Dark Sky App – the only app worth buying

Dark Sky's radarDark Sky is one of the few apps I use that I rely on. I’ve used it most days for over a year; it cost £2.49, a princely sum for a mobile app, but has paid for itself time and time again in predicting when it’s going to rain and for how long.

I first came across it on an up-and-comers piece in the New York Times, or possibly the Washington Post, last year. It was claimed by several reviewers that for quick trips on foot, when you weren’t sure if the heavens were about to release a month’s rainfall in seven minutes, it predicted the likelihood with uncanny accuracy. And saved you from getting absolutely rodded with rain.

Bollocks, I thought. If the iPhone has taught us anything, it is that we love weather and love knowing what might happen with it in the next day, 48 hours or two weeks. There are an avalanche of near-pointless weather apps in the App Store, so many that developers have taken a zen approach of minimalistic design in order to distinguish themselves from one another, dispensing entirely with numbers and icons and simply using colours to reflect the conditions. Cute, but pointless. I assumed this app was another fabled attempt to beautify the mundanity of weather by employing an overpaid UX agency twerp with horizontal hair and purple, skinny jeans.

But Dark Sky doesn’t attempt to forecast miles into the future – just as well because even in 2014, this is the darkest of scientific arts. It looks ahead by 24 hours and shows you where the rain currently is, on a map – a normal map with contours and boundaries and not coloured shades of blue and green and purple. It then animates where the rain is likely to be, and using your brain you can see whether it’s going to hit you or not. Or, in my case, whether it’s going to screw up my day’s cricket (I used to use rainradar.co.uk for this, as do most cricket journalists, but Dark Sky is infinitely more accurate and useful).

Dark Sky

Their latest update is out today and it makes an invaluable app now beautiful, along with temperature displays and other neat additions such as finding out where the nearest storm is relative to your location. The more you zoom out, to see the country as a whole, the further back in time you can “view” how grizzly the weather has been. And if it’s about to wazz down near you in the next 20 minutes or so, you’ll be notified.

This will probably be the only geeky app-love post I write this year, as most of the others I use add little but stress and annoyance to my life, but Dark Sky is the absolute bomb – especially for a country mesmerised by the gloomy grey blanket above our heads.

NFL bad lip reading

I should not find this as funny as I do. Whoever does this for a living is ridiculously lucky.

A man’s life is a long time waiting

“I could be wasting my time so much more productively”

20:30. If you added up all the moments spent by men waiting for their better halves, it should roughly equate to the same amount of time it has taken for humans to decode DNA. It’s a very, very long time, just waiting and waiting and waiting.

I am here, sitting on my sofa, waiting for her to get ready. We’re only going down the road for a pint, but at 20.30 on a Saturday, I’m definitely ready to have several. Yet despite three precursory warnings of “So then. Shall we?” and “Let’s go?” and “Do you want a drink?”, I’m still waiting, stuck in a warp of existential anxiety; really keen for a drink, but knowing that I probably don’t have enough time to get twatted without really going for it. Waiting so long, in fact, that I decided I may as well write about it.

I was taken back to when I lived with my best mate. Then, we would make split-second decisions. “Pint?” This question was followed by what seemed an eternity for both the proposer and the recipient. It probably amounted to no more than five seconds, yet such is the questioner’s urgency – and his mate, so aware of how crucial his answer has now become – that those five seconds feel almost as long as the 45 minutes I have spent waiting this evening. But, decision made – “yeah, quick one” – we’d be inside the pub and a third of the way down our first pint in under 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, we’d be setting yet another gut-wrenching ultimatum. “‘nother one?” Another five-second chasm before the inevitable “well, one more won’t hurt, will it?” Once the third pint has disappeared, there’s no point asking or answering any more questions. The drinks will keep coming and you’ll keep watching them slip down your throat.

It’s those snap decisions you realise men and women, both, cannot make together. Well, we can. They can’t. And I will never understand why!

