Mad Engineer At Work

When the lightbulb goes off in my head, it doesn’t have to be a thousand-watt blaze o’ glory. In this case the idea of capturing via timelapse the opening of one of the neighbor’s San Pedro cactus blossoms that I’ve been fascinated by of late was more like the equivalent of a tea candle flaming on. Not spectacular in the slightest.

Realizing the set-up for such an endeavor would be pretty labor intensive and the outcome would in no way be guaranteed, I was pretty much able to snuff that idea out, but as evening drew closer yesterday and there was a perfectly positioned cactus flower bulb just about ready to burst open, I lit that candle again and decided to take a chance.

It wasn’t uncomplicated.

First I tested the signal from my DSL/wireless router in the library and it didn’t extend beyond the backdoor. As my sole back-up option, I switched over to the dial-up speeds of the Airport base station set up between the living and dining rooms, but the laptop dropped the connection about 10 feet beyond the backdoor.

As I needed the laptop to be mid-backyard and all the way over next to the north fence (about another 20 feet away, my only option was to move the Airport base station outside, and I accomplished that by using a 50-foot phone cable that I plugged into the socket in the bedroom and ran out the backyard across the patio where I plugged the base station’s power adapter into an extension cord. Moving the laptop over to where it needed to be by the fence, thumbs up: I was getting full signal.

Next was the matter of how I was going to elevate and stabilize the DV camera to the approximate  height of seven feet so that it was on the level with the bloom next door. And speaking of level, the backyard slopes so that needed to be considered as well. I solved both dilemmas by going totally low-tech: with a tripod duct-taped to the top of a six-foot ladder that I leveled by shoving large river rocks between the sloping ground and the two left ladder legs. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

All that was left was to plug the camera into the laptop’s firewire port, fire up the webcam software and run a long cord from a house outlet out to the ladder to plug the camera and the laptop in and we were good to go.

Except we weren’t. Despite the strong signal between the base station and the computer, despite the reduced file size to compensate for the 56K speeds within which the images  would be uploaded, for whatever reason the transfers kept aborting and “server not found” was the cause. After wracking my brain and retrying over and over and over to no improvement I finally just shut down everything and fired it all back up again and glory be if the connection was more stable and images were captured and uploaded automatically every couple minutes, give or take, while we adjourned inside for dinner and TV.

Of course, what  I failed to take into account was that after nightfall it’s freakin’ pitch dark out there, and thus my success in capturing the grand opening  was abbreviated by my failure to supply a light source that could have picked up where the sunlight left off.

As headslappingly idiotic as I feel for not including such a crucial component, I’m still pleased to submit the following Quicktime video that compresses 147 minutes (from 6:38 p.m. to about 8:25 p.m.) of the high point of a cactus flower into about three seconds. And be sure to hang tight for the last couple flashlighted frames of the flower that were grabbed by the computer when I came out to check on things after 9 p.m. and started cursing myself for not plugging in a light. Doh!


Click here for the video