe/). it is handy to introduce this with a course in qbasic (yeah, qbasic. command line users, unite !!) .
you can also look into scorpio technology (http://www.scorpiotechnology.com.au/) to find some cool devices. i used some of the ideas to produce the falcon flyer, a racer that was made from discarded cdrom drives
also, look in at http://www.numbatconspiracy.com/moodle for some more details


Intel Mac

25

April

I just convinced my Principal to have an iMac with Boot Camp, thats got to be worth mentioning considering Windows rules our departmental admin networks.
ps Yes I know its the holidays, but we got broken into again and again they didn’t bother to steal the eMacs, too heavy.

Steve


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