Cozy Tales: 23. Newf Cam

Being the computer geek that I am, I decided in 1999 to build myself a monitoring system to watch the dogs from work. Back then you couldn’t buy wireless network cameras on Amazon. Hell, back then wireless didn’t exist yet and very few stores had websites. Also, Amazon was barely a thing.

Working at a local Internet Service Provider when local ISPs could still thrive, I was learning the ins and outs of Internet network devices, and in order to manage and maintain the ISPs network, I had a scorching 128k ISDN connection to my home. You have to remember that everyone else was still using modems, and they were slow. The modems at the time were mostly 28.8k models, with 56.6k being the absolute cutting edge. DSL and cable Internet feeds were still in their infancy so having a dedicated 128k connection to my house was a very big deal at the time. No one out-nerds me!

With my high speed link, a special video card in my computer that would accept a cable connection and some special software, I set about building Newf-Cam. I took a camcorder, removed the tape in order to keep it on indefinitely, and connected it to my PC at home. I then configured the PC at home to communicate with a Unix server at the office which would then allow up to ten people to view the video stream in real time from anywhere in the world over the Internet. Remember, this was 1999 and normal people didn’t do stuff like this. It was low-res 480i SD video over a highly compressed low-speed link, and it was amazing!

I set up the Newf-Cam to watch the dogs while Lauren and I spent all day toiling at work. Somehow I thought watching the dogs during the day would be interesting, but I quickly discovered that it was not. It turns out that dogs sleep pretty much all day long when they’re alone. Who knew? I felt like I had made some sort of startling discovery about the secret lives of dogs but no one was impressed when I told them of my discovery.

Lauren and I both worked and had no kids, so a friend took to calling us DINKs which was short for Dual Income No Kids. Since we were DINKs we hired pet sitters to come and let the dogs out around lunch time because that’s the kind of things DINKs spend money on. We also paid them to play with the dogs, or walk with them, or just interact with them in some way. Naturally, wielding a tool as powerful as the mighty Newf-Cam, I settled in to watch the dogs while the pet sitters visited each day. There were a few different people that would come, and they all did as they were supposed to do – for the most part.

One day while watching in my little computer window, I saw one of the pet sitters come, put Cozy and Daisy outside, then close the door and lock them out.

What the Hell?

She then proceeded to get her own little lap dog from the car and bring it in to our family room.

No way.

With Cozy and Daisy looking in through the sliding glass doors, she sat on my couch, watching her soap operas on my TV with her dog on her lap while our dogs barked at her to let them in. I was dumbfounded. As I sat and watched, this woman ignored my dogs and enjoyed the comforts of our home while I paid her to do so. I called Lauren and she connected to the feed. Naturally I fired up the reporting tools to see how cool it was that two people were streaming my feed. I was torn between stressed-out pet-owner and excited super-nerd, an affliction not uncommon for people like me.

Having me watch someone taking advantage of us while our beloved dogs were locked outside is one thing. Having a pregnant hormonal woman watch was a whole different matter. Lauren was pissed. We talked it over and decided not to say anything yet in order that I could collect some evidence. I worked on a way to record the video feed which I accomplished because my nerd-skills are epic and bits across the Internet fear me bend to my will. The next day we watched and waited.

Being the nerdy couple that we were, we told everyone about our new dilemma. The next day, everyone that knew about the Newf-Cam was logged on. My server was pegged! With only ten spots, I needed to bump other people off so that we could watch (it’s good to be the alpha-nerd). I even had a crowd around my desk as the people at work watched. Suddenly the world of normally sleeping dogs was riveting!

Finally, the pet sitter came in. Once again she locked our dogs outside and brought her own dog in to watch TV. She even told our dogs to shut up when they barked! That was too much. Gasps from the crowd around my desk were interspersed with comments such as:

“Dude are you taping this?”

“You’re going to fire her right?”

“Man, this is so cool!”

“Can you build one of these so I can watch my kids?”

“How does this work?”

“What’s the compression? Can I run this over a 28.8k modem?”

If I’d been smart I could have started some sort of Internet-based camera service and charged people ridiculous money for such a service. This was the dot-com bubble at it’s finest, and I probably could have scored some venture capital by just mentioning it to the right person, but I had no time for that – my dogs were being deprived of playtime!

When the pet sitter left and the crowd dispersed, my phone rang.  It was one of my friends who had watched the events transpire in real time. The drama! I begged off from talking to him and called Lauren. We agreed that I would call the head pet sitter and let her know what had happened.

She was mortified, apologized profusely and agreed to discontinue the use of that particular sitter in our home. Of course she had to come back one last time which was fun since we all gathered around and watched her look for the camera. At least we knew she was following the rules that last time. The lead pet sitter actually spoke about us at some pet-sitter convention, which was pretty cool. We were the first people who had done such a thing and suddenly all the pet-sitters were aware that this could happen. Big brother, thy name is GAD!

Remarkably that was the only drama that we discovered with Newf-Cam, and as the weeks wore on with nothing of importance to watch, I renamed it GAD-Cam and used it for other things. These days I have probably 12 cameras all around the house for security, all of which sport 1080P HD video which is recorded continuously. I can watch all this security on my phone from anywhere in the world, and you know what I see using all this technology?

I see dogs that sleep 18 hours a day… in glorious hi-def!

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