We set up the first webcam for the Lake Wentworth Association (LWA) web site at least seven or eight years ago. It started with one of those old, beige eyeball webcams, which soon gave way to our old tape-based video camera hooked up through a TV tuner card. It didn’t take long for the stress of running constantly to turn the image output into a giant pink blob. After that, we did some looking and found that Canon digital cameras offered a remote capture functionality, turning cheap, readily-available still cameras into great webcams. We picked up a used Canon A20 and a power adapter up on eBay for something under $150. That camera did its duty for a couple of years before giving up the ghost. We went back to eBay and found a Canon A520, which is a great 4.0 megapixel camera with 4x optical zoom. Several years later, that same camera is still clicking away, taking a new picture every 15 minutes.
While the hardware has changed a bit, the software behind the scenes hasn’t. Our first couple of cameras just uploaded over the same set of four images; we didn’t keep an archive like we do now. Eventually, we realized what a great resource the camera could be for documenting the state of the lake for visitors near and far. The original archive pages I wrote to store daily photos were very crude PHP and they haven’t changed much since then. The archive sits nested inside of an outdated Mambo installation, which is in dire need of replacement. On the camera side, I wrote a BASH script that combines Capture, ImageMagick, and several other command line utilities to capture an image from the camera, test for the amount of daylight, resize to the appropriate dimensions, create a timestamp/temperature image, and upload the group of images to the LWA web site. The script has evolved over the years and it’s still quite functional, but the time has come for an upgrade. That’s where WordPress comes in.
I’ve been involved in a lot of WordPress development over the past couple of years at work and in my own time, and I’ve grown to love the platform. Plugins and widgets make it easy to build a system to do just about anything content-related. It’s that flexibility that recently got me thinking about developing a webcam plugin for WordPress. The code I developed years ago is simply too messy and customized for general consumption. The WordPress plugin I’m working on now will let anyone with a webcam and a bit of technical knowledge set up an archive of photos without much effort. WordPress’ XML-RPC API provides a simple base for uploading photos programmatically. I’ll also be creating a simple Python client that will handle the blog interaction on the camera side. Both projects are going to take some time, but I’m aiming for March to have working versions running. This timeline is intended to coincide with a re-launch of the LWA site in WordPress. For now, progress of the webcam projects can be tracked on GitHub: WordPress plugin and XML-RPC client.