Mobile Weather

Los Angeles is suing The Weather Channel for selling the data of mobile users. This behaviour shouldn’t be surprising. Most mobile software, from the operating system on up, seems to exist primarily to provide some base modicum of functionality in exchange for the privilege of fucking you in new and exciting ways.

There are exceptions to the rule. I starting using Arcus for mobile weather in 2014, and it seems pretty respectable. But it exists solely to display data from the Dark Sky API, which is something that a web browser is also capable of doing, thus raising the question: why install anything?

About a month ago I simply bookmarked Dark Sky‘s website and had Firefox add a shortcut to that bookmark on my home screen. Dark Sky’s website is responsive, so it works fine in any viewport size. I bookmarked the URL for my home location, allowing me to see weather at home in a single tap. Elsewhere, it required two taps: one tap to open the bookmark, and one tap on their geolocation icon to get the correct forecast for my current location.

I find Dark Sky’s data to be great for reporting on the hyper-local now. For reports that are wider in scope – either in terms of time or space – nothing beats the National Weather Service. They provide a mobile specific site that is perfectly usable on small viewports. Annoyingly, they don’t make use of the web geolocation API, instead requiring users to manually enter a location. When travelling I may not know what zip code I’m in or have a nearby address. To work around this I created a shim with a few lines of Javascript that geolocates the user, uses the resulting coordinates to build the proper NWS URL, and redirects the user to that URL. I also added support for building a Dark Sky URL so that I could avoid that second tap when not at home.

<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <link rel="icon" type="image/ico" href="https://www.weather.gov/favicon.ico">
            function geoWeather() {
                navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function(pos) {
                    var currentURL = new URL(window.location.href);
                    if (currentURL.searchParams.has('darksky')) {
                        var forecastURL = 'https://darksky.net/forecast/' + pos.coords.latitude + ',' + pos.coords.longitude;
                    } else if (window.screen.width < 800) {
                        var forecastURL = 'https://mobile.weather.gov/index.php?lat=' + pos.coords.latitude + '&lon=' + pos.coords.longitude;
                    } else {
                        var forecastURL = 'https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=' + pos.coords.latitude + '&lon=' + pos.coords.longitude;
                    var el = document.getElementById('result');
                    el.innerHTML = '<p>Forecast URL is <a href="' + forecastURL + '"> ' + forecastURL + '</a></p>';
            window.onload = geoWeather;
        <div id="result"></div>

Now I have two URLs bookmarked on my home screen that accomplish everything I need: one for NWS and one for Dark Sky.

Shortly after creating this shim I discovered that the NWS has a beta website that is intended to replace both the current mobile and standard sites with a consistent interface. This site does make use of the geolocation API, requiring the user to click an icon to get the current location. It is unclear why they have yet to deploy this to their main domain. It’s been available since August 2017 and the data on the beta site seems to be the same as the data on the standard site and the data on the mobile site. For now I’m sticking with the officially supported domains in my shim.

A locally installed weather program is useful if your requirements include lock screen widgets or notifications of hazardous conditions. Mine do not. These two bookmarks provide all the weather information I need on my telephone, and do so in a way that does not expand my attack surface in the way installing software does. They are indicative of the usefulness of this World Wide Web thing – an emerging technology that I intend to watch with great interest. I think it’ll go places.

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I don't know anything about, or have much interest in, high-frequency trading.

But some of the technology behind it is fascinating. This past summer the Sniper in Mahwah blog published a four part series investigating the use of shortwave radio as a low latency link in high-frequency trading. I’d call it the best piece of hacker-tourism since Mother Earth Mother Board, but I think it’s probably the only piece of hacker-tourism since Mother Earth Mother Board. It doesn’t have much competition.

The Kindle is a terrible device for reading comics.

It’s the wrong size. The E Ink display is greyscale. Zooming and panning are disruptive. A tablet probably works great, but I don’t know – I’ve never owned one. I solved the problem a while back when I discovered that I could simply rotate my laptop’s display via xrandr.

