Opinions Resisting the Mainstream

Beware of Amateurs

by Fred Steinhauser, OMICRON electronics GmbH, Austria

Have you ever looked for a webcam showing you a place you wanted to go? Then you haven’t been in the hell of dilettantism yet.

Do you know the NOTM, the “nephew of the manager”? It’s unlikely that you ever met him in person, but somebody of this kind is often referred to when you complain about a problem with “the internet.” The NOTM is a metaphor for an amateur who misleads well-meaning people who know that they have no clue and seek advice. The NOTM creates all kinds of weird situations. Like the hotel website with a Flash animation for showing the address and phone number in a fancy way without any further benefit, just because it was possible. I wonder how these websites will work after the support for Adobe Flash ends in December 2020. Or the Wi-Fi setup with slightly different network names (SSIDs) in every part of the building. In turn, all networks are broadcasting on the same channel. Believe me, such things do exist.

I also have the suspicion that the NOTM is behind most webcams on the internet. Webcams are an own ecosystem in the WWW.

Firstly, search results are intercepted, typically by various weather pages, correctly guessing that you were looking for the current conditions on the place you intend to go. These pages will then, of course, not present you the link to the webcam right away, but in turn try to sell you all kinds of things you haven’t searched for.

Ok, that intercepting is annoying, but when you are persistent enough to scroll down and smart enough to identify the right link, you will finally get to the webcams, and here we are back at the NOTM. About one third of the links will not work and simply return a “404” – “Page not found.” Webcams go, their links remain, who cares?

Another third of the webcams will deliver a picture, but you cannot be sure when it was taken. Or more precisely, with some of them you can say right away that they are not current. Either the picture shows a pitch-dark scene when there should be daylight. Or you see a picture with a summer scene where you would expect snow. But even when the picture looks plausible, it is often hard to verify if the picture is current, since no explicit timestamp is provided. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can download the image and enlarge it to see the tiny timestamp in one corner. It has once been designed when cams had a resolution of 640×480 pixels. Now, with a 4k camera in place, the timestamp, still having the same pixel size, has become so tiny that you can only guess if it is still there. That’s how the NOTM does it.

Only the remaining third of the webcams will actually deliver a picture that is obviously current. But even here, many are overdoing it by displaying panoramic images that show way more than you wanted. You need to use clumsy controls to navigate to the right direction and you are nagged with long loading times for the huge images. You asked for so little, but webcams are unlikely to give it to you.

But it can be different, like an experience in a hotel in Viet-Nam proved. The Wi-Fi in my room was somehow working, but it was not really good. So, I remembered the note on the welcome letter that I was entitled for a premium internet access and presented it at the front desk. Without further asking, a technician was sent to my room, where he connected an access point to a wall outlet and gave me the Wi Fi credentials.

I had just gotten my personal Wi Fi network! This was service at its best, well beyond the NOTM’s level and always remembered. 


Fred Steinhauser studied Electrical Engineering at the Vienna University of Technology, where he obtained his diploma in 1986 and received a Dr. of Technical Sciences in 1991. He joined OMICRON and worked on several aspects of testing power system protection. Since 2000 he worked as a product manager with a focus on power utility communication. Since 2014 he is active within the Power Utility Communication business of OMICRON, focusing on Digital Substations and serving as an IEC 61850 expert. Fred is a member of WG10 in the TC57 of the IEC and contributes to IEC 61850. He is one of the main authors of the UCA Implementation Guideline for Sampled Values (9-2LE). Within TC95, he contributes to IEC 61850 related topics. As a member of CIGRÉ he is active within the scope of SC D2 and SC B5. He also contributed to the synchrophasor standards IEEE C37.118.1 and IEEE C37.118.2.