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Before the hurricane: Storm trackers and other survival tools for mobile and desktop users

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Video: Apps to help with disaster preparation

Note: This was originally published in September 2010. As Hurricane Florence strengthened into a life-threatening storm, we updated the article to reflect current content.

I live in South Florida. And while I have no desire to live anywhere else, tropical storms, hurricanes and otherwise lousy weather are a seasonal fact of life here.

Not even 20 years ago, most people would not have been able to make informed decisions about preparing for tropical storms. But today we have portable GPS, our laptops, our smartphones, and my favorite tool as part of our storm-chaser arsenal — iPad.

While many of the same types of tools can still be used on a PC or Mac desktop or laptop, I discovered a newfound and real appreciation for iPad and the iOS for this type of application.

The iPad is a particularly good visualization tool for analyzing hurricane tracks because of the device’s multi-touch and human-oriented interface and how quickly you can get updated reports on the storm’s progress with the different apps out there.

Here’s my list of essential apps and websites that I recommend the next time a big storm starts heading your way, so you too can make more informed decisions about whether you stay in place or evacuate.

With hurricanes bearing down, you’ll want to be prepared.

NOAA National Hurricane Center (Web Site)

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Image:ZDNet

If you’re going to have ONE application or website that you use for relying on projected storm tracks, then the NOAA National Hurricane Center Website is the one you should have bookmarked on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or other smartphone devices. It costs you absolutely nothing and if you really want to learn about hurricanes, this is definitely the place to go.

The National Hurricane Center is the central source of information that just about every other application listed in this article uses as a data source.

The NHC website contains a massive wealth of up-to-date information. You can track and monitor the progress of every single storm in the Eastern Pacific and the Atlantic, read various types of graphical computer models, and watch animated satellite and radar maps.

Unfortunately, the NHC site looks like it was designed in the early 1990s — there’s no cool Web 2.0 point-and-click GUI, but all the data is there if you want it. They’ve got a PDA rendered version of the site which you could use on an iPhone or an Android device, but unless you’re the type that likes to page through raw data, it probably won’t be of much use to you.

However, the basic charts and storm projections should be enough to give you a very good idea of where the hurricane is heading and to give you up-to-date and reliable information on how its behavior might change.

While NOAA has a huge wealth of information you want to make sure your browser has pop-up blocking disabled, otherwise you will not be able to click on any of the links which spawn new tabs or new browser windows.

University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center (Web Sites)

I was recently turned on to the University of Wisconsin’s SSEC by Tech Broiler reader and professional storm chaser/photographer Jim Edds.

Jim uses a number of tools to do his job, but when he wants real-time hurricane data, he heads to the SSEC.

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The data above comes from the SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) TROPIC website, which you can access on any PC or tablet. Jim likes this site because frequently he is using only 3G service and he is able to access a large amount of data quickly without a large download payload.

Like NOAA, TROPIC has a huge wealth of information and you want to make sure your browser has pop-up blocking disabled, otherwise, you will not be able to click on any of the links which spawn new tabs or new browser windows.

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Jim is also very impressed with the SSEC’s Geostationary Satellite Images site, which shows high-resolution animated satellite images from several different weather satellites in Flash or Javascript, depending on what type of device you are using.

Radarscope (iOS, Android $9.99)

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Image:ZDNet

Described by Jim as “The ultimate radar application for the iPad” Radarscope is an extremely sophisticated, real-time Doppler radar app for iOS that completely exploits the capabilities of Retina displays on current-generation iPads and iPhones.

It features the ability to select from dozens of long-range doppler radar stations and get data in real-time and also gives you severe weather alerts which you can click on and focus on a particularly dangerous weather area.

Radarscope doesn’t do hurricane tracking but what it does do, it does extremely well. If you live in an area where storms are common, there really isn’t another app out there that provides as sophisticated Doppler data that this program has.

MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar by Aviation Data Systems

While not as a sophisticated radar product by default as RadarScope, MyRadar is an extremely good all-in-one weather app because it has the ability to composite multiple Doppler radars at once, showing a complete picture of weather patterns for an entire region.

The basic version of the app is advertising supported, but there are in-app upgrades that allow you to open more features, such as a hurricane tracker ($2.99), professional radar ($6.99) and Apple Watch functionality ($.99). Ads can be disabled for an additional fee of $1.99.

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Image: ZDNet

NOAA Weather Pro by Apalon Apps

Similar in function to MyRadar, NOAA Weather Pro ($4.99) uses the product data feeds from NOAA to produce composite weather visualizations you can view on your mobile device.

While not as sophisticated as MyRadar with all of the add-ons, I happen to really like it because of the clean and simple user interface. Hurricane tracking is built in, without needing to add other subscription products, which is a nice plus.