$ xrandr --output eDP-1 --rotate right --pos 0x0

Adding an autorandr profile for this makes it easy to jump to portrait mode. This is useful for reading any long-form content on the X260. Typing (or mousing) on the rotated device is difficult, so I’ll sometimes plug in my external keyboard if I want to do more than just page through a document.

X260 Portrait Mode

Bruce Sterling is at his best when speaking.

I’ve always found his novels to be underwhelming, but I’ll listen to anything he has to say. When speaking, the lens of his cultural critique is combined with dry wit, a rambling Texan drawl, and a faint sense of bemusement at the weirdness of the world and his place in it. The Long Now Foundation recently released a recording of his talk at The Interval, How to Be Futuristic, which should probably be retitled How to Be Bruce Sterling.

One of my favorite talks by Sterling is The Body in the Virtual World. Recorded in 1994, he was fresh off The Hacker Crackdown, completing Heavy Weather, and at peak cyber-punk.

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I seek out houseware recommendations from people who live on boats.

The size and weight constraints of the lifestyle means that they tend towards gear that is compact and multifunctional, the corrosion inherent in the environment and the time they spend away from easy resupply points encourages them to favor durability and repairability, and the fact that their entire living accommodations can be violently moved prompts them to spend time considering how to optimize storage and organization.

One of the blogs in this world that I occasionally follow is The Boat Galley. I’ve been happy with the handful of (mostly kitchen related) purchases I’ve made based off of Carolyn’s recommendation (including the aforementioned toaster). Another mainstay is, of course, Nomadic Research Labs by Steve Roberts who, in my opinion, can do no wrong.

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As a result of my campaign against single-use kitchen appliances, I have never owned a toaster.

They take up too much space for the limited function they provide. But a few years ago I was convinced to purchase a GSI Glacier Stainless Toaster. It works great to toast a piece of bread, and collapses flat for storage. I appreciate that it works just as well over a fire or camp stove as it does on my kitchen stove top. I’ve never actually taken it outside of the kitchen, and would never consider packing it on a backpacking trip, but for something more luxurious, like car-camping or horse-packing, it seems like a perfectly viable option.

How to Make Toast

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ABUS Ugh Bracket

For the majority of my time on a bike I’ve carried a U-lock in my bag. I’d rather have the weight on the bike than on my back, but I’d never found a way to accomplish this without unacceptable compromise. Mounting the lock inside the triangle interferes with throwing the bike on my shoulder when going up or down stairs. Bungee cords on a rear rack can hold the lock securely, but don’t prevent it from rattling around, and I place a very high value on the ability to move silently.

A little over a year ago I solved this problem by purchasing the ABUS Ugh Bracket. The Ugh is a three-piece bracket that mounts to the arms of any rear rack. Each component has a groove which holds the U-Lock arm and a small elastic band with a toggle which locks the arm in place. The bracket is clearly meant for large sized U-Locks, but I was able to make it work with my compact ABUS GRANIT Plus 640 and Tubus Vega rack by mounting at the bottom of the rack where the arms are closest together.

ABUS Ugh Bracket

The Ugh holds the lock securely and silently. It gets the weight off of my back and ensures that the lock is always on my bike. It makes accessing the lock quick and easy. I would like to see the elastic strap replaced with some material with a longer life, but other than that I have been very happy with the bracket. I think it’s one of the better options out there for carrying a U-Lock.

When the bracket is installed, a pannier cannot be mounted to the same side of the rack. I use panniers when touring, but I don’t tour with a U-Lock, so this isn’t something I care about most days. It only takes a couple minutes to uninstall, but it is annoying to do and another barrier to heading out on a multi-day trip.

When I purchased the Ugh I couldn’t find anybody selling it in the US. I had to pay for it in Euros and ship it from Germany, which made it an expensive experiment. It is now carried by Lockitt, though at $32.00 it remains a pricey item. I’ve been happy enough with mine that I’d buy it again, but it is definitely pricier than throwing a couple Twofish Blocks on your bike.