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When you first got it, you had delusions of grandeur; get yourself in front of a camera, and you'd be a star! But things didn't quite work out; that freebie webcam that came with your PC became just another piece of cluttering junk, and it wasn't long before it moved off the desktop and into the drawer - way, way in the back.
It's time to dig it out and dust it off; we've got a couple of tricks that might not make you a star, but can make your life just a little easier, and maybe a bit more fun.
Record your video calls
Thanks to the webcam, the Jetsons' dream of video phone conversations is here, and your webcam can let you get in on the fun. Online phone and chat services like Skype, MSN Messenger, AOL Online, and many others let you turn your living room into a virtual TV studio; in Skype, for example, make sure you've plugged your webcam into your computer via a USB cable and connected your microphone, find the person you want to talk to on your contact list, click the green video call button, and you've got a video conversation going! If your contact has a webcam, they can do the same, so you can see each other.
One of the great things about online phone calls is that you can record them, but is there any way to record video calls and chat? Indeed there is - with YCC Cam Cap (http://tinyurl.com/ntry4r), a free download that records both inbound and outbound web streams. Designed for use with Yahoo Messenger, the program works with other video chat programs as well.
Cheap and Easy Camera Surveillance system
If no one's home during the day and you're nervous about what the dog does - and where he does it - while you're gone, your handy webcam can act as a video surveillance system, recording the goings-on at home on your PC, which you can then watch at your leisure.
To capture and record video, download the free 123Motion
(http://tinyurl.com/nvjke4), a great program that has over a dozen features usually found in much more expensive video recording programs. For example, you can set 123Motion to go into action only when it actually detects movement - like when the cat actually jumps onto the couch, contrary to your instructions. And if you're on the lookout for crooks - who will probably steal your PC anyway - you can set 123Motion to upload photos and videos to an ftp server, or have images sent as attachments to your e-mail address. That way, even if your PC does go missing, you'll know whom to ask about its whereabouts!
Your webcam isn't just about business - it needs to have some fun once in awhile too! And the great SillyWebCam site (http://www.sillywebcam.com/) will supply it - and you - with endless hours of fun. At SillyWebCam, you can take a photo of yourself using your webcam, and insert it into one of thousands of templates on the site, and download it to your computer.
For example: There are dozens of magazine cover templates, with the title of the magazine (looks just like the "real thing") and a blank frame in the middle - waiting for your photo! All the big names are there - Time, Newsweek, ,/i>the New Yorker, Modern Bride - along with some lesser known rags. The magazines are there, along with 250 World's Best parody awards (world's greatest actor, dad, poker player, etc.). There are also 400 body "switcheroo" templates - you as a strongman. And, the site allows you to put together a novel greeting card, for holidays, birthdays, etc. - with you, or whatever you put in front of your webcam, at the center of attention. SillyWebCam is free, works on any computer with a webcam (even Macs), and is in itself enough of a reason to run out and buy a webcam, if you don't have one already.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to use your webcam, from playing virtual interactive games with your PC (just connect your webcam, download some software, and your computer can "see" what you're doing) to sending videos to friends and families around the world. More on that in an upcoming column!