April 21, 2017


Talking About the Weather

Weather is usually something pretty boring to talk about. Something reserved for last resorts to fill some awkward silence. Why is that? Is it because of how universally affected people are by the weather. It has a significant impact on every human's life. So on the most basic level, we all can think of something to say about it.

In my family weather is usually considered with a pretty high degree of curiosity. Maybe it's because my dad was a Navy man, or my brother's time working as part of the search and rescue helicopter crew in the Coast Guard. Whenever hurricane season starts I start scanning radar maps for potential storms far out in the Atlantic. And when the family vacation starts to approach, my dad and brother get excited checking the forecasts.

This got me thinking: What are the best weather apps? This seems to be a surprisingly elusive question, maybe due to how many there are, each with pretty much the same sort of pros and cons that really just boils down to personal tastes.

I've tried quite a few, and have some recommendations. First let me say that I am a bit picky about which apps I download. I tend to do a lot of research beforehand. Another caveat, I really don't like ads in my apps. In my research, Yahoo's weather app, the redesigned Weather Channel app, the Weather Underground app, and Dark Skies all were commonly referenced as great weather apps. I've also asked co-workers which apps they often rely on. Here is my review...

Native iOS weather app – If you use the iPhone and need a no frills app the one that's built into iOS will do. You can easily keep track of multiple locations and know what’s in store for the next seven days. Lacks advanced features, but hey its free and no ads!

The Weather Channel – I had assumed that the Weather Channel's official app would be the stand-out winner, but to be honest I was never very impressed with the experience using the app. I understand that it went through a pretty extensive redesign a few years back but still I find it to be pretty average. It does offer all the bells and whistles such as a radar map, an extended forecast, but it also features annoying ads, and was pretty sluggish especially if you're working on an older phone.

Solar – the first weather app that really impressed me visually was Solar. Solar has an extremely minimal and delightful interface. Colorful animated backgrounds with warmer colors indicate warmer weather, and cooler colors (blues) indicate cooler temps. Solar is the exact opposite of a feature rich app, instead it's focused on the aesthetic. It's just an ultra simple and elegant presentation of the weather. And although free, it never featured ads while I was using it. Solar is in my view the best looking weather app to date. However it has not been updated since 2013 so I am hesitant to suggesting using it.

Yahoo Weather – Yahoo tends to get a terrible rap when it comes to most of it's endevors, but Yahoo's weather app has been pretty amazing. It was for a while my main weather app because of it's very nice interface and greater degree of weather data. The app is free, but it does have some annoying ads that are not possible to remove. The nicest and most unique part of the app is the simple UI that features background images taken from local photographers' Flickr accounts (Flickr is a photo sharing service also owned by Yahoo). I've noticed that the backgrounds will update depending on where I am in the city, showing sculptures or areal shots when I'm near my office, or shots of the skyline when I'm closer to home. So it really takes advantage of location data to serve up interesting background images. This alone is reason to check it out. The UI also features minimalistic animations to depict when sever weather is happening, such as flashes to indicate lightning, or rain washing down the screen. The app has quite a lot of useful features including extended forecasts and a radar map. I really like the Yahoo weather app, but the fate of Yahoo after it's recent acquisition by Verizon has me questioning how much effort will continue to be put into keeping up with the app. Also the fact that I can't get rid of the ads is irksome.

Dark Sky Weather – A lot of my research favored the Dark Skies app for having a really nice design, and very accurate weather predictions, some suggesting to the minute accuracy.  It's not free however. It's a little on the expensive side as apps go, at $4, but at least it will never feature ads. The UI is very minimal and pleasing. I've not found the weather predictions to particularly more accurate than any other weather app but the presentation of the information is pretty appealing. And it does have a nicely designed radar map.

Weather Underground – By far the stand-out winner in my view is the Weather Underground app. The amount of information available is fantastic. With graphs charting the changing temperature overlaying chance of precipitation, detailed radar and other maps, and lots of other data available, you really get an advanced view of what the weather is shaping into. (The Weather Underground website also provides all the same detailed information, and has replaced weather.com as my go-to weather website.) The app comes with ads, but for a couple bucks you can pay to turn those off for a year. I wish Yahoo offered that feature. To me, the Weather Underground app has perfected having a lot of information available, with an understandable user interface.

It's worth noting that the Weather Channel cable channel and the weather.com website/app are no longer connected. In 2012 they were sold to a consortium and were brought under a new parent company renamed The Weather Company. In 2016 all the digital properties which include the website and the app became a property of IBM. The Weather Company is also the parent company of Weather Underground. So in a way, the Weather Channel app and the Weather Underground app are now sister apps.

if you're looking for an attractive minimal design with (apparently) ultra precise weather predictions, and don't mind paying a little, you might want to try the Dark Skies app. But the fact that you can turn off ads in Weather Underground, and the sheer amount of features it offers makes it a clear winner in my mind.

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April 13, 2017


Atom has become my go-to text editor

A little over a year ago I wrote a post comparing text editors, so I thought I'd take some time to reflect back on those, as well as a new ones I've started using. Atom is becoming my favorite text editor and I'm relying on it for almost everything lately.

I spend a lot of time using text editors. I like to try out new ones every so often. I feel like if you work in code it's good to try out new tools. For a long time, Notepad ++ was my go to editor. When others argued the benefits of using Dreamweaver as an IDE, I found myself more drawn to the independence of open-source Notepad ++ (plus any old FTP client). Then I discovered that there had been an emergence in a lot of new text editor options. I still love Notepad++ and give it credit for providing a great tool that inspired others. I have found a few new tools that I think are pretty great.

