GR2Analyst 2.0 is a really welcome upgrade

GR2Analyst 2.0 radar screenshot
GR2Analyst 2.0 (branded as #chswx Analyst) looking at the KGSP radar Saturday afternoon. (Alas, a quiet day in Charleston.)

A big upgrade to one of my go-to radar analysis tools, GR2Analyst 2.0, is now out, allowing for a uniform presentation between it, GRLevel3, and GREarth, all tools I use on a regular basis. Here’s what I particularly like about GR2Analyst 2.0 (and, in many cases, the 2.x series of GR products in general):

  • Easy movement between panel configurations. The GR radar viewers let you split the screen into 2 and 4 panels to assist in more rapid and accurate diagnosis of radar features, and you can assign up to 8 panel configurations to the number keys 1-8 for quickly flipping through them. For instance, I’ll be looking at radar when I see an area of what looks like rain moving into the area; I can hit the ‘4’ key which brings up a two-panel view of reflectivity and correlation coefficient (a dual-polarization product) which can pretty quickly tell me if I’m dealing with something meteorological or not. I also have presets saved with four-panel views of varying tilts of a storm’s reflectivity and velocity, a four-panel view for tornado debris detection, as well as a four-panel view which focuses on locating areas of damaging winds and large hail. I have similar presets in GRLevel3 especially surrounding hydrology (rainfall products do not currently exist in GR2Analyst because they are not base data).
  • Right-click to zoom. Previous versions of the GR products required enabling a separate zoom tool; now, just hold the right mouse button and drag and it zooms in on an area. This works really well on my Magic Mouse; on the trackpad, I more typically just flick upward to zoom in, though if I hold Control and drag, that will have the same effect.
  • A cleaner overall presentation. Being able to choose the widths of lines and add borders and highlights to many of them reduces the potential for confusion between state and county lines when using shades of gray to delineate them. I also appreciate that cities are outlined and not tied to a specific point and that warnings have similar borders and highlights now. One cool thing in the 2.x GR products is their ability to parse through tornado warning text and apply special highlights if the tornado is reported on the ground or the NWS employs “Tornado Emergency” wording.
  • A long-standing bug with Flash Flood Warnings has been fixed. In previous versions of GR2Analyst, if a flash flood warning is extended using a Flash Flood Statement, it did not know about it and would remove or fail to rebox the polygon despite the fact the warning would continue for at least part of the area. The 2.x series of GR products fixed this bug and I’m glad I’ll have consistent flash flood polygon display again across all my software packages.
  • I can maintain one set of color tables. At long last, my gigantic GR 1.x color table folder can either be purged or converted to GR 2.x-compatible color table files. Incompatible color tables were a big growing pain during the transition to the new products; I’m glad this transition is over for me. (People who use vanilla GRLevel2 will still need to maintain older color tables.)

The GR 2.x series also ships with the ability to acquire high-resolution background imagery from various sources (depending on zoom level). While beautiful, the Landsat imagery isn’t terribly compatible with a lot of my more advanced color tables designed to help subtle features stand out; I also find that in my Windows XP virtual machine the Landsat background, when combined with the METAR placefile from AllisonHouse, causes a big drag on performance. I’m not sure if I’m going to keep the background enabled in Analyst as a result. Otherwise, though, performance is great in the VM — really surprisingly good considering it is running against a Core 2 Duo.

All in all, the new GR2Analyst will make it that much easier to do what I do over on @chswx, and that is pretty outstanding. (A free upgrade because I bought the dual-polarization addon for 1.x helps, too.)

WordPress kicks ass

It’s hard to overstate how good WordPress is. I can put together really rich, compelling content with social media posts in under 20 minutes thanks to very smart embedding and much improved media library features in recent releases, and I host the content myself with no concerns over services being bought or sold or shut down. I’ve been on board the WP train for most of its 10-year life and I don’t see myself getting off anytime soon.

Your unsolicited (and likely unintentional) Charleston advice of the day

Here’s advice virtually nobody in the Charleston area will take:

Back in 2008, Charleston Twitter users began to use #chs as a hashtag to talk about everything relating to the city, what’s going on, traffic, etc. We expanded on this in 2009 and it’s been pretty successful.

