Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Remote Web Cam using Skype (Windows/Linux/MAC)

So many of us are already proficient web cam users. We use web cams for video chat, video streaming, recording video greetings and email, and some of us also use web cams as security devices.

This blog entry will focus on the latter item - video security/monitoring. There are many programs available to utilize your web cam for security purposes.

They allow you to use your web cam to monitor a designated area. Some allow you to record by frame steps so you can collect a video log of the monitored area for later review. Some allow you to monitor an area and trigger email or file transfer of captured images in real time.

Many web cam suppliers include such software with their web cam products. But, what if you just want to be able to remotely view a web cam from anywhere at anytime without purchasing security web cam software?

You may just want to check up on your office cam, maybe check on the backyard, or maybe a bird feeder. The possibilities are endless.

Well, if you are a SKYPE user, you already know that video has been a feature of Windows based SKYPE for a long time. And very recently, the folks at SKYPE have added video capability to the Linux derivatives of SKYPE. Most of the popular Linux distros (distributions) are supported.

And, as a SKYPE user, you probably know that you can have your SKYPE configured to automatically activate your video web cam when a call is answered. But --- did you know that you can also configure SKYPE to automatically answer all calls? That means unattended receipt of incoming calls!

Here's a possible scenario. You have your laptop or desktop in your apartment setup with a web cam and you configure SKYPE to (1) activate video for all calls and (2) answer all incoming calls automatically.

Now, what do you need to complete the remote access of this web cam? At a minimum, you need (2) SKYPE accounts. Remember, they are free! Account number (1) will be assigned to your remote web cam computer SKYPE log-in. And the second will be the account you use when you are away from your apartment.

I would suggest that you setup an account that will be easy to remember but not so easy for someone to guess. For example, let's say I create a SKYPE account name from my initials and web cam identifier - e.g. jas_cam1_office. I would sign in to that SKYPE account on the computer in my apartment. I would then use my original SKYPE account to sign in on a remote laptop or friend's computer. The last setup item is to allow each account to accept the other so they are in each other's SKYPE contact lists.

Now you are ready. Leave SKYPE running on your apartment computer with web cam functioning. Then, while you are away at some other location and computer, use SKYPE to call the SKYPE account at your apartment. After a ring or two, the apartment computer will automatically answer your call and it will then stream the web cam video to you! If you have an active microphone on that computer, you will also hear everything.

That's all there is to it. And with SKYPE's recently announced support of high resolution cameras, you will see a very nice picture. Another interesting item, your audio does not have to be limited to the microphone. I sometimes feed the audio from a police scanner or my ham radio to the computer. So when I SKYPE my office cam remotely, I see the activity just outside my office window plus I can hear the radio activity.

A few notes about SKYPE security - you can configure SKYPE to allow only calls from your contact list and you can further decide who gets video. I strongly recommend that you limit who can call your SKYPE enabled web cam for obvious reasons.

I should also mention that if you have not found SKYPE yet, you are in for a treat. It is used by millions of people everyday for pc-to-pc communications - for free! You can also SKYPE to regular telephones by purchasing minutes and the rates are very, very reasonable. Many folks also use it as their main business telephony service since it is very reliable and there are plenty of utilities and third-party programs for recording, PBX, help desk, etc.

Visit SKYPE for more information and your free download.

I hope you enjoyed this installment and hope to read your comments.

Cheers - Joe (My SKYPE name is "ToolsNTipsByJoe)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slow Computer, Causes and Fixes (Windows)

During a recent conversation with a friend, Frank, from Queen Creek AZ, the issue of "slow" computers came up. Why do they slow down and what can be done about it? This is a great issue to address, especially since this is the time of year some of us think about upgrading our present computer in favor of a faster, feature-rich new model.

That's fine but don't be so quick to retire that "slow" computer!

All computers experience some slowing down. This is quite common and there are several reasons for this. Most folks computer experts agree on the following items:

- You may have too many programs and processes running
- There may be malicious processes running (Spyware, Viruses, Trojans)
- Inadequate RAM
- Hard drive errors, capacity, or fragmentation issues
- Inadequate processor speed
- Other hardware issues
- Registry Issues (e.g. Invalid entries)

The above links navigate to an article by David Levine, Tech Specialist at Colby-Sawyer College, entitled, "Slow computer syndrome".