For a while I was using Brackets, an open-source Adobe product. Brackets really is a great editor that has some awesome features designed specifically for web designers/developers. I really like Brackets and I'll probably keep using it for some time. There are some really great features in Brackets. I like that it offers some features that were nice about Dreamweaver, such as auto tag closing, and the image preview when you hover over an image file path. It also provides a live preview of your edits via Google Chrome. But even on my pretty fast work computer Brackets can be a little slow to load, but overall much faster than Dreamweaver or any other Adobe product, just nowhere near as quick as Notepad++, Sublime or VS Code.

My current editor preference is the Atom editor, from the GitHub community. Like Brackets, it's also free and open-source, and it's also cross platform. I find it to have a great set of options and is pretty easy to customize to your needs. This video has some great tips for setting up Atom.

Here are some of the reasons I have grown to love Atom:

  1. At first I was really missing the self-closing tag feature of Brackets, but I've found the Atom alternative of using the shift key to pull up a dialoge box when beginning a tag to be more than equal as an alternative. You can also quickly close any tag by keying 'Ctrl+Alt+.'
  2. The customization of Atom is so easy, and so thoughtful. I really like the line that designates where code will end, and the lines you can have to designate tabs, and the ability to let the page scroll below the last line. Little features like these make the editor very comfortable to use.
  3. Search and replace works great: the 'Ctrl+F' function of Notepad++ allows me to easy find and replace multi-lines of text and for a while I thought that function was absent in Atom. It is in fact built into Atom, however the command is 'Ctrl+E.' 'Ctrl+F' still works, however it is single line find and replace only. No problem, but because 'Ctrl+E' works perfectly.

Recently I discovered another option for text editors, Miscrosoft's Visual Studio Code. VS Code is also open source, and out of the box has a lot of nice features. I also find it to be pretty fast to load compared to other editors, because of this VS Code has become my go-to editor for quick code edits, and I really rely on Atom for most projects where I'm spending any length of time. With Atom, if you take advantage of the available extensions (like the minimap, and the pigments color previewer) and customization options, you have one excellent editor.

Quite a few, probably most, front end web developers swear by Sublime Text. Sublime may not be free, but it is very affordable at just $70 for a lifetime license. A lifetime license will let you use the app on unlimited machines and operating systems. I've tried it, and I like it, but my attraction for open-source products keeps me going back to Atom, Brackets, and VS Code. I suggest that designers/developers try out all the editors they can. It's nice to have options!

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April 12, 2017


Movies I've Recently Watched: Logan and Ghost in the Shell

I've seen some pretty excellent movies recently ...


Logan is without doubt the best film in the X-Men series. It stands alone as a beautiful film that can be enjoyed by fans of the franchise, and non-fans alike. It's just a really great story. You get the best performance yet from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The premise is simple (spoilers ahead): an aging Wolverine, somehow dying as his healing abilities are fleeting, is caring for an elderly Professor X who is suffering from dementia. It certainly helps if you know the backgrounds of these characters, but you never need to have read a comic or seen a previous film to appreciate the humanity depicted here. In this alternate time-line mutants are more or less wiped out of existence, living on the fringe, which is where Wolverine takes care of Charles. While this is going on, a new person enters their lives and provides purpose again for the old heroes.

Logan is R-rated for extreme violence. Wolverine finally lets his claws out in the way that he has in the comics. It's almost like this film makes up for the lack of blood in previous films in the series. This is the real Wolverine we've waited for a long time to see. A perfect ending for Jackman and Stewart in the series.

Ghost in the Shell

First I'll say that I'm a big anime fan in general, and in particular of the original Ghost in the Shell, although I hadn't seen any of the sequels or supporting series. Back in the early 2000s I became interested in anime. And after reading that a lot of the Matrix, and in particular the character of Trinity, was inspired by GitS, I had to check it out. It's maybe one of the most original and mind tripping cyberpunk sci-fi films I'd ever seen. I loved it, but it took me years to fully appreciate it.

As for the new live action Ghost in the Shell: in some ways I think it's amazing, in others just about average.

Before watching the new Ghost in the Shell I re-watched the original. The new GitS got a lot of flack for the “whitewashing” of the main protagonist from Japanese to Caucasian. The character of Major is a treasure of Japanese culture. To make her character white is egregious. And this comes on the heels of the controversy of the whitewashing of the character of the Ancient One in Dr Strange. It does feature prominent Japanese actor Beat Takeshi (who stared in, wrote and directed one of the weirdest and most interesting movies I've ever seen: Kikujiro no Natsu) as a fantastic chief of Section 9, but that could never make up for the changes to Major. That said, I think Scarlet Johanson pulled off her version of the character just fine. The cast is all around pretty great. The best part of the new GitS is how it visually brings the original to life. The world of GitS is gorgeous in live action. It takes a lot of care to recreate scenes from the original in beautiful detail. That alone is worth seeing it in the theater. Where it breaks down, apart from the changes to Major, is the dumbed-down dialogue. All the interesting aspects of the world of GitS have to be explained by the characters as we progress through the story, as if these characters weren’t fully aware of what a 'Ghost' or a 'Shell' were. This assumes the audience is too lazy to think critically during the movie about the ideas being addressed. (I think about the movie Dune which I didn't have the fortune of seeing in the theater but have read that it came with a glossary of terms for moviegoers – David Lynch expected his audience to do a little research, not force a script on them that explained every little detail). That's my biggest complaint. I think you could edit out 5 to 10 minutes of that explanatory dialogue and have a much tighter and more interesting movie. This new GitS really makes me cherish the subtly of the original.

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