Hello. My name is Patrick and I’m an addict. I check the weather multiple times a day (no pun intended). The first time I recognized that I have a problem was around April 16, 2012. That was the day Dark Sky was released in the United States. I was overwhelmed by the slick presentation of precipitation data. A minimalistic UI with a strong graphical and typographic appeal. I knew instantly that living in Europe and being a weather addict equals to living with 2nd class applications on my devices.1
Now you now the introductory part, but let’s take a closer look at my profile: what I want most of the times is to see whether it rains when I’m on my bike or when I take a walk on the waterside. I’m also interested in how the weather develops over the course of a day and in addition I like to have the most precise data available.
Matter of fact, all of the above is possible and there are apps that suite my needs more or less. Like many others I’ve tested quite a lot of weather apps. The easier I reach the information I need with as less friction as possible, the better the app.
Still no Dark Sky in Europe
Yes. This is what it all comes down to. There are no push notifications for me when it rains in the exact location where I am. At least not with a stunning UI and the level of precision Dark Sky has.
Let It Rain (aka the Workaround)
As much as I like Fred Astaire, personally I don’t like singing in the rain. I stated above that for me a precipitation forecast is one of my main priorities. Naturally I have an extra app to let me know when it will rain. Here are my two options to compensate the lack of a Dark Sky with support for Europe:
Rain Alerts is an universal app which ships with push notifications. You can set the accuracy to as high or low as you want it to be – 10 km, 3 km, 1 km, 100 m and 10 m. The reason I used metric measurements here is simple: Rain Alerts only works in the Netherlands, the British Isles and Germany.
You’re allowed to read on because the developer Paul Wagener responded to my question if the app falls back to cell-tower triangulation when it makes sense (just like Dark Sky does) with a informative link to a Stack Overflow question where it is explained at which setting supposedly the fallback to cell-towers is initiated:
Here is an educated guess at the mechanism used to determine the accuracy. List is ordered with (1) being the highest battery drain.
1. GPS - kCLLocationAccuracyBestForNavigation;
2. GPS - kCLLocationAccuracyBest;
3. GPS - kCLLocationAccuracyNearestTenMeters;
4. WiFi (or GPS in rural area) - kCLLocationAccuracyHundredMeters;
5. Cell Tower - kCLLocationAccuracyKilometer;
6. Cell Tower - kCLLocationAccuracyThreeKilometers;
A thing to keep in mind when setting up OmniFocus or Checkmark locations. I never have seen it explained that simple, alhtouh it’s just a vague categorization with no actual proof. After all Stack Overflow is a trusted source with a lot of smart people contributing in the various posts.
Lastly, the map displays the rain clouds in a little blurred manner, so you have an aesthetically more pleasing experience than with the traditional pixelated and boxy rain clouds.
I’m pretty impressed, the way MeteoEarth displays weather data is gorgeous. It’s the best I’ve seen so far. You have five layers of information: temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, wind and pressure. You can active just one feature or display multiple data streams at the same time.
To get a better picture of how the app works here’s a short (53 seconds) video:
MeteoEarth for sure is a nice way to look a the weather. And, if you purchased the subscription2 from the Meteo Group - which works with WeatherPro and MeteoEarth - you have a solid 5-day forecast (just like the one in my video).
For a long time I used Rain Alarm. This is an one purpose app, so the only screen you see when opening the app is a radar map with the good old pixelated precipitation clouds hovering over the screen. It’s not a thing of beauty but on the plus side it comes along with push notifications.
The applications isn’t the best choice when you want a forecast for your exact location. The smallest radius one can set in this app is a 12 Miles radius (= 20 km). So it often happens that the Rain Alarm triggers multiple notifications a day but I still won’t see a single drop of rain where I life.
Over the months I came to ignore the notifications but hesitated to turn them off completely since I could always take a closer look at the radar map in the app – or in another app which makes the map data actually look nicer (like MeteoEarth).
Like the FAQ hints, Rain Alarm doesn’t run in the background:
RainAlarm for iOS has been designed to delegate the tracking of precipitation to an external server. This way the App does not need to run constantly in the background nor will it drain your battery.
The official website also doesn’t provide more information on where the data comes from:
RainAlarm relies on radar images provided by weather services to calculate when to trigger an alert
In conclusion, it is a decent application which I can only recommend to people who are fine with the 12 miles radius limitation and just want push notifications.
As nice as MeteoEarth’s presentation is for having a quick glance at the weather, it doesn’t cut the chase when all you want is a simple list view with raw statistics.
