Weather on the move

8 05 2010

There are a few weather applications and tools I’ve come across that I have found useful to have on my phone, a HTC HD2. The HD2 runs Windows Mobile, regarded by many as one of weakest mobile operating systems available, thats not something I would argue with but its not completely useless (lets be honest Microsoft never do a complete job of anything!).

I’ve little doubt that the iPhone and Android are covered with many more and likely better applications but this is for those of us with Windows Mobile.

I’ve mostly been looking at applications rather than web sites which have a mobile version, but there are a few of those here too.

So what is there for those of us with more than a passing interest in the weather or an obsession with needing as much technology as possible to tell us its raining when simply accepting we are getting wet is not enough.

1. HTC Sense Weather

The HD2 (thank God) layers HTC Sense (Touch Flo 3D in a former life) over the awful Windows Mobile 6.5 UI, without this there would be no point really. One of the ‘built in’ applications is HTC Weather. This is quite a nice graphical tool and adds much needed eye candy to the home screen as well as offering its own application screen. You can add multiple cities as well as have it automatically report on your current location, however, the current location can be troublesome as it relies on Cell Towers for its location fix and not the inbuilt GPS, perhaps someone at HTC can offer some explanation of why?

A 5 day (today and next 4 days) forecast is the basic offering and the graphics are well made, smooth and do impress, something WinMo based phones need to do in the company of their iPhone and Android counterparts.

2. GPS Enabled Weather

This was a real find in my opinion, you can find it on their web site. The application gives you rain radar images and can take its location fix from either GPS or cell towers, GPS obviously provides a more accurate fix and avoids the ‘reception’ issues that the standard HTC Sense Weather can sometimes suffer. This is not so much weather eye candy as it is good solid weather information in the form of radar maps which you can even run an animated loop. You can set your location manually and you can touch the map to update the location too.

Two nice features are the ability to set the map zoom level (no pinch to zoom though, why not?) and a feature that allows you to call a URL with parameters passed from the application, such as your GPS coordinates. This would be ideal to call the Weather Underground mobile pages for deeper weather info on your location. Again, something I will be playing with in a spare moment.

3. iCumulus

Not so much an application as a mobile version of my weather web site created using Cumulus from SandaySoft and iCumulus from David Jamieson, written for the iPhone it seems to work fine within the Opera browser on the HD2.

I think the scripting and CSS needs some anti Safari or more Opera friendly tweaking though, something I hope to get around to soon.

As iCumulus requires a data feed supplied by your own personal weather station and web site its not something you can use unless you either have your own or access to such a site in your location

4. Touch Weather

This is very nice eye candy and solidly built, available from their web site. It allows you to select from different weather services and report on multiple locations. The basic version (free) does not have the 5 day forecast, for that you need to buy the pro version ( $5).

The default page is lacking any real detail, just the eye candy animations and the temperature. A panel appears at the bottom, when touched for, with further detail. Scrolling up and down steps you through the time period forecasts for that day, scrolling left and right takes you forward and backward through the 5 days of forecasts. A 5 day forecast summary panel is available from the detail panel too.

Its all very nice and there is a lot of customisation possible, from changing backgrounds to defining the levels of opacity used by the animations.

5. Weather4Me

The light weight Weather4me, offers decent 5 day forecasting with tabs so you can switch between Current, Today and 5 Day view. The AccuWeather tab opens an embedded browser page on the AccuWeather site for your selected location, this gives you more options with the forecast data, right down to hourly forecasts. There are also satellite images with animations.

The nice thing about being graphically light is that it will run well on other, less powerful, windows mobile phones.

The downside is that it looks less appealing next to some of the others, however, accurate data is always going to be worth more than pretty pictures.

6. Weather Underground

i.wund.com, although written for the iPhone, provides  a lot of the great data from Weather Underground in a mobile digestible format. Current conditions, forecasts and maps are all available.

The really nice thing with i.wund.com is that you not only have the choice of weather reports from all the usual sources you can also drill down to your own personal weather station, if you run one, providing you supply a data feed to Weather Underground

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Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop and Netbook

1 05 2010

With the arrival of the Ubuntu 10.04 Release Candidate I took the plunge and did fresh installations on both my Desktop and Netbook. I’ve previously tried the Alpha and Beta and was generally impressed with the evolution of Ubuntu. My netbook is a ‘never leaves my side’ kind of thing and has to be 100% reliable and operational. My desktop is a compliment to my main desktop, which out of necessity, runs windows. The linux desktop provides my media, social networking, chat/IM, browsing/monitoring and secure access to numerous systems.

10.04 is an evolution but one in an evolutionary process that has visibly slowed down recently.That’s not to say there has not been a lot of work going on or that 10.04 is not impressive, there has and it is. When I say visibly I do mean visibly. Yes its a prettier place to live but, for example, its not got the next generation of Gnome. For that we will wait, hopefully for the next version of Ubuntu, however I do wonder how many who have opted for this latest LTS will not upgrade until the next LTS?

