Tech 2001 / When Ruby Met Webby: A Star Is Born

I have a naughty puppy. A seventeen-month-old French bulldog named Ruby, to be exact, who, along with her Prada-accessory sweet tooth and corn-bone addiction, cannot resist a daily tinkle on the Jonathan Adler rug. But before the XCam2 wireless camera entered my life, I had no idea that she had something going with the corner of my sofa. Little bitch.

Of course I’d seen the ubiquitous XCam2 banner ads promising inexpensive wireless household security surveillance plenty of times while surfing the Web. But what would be the point? Not much goes on in my 500-square-foot household that I’m not aware of. Or so I thought. Then, one night, my wireless epiphany arrived in the form of one of those desperate TV commercials for Big Brother featuring that little pug I assumed all of America, or at least the 14-share of Nielsen viewers, hoped would take home the cash eventually. One glimpse of that flat face on the screen, and faster than you can say “Wigglesworth!” I was ready to turn my apartment into Manhattan’s very own Little Sister studio. Ruby, I realize, has all the makings of a reality-TV sensation. Like Puck, she goes by a single name and rarely bathes. Like Colleen, she has a cute little bottom. Like Eric Nies, she enjoys staring at herself in the mirror. It was time, I decided, for her to go public via the XCam2.

Created by X10, the home-automation-gadget manufacturer, the XCam2 kit is essentially a palm-size color camera that runs on four AA batteries (or an AC adapter) and transmits a video signal to the included base-station receiver. It comes with a built-in microphone and a bunch of cables for easy connection to a TV, VCR, or camcorder. Because I know that Ruby’s appeal is national, not to say global, I also picked up the XRay Vision software kit ($69). The program hooks you up to a PC and lets you broadcast on the Internet, where anybody can view your handiwork via the free, downloadable XRay Vision Remote Viewer.

Wireless, the XCam2 is much more flexible than a standard PC Web cam. Instead of being limited by the length of a cable, you’ve got 100 feet of 2.4GHz transmission distance to play with. (On the downside, at its fastest, the XRay Vision program captures an image only every ten seconds or so; it’s more like a slide show than full-motion video.) I mount my camera on top of the fireplace for a bird’s-eye view of the living room. Camera rolling, I check the feed to my laptop and leave the house. Simple as that.

Over a mocha and bagel at the Internet café down the block, I log on and watch as the first episode of Little Sister unfolds. There she is, walking back and forth on the couch, chewing on her corn bone, staring out the window, licking her crotch, sleeping. I tune in a couple more times during the day over at my girlfriend’s office and back at the café. Highlights include an aborted attempt to climb atop my club chair – verboten! – and what looks like a possible fecal guest appearance near the rug. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s about The Real World Boston. But we’re only just beginning. Days two and three are a little more of the same. Episode four, however, introduces a new plot twist as Ruby reveals a previously concealed yet highly irresistible habit of rubbing her ass on the edge of the couch. Quality programming.

But then, in an uncanny case of life imitating art, the ratings begin to tumble. Like Big Brother before it, Little Sister has quickly become a bore. Ruby is passed out about half the time, and she frequently wanders out of the frame. But the real problem runs much deeper. Once you’ve been hooked by the occasional random butt scratch or skittering splayed-leg sail across the top of the coffee table, the slitty-eyed voyeur within demands more. And not just more but better: weirder, freakier, nastier.

To help salvage the situation, I invest in three more cameras ($169 package deal) and place them strategically in my bedroom, bathroom, and entry hall so she’ll never be able to leave my sight. (The XRay software – combined with the X10’s $20 FireCracker program and $13 plug-in control modules – actually lets you choose camera feeds via remote, just like in an actual TV studio control room.) Next, I introduce a Survivor-worthy immunity challenge for Ruby. It comprises a small pile of FedEx boxes, a hunk of her favorite Normandy Camembert (hey, she’s French) perched on the uppermost tier, and a trail of peanut butter that, if correctly followed, will show her how to climb up top and go for the gold.

A s you can imagine, the event ends with a PB-and-upholstery mess as Ruby opts for a bowling-ball solution to the puzzle. Nevertheless, it makes for mildly entertaining TV (I’d say about a Real World Miami). Then we decide to inject some good old-fashioned Kelly vs. Susan-style conflict into the mix. Since this is no place for a catfight, we fabricate the next-best thing: Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Rex10. A security accessory sold by X10, the Rex10 is basically a $59 motion-sensor alarm system that sounds just like a pissed-off, barking Rottweiler.

I think you know where I’m going with this. Sadistic? Maybe. Beneath reality-TV standards? Please. Do the words Rick Rockwell mean anything to you? The only trouble is, Ruby isn’t buying. Rex10 may scare the bejesus out of nosy neighbors, but there’s just no fooling ears as big as hers. She ignores the pseudo barking entirely. Little celebrity beetch.

Desperate, I decide to introduce a dash of sex appeal to the mix and arrange for Kafka, Ruby’s strapping 28-pound French-bulldog boyfriend down the block, to do a walk-on. At last, some action. Snuggling, licking, frolicking, bed wrestling, booty sniffing. Attention, Leslie Moonves! Little Sister now has every ingredient necessary for a sweeps-week triumph.

Tech 2001 / When Ruby Met Webby: A Star Is Born