Interview: Andy Spencer, developer of Aweather a meteorological data viewer

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This week’s interview is with Andy Spencer, developer of Aweather, a free software for visualizing meteorological radar data. AWeather has been on my radar (smart pun?) for a few years since I live in the Caribbean and weather is always a concern from June through November. I think readers will find this project interesting and I hope you will lend a hand to keep it rolling. Enjoy the interview!


 

F4S: Please, give us a brief introduction about yourself.

Andy: I’m 24 years old, I grew up in the Midwest United States and am currently working as an embedded software engineer in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been interested in Free Software for the past 6 or 7 years since first installing GNU/Linux during high school. I’ve mostly contributed small patches to various open source projects after finding bugs or when I wanted additional features. Of my own projects, they tend to be small, obscure, and arguable crazy, with AWeather being the main exception as the most “Normal” application.

When not working on software I enjoy spending time outdoors and have been interested in meteorology since I was a kid. Unfortunately, our weather here in LA tends to be somewhat less interesting than where I grew up.

F4S: What is Aweather?

Andy: AWeather is a program for visualizing meteorological data. So far it has focused mainly on showing radar data from the US WSR-88D (NEXRAD) network, but in the future I would like to add other types of data as well.


AWeather interface


F4S: Why and when did Aweather come to be?

Andy: Aweather got started during the summer of 2008. I was working in Norman Oklahoma at a Computer Science REU studying machine learning and winter precipitation types (rain, sleet, snow, etc). However, it wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that I picked up AWeather again and started spending more time on it.

While in Norman, I was fortunate enough to meet some great people and was able to learn a lot more about meteorology. One of the things I found out was that the radars used by the National Weather Service actually provided a lot more information than is usually shown on TV stations and news websites.

That’s really how AWeather got started. I wanted to be able to see all this additional higher quality radar data, but I couldn’t find any programs for GNU/Linux that were both advanced enough and easy enough to use without any specialized training.

F4S: In which languages and platforms is Aweather developed?

Andy: AWeather is written in C and uses the Gtk/GObject framework for it’s user interface. All the core rendering is done using plain OpenGL. I should point out that much of the rendering is done by the Grits library which was originally part of AWeather, but has since been split off.

As previously mentioned, AWeather was initially designed to run on GNU/Linux, but since then it has also been ported to run on MS Windows. In the future I would like to see a Mac OS X port as well.

F4S: Does the project have sponsors?

Andy: There aren’t really any official sponsors. However, the source code and homepage are hosted by the Rose-Hulman Linux Users Group, which I was involved with during my undergraduate education.

F4S: How many users you estimate Aweather has?

Andy: Haha, I really have no idea, there’s at least one (me!). I’ve received emails from several other people who have used it as well.

Until recently there wasn’t a lot of a focus on packaging AWeather to make it easy to install. That should have improved to some extent during the past couple months with the creation of Debian and Ubuntu packages though.


AWeather isosurface view



F4S: Do you know where it is used?

Andy: I don’t really, I would expect it’s mostly used by individuals since that’s how I use it. Being Free Software, anyone is welcome to use it though.

F4S: How many team members does Aweather have?

Andy: It’s mostly been a personal project of mine, in terms of source code at least. There have been many people who have provided feedback, testing, or helped with building packages though.

F4S: In what areas of development do you currently need help?

Andy: Packaging is one of the biggest areas where I would like help. As mentioned before, I would like to see a Mac OS X port of AWeather, but since I do not own an Apple computer I’ve been unable to work on that myself.

Another area that could be greatly improved is adding additional data sources. I’ve mostly been interested in radar data so that’s what I’ve worked on. Other people may want to see things like satellite data, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, etc. Those would all be great things to have available as well.

F4S: How can people get involved with the project?

Andy: There’s an AWeather development website that includes a wiki and a bug tracker. These are both somewhat new and haven’t been used that much but I would like to see them used more.

F4S: What features are in the roadmap?

Andy: Adding boxes for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings is probably the next big thing that will get included. There’s some code for this already, but the most challenging thing so far has been finding a really good data source to get the warning/watch/advisory information from.

Another important feature will be adding animation to the radar viewer.




 
F4S: Which projects, blogs or sites related to open source software for science can you recommend?

Andy: I don’t really read too many blogs, so I probably can’t help much there. And the projects I’ve used have been limited to topics of my own interests.

However I do have a few recommendations:

– Weka is a great resource for data mining and machine learning.
http://www.cs.waikato.ac.nz/ml/weka/

– I’ve used OpenCV from time to time and have found that it has worked pretty
well. http://opencv.willowgarage.com/wiki/

– Lastly, the Debian Science project has put together a pretty comprehensive
list of scientific software. http://wiki.debian.org/DebianScience

F4S: What is the URL for the project homepage?

Andy: http://lug.rose-hulman.edu/proj/aweather

F4S: Where people can contact you?

Andy: Email (andy753421@gmail.com) and IRC (#rhlug@irc.freenode.net) are usually pretty good ways to contact me.

If it’s about AWeather, the development wiki or the bug tracker might be the best way so it’s harder to lose track of.

F4S: Thanks Andy for sharing more about you and Aweather.

 

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