Monthly Archive: April 2011

Image placeholders for your website mockups

This is a nice way to ease into the week (courtesy of an afternoon article in NetTuts+). Rather than using boring solid-color boxes as placeholders in your website mockups here are two (cute!) alternatives: placekitten (my personal preference) and PlaceDog. For either one you just put your image dimensions (width & height in pixels) after their URL and you’ll get a placeholder image (so something like: http://placekitten.com/200/160)

PlaceKitten Sample

PlaceKitten Sample (200x160)

PlaceDog Sample

PlaceDog Sample (200x160)

Or for a slightly more serious version, you can pull themed images (based on tags) from Flickr with flickholdr.com
FlickHoldr Sample

FlickHoldr Sample (200x160, ocean)

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An introduction to blogs, Twitter, and Facebook

Below is a post I wrote for Bethel United Methodist Church’s blog. I grew up going to Bethel and now I maintain their website and Google Apps account. Many of the “new technologies” the past few years have become commonplace with some members of the church, but other folks aren’t familiar with all the different social media outlets, or how they can be used, so this is my overview of a few of these (blogs, Facebook and Twitter).


What is all this “social media” stuff anyway?

Bethel Church has been “online” for over 10 years with our website. We’ve recently begun to venture into the technology front even further with email mailing lists and having the second service every Sunday available to watch live online. All of these services are great, and will continue to be used here at the church, however a new type of communication has also begun to emerge that can supplement our current communications.

Over the past few years, we have been presented with a lot of new information courtesy of what is known as “social media”, which includes things like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter (for detailed descriptions of each, please see the appropriate section below). At their core, all of these things are websites that provide people and businesses with a place to share their thoughts and interests online. These websites disseminate information, whether it be a personal account of someone’s latest vacation, or the promotion of an upcoming event at a restaurant and they each foster communities of their own, spurring discussions and comments on what people have shared.

So why am I blogging about this? At my job in Creative Services at the College of William & Mary I work daily with the technologies I mentioned above, we use these social media outlets to share the mission of the College with our community and the general public. Additionally, I have been using these social media sites personally for quite a while. Since I am in Williamsburg, but still want to help out my home church, I volunteer to run and update our website and now I’m starting to explore our church’s presence on social media and determine how we can utilize it to the best of its capabilities.

How can we use it?

The church has had a website for many years, way before any of these social media sites were around, and Facebook, blogs and Twitter are the next step in our “online presence.” The content shared via social media should supplement, not replace, what is currently offered on our main website.

Since not everyone who is interested in coming to church is able to attend in person, offering a virtual community where folks can learn about our church is a great outreach tool. Through our interactions with each other on these sites we offer a glimpse of the welcoming and loving atmosphere that we strive to offer.

Venturing into these new forms of communication also helps us to keep the church community vibrant with new members, as this is another avenue to explain and explore what we do. With over 500 million users on Facebook, 190 million on Twitter, and an unlimited audience for the blog, this is a huge community of people with whom we can communicate. When you share something on Facebook about the church, it goes to all of your friends (by appearing on their Facebook wall). If your friends find it interesting they will share it with their friends and so on; with just one post we have been able to reach hundreds, even thousands, of people.

Facebook and Twitter are also a great way to provide quick updates within our community. If it’s decided the church is closing due to inclement weather, or we want to remind everyone about the UMW breakfast coming up, you will find out that information as soon as it is released, since you can receive updates from Twitter and Facebook on your mobile phones as well as on your computer.

What are they?

Blogs

In the case of blogs, like this one, the author writes an entry, known as a “post,” explaining their thoughts on a topic (the term “blog” came from combining the word “web log”). The readers of the post can then share their thoughts by leaving comments, which can spark further discussion and ideas.

There are blogs and blogging communities for just about every topic and interest, and the way that you can keep up with the latest posts on a blog is using what is called “RSS” (which stands for Real Simple Syndication). What RSS allows you to do is to be automatically notified when a new post is made available on a blog, you find out about these new posts by “subscribing” to that blog’s RSS feed.

There are many different ways to receive the notifications of the new posts, most popular is what’s called an “RSS reader”, that acts as your own personal customized newspaper and pulls together all the RSS feeds from all the blogs that you have subscribed to and presents them to you in one place. Popular RSS Readers include Google Reader, iGoogle, FeedDemon, and Bloglines.

