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How to make great iPhone wallpaper

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Being an ADHD design nerd (or is that Apple fanboy) I’m frequently changing up the wallpaper on my iPhone. As a some of the wallpapers I published in an earlier post have crept up to some of my most frequently viewed Flickr photos I thought I would post a quick write up on how I select and make my oft-changed iPhone wallpapers.

I primarily use Photoshop for my image editing work and this process will be easy if you have Photoshop and are comfortable using it. It’s a very simple process and could be completed with virtually any image editor, although ones that can read Photoshop (PSD) files will make it easier to import the template discussed below. If you don’t want to spend money on a photo editing application GIMP is a free option that offers a decent interface and lots of tools to experiment with.

The first step of the process lies ahead: selecting the image to use. Ideally images should fit into one of two categories. These images have either a uniform simplicity, or a design flow that works with the iPhones overlaid controls.

The first type of image that works well has a uniformity to it. Because of the user interface controls partially obscuring the locked iPhone wallpaper images that focus on color or texture will work very well for this as obscuring a part of this kind of image does not hide key aesthetic elements. This kind of image is great for capturing a favorite color or surface while not adding distraction to Apple’s clean and minimalistic design.

Contrail to God iPhone wallpaper
A simplistic background

The second type of image that works well are images with a central focal point that is well buffered by simplicity. As the top and bottom of the iPhone are obscured by the overlaid controls having an image which can appreciated from the lower than center portion of the viewport on the lock screen, and with a background or less important top and bottom that are not critical to the aesthetic appeal of the image.

When taking photos for use as an iPhone wallpaper consider using a very narrow depth of field to direct interest to the center area of a vertical shot. Alternatively for a bolder look consider incorporating strong design elements such as bright angular sections of color. Remember that although the top and bottom will be obscured the image will still bleed through the overlay and provide some visual impact.

Sunlit frond iPhone wallpaper
A more visually complicated sweet spot

Once an image is selected I use the iPhone template pictured below to help me compose it for the iPhone. I found this template on the Mac Rumors forum in this thread. Full credit goes to TheSpaz who created the awesome resource and shared it with the world.

The template is free to download and comes in the form of a PSD template with each element set up in a separate layer with the correct opacity. This template makes it easy to drop an image into the background layer and compose it to look its best on the iPhone.

As your source image is likely much larger than 320×480 pixels you will have to transform the image down to size. By using Photoshop’s free transform option on the layer you can adjust both the scaling of the image, as well as drag it around to ensure that the portion of the image you want visible is perfectly framed by the overlays.

The shot being used in this particular tutorial was taken with a Lensbaby, a lens that adds a significant amount of blur and vignetting away from the center of the screen. This effect helps draw the eye into a subject and simplify the background making it ideal for use in creating iPhone wallpapers. If you have an image you really like, but that does not work well with the overlays due to visual distractions consider vignetting the image in photoshop by gently blurring or darkening the top and bottom edges to draw the eye to the center of the composition.

Because the iPhone displays bright colors so well I usually find that bumping up the saturation of an image 4-8% adds a bit of pop to the wallpaper. A slight bit of sharpening with the unsharp mask filter often helps more detailed images retain clarity on the iPhone’s densely packed pixels. Both of these steps also help make the image look it’s best once it is saved out of the Photoshop format and into either a JPEG or PNG image.

Once you are happy with how your image looks within the preview offered by the template you are ready to save the image and put it on your iPhone. For this process you don’t want the templates overlays added so hide all of the overlay layers leaving your resized and cropped photo and any adjustment layers as your final image. From the file menu select ‘Save for Web & Devices’ to compress your final wallpaper down. I usually save my wallpapers as 32bit PNG images, however JPEG format backgrounds will work just as well.

Save the wallpaper with a recognizable name into the location where you have iTunes set to sync photos from. The next time you sync your iPhone the image will be synced into the iPhone’s library. From there you can view the image with the Photos application and then click the export scarab at the bottom of the screen to select that image for use as your wallpaper.

If you are interested in the image above the version saved without the overlays suitable for immediate iPhone use is here. You can also get the original PSD file here including all the layers, adjustments, and overlays used to create this.

Firefox zen

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Download DayAs I’ve mentioned here and there on Twitter I’m super impressed with the latest Firefox 3 Release Candidate – it’s a fantastic browser. The memory utilization is far more reasonable than with Firefox 2, and the new address bar and bookmarking system has changed the way I interact with browsers for the better.

See something I like and think I might someday want to return? Click the star to bookmark it, and forget about it. If it’s something I’m likely to use frequently then another click of the star lets me add a few appropriate tags to speed up the search.

No longer do I have an organized collection of bookmarks, and a bookmarks bar crammed with common links and folders of bookmarks. With the ability to search my history and bookmarks from the address bar an entirely keyboard and search based browsing habit has evolved. A few Quicksilvr like keystrokes reveal an impressively accurate and intuitive list of what I want, culled from the URLs, tags, and titles of the visited pages.

