More CVS Camcorder Fun

Via Mark Welker I saw this reference to an easy installer for the Saturn Disk Mounter program, which mounts your CVS Camcorder as a USB drive to your OS X box if you have the magic hacked cable. I installed the program (which included libusb), plugged in the camera, and voila! There it was, mounted as a drive. The beautiful thing about this is that it is much faster than the PureRead program, which can take 20 minutes to download all the videos if the camera is full. Even better, the same guy wrote Saturn Video Archiver which will pull the movies down and convert them from XViD to MPEG on the fly, all the while renaming things with timestamps and archiving them. PureRead is unforgiving, only saves to your Desktop with one set filename pattern and will happily overwrite your previous files if you forget to move them out of the way before you start. If you use the CVS Camcorder and a Mac, I’d recommend trying out these new programs and seeing if you prefer them.

While I was doing all this, I accidentally made another discovery. The low battery indicator was flashing while I played with the mounter. After I unplugged it, I opened the compartment to change the batteries and there were none in there! That’s right, with no batteries in the camera it will operate if plugged in. I presume that the 5V power supply gives the camera enough juice to operate. This is not just to mount the drive and get the files off, by the way, but enough to power the whole camera. As a test, I connected it up with the battery compartment empty and open and was able to capture and play new videos and then get them off the camera, all in one shot.

I haven’t been playing with my camcorder too much lately, and I’m pleased to have new developments on this front. This thing has been a whole lot of hacking fun stuffed into a $25 package.

Converge South, Day 2, morning

I’ve decided to break this up into several chunks because the post was getting so long that I fear people would skip over it and miss good stuff.

First up was the “Policing the Media” session with Duncan Black, ie Atrios. While there was nothing wrong with the session, which was quite good and on a subject I’m usually all over, I had a hard time getting into this one. Chalk it up to being sleepy and still having an unfavorable blood/water/Rolling Rock mix.

Next came the “Videoblogging” presentation with Rocketboom’s own Amanda Congdon and Mario Librandi . This was my favorite of the weekend. The inside stuff on Rocketboom was fascinating, especially how nothing is universally loved and the pieces that prompt strong reaction from some often provoke bafflement from others. As Ed notes, many people seemed to be put off at the notion of the relatively high threshold to get into videoblogging, in equipment costs and software costs and time to do it. Around then I got to throw out my piece about the CVS camera cable hack, which prompted more reaction the rest of the weekend than my nickle and dime podcast. As a convenience link to all y’all that I handed my card and told to come here, the video is here and the documentation on making the cable is here. The point I wish I had emphasized better is that you hack the cable, not the camera. If you do it once, any of these cameras will work with it (unless/until they change the firmware to make it stop working.)

For once, I may have helped rather than hurt a session by speaking up, because by pointing out that one can do this cheap the conversation then became about what you could do rather than if you could do it. Lots of people I talked to cited this as a standout session. Amanda was completely unfamiliar with this format and walked in expecting to do a more standard show-and-tell lecture type presentation but immediately adapted to the unconference thing and did a stellar job at it. My only criticism – make Mario talk more! One day he will no longer be able to avoid the spotlight so he might as well get used to it under friendly circumstances, no? One odd quirk – some people seem disappointed at the realization that the whole Rocketboom thing has a staff of several people and that it isn’t just batted out by Amanda filming herself with a tripod. That shouldn’t dissuade anyone. Do what you can with your resources and push the medium. Kids, do try this at home!

Last link on this subject, I swear: here is the infamous lizard video I mentioned and at least one person derided sight unseen as uninteresting. Is it really uninteresting? I report lizards, you decide!

More on next rock.

Night Vision for CVS Camera

Lately for whatever odd reason, I’ve been watching Attack of the Show and I just saw on a recent episode where David Randolph did a hack to make the CVS camcorder into a night vision camera. It’s as simple as removing the IR filter from the lens and adding in IR LEDs, a switch for the LEDs and a 9 volt battery to power them. Cool!

If I’m going to be popping open the case and drilling holes in it, then I’m also going to put in the nut with the proper threads to be able to attach this thing to standard tripods and camera accessories. If so, I might make the soda bottle tripod.

