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One of the big drawbacks to a lot of technology is that it requires batteries.  I think that there is a certain rule about batteries which states that they are always full when you check them but always empty when you go to actually use them.

 

One of the more often used battery powered devices in our home is the Gyration mouse in the kitchen.  It is on and off of its charging base dozens of times every day.  Over the course of a couple of years the batteries cease to function and we are left trying to remember all of the keyboard shortcuts to open and close windows and navigate around the screen (is it enter or space to click a link in a web browser?).

 

Last time this happened we were fortunate to have a spare handy since a family member had already been down the road of having their mouse die and needing to get a replacement.  After swapping out the old one I noticed that the battery pack said it was an NiMH battery.  This piqued my interest and I decided to take it apart to see what was inside.  As it turns out the battery pack is a multi-purpose plastic case with ordinary rechargeable AAA cells inside soldered together.  Lifting the cells out you could see the markings telling you how to install your own AAA cells in the case.  There were even plastic clips and such to hold springs in place so that they could use the same casing for non-rechargeable battery packs as well.  After seeing all of this I decided that next time the battery pack needed replacing instead of trying to track down a new one I would try my hand at building one from the old pack.

 

Well after a couple of years here we are with a dead battery pack.  Mary fluttered her eyelashes at me and off I went to the store to pickup some AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries.  I had originally intended to just solder the new batteries together and call it a day but upon seeing the little slots for springs again I decided that if I spent a little longer I could probably add the spring in and have a user-serviceable version which wouldn't require soldering next time it needed new batteries.  I proceeded to dig through the endless drawers of random small parts that I have in the basement and found some small springs and flat metal plates which I had carefully removed from some previously defunct battery powered device.  I soldered them together and slid them into the battery pack (noticed that I had done it all backward since the markings on the case don't match the polarity of the cells which had been in the case before - and redid it all).  I then popped the new cells in, installed the new battery pack in the mouse and slid it onto its charging base.  It worked!

 

Now next time the batteries need replacing it will be a simple matter of popping out the old ones and popping in some new ones.  In principle the same sort of thing ought to work for lots of "custom" battery packs.



   



Having a new baby in the house does all sorts of interesting things to you.  Of course there is the massive change in routine and general lack of sleep, but there is also a desire to know how your baby is at all times.  Having seen the fancy baby video monitor devices at the stores we had thought to ourselves "Hey that's cool I could see what's up without having to move".  The problem is that after reading some online reviews it was clear that not only do those things cost an arm and a leg and have somewhere around negative 10 minutes of battery life, but they broadcast your baby (and anyone else in the frame) over the airwaves for anyone with a similar model device to see.

 

Oh well it was a nice thought...  But wait.  Why not try and build our own?

 

Supplies we would need:

  • Camera - A webcam should do the trick
  • Microphone (optional) - Since new computers seem to come with these we had a bunch lying around.
  • Means of broadcasting the signal - we used a laptop in this case since it is small and quiet (we don't want the noise of the computer to wake the baby)
  • Means of receiving the signal - Another computer somewhere else will do for this.
  • Some kind of software to act as a capture / broadcast server, as well as a client to view the video stream.  We started with VLC, the universal video program but due to issues with VLC not liking some of the webcam drivers we ended up switching to Windows Media Encoder.

VLC Setup

After lots of painful searching I found some settings which more or less worked for VLC.  Here are the basic steps if you want to give this a try:

 

So first things first download and install VLC on all of your computers (if it is not already on them).
Server
On the system with the webcam run VLC.
Media => Open Capture Device
Select your webcam and microphone from the video and audio lists
Down at the bottom beside the Play button click on the little arrow and select Stream from the list which appears.
Check off HTTP and type your IP address.
In the Profile section:
Encapsulation: ASF/WMV
Video codec: Check the Video checkbox and set Codec to WMV2
Audio codec: Check the Audio checkbox and set Codec to MP3
Click the stream button

Client (the system(s) you want to view the stream from)

Run VLC.
Media => Open Network
Change the dropdown to HTTP
Type your IP address followed by colon 8080 and click play.

Windows Media Encoder

WME is a free addon to windows which allows you to capture and stream audio and video from your PC over the network.  While not as flexible as VLC is seems to be a little more polished (at least for streaming webcam video from a Windows based system).  Using WME is basically a point and click job.  To view the stream we found that we had to use Windows Media Player on the other end (figures).


The really neat thing here is that with this setup you can tweak settings to your heart's content and can view the stream from almost anywhere with almost any device that has network access. Grab your laptop / portable media device with WiFi and sit out on the deck enjoying the sun while having a clear view of what's going on in the baby's room.


Of course like any baby monitoring device, this is no substitute for proper parenting...



   

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