i’m so full of ideas


April 9, 2009 8:15 am

As of this writing, a google search for “UIImage rotate” turns up my previous blog article as the third hit. If you ask me, my take on the subject is far more useful than the top two hits. Yes, I am a shameless braggart, thanks for noticing.

The reason I wanted to rotate UIImages is because I’m working on an iPhone card game, soon to be revealed. While casting about the ‘net for playing card images to use, I came across this excellent page at www.jfitz.com. There you will find the original Windows-3-era playing card images, made famous by Windows Solitaire, everyone’s favorite time-waster. I can recall whiling away countless hours with that game myself, back when I was a Windows user. One day in the mid nineties I was poking around in my Windows directory and came across CARDS.DLL, which I opened up with the resource editor that came with Microsoft’s compiler of that era, and discovered the bitmaps for all those playing cards lurking inside. I spent ten minutes contemplating writing a Windows card game, then promptly forgot about it. I didn’t know until recently that those iconic card images were created by the legendary Susan Kare, the woman who earlier made the refreshing, tiny black-and-white icons for the original Macintosh. Check out the one she made depicting Steve Jobs. It captures the essence of him in a mere 32 bytes.

Susan Kare’s Windows playing cards turned out to be perfect for my game. Their dimensions are close to ideal, given the size of the iPhone’s screen. If they were any bigger, you wouldn’t be able to fit enough of them onscreen at once. Any smaller and the player would have trouble selecting individual cards with her fingers.

Ugly green pixel

Ugly green pixel

I used these graphics for a couple of days and then noticed a problem. The card images all have an unnecessary green pixel in each corner. I originally planned to work around it by using that same shade of green for my background, so that the unwanted pixels would be “invisible.” That works okay, sort of, until you draw cards on top of other cards. I refer you now to the picture I’ve included with this post. Look at that! Ugly green pixel in the midst of an otherwise pristine sea of retro Windows-3-era opulence!

The wise move would be to ignore it. I have more work to do than I can finish in this lifetime. It’s a minor detail that can wait until after I find out if anybody will ever play this thing. Sadly, this is me we’re talking about. One thing I don’t like about myself is my inability to ignore minor junk like this and focus on the bigger picture. But there it was in my head as I was working on this, over and over: ugly green pixels, ugly green pixels.

The proper fix is that the pixels that are now green need to be made transparent. I recently bought a license for Acorn, specifically to do programming-related graphics work such as this. Acorn may be capable of making a single pixel transparent, but if so, I can’t figure out how.

I evaluated other options. Make the green pixels transparent at runtime, just before displaying the images? A quick scan of the docs told me that UIImage doesn’t make it very easy. Try a different image editor? I downloaded a couple others, which were downright impenetrable, compared to Acorn. I had a look at the docs for libpng, thinking I might write a one-off utility to transparent-ize the pixels. libpng is a great piece of software, but I quickly determined that it would take me days to figure out the API well enough to do what I want.

You’re bored so let’s cut to the chase: the solution was ImageMagick. I was turned off initially, because it has that faint musty unix smell that makes me fear I’m in for trouble. I wasn’t wrong! I tried to install it via MacPorts, which gave me a fresh new version of the usual rambling useless error messages it always gives me. Maybe it thought my X11 version was too old? As if I really want to spend all day figuring out if that is in fact what it’s upset about, or how I would install a later version of X11 that I’m never going to use. So I downloaded a prebuilt binary distribution from the ImageMagick site, which was, predictably, a pain in the ass to set up. Unix motto: making simple things tedious and unpleasant for four decades!

Have to give them props, though: ImageMagick is a powerful tool. Thirty minutes of poking and prodding later, I devised this bash script to convert my entire folder-full of images at once:

#!/bin/sh for file in $(ls *.png); do     echo "converting $file ..."     convert $file -transparent "rgb(0,128,0)" $file done

Problem solved. Drawing the new-and-improved images in the iPhone simulator does exactly the right thing. The formerly-green pixels are now invisible. I tried drawing a UIImage directly and also putting it inside an UIImageView, both methods work perfectly.

The practical upshot is that my stupid brain can finally stop fixating on this minor detail, and hopefully I can get back to work.

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