Very long day of car-related activities. With Artscape this coming weekend (ack!) it's time I finally get my ass in gear and get the car in shape. I'm wanting to try the webcam thing again. Even though it was such a disaster in Houston. Because it always seems like such fun for Lisa, and she's able to lend me most of the equipment and talk me through it. And there's another guy at Artscape, Tim Klein, who (along with a truly amazing art car) also has a TiBook and webcam and expressed interest in us webcasting together. In fact I think he would be doing it already if he knew how to set up his cell phone for net access.
So anyway, Tim and I have been talking about webcasting together, through my cell modem. We both have Airport in our computers so we need to stay close enough together during the parade to maintain the network. They don't assign lineup position at Artscape, so we agreed that whoever got there first would save the next space for the other.
Most of the work of setting this thing up has fallen to me, because for one thing, it's my cell phone, and for another, Tim is on a whirlwind art car tour right now and doesn't have much time for computer fun. So I've spent much of the past couple of weeks trying to get things running over here. I'm using Imagecaster (recommended by Lisa) to run the cams, and that's working great. It seems a lot easier to use than the system 9 webcam software we tried in Houston.
Getting the phone to talk to my computer is another story. I found a yahoo group called maccellphone that's been a big help, a lot of the people there have the exact same setup as I do -- same computer (15" TiBook), same phone (Kyocera 2235) and same provider (Verizon). But still, following their instructions as best I could, no matter what I tried I couldn't get the computer to recognize the phone. I even went to the Verizon store today to buy a new phone, but it turns out I can't because I'm only 15 months into a two year contract. Unless I want to pay through the nose, I have to wait until February to get a new phone from Verizon. I guess I could have changed providers but that's a little drastic. And besides, Verizon is the only provider we've tried so far that got decent reception at the house.
OK, so I was really dejected to find out that I couldn't get a new phone. I was starting to think that I might have to give up on the web cam thing. I mean, only 5 days to go and I still hadn't managed to connect through the laptop at all and had no idea what I was doing wrong. Not encouraging!
The guy who talked to me at the Verizon store was so helpful though. (I felt bad about not being able to buy a phone from him because I think they work on commission. I hope he's still there in February when I got back to get a new phone.) He really knew a lot about cell phones and the internet. He explained to me about the different bandwidth levels: everyone on Verizon can use their phone as a 14.4 modem -- gack! but there's no cost above the use of minutes. Or you can pay the rather outrageous sum of $80 a month to get near-DSL speeds out of the phone. I explained that I only needed this service for a couple of days and he said I could get it for a month and then cancel and only have to pay for the one month.
I told him about the battery problem I was having with my current phone and he upgraded the software in it. Apparently this is something I should have been doing all along. He said it might help with the battery and would probably also improve my reception, which made no sense at all, but what do you know, the signal went from one bar to three when he did it. He said if the battery problem persists I should bring it back when their technical people are there, there might be a bad chip in it. But it seems to be better.
Also I asked him about data cables. I had been using a serial cable, but since Macs don't have serial ports I had to add a serial-USB adapter. (My first stumbling block in this process was finding out that my old adapter wasn't compatible with OS X, and having to order a new one. Which took five days to get here and didn't help at all. But I can use it for other things, like the remote release on my camera, so I'm not upset about buying it.) Now they have a USB cable for the phone. He said it shouldn't make a difference, and the maccellphone people say the same thing. But I bought the USB cable anyway as a last resort. If it didn't help I could always return it.
Well, it worked. YAY!! Actually, I had the wrong driver installed, but I couldn't tell that was the problem with the old cable. I may return the new cable anyway, since I don't really need it and it was pricey. But without it I would never have figured out my problem.