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Image:ZDNet

Stormpulse/Riskpulse (Basic storm tracking free, real-time subscription website)

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Image:ZDNet

Stormpulse (and Riskpulse) is probably the most advanced of all of the tools mentioned here, but it’s likely overkill for the average end-user.

It’s really more of a professional-level suite intended for businesses to do risk assessments that have facilities in hurricane-prone areas, or for companies that are dependent on shipping and transportation.

The basic tracker is free with LinkedIn login credentials, and the visualizations are very cool.

What other good hurricane tracking and forecasting apps and websites do you like to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Google unveils $25 million in grants aimed at empowering women and girls – TechCrunch

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Google announced a range of programs as well as grants worth $25 million on Monday to fund works of nonprofits and social enterprises that are committed to empower women and girls.

The effort, unveiled on Internet Women’s Day, is aimed at addressing systemic barriers so that women get access to economic equality, opportunity to build financial independence and pursue entrepreneurism, said Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at a virtual event.

“Whatever these teams need, we are going to be alongside them and help carry out their vision,” said Jacquelline Fuller, President of Google.org, at the event. The deadline for new applications is April 9.

Fuller also announced that Google.org is going to invest an additional $1 million to help underserved women in India. Even as India is the world’s second largest internet, women make up a small percentage of Internet users in the country.

Five years ago, only one out of 10 internet users in 2015 was a woman. Today, four of 10 internet users in rural India are women, said Google, which launched an India-focused program called Internet Saathi five years ago to bridge this gap. The company said Internet Saathi has benefited 30 million women in India.

“This program created a cascading effect,” said Sanjay Gupta, the head of Google India, at the event.

But simply getting online “isn’t progress enough,” said Sapna Chadha, Senior Marketing Director for Google in India and Southeast Asia. “Women in India have traditionally been held back from economic participation.”

The company has partnered with Nasscom Foundation to bring digital and financial literacy to 100,000 women farmers in India, and is creating a program called “Women Will” to enable and support 1 million women entrepreneurs.

Chadha unveiled a repository website that she said will feature tutorials, business ideas and other opportunities in English and Hindi languages.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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Stream raises $38M as its chat and activity feed APIs power communications for 1B users – TechCrunch

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A lot of our communication these days with each other is digital, and today one of the companies enabling that — with APIs to build chat experiences into apps — is announcing a round of funding on the back of some very strong growth.

Stream, which lets developers build chat and activity streams into apps and other services by way of a few lines of code, has raised $38 million, funding that it will be using to continue building out its existing business as well as to work on new features.

Stream started out with APIs for activity feeds, and then it expanded to chat, which today can be integrated into apps built on a variety of platforms. Currently, its customers integrate third-party chatbots and use Dolby for video and audio within Stream, but over time, these are all areas where Stream itself would like to do more.

“End-to-end cryption, chatbots: we want to take as many components as we can,” said Thierry Schellenbach, the CEO who co-founded the startup with the startup’s CTO Tommaso Barbugli in Amsterdam in 2015 (the startup still has a substantial team in Amsterdam headed by Barbugli, but its headquarters is now in Boulder, Colorado, where Schellenbach eventually moved).

Image Credits: Stream (opens in a new window)

The company already has amassed a list of notable customers, including Ikea-owned TaskRabbit, NBC Sports, Unilever, Delivery Hero, Gojek, eToro and Stanford University, as well as a number of others that it’s not disclosing across healthcare, education, finance, virtual events, dating, gaming and social. Together, the apps Stream powers cover more than 1 billion users.

This Series B round is being led by Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senkut, with previous backers GGV Capital and 01 Advisors (the fund co-founded by Twitter’s former CEO and COO, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain) also participating.

Alongside them, a mix of previous and new individual and smaller investors also participated: Olivier Pomel, CEO of Datadog; Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of GitHub; Amsterdam-based Knight Capital; Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO of Hopin; and Selcuk Atli, co-founder and CEO of social gaming app Bunch (itself having raised a notable round of $20 million led by General Catalyst not long ago).

That list is a notable indicator of what kinds of startups are also quietly working with Stream.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but Schellenbach hints that it is “6x its chat revenues.”

Indeed, the Series B speaks of a moment of opportunity: it is coming only about six months after the startup raised a Series A of $15 million, and in fact Stream wasn’t looking to raise right now.

“We were not planning to raise funding until later this year but then Aydin reached out to us and made it hard to say no,” Schellenbach said.

“More than anything else, they are building on the platforms in the tech that matters,” Senkut added in an interview, noting that its users were attesting to a strong return on investment. “It’s rare to see a product so critical to customers and scaling well. It’s just uncapped capability… and we want to be a part of the story.”

That moment of opportunity is not one that Stream is pursuing on its own.

Some of the more significant of the many players in the world of API-based communications services like messaging, activity streams — those consolidated updates you get in apps that tell you when people have responded to a post of yours or new content has landed that is relevant to you, or that you have a message, and so on — and chat include SendBird, Agora, PubNub, Twilio and Sinch, all of which have variously raised substantial funding, found a lot of traction with customers, or are positioning themselves as consolidators.

