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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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Mario Tama, Getty Images
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technology
People With Limited Mobility Can Now Use Amazon Alexa to Control Exoskeletons
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Mario Tama, Getty Images

One of the challenges that comes with engineering exoskeletons that compensate for limited mobility is giving control to the people who wear them. Some systems use hand controls, while others can detect faint signals in the wearer’s muscles and respond accordingly. Now one exoskeleton startup is taking advantage of a technology that’s become mainstream in recent years: voice recognition.

As Engadget reports, Bionik Laboratories has integrated Amazon’s Alexa into its ARKE lower-body exoskeleton. The apparatus is designed for people with spinal chord damage or a history of stroke or traumatic brain injury that has hindered their movement below the waist. After strapping into the suit, wearers will now be able to use it just as they would a television set or stereo enabled with Alexa. Saying “Alexa, I’m ready to stand,” brings the joints to an upright position, and the command “Alexa, I’m ready to walk” prompts the legs to move forward. An Amazon Echo device must be within hearing range for the voice control to work, so in its current state the exoskeleton is only good for making short trips within the home.

Compatibility with Alexa isn’t the only modern feature Bionik worked into the design. The company also claims that ARKE is the first exoskeleton with integrated tablet control. That means if users wish to adjust their suit manually, they can do so by typing commands into a wireless touchpad. The tablet also records information that physical therapists can use to make more informed decisions when treating the patient.

Before the ARKE suit can be made available to consumers, it must first undergo clinical trials and receive approval from the FDA. If the tests go as planned Bionik hopes to have a commercial version of the product ready by 2019.

[h/t Engadget]

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Including Smiley Emojis in Your Work Emails Could Make You Look Incompetent
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iStock
If you’re looking to give your dry work emails some personality, sprinkling in emojis may not be the smartest strategy. As Mashable reports, smiley emojis in professional correspondences rarely convey the sentiments of warmth that were intended. But they do make the sender come across as incompetent, according to new research. For their paper titled "The Dark Side of a Smiley," researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel looked at 549 subjects from 29 countries. After reading emails related to professional matters, participants were asked to judge the "competence and warmth" of the anonymous sender. Emails that featured a smiley face were found to have a "negative effect on the perception of competence." That anti-emoji bias led readers to view the actual content of those emails as less focused and less detailed than the messages that didn’t include emojis. Previous research has shown that sending emojis to people you’re not 100 percent comfortable with is always a gamble. That’s because unlike words or facial expressions, which are usually clear in their meanings, the pictographs we shoot back and forth with our phones tend to be ambiguous. One study published last year shows that the same emoji can be interpreted as either positive or negative, depending on the smartphone platform on which it appears. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate effectively without leaning on emojis to make you look human. Here are some etiquette tips for making your work emails sound clear and competent. [h/t Mashable]

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