Finally, My Kind of Data Access Afield

I finally took the technological plunge and got an I-Phone a couple of weeks ago. I had been considering an Internet-capable phone of some sort for several years, but nothing quite did what I wanted for a price I was willing to pay. I’ve had it on two chases so far, the cold-core junk storms in southern KS and a fantastic Easter storm in north TX, and it has been nothing but dependable, useful and reliable.

Data access afield long has been a source of mostly frustration for me. When the wave of laptop-tethered telephony hit storm observing during the early 2000s, I briefly tried to get onboard once, only to hit dead end after dead end with error messages, COM-port incompatibilities, and software and hardware crashes of all sorts that left others (whose setups were working well with much the same equipment) utterly baffled as to the cause(s) when they tried to diagnose or follow along. Somehow, in the end, I was doing nothing wrong, yet nothing worked. So I ditched that ridiculous fiasco and just did “old fashioned” chasing until 2007.

Two springs ago, a friend generously gave me a WxWorx setup (hardware and software) for my birthday. There is no way I would have paid that system’s exorbitant up-front cost, but I won’t turn down a gift! It helped at times, but it also was aggravating for its cartoonishly oversimplified displays and lack of non-radar data. And after I thought I had suspended service for the offseason via phone request, I journeyed through offshore-call-center and credit-card-charge torment off and on for two months, for which I never will forgive XM Radio. The sediment in my septic tank is too good of a foodstuff for those jerks, who seem to train their foreign call-center drones, across-the-board, in the use of stonewalling, frustration tactics and outright hanging-up. Hell with them…no more XM, and so, no more WxWorx!

Last year, there was a 3-G air card jammed into the side of my laptop for the first in-car Internet access I’ve ever had on storm chase trips. Well, make it two cards, after the first one ceased to function the morning of a chase. Those air cards, in conjunction with GR-Level-3 software, proved handy sometimes, and very useful once or twice when I just couldn’t see what was going on and/or had to decide between two meso-beta scale target areas while on the road. But even without lots of wires (just one, to be exact…the power cord), the setup still was cumbersome and awkward, especially upon entry or egress from the vehicle, with lots of banging, tripping, stumbling and cussing at times.

The compelling motivator for the I-Phone was this device’s marriage of broadband cellular telephony in cities and along Interstates, widespread wireless Internet access even on older phone networks, GPS capability, Google maps, a bigger screen than most phones (while still fitting in a pocket) and cool new weather related applications like Radar Scope.

In terms of having in-hand reflectivity and SRM information, this program is absolutely outstanding, as long as you know where you are geographically, and in conjunction with other environmentally insightful information (e.g., surface and upper air data). It has loaded well even on “Edge” networks across rural southeast KS and north TX. Radar Scope isn’t GR-Level-X by any means, but it does exactly what I need it to do, and that’s good enough. Whatever else the developers add is gravy.

The I-phone itself basically is a mini-Macintosh manifest as a phone, which means (unlike Windows based platforms) it’s stable and secure from malware. And it links up with my Windows PC well. So far so good.

Yee haw…somehow, save for a few weeks of frustration circa 2003, I skipped over all those years of tethering, tangled wires, blue screens, cryptic error messages, connection hassles, COM-port problems and so forth, straight to this.

If I’ve followed my forecast-funnel regimen correctly, and accordingly have formulated a solid, four-dimensional conceptual model of the current and progged atmosphere before heading out, an occasional (not continual!) perusal of information available through an I-Phone is about all one should need most of the time. With Radar Scope, the simple aid of single-site base reflectivity, base velocity and SRM will do the trick, along with any helpful observational bookmarks (surface, satellite, upper air, mesoanalyses). I still can concentrate on what matters most — the storms — not some electronic screen. And I can keep the big, bulky lap-top in the trunk for use at the motel.

Perhaps best of all, for the first time in my life, I can surf the web while taking a dump. How can it get any better? 😉


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