That may speak of competition, but it also points to the vast market there for the tapping.

Indeed, one of the reasons companies like Stream are doing so well right now is because of what they have built and the market demand for it.

Communications services like Stream’s might be best compared to what companies like Adyen (another major tech force out of Amsterdam), Stripe, Rapyd, Mambu and others are doing in the world of fintech.

As with something like payments, the mechanics of building, for example, chat functionality can be complex, usually requiring the knitting together of an array of services and platforms that do not naturally speak to each other.

At the same time, something like an activity feed or a messaging feature is central to how a lot of apps work, even if they are not the core feature of the product itself. One good example of how that works are food ordering and delivery apps: they are not by their nature “chat apps” but they need to have a chat option in them for when you do need to communicate with a driver or a restaurant.

Putting those forces together, it’s pretty logical that we’d see the emergence of a range of tech companies that both have done the hard work of building the mechanics of, say, a chat service, and making that accessible by way of an API to those who want to use it, with APIs being one of the more central and standard building blocks in apps today; and a surge of developers keen to get their hands on those APIs to build that functionality into their apps.

What Stream is working on is not to be confused with the customer-service focused services that companies like Zendesk or Intercom are building when they talk about chat for apps. Those can be specialized features in themselves that link in with CRM systems and customer services teams and other products for marketing analytics and so on. Instead, Stream’s focus are services for consumers to talk to other consumers.

What is a trend worth watching is whether easy-to-integrate services like Stream’s might signal the proliferation of more social apps over time.

There is already at least one key customer — which I am now allowed to name — that is a steadily growing, still young social app, which has built the core of its service on Stream’s API.

With just a handful of companies — led by Facebook, but also including ByteDance/TikTok, Tencent, Twitter, Snap, Google (via YouTube) and some others depending on the region — holding an outsized grip on social interactions, easier, platform-agnostic access to core communications tools like chat could potentially help more of these, with different takes on “social” business models, find their way into the world.

Stream’s technology addresses a common problem in product development by offering an easy-to-integrate and scalable messaging solution,” said Dick Costolo of 01 Advisors, and the former Twitter CEO, in a statement. “Beyond that, their team and clear vision set them apart, and we ardently back their mission.”

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TikTok launches ‘TikTok Q&A,’ a new feature for creators to engage with viewers’ questions – TechCrunch

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Earlier this year, TikTok was spotted testing a new Q&A feature that would allow creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions using either text or video. Today, the company has announced the feature is now available to all users globally. With the release of TikTok Q&A, as the feature is officially called, creators will be able to designate their comments as Q&A questions, respond to questions with either text comments or video replies, and add a Q&A profile link to their bios, among other things. The feature also works with live videos.

TikTok Q&A grew out of a way that creators were already using the video platform to interact with viewers. Often, after posting a video, viewers would have follow-up questions about the content. Creators would then either respond to those questions in the comments section or, if the response was more involved, they might post a second video instead.

The Q&A feature essentially formalizes this process by making it easier for creators — particularly those with a lot of fans — to identify and answer the most interesting questions.

Image Credits: TikTok

To use Q&A, viewers will first designate their comment as a Q&A question using a new commenting option. To do so, they’ll tap the Q&A icon to the right side of the text entry field in comments. This will also label their comment with the icon and text that says “Asked by” followed by the username of the person asking the question. This makes it easier for creators to see when scanning through a long list of comments on their video.

The feature will also feed the question into the creator’s new Q&A page where all questions and answers are aggregated. Users can browse this page to see all the earlier questions and answers that have already been posted or add a new question of their own.

Creators will respond to a Q&A question with either text or video replies, just as they did before — so there isn’t much new to learn here, in terms of process.

They can also add Q&A comments as stickers in their responses where the new video will link back to the original, where the question was first asked, similar to how they’re using comment stickers today.

The feature will also be available in TikTok LIVE, making it easier for creators to see the incoming questions in the stream’s chat from a separate panel.

Image Credits: TikTok

As a part of this launch, a Q&A profile link can be added to creators’ Profile bios, which directs users to the Q&A page where everything is organized.

During tests, the feature was only made available to creators with public accounts that had more than 10,000 followers and who opted in. Today, TikTok says its available to all users with Creator Accounts.

To enable the feature on your own profile, you’ll go to the privacy page under Settings, then select “Creator,” tap “Q&A” and then “Turn on Q&A.” (If users don’t already have a Creator account, they can enable it for themselves under settings.)

The feature is rolling out to users worldwide in the latest version of the TikTok app now, the company says.

@tiktokYou can now ask and answer any questions on LIVE with the new Q&A feature. Check it out now!

♬ original sound – TikTok

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