this morning i continued my investigation as to why my wifi webcam couldn't be seen from the outside world. i think i already knew the answer, and the culprit was the comcast/xfinity issued SMC gateway, the all-in-one wifi-router-cablemodem-internetphone. from my research last night, it seemed the only way to fix the port not forwarding issue is to deactivate the router portion of the gateway. unfortunately the device is crippleware, and the router can only be turned off from the main office via a remote signal.

i read that getting somebody at comcast who knew how to deactivate the router feature was pretty difficult, so i was prepared to climb the rungs of the phone tree ladder and deal with crappy customer support. they weren't kidding, it was pretty awful. the first person i called thought i said i was having wifi issues and sent me to their xfinity signature service, which is a paid tech support for wifi issues. the woman i talked to there said she'd be able to fix my problem without even hearing what it was first, all for the low price of $5.99, because i was a valued customer, otherwise it's normally $40. how low the amount didn't matter, i wasn't going to pay even more to comcast on principle alone. so i called customer service again, and got a really rude service rep who said she couldn't hear me. she took my phone, said she'd call me back before hanging up but never did. i called customer service a third time, and i got lucky. i spoke with patricia, telling her what i wanted to do (setting the gateway in bridge mode is the proper technical term), and asked her if she even knew what i was talking about. "i actually do," she said, to much relief on my part. she was super nice, seemed like a nerd girl over phone, told me she wanted to disassemble one of the gateways to see what was inside but couldn't get comcast to authorize it. after sending the signal to turn my gateway into just a cable/telephony-modem, she stuck around while i verified the router was disabled.

through trial-and-error and years of battling comcast regarding internet service, i've become quite the self-taught expert on home networking. so it wasn't hard to fish out my old linksys wireless router and hook it up to the newly-christened cablemodem. it had all my old settings so i didn't even have to reconfigure anything on my laptop. at first it didn't work (wifi network yes, internet no), which made me break out in a cold sweat. but i'd already checked the connection via ethernet cable and was able to get online previously, so i knew at least i had web access. also patricia told me that if i ever wanted to go back to full gateway mode, all i had to do was stick a paperclip in the reset hole and everything would go back to the way it was. i did what all IT hardware people know to do in a situation like this, which is to unplug and then plug everything. after a few minutes, i had full internet access.

when i come back from china i'm going to buy a new cable/telephony-modem. even though they cost $140, it'll pay for itself after 2 years since i no longer have to pay the monthly $7 rental fee for this POS comcast gateway.

setting up the foscam FI8910W was a breeze, now that i had a sensible router that let me forward ports to my heart's content. i put in the assigned ip number and viola! i could finally see the webcam from the outside world. i immediately put it on the windowsill so i could monitor the foot and car traffic outside my house. this was a dream of mine ever since i moved in, and now finally realized. not only that, but the FI8910W can rotate on remote controlled servomotors so i can pan and see the whole street.

my elation was short-lived however. the camera did something weird: whenever i panned out onto the street, the streaming video would freeze and go black. a few times the webcam itself even crashed and rebooted (it does this little dance where it pans and tilts through all the various directions). i couldn't figure out what it was. when i had the camera pointing inside the house this never happened, but as soon as i had it pointing outside, like an agoraphobic, it'd just freeze up. i looked online to see if anyone else was having this problem ("foscam webcam crash looking outdoor") and didn't see anything. could it due to the firmware update i made last night? it was dark anyway, so this light problem wouldn't have occurred.

time seems to fly when i'm troubleshooting and soon afterwards my mother called. i was suppose to go with her and binbin's mother and aunt to do some shopping at ocean state job lot (OSJL). i wasn't expecting them until later (2:30) so was surprised to see them an hour early outside my house. i hadn't eaten anything yet, and still wanted to go to the bathroom and take a shower, but i got dressed and ran out the door.

we went to the larger medford OSJL. our china relatives don't seem to want to do anything during their time here in boston except to go shopping. i mean, this is a good thing, china dollars helping the american economy, but i'm of no help since the sort of things i could bring them to (architecture, history, nature) they have no interest in. i've rarely met people who seem to be so disinterested in the place that they're visiting. especially her aunt, this being her first time in the united states, not just boston.

having said that, we do have a lot of malls in the area, and had we done more planning and gauged their interest, we could've been visiting a different mall every day (galleria, braintree, natick, square one, burlington, chestnut hill, copley square, wrentham factory outlet, kittery - those are just a few off the top of my head), the great mall tour! the kind of stores they love shopping at the most however are those dollar stores. not family dollar, where most things aren't $1 anymore, but places like the dollar tree, which i'd never visited (until today). it's sort of ironic, because nearly everything sold at those places are made in china (besides the food), but it's things they see there because they're made for the american market.

