Forecast Weather App

Forecast on an iPad

Recently I stumbled upon a very cool web weather app. Actually, this is a web page called Forecast not an iPhone app, iPad app or Android app, so any device can run this weather app/page (whatever you want to call it). There are a zillion weather apps or widgets that cover the “weather glut to weather fluff” spectrum but I like Forecast’s UI (user interface) because it’s super clean and concise. The so-called time machine map radar animations are stunning. There are local, regional, and global map views that run with associated timelines that you can jog control to change the radar’s timeline. You can easily see radar 3 days ago or 3 days into the future. If you interpretate your weather visually you will love this app.

Forecast on iphone in time machine radar global view

Forecast’s developers make this statement about their forecasts:

We can predict when it will rain or snow — down to the minute — at your exact location anywhere we have radar coverage

Pretty bold and probably not, but I have not used Forecast enough to test their forecasting accuracy or their confidence levels. They actually don’t even display their confidence levels and this is a major gripe by other weather professionals. Their blog states that their “hyperlocal” forecasting technology, along with mostly NOAA’s data sources gives them very concise local forecasting capabilities. Anyway, I don’t need by the minute predictions on the weather, but I do give the developer’s kudos for a seamless and beautiful app.

MacBook to Air Migration

I have finally made the transition from a tower to a laptop to a notebook computer. My recently retired MacBook, seemed clunky and heavy, and its hard drive (250GB) was completely full. I was ready for a new computer that was more mobile, but I wasn’t sure if I could switch to an 11″ MacBook Air (MBA) mostly because of its expensive and limited memory capacity (max: 250GB). Solid state Flash memory (SSD) is about $1.60 a gigabyte currently, and non-Flash memory (SATA) is $0.08/GB, significantly less costly.

I knew I had too many pictures and too much video content to fit on the non-upgradeable 160GB or 250GB configurations offered by Apple. The only way I could move to a MacBook Air would be if I could off-load some of my heavy files to other external hard drives. Apple provided a solution for me with their new Thunderbolt displays, which have 3 USB ports, one Firewire port, one Thunderbolt port, and an Ethernet port on the backside of the monitor. This makes the Thunderbolt display an ideal docking station for a MBA with just one Thunderbolt/power cable connecting the MBA to all other devices. I now keep my photos (90GB worth) on a USB drive and my video content (70GB worth) on a second USB drive. I am not a big music collector, so I keep my music files on the Air’s Flash drive, along with my work files. I also have a third USB drive for Time Machine backups of the MBA’s Flash drive with the option to include the photo and video drives in the Time Machine backups. In the future, when the price of Thunderbolt drives come down, I can replace the USB drives with faster (up to 10GB/sec) daisy-chained Thunderbolt drives.

Once I got my hardware connected, I needed to get my files migrated to my computer. I didn’t want to just do a mass transfer of all my files to the new MBA. Apple’s Migration assistant seemed inflexible to my transfer desires, so I did my transfers manually to minimize the amount of junk or obsolete files that might be transferred automatically en-mass.

Here are some observations I discovered as I moved my files to the new MBA with Lion OS installed:

Videos. I use iMovie for video editing and moving video files to an external drive is easy.  Just create an iMovie Events and Projects folder on the external USB drive and drag-copy your video files to the appropriate folder. Nothing saves more disk space than keeping video files off your root hard drive.

Photos. I use iPhoto for organizing my photos. Drag-copying the iPhoto Library file (mine is 90GB) will move your entire picture library to an external drive. You can have multiple iPhoto Libraries and a majority of my photos are in my default library located on an external USB drive. When I travel, I use a smaller temporary library located on my Air’s Flash drive. This is also nice in that the bulk of my photography stays safely at home should my computer get stolen on the road. If iPhoto is launched with the option key down, you can select which of the available photo libraries you want to access.

Music. I thought transferring my music and playlists were the most complicated media to transfer to a new Mac. Not only are there music files, but there is also playlists, play counts, and weird copyright alerts (no, it’s not stolen music). I don’t have a big music collection so I moved my small music library (1.25GB) to the Flash drive. I didn’t want to have to recreate my playlists (too much work), so it was important to include those playlists in the transfer process. Apple offers 5 ways to transfer your music to a new computer. I used the Home Sharing method and it worked well but I recommend reviewing Apple’s Tech support article on how to move music to a new computer and decide which method will work best for your music collection.

Mail. I have alot of it (17GB) as I keep work-related emails each year for future referral. Apple Mail has changed (new folder hierarchies) with Lion OS and I couldn’t simply drag-copy my Mail folder to the new computer. I had to use Mail’s import mailbox feature to get my archived emails added to the MBA.

By storing my videos and my photos on external drives, I am left with plenty of future disk space (188GB free of 250GB) on my Flash drive.  I am lighter and more mobile than ever, no longer needing to carry around a bigger laptop or even a laptop case. I just slip my Air into my carry-on bag, it’s almost like traveling with an iPad.

Verizon Hotspot

Just finished a 10 day trial with Verizon using their MIFI Hotspot device (Novatel MIFI 451 for $270.00). This wireless router is supposed to give you a WIFI hotspot wherever you are and can be shared with up to 5 other WIFI enabled devices. The product sounded perfect for mobile users of the Internet. Verizon boasts 4-12Mbps download speeds, in the words of my Verizon sales rep; “this is a replacement technology for Comcast”. My Comcast cable modem can score 12+Mbps with Speakeasy speed tests, but Verizon’s Hotspot technology never tested higher than 1.5Mbps with over 30 speed test on Verizon’s 4G wireless network. Verizon has just introduced their 4G LTE network in Boulder, Colorado and there seems be network tweaking issues, or their 4G network is highly over-rated. From my house, I consistently received 4 bars (the maximum number of bars) of 4G signal strength on the Novatel MIFI router I tested. At times, web images visually-poured into their pages just like back in the dial-up days of the Internet.

