Tornado Alert App

Tornado Alert LogoI live two hours south of Joplin, MO.
Almost a year ago a tornado drove through the middle of this small town and destroyed everything in its path. I had only recently moved to this area and figured that while it was really bad, it may not be entirely uncommon. Then I did a bad thing: I felt bad, but I did nothing.
Tornado season ended and I watched as people slowly put their lives back together. To this day my wife sends me pictures of the animals the Humane Society is *still* finding as a result of the aftermath.

Tornado season started again rather suddenly a few weeks ago. This time, however, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw – two children, one almost the same age as our youngest son, picked up and thrown hundreds of feet by a tornado. Their families didn’t know a tornado was headed their way, and by the time they found out it was too late. Everyone in both families died that day.

With the incredible amount of technology at our disposal, I found it saddening that we weren’t doing more to save lives. People still listen to the news, and wait many minutes before tornados are spotted before they hear about them. These precious minutes are far too long.

No more.

I present to you, Tornado Alert.
This simple app runs on almost any Android phone sold in the last 2 years.
The key thing that sets it apart from every other tornado alerting application I’ve seen is that Tornado Alert is almost entirely crowd sourced.

What does this mean?
It means that if you install the application, and you spot a tornado, you can press *one button* on the menu, and alert other people with the same app within 10 miles. Fast.

Fast, eh? How fast?
5-10 seconds. That fast. The National Weather Service and TV stations often takes upwards of 5 minutes to report a tornado. If you’re listening to a live broadcast and waiting for confirmation of a tornado, it could be too late. These services, while invaluable and life saving in and of themselves, also require your TV or radio to still be on. Anyone who has lived through a tornado producing storm knows that electricity is often the first service to be lost.

How does Tornado Alert alert me?
When a new Tornado Warning or Tornado Watch is issued by the National Weather Service, we immediately send a notification to your phone.
If you see a tornado in your area, you simple press the “Tornado Near Me!” button, and a notification is sent to all other users in the area.
You won’t get alerted more than once every 5 minutes for the same thing – the last thing you need when you’re trying to get to safety is to be bugged by your phone.

Oh yeah? I bet you charge a lot for this. There’s an iPhone app that will alert me and costs $10!
Zero – That’s exactly how much you will pay, now and forever. The app is and will remain completely free to you. I have only one motivation for this – I don’t want anyone else to die from something completely preventable. Children need their parents, and communities need families. Let’s help each other stay alive.
In future we will look for other ways to help support the service, either through sponsorship or ads, or something. There will also be a version of the software you can pay for if you want to donate to running the service, but there is no obligation to do so.

The future
The application is in its first release. I feel it is in a good state to get out and start being immediately useful. We do however have a number of features which we’ll be working into future versions:

  • Integration with social media: When you spot a tornado, we’ll post on your Facebook wall and twitter, so your friends and family know what is happening.
  • Alerts via phone calls: Currently we can only use notification sounds on your phone to alert you. In future we’ll add the ability for you to receive a phone call too.
  • Take pictures of the tornado and share them with others.
  • Differentiated between high-priority and low-priority alerts. Currently we assume everything is high priority.
  • Any other options people ask for 🙂
  • Versions for iPhones and Blackberry devices (help is appreciated on these)

Please, take a look at the application, try it out. It’s very light weight, and hopefully it can help save a life this tornado season.
You can find the application in the Android Market / Google Play called “Tornado Alert” or go: HERE.

Slow shell open in OSX Lion

Do you find that opening a new tab in Terminal, or iTerm takes a long time? Maybe 5 to 10 seconds, instead of being nearly instant?

If so, you may want to take a look at Apple’s syslog replacement called ASL.

ASL stores its logs on OSX Lion, under /var/log/asl/.
When Terminal or iTerm open, by default the execute:

login -fp <username>

This (for whatever reason) seems to read all of the log files under that directory. If like me you have 300Mb of rotated log files in there since your last reboot, opening a new shell can take quite a while.

I don’t know what the impact of deleting the files is, but given that they’re log files I deleted the rotated ones anyway. So far, so good! Shells open quickly again!

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