Facebook

Facebook is the most popular and wide-spread of the social media “platforms”. With Facebook, a person creates an online profile and can indicate other profiles on Facebook that belong to their friends and connect with that person by “friending” them. Facebook users can share photos, videos, website links, and more on their profile and that activity will show up on their friends “Facebook Wall” amongst activity from all the other person’s friends.

Businesses, community organizations and non-profits may also create online profiles, but since they are not tied with a particular person they are known as “fan pages” and other users of Facebook can indicate that they support that organization by “liking” the page. Organizations with a fan page communicate with their fans by posting status updates, photos, videos, etc. just like a personal profile, and these updates will show up on the “Wall” of anyone who likes the page. Fan pages can serve as a community-based supplement to an organization’s website. We just started a fan page for the church this weekend.

Facebook also offers what are known as “Facebook Groups”, which are like “clubs” in the real world, they require you to “join” and then members of that group can interact directly with each other. Any activity on the group’s “wall” comes from individual members, and communications within the group are done with Facebook messages. Groups are best for small-scale, personal interactions. Our church Facebook group has been around for over two years.

Twitter

Twitter is similar to blogging, however each of the posts from a person is limited to 140 characters and these posts are automatically shared with other Twitter users who “follow” them. When people post on their Twitter account it is known as “tweeting,” these little posts (called “tweets”) can range in topic from what the person had for breakfast, to their opinion on the latest news story, or, if the account is a company, advertising a last-minute sale. Twitter has become the fastest way for news to travel, as “tweeting” can easily be done using a mobile phone. We’ve just started a church Twitter account as well.

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Programmatically taking a screenshot of your app in iOS

Dress the Griffin on the iPadFor William & Mary’s Dress the Griffin app we offer the option to save the Griffin’s current outfit as an image to the iOS device’s photo album (which can then be shared via email or various social media outlets). I had a hard time finding a place that outlined these steps clearly, so here is the rundown of what needs to be done to programmatically save a full screen screenshot of your iOS app to the user’s photo album.

/* Action taken when the "Save" button (saveAsImageButton) is pressed in the app */
- (IBAction)saveScreenshot {

   // Define the dimensions of the screenshot you want to take (the entire screen in this case)
   CGSize size =  [[UIScreen mainScreen] bounds].size;

   // Create the screenshot
   UIGraphicsBeginImageContext(size);
   // Put everything in the current view into the screenshot
   [[self.view layer] renderInContext:UIGraphicsGetCurrentContext()];
   // Save the current image context info into a UIImage
   UIImage *newImage = UIGraphicsGetImageFromCurrentImageContext();
   UIGraphicsEndImageContext();

   // Save the screenshot to the device's photo album
   UIImageWriteToSavedPhotosAlbum(newImage, self,
      @selector(image:didFinishSavingWithError:contextInfo:), nil);
}

// callback for UIImageWriteToSavedPhotosAlbum
- (void)image:(UIImage *)image didFinishSavingWithError:(NSError *)error contextInfo:(void *)contextInfo {

   if (error) {
       // Handle if the image could not be saved to the photo album
   }
   else {
      // The save was successful and all is well
   }
}

Note: The bulk of these functions are out of Apple’s UIKit framework so check out their documentation for even more information.

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Hello world!

Hello World Toast by oskay on Flickr

hello, world by oskay on Flickr

Yes, it’s the quintessential and probably overused “first test post”, but appropriate for a technically inclined blog, don’t you think? 😉

I already have a personal blog where I post stuff (albeit, sporadically) on my travels, photography, and food, but I wanted a central place to write down all the random tidbits I’ve found useful in my work as a Web Programmer at the College of William & Mary, as well as a place to share articles from around the web that I think are useful in some way or another related to web development, social media, higher ed, and mobile apps.

If there’s something you’d like to see here or find out more info on, please let me know!