The Firefox user interface has become minimal, The address and search bar, a list of my open tabs, and nothing else. Pure efficiency and elegance in internet consumption. I have achieved Firefox zen:

Interestingly enough it would seem that my visitors have as well. A quick look at the last few months of visitors shows that over half of my visitors have selected Firefox as their browser of choice with Internet Explorer coming in 2nd and Safari trailing in 3rd.

With the Mozilla Foundation putting so much effort into setting download records at the release of Firefox 3 I wonder how that percentage will grow in coming months both on Futurist Now as well as the internet as a whole.

Side note: yes, I see the irony in cheering for Firefox given where I work. I don’t actually see a problem with that – I think Firefox has given Internet Explorer a lot and the more recent versions of Internet Explorer have been better for the competition that Firefox and Opera have provided. I strongly believe that competition is the key to any successful market and am always happy to see multiple contenders reaching for the stars – the biggest winners in this kind of technology arms race are almost always the consumers.

Catchup post: Memorial Day edition

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I’ve been busy the last week and haven’t been doing much long form writing and Futurist Now has suffered for it. What’s been keeping me busy?

My new EeePC
I picked up one of Asus’s delightfully tiny new netbooks, the EeePC. A netbook is a new category of sub-notebook device with low end specs designed primarily for browsing the web. The EeePC clocks in at a measly 900Mz, but at 9″ and under 3 lbs it’s easy to forgive it’s specs in lieu of it’s ultimate portability. So far I’m finding it an ideal email machine for use at meetings at work, and as a great bedroom/couch machine for keeping an eye on the tubes while relaxing or watching movies.

Being entirely solid state (the EeePC 900 series comes with 12GB of flash memory rather than a hard drive with spinning platters) it’s shock resistant, and gets surprisingly good performance for it’s diminutive specs. Due to the random access nature of flash memory the EeePC boots quickly and gets great battery life (3 hours of real use). While solid state drive (SSD) technology is still not competitive in price or storage capacity to typical hard drive (HDD) technology I can see the potential and am starting to get excited about the predictions that in 2011 or so SSD will all but completely replace HDD technology in notebooks and desktops.

While the EeePC 900 I picked up came pre-loaded with Windows XP I’ve done some experimentation with putting Ubuntu on it. As with my typical annual cycle I attempt to put some variant of Linux on my computers to see how the OS X/Windows competition is doing. This time however I was surprised – the latest Hardy Heron (8.04) release of Ubuntu is slick, polished, and works ‘out of the box’ on all the hardware I had laying around. While Ubuntu might be getting attention as a decent desktop alternative where I think it really shines is on a low end PC like the EeePC – it’s limited feature set and lean architecture work perfectly on a device with CPU and memory constraints.

Movies
Being a 3 day weekend I took the opportunity to see a couple of movies with Brien and Brian. We saw both Indiana Jones 4: The Crystal Skull, and Iron Man. Both movies were excellent (if not over the top) and fun movies to see while on holiday. I was never the hardcore fan of the Indy series that Brien was, and much to his horror I actually liked the newest one best from the series. It captured the fun essence of the earlier flicks while maintaining a fresh and modern feel even while being set in not so modern times.

Iron man also kept a modern feel, although it did so with a very modern setting. Having never read the comic book I assume I missed out on a lot of the back story, but still found the story presented in the movie touching and engaging. Having grown up idolizing gadget superhero (Hello, Inspector Gadget) it’s nice to see a modern take on a technological super-hero. Final note on the movie: I need a flying metal suit, that looks fun!

Lensbabied sneaker opus
Last but not least, a quick shot I took with my Lensbaby 2G while out on a photo walk on Saturday. I’ve been using my 18mm and 50mm primes a lot and decided to take the Lensbaby out and go for a stroll. I’m certainly glad I did as one of the resulting shots is a clear winner in my odd little abstract world.

Footwear abstract

Living the Traskpro life

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

I’ve been so busy and productive of late that sadly Futurist Now has suffered from it – barely a post a week on average. Aside from the normal work stuff I’ve been slammed with tons and tons of development work on Traskpro. I’m becoming extremely proud of Traskpro – it’s becoming a very robust solution and I’m all but running my life out of it now.

What makes Traskpro so great? What do I do with it?

Amazing ehh – give it a whirl or check out the Traskpro blog – you can do all these things and more! With Traskpro’s flexible design you can track almost any kind of information – all for free!

Now what would a big Traskpro advert like this be without a few power user tips? Traskpro uses the URL to determine what tag you are viewing – this means that you can bookmark frequently used tags for quick access. I am able to use this feature by setting my internet home page to my “work” tag at work, my “personal” tag at home, and the high priority view on my iPhone – whenever I open a browser I immediately see a highly contextual view of tasks related to my current environment.

Further to URL bookmarking when setting a sort preference the sort preference is added to the next page view URL. This allows you to bookmark not only a specific tag, but also to make it so whenever visiting the bookmark the sorting options can be left intact – useful for power users looking to really take control of a large list of tasks.

Prelude: CES

Friday, January 4th, 2008

It’s the Friday before CES starts and I’m finishing up the last details so as to be ready for a flight that leaves frightengly soon. I finished up work yesterday, set my OOF (Out Of Office) and checked out – for the next 11 days I don’t even have to think about work; something that hasn’t happened in a really long time.

