The Sunrise Wallpaper Project

Technical Stuff

Table Of Contents

  1. History
  2. Objective
  3. Site Selection
  4. System Specifications
  5. How It Works


This project has grown out of the Timelapse Project, which aimed to take a photograph of a tree every day for a year and create a timelapsed movie from the images. The project was largely successful, given the original parameters and equipment that I used. You can view the finshed movie here.


The Sunrise Project will use better equipment to take higher resolution images in a more remote and harsher environment. Instead of making a movie, I will provide the higher quality images for download as wallpapers. Furthermore, I will create a client application for Windows that can be used to automatically download the latest images and install them as a new desktop wallpaper each day.

As with the Timelapse Project, I don't want to spend a ton of money on real "high-end" equipment, but I do want some good quality images and a fairly reliable setup. I also want to automate as much of the process as possible, using whatever tools and software necessary. This includes custom C# programming, batch files, 3rd party software, tools and utilties.

Site Selection

My first decision was whether to photograph sunrise or sunset. This decision was influenced by one major factor: Where could I put the camera that I would have an unobstructed view of the sun. My own house is surrounded by too many trees and I would have needed at least a 30 foot mast in my backyard, something that I just didn't want to do. Not only would my wife be less than pleased about a such a structure in her back yard, but it would have simply cost far too much.

Luckily, Calsat, a television and communications company with whom I collaborate on certain jobs, has access to the radio masts and facilities at the top of Mount Oso, in California. These facilities have electrical power and internet connections, the two things that I needed to be able to locate the camera there. Following the selection of Mount Oso as a suitable camera site, the choice of sunrise or sunset was already made for me: the view to the West is blocked by the mountain peak, leaving only the East, and sunrise.

Fortunately, I had already selected sunrise over sunset, so the location at Mount Oso was ideal. My reason for wanting sunrise over sunset is that sunrise is the start of a brand new day. A sunset may be "prettier" to look at, but there's something about seeing a new sunrise each morning as you turn on your computer, that I find more inspring and motivatng than a sunset.

I am not particularly tied to sunset, or the location, and will be happy to relocate the camera according to user feedback. Who knows, the camera may be relocated several times during the lifetime of the project.

System Specifications

The first setup that I installed on site had a failed hard disk within 3 days! I'm not sure what happened, but all I know is that I tried to access it remotely, and there was a message on the screen informing me that a "delayed write failed". I tried to restart the computer, but it never came back up. When I finally managed to get back on site (it's a two and a half hour drive from my house to the top of the mountain), the computer had failed to boot and was displaying the omnious "operating system not found" error.

Luckily, I had prepared a backup computer during the downtime, and it seems to be running just fine so far... knock on wood! It's nothing special, but here are its specifications for the curious:

Processor Intel Celeron - 500mhz (Slot 1)
Hard Disk Western Digital Caviar 40Gb IDE
RAM 256Mb PC100
Video Intel 82810 (onboard)
Camera Canon PowerShot A60
Operating System Windows XP Home Edition
Imaging Software Breeze Systems PSRemote
Web Server Analog X - SimpleServer:WWW
SMTP Email Client Beyond Logic Command Line SMTP Mailer
HTTP Downloader HTGet
Custom Scripts Various batch files for controlling everything

The computer case was bought by my wife for $5 from a yard sale. It was a fully functional computer, containing everything necessary to run Windows 95... 32mb RAM, 4Gb Hard Disk, Pentium something-or-other-dead-slow etc, but the case is great. There's loads of room in it, plenty of expansion slots and room for a nice hefty power supply. In fact, I was using it to house my main server for a while, until I upgraded to something that could support 4 removable drives. In all, this case was an absolute bargain!

The webcam on the top of the case is looking at an indoor/outdoor thermometer, so that I can measure the temperature inside the camera housing. It's not an integral part of the project, and has actually been removed, since the camera is now too far from the computer (thanks to the USB Super Booster).

The observant among you will notice that there is no monitor, keyboard or mouse attached to the computer. The reason is, there is absolutely no need for them! Everything I need to do, I can do remotely from the comfort of my home using remote control software. Whenever I visit the site, I always ensure that I have a keyboard/monitor/mouse with me, just in case I can't contact the machine or I need to modify the BIOS or something. But, for everyday use, there is zero point in attaching any user-interface devices to the machine as there is no-one there to interface with it!

How it Works

Unlike the 2006 Timelapse Project, the computer used to capture the sunrise images is kept running 24 hours a day for a number of reasons. Firstly, the logistics of programming the timer to switch on at a different time each day added an extra level of complexity to an already complex process. While the timer does support an automatic switch-on at sunrise, I just felt that it was a little too risky to use. Furthermore, and more importantly, the computer is located offsite and I do not have physical access to it, meaning that all administration of the system needs to be done remotely. For this reason alone, I do not want the timer switching the computer off while I am working on it!

To be continued....