Repurposing an old iPad as a picture frame/media player/digital mirror

In the past, I usually sell my devices when I upgrade. I’ve done this with phones, iPod touches, iPads, etc. Unfortunately, I inevitably regret that decision, feeling that I could have used the device I sold and really didn’t get that much money out of it (particularly after eBay and Paypal take their cut). So when I upgraded to the new iPad Air, I kept my iPad 3 and decided to make it a picture frame and media center.

As an AppleTV owner, its pretty easy to get spoiled by its awesome screensaver and not be very content with the boring built-in iPad slideshow. As such, I tried several iPad picture frame apps. I settled on Picmatic. It was the closest I could find to the AppleTV screensaver and even displays date and time. A feature to have it sleep (nice, if you use 24/7) was added recently which is very welcome. (However, it does this by reducing the screen brightness. If you try to use the iPad during the “off” hours, the display does not automatically return to normal brightness.) I did upgrade to the Pro version ($1.99) which unlocks more layouts and supports the developer. Read more

Syncing Nextgen gallery with Flicker and iPad

I used to love Flickr but got tired of their heavy-handedness and a while back decided to bring all of my photos under my own control using the NextGEN Gallery plug-in here on However, Flickr is somewhat ubiquitous and supported by various things, including AppleTV and some iPad photoframe apps, and I didn’t want to give that up.

At first I tried to manually keep the same photos on SeriouslyTrivial, Flickr and iPad. It didn’t take long for this to become an exercise in futility. If only NextGEN and Flickr could sync to each other… Well, I figured out an automated way to do it by putting my PC in the middle. Basically, the flow is as follows:

NextGEN ==> PC ==> Flickr/iPad

PC Programs

I’m using two PC programs to automate the process: AllwaysSync (free) to automatically do the FTP download and PhotoSync (paid version suggested) to sync with Flickr. Obviously, I’ll use iTunes to sync the photos with the iPad.

When you install PhotoSync, do not sign it into your Flickr account yet.

You don’t have to use AllwaysSync , it just automates the FTP download process. You could download manually or find another program that does the same thing.

Clearing out Flickr

This tutorial assumes your NextGEN gallery is the absolute source. Make sure all photos have been uploaded to NextGEN before proceeding. 

You’ll need to delete all Flickr photos so its totally empty. I deleted all mine by doing the following:

  1. Choose You > Organize
  2. Click Select all. This is at the bottom.
  3. Drag the selected photos to the edit area
  4. Choose Edit photos > Delete and follow the prompts

I suppose, alternatively, you could just create a new Flickr account. I would recommend this just in case something goes wrong.

NOTE: If you want to archive Flickr first, you should be able to use PhotoSync using the Full Synchronization mode. After it syncs and downloads all of the photos, move them out of the photoSync folder. In theory, it should then sync and delete everything in Flickr. Do this at your own risk, however. 

FTP Photos to your PC

As luck would have it, NextGEN puts the photos in folders that use the gallery name. Just what we need! Note that AllwaysSync’s interface is a little odd, but works and is free.

Now to accommodate iTunes, create a folder called iPod Photo Cache in the wp-content/gallery directory on your server (with all the gallery folders). This will be excluded from the FTP download (below) and, thus, prevent any changes from being made on the corresponding PC folder. Do not skip this step if you will be syncing with iTunes.

Here’s how to set up AllwaysSync:

  1. Click the Change link located on the double-headed arrow in the center.
  2. Click the radio button to the left of the double-headed arrow. The arrow should now be pointing to the right. We want everything going from the server to the PC only, not a two-way sync. Also enable the Proprogate deletions options so that photos deleted in NextGEN are also deleted on the PC.
  3. Choose FTP Server from the dropdown menu on the left side.
  4. Click the Configure button
  5. In the Path field, you need to enter the full path to the photo files including the protocol and server name. Something like ftp://<servername>/wp-content/gallery. This may vary depending on your installation of NextGEN.
  6. Complete the login information and click the OK button. (You may have to expand the window to make the OK button visible. It is in the lower-right corner of the panel.)
  7. On the menu go to View > Options. If you want AllwaysSync to start when Windows starts, enable the Start application in system notification area on system start-up option.
  8. Select the job profile you are working on in the left pane. It should be called something like New Job 1. Expand the options by clicking on the + to the left of the name. Then click on Inclusion  and Exclusion filters.
  9. NextGEN adds some files that you do not want. They are stored in thumbs and dynamic subdirectories under each gallery name. So in the Exclusion filters area, click the Add New button. Enter \*\thumbs\*.* in the File Name Filter box. Add three more filters for \*\dynamic\*.*,  \cache\*.*, and \iPod Photo Cache\*.*.  If there are any specific galleries or photos you don’t want synced, add exclusion filters for them as well. Click Ok when done. (NOTE: If you don’t exclude iPod Photo Cache, iTunes will always sync all photos and not just changes!)
  10. If you want to automate the upload, click Automatic Synchronization. Here I have set it to sync once a day.
  11. Click OK when you’re done setting options.
  12. Next, click on the Browse button and navigate to your photoSync folder. You’ll want to browse to get the exact path you need as it will vary depending on your version of Windows. It should be in your Windows Documents folder.
  13. Next, click the Analyze button near the lower-left corner. This will give you some information about what will be downloaded, but won’t actually download anything. Since this is the first time, you should get an See important message warning. (NOTE: You shouldn’t have to use Analyze in the future unless you want to.)
  14. The important message will appear at the top. It should tell you that there is a substantial difference… Just click the Ignore button.
  15. Scan through the list to see if it looks like the files you want will be downloaded.
  16. If everything looks ok, click the Synchronize button. This may take a while depending on how many photos you have.

That’s it! Let the job run once before proceeding.

NOTE: As I precaution, I would temporarily copy the photoSync folder somewhere. Just in case. It may save you from downloading everything all over again if something isn’t set right.

Sync the Photos to Flickr

Sign PhotoSync into your Flickr account. You should start to see it uploading all of your photos to Flickr when everything is set properly. I would recommend you start with Up synchronization only. (Later you can change it to Full Synchronization, if that suits you. The menu is accessed by right-clicking the icon in the system tray and choosing Options.)

Depending on the size of your library, this could take a really long time.

NOTE: With version photoSync Version 1.2.13, I noticed that if you delete a photo, when it syncs, it only removes it from the set. It does not actually delete the photo on Flickr. On the PC, it ends up in photoSync’s not_in_a_set folder. Until this gets fixed, you’ll need to delete them manually using the Manage ‘Not In a Set’ option accessed by right-clicking on PhotoSync’s system tray icon. This seems to only work in Full Synchronization mode for some unknown reason.  :-(

I suggest you upgrade to the paid version (only $5.95) of photoSync which allows you to set a default permission for newly uploaded photos.

Just right-click the system tray icon and choose Default Permissions.

Below I am setting all new uploads to be Public.

Sync the Photos with your iPad

Select your iPad in iTunes. Go to Photos and check the Sync Photos from option. In the pop-up menu to the right, select Choose Folder and navigate to the photoSync folder. Now just sync your iPad.

Well, there you have it. A totally automated way to sync NextGEN to Flickr and and iPad!

Share self-hosted WordPress photo to Facebook

In the past I’ve either uploaded photos to Flickr or Picasa (now Google+) and had a Facebook app (RSS Graffiti) automatically post status updates to Facebook via RSS. (Of course I also posted some one-off photos directly to Facebook.) However, something went wonky recently and RSS Graffiti started posting old items to my timeline. Not good!

After researching alternatives, I finally decided to self-host my photos on and write a blog post on new photo additions, which WordPress automatcally posts to Facebook.

NextGEN Gallery

I settled on NextGEN gallery, billed as “the world’s most popular WordPress gallery plugin.” Exporting from Google+ and reimporting to NextGEN was pretty easy. I had already had things grouped in albums, so I just mirrored that in NextGEN. (NOTE: If you do this, import oldest first or last least your latest photos last. This will pay dividends later since you can use that to automatically order things.)