Okay. First hurdle crossed; big sigh of relief. I have the computer recognizing the phone. I did a little test run in my living room: turned off Airport, connected to a dial-up account using the cell phone as a modem, turned on the webcam. It worked great. I have it set to upload every minute, but at 14.4 it couldn't always get the file uploaded within a minute. However, Imagecaster seems pretty good at just skipping an upload if it isn't done yet with the one before. I seem to recall that was a big problem with the previous software; it didn't know what to do if uploads overlapped like that.
Next hurdle: how long will the phone stay connected. I stayed online for almost an hour this afternoon, working on the page that will display the cam images and just keeping an eye on it, until I decided that I really needed to go do something else so I shut it off. By that time the battery indicator was almost empty. So I'm guessing that I would get a little more than an hour off the battery. Which would just barely get us through the parade, but not much more. I'd really hate to go to all this trouble to only be able to webcast for one hour.
I sent an email to our host Pru, asking if I could use her cell phone as a modem when my battery conked out and promising to do all the research and buy whatever cable needs to be bought. Considering my track record, I'd hate to try to get that working the night before the parade. But if that's the contingency plan, I'd give it my best shot.
See, the problem is a design flaw in the phone. The power cable and the data cable are too close to each other; they can't be used at the same time. So whenever I'm using the phone as a modem, it has to run off the battery. But, I was looking at the cables, seeing if I could force them both in at the same time (I could not), and I realized that it's not really the connector that's in the way, it's the thick rubber padding around the metal connectors. I called up tech support and asked if it would be dangerous or bad for the connection to trim that off with a knife. The woman laughed, I guess that was an odd question, but she said that as long as I didn't cut into the cable itself there was no problem.
So this evening I got out a nice sharp cleaver and trimmed one side off the rubber padding on the power cable. Didn't cut into anything but rubber, and now the data cable and the power cable both fit! I can't even begin to say how excited I am about this. If I can run the phone off the car adapter then the only time limit on broadcasting will be the battery power in the computer. I'm going to do a test run in my car tomorrow morning.
OK, so aside from all the geeking out I also did some work on the actual car. I glued a fabric panel to the inside of the roof. It won't show to parade spectators but it will make the ride more fun for us. The fabric has a swirly blue pattern which I'm going to embellish with glow in the dark paint. Also I have a bag of glow in the dark salamanders somewhere, and Lisa recently gave me the most wonderful thing, a packet of stick-on glow in the dark fish. I am hoping to get all the GITD stuff set up this week so I can take Pru's daughters out for a glow drive on Friday night. I'll want to do a local test run after we get there anyway, so might as well make it a fun outing.
The bad thing about putting up the fabric is that I nearly gave myself a heat stroke. I didn't think it was that hot, in fact I thought I was better off inside the car (thus out of the sun) with the windows open. Gluing up the fabric wasn't that difficult, but it did require a lot of attention and energy to apply the glue to the ceiling, smoothly press the fabric up and pin it in place, and trim around the handrails, dome light, etc., all while trying not to get glue in my hair. What's worse, once I got started I felt like I couldn't stop until the whole thing was finished. Obviously I couldn't drive with a huge piece of fabric half-glued to the ceiling, so it had to be done today. Beyond that, I didn't even want to stop for a few minutes. I was afraid if I took a break the whole thing would peel off as soon as my back was turned.
So I must have been sitting in that car for hours on this sunny, hot July afternoon. Well "sitting" isn't exactly the right word, actually I was crawling around between the back and front seats, gluing up the fabric. I knew the heat was getting to me when I set down a screwdriver (needed it to take down the sun visors), a moment later couldn't remember where I had put it, and started crying. That's always a bad sign. By the time I finally got out of the car I was short of breath, dizzy, and my hands and feet had fallen asleep. Not fun at all! Georg helped me get into bed, put a cold cloth on my head and made me drink lots of water until I felt better. Remind me not to do that again.
But at least the fabric looks good. Well, it will look good when I trim off the excess, which is hanging from the edges right now. I'm not worried about getting a nice neat edge because I'm planning to trim all the way around it with white beads. Which I have run out of, darn it! So that will have to wait until after Artscape.