technology Uncategorized

‘It looks cold out there.’

Jason Snell, outlining his efforts to program the smart lightbulbs installed outside his house:

I decided to experiment with whether I could have my weather station turn my outside lights blue if the temperature got near freezing.

With Jason’s clever setup, you’d know at a glance whether to grab the winter coat, bring in the pets, and cover the plants. But why stop there? After all, there are plenty of colors in the rainbow! Here are a few more smart lightbulb “weather recipes”:

  • White / blue rotation: snow! You could even tweak the timing based on storm intensity. A gradual shift might signal gentle flurries, but a driving blizzard would color-cycle faster.
  • Green: rain. No, raindrops aren’t green. But that’s how radar maps show precipitation, so the association makes sense to me. Plus, water helps green plants grow, right? Work with me here.
  • Pulsing white: foggy / cloudy. I’m not sure whether Jason’s bulbs can be dimmed, but the Philips Hue apparently can—and it has a similarly useful API.
  • Yellow to red: heat scale. Choose a minimum “warm” threshold for yellow, then slide up the chromatic scale toward red as the temperature rises. This could prove particularly helpful for dog owners: a visual reminder that it’s dangerous to keep the pup outside.
  • White with gentle purple flashes: storm warning. Why purple? On many radar maps, purple represents extremely heavy precipitation. Also, lightning can make clouds glow deep violet. Finally and more practically, there aren’t many distinct colors left!

As Jason’s post proves, setting this all up requires some finicky fiddling. For example, you’d need to decide whether your bulbs would reflect the current conditions or the upcoming forecast. You’d also want to customize the temperature thresholds; what’s “hot” for some people is “comfortably toasty” for others. And you’d want to tweak and test until the pulsing indicators were subtle rather than distracting.

So… yes, there’s some nerdy work involved here, But if you’re like me, this sounds like fun nerdy work. Thanks to IFTTT, the build would require very little (if any) programming experience.

Plus, it’s the kind of “nerdy work” that anyone can appreciate; even technophobe neighbors might enjoy your whole-house weather monitor. You could even share your perfected recipes on IFTTT for others to appreciate.

Life Uncategorized

Rooting for snowstorms

For as long as I can remember, I’ve rooted for snowstorms.

As a kid, I wasn’t alone. What student doesn’t celebrate when school gets cancelled? Lying half-awake in the pre-dawn dark, I’d switch on the radio. The newscasters rattled off local cancellations, and I desperately hoped to get lucky.

But that doesn’t explain why I still love a good blizzard, even as an adult. After all, working stiffs don’t get many “snow days.” No, I love snowstorms because they feel apocalyptic. A taste of catastrophe from the safety of my living room.

My love affair with any given winter storm starts long before it strikes. I spend the season tracing the jet stream, hoping for an expressway to open up between the moisture-rich Gulf and my Appalachian home. I pray for cold air to tumble down from the frozen north.

As a storm approaches, my obsession grows more severe. I watch the radar constantly, willing the darker blues to slide my way. I curse the weatherman who downplays the storm and venerate his hyperbolic colleague. When local newscasts (inevitably) freak out, their reports from the empty bread aisle fill me with glee.

Once the first flakes begin to drift down, I stop watching the radar and start watching the window. The car’s hood measures the accumulation totals for me, and as long as the pile keeps growing, I’m in heaven. I love how snow mutes traffic. How it shrouds winter’s grim pall and the skeletal trees. How familiar streets feel abandoned and hostile as the snow falls.

Storm-love has its dark side, of course. A similar impulse drives me to YouTube every time a major weather event strikes elsewhere. Asia tsunamis and California earthquakes enthrall me, entire divorced from any compassion for the victims.

But as long as no one gets hurt, apocalypse in miniature feels kind of fun.