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Simple Forecasting: Weather Balls

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Portland, Oregon has long had a Weather Ball -- a series of lights that tell you, in rough terms, a weather forecast. It's located downtown, on top of a building. From many locations in Portland you can spot the ball and get a general sense of upcoming weather. In Portland, the lights are coded like so (thanks to Lyza Gardner for the explanation):

It can tell you one of six things, that is:

1. It's going to get hotter (steady red)
2. It's going to get colder (steady white)
3. It's going to stay about the same (steady green)
4. (and 5 and 6) It's going to precipitate (blinking [plus a color above])

While this isn't much use for someone like myself who's, ahem, color confused, it's a neat idea, and surprisingly little-known among newer residents of the city. I rarely care about the specifics of the forecast: for me it's enough to know it'll be "hotter"; "colder"; or, say, "colder and raining." That's exactly what the Portland Weather Ball does well -- and does it for free, all the time. Just look to the horizon, locate the light, and you've got your next day's weather.


It turns out that such weather beacons exist in many cities around the world. Pictured above left is the "WZZM 13 Weatherball" in Grand Rapids, Michigan (I couldn't find pictures of Portland's rather less grandiose ball). To see the Grand Rapids ball in action, check out this Flickr search.


Wikipedia explains the origins of weather beacons as advertisements:

The first attempt to create a weather beacon as a form of advertising was from Douglas Leigh, who, in 1941, arranged a lighting scheme for the Empire State Building to display a weather forecast code with the decoder packaged with Coca-Cola bottles. The plan was abandoned following the attack on Pearl Harbor later that year. Mr. Leigh resurrected his idea in Minneapolis in October 1949 with the Northwestern National Bank Weatherball.

Is there a weather ball in your neighborhood? If so, do people know about it, or is it just one more light on the horizon?

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BioLite
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This 'Smokeless' Fire Pit Promises a More Efficient Burn
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BioLite

For thousands of years, people have gathered around open flames to cook food, find warmth, and share stories deep into the night. Campfires have been around since the dawn of humanity, but what if there was a way to use modern technology to make them even better? The people at BioLite believe they've found one.

The FirePit is the outdoor gadget startup's answer to the recreational, backyard fire. It offers the same benefits as a more conventional product: a space for building wood or charcoal fires, a removable grate for grilling, and metal screens on each side to protect onlookers from embers. But the yellow battery pack is what sets it apart from anything else on the market. With the press of a button, a fan inside the FirePit stokes a hotter, more efficient blaze without producing all of the smoke and soot people are used to.

Couple sitting by a firepit on the beach.
BioLite

"Air injection makes the fire burn more completely," Ryan Gist, one of the lead engineers on the project, told Mental Floss. "So you basically get all the energy out of your fuel." The result is a fire you can enjoy without worrying about your eyes and throat burning, moving your chair every five minutes to avoid a gust of smoke, or having your clothes stink for weeks.

It also makes for a fire capable of burning longer and brighter with less wood. Smoke is made of tiny fuel particles that haven't fully burned up. Using a fan, the FirePit can draw that runaway fuel back into the fire before it has a chance to escape. "It's like when you're stuck on the highway behind a truck and it's got black stuff coming out of the tailpipe," BioLite marketing director Erica Rosen told Mental Floss. "When you see black stuff coming out of a fire, it's the same thing. So what we've done is, we've given fire a tuneup."

FirePit's built-in fan makes the fire easy to control. If campfire gazers want to see big, roaring flames through the box's X-ray mesh, they can turn the air down low. The higher fan setting produces a smaller, more intense burn, which is perfect for chilly autumn nights. Adjusting the blaze can be done remotely with the BioLite Energy app or manually from the control panel on top of the battery pack.

People sitting by a fire.
BioLite

BioLite designed the FirePit for backyards, but its foldable legs make it convenient to carry to the beach, a campsite, or anywhere else where you might bring a cooler of the same size. Once it's cooled down after an evening of grilling hot dogs and toasting marshmallows, the pit fits neatly into its solar panel case, where it can recharge in time for the following night (the battery also features a USB plug for charging indoors).

The FirePit recently debuted on Kickstarter, where it's available along with its solar carrying case for a special deal of $169 (once the first 300 FirePits go, it will be sold for the regular price of $199). To help the campaign reach its $100,000 funding goal, you can reserve yours today with shipping estimated for May of next year.

Skewers cooking on a grill.
BioLite

All images courtesy of BioLite.

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ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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