Friday, January 21, 2005

"Whither Weather?": Weather Sites and Tools

As the sky dumps an endless supply of the white powdery stuff here in the Midwest, my thoughts turn to weather sites and tools. There are quite a few of them out there, and they all have their positives and negatives. Here's a look at the notable ones:

Weather Sites
My current favorite. Lots of great data and maps, with a moderate amount of advertising. Nice hour-by-hour charts. (The Weather Channel)
Good information but such a clunky, ad-heavy page that I often look elsewhere. You're better off using a site that uses's data like
A bit amateurish-looking, but information-rich, weatherunderground looks like a site built by weather geeks. One standout feature is the "Zoom Satellite" which allows you to zoom in and out of an animated map. Very cool.
Solid, if unspectacular site.

Weather Tools

The best tool out there. Great radar maps, webcams, and detailed forecasts. Be careful configuring alerts though. It can become a bit of a nuisance. Advertising is limited to a big banner ad at the bottom of the interface, which you at least get to choose when installing.

Desktop Weather (The Weather Channel)
Popular tool with some great features. I'm a big fan of the weather trend chart that shows the hourly temperature changes over 12 hours. With the bells and whistles comes a lot of advertising and fluffy garbage that mars an otherwise nifty interface.

Popular tool uses data in a very simple and clean interface. Not a lot of bells and whistles.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Random Name Generator

I think the Random Name Generator at is a special kind of genius.

According to the creators:

The random name generator uses data from the US Census to randomly generate male and female names. Use it for screenplays, fake id's, car rentals, pick-up lines, books, prank calls, movies. Give a random name to that special someone you meet at the bar."

My girlfriend uses it to name her Sims characters as well.

It's a pretty simple interface. You just select if you want male or female names, how many you want, and how obscure you want them to be. I get the best results using an "Obscurity Factor" of 60-70. For some reason anything higher produces less interesting names.
Anyway, next time you need a fake name check it out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Metacritic: Get the broad view

I've long been a fan of Metacritic. When it comes to getting an overview of what the critics are saying, there's no better site. Metacritic compiles reviews from many well-known movie, music, and videogame critics, weights them (1-100), and presents them as a whole score. It also lists all the reviews with their weighted score. Here's a complete explanation of how the scoring system works.

The result is an easy way to see which films, albums, or videogames are worth seeing, listening to, or playing. You can read all the individual reviews that they've compiled or just take a quick glance at the synopsis. You can also find a lot of great stuff by looking at the
All-Time High Scores in each category. Yo u may be surprised at some of the movies that were universally well-regarded.

Monday, January 17, 2005

USB Flash Drive Roundup

USB 2.0 Flash Drive Roundup: I ran across this great article about USB Flash drives (you can never own enough) and thought I'd share. It's from the good people at Ars Technica.

USB Flash Drives are quickly becoming the data transfer media of choice for business people. Especially in e-mail environments that reject large attached files. While my company allows pretty much any size attachment to be e-mailed internally (and I'm not complaining), I've worked in offices that limited attachments to 3 Meg. Tough when you're trying to share a graphic-heavy presentation or video file.

I also keep a 128 Meg SanDisk drive loaded with PC troubleshooting software (Spybot, RegCleaner, Avast's free antivirus tool, etc.) This "toolkit on a drive" is indispensable when friends call me to drop by and troubleshoot their PC.

MSN Video Puts You in Charge

You probably haven't heard much about MSN's video service, I certainly hadn't. In fact, I don' even remember how I ran across it since I traditionally have hated MSN's site. However, I found something there that I like very much—MSN Video.

The concept is simple and one I've been preaching for since the early days of broadband. Since most TV news channels are just clearinghouses for random news stories, why not just let us pick which stories we want to see?

Similar to the way Tivo and PVRs have revolutionized the way we watch entertainment TV, MSN Video may revolutionize News Channels. The main difference being that so far it's only available on your PC.

The MSN Video page is pretty clean and embraces the "clip" concept. At the top of the page is the viewing window, along with some advertising. On the lower left is a list of news categories. The center of the page contains a grid of video thumbnails. Finally on the right is the video queue, where the videos to be played are lines up.

That's it. Pretty simple. Making it even simpler is the drag and drop nature of the page. All you need to do is drag a video thumbnail into the queue on the right and it's added to your playlist. Roll over the first video in the queue, select "Play," and the videos will begin playing one after another.

The video quality is very clear, similar to ESPNMotion and the sound stays synched well, unlike other video streams I've seen.

The video selection is relatively deep with current events and offers several categories (e.g. Sports, Home, Entertainment, etc.)

Overall, MSN Video is definitely worth checking out and even though they haven't eliminated the commercials, it makes for a solid, innovative news channel.