Although all of the following three apps are either universal or have an corresponding iPad version, I only focused on the iPhone since this is the device that I personally use for retrieving information about the weather – it’s always in reach when I’m out and about.
My go-to application is WeatherPro and this is why:
As you can tell from the screen shot, for Germany it tends to have the most accurate rain forecasts. On that particular morning it was raining cats and dogs.
In this case precision trumps usability. The results seem to vary by where you are located at. Today Weather seems to perform pretty good in Italy, as you can read on Federico’s review at MacStories.net.
The interface isn’t as clean as Today Weather’s or Check the Weather, it has more features than I need and it uses touch gestures rather than a slide gesture to get a detailed view on the day. Lastly it’s also the only app out of the bunch where you have to pay extra for the iPad Version.
On the left side is the main view and a tap on the day brings you to the detailed view which I actually like quite a lot. I just wish there was an option to set this as the default view – I’d be much happier then.
Its clean and simple UI is what Today Weather shines at. What I like most about it is the in-app purchase for Dark Sky Alerts. The coverage is just not there yet to supply details on par with US Dark Sky Alerts.
Check the Weather
Again, a very clean and minimalistic display of data. I really like the simplicity, especially on the day view where you can see when the sun sets and the temperature usually drops.
All three apps provide more information, none of them has support for push notifications. At least for WeatherPro there seems to be hope.
Like I mentioned beforehand, I really dig Today Weather’s Dark Sky Alerts, but as you can see there’s something missing aside form push notifications - the next hour has no data to display. Otherwise an excellent integration.
The last candidate’s extra information is sadly of no use for Germans – Check the Weather might perform better in other European countries.
The Status Quo in Europe
In conclusion, there is no application available which has reached the point of excellency Dark Sky has. Even the Forecast.io API doesn’t help much here since the coverage is too spotty in Europe.
I’ve written to the guys from Dark Sky pointing them at the MeteoGroup Weather API but haven’t heard back from them. My best guess is, since the Meteo Group provides weather data to TV networks all over the world, their licensing fees are a bit to steep for a relative small company like Dark Sky.
I’m still hoping that they find a solution to make their fantastic application available worldwide. On the other hand I’m looking forward to the progress the other contenders make.
I still haven’t had a hands-on experience with Dark Sky but I saw enough footage to be mad excited about the possibility that this smart app might include Europe one day.↩
I recently purchased a NAS and now I’m in the process of converting the rest of my DVD’s1 to enjoy my new media center. This tool is the s**t. I wonder why I haven’t come across it before. By the way, it’s available for nearly every platform plus you can also use it from the command-line. If it’s not your cup of tea, this might be.
Chapeau for the Rdio guys. I tip my hat to every developer who is still willing to integrate AppleScript support into a modern app. I’m currently back on Rdio myself (and I miss Spotify’s folders… but the recent builds made the application so slow that I switched again).
Another really cool command line tool that emerged on the Omni Group Forums. It uses the OmniFocus database to write text files. I love it. You can follow this blog to keep yourself up to date when new builds arrive. Thanks Poor Signal.
“Heads Up! is a new game for iPhone we’ve designed and developed for the Ellen Degeneres Show.” There’s only one bad thing to say about this app: it isn’t available in the German iTunes App Store (and I dislike switching accounts just for updating an app – I might have to make an exception here).
Everybody who has read the article about my Sweet Mac Setup on Shawn Blanc’s site knows that I’m a big fan of the stuff that Philips does with their mood lights. IFTTT basically sealed and I have to start saving some money now to get my hands on the hue lights.
Just kidding. I’ve put my DVD’s in the cellar and keep them there till they rott to be on the safe side legally speaking. I’m downloading Torrents which is way faster than ripping each DVD one by one. This also spares me the horrible sound a DVD drive produces.↩
I haven’t heard much about GeekTool lately. The same could be said about my blog. So it’s time to do something about (both of) it.1
Today I’ll write about how I keep track of my tasks. My first post on RocketINK was about OmniFocus. It is the backbone and main brain of how I manage everything. But to be honest, I still get overrun by it on a regular basis and I have been guilty of neglecting it completely for a few weeks many a times.2
While I’m still working at figuring out what my ideal setup is and more important if there ever will be one, I have found a way - outside of OmniFocus - to deal with tasks that need to be dealt with. I’ll come to this later. First, here’s what goes into my OmniFocus – in short: I keep every actionable task in OmniFocus. Admitted, I pause a lot of projects and some are stalled for over a year now. I still want to keep these tasks inside the application since I use OmniFocus as my personal library of things I want to do. Even if this means that I clutter my OmniFocus database with projects and tasks that are not of an immediate importance. I’m open abou it, there are definitely projects which I won’t be able to tackle for the next 5 years. For me it’s good to know that I’ve written my ideas and possible actions down and to have a fixed place where I can look them up when I finally have the time to do them. This gives me a certain peace of mind and I don’t have to live in fear of forgetting any of my possible flashes of wit.