The Hotspot’s 4G speed was disappointing, and not nearly fast enough for the type of web work I do. Outside of the metro area, the device reverts to Verizon’s 3G network which means even slower data downloads. At $50 per month for 5GB of data, I was hoping I could drop my cable modem from Comcast ($58 per month) and work from a wireless hotspot since I am currently a regular commuter.

Verizon’s customer service was very good. They promptly answered all my emails and requested their network engineers try to investigate my hotspot performance problems. When it came time to return my hardware, they gave me a full refund including waving their return fee.

For now, I am back to looking for another wireless network solution.

Getting good video with Vimeo

Like many amateur videographers, I was not satisfied with You Tube’s video quality with my uploaded video clips. My videos were always too compressed and You Tube did not offer enough control over my finally video presentation, so I tried Vimeo which offers basically the same video services. This post covers my experience with Vimeo and what I learned about getting good web video with Vimeo.

First off, a standard free Vimeo account is much like You Tube’s service; not good enough. Grainy web videos are not up-to-par with the high quality HD videos that can be found on the Internet nowadays. Only after I upgraded to a Vimeo Plus account did I finally get video quality that I considered acceptable. Vimeo Plus cost $60 a year, which is pretty reasonable for nearly unlimited streaming video. That’s $5 per month to have a streaming video server, HD quality resolution, for an unlimited number of videos. If you don’t have a Plus account, you are going to be a second class client with Vimeo. A basic free account has restrictions and limitations that push you to a Plus account and this is how Vimeo makes money.

When you sign up with Vimeo you are creating your video library on Vimeo’s streaming server. From Vimeo’s website you can manage your videos within your account. Video from Plus accounts is always “processed” ahead of free accounts and there are no limitations on how many videos or how large your videos can be when uploaded to their servers. A basic Vimeo account can’t upload enough video data (size: h x w) to get good video quality. As a Vimeo Plus user, your account has many more options which you can select during the production of your web video. The Embedding settings will allow you to customize your video player and eliminate ads within your player. Privacy settings allow to control who can watch your video content including it being only viewed from your domain.

I have a website hosted on a web server, but the server is not a streaming video server. A streaming video server is absolutely necessary to deliver video content to your website. Keep in mind that your videos are stored on Vimeo servers, not on your web server. They are displayed on your website by embedding a video link from your website to Vimeo’s servers. This is good because serving videos from your server will eat-up your website’s bandwidth quota quickly. Web host admins, like myself, want our clients to keep their video content on streaming servers not on a web server. A video server has been optimized to stream your video content much more efficiently than a standard web server. If you don’t have a website, you can still share your videos with others by viewing them from Vimeo’s site.

What really helped get my videos looking better was when I uploaded so called HD videos to Vimeo with minimal video compression. Let Vimeo do the prepping and compression of your videos. Vimeo recommends uploads with the H.264 codec, size of 1280×720, and a bit rate of 3000-5000 kbits/sec when exported from your video editor application. In iMovie’s Share menu you will find Vimeo’s export panel. Enter your Vimeo account login and size to publish. HD 720p produces good results for all devices with less download bandwidth. If you use HD 1080p, your movie will double in size, but would be good for presentation on a 27″ monitor.

Video resolutions of 1280×720 or greater are considered high definition and with a Plus Vimeo account, your uploaded source video is processed more thoroughly by Vimeo, resulting in superior video compression and containing far less pixel artifacts (blur spots). If your video meets Vimeo’s specs for HD quality, you will see the HD logo at the bottom of your movie player control buttons. You should see clearer video when compared to non-HD video. Event though, you are providing your viewers with HD video, you should probably not have the embed settings to default to HD (HD is off) because many browsers don’t have the bandwidth and will experience sluggish playback. Don’t check; “Default this video to HD quality when embedded”. If they want HD, they click the HD icon on the video controller (HD is on).

HD/Non-HD difference: The extra video compression can be seen on the right around the text.

Here is an example of using Vimeo Plus correctly with HD content. Granted; good photography, Nikon cameras, and a helicopter help too.


[responsive_vimeo 34666308]

There is also a free iOS application available from Vimeo. Once you login into your Vimeo account from the Vimeo app, you can produce and distribute video content from one application on an iPhone. As crazy as editing video on a mobile phone sounds, in a pinch, you can trim your clips, add text, add audio and get them online quickly.

Video editor in  the Vimeo app

 Another issue with serving video content on the Internet is who are you serving your videos to? What size of video do mobile browsers need and what formats do they require? Vimeo’s post-production takes care of these unknowns for you. Vimeo will create mobile versions of your video for you. In the example to the right, Flash video is not supported by iOS devices, so Vimeo provides a H264 encoded version to the iPhone. With Vimeo, you don’t have to worry about optimizing your video for web viewing or different mobile devices, just get them enough data, and they do the optimizing.

4G Wireless reaches Boulder

As of mid July, 4G wireless connectivity has just started to reached Boulder. TMobile and Verizon have 4G coverage now with a MIFI hotspot device, AT&T and Sprint’s 4G networks have not been completed in Boulder yet. The speed tests, in the table to the right, show that wireless carriers have a fair amount of tweaking to do to reach their goals of downloads “up to 12Mbps”. At this point, 4G LTE technology looks very over-hyped compared to Comcast’s cable results.