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Crimefighting with Code

Posted by gregwarner, 03 May 2011 · 947 views

I've been feeling a bit in a slump today. My house was broken into yesterday while I was at work. Fortunately, the only thing the burglar made off with was my laptop and webcam, which were running as a motion activated camera. He didn't take anything else. I suspect he saw the camera, panicked, grabbed it, and left before anybody would show up.

Fortunately, I know even things like security cameras get stolen, which is why I had the device set to email all its footage to me rather than store it on the local drive. The thief got nothing as I already had the images before he could even approach the camera.

But there is one flaw in my system: The human factor.

I forgot to turn my cell phone back on noisy from the silent setting the night before. Consequently, I didn't even know the break-in had occurred until two and a half hours later. The system worked perfectly. I, however, did not.

Needless to say, I learned my lesson, and now, as a personal policy, I never turn my cell phone on silent, not even when I'm sleeping.

But I also wanted to talk about the technology of this system. I'm using a free program called Yawcam to perform the motion detection and email. I use Google's SMTP server, and send the messages to myself so they get pushed to my Android phone. There's about a ten to fifteen second delay, but that's good enough. (According to the timestamped images, the thief spent just over two minutes in my home.)

Yawcam is pretty nice. It has the ability to connect to HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and file servers, offers motion detection, a range of customizable actions to take upon motion trigger, as well as a built-in schedule so you can have the system arm and disarm itself at specific times of the day. You can adjust the motion sensitivity and monitor zones, and it even offers streaming so you can open a port in your router and watch your camera from on the road.

It's a pretty cool program, and it does a lot of things very nicely. It works with any webcam or IP camera. I recommend anyone wishing to implement a simple home monitoring system go check it out. Just remember: pay attention to the alerts it's sending you or it doesn't do you any good! :worry:

But the good news is that I've got two more webcams running today, as well as two more on their way from Newegg. Gonna cover every possible angle in my house!

p.s., I've attached a couple of the images from the break-in below for your interest.

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I'm sorry your house got burgled, but the technology is pretty sweet!
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I guess it is every home security person's dream and nightmare to see their devices work indeed!

May I ask what models of cameras you had used and are now purchasing? I've been looking through a few on the internet, not sure if a large USB extension with webcam is really worth it, or to get a dedicated black and white one that could be hidden from the computer better (through (W)LAN).
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I was using a Logitech C910. It has very good low light operation, it's HD, built-in stereo mics, has auto focus and auto white balance, and depending on where you look, you can get it for under $100. I've ordered 2 more as replacements for the one that took the above photos (and got stolen).

The one thing I hate about most cameras is that there is always a good bit of motion blur. It's hard to find a camera that takes a decent clear picture when people are walking around, and the guy above didn't stop moving long enough for me to get a good look at his face.

There are definitely advantages to using WLAN cameras. If they work like ordinary IP cams, Yawcam can interface with them over the network. Plus, with wireless, they can go everywhere. The only disadvantage is that you have to provide power to each one. My ideal system would be many wired IP cams, all powered by PoE, and run all the cables through the attic back to a powered switch, which is in turn plugged into a UPS along with my computer, router and modem. That way, if the power ever goes out, the whole system will keep running for a little while. The important thing is to make sure that, no matter what, you can take pictures and transmit them over the internet in the event of an emergency. I've ordered a couple UPS's, but it'll be a while before I can implement the PoE system.

The last thing to consider is that you won't have night vision with an ordinary webcam. If you want night vision, you'll need to spend a little extra for an IP cam with an integrated ring of IR LED's. For even more money, you can get weather resistant ones that can go outside.
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Human interaction with the technology will often let us down more than the technology does.
Sorry to hear about your house hope they catch the guy.
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Are crimes like that actually so common, that you'd have a security system and now improving it? But yeah, the technology sounds nice.
Also, in CSI series on the TV, they can always just make the image higher quality, to see people's faces, perhaps you should do that too :P
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Smilex, I'm told by people who've lived here longer than me that this side of town is pretty crime ridden. My house has been broken into before, apparently. I'll be moving soon to a safer part of town, but until I do, I'm gonna make sure if this guy decides to come back, he's gonna get caught.

And oh yeah, I forgot about the miracle zoom and enhance. :-)
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How this is sad!!!
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This is so sad but at the same time interesting. It shows that an average everyday geek can be a spy.
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Got to love technology.
I really want to dig out that old generator and give it a try. How many watts do the cameras consume?
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