More CVS Cameras in the Wild

I heard my name mentioned on the most recent episode of the Linux Link Tech Show. Allan was using a CVS camera and mentions having watched my video. Even before that, though, I knew he had one because I could hear the telltale sounds of this device’s startup and shutdown during the show. The same cable that allows you to get the videos off will allow you to use a program to alter files on the camera. This lets you change parameters (like mine will now record 40 minutes of video, but I could also be recording in 640X480 if I wanted to) or swap out arbitrary files on the camera. I’ve thought about putting different WAVs on there so that the various sounds are more interesting than the standard beeps. Maybe stopping a recording should be Samuel L. Jackson saying “Did I break your concentration?”

Windows Friendly version of the CVS Camera Video

I’ve gotten sick of people (all on Windows as best I can tell) telling me they can’t see the video of my CVS camera film, so I reencoded as MP4 and uploaded it. I deeply apologize to anyone that subscribed to the RSS feed and will get two copies of it. I don’t know any other good way to do this. I don’t want to take down the original, so I’m just letting it ride. If you had problems with the other one, try this one and let me know if that fixes it for you.

Video is Up

OK, I just decided to stop fighting it and go with OurMedia for now. The video of me hacking the CVS camera is now posted. I know it is too long, the camera work is shaky, but it’s the first video thing I have ever done and the first time I have ever worked a camcorder. Subsequent ones should be better. Let me know what y’all think.

Update: You can subscribe to the RSS feed of my OurMedia account. Fire it up with iPodderX or FireANT and all will be well.

Update #2: I waited all day to tell folks about this to make sure OurMedia didn’t take a dump, but it seems to have right as MAKEZine linked here. Here is a Torrent of the video as well. To answer a question in the comments, this is in H.264 format or codec. I would have to learn more to know diddly squat about video codecs, but that’s the one I used.

Update #3: OurMedia seems to be back.

Update #4: For those having problems with original, there is a more standard encoding available now.

Clambake Episode for August 28, 2005

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for August 28, 2005.

I talk about hacking the CVS one-time use camcorder and creating a videoblog about the process; I mention that I have coined a new term for people who can use these hacks but not originate them – “solder kiddies”; I discuss the travails in finding a place to host these video files; I play an excerpt from Mental-Escher; I play a song by CamTarn; I play an ID from Ronnie Marler and a promo from the Dragon Page guys; I talk about money, in personal terms, in venture capital, at PodShow and whether flow of big money into podcasting is a good thing or not; don’t give up your control; I bought a Carribean Free Radio shirt and it is great; I talk a bit about Jonathan Coulton and play another of his songs;

This episode is sponsored in part by the fine folks at iPod Observer! Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package.

This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0.

Links mentioned in this episode:


Video Teaser

Recently I went down the street to a local CVS pharmacy and bought one of the one-time use camcorders, the ones you can hack to get your videos onto your computer. I actually have a videoblog that I recorded with the camera about hacking the camera, for a nice bit of recursion. I documented the process of getting the cables, doing the soldering and then using the programs to extract the files. Just today, I used the program that lets you change the resolution and record time on the camera, which as you buy it are both set artificially low.

However, it will be a little bit of time before I can have the video posted. I edited it in iMovie but because I made some rookie mistakes (and because the default settings blow) I need to get it redone. The biggest mistake I made was not changing the setting that requires it to be fully downloaded to start playing. I joined OurMedia to post it, and uploaded the first cut but it was a really painful and slow process. I’m not so sure about using this service. You create an OurMedia account and an Internet Archive account and tie them together. At this point, I have an OurMedia username, an associated email address and a password, plus an email address and password for the IA. Doing practically anything was a confusing mess of figuring out which of these sets of credentials were required at any point. I think 3 was the minimum tries to log on to do anything substantial. Then, after I finally got it uploaded it was unbelievably slow for anyone else to try to download. As someone said to me about it – you get what you pay for. Just this morning, I got an email asking videobloggers to not upload anything to OurMedia for the next week. Sigh.

I’m worried about the hosting, because this runs the potential to get slashdotted or Make-dotted or name-your-inadvertant-denial-of-service-via-blog. I don’t want to use up the bandwidth on my regular box on this, I don’t want to put it on a system where bandwidth overage charges will cost me money, yet I also want it to be downloadable in under 17 hours. I suppose I could just put up a torrent of it and let it ride, which also will not be zippy at least at first. What to do, what to do. Any suggestions?