So far I’ve actually made good progress. I made it up to Broadway to pick up some Gear Live branded business cards for CES, have done 5 loads of laundry, packed most of my stuff, and cleaned up. I still have a little work to do, but over all I’m feeling much better about leaving – thanks to Traskpro

Amazingly with all the CES stuff I did today I even found time to do a few usability tweaks to Traskpro. Now tags can be entered separated by spaces, commas, or semicolons, and tags can be marked as high or low priority by tagging them ‘high’ or ‘low’. I got some great user feedback from two of my users and hopefully this will make entry more intuitive for new users by sticking to the arching design goal of flexibility.

Not too sure if I’ll be doing much personal blogging from CES – I will be pretty busy this year between doing video production and writing up the sights and sounds of CES. Check out the Gear Live coverage of CES, or you can click to see Gear Live filtered to only my content.

Refactoring is fun

Friday, December 28th, 2007

During the last couple of days I’ve been toying with Traskpro development tasks while I’ve been home ill. Until today I didn’t actually implement any new functionality, but rather spent my time re-factoring ‘old’ code from the 0.1 and 0.2 versions. Re-factoring is a low strain on my brain and a great task for idly doing while drifting in and out of sickly sleep – once I got the new architectures and designs on paper implementation of the new pattern happened on a feature by feature basis.

Most notably I took a lot of hacky if loops to select SQL queries and moved them into a net-new function which builds the queries based in inputs so the code is both easier to read and easier to maintain long term. I also moved a lot of in-line functionality to within functions which has made long term maintainability and new feature development a breeze.

Not only does this re-factoring provide more readable code, but having everything generalized into functions made adding a few new features a breeze. For instance I just added a capture feature to Traskpro for capturing more than one task (and tag array) at once. This makes capturing action items in a meeting brain dead simple and removes the need for a round trip to the server between each individual addition. Because of the functions for adding/editings tasks, or adding tags to tasks this new feature was developed in a far more efficient fashion – rather than building from scratch I could re-use code.

Simple stuff I know, but not developing for a living really does give me appreciation for elegant, maintainable, and readable code.

Renewed and renowned

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Funny how getting my car detailed can kick my auto-passion into high gear. Tuesday evening I picked up my A6 from Mirrorworks from having a full detail and some paint work done. It’s shiny and like-new again – I’m swooning all over my precious car again!

Aside from the car life has been good. Traskpro has his a solid and stable 0.9 (and graduated from alpha to beta) and is rocking my task list right and left. I even have acquired a few other heavy users which is oddly gratifying. I’ve still got 31 remaining features/tweaks to make, but those can happen gradually over the next few weeks as I continue to ramp up on JavaScript.

Also in the world of good things Scott came over last night. He hadn’t experienced a proper viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End so we did dinner and a showing of that. As silly and overly-Disney as the film is I really do enjoy watching it. I really do hope that big budget swashbucklers never die – they are just so much fun to experience.

Right – back to work now. I have to finish up a ton of stuff today and tomorrow to be ready to take off a few days to be home for Christmas!

Productive and exciting

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

A clockwork fork

This has been quite the productive and exciting weekend: I’ve seen Alissa’s play again (this time with Jesse and Brenda), taken interesting makeup photos with Jessie (see above), learned bucket loads about SQL, and released an early alpha of Traskpro.

I’m feeling surprisingly good given that I didn’t have much downtime this weekend. Having a personal project like Traskpro has re-energized me. I’d forgotten how fun coding can be – particularly with tons of small rewarding features to work on. I feel like I’m using agile with a 2 hour sprint!

Traskpro is finally feature-complete enough to stand up to day to day use. I still have a TON of work left to do on it, but that can happen over the next few weeks. Go in and check it out – updates from now on will be pretty much transparent to the users. The temporary production location is at Traskpro.com – I’ll be getting a more official URL for it shortly.

Update: Changed the URL above to the actual production URL. No more temporary URL’s for me baby!

Traskpro is conceived

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The dev bug has bitten me again and I’m playing with code. This time it was prompted by a few missing features in Backpack and the brilliant idea to roll my own life management solution. Thus Traskpro (Task Tracking Pro) was born. Unlike most of my development stings in the last 5 years I actually sat down and did a little planning before I dived into it this time.

I have spent the last couple of days analyzing and designing my user scenarios and figuring out exactly how best to implement a task tracking solution so that it’s as flexible as possible and requires the fewest number of actions to operate. The Traskpro specification is now complete for version 0.1 and I started to dive into coding tonight. Having spent my first few days planning is making a huge difference – coding is easier this way and I suspect the end result will be a lot cleaner.

I’ve started my development with MAMP (PHP/MySQL on the Mac), but am toying with switching over to Ruby on Rails at some point. For now I’d rather stick to a language I’m more comfortable with given that I have a big learning curve ahead for SQL which I haven’t touched in ages.

More to come – I need to get a few more of my classes built out and then get to bed. I have two more days of ‘day job’ ahead before the much needed weekend arrives.

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