20.42. Still waiting.

The UKIP Shipping Forecast

This is simply brilliant. Caustically written and wonderfully produced:

Bieber on a rollercoaster to destruction

I never imagined I’d have cause to write about the spoilt little brat, but here I am – and at least I’m forecasting his demise, not applauding his genius like his misguided disciples. I just got a CNN alert (I’ve had them for 12 years and still don’t know how to turn them off) that he’s been arrested. That alone made me angry; how has Justin Bieber become of the global breaking news agenda? He “was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and drag racing this morning”, and for some reason CNN seem to think this is a shock or bad news.

Bieber’s actions today are a positive sign. The world of music and entertainment doesn’t need him and clearly he feels the same way, edging towards the cliff of destruction before he jumps off spectacularly. He’s clearly growing up and showing an existential awareness beyond his years; he acknowledges his own pointlessness and is seeking a way to rectify it, and in doing so, obliterate his name from public life in the only sensible way possible.

Well done Biebs

Internet journalism in 1981

Great video from 1981 on the wizardry of computers and how it might change journalism, one day. We have come far!

BBC’s WW1 centenary season

The BBC have had a pretty shoddy few years. Savile and Newsnight; pay-offs and salary disputes, camera trickery and other sleight of hand within its management. The organisation – not something everyone would deem it fit to be called – is so vast that many who work there consider it a corporation of mini corporations. But for all its many faults, the BBC continue to produce some of the most watchable, popular and educative programming anywhere in the world. Who else could even contemplate competing with the ambition they have shown in their World War One “centenary season”?

Of course, a centenary only happens once, and let’s not be naive: the BBC, like all companies, needs success – now more than ever. Success for them is in numbers, eyeballs, readers and consumers, so there’s no grander way to prove their worth than by dramatising parts of our history whose stories have yet to be properly told. And why not start with the bloodiest of conflicts? Seems as good a place as any.

The scale of this project is startling in its ambition. iWonder guides (digital interactive content); 1400 separate local stories; apps and microsites; nine or ten TV documentaries on TV, yet more on radio. Fully-fledged films. Programmes dedicated to the art and music born during the war. There’s even a radio programme called Day By Day broadcast every day between June and August showing the build-up to the war, “live”, 100 years on. The list goes on.

As a friend said the other day, the only annoyance is the pre-curtain-raiser anxiety of knowing that you can’t possibly watch everything, but there’s a part of me which wouldn’t mind putting my life on hold for a few months and gobbling it all up. I’ve been fascinated by World War Two all my life – I think most of my generation are, in fact – but know little of its predecessor. The BBC’s going to change that and I’ll happily pay my licence fee for that.

Talking of which…

* * *

It’s coming to that time of the year when I have to renew my TV licence. I always hold an unjustifiable grudge about this; I love the BBC, its programming, authority and balance. Well yes – the scandals are a bit of a blight, as are the pay rows and bonuses, and some of the output is outrageously repetitive and often the presenters talk to us as though we’re imbeciles and I hate it when the local news people with enormous shiny faces just appear in between programmes “with YOUR 90 second update” (it’s mine? Oh, thanks, but no thanks).

But apart from all that, I admire the BBC and watch its channels (and listen to its radio) more than any other broadcaster, and £145 a year represents incredible value for money.

Anyway. This came up recently while C and I were comparing Portuguese and British media (we are thrill-seekers). In Portugal the equivalent licence fee is included with their electricity and costs roughly €3/month, but all they get for that are two measly TV channels (RTP1 and RTP2) and some radio. The rest is privately owned and, overall, the quality is fairly mixed. Their daily national evening news, for example, lasts an interminable hour-and-a-half, every night. And on their commercialised channels, you can forget brief four-minute advert breaks. You have enough time to make dinner and, in some cases, gobble it up, salted cod and all. In contrast, not only is our news distilled to about 25 minutes, but we have a stack of regionalised news centres around the country.

£145 is a lot of money, but we get a vast amount. BBC 1, 2, 3 and 4, and BBC News. The entire BBC website is free and uncommercialised. Mobile apps; catch-up apps, supportive apps and other appy apps. The BBC World Service, the largest international broadcaster. BBC Radio. And bear in mind, when the licence fee was first established in 1948, it cost £2/year – the equivalent to over £70 in 2010, but you didn’t get much for your money.