Then, high school students — many of which who go to schools starting with the letter ‘C’ — caught on to Twitter and started hashtagging their stuff with…#chs. Hilarity and frustration on the part of Charlestonians ensued. A while ago, there was an experiment with #chas that didn’t really pan out either because it, too, was crowded. So, we’ve hung tough with #chs, high schoolers and all. Occasionally, the mix produces some great, out-of-context tweets like the one embedded here.

Quicksilver 1.0

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.

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.

The Web We Lost

The Web We Lost

I share many of Anil Dash’s frustrations toward the current walled-garden social Web and how business deals, not open standards and protocols, drive content sharing.

Additional thought: Seeing so many companies tighten up their walls and restrictions over who can do what with what data sure makes me realize just how unique the WordPress ecosystem (and the Automattic business model) really is — it’s a profitable business based on principles of total data ownership and openness, rooted firmly in many of the old-school tenets Anil discusses in his blog post.

Our long national mapping nightmare is over

Google Maps for iPhone is out.

Pros: Turn by turn navigation (I’m shocked it’s built in, honestly), tremendously clean design, and it’s Google’s mapping data, not Apple’s (or TomTom’s). Cons: It’s not built into the phone, so we’re screwed as far as invoking it from Apple apps (though Google has a SDK so third-party developers can route around Apple Maps).

I suspect the call for Apple to allow third-party apps to provide certain services on the phone (mapping, Web browser, etc.) will only intensify now.

I don’t hate my music player anymore!

The hardest part about switching to a Mac was the serious hoops it would have taken me to retain Winamp as my music player. The Mac adds a third inevitability to fans of music with local libraries: Death, taxes, and iTunes. iTunes has been a bulky mess for years, especially when compared to a minimal Winamp installation. Sure, there are some alternatives out there for the Mac, but iTunes generally works better.

Today is the day I no longer hate iTunes. iTunes 11 has slimmed down, is easier to move around in, is more functional as a mini-player, and it is fast. (The last part is super-important on a mid-2009 Mac.) I live and die by my local music library (I’m not the only one), so it’s awfully nice that it got some attention.

iTunes 11 is a much-needed win for Apple on the software front, too — they’ve taken a beating with Maps and iOS 6 in general. And if this is where their software design is going, I think I’m OK with that. (Though the use of Helvetica Neue is this decade’s brushed metal look.)

Quick thoughts on the iPhone 5

On Friday, I upgraded to an iPhone 5 on Verizon from my iPhone 4 on AT&T (with much appreciation to my parents-in-law!). You will have read this in 100 different places by now (and this is not intended to be a serious review), but here’s a few of my quick thoughts after my first weekend with it:

  • Everything about it is wicked fast. Even sending text messages seems faster. The iPhone 4 was no slouch on performance, but the iPhone 5 blows it away.
  • If you haven’t held it yet, it will blow your mind how light it is.
  • Get the black unit. The blacking out of the antenna band really puts the emphasis on the brilliant screen and just looks slick as hell.
  • Changing connectors is a giant pain in the butt, but the Lightning connector’s robustness and size will be worth the change. (Some iteration of USB would still be really nice, but if this means the connector won’t change for 10 more years, that’s not all bad either.)
  • Verizon LTE is very good and tests on par with my cable modem. One test on Hilton Head Island showed 34 mbps down, but it’s a more reasonable 10 mbps here in Charleston. There are indeed some cases where a Wi-Fi network may actually be slower than LTE. (Amazing.) AT&T users here are getting better benchmarks right now but they will likely come back to earth a bit once the network saturates a bit more.
  • I’m going to need a big data plan. LTE makes blowing through data caps a trivial exercise.
  • On paper, the screen size increase was not tremendous, but in practice, it sure does make a difference. Color saturation is much improved (though I am noticing a bit of a blue bias).
  • Battery life on LTE is not awesome. Get it on a Wi-Fi network for best battery performance.
  • There are still a lot of apps that haven’t yet updated for the new screen. Hope they get it together, because it does make a difference.
  • This is the first Siri-capable iOS device I’ve owned. I see Siri being something I play with a bit, but not use very seriously. (I might use it more if there was a way to map a “Siri key” to my car’s Bluetooth package.)
  • I haven’t yet put the camera through much rigor, but the lens flare issue is there. (Any leads on iPhone 5 lens kits would be appreciated.)