See if winter is coming with five minimalist weather apps for iPhone

It’s hard to think of anything more exciting than weather—OK, there’s probably a few things: paperclips, the Pythagorean theorem, the Dewey decimal system…

The onset of global warming has made weather far more unpredictable and far less boring, so finding instant, accurate information has become more important.

Luckily, app developers have taken to re-imagining how we get the weather through some innovative iPhone apps that are slick, simple and cool (pun intended). To date, there are 4,772 total apps filed under “weather.” Here are five beautiful, minimalist weather apps that embrace good design and user interface. An honorable mention goes to Weathercube (free), for its kitschy, Rubik’s Cube-style UI, and Dark Sky ($3.99) wins the practicality award for its critical, human-speak notifications (“rain in one min,” e.g.).

Good Weather

Good Weather

Far more than temperature and precipitation levels at your current location, Good Weather features fun mini games that change based on the weather. A simple, no-frills interface features thick, rounded icons front and center that come alive with a swipe to the right. Make sure you check out the unique default locations (think: winter is coming). Price: Free.

Solar

Solar

The best part about Solar is the soothing color palate and clean, sans serif text. Slide your finger down and you’ll get a three-day forecast. Swipe right and you’ll switch locations. Drag your finger up (do this slowly) and you’ll get a sliding weather prediction for the next 24 hours. Watch as the colors, temperature and descriptions change. Price: Free.

Climate Clock

Climate Clock

Watch the time tick by as a minimalist, analog clock takes over your iPhone screen. Overlaid on a time of day and temperature-based gradient, Climate Clock has weather icons around the face instead of numbers, so you’ll know when you need to bring a jacket (always, if you’re in San Francisco). Price: $.99

Weather Dial

Weather Dial

Formerly WTHR, this deadly simple and “more beautiful” weather dial has only one main button: refresh. Stunning icons describe your local climate in plain English like “It’s Clear & 63°” and the app switches between light and dark themes for day and night. While the simplicity and attention to detail are gold here, the dial doesn’t support multiple locations like the rest of these apps. Price: $.99.

UltraWeather

Ultraweather

Ultraweather ditches the pastel colors and instead opts for a stream of outdoor Instagram photos with large temperature and weather icons nicely placed on top. Tag your shots with #cloudyuw or #sunnyuw and they’ll automatically appear in the background. The one downfall is there doesn’t appear to be much censoring, so plenty of unrelated pictures pop up. Price: Free.

Do you have a favorite weather app so minimalist and magnificent that it could land in the museum of modern art? Let me know in the comments!

And if you’re itching to take a stab at designing the weather, check out Weather Analytics for streamlined access to good weather data. Just don’t forget to bring your umbrella.

Automate your home for under a grand

Nest's thermostat is a whole lot smarter, and sexier, than its clunky gray predecessor.

Nest’s thermostat is a whole lot smarter, and sexier, than its clunky gray predecessor.

The idea of “smart” technology seems a bit silly. If stupid is the opposite of smart, then what is stupid technology? Why would anyone seek to create technology that isn’t smart?

The pervasiveness of “smart” technology comes from devices like the one I’m typing this on — a phone. But it’s far more than just a phone; in fact, the phone is simply one of the many, many things I can do with this multitouch bundle of sensors, brushed aluminum and high resolution screen.

For innovation around devices with a seemingly singular function, look no further than the gradual evolution of the technology inside our homes.

Belkin's WeMo Switch provides simple automation for any electronics plugged in to it.

Belkin’s WeMo Switch provides simple automation for any electronics plugged in to it.

It started with a fridge that became a water cooler, then an ice machine too. Now, we have no-fuss, instant coffeemakers that require no filter and no beans, just a little plastic pod. Our TVs are “smart” now, mostly because they can connect to the Internet and do more than just show television.

With Nest, the pace of innovation in the home has been taken to a whole new level. What Nest has done to the thermostat, that clunky gray rectangle on the hallway wall, is akin to what Apple did with the portable music player and then the cell phone. Before the iPhone, there were touch screens and Internet connectivity on a cell phone, but nothing that resonated. Nothing that truly caught on. Nothing that sparked a revolution in mobile technology.

Temperature control doesn’t seem very appealing at first pass. But with the looming threat of global warming and “being green” equivalent to “being cool,” the brains behind the iPod decided to tackle just that. No screwing around with a bunch of hard-to-press buttons and a tiny digital screen. Instead, turn the bright blue Nest thermostat like you were adjusting the volume on an iPod or the temperature in your car.

