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The Wind and the Water

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In Plugged In’s never-ending efforts to get you to use the latest technology to connect you to your world in a nontechnological way, I have recently run across two

fabulous online undertakings focused on connecting you physically to your physical world.

The first is this unbelievably lovely website called Wind Map, showing you a moving, realtime image of the wind all over the United States. Naturally it’s breathtakingly zoomable and clickable, giving you a right-this-second reading of wind direction and speed for the degrees-and-minutes latitude and longitude over which you hover your cursor. That’s nice enough, though honestly for that you can stick your arm out the window, right? But the whole-continental-USA image is almost zenlike in its soothing representation of the flowing wind as moving white lines streaming in weather patterns. I’d love a way to click a current radar map or frontal diagram onto it to help drive home: this is air, moving from higher to lower pressure, and this is the weather you get along boundaries. Developers? Anybody?

Of course I’ll suggest that you need one more step – the site expresses wind in the standard unit of measure of miles per hour, which frankly doesn’t mean much to even scientific types. Ten miles an hour? Heck, my car NEVER goes that slow – that must be pretty still, huh? Of course not – 10 miles an hour is enough wind to constantly move leaves and twigs and extend a flag. You’d call it a windy day when you stepped into your office. That’s an expression of the Beaufort Scale, on which don’t get me started. I’ve literally written a book on the subject, but the point is it describes the wind in numbers and words that will connect to you viscerally – when it blows your umbrella, when it’s hard to walk against, when it ripples the lake, when it knocks down trees. I’d also love to see the data on this page expressed not just in mph but in Beaufort numbers, with the scale’s descriptions. That would tell you a lot more about the wind on, say, the plains, or along one of the coasts.

 

Anyhow, this site has links to

Wikipedia info about the wind and about wind energy, which is great – but I just like to remind people that the wind is real, it’s energy in motion, and that it affects you and you should pay attention to it. This site does that.

The second get-on-out-there site is Creekwatch, a free iPhone app that encourages you, when you’re out around a waterway, to take a picture and note whether there’s water present, whether it’s moving, and whether there’s trash around. You can get the information presented on a map or as a table. Here too of course I have suggestions. The nice thing about the map is you can check in where you like, and at least at this point it’s a great indicator of where there are good streamwatch organizations. We have a great one in Raleigh – Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation – and consequently there’s lots of updates from this area.

On the other hand, you can’t click on table heads and organize information by state, by zip code, even by watershed – and the reports themselves don’t even include the waterway name: just latitude and longitude and the three pieces of information. I’d love to see the site make at least a best guess about the waterway from the location, easily organize them at least by

state and zip code – and better if you could organize by waterway and even watershed. Again: Developers? Anybody?

It’s also worth just poking around – the site was developed at IBM–Almaden in California, and one of the wiseacres there included this update, which is eithervery funny or a terrifying suggestion of where the only moving water in California is.

Anyhow. Two more ways to use the interwebs to not just look at cool stuff but to remind you: connectivity isn’t about sitting in front of your computer clicking on things. Now get out there into the water and the wind.

 

Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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