Here we go…

 

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Brandon Plantation and Gardens

Brandon Plantation House

Brandon Plantation House

This past weekend we had a turn of nicer weather so Jeremy and I made a day trip on Saturday to visit Brandon Plantation on the James River. We started the day at the first Williamsburg Farmer’s Market of the season, had breakfast at the Trellis, then just started driving. We didn’t have a particular destination in mind, only that we wanted to take advantage of the sunny (most of the time) weather and get out of the house. We decided to go across the Jamestown-Scotland ferry and found (using a paper map, craziness!) a place called “Brandon Plantation“. After a bit of Googling on my Droid we found directions and I called to make sure they were open (they were, until 4pm).

As we came up the long drive the weather started looking a bit grumpy, but the clouds had been coming in and then dissipating all day so we decided to stick with the “being outside” plan. We pulled into the parking lot and were the only car there, there was no sign of anyone else at the plantation aside from a car next to one of the secondary buildings. The admission fee is $8 on an honor system so we decided to poke around quickly, see if there was more than just the immediate area to see (there definitely was), and then pay our fee. Just as we walked up to the house there was a random downpour for about 2 minutes but then after that we were given a break from the rain and Jeremy and I explored the freshly rained-on gardens and grounds (yielding a few fun “raindrops on plants” photos 😉 ).

The house (which is not open to the public) is a really cool bit of architecture and the gardens are broken up into little “rooms” with a single entrance to each. The daffodils were in full bloom as well as many of the trees. The plantation was built right along the James River so we stopped at the riverside and enjoyed the views, snapped some photos of the storm clouds go over the opposing shore and then headed home. The entire time we were there we only saw one other person, the gardener, but it was a great afternoon trip and definitely a spot to come back to as the flowers continue coming up (it’s also on the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week list of places to visit).

Brandon Plantation Flickr Set

Brandon Plantation Flickr Set

So those have been all of my photo trips as of late. Hopefully I can be a bit more diligent about posting as the weather gets nicer and we go out on more excursions.

Happy Spring!

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Botanical Gardens and PicPlz

Jeremy and I went to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden at the end of January in the pursuit of flowers in the midst of the crazy winter we’ve been having, thankfully they have a great greenhouse with seasonal flowers on one side, tropical plants in the center, and orchids on the other side. It was great to get outside and walk around (and go inside the greenhouse and enjoy the warmth and lovely flower smells) so we decided to buy an annual membership since we usually go to the gardens two or three times a year, and with the admission price for two people it was worth it to buy the pass. The extra bonus with the membership is that it gets you into a whole slew of other botanical gardens around the country (including the gardens in Norfolk), so it’s a really great deal and is now in the rotation of default places to go take photos when we need some inspiration. Flickr sets linked below.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens Flickr Set 1

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens Flickr Set - trip 1

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Flickr set - trip 2

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Flickr Set - trip 2

Norfolk Botanical Garden Flickr Set

Norfolk Botanical Garden Flickr Set

"Free Smells" PicPlz photo from Austin

I’ve joined in on the “use your smart phone to take pictures and then add filters to it” trend and have started using an app called PicPlz to try and practice taking more “random” photos of everyday stuff. So every once in a while either in my Twitter or my Flickr stream (or both) you’ll see a photo or two appear from something random I noticed during my day. My first PicPlz photo was taken at on our first trip to Lewis Ginter.

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What I’ve been up to: SXSW

So it’s been a ridiculously long interlude since my last post so the next few posts are a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to.

SXSW 2011First, I went to South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive in Austin in March with Jeremy, that was a blast.

I had my first food truck encounter (so good!), met a bunch of the Foursquare development team, got to go in as a VIP to the Foursquare party (we were waiting in line and one of the guys at the door recognized us from the earlier Superuser meetup and he pulled us in), saw a screening of “Win Win” with Paul Giamatti (including seeing the cast in person after the show at a Q&A), and went to tons of sessions ranging from social media and location-based services to keynote talks by Dennis Crowley (CEO of Foursquare), Felicia Day (of The Guild and Dr. Horrible fame) and Guy Kawasaki (former Product Evangelist for Apple).

Since this is one of (if not the) biggest general tech conference in the country it was definitely a bit overwhelming (lots of people, lots of social interaction, lots of networking) but I came out of it with some fun ideas to bring back to the College and got to meet up with some fellow W&M alums who were either attending or presenting at the conference.

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