We are a nation of moaners, and that’s a good thing, but we really have no idea how lucky we are to have the BBC.

iPhone signals the death of SLR photography

The iPhone has single handedly transformed how easy it is to take and share photos. So good is the quality, so easy is it to take and edit photos, that for many photographers it has replaced the point-and-shoot pocket camera they keep as backups.

It’s remarkable how quickly this has happened. When the iPhone first came out its camera was a nice addition to a transformative device. It took poor quality stills with lots of noise and artefacts; the fact you could quickly email them to friends, though, showed its future potential. But with the latest iPhones, the quality is now so high, and the software available to tweak/improve/modify photos so advanced, that many professional photographers are using them as part of their workflow or, in some cases, their main device entirely.


Anyway. All this came to me while sitting in Starbucks, of all places, escaping the humdrum of the office and playing with SlowShutter, an app which makes low light and slow-shutter photography ridiculously easy. For 69p. Has the iPhone signalled the death of photography or the generation of something new?

Bill Murray makes the internet good again

Occasionally you hear of people who claim to love their jobs. “I am so lucky because my job is my hobby!” they gush, rosey-cheeked, nauseatingly energetic and somehow managing to pull off that unkempt look which doesn’t damage their reputation among their peers.

I may not be quite so enthusiastic as these cherubic imbeciles but I do enjoy my industry  -  for the most part. The internet is still morphing at a rate of knots, and it’s that unrelenting pace and change which can exhaust your enthusiasm. It’s easy to loathe, sometimes, for the simple reason that it has woven itself inextricably into our lives. Sometimes we need to peel off the internet jumper and sacrifice it to the god of MS DOS.

But then Bill Murray appears on Reddit and answers any question thrown at him, completely unmoderated, and we genuflect to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and wonder how this ridiculous thing came into being, for a life without Bill Murray talking crap is a life not worth living at all.

Portugal, the world’s first superpower

Vasco de Gama, the great explorer

Vasco de Gama, the great explorer

My girlfriend is Portuguese. One of the terrifying parts of relationships is not knowing how you’ll get on with the extended family you are afforded. In my case, it’s great; I like them hugely, they’re warm, interesting and quite similar to me, except for being Portuguese of course. All is well.

Because of that, they give me things I like. C’s father bought me this book above by Martin Page, First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World. For a microsecond I thought this was a brainwashing experiment by him; is he trying to convert me to an Iberian? Because he should know that I’m not easily converted, and that I hold strong views on things you know. Can’t think what, but I do. Oh yes! But despite knowing him for two years and beginning to understand the travails of Portugal in the 21st century, I realised I knew embarrassingly little about the country’s history, so the book has been a total revelation.

And I really mean that. I had no idea their influence on navigation, exploration or shipping; on India; on the influence the Romans have on the entire country (bacalhau, salted cod, was eaten and prepared by Roman soldiers in an identical fashion today; there was no other way of preserving fish back then, or now, apparently…). They brought tempura, guns and “arigatou” (“thank you”) to Japanese culture as well as building Nagasaki. They commanded power from Brazil to Africa to India to Japan, all the while never having more than 1.5m people in the country. At the time (1500s), the United Kingdom boasted many more, and Italy roughly four times that number. Their history is unique, and it maddens me that the rest of the world doesn’t know more about them. Such is the Portuguese’s deference and humility…

It wasn’t all good though. Some Portuguese are quick to claim that they were the first to outlaw slavery, they were also the first to adopt it as part of business, law and society.

I am well aware Britain has had a pretty shocking past – overall, we must be front-runners for the Most Barbaric Country In History award, surely – but it was only after watching 12 Years A Slave (incidentally, the best film I’ve seen in three years) that I realised how little I know about Britain’s slavery past. C, on the other hand, was educated in Portugal and their education system is a bit more open; she’s well aware of all the horrors her ancestors committed, and the book goes into full graphic detail. Hard to imagine a time when a goat’s value on the common market would be compared not to one human being’s life, but three.

Anyway. A great book, but it made me wonder what other countries (all of them!) I know little about, and which books would provide a brief-but-brilliant overview of their history. Recommendations welcome…