For not much more than the cost of a smartphone, Nest can track energy consumption in a home and start saving you money by learning behaviors and turning on only when needed. You can preheat your place before arrival and never worry about turning off the air.

There’s even an app, Nest Leaf, that acts as a remote control for your thermostat from anywhere in the world. The gas and electric bill should no longer be a shock with up to the minute tracking and month to month energy usage comparisons.

With such a smart device, the next generation of intelligent, learning in-home gadgets will likely be ushered in over the next 10 years.

It’s not hard to imagine the lights turning off automatically when we leave, with an app to program the living room lamp to stay on at night during vacation.

In fact, for 50 bucks, you can do just that. Belkin’s WeMo line includes an outlet and motion detector, which can even be used together to power electronics off and on remotely. Anything plugged into a WeMo switch can even be scheduled to activate, so you can always leave the lights on when you go away.

The Lockitron enables wireless control over you existing door locks.

The Lockitron enables wireless control over you existing door locks.

Worried you forgot to lock the door? Try Lockitron. With options as low as $295, you can set your door to lock automatically behind you and unlock as soon as you’re near. If the kids forgot their keys or you need to let the neighbor in to feed the cats, this simple to set up hardware and software combination will do the trick. That is, if you haven’t already automated your pet feeding too.

Cars have already integrated a lot of this technology, from auto locking, remote control ignition, and even a built-in personal assistant, a la Siri or something similar. It’s not hard to imagine a day when the home is smart enough to make our lives simpler, more enjoyable and more effective.

But new cars are manufactured every year and that’s hardly the case with front doors or kitchen appliances. The trick is finding an affordable way to upgrade an existing system. Between Nest, WeMo, and Locktron, you can automate your house now for less than a grand.

Google Maps for iOS is back…sort of

Find my full review of the new Google Maps app over at Gadget Beats, the latest in tech news and reviews.

Google Maps, sorely missed from the latest iOS upgrade, is back in the App Store, but quickly unable to be downloaded potentially due to overwhelmed servers.

Mac Rumors broke the news with a direct link for the download, as it does not appear to be available when searching the store.

The mapping service is back with a redesigned interface and, drum roll please…voice-activated turn by turn directions!

Oh, and a personal favorite of mine, public transit directions have returned and are slicker than ever. Traffic, satellite view and an external link to the Google Earth app are also included in the new version.

It’s more of a lookalike to the built-in maps app for iPhones running iOS 6 than it is Google’s last iOS iteration or even it’s current mobile web app available at maps.google.com.

Within 30 minutes from this news breaking, the app is already unavailable, at least temporarily. Users are getting the error message “the item you tried to buy is no longer available.” No word as to why exactly it’s no longer downloading or why it wasn’t searchable right away.

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Design this: free iOS graphic template

iOS 6 GUI

A digital design agency called Teehan+Lax is giving away what appears to be a top notch editable file for designing iPhone app screens with Photoshop.

With a high quality PSD like this, designers can easily mock up ideas for apps, workflows or even memes based in Apple’s latest iOS.

Why are they giving it away?

Because an important business philosophy noted in the Teehan+Lax blog is living by Tim O’Reilly’s motto: “Create more value than you capture.”

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Tim O’Reilly is the founder of O’Reilly Media, the major publishing house and technology conference promoter.

Aspiring entrepreneurs should take note from Teehan+Lax, which has found success through being unique, working hard, establishing core values, and learning to say no. Founder Jon Lax blogs about it here.

Get the ios 6 GUI for iPhone 5 here: http://www.teehanlax.com/blog/ios-6-gui-psd-iphone-5/

LAX to JFK: The luxury of flying (economy) in 2010

Okay, so it’s still 2009. But close enough.

Rooftop of LAX entrance

Now first thing’s first: I’m not what you would call a frequent flyer. My freshman year of college, I flew home a few times a year, traveling regularly from ONT to OAK (I can only speak in airport speak, sorry).

But since I began dedicating my life to the man, it has not been easy to get away.

I got about 10 days after I graduated, right before I took on an internship and soon after a part-time job.

Now I’ve got another internship and the same part-time job, working seven days a week. And that part-time job happens to be with retail sales at the Apple Store, so time off between October and January is pretty challenging.

Now, since the recessions kicked in, it’s been great to take advantage of cheap flight deals and exploit these merciless companies for all they’ve got. You can get on a plane to Vegas for 20 bucks and vacation destinations are advertised as a couple hundred for a week’s stay. Not too shabby.

