Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Monday, April 14, 2008 - 11:17AM

Event camera and mobile internet is active!

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Observing
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As I mentioned earlier, thanks to CIS (my employer), I've been able to move into the new era of chase technology: cellular internet! Due to our expansion into Raleigh and other markets, the need to have internet access while traveling has resulted in my home cable internet being replaced with an Alltel cellular aircard. The unlimited data plan means I can also use the card for observing applications, like live video and internet data acquisition.

Web Camera Changes

This new configuration will result in a restructuring of the Stormhighway.com web camera setup, which I've completed this morning. I purcovered a new camera for the car, a 640x480 model that is a major improvement over the cheap 320x240 models I've been running at the house for the past year. The vehicle camera (the "ChaseCam") will be switched live on this site during storm expeditions and other long trips, and will be visible in the first camera feed on the right sidebar of this page. Later this week, I will be testing out live streaming from this camera. If the test is successful, the ChaseCam will be devoted to a live 30fps stream during major storm events.

StormHighway SkyCamWhen the ChaseCam is not active, the feed will be switched to a stationary camera running on my office computer (the "SkyCam"). Since my office moves around, the SkyCam will be showing various locations at any given time. I'm currently set up in Raleigh, so that's the current SkyCam view. It will change to Charleston when I return home - but you'll see Washington, PA; Boston, MA; Raleigh, and other locations show up in the SkyCam slot from time to time (in the second camera feed slot on the right).

The third camera feed on the right is the old precip monitor (the 'ground camera') at the house in Charleston. The cable internet connection that it is running on will be switched off sometime in the next week or two - at which time the camera feed will disappear from this site permanently. The discontinuation of the 'ground camera' comes at a convenient time, as the winter weather season is over in Charleston. This camera's main purpose was to keep a record of accumulating snow and ice so I could capture the progression of winter storm events. With winter over now, the ground camera is no longer needed.

Mobile Mini-PC server project

The main challenge with the new all-time aircard access setup is getting my home/office voice-over-IP phone service working on it. If I can get this aspect working, I can use my VOIP line while on the road, saving cell phone minutes! Instead of switching the aircard from computer to computer as I move around from the office to the car, the plan is to set up a portable PC that will act as a permanent central access point server for the aircard connection. The idea is to bridge the aircard connection over to the PC's ethernet port, to which a hub/router can be attached. From there, other computers (and the VOIP box) can simply get internet from the router via WIFI or direct ethernet cables. I'd need the PC/router setup to be compact enough that it could be carried from the car to the office easily. I've found some cool mini-PC cases at the Tiger Direct store here in Raleigh that would work perfectly for this, and hope to have a prototype in service this week.

We had this type of setup running in the vehicle during our 2006 weather expedition (using a laptop as the access server), and aside from some occasional stability issues, it worked fine. The car was a rolling WIFI hotspot that even other vehicles on the road could connect to (though I don't plan to do that this time). My main question is whether the aircard connection can support the VOIP service. I'd really only need it to work at the house in Charleston, which should have EVDO speeds. The VOIP working on the road would be a nice bonus, but not a critical issue. If it doesn't work anywhere, then I'll need to look at other options.

I'll post some updates and photos of this project in the coming days.

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