I maintain my OmniFocus library to a certain degree but I don’t do it as often as I should. Don’t get me wrong. I keep it in shape so that it I’m still able to rely on it to keep me aware of everything that is due (I love those little notifications on iOS – that’s what makes OmniFocus bulletproof for me). But then again, since there is so much else inside of the database, it’s a bit of lumpy and has a far-from-optimized feel to it. Despite of having perspectives that help me to deal with the overload of tasks I’ve gathered, I get overwhelmed frequently. But I’ve also found shelter outside of the OmniFocus ecosystem: in the arms of TaskPaper.
What helped me tremendously - especially in those days or weeks were I don’t open OmniFocus - is to have some TaskPaper files of ongoing projects. Even when things go pear shaped or you’re suddenly in panic mode and see the right lights blinking, you know what do to next without a full-fledged task management system. In the last month, times were rough for my family and I wanted to be there for them. I wrote a short list what I need to bring with me and off I was in my car driving 500 miles. What it comes down to is this: deep down you know what really important is and in the worst case you could survive with pen and paper when it comes to task management.
For my daily life I choose to narrow it down to these four areas for which I created TaskPaper files:
Everything I want to do today.
The next actions for RocketINK.
The projects I currently work on.
A list of my home assignments, papers, etc.
I have a couple more TaskPapers - notably lists that I migrated from OmniFocus to maintain them in nvALT or Simplenote/Listary - but the ones in the table above are the ones that I put right on my Desktop with the help of GeekTool. I frequently take a glance at them with the default OS X shortcut “Show Desktop”.
I guess a good part of my problem when opening OmniFocus is, that there’s a plethora of tasks which are paused and undone. This subconsciously affects my self-esteem, leaving me with a feeling that I haven’t accomplished that much. Since I use the app as a library and the amount of ‘unfinished work’ stands in no relation to the tasks I checked off, my mini TaskPaper projects are more rewarding to me. It might just be a simple psychological trick, but it works for me (a bit better than just relying solely on OmniFocus). That also justifies the amount of hand work that is needed to populate the TaskPaper files with tasks that are already in OmniFocus. On the positive side, I get to check off completed tasks twice (how awesome is that… be quick about it and your brain might won’t recognize that you basically just checked off the same task).3
What else I like about this attempt is…
it’s a system which, for the most part of it, can and does work independent from OmniFocus
the smaller scope gives me the feeling of having more control and it forces me to sit down and face the tasks at hand
the visual cues that I added to the TaskPaper files with a few bash commands are unobtrusive, but I’m yet still aware of them
Getting better at maintaining OmniFocus more regularly (maybe there is a way without TaskPaper, e.g. migrating or deleting more tasks… although I’m not sure this is what I want).
Plan the week with TaskPaper. Be it a single Monday to Friday taskpaper file or separate ones for each day. I can image planning my whole week with TaskPaper instead of just one or two days.
Use StatusBoard to display todays tasks, my week and upcoming tasks – not sure if it’s useful to me, but sounds like fun. Again, I’m not alone.
I’m excited about FoldingText. At the moment I’m not willing to give up on TaskPaper because I like that it’s more concise with a narrow focus, but FoldingText is the quasi successor and it’s a great app which has a lot of potential.
I’m also curious about how fast entering dates in OmniFocus 2 will be when I use it on a regular basis. I dropped the beta for now because some features I depend on were missing.5
The unplanned hiatus is now officially offer. Glad to have a writing pen again in my hand.↩
Last month I finally watched “The OmniFocus Setup” and it was a relief to see that I’m not alone with this particular problem.↩
Yes, that’s a true pro tip… I know. Lying to yourself to make you feel better. It won’t work for everybody, but if you have a bad short-term memory like I do, you’ll soon have forgotten about all the white lies that came along in the garb of a finished task.↩
OmniFocus Scripting Hero - haven’t you heard the legends? Visit the Omni Group Forums and read to whole saga.↩
I won’t go into details here since the thing is still in private beta and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say anything about it.↩