Page and CSS mods

I modded the NextGEN compact album view a bit to shorten the photo number display. I also modded the CSS to tighten up the font and added some height to the DIVs so they flowed smoother. I hate doing that since it makes upgrading harder, but the stock result just bugged me too much.

Short Code Annoyances

I also found that NextGEN short codes don’t play well with each other. For example, if you use nggtags and nggalbum on the same page, and a visitor clicks on an image from the nggtags short code, the nggalbum short code will still be evaluated and executed. (Note: having multiple instances of the same short code does not exhibit the same problem for some reason.)

The only solution I found was to create a separate subpage for each short code used, so I have separate nggtags, nggalbum and tagcloud pages–the latter two being subpages. I added hyperlinks at the top of the pages for navigation. Not the most elegant solution, but it works for now.

Uploading and Posting from iPhone

To upload iPhone photos to the website, I use the NextGEN iOS app. It’s pretty bare-bones, but does the job. Generally, I upload to an existing gallery named after the current year. This gallery is already part of an album included on my site’s Photo pages. I like to keep miscellaneous one-off photos in this album. (Events that have many photos, like vacations or holidays, get their own gallery, and I leave to handling on a desktop PC.)

Sidebar and Slideshow

I added the NextGEN Widget to the sidebar using the Recently Added option. I also added the NextGEN slideshow widget to the sidebar for fun.

Editing Photo Tags

To edit tags, you have to use the WordPress app which is a bit cumbersome on an iPhone. This feature is blatantly missing from the NextGEN app for some unknown reason even though it says you can in the app description. It may be better to wait until you can get to a real computer and browser, or even an iPad to edit tags.

Adding Facebook Sharing using FooBox

I also purchased the FooBox WordPress plugin. FooBox mods the image display routines and does a better job at resizing. The UI is also much nicer and has a more obvious navigation UI.

The real reason I chose FooBox was it’s social site integration, specifically simple Facebook sharing from an iPhone. You will need to go through some tedious steps to generate a Facebook App ID, but its fairly well-documented. (Note: Use your site’s name for the “Display Name” and your site’s URL for the “Site URL” fields. Don’t use “GetFooBox” which is shown in the example steps.)

I popped for the $47 multi-site license since it had lifetime updates. The single site version is $27. I found a 20% discount coupon but noticed that there have been discounts as high as 45%, so it’s worth a Google search.

Process to Share an Image on Facebook

So here is my process to upload a picture to my site and then share on Facebook:

  1. Use NextGEN app to upload the photo to a gallery and edit the title
  2. Open your website in Safari browser
  3. Find the recently added photo in the sidebar and tap to open (or alternatively, find the photo by navigating through your site. Using the sidebar widget is the easiest way)
  4. Tap the Facebook share icon
  5. Add some descriptive text for your status update and post to Facebook. That’s it!

It’s actually pretty darn easy!


One of the added benefits is that I now have a kickass photo gallery system. Self-hosting my images also drives traffic to my site. I really hope that tag editing is added to the NextGEN iOS app soon. It’s not a showstopper, but it is annoying. I’m also looking at some way to add a comment system for photos, but FooBox may not play nice I fear.

I really like the FooBox image display, particularly on an iOS device and sharing on Facebook is drop-dead simple which was my goal.

Uploading a batch of images isn’t possible using the NextGEN app so had to resort to FTP. I found that Photogene would also scale the image prior to upload which is a real time-saver. What you have to do is create the gallery using the NextGEN app and then upload the images with Photogene. Remember that spaces in the gallery name are converted to dashes. Also, you’ll then have to go into the WordPress app and choose the Scan Folder for New Images option on the gallery. It’s a bit of a pain, but less so than uploading one by one.

Make sure you enable the Activate permalinks in the NextGEN options. Otherwise, you won’t get a good thumbnail in any posts you share on Facebook. Also, if you use Featured Images, I would stop. They don’t work right with NextGEN. Supposedly, it will be fixed in version 2.0. If you want a specific image to represent the post, use a full path for the file in an IMAGE tag, which can even point to a NextGEN image (e.g.,