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January, 2006 - featured website


