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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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Live Smarter
Make Spreadsheets a Whole Lot Easier With This Excel Trick
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While data nerds may love a good spreadsheet, many office workers open Microsoft Excel with a certain amount of resistance. Inputting data can be a monotonous task. But a few tricks can make it a whole lot easier. Business Insider has a new video highlighting one of those shortcuts—a way to create a range that changes with the data you input.

Dynamic named ranges change and grow with your data, so, for instance, if one column is time and another is, say, dollar value, the value can change automatically as time goes on. If you do this, it's relatively easy to create a chart using this data, by simply inserting your named ranges as your X and Y values. The chart will automatically update as your range expands.

It's easier to see in the program itself, so watch the full video on Business Insider. Microsoft also has its own instructions here, or you can check out this video from the YouTube channel Excel Tip, which also has dozens of other useful tutorials for making Microsoft Excel your hardworking assistant.

[h/t Business Insider]

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History
Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist (who is the subject of today's Google Doodle) predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

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