Simple Forecasting: Weather Balls

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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Finally! Windows Notepad Is Getting an Update for the First Time in Years
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While some of Window's core programs have evolved dramatically over the years, or disappeared all together, Notepad has remained pretty basic. But as The Verge reports, the text-editing app is about to get a little fancier: Microsoft is updating it for the first time in years.

Since it debuted in 1985, Notepad has become a popular platform for writing out code. One common complaint from programmers working in non-Windows coding language is that Notepad doesn't format line breaks properly, resulting in jumbled, messy text. Now, both Unix/Linux line endings (LF) and Macintosh line endings (CR) are supported in Notepad, making it even more accessible to developers.

For the first time, users can zoom text by holding ctrl and scrolling the mouse wheel. They can also delete the last word in their document by pressing ctrl+backspace. On top of all that, the new update comes with a wrap-around find-and-replace feature, a default status bar with line and column numbers, and improved performance when handling large files.

The arrow keys will be easier to navigate as well. You can now use the arrow keys to deselect text before moving the cursor. And if you ever want to look up a word online, Microsoft will allow you to connect directly to Bing through the app.

The new Notepad update will be made available first to Windows Insiders through Windows 10 Insider Preview, then to everyone on the forthcoming update, codenamed Redstone 5, likely later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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New Website Lets You Sift Through More Than 700,000 Items Found in Amsterdam's Canals
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Amsterdam's canals are famous for hiding more than eight centuries of history in their mud. From 2003 to 2012, archaeologists had the rare opportunity to dig through an urban river that had been pumped dry, and now 99% Invisible reports that their discoveries are available to browse online.

The new website, dubbed Below the Surface, was released with a book and a documentary of the same name. The project traces the efforts of an archaeological dig that worked parallel to the construction of Amsterdam's new North/South metro line. To bore the train tunnels, crews had to drain part of the River Amstel that runs through the city and dig up the area. Though the excavation wasn't originally intended as an archaeological project, the city used it as an opportunity to collect and preserve some of its history.

About 800 years ago, a trading port popped up at the mouth of the River Amstel and the waterway become a bustling urban hub. Many of the artifacts that have been uncovered are from that era, while some are more contemporary, and one piece dates back to 4300 BCE. All 700,000 objects, which include, toys, coins, and weapons, are cataloged online.

Visitors to the website can look through the collection by category. If you want to view items from the 1500s, for example, you can browse by time period. You also have the option to search by material, like stoneware, for example, and artifact type, like clothing.

After exploring the database, you can learn more about its history in the Below the Surface documentary on Vimeo (English subtitles are coming soon).

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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