So, what was the install like? Well, it was pretty painless. The Operating System installed quickly, booted with no trouble (and booted fast but don’t believe the hype, its not that fast!). Sound, graphics, media cards all played nicely out of the box. It only took a short while to replace the now, quite frankly, hopeless FireFox with Opera, install the other usual suspects of my daily desktop life and be operational. I’ve always preferred a simple dock to desktop shortcuts or quick launch icons so I installed (as usual) Avant Window Navigator (0.4.0) and replaced the lower panel. I have to say AWN has improved, it feels a little more together than it used to and its not like it was bad before.

My only gripe with the new look and feel is that on a multi desktop system the close, min, max buttons are missing a menu drop down to send the window to another desktop. A right click on the title bar takes care of it but this is something that needs to be covered in the next release when, hopefully, we will see the reason why controls are on the left (ala Mac) and not the right (ala Windows), that space thats opened up on the right is going to have purpose soon we are told.

Media playback is sadly still not there out of the box, licensing and re-distribution can be blamed for this I think. Happily its not difficult to quickly have your MP3’s and DVD’s spinning away. I had one issue with Handbrake, but this was resolved by using the latest snapshot and should be resolved now that 10.04 is on general release. GIMP had to be pulled out of the repo’s as its not part of the standard install, no big deal really but silly in my opinion

BBC iPlayer, Tweetdeck, Filezilla, Dropbox and Skype all worked fine. I installed Sunbird, a screenlet I use to provide weather updates from Weather Underground and my own weather station and that was more or less that, desktop done.

Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop

Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop

The story was barely any different installing the Netbook Remix onto my EeePC901, though the desktop is, of course, the UNR standard.

Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook

Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook

One of the new features in 10.04 is better integration between the desktop and the various social networking offerings, twitter and facebook really. This takes the form of two tools, yes two, why use one when you can make everyone do everything twice? Emapthy (which replaced Pidgin as the standard IM client back in 9) handles chat and Gwibber takes care of social broadcasting to twitter and facebook.

I have to say its good to have the ability to have a single chat client, Empathy, to work with Yahoo, MSN and Facebook but it does not handle Skype – I’m not blaming anyone but this is really a huge shortcoming now for me. Skype remains outside but has become almost ubiquitous for voice and IM communication. Not having integration into a single messaging client is something that needs to be addressed. Always preferring the open route I would prefer to see Empathy (or other) include at the very least Skype IM if not voice, however, I wonder why Skype has not built the IM ability for the other popular clients?

The ‘broadcast’ client, gwibber (come on guys, time to pay someone to come up with better names) is pretty weak and not without its problems. but it works in a pretty neatly integrated fashion and lets be fair and say that with some TLC it will do the job, but it needs some love pretty soon. No one who uses facebook or twitter much already will bother with it, they will install tweetdeck or whatever. But it might help tempt newer users into the social media and networking club. Its  quick to get something out in a hurry but links, pictures, etc, forget it!

Its pretty ironic to think, again as with all things in computing tech, that we have advanced so far only to be no further forward in real terms. In much the same way that cloud was my old mainframe, the latest fancy Excel spreadsheet fails to better my old Lotus 1-2-3, now the new gwibber and empathy and skype still need as many clients as MSN, Yahoo and AIM did before. Anyway, enough of that….

There is a lot more, people are raving about the Ubuntu One Music store, sorry but I cant think of anything less exciting. I dont use iTunes and I cant see me using this. I would like to see a native Spotify client though.

I mentioned above that I installed Dropbox, Ubuntu One has been around for a while but to be quite honest it still feels unreliable, slow and badly made. However the killer is its not got a Windows client (or anything else for that matter) so its useless for me and I suspect many many others. It does however, if you can use it, allow you to synch ANY folder not just a single specified one like Dropbox. Thats a very nice feature.

Performance wise I would say its too close to call. My desktop is nothing special, its getting on and doesn’t have a spec to die for. 9 was fine, 10 doesn’t feel faster in any tangible way but it does feel a little more together and it does boot that little bit faster too. On my netbook, again not the latest hardware, I would say its the same story. In short it all runs fine and I suspect on more modern tin its going to be a real delight. The bottom line here is that I can continue to take advantage of new features, better looking desktops, without having to shell out on new hardware. Thats a big plus with linux and Ubuntu.

There is no question 10.04 is a good operating system, if you already use Ubuntu its a no brainer upgrade. I usually find problems in a week of use and I’ve not had anything so far. Its been stable and reliable and everything works as it would.

Upgrade now, you wont regret it (however if you do don’t come crying to me!)