Monthly Archives: March 2013


Quicksilver 1.0 is out.

Quicksilver’s future was bleak for a long time and was being eclipsed by commercial alternatives such as Alfred. It’s awesome to see the open source community pick it up and get it to 1.0. It’s really one of the most indispensable pieces of software I run and makes the Mac so much more efficient to use.

Five years since the Ides of March Outbreak

KCLX Level II radar image at 8:29 PM March 15, 2008, as seen through GR2Analyst. A supercell thunderstorm near Moncks Corner had just produced a tornado in the Strawberry neighborhood (between Moncks Corner and Goose Creek) while a forward flank downdraft from a supercell heading over southwest Charleston County was entering downtown Charleston (where I was living at the time). Radar estimated maximum hail size of 1.5 to 2 inches with these storms in addition to intense rotation.

KCLX Level II radar image at 8:29 PM March 15, 2008, as seen through GR2Analyst. A supercell thunderstorm near Moncks Corner had just produced a tornado in the Strawberry neighborhood (between Moncks Corner and Goose Creek) while a forward flank downdraft from a classic supercell heading over southwest Charleston County was entering downtown Charleston (where I was living at the time). While the tornado threat was greatly reduced near the coast, spotters reported quarter-size hail with storms near Johns Island, while baseball-size hail later fell on Hilton Head Island.

Today marks five years since supercells packing tornadoes, strong straight-line winds, and large hail ravaged South Carolina and Georgia in an incredibly unusual atmospheric setup for mid-March known as the Ides of March Tornado Outbreak. (Typically, our most favored time for tornadoes is April and May, according to a National Weather Service research study.)

The March 15 outbreak introduced me to the concept of a Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Watch, an enhanced type of severe weather watch more common in the Plains and in Dixie Alley (MS/AL). (Indeed, it was this outbreak which triggered my most intense study into meteorology as well as watch and warning dissemination and spurned on the creation of @chswx a few weeks later.) Here is the archived watch, PDS Tornado Watch 120, at the Storm Prediction Center website.

Three supercells from this event stand out for me: one spawned a EF1 tornado in the Strawberry mobile home community, causing $250,000 in damage and injuring several people (source). It struck a little too close to home for comfort; my parents live just a few miles south of Strawberry in Goose Creek and were very fortunate to dodge that bullet. A second supercell over Hollywood brought very strong winds to where I was living in downtown Charleston at the time — believe it or not, it was the first classic supercell thunderstorm I had ever been in! I didn’t see any hail but the wind was fierce — reminiscent of Hugo videos — with driving heavy rain. On Hilton Head Island, the third supercell produced baseball-size hail at the Hilton Head Airport causing severe damage to aircraft.

In the end, tornado damage up to an EF3 rating was found in several parts of the state (particularly on NWS Columbia’s turf). The Charleston metro area dodged a big bullet as a seabreeze had moved through earlier in the day which helped cut off needed surface-based instability for tornado formation closer to the coast.

Level III image from the afternoon of 3/15/2008 as supercells move through the Midlands of SC.

Level III image from the KCAE WSR-88D captured on the afternoon of 3/15/2008 as supercells moved through the Midlands of SC. (Please excuse the radar branding. Old inside jokes don’t hold up well in historical contexts…)

For more information, including a great technical discussion of the ingredients that led to such a rare outbreak, read NWS Charleston’s summary of the event; I also recommend their research paper (PDF) as it gets really deep into the meteorology. It also explores the challenges of issuing storm-based severe weather warnings in such a widespread severe weather situation (especially since storm-based, polygon warnings had just rolled out).

Fortunately, this March has been very calm and I’m pretty sure we all prefer it that way.

Goodbye to Google Reader and to the shame of unread RSS items

I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now — Google Reader will be retired in July. Many are (justifiably) upset, but RSS reading has always demanded something more frictionless and less e-mail like. I never successfully integrated Google Reader (or any other newsreading app) into my day-to-day routine, rather relying on aggregators like Techmeme and Memeorandum for tech and political news, respectively. To me, Google Reader was Just Another Thing to Check which held an unread count over my head.

Twitter beat raw RSS for news because it is frictionless and a consistent experience: you can easily show someone how to follow a Twitter user with a consistent series of steps across browsers and devices. There’s no unread count and thus no impetus to make sure everything is read; you never hear of someone declaring Twitter Bankruptcy and that’s a great thing. The way Twitter works right now is great, because if it’s something important enough for you to read, chances are good the people you follow will surface it several times. (By the same token, I am gravely concerned that Twitter is moving toward a Facebook-like solution where it surfaces posts based on quality scores rather than raw feeds. If this happens, I’m back looking for alternatives.)

Subscribing to raw RSS always required several steps depending on the browser and reader you used. This isn’t a problem for power users, but I completely see how raw RSS was confusing and off-putting to most people — it took real effort to get everything set up in a consistent manner. I think Firefox had the best solution for RSS: Live Bookmarks, where the RSS feed is brought in among the rest of your bookmarks and updated periodically. This is how I used RSS feeds almost exclusively in its glory days pre-Twitter. It was very straightforward and integrated with my workflow better than adding another software package ever did.

This is not an indictment against RSS. RSS is a fantastic format, is NOT dead, and with the right packaging works extremely well. Flipboard is one example (though I don’t even use that all that much, to be honest). A lot of Twitter publishers still rely on tools such as Twitterfeed to take the RSS feed their site publishes and get it over to Twitter. I hope Google Reader being discontinued does not make people think twice about publishing a feed — it is still by far the most useful way to syndicate content (and people will always use readers, but that will continue to be a niche product).

At the end of the day, the writing was on the wall for Google Reader in every release of Google Chrome, which one would think would be the most obvious avenue for driving new Reader users. Instead, you get a document tree of the RSS’s raw XML output. How…inviting.

Google Chrome's default RSS view.

Google Chrome’s default RSS view.

I’m not sure where a lot of people would be without Google Reader, and I am sure glad I’m no longer in an industry that still heavily relies on tools like that to drive value, but even during my time at ReadWriteWeb the tide was definitely turning in Twitter and other social services’ favor. Google Reader’s shutdown is the most obvious sign of this yet. The implications for the open Web is a topic for another day, though.