Environment Canada Releases iOS and Android Weather Apps

This is great news for all Canadians looking for a reliable weather app that doesn’t come with pervasive tracking and ads like The Weather Channel and other commercial apps feature.

The new WeatherCAN app (iOS and Android) gives you exactly what you’d expect from an official Government of Canada app with hourly and seven day forecasts for locations across Canada. The radar views aren’t as good as what an app like Storm Radar from the US Weather Channel offers, but that’s more a function of the outdated weather radar infrastructure in Canada.

WeatherCAN also offers all-important push notifications for severe weather and other Environment Canada advisories and weather statements.

On the downside, it’s only Canadian weather, so if you want weather for locations around the world, then you’ll need another app for that. It’s also not as fancy graphically as something like the Weather Network app, but as mentioned above, commercial weather apps are not the best in terms of tracking and ads. They also have a bunch of cruft like “viral” videos, and other junk that clutters up the whole app.

Check it out if you want a no-frills, functional weather app that will keep you in the know.

De-Centralizing DNS

The internet is not supposed to have single points of failure or massive companies that control vast swaths of pages, or websites.

I’ve been actively de-centralizing my online presences of late and the last step was to leave Cloudflare and spread my DNS around a couple of different places. Obviously, a bunch of my sites rely on Hover’s DNS since I work there, and my domains are managed there. But not all of them use Hover. In a couple of cases, it’s easier to use a different provider.

The reason I don’t like Cloudflare is that it’s clear they are attempting to use their size (and the fact they offer a free service) to try and become a dominant DNS provider. Basically, the Facebook or Google of DNS. Not good.

They control way too much and have far too much access to data about sites people visit. Better to rely on DNS providers that are solely interested in offering DNS services vs. trying to profit from data gathering.

Tech Updates

I made a call to Bell today to make some changes to our various services they provide to us. Specifically, that’s home phone, Fibe TV and fibre internet.

My intention was to get rid of the home phone completely, but for various reasons related to the ridiculous ways companies like Bell and Rogers price things, it was cheaper to keep the home phone for a while longer.

Overall, I was able to reduce the monthly bill substantially, while maintaining basically the same TV package we had, and also upgrading from 300Mb/s fibre to full gigabit fibre.

We’re still considering getting rid of TV and phone completely and going gigabit only, but that will wait for a bit. I think streaming services aren’t quite there yet in Canada, and OTA is a bit of an investment in terms of an antenna and also a tuner/PVR plus a more powerful server for Plex.

On the phone side, we now have some sort of basic line with no features. I may just disconnect the phone entirely since literally the only people who call us are air duct cleaning companies, Bell Canada, polling companies and charities looking for money.

Getting into PHP

I used to know a fair bit of PHP and could write simple WordPress plugins or basic pages. With the recent interest in Shortcuts, I started thinking it would be easier to do some of the little things I wanted to do with PHP on the web instead of using Shortcuts on my iPhone.

My first little project was a TTC Flexity Streetcar Delivery Tracker. The TTC is getting new streetcars from Bombardier on a regular basis, and myself and other transit users and fans like to track the arrival of new cars.

The TTC API, provided by NextBus provides some clues that a streetcar has arrived and is being tested or has entered service. Using the API, I’m grabbing data about an array of vehicles and then showing them in a table. That wasn’t too difficult to do for desktop, but getting it to look good on mobile was a bit tougher.

A few tutorials later, I got the media queries figured out and I’m showing the table rows as cards on my phone.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out and I’m already thinking ahead to my next little project. While there are a bunch of good apps like the Transit App that will tell you when your bus is coming, they are a little too complicated for Mac to use.

I’m going to make here a special webpage that will show her the next two buses home from Variety Village. It’s just the information she needs in a simple presentation.

Getting into Shortcuts

I’ve been playing around with the iOS app Shortcuts lately to see what types of things I can automate.

Shortcuts app is technically new as of iOS 12 but it’s been around for a few years as an app called Workflows that Apple acquired and integrated more deeply into the system.

I started by going through a tutorial on Apple’s website that took me through getting some data from a weather API and then doing something with it. I used the free OpenWeatherMap API and grabbed the current temperature for Toronto and had Siri speak it out loud.

That got me used to dealing with JSON API’s and also with how you hand data around inside Shortcuts to build more complex automations.

Next up, I decided to see if I could create a Shortcut that would tell me when the next bus was leaving the stop in front of Variety Village heading westbound towards our house.

I used the open Nextbus API and made a Shortcut that gets the time until the next bus is coming (five buses actually) and then speaks that out via Siri.

Once I’d perfected that Shortcut, I decided to try something a bit more complex. Often times the kids will come via transit to meet us in downtown Toronto. The Nextbus API also has an endpoint that provides the location of any vehicle by the vehicle number. I built a Shortcut that asks for the vehicle number, and then gets the latitude and longitude of that bus or streetcar and shows it in Apple Maps.

Limitless potential

I’m just getting started with Shortcuts. There’s so much you can do from grabbing public API data and manipulating it to taking text from one app and using the WordPress API to publish a blog post without ever opening a browser.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, check it out. There’s a lot of neat Shortcuts in the Gallery to get you started and show you what’s possible.

Back to the .com

After a time using a .blog domain with WordPress.com as my host, I decided to head back to my original jameskoole.com domain as my one-and-only domain and website.

The reasons are:

  1. WordPress announced that they aren’t going to provide a domain for free with their personal plans anymore.
  2. I didn’t have a great site up at my .com domain.
  3. My running blog is no more and was folded into this site anyways.
  4. I’m good at SEO now and have the 301 redirects in place to move all the search engine results over to jameskoole.com without issue.
  5. I want to get better at managing a server and doing things myself as I’ve fallen out of practice.

I opted to install WordPress on DigitalOcean in an Ubuntu droplet. That means some command line fun to get things like the Let’s Encrypt certs installed and renewed via cron. It’s pretty cheap to do it this way as the droplet is $5/month and it also gets me a server I can use for things other than the site.

Things went well with the move over (thanks WordPress for keeping data portability alive in an age of silos). Redirects are in place and I’ll be able to kill the .blog site and domain soon.

Priced out of Apple Stuff

Hey Tim,

Nice updates to the iPad Pro and that Mac mini looks pretty cool (finally). But can we talk about the price of this stuff? I literally can’t afford it and I’m pretty well off. Every single product you announced is hundreds of dollars more expensive than the products they replace. And in many cases, you kept the old one around at the same price as it was selling for yesterday.

That’s just crazy.