we spent some time at OSJL. i spent most of the time browsing the stationery, bath & beauty, and food aisles. my mother and binbin's relatives were busy in the clothes department. our relatives didn't seem to be interested in the food, which is where they'd find things that are most american, that they'd never see in china. but maybe because they don't know what most of those foods are that they seem disinterested.

i did pick up a few things for my trip: some brown paper wrapping paper ($1.50) to discreetly cover up my travel guide books; a large plastic envelope for keep documents that i need to secure my taiwanese residency card, health insurance, and later china visa.

next we went to the dollar tree near the malden BJ and across the street from wendy's (where dan and cymara used to live). when i saw that food chain, i couldn't even concentrate anymore. i did some quick browsing at dollar tree before i told my mother i was going across the street to go eat some spicy chicken sandwich because i hadn't eaten the entire day (it was around 3:30 by that point). the place was virtually empty, i got a spicy chicken combo ($6.59) and some crispy chicken sandwiches for my mother and our relatives (99¢ each). while they were still shopping, i sat alone with my food, enjoying my sandwich, my french fries, my root beer, and most of all the air conditioning (today was another hot [but dry] day). having not eaten the whole day, i was in heaven. i think at some point i just closed my eyes so i could just be enveloped in the taste and smell of my food.

after i was done eating, i waited outside by the car, sipping on my soda. it was getting too hot so i went inside dollar tree to see if they were done. they were still busy shopping, i had enough time to probably enjoy a second spicy chicken combo across the street!

we finally left, with me doing the driving, and my mother making some joke about how bad a driver i am. it was around 4:30 and i was expecting to hit some traffic, but we made it back to cambridge in good time. i dropped myself back at my place while my mother drove our relatives back to the cafe.

after finally using the bathroom and taking a shower, i got dressed and biked down to the cafe to try out the new webcam. since i needed a laptop to do the setup, i took the dell mini (it sure is handy for traveling purposes). i was surprised to see my mother there, figured she'd already gone home. apparently my father left to drive our relatives back home in lexington, but came back while i was in the process of setting up the foscam. having done it already at my place, it went much quicker this second time around. my mother finally left for home soon afterwards.

the cafe has a wireless internet webcam which i bought more than 3 years ago. the linksys WVC54GCA, which was discontinued when linksys (purchased by cisco) got out of the internet webcam business. at the time it was an decent camera for the price (less than $100 i believe). i remember it was really difficult to set up and took me weeks to finally figure out how to assign a fixed IP number manually and forward the proper port in the router. the linksys has limitations though. the image quality is great, and the FOV was narrow, and it was fixed (no internet-controlled pan/tilt). to remedy the narrow FOV, i bought a small wide angle lens that we later attached with some blue sticky tack. that gave us a wider field of view, but the image quality degraded even more (soft instead of sharp) and there was visible vignetting in the corners.

then 6 months ago frances got me a foscam FI8910W for a christmas present (actually, she originally got me the zyxel IPC3605N, but that was a terrible webcam, so i returned it and used the money to buy the FI8910W). that's a great wifi internet webcam, good enough that you can see i bought another one. since the cafe already has a webcam, i left the foscam at my parents' place so i can keep an eye on the dog when nobody's at home.

but the cafe webcam was due for an upgrade, so when i saw the foscam FI8910W on sale again for $69 (via adorama on ebay), i bought one without hesitation.

the foscam FI8910W is a much deserved upgrade. besides offering a naturally wide field of view, it can also pan/tilt, so we can see the entire cafe premise. it was even more awesome after we downloaded an iOS app that showed the video full screen with overlaid pan-tilt buttons. but alas, like early this afternoon, the euphoria was short-lived when the camera started freezing up again. with so many windows, there are many bright areas in the cafe, and this particular foscam doesn't like that. at first the app seemed to be able to compensate, and it would continue to stream, just with intermittent flickering, but eventually it would just go to black like it does in the web interface in OS X.

seems like it's definitely defective, so i'm returning the webcam (as early as tomorrow morning). adorama has a pretty good return policy, and i'm hoping i can just exchange it for another one, because i still like the foscam webcams, and i think i was just unlucky and got a bad one. best case scenario is it arrives sometime next week so i'll have time to set it up for my parents before i leave on the monday after the 4th of july weekend.

besides sleeping really late these days, i've also lost my appetite. these are signs of stress but i don't feel particularly stressed out. instead of a real dinner, i just had a plate of carrots along with a veggie dip, washed down with some black tea (did the same thing last night).

as if it could get any worse for new england sports fans: i heard the rumors a few days ago, and it reiterated last night during the NBA draft, but this morning it was finalized - the celtics have traded kevin garnett, paul pierce, and jason terry to the brooklyn nets, in exchange for some future draft picks. on the one hand i'm happy for those guys, spend their twilight years in manhattan, it's a great sendoff, but COME ON! paul pierce? garnett i can understand, but PP? i hate sports!