Weather It’s Musical?

If I told you that my wonderful wife bought me a Vantage Pro 2 for my birthday, you might be thinking I was now spending every afternoon outside polishing a gleaming new custom sports car, or happily installing loads of exciting new applications on a super-fast new computer. Or perhaps even spending my weekends taking flying lessons so we could pop over to the Continent for day trips. Well, not quite. The aforementioned piece of equipment rather worryingly resembles a large black bucket with a propeller sticking out of the top and a small white concertina hanging off the bottom.

But it is nearly as exciting (well, it is if you are a weather geek). After a couple of failed attempts with cheap personal weather stations (see Living in a Cage), we decided to get something a little more robust and reliable. And, despite me grumbling about US-made technologies that make more noise than a snoring hippo (as in Cum On Feel The Noize), it's actually made in California. Shame I can't provide the same kinds of long hot sunny days it's probably expecting. Still, it is a neat piece of kit - solid and well put together, and (unlike most others) has a useful wireless range. It also has a solar panel to help keep the battery charged - which seems like an obvious idea when you think about it. The remote console is really nice. And, best of all, it comes with a data logger and USB output to a PC. Perfect for us IT-oriented folk.

Except, as with so many other hardware companies that unwittingly wander into providing software, the PC application is less than optimal in design, functionality, and - more than anything else - appearance. I've moaned about this with other hardware stuff (including Ready for Hibernation). Probably they just put it out to tender and take the lowest quote. Though when you look at some of the home-made weather sites on the Internet, you soon come to the conclusion that weather-watching and an innate sense of design seem to be mutually exclusive tendencies. To protect the guilty, I won't pick out any specific ones... its common knowledge that developers have no sense of style.

As a result of some Web searching, however, it seems that all of the serious weatherists out there use a piece of "donateware" called Cumulus. So I tried it and, wow, it is terrific! So good that I donated a reasonably generous sum on the grounds that software this good deserves support. It natively integrates with the Vantage station, and has a really neat and attractive UI that shows everything (and more) you could want to see. There's tons of graphs and charts available, it maintains history data and the high/low records, and it's really easy to configure.

And, best of all, it has built-in Internet support. It dynamically generates a complete Web site based on templates that you can modify; it can post data to well-known world-wide weather aggregation sites; and has support for (almost) real time data refresh. Though I can't help wondering what effect writing the data file to the disk every five seconds will have in terms of MTBF. Hopefully, running a scheduled defrag task weekly will move it around the disk and save it wearing a hole on one place! But I guess the server O/S hits the disk just as hard during its day to day operation.

Cumulus even have available for download a really nice bolt-on Silverlight interface that you can use with the real-time weather data file, as well as including a Flash widget that works in the standard Web site pages. You can easily expose a useful and attractive weather Web site from your own server or from a Web hosting company (providing you can upload the page updates through FTP). And you can specify the update intervals for all of the operations. So if for some inexplicable reason, while reading one of my weekly half-baked ruminations, you wonder what the weather is like here in this tiny remote outpost of the vast Microsoft empire you can go and see for yourself. Or even marvel at the real time version. And, just to prove that integration with other weather aggregation sites works, check out the PWS Project and, of course, Weather Underground.

However, to see what you can really do with all the data you collect, you just have to go and listen to the music generated by the Weathersongs Project. They take the data from a weather station and process it into sounds. Listen to the "Autumn rainfall" one as a great example. Mind you, as their weather station is in Wales (the home of the world's greatest male voice choirs), you'd expect it to generate quality music. I doubt if the tuneless weather we get here in cold and windswept Derbyshire could compete.

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