The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not the intended post

I was going to post about the virtues of the Cubs and the T-Mobile G1, but the latter revealed its limitations while I used it to extol the former. Suffice to say: Cubs won, G1 tied, and it's time to go inside.

What's new in Weather Now, part 1

I announced Friday that I deployed a complete, ground-up rewrite of Weather Now, but it looks a lot like the old version. So what's really different?

The differences between the versions go all the way down to the operating system. Version 3.1, which I launched in July 2007, ran on ASP.NET 2.0, SQL Server 2005, and a motley collection of sub-components I wrote from 1999 to 2004. The current version runs on ASP.NET 3.5, SQL Server 2008, and completely new components I re-wrote from first principles starting in September 2007.

I've got a lot of technical information about the foundation code, called the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture, over at my professional website. The IDEA handles all the nuts and bolts of the Weather Now application: messaging, database access, measurement conversions, time zones, and on and on.

The next layer up from that is the Gazetteer, version 0.5, which I wrote as an interim product to bridge between the geographical database that ran Weather Now 2.0 through 3.1, and the completely-new geographical database I'm planning for 2010.

Right under the user interface (UI) layer is another set of components dealing specifically with weather. Like the Gazetteer 0.5, the Weather 3.5 components bridge between the existing (2.0/3.0/3.1) weather data and the new design I'm working on. The combination of Gazetteer 0.5 and Weather 3.5 means that I could rewrite the application without worrying about the database.

Finally, at the top, a completely-rewritten user interface, written just in the last few weeks. (I had to write all the invisible stuff first.)

You can see an obvious problem with this, at least from a P.R. perspective: it's really hard to see any differences between old and new, unless you know what to look for.

Over the next few weeks, I'll describe in more detail what changed. I'll start with an issue that bugged the heck out of everyone, including me, for years.

Here's the top of the old home page:

There's the truly annoying measurement drop-down, showing "Aviation" as the current measurement system, and the temperature and wind readings from Chicago, showing degrees Celsius and knots, respectively. Every time you go to a new page, the application resets to Aviation, even if you tell it repeatedly you want to use English or Metric measures.

Here's the new version:

No dropdown. And, for people using U.S. English as their default language (your browser automatically communicates this information), the application defaults to degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour.

A user from France, however, would see this:

So how do you change what you see? The new Preferences page, which not only lets you choose any available language or measurement system, but also remembers what you've chosen for your whole session—or permanently, if you have cookies enabled.

All the new code I developed for the application made fixing this long-standing annoyance almost trivially easy. Still, it's not complete yet. Version 3.7, which I hope to release this autumn, will allow users to create their own profiles, permanently storing not only their language and measurement choices, but also things like what they want shown on the home page.

There's another thing the screen shots show that you may have noticed. I'll talk about that next time.

Weather Now 3.5

Weather Now 3.5 is now the official, public version of my 9½-year-old demo. I first launched the site in September 1999 as a scripted ASP application, and last deployed a major update (version 3.0) on 1 January 2007.

As threatened promised, I'll have a lot more to say about it in the next few days. But I should address the first obvious question, "Why does it look almost identical to the previous version?" Simply: because my primary goal for this release was to duplicate every feature of the existing application, without adding new features unless absolutely required. It also had to run on the existing databases. That's why this version is 3.5, not 4.0 (which I hope to finish in early 2010).

I couldn't avoid some user interface (UI) differences, mainly because I used better design techniques than in the last release. And just as a matter of course, as I re-wrote each UI feature, I corrected or obviated numerous defects along the way. That said, version 3.5 has all of the features that 3.1 had, and any URLs that worked in 3.1 will work in 3.5.

I invite everyone to play with the application, and let me know about any defects or hiccups you discover. I think you'll find that it's an improvement over the last version.

Feature complete

The new Weather Now demo is feature-complete, meaning it has all of the pieces required for release. I will push it out to production, replacing the current demo, tomorrow morning, after I make some configuration changes to the web server it's going on. But because you read this blog, you've got a sneak preview.

Over the next few days I'll be writing about the demo, why it's completely new even though it looks an awful lot like the old version, and what I'll be doing in the next few months to improve it.

Potpourri, without the odor

Quick update:

  • The Titanic dinner at Mint Julep Bistro was wonderful. Rich's wine pairings especially rocked—as did his beef tournedos in port reduction. Mmm. Not so much fun was Metra's return schedule (featuring a 3-hour gap between 21:25 and 0:35), nor my reading of it (I did not remember this three-hour gap). The fine for taking public transit out to the suburbs (because driving to a 10-course, 9-wine-plus-apertif dinner seemed irresponsible) was $80, paid to the All-Star Taxi Service.
  • I did, in fact, buy a Kindle, and I love it. I've now read three books on it and numerous articles (converting a .pdf or text file costs no more than 10c for automatic downloads), and I hardly notice the machine. It only holds 1.5 GB of stuff, but the complete works of Shakespeare ($4) only takes up 4 MB so space is not exactly at a premium.
  • I may have a new release of Weather Now out today; if not, then tomorrow morning. I'll be writing over the next few days more about what's different, and why it took nearly two years to produce something that, to some, will look almost identical.
  • Tangentially about my Kindle and software releases, I'm now reading Almost Perfect (hat tip Coding Horror), Pete Peterson's account of the rise and fall of WordPerfect. It's a fascinating tale of what happens when everyone in the company is just like you, and when entrepreneurs can't let go.

Finally, in a tiny piece of good news, it looks like we'll have tolerable weather Friday for my first Cubs home game this season.

Beginning of Quarter Round-up

All of these are true, and all of these are appropriate for April Fool's day:

  • Punzun Ltd., my software firm, proudly announced record earnings yesterday, earning a net profit of $0 on $0 of gross revenue and ($0) expenses (all figures in millions). It's the best quarter we've ever had, 11% better than our last record in 4th quarter 2004.
  • Mark Morford, on GM's "recovery:" "Behold this weird new Camaro. It is, in sum, exactly the wrong car at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong attitude attached to exactly the wrong hopeless hope for a return to a rather crude automotive golden era that never really existed in the first place."
  • The Justice Department is halting its prosecution against former U.S. Senator Stevens (R-AK), figuring he's suffered enough. This, you remember, comes after the conviction. Yes, it's April Fool's day, but no, this isn't a prank.
  • Congress is set to repeal the ban on travel to Cuba. The loudest opposition came from U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who said the measure would prop up the Castro regime, though one expects not for any longer than the Castro brothers' walkers would, given they're both in their 80s.

Finally, the creaking, old Weather Now demo project is getting an injection of mojo. I'll have more when I release it for real, but meanwhile you can check out the Beta version. (It's actually a ground-up re-write, even though it looks the same. Really. It's cool.)

CTA Bus Tracker

Despite recently complaining about public transit in Chicago, I have to say I like ctabustracker.com, the Chicago Transit Authority's online bus tracker. It's a public-private venture with Google, and I think everyone benefits.

In fact, I'm writing this blog entry because I have 11 minutes before my bus comes, and it only takes me 4 minutes to shut down my laptop and get to the bus stop. This, I think, is the epitome of efficient labor markets.

All right, maybe not the epitome, but certainly a good example of them.