I went to Florida for my Christ­mas hol­i­day. In order to not stress out the cat too much, the cat stayed home rather than go to a ken­nel. No pro­fes­sional pet sit­ter was avail­able where I live. So I opted to cre­ate a home sur­veil­lance sys­tem from hard­ware I had lying around and free software.

Obtained a dynamic DNS host­name from Dyn­DNS. Even though my IP address doesn’t change all that often, it is dynamic. There­fore, there’s no guar­an­tee that the IP would work. This was an extra pre­cau­tion I wanted to take. Plus it gave me some­thing eas­ier to remember.

Installed Log­MeIn. I did not require any of the fea­tures you get in the pay ver­sion. This allowed me to start/stop soft­ware as needed and man­age the pic­tures cap­tured by the web­cam. Other remote admin ser­vices would work as well. VNC is a great alternative.

Flashed my router with the Tomato firmware. The WRT54G stock firmware doesn’t let you for­ward the magic packet to use wake-on-LAN to turn on a com­puter. Tomato lets you log into the admin inter­face and send the packet to any MAC address on the LAN side of the net­work. I did this just in case the power went out and I needed to turn-on the com­puter again.

I tried out two dif­fer­ent web­cam servers for Win­dows, Broad­cam and Tin­Cam. Broad­cam is much eas­ier to setup and will auto­mat­i­cally setup port for­ward­ing if your router sup­ports UPnP, but it is lim­ited to live video. Tin­Cam has a lot more fea­tures, but it isn’t as user-friendly and you have to man­u­ally open up a port on the router. Both have trial peri­ods, but are fully func­tional dur­ing the trial period. I tried set­ting up a Linux web­cam server, but a lack of GUI or an easy to use con­fig file meant it was faster to use Win­dows. I did not test any Mac web­cam servers since my Mac­Book was com­ing with me. I ulti­mately set­tled on using Tin­Cam day-to-day because I could sched­ule it to record a pic every 5 min­utes of every hour (e.g., 1:00, 1:05, 1:10, and so on). Fur­ther­more, the date and time of day is used for the file­name. Tin­Cam won’t let you cap­ture pic­tures and run the video server simul­ta­ne­ously. You can run the image server though which updates every 5 sec­onds. So if you need an image log and live video, nei­ther will work for you.

With the image server, I was able to watch what was on the web­cam cur­rently. In order to see the log, I installed Drop­box. Then I con­fig­ured Tin­Cam to save the cap­tured images in a Drop­box folder. Now I can see a pic­ture log not just on my lap­top but also on my iPhone using the Drop­box app. This was VERY con­ve­nient. Fur­ther­more, the app over­lays the file­name so I can see when the pic was taken.

Finally, I installed Skype on the com­puter with the web­cam so I could occa­sion­ally talk to the cat. I cre­ated an account specif­i­cally for this. I con­fig­ured Skype to auto-answer and max­i­mize when video is ini­ti­ated. Though I think as com­fort­ing as a famil­iar sound is to a pet, the cat appeared both excited and con­fused hear­ing a dis­em­bod­ied voice.

That’s how I mashed up avail­able hard­ware and soft­ware to keep an eye on my cat while I was gone.

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