One Pixel Webcam

December 2006

software, visualisation, curiosity collective

This project began with a desired to feel more connected with my environment and particularly with the daylight. By taking one sky-pixel from a webcam in my town and duplicating that colour periodically as my desktop I am continuously reminded of the outside world. My desktop colour changes with the sky.

In addition the change of colours is reflected in a central bar. The image below shows dusk in Boston on Sunday, 10th December 2006:

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Having implemented this I was reminded of a previous observation that different pixels of a webcam change at different rates and have different cycles. The sky changes minute-by-minute and keeps a daily cycle, the cycle of the leaves of a tree are follow the seasons on a yearly cycle. I extended the tool to allow these cycles to be investigated too.

The brave can download the One Pixel Webcam application (version 2), which works on both Macs and PCs (it's Java). This file should be placed in new folder, eg "onepixelwebcam". Double click to launch, find a webcam to watch, select your pixel and the interval to update. The application creates a new desktop image in this folder at the interval you select. The desktop now needs to be instructed to read this image at a regular interval.

In Mac OS open the "Desktop & Screen Saver" control panel and select the onepixelwebcam folder, tick the "change picture" option and select a suitable interval.

Windows doesn't seem to support changing desktops natively, so you'll need to install a another application like Fresh Desktop - I haven't tried it myself.

I don't think this will work behind web-proxies yet.

Morning in Ipswich
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3 days and 3 nights in Boston
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Ross Mackenzie's Webcam Colour Sampling is a server based version of this, which allows colour-bars to be created for much longer periods.

During this project I have had a number of conversations with Noah Vawter, who is also playing with similar ideas. I think the Last Clock is a beautiful example of this kind of visualisation. Looking back in history, Ross Church created a very interesting Single Pixel Webcam device.