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November 13, 2017

A Major PorchCam Improvement

Filed under: Main — Tags: , — admin @ 12:01 am

Originally, I used webcam software. It captured and uploaded an image automatically. When the software wouldn’t do what I wanted, I wrote my own. In both situations, the same problem occurs: When I’m out of town, my computer is turned off and the software doesn’t run; the PorchCam is down.

I’m not going to leave my main computer on while I’m gone. That seems wasteful to run keep an entire computer running just to run a program every three hours. So, where could I put the software so that the PorchCam stays up even when I’m out of town?

Then the solution hit me: Raspberry Pi.

No, I didn’t eat a snack. The Raspberry Pi is a programmable computer, a favorite of hackers and hobbyists.

About the size of a deck of cards, shown in Figure 1, The Pi is a complete Linux computer. It uses an SD card as its storage, plus it sports connectors to add an HDMI monitor, USB gizmos (or a hub), Ethernet, audio, and even old Analog video output.

Figure 1. The Raspberry Pi is inside the plastic case (which cost extra).

I bought the Pi shown in Figure 1 back in my robotics days. I forget what I paid for it, which was okay because I barely used the thing. Still, it’s potential as a PorchCam driver was great. I ran some tests.

Because of it’s Linux operating system, Debian “distro,” ran the bash shell. The main program that runs the PorchCam uses bash, but it calls other utilities. Thus, my adventure began.

From years ago, I recall many of the struggles I had with the Pi. It’s Linux, but it doesn’t come with every tool. You must fetch and install the tools, which requires downloading updates.

Over time, I obtained a C compiler, editor, a few missing utilities, and other tools. This process was sluggish to start because I was using a dead Ethernet port. Switching to the proper port brought the Pi online. Eventually I ran my test. Yes, the PorchCam software could run on the Pi. The only problem was the operating system was ancient and no longer supported. In fact, one of those utilities I mentioned earlier was unobtainable because the OS was out-of-date.

Another problem: The SD card on the Pi wasn’t large enough to handle an operating system update. That wasn’t a problem. I figured I’d get a new Pi, a current model, and use it as my dedicated PorchCam control system.

The new Pi was $60. Then, right after I clicked the Buy button, I saw two peripherals I wanted: A 7-inch touchscreen display and a case for the Pi and the display. I was in love. In fact, I was so exited, my heart stopped every time the UPS truck drove past my house.

Eventually, the new Pi and it’s 7-inch touchscreen display arrived. That’s when I remembered all the things I hated about the device. I’ll rant further on Thursday’s post.

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