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Patty Harshbarger: Web cams can be fun and informative

Cameras provide instant connection with the people we love and the places we value. It is becoming increasingly common that folks don’t just call, they “Skype.” The futuristic phone call that lets you see and be seen is here.

Also, by installing a small wall camera with Web access, you can monitor the security of your home or business.

To talk on the phone like the Jetsons, you need a Web cam, microphone, headset or earpiece, Internet connection and a free Skype download. The caller on the other end needs the same set-up. Many laptops come equipped with a microphone and Web cam. If not, good quality cameras with built-in mics can be purchased for less than $30. The Web cam plugs in by USB, and the microphone and headset by one-quarter-inch jack, all on the side of your laptop or on the front of a computer tower.

To download Skype without charge, go to and look for the download link. Follow their instructions. Your callers also will need to have the camera, mic and download. Once on Skype, you may invite other Skype users or accept invitations. Any fellow Skype users are free calls, if you enter a phone number or other address, the call might not be free. If we can believe what the Web tells us, Skype conference calls are very secure. Because the Skype connection is encrypted, hackers cannot intercept the signal. Your communication is totally secure without fear of someone listening in.

The second way to look in on things is through remote camera access. By purchasing an IP-enabled camera, you can install the camera in your home or business and be able to access the camera’s picture from any Internet connection. The set up of the camera is specific to the brand of camera that you buy, but it is generally an easy and straight forward process. The camera may have features such as pan and tilt, zoom, and even sound.

If you allow it, any computer user around the world can sign on with a user name and password to see what’s happening. We have remote video surveillance at our computer store. My father-in-law enjoys “spying” on us with his grandson. When linked in at the Web site, they can move the camera to get a better view. When we hear the camera moving over our shoulders at the store, we can turn and make faces or hold up signs for Trent and Pop-pop

Patty Harshbarger, owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.