WeatherBug Is Not Spyware
WeatherBug is not spyware. Period. I've said it before and I mean it. End of story. . . or is it just the beginning?
I've always held this view of WeatherBug, but my beliefs were thrown into relief by the calamitous recent weather events. It's hard not to think about the weather these days. The new world of city-smashing hurricanes makes it clear that major weather events are becoming frighteningly more commonplace. And with a warmer Gulf of Mexico producing a steady stream of superstorms, being knowledgeable about the latest weather patterns and the resultant squalls, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heat waves is not just a convenience, it should be a priority.
This leads me back to WeatherBug. For those unfamiliar with this handy app, it's a weather-tracking and notification utility that resides in your system tray. But many people consider it a spyware blight on the desktop. There's a free version and a Plus version ($35.91 for a two-year subscription). The freeware is ad-supported; you need to sign up every couple of weeks for a new sponsor to keep using it. I've run it like this for years, but I do prefer the ad-free Plus version.
I'm not oblivious to WeatherBug's shortcomings. Previous versions have been resource hogs, and the freeware edition has a nasty habit of introducing unexpected pop-ups. Yet, in general, I view WeatherBug differently than other people do. On the desktop, it's my trusted temperature gauge; I always know the weather where I live. It's like having 8,000 weather stations around the globe, including ones at many schools and one in Fenway Park in Boston (they have to turn off the webcam during games), at your fingertips. WeatherBug grabs weather readings and delivers them to millions of people via the Internet and local news stations—which often rely on WeatherBug's information for their local weather reports.
Negative perceptions of WeatherBug persist, however. It's not unusual for someone to walk into my office, see me running it, and make a snide comment like "How's your spyware?" This often comes from people who've never even tried it. WeatherBug executives are not immune to these slings and arrows; and they told me how they've worked for years to clear WeatherBug's name. They've been surprisingly successful. Most antispyware utilities now give WeatherBug a free pass. One utility calls it "adware," but still ignores it.
Obviously I'm more sanguine than others about WeatherBug. Some weeks ago I upgraded to the latest version (Plus 6.1). Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. It's faster and provides more control over the look, thanks to a bunch of new skins. It also has tons more weather content from the company's myriad stations and end users. In addition, the interface is more customizable: I can track lightning strikes across the U.S. (this info could prove especially useful to those who have yet to hook their PCs up to a Uninterruptible Power Supply device). I can even get an hour-by-hour account of past weather data for my location going back months. I also came across an excellent storm tracker that let me see the paths of all of this year's hurricanes (you'd be surprised about how many turn back and head out to sea—thankfully). The utility is also a tremendous repository for user-generated content, from first-person weather-event accounts to thousands and thousands of weather-related photos.
WeatherBug and other weather service sites such as Weather.com and Accuweather all collect data from readings in the field. WeatherBug uses the aforementioned stations and its newest addition, the Storm Chaser truck.—Continue reading...
Shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I had the opportunity to check out WeatherBug's first Storm Chaser truck. It was a 99-degree day (we had a lot of those last summer) and just going outside our midtown Manhattan building to see this converted Dodge Durango felt like a hardship. I remember thinking how most storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes were either overhyped nonevents or, thankfully, occurred in relatively unpopulated areas. So, how useful could this truck really be? Oh, how little I knew.
In any event, WeatherBug rolled the truck into Manhattan just so we could check it out. The drivers were actually in a bit of a hurry because an early hurricane (Dennis, I believe) had formed in the Caribbean and was heading for Florida, and they were anxious to get to it.
At eye level, the truck (built in about three weeks in Germantown, Maryland) was unremarkable—a white SUV with a large WeatherBug logo. The real action is on the roof and the interior. The former is festooned with gear for measuring wind speed and direction (the anemometer), rain (a little bucket to measure depth within 1/100 of an inch), temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. A large LED ticker reported the 99-degree heat and near-100-percent humidity of that July day. The truck also has a webcam and an XM Satellite radar for tracking big storms. All in all, it represents the mini-version of what WeatherBug sets up on school roofs.
WeatherBug is relatively new to storm chasing, but seemed ready for the action. The drivers told me it's not so much about getting close to the storms as it is getting on the right side of them, so they can track and record them. The fully functional weather station on wheels is complemented inside the truck by a standard P4 computer with a Samsung LCD screen. It's all hooked up to its own battery power supply (separate from the car battery), and crammed into the backseat of the truck. The rolling station captures live readings and video on the PC and sends it all back to headquarters, via wired and wireless hot spots around the country.
I was impressed, but when I asked months later how the truck had fared during Katrina and Rita, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it never got close to these storms. WeatherBug officials told me that they realized they could be of more help by keeping those concerned about the hurricanes up to date on the latest weather conditions and by sending crews down to the Gulf to repair damaged weather stations.
In the end, WeatherBug installed and repaired between 20 and 25 weather stations in the New Orleans area, including one on the request of the National Weather Service in remote Port Fourchon, Louisiana.
Violent weather is no longer something that happens to someone else. Our climate is changing, and there's no doubt that this now-ending hurricane season was one of the most active and violent in U.S. history. Being aware of, prepared for, and informed about the weather is just pure common sense. Calling WeatherBug spyware and avoiding utilities like it is the exact opposite.
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