Here's what Derek Anthony Williams suggests (from, April 7,2007) as fixes for slow computers. You can read the entire article at Suite101.
  • Use the defragmentation tool (defrag). A hard drive consists of hundreds of sectors which or broken up into clusters and then further into allocations. As a computer gets used the files that are accessed are sometimes not put back to the sector or allocation unit where they belong. The drive becomes “fragmented”. The defrag tool can be accessed by going to the start bar, to programs, accessories, system tools and defragmentation tool. It may take several hours to properly defrag a hard drive, but the resulting gain in speed will make this time well spent. Files will be more quickly accessed and all of the bad sectors on a disk will not contain any information on them. Hence, a user will not wait in vain for a file that is stuck on a bad part of the hard drive.
  • Use registry fix programs. The computer registry can be described as the database that contains all of the settings and options for 32 bit versions of Microsoft Windows (including Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, XP, and 2000.) It also contains all of the settings for the hardware, software, users, and preferences of the P.C. Whenever a user makes changes in the Control Panel settings, file associations, system policies, or installed software, the changes are reflected in the computers registry. Many times a registry error occurs and this causes files and data to be inaccessible. If there are numerous minor errors (which is usually the case) a registry fix program will get the data back in accessible sequence and a slow computer will be speeded up with this fix.
  • Adding more RAM (random access memory) to your system will almost always help speed up a slow computer and the act of multi-tasking will not bog down the computer as it would with a lower amount of RAM. RAM is hardware that needs to be physically added and tends to be somewhat costly. However if you plan on keeping your system for a while it is an excellent investment.
  • For faster browsing speed clear your Internet cache (temporary Internet files) and delete your cookies. This causes the computer to gain speed on the Internet and the pop-ups from sites that you have been to will also be less frequent.
  • Remove unnecessary items from the start menu. To do this type “msconfig” in the “run” box and hit enter. Choose selective startup and uncheck all of the programs that you do not need to load every time you start your computer. This will make the computer start more quickly and efficiently. DO NOT uncheck items that you do not recognize. This could cause you computer to run improperly.
  • Use a browser with an integrated pop-up blocker (Firefox for example) to decrease the amount of pop-ups and increase browsing speed.
  • Constantly scan for viruses and Trojans. Trojans can be on a system for weeks even months unbeknownst to the user causing major slowdowns and file errors. Try using a specific Trojan scanner instead of the conventional virus all-purpose scanner. Many Trojans slip past the “big name” virus scanners and need to be sought out specifically to be removed.
Before jumping to any course of action, always be sure to ask the obvious questions:

- Am I low on disk space?

- Have I recently installed a game or application prior to this noticeable slow-down?

- Do I have a large number of resident programs loaded on startup?

After you are satisfied that you have resolved the issues contributing to the slowing down your computer, be sure to always use the following tools:

- a good anti-virus program (Try the highly rated free AVG Anti-Virus)
- a good anti-spy program (Try free Ad-Aware)
- a registry cleaner (Try Registry First Aide from Rose City Software, not free)

Please note: There are many "free" registry tools but most just identify registry problems - they don't fix them!

While there is never a 100% guarantee of trouble-free computing, the tools listed above will increase your chances of keeping your computer safe and your computer experience more enjoyable.

Here are a few links that can give you a bit more information on the subject.

Please post your comments regarding your own "slow" computer experiences.

Happy holidays - Joe

Monday, October 29, 2007

Where to Find "How-To" and Instructional Videos on the Internet

Do you need to know how to make a swamp cooler? Do you want to make your own charging station for your cell phone, iPod, PDA, or other device? Or maybe you just get entertained by the creativity and ingenuity of others.

Well, there are many places to visit on the WWW that can satisfy your questions or curiosity. One of the most popular "how-to" sites on the web is If you have never visited this site, you are in for a treat. Some the most watched Internet videos on the Internet originate at These "instructables" are usually organized in one of nine categories: Art, Craft, Food, Games, Home, Life, Offbeat, Ride, or Tech.

The home page also lists the day's "Featured" list as well as a "Popular" list. Those two lists make for a good place to start your first visit to the site. Set yourself up with your favorite beverage and enjoy your session. There are many other sites geared to specific "how-to's" regarding camping, recreation, sports, techie stuff, etc. Here are a couple of recent items at the Instructables site to give you a taste:

Another popular source of how-to videos can be found at the popular Internet video sites like YouTube, Google Video, and metacafe.

The easiest way to find a specific "how to" is just to enter a couple of key words or "tags" in the site's search bar. Just enter into the search bar what you are interested in. Not only will you be presented with a list of matching items but, as you watch them, the list will change and may include new topics. Sometimes that can be an interesting development or it may be frustrating since it can bring you off-topic.

These sites have much more than "how-to's". You can find a short video on just about any subject. For example, recently I was planning a day trip with my son and his friend to do some shooting in the Four Peaks area of Arizona - Tonto National Forest to be exact. So, before our trip, I searched for some YouTube videos, keying off the tags "4 peaks" "four peaks" "shooting 4 peaks" "quads 4 peaks", etc. You get the idea. I got just what I needed - reasonably good videos of folks enjoying shooting and quad riding in the same location that I was interested in. I've also done the same with my hometown in NJ, amateur related subjects, magic tricks - lots of stuff.

One of the most prolific makers of Internet videos covering everything from magic tricks to making your own under water video camera enclosure is "Kipkay". You will find many interesting videos by Kipkay at You can also visit his site directly at And best of all there are many folks like "Kipkay" out there.

I'm sure there are many other sites that you folks have visited. Just leave a comment here at the blog to share those with us. Till next time!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Welcome! -- Top Ten Lists are Here!

This is going to be a collection of my favorite tools and tips to make your computing activities - as well as some others - easier and more rewarding. Some other areas will be - but not limited to - communications, navigation, mobile computing, linux, videography, and photo stuff.

There will be tips on the latest software tweaks and items that will provide great utility.

Most of what you will find here will probably be a compilation of items that I have found elsewhere, such as,,,, etc. - you get the idea.

So what will be the first thing on this new blog? Here you go!

The "awe" inspiring List of Top Ten Lists:

1. Top 10 Wikipedia Tricks
2. Ten Features of Gmail You Might Not Be Using
3. Top 10 Ways to Clean Up Your PC
4. Ten Ways to Access Banned Sites
5. Top 10 Back to School Tools for the Organized Student
6. Top 10 PDF Tricks
7. Top 10 Free Wallpaper, Fonts and Icon Sources
8. Top 10 Firefox features that don't require extensions
9. Top 10 Clipboard Tricks
10. Top 10 Ubuntu applications

Give these "Ten" lists a look-see. There should be something interesting here for just about everyone!