The Ultimate Web Cam Must Be Mobile

By Rick McKinney


828 words


If you tuned in to CNN on the eve of the new millennium, you couldn't help but notice it: New Year's Eve had gone global.

Not only was there the ball in Times Square, but there were balls dropping and fireworks popping all day from all parts of the globe. Enter: the "total coverage" of television. And the Internet was not far behind. Anyone armed with enough RAM could peek in on the festivities at one of thousands of stationary web cams mounted on rooftops and radio towers from New Orleans to New South Wales.

But in all of this, the question that sprang to my mind was, "So what?"

Would the world thus delivered to our doorsteps prove any more interesting or enlightening? Henry David Thoreau was adamant that nothing outside of his native Concord, Massachusetts could prove worth the effort to transport it to his door, or he to it. I wondered then if thousands of web cams (let's forget TV for the moment) giving us an eye on every corner of the world would be any more meaningful than the view outside our own window as seen with the naked eye. I wondered, and I surfed. This is what I found.

Stationary view cams are boring. There's the brief buzz of feeling like a fly on the wall of some cybercafe in Amsterdam or a pigeon on a light post in Boston's Quincy Market, but once the thrill is gone.. it's Nyquil time, people. After a few of those windows on the intersections of the world, you're resenting the time it took to negotiate the links and load the images.

Understandably, many web cams aren't mounted merely for the amusement of the Ritalin Generation., for example, lists over 125 live "Transportation Webcams," views of border crossings, river traffic, live air traffic, and satellite and radar images.

On a site called Tommy's List there's a view cam described as "live streaming of the high-collision intersection of Younge and Steeles in Toronto, Ontario." And claims over 11,000 web cam links, including a camera overlooking Loch Ness. Conclusion: if you tire of eavesdropping Canadian intersections in hopes of witnessing a wreck, you can hop on over to Scotland and stare through the chop and fog for a glimpse of Nessie.

Enter the phrase "web cams" into Yahoo and you'll be directed to zillions of these "live view" web cams, everything from an Edinburgh Castle Webcam to "KremlinKam" to "Zoe's Velvet Rooms" and well, you name it. The web is one of the more bizarre manifestations of the human imagination. The phrase "wherever you go, there you are" seems written for the web, and of late, the ever-more-popular web cam.

Yet despite the variety of all these view cams, they lacked an important dynamic element: mobility. We move around the globe with mouse-click ease and speed, but these "view cams" sit still. Somewhere out there, I thought, there must be someone climbing a mountain or cruising the back roads of the world with a web cam in the driver's seat.

Initially, I was disappointed. Tommy's List proved helpful, indeed probably the best web cam list I found. But even there my findings were slim: two dated expeditions (one to Antarctica, the other to Mt. Everest) and one current round-the-world sailboat voyage site the purported web cam part of which escaped me.

Then just when I had nearly given up, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble on Jon Barnes' Ultimate Taxi site. Barnes' web cam isn't exactly on expedition. But it isn't stuck staring at an intersection either: it's driving through them.

Jon Barnes drives a one-of-a-kind taxi around the streets of Aspen, Colorado, entertaining guests, capturing images and uploading them onto the internet from his laptop, all from inside the car. "I drive around in circles," Barnes said. Thanks to Aspen's diminutive size and an experimental Aironet Wireless LAN set up locally by Sun Microsystems, Barnes is in a unique position to broadcast live onto the web while driving around in his famous taxi. He reckons his is the only taxi in the world with a broadband net connection, to say nothing of the Ultimate Taxi's notorious disco décor, laser light shows, fog machine, and live one-man-band instrumental music which Barnes plays while he drives.

"I'm a theater ride," he said. "I built the whole site wirelessly from the cab, some 10,000 files in all." is a site packed with stories and fun images, literally dozens of them of celebrity passengers he's entertained. It's no surprise that while Barnes aims to maximize the broadcast potential of his web forum, the Ultimate Taxi is itself the subject of constant coverage, some 180 television interviews so far.

And for good reason: of all the web cam perspectives out there, the view from the Ultimate Taxi is most unique. It's one view of the world Thoreau might have conceded worth the trip.


Write Me!


Powered by Laughing Squid