Escape Plan

Recently, I have been spending a disproportionate amount of time on an aspect of my job that never even came close to being mentioned on the job description.

Specifically, looking after the gerbils.

A couple of weeks ago when I was working late on a Friday, I heard a sudden clatter from the science lab next door. Given that the entire building was pitch black apart from my office, I instinctively grabbed the nearest heavy thing to hand before jumping up to find out what was going on. This happened to be a 0.75m aluminium projector pole, which on reflection I judged to be a particularly masterful choice with a good weight/bludgeoning power ratio . It was all for nought, however; the noise was caused by the water bottle falling off of the side of the gerbil habitat (or as I call it, the “Gerbilarium”).

But did it fall… or was it pushed?

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, and I arrived one morning to be met by the science teachers combing the entire top floor. One of the gerbils had escaped.

He learned some time ago that if the top hatch is not sufficiently weighed down, he can leap up, knock it open, and be on his merry way. When I say “sufficiently” weighed down, what I mean is “with half a brick”. We used to use a piece of wood. He can knock it off. I’ve become convinced the little bugger has been systematically testing the defences of his prison, no doubt incensed by the now constant gaze of the replacement GerbilCam I installed after he destroyed the previous camera.

The problems of a gerbil breakout are twofold. Firstly, they like to chew. Especially on cables. A follower on Twitter once put it this way after I mentioned a previous breakout: “Nibble nibble, fibre down on Monday”. The second problem is that the Gerbilarium is the only place in the building with accessible food and water. Unless we get an escapee back in relatively quickly, the poor bugger will die of thirst. Even if he made it that far, an adventure outside would most likely end up with him becoming quick meal to the local foxes or red kites we have living on site.

Anyway, after about 45 mins of searching we left out some food as a lure and went about our day. Until about 9.30, when I was sitting at my desk pondering possible hiding places for our furry friend, and I heard a sudden shriek from the prep room.

‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘there he is.’

It was at that precise moment that one of the science teachers had lost all credibility with her class by opening a supply cupboard and reacting girlishly to our missing gerbil scurrying around in the bottom of it. Luckily for us he was quite hungry by this point so was easily tempted into the open by some fresh greens, at which point I cunningly scooped him up while he was distracted by food. Unfortunately by the time I got hold of him I had been sealed into the prep room by doors that only open inwards, with both hands full of gerbil. Only after tapping on the glass of one of the doors and waiting for a pupil to spot the gerbil trying to escape my clutches was I able to get back into the biology lab and deposit him back into the habitat.

He still hasn’t forgiven me.


About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

15 responses to “Escape Plan”

  1. Daniel Beardsmore says :

    The same thing we do every night …

  2. thommck says :

    Nice choice of weapon, much more useful than my Cat5 whip I take out with me ;)

  3. Giles says :

    Aw. You’ve gone and got attached to him…

  4. ScottishTech says :

    Awww… The Ickle cable muncher…

    Out of interest – doors that only open one way? Sounds a bit risky if there’s a fire??

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I doubt there will ever be a crush to exit the prep room given that it’s out of bounds to pupils, but it’s a fair point – they should ideally all open outwards. One of them actually does, but it’s not the one that leads to the biology lab.

  5. 17G33k says :

    Is you furry adversary on the web on his webcam or is it a local stream? would like to setup a webcam here of the pets that our science dept keep (snake and crickets {yes in different enclosures}) but unsure of the best software to use..

    • AngryTechnician says :

      We only have a local stream. At the moment I don’t know of an inexpensive solution to the problem of offering a live stream to the web that won’t destroy our upload bandwidth if too many people log on. We don’t have a leased line so our upload tops out at around 10Mbps.

  6. ScottishTech says :

    You have piqued my interest (and I think it’s also what 17G33k was asking) – what do you use for your webcam setup? Hardware/software-wise, I mean :)

    I’d contemplated some kind of VLC type thing running in the background as a service so that the PC can be logged on/off by Staff without disrupting the webcam.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      The GerbilCam uses a Panasonic BL-C101 IP camera. It’s actually not fantastic but it does the job without requiring a PC to do the streaming and I needed something cheap since it wasn’t budgeted for.

      For our more high-end streaming, such as the recent ChickenCam that was watching some live eggs hatching, I used a Logitech C910 and streamed it with VLC running in the background from a nearby computer. The quality was fantastic, but you need a decent machine to do the streaming at anything approaching 720p as live encoding and streaming is a hefty CPU hit.

  7. ScottishTech says :

    Cool – I’ll bear that in mind.

    With regards to the Panasonic one, is it just a case of assigning it an IP address and then people within the LAN can view it using a simple browser, or do you need additional plugins?

    I had a play at using VLC to stream a cruddy Creative webcam yesterday afternoon without much success – it kept coming up with unable to locate the encoder, so I’ll continue playing later on.

    My hope is to broadcast it as a SAP-Announced multicast stream since our school is already set up with various multicast streams thanks to a certain very kind genius’ guide to replacing our very broken Exterity freeview system for £150 (Stop grovelling – it’s unbecoming. Ed).

    Investigations shall continue once I’ve got proper (boring) work done.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      The Panasonic camera requires a proprietary plugin for IE to be installed.

      I found a lot of the VLC codecs don’t actually work very well (or at all) for streaming a DirectShow source. I got the most reliable results with H.264+AAC (MP4) but it is one of the CPU hungry codecs. Also, as much as I loved doing it multicast, I found that unicast (using MS-WMSP) resulted in fewer streaming artefacts with the same encoding settings.

  8. ScottishTech says :

    Ah – much the same results as I had as well.

    On some of the settings I tried, the streaming PC would just crash VLC after a few minutes. On others, the CPU usage would ramp to about 80% – making my plan to have it sitting quietly in the background a bit unlikely.

    I did have some luck streaming them as MJPG, but there’s no sound and the picture quality was lacking a little – though that may have been the size I specified in the settings (it was Friday afternoon heh).

    It’s still on the backburner :)

  9. Wallace says :

    I’m worried that your “gerbil issue” post gets more replies than any other!

  10. ScottishTech says :

    Ah, but it went into technical issues rather than Facebook dribbling about his ickle nose and chubby cheeks.

    Erm, I mean the gerbil’s features – not AT’s. Since he’s never posted a pic of himself, I’m unable/unwilling to comment further :)

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