But this trip was nothing unusually affordable. $350 or so roundtrip from LA to New York. It’s Thanksgiving week, so I guess I’ll take it, but shoot – I booked the flight nearly three months in advance! (Shoulda planned a year ahead, damn)

But here I am, typing away on my Macbook in a cramped little aisle seat (praise the aisle!).

Now we all know flying has been a headache since 9/11 and I guess that’s OK if it means higher security when threat level hits the color orange. But flying out of Ontario and Oakland is a breeze in comparison to LAX. Normally it takes just a few minutes to get your boarding pass checked, and the security line is what you have to account extra time for.

But at the Delta terminal around 10 a.m. on Friday, it took me close to a half hour just to get my boarding pass stamped. Then, they made us wait 5-10 minutes because the security line up the stairs was full. Then, we got to get into the security line, file around the lineholders like we’re at the DMV, and finally make our way. But hey, at least the TSA people seem pretty chill.

The best part has yet to come. I know that’s all par for the course when it comes to flying these days – I ditched my toiletries at home because I forgot to buy travel sizes: couldn’t even take my deodorant (6 oz.) and barely snuck by with my hand sanitizer (2 oz.). This of course because I chose to carry on all my baggage instead of paying $15 (!) to check a bag, just to wait longer and possibly have it lost (seen it happen).

Now luckily the Delta flight attendants are incredibly courteous and well groomed, but I couldn’t help groaning midway through my free (!) viewing of “Away We Go.” I had already given “Dexter” and “Land Of the Lost” a shot, but one was moving too slow and the other was way too…stupid (sorry Will).

The fact that there are little TVs on the back of every chair is great. It took Jet Blue to realize that the majority of people on a plane despise the in-flight movie and that maybe they’d like to have their own personal selection.

But when the lady over the speakers told us she was rebooting the system, it was pretty, well, silly. Apparently the plane had lost some satellite coverage in the clouds and some schmucks in business (first) class weren’t getting service. But a 13-minute system reboot?! Wow. That’s a litte sad. We can touch our screens, but it takes us twice the time of a coffee break (with no coffee here) to get them up and running again.

Another nuisance is of course the lack of space. I didn’t get a prime choice in seating, and I’ll take an aisle over a middle seat any day. But I can’t fit my 13-inch laptop on the dropdown tray and still be able to see it. It’s more spacious to rest the computer on my lap. Thanks, tray table.

Last but not least is the food. I didn’t have time to grab anything at the terminal, and I of course couldn’t bring anything from home without being stopped and accused of terrorism – or smuggling dope.

So to hear they would be offering a free snack and beverage and offering us a meal to pay for, I was pleased. The prices were relative, the food looked decent; I’ll take it.

But when you’re sitting at the back of the plane, apparently that means all the food is gone before they get to you. Really?? You’re going to hand me a menu, tell me I can order a chicken sandwich, and then tell me you’re out of all meals when you get to my seat?! What kind of crap is that?!

There are two real food choices on the ever so stunning “EATS” Delta flight menu featuring hand-picked Todd English (TE) dishes. WTF? Who the fuck is Todd English? And do you really expect me to believe airplane food on an economy flight is going to be hand-anything? Other than handed to me, that is…

So I got stuck with the fruit and cheese platter — $6 for five grapes, two walnuts, four dry crackers and three chunks of cheese. So generous, Delta! You shouldn’t have. Now I’m cheap and I’m quite carefree, so it does take something for me to be bothered. Like unintelligent design: a tray that won’t fit the standard small-size laptop computer. The trash lady who makes one run in her fresh, new eco-recyclable garbage tote and then disappears for good five minutes after serving, er, selling, us.

But most of all, I was just upset I couldn’t actually get some real food on the goddamn plane. I’ll settle for a half-assed $8 chicken sandwich, at least it’ll fill me till we get there. But to be out of the only two main courses you offer? (The other was a Asian shrimp salad….not sure what was Asian about it though) That’s just rude to your fliers. I can hear it now:

Fly Delta, we’ll be out of food by the time we get to your seat!

Delta: don’t get a seat in back! You’ll not only be served last, but you’ll also have NO selection of food. All this for the same price as the first third of the economy cabin.

Damn you people. Now to get back to my 7-inch movie screening with fuzzy audio coming through pristine headphones.

Oh, and the Lamar Burton lookalike/potential real guy from Reading Rainbow and Star Trek sitting up in business class.

In the end, I still made it! Times Square and Rockefeller Center after family brunch on DAY 1:

Mirthless “Couples Retreat”, heartfelt “Wild Things”

Man I wish I had time to update more!

I’m lucky if I pull off once a week. Vanguard 3 days a week, Apple 4.

I did squeeze in some time with the girlfriend to catch a double feature (it’s where you pay for one movie, see two. only way to go when you’re chocking up 10+ bucks for a single admission!) last night.

Saw Where The Wild Things Are and Couples Retreat.

I thought Wild Things was beautifully done. Definitely not child’s play. The animatronic and CG wild things (monsters?) looked great and were very entertaining to watch. Max was great. Cute kid. Reminds me of myself when I was little…playing for hours upon hours with legos and action figures and making forts. Don’t think I had a animal suit that cool though.

Everyone has been saying the same things — it’s too dark for kids. I’ll agree on that one…if I had a child who wanted to see the film though, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring them along…with the warning that there’s some scary scenes where they should shut their eyes or hold daddy’s (eh, maybe mommy’s) hand.

But what a true adaptation. I grew up on that book, and remember the bitter feelings of loneliness Max carries. Can’t blame a little boy for wanting attention. And while he’s a little troubled, I’m on his side. He’s just acting out because no one cares about what he does. Which is, of course, why he goes and finds himself a mystery island full of scary-friendly creatures who want him to be their king.

The tormented themes within the culture of the wild things is also very mature and all too real for plenty of adults. But other than a shred of fantasy violence and some scary moments with Max in danger, it’s a PG movie with a PG-13 feel at times.

And now to the BAD stuff. The really, really bad stuff.

Couples Retreat.

We’ve got Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell on top. Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, on top. Not to mention Faizon Love (the big black dude) and cameos by the funny gay guy and the hilarious little Asian man from Community, The Goods and The Hangover.

All in one movie! With a ripe premise, too. And they still couldn’t pull it of?!

I mean, I was disappointed by Extract too, Batemen (and Mike Judge). Batemen’s great, and I loved him in Arrested Development. But these projects need some better directors, writers, producers, something!

It’s almost comedic that Hollywood still makes shitty movies this bad. Couples Retreat could’ve been saved with better editing — it was 2 hours, a half hour too long. Plenty of unnecessary scenes like the gay sauna comments and Guitar Hero nonsense. And I could’ve gone with a little less of the sexy Fabio-like yoga instructor flaunting his bod…and his pod (package?).

It’s easy to see that a bunch of studio execs thought this would be a good idea:

Great star power (even though that matters less these days)

Funny concept

Bikini-clad island girls

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau at the helm, writing and producing

…but what they didn’t tell us in the previews was how there was going to be a good 4-minute Guitar Hero advertisement right about two thirds into the movie. LITERALLY. A 30-second joke? I’ll get over it, full-well knowing it’s a paid joke, assuming the plot moves on.

Instead, it decides to dwell. For a really pointless, bland and unfunny scene where Vaughn has a Guitar Hero-off with the douchey resort dude. How original. Let South Park make fun of it, because they make it funny. You, Couples Retreat, despite the ridiculous nature of grown men using three-foot miniature, plastic guitars; utilize a cheesy, fluorescent split-screen, overlaid videogame graphics, and pointless, predictable banter.

Frankly I’m offended. I wish I could find out how many millions Activision spent for that blatant screen time.

Despite the usual abundance of product placement and script integration — we’ve got Applebee’s, Apple, Microsoft, GMC, Volkswagen, Starbucks and about 10-15 more I can’t remember (no joke, I nearly counted to 20). It’s a fun little game I play when I see movies: see how many times different products are shameless plugged. If you count up the amount of screen time and number of mentions you can easily tally up a good chunk of how that movie was probably paid for.

Now I’m just talking out of my mouth because I don’t feel like Googling a bunch of links right now, but this “subliminal” advertising has been growing and getting out of control. It’s been going on forever in Hollywood, and the secrets been out of the bag for a while — even Marty McFly in 1985’s “Back To The Future” (me, this Halloween) was sporting some classic Nikes as he filmed Doc send the dog back in time outside a JC Penny in Pomona, California.

[Yes, that’s right, Pomona. I bought the DVD and watched Michael J. Fox talk about filming in a mall parking lot in Pomona late at night. Also, Current TV’s Embedded featured some great shots of downtown Pomona and The Glasshouse in last week’s episode on the Silversun Pickups.]