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The Web Is Watching
A Tour of Internet Cameras
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By John Breeden
August 7, 1996
June Houston knows there are ghosts living under her bed. She protects herself from the spectral denizens not with garlic or crosses, but with a series of cameras linked to the World Wide Web.
Houston, a New York artist, wanted her Web pages to be interactive. Every night when the sun goes down, amateur ghostbusters from around the globe begin crawling into the darkened areas under her bed and through her basement, where she has placed cameras. They search for signs that the spirits are restless and e-mail the results to Houston.
The Eyes Have It
The idea of cameras constantly transmitting images from around the world may conjure up images from George Orwell's nightmare world in "1984." But with the multitude of images available for anyone to see, the world is actually moving in an opposite direction. Rather than one central Big Brother watching over society, millions of people are brought one step closer to places and people they may never have encountered before.
A Hot Trend
Roman Milner of Austin, Texas, had more important things to worry about than streams of glowing, hot lava. He needed an audience for his four pet ferrets, named Pbob, Blip, Yoda and Ferrety. To mount his ferret camera Web site, Milner set up a grayscale camera in front of the water and food dish of his very active animal friends.
Because the animals are very unpredictable, finding the ferrets is a bit like bird watching. The critters also have a habit of playing with the camera, pointing it off in random directions.
Milner said the site is popular and fun to maintain. "I get all kinds of e-mail from ferret owners around the world, telling me about their pets," he said. "It makes me feel like if anything ever happened to me, there would be plenty of people around the globe willing to take good care of my pets."
Cold-blooded Dupree might be able to raise her temperature at the Web camera that sits in sunny Bermuda. Norm Nelson, assistant research scientist at the Bermuda Biological Station, warned that the island weather outside his Web camera is not always so nice. In fact, his site is most popular during bad weather.
"When hurricane Felix passed last year, our site was so swamped we had trouble sending e-mail," Nelson said. "That problem was alleviated when we put plywood over the window, blocking the camera." Nelson said traffic at the site during the recent visit of hurricane Bertha was so intense that it brought their entire computer network to a halt. He said the scientists at the outpost are making plans to handle extra users before the next hurricane blows through.
The seas are always placid at the fisheye camera, which stares into a saltwater aquarium loaded with coral and other marine life. (Note: If you access the Internet through an ISDN or T1 line, you might appreciate these living reef movies.) Robert Burr says people on the Internet seem to enjoy the bright coral at his Coral Gables, Florida, Web site. "The incredible images of these fluorescent corals, with textures, patterns and colors from another world, always seem to capture the attention of those that find them," he said. The site also offers accelerated time movies that allow users to inspect the movement patterns of the coral which would otherwise be unnoticeable.
Down the road from the university, Mark Bryant has a 24-hour camera mounted in his home. "I'm hardly even aware that it's there most of the time," Bryant said. His Web camera is just the beginning, he said. One day he would like to see the entire world linked by cameras on the Internet. "I guess I have an idea that someday, it might be possible to visually navigate through the world," he said. "...from my office, you could link to a camera at one of my neighbor's houses and from there to a camera trained on the street. ... I still think it's a kick to be able to see what's happening right now on a street corner in Boulder or Manhattan or Rio or wherever."