A couple of days ago I got a second hand 7 inch EEE-Pc as a gift from a friend. Its a cool little system and I was looking for an interesting way of putting it to good use. Of course our “Return of the Netbook” podcast brought many an idea to mind, but I wanted something different. Instead of using it as a workstation, I thought that a little bit of “Server Side technology” would come into good use. The thing is pretty small, consumes no power whatsoever and can do some cool things should you want it to.
Turn it into an “on demand” Nannycam. : One of the simplest alternatives is to install Skype on it and turn it into a Nannycam.
- Install Skype.
- Create a separate account for the laptop
- Set up the laptop to automatically send video.
- Add your Skype account to the friends list.
- Configure : Auto-answer to have the laptop “pick up” whenever you call it using your account.
- Mute the speakers on your laptop.
- ( Or follow this guide )
This is by far the easiest and most cross-platform friendly solution for your old netbook that will help you get some use out of the old baby. Make sure to tweak your security settings on Skype so the laptop won’t accept calls or chats from people outside the contact list. (and just to make sure , cover the webcam with a post-it note when you want to be sure nobody is watching.
What would you use as surveillance software ? Tell us in the comments section.
The downside of having both Tech Skills and a family … is that sometimes you become the family helpdesk. Before you know it people ring you up to fix their computer, and for some (like my mum in law and my wife’s “Ubuntu” Granny) a smoothly running computer is VERY important. But sometimes when the phone rings i’m wearing my PJ’s and don’t feel like hopping in the car and driving over. Or sometimes the people I need to help out live halfway around the planet. Time for my 5 favorite tools for digital omnipresence. All I need is a computer, a fast pipe and these tools and “Killroy 2.0 is .. everywhere”
Teamviewer : When it comes to cross-platform remote control of systems over the internet, Teamviewer takes the cake. Because I love to control all kind of systems without having to bother about the OS, Teamviewer is the perfect tool for the job. On demand or unattended remote control sessions, a chatbox and file transfer. Teamviewer does it all. I install teamviewer on all the systems I manage for remote control without needing to bother with open ports or IP addresses.
Dropbox : Suprising as it might seem, I use dropbox for a lot of my remote work. The Ubuntu granny has her pictures and document folder stored on her dropbox accounts. That ensures simple but effective backups. But with access to her dropbox account I can drop or pickup files she needs. Picture from her grandchild not opening ? Strange attachment ? Dropbox is the perfect tool for remote file management.
Skype : (auto Answer) : Sometimes it helps if you can talk to the people you are helping out. I use Skype to do just that. The combination with teamviewer is excellent and it allows me to talk and type at the same time. The difference with “being there” is very slight indeed.
No-ip.org : When the ‘remote person’ has a dynamic IP address its sometimes hard to “find them back” on the internet. If you google “what is my Ip” you get just that, but to avoid that extra manual step, its nice to bind a domain name to a dynamic ip. Dyndns used to offer this service for free, but not anymore. No-Ip.org does do this and gives you a choice of several ‘client’ applications to install on the remote systems.
SSH : When it comes to remote controlling systems via the command line, sending files back and forth or even piping through X or VNC sessions , SSH is ‘tha bomb’. Versatile, secure and a great way to tunnel through the internet for remote omnipresence.
Yesterday morning was your average sunday morning at casa del Knightwise. As we where enjoying daylight savings time an extra hour of sleep for some was turned into an extra hour of lounge for us. Childish as it may be , my wife and I love hanging out in front of the tv/computer on a sunday morning , watching cartoons like sponguebob and some silly american sitcoms. This of course would not be geek enough where it not that while i was having breakfeast/nickelodeon I was also browsing through the shownotes of the global geek podcast that we where going to record that same day.
So at 10'ish the homework was done and my good friend Dave Gray calls in to do some chitchat / soundcheck just before we start recording the show. Mind you : Dave is on the other side of the planet ( Near Brisbane Australia) and recording the whole podcast over skype in the two hour window we set up in our busy lives, is not always easy. But no problems where expected. Or so we thought.
3 2 1 …. Dave intro's the show and the recording starts. My wife turns to hushpuppy mode not to make any disturbing background noises and gives me a wink as Dave and I start to talk about the first topic. Its all fine and dandy unti suddenly … no more Dave. I find myself finishing of a topic, waiting for a reply .. and hearing nothing. A quick check shows me : No Dave on line anymore ! I seldom swear out loud .. but this is seldom Darn ! Where did Dave go.
Bless the power of the internet , i fire up my skype list , dig up daves personal cellphone number and call him up (thanx to rediculesly low skype costs a call to the other side of the planet is concidered peanuts.) but I get his voicemail. All kind of scenario's go through my head. What the frack is going on : No Skype , No cellphone , No internet connection over there apparently … Has a giant meteor struck Australia ?
But then suddenly I get a request to add a familiar name to my Skype list : James Gray (Dave's brother who joined us as a guest on the previous show). Extatic with adrenaline we try calling eachother right away , each getting a busy tone. But after syncin out who's the boss we manage to setup a call. Enter "Ell Dirty Hack".
It seems that Daves house has fallen of the powergrid and in panic he wanted to call ME on my cell. Where is Knightwise's number .. Dave fretts .. On the computer .. is the reply. So the only option he had left was calling James using his cellphone. James puts the call on the speakerphone of his landline phone and calls ME on skype. And that way me and Dave get to communicate. The difference in audio quality is hilarious (not to mention the time delay and the occasional translations having to be made by the 'airbridge operator James) It sounds like Dave is on the moon , James is sitting next to me and I literally feel on the oposite side of the globe. But as creative as geeks get , we mananged to get it working.
Thus I get the luminous idea of recording this hilarious skitt . I hit skype recorder and bash together some impromptu show. The whole thing is saved as an MP3 and sent of to our personal FTP server. Since Dave is going to be off line later (the time difference is NINE HOURS) I relay the login and password to James who tries to get them over to his brother. Redundancy is king so I send both the login credentials AND the file via Email to Dave's place aswell.
Needless to say .. We had a great laugh .. The show we planned for this week is, of course, toast .. but the little skit we recorded is priceless. What did amaze me was the flexibility and the SPEED the all of us had in setting up alternate means of communications and getting things sorted to get in touch with eachoter and getting the necessary recources from one harddisk on the northern hemisphere to another one on the southern one. The smoothness, swiftness and creativeness we use when 'operating' the internet amazes even me sometimes.
Just another mith ?
I get some of these things in my mailbox from time to time. Use this program to call for free and so on. Almost every time it turns out to be a hoax and you have to pay some fee in order to make a crappy voice over IP phone-call to your parents next door. But I got tapped on the shoulder yesterday by one of my wife's co-workers who sent me this little link : Freecall. A free phone-service that apparently gives you five hours of free calls to landline's all over the globe including the USA (Landlines and mobiles) most countries in europe , australia, brazil and so on. So boot up your PC and here we go.
Download the client, yapp away ?
You can use either their client application (only for windows unfortunately) or make a trail call from their website.
According to my source (who lives in Belgium) his wife had spent the last three hours last night testing it out and calling her family in Russia, absolutely free.
The rates are almost the same as Skype , For a call to an Australian Cellphone using Freephone I will pay 0.13 eurocent, And with skype it will cost me € 0.19 incl. VAT. Rates vary per country but all in all it looks cheaper. Now this little tool is far from the functionality a skype client has but , to call a landline its an ideal little program. So check it out and tell us what you think about this free-call thing. Perhaps it will stick, perhaps it will fade away , but be sure you get your 5 free hours of yapp-time before the thing implodes on itself.
In the beginning there was crap.
If I do have to point out what programs I use the most beside Firefox, its probably Skype. From what used to be a fancy Voice Over Ip novelty thing where you could talk instead of type it has evolved into a means of communication that has outgrown even my use of IM programs like MSN and all the others. By comparison : I use my cellphone for about 20 minutes a month , while my average Skype time can count up to more then 1 or even two hours a day sometimes. To the amount that what used to be a busy MSN list and an occasional Skype contact fluttering by, is now more of the opposite.
The great thing is that its becoming more and more popular around the world. Not only is the amount of users steadily increasing, the third party technology is finally rising above proto-techno level and is starting to make some seriously interesting stuff.
First off (of course) there where the headsets. Since the coming of Skype the most exotic headsets in all sizes and degrees of quality have popped up on the market. From the flimsy to the “Nasa mission control” style headsets have been used with Skype with various degrees of succes.Later came the handsets. Nothing more than a headset with a mike and line plug to jack into your sound-card. The only difference was that it looked like the handset of a phone. Slightly more inconvenient then a headset I personally think , but useful none the less.More advanced models used USB and the functionality of acting as an external soundcard to give more buzz to the horn. You could now dial numbers on the horn instead of using your keyboard. Since you where only 3 feet away from your keyboard anyway (the cable is just that short) there is no use in that whatsoever.So bring on the external DECT phone.
Using a wireless handset and a USB Dongle connected to your pc , you could now roam the house when calling on skype. Pretty cool and dandy. You could even call people on your skype list and use some models in combination with a classic landline resulting in a hybrid voip/classic phone. Only bummer ? Your Skype had to be running on your pc. It was getting better .. but not yet.
So what do we realy need : Well , a kind of phone like the one mentioned above .. But without the pc . How about a phone that has Skype running inside it. Embedded so to speak. And wouldn’t it be great if that phone would use a standard wireless ethernet connection as the link? No extra devices needed ?
In-bed with Skype.
Enter the embedded skype phone. First time is was rumored was quite some time ago. Netgear was supposed to be working on their model with the program embedded and using Wifi as means of connection. But at a proposed price of 250 Euro”s it did weigh in quite heavy on the wallet. Time to call our next competitor. That one came in the form and shape of the new BELKIN skype phone . Clearly looking a tidbit more snappy then its competitor the Belkin model actually looks like a real phone. (something of a love-child between a Ericsson 610 and a bar of shoe-polish) but nice in both the functionality department (equipped with bluetooth and actively on the lookout for free wifi everywhere) and the price (at some 170 dollars US) For the moment its only available in the US but we will keep you posted when we get our hands on one.
What it boils down to is that WIFI is a serious competitor for classic cellphone carrier signals, GPRS and UMTS when you start having devices like this. Possibly the greatest intrusion on the market of the classic cellphone industry can be made with devices like these. Slowly but surely the age of the pay-per-second phone billing industry is coming to an and and the landline dinosaurs have outlived the flintstone age.
But what would be even cooler ? How about an embedded camera in that phone. Now THAT would be awesome. Being able to call hands free, perch the phone on the table and there you go. But besides from a combination of existing technology into a new product this would also require a change of mentality. The age of email made way for the age of chat. The age of chat has made way for the age of talk and the age of talk will make way for the age of image. The mental upgrade you have to make is using video at any given moment as an enhancement of the communication. Either people webcam with far away family relatives or they are teenagers that are trying to undress their female peers in a futile attempt for kicks. The trick is : Tune it into your way of life. Like me and my buddy Dave for example. We just fire up the webcam as I'm cooking dinner. It might be fun at first to have somebody at the other side of the globe yell at you because your spuds are boiling over. Another cool thing to do (certainly with the built in isight) is to give your buddy a tour around the house. Like with all new technology , at first its a novelty , just playing with it long enough so it becomes natural is the trick.