I had a Chrome browser open the other day when a coworker walked into my office. I jumped, simultaneously clicking a different browser tab to hide what I’d been viewing.
“What’s up?” my colleague asked.
“Not much,” I said, my guilty mouse finger searching for a work-related document to maximize on the screen.
She’d caught me in a distracted moment. It happens more often than I’d like to admit – one second I’m looking at something absolutely work-related, and then a few clicks later, I’m somewhere else entirely. My computer screen, unfortunately, faces the door to my office, so the scene described above isn’t exactly rare. I think my coworkers suspect.
My confession: I like to look at webcams. I’m an addict. Especially when there’s lots of action: storms (Sandy), sunrises, wildlife, even people !
This confession either makes me boring as hell or a bona fide freak. But the truth is, if there’s a camera is monitoring scenery or traffic, I want to see it.
I think this, er, hobby, started after a visit to Glacier National Park a few summers ago. Glacier has an impressive array of webcams that can help you monitor the weather for your trip, or help you prolong your visit after you’ve returned home. The site quickly became a fixture of my daily routine. Leaves turned color; snow fell; water froze. It was beautiful.
I started branching out. Glacier leads the pack, but there are other national parks with cams, and I checked on those. My local coffee shop has a webcam so you can check the line. I used to live in upstate New York, and in the fall I wistfully searched out foliage cams. Any car ride over a mountain pass was preceded by a check of the ODOT site.
Then I found the mother lode, the jackpot, the URL that was to a webcam aficionado like me whatKulminator is to a beer lover: The FAA aviation cameras of Alaska.
These are traffic cams, but not for street traffic. They’re meant to show pilots the conditions at Alaska’s numerous small airports. Because of that, they don’t record freeways or interchanges, but mountain passes and tundras. Each location has multiple cameras pointing different directions. And the best part: You can watch time-lapse sequences. So, for instance, you can see the sun rise over Anchorage, the moon set over Kasigluk and the tides change at Hawk Inlet. I continually hope to see wildlife wander into view, maybe caribou in Tuntutuliak or bear in Valdez.
If I sound like I know where these places are in relation to each other, or any other point north of British Columbia, I don’t. I’ve never been to Alaska. But through these small, low-resolution images, I get to see crimson alpenglow on snowy peaks and ships cross misty, moody bays.
I might someday be ready to visit Alaska, but out my secret shame to friends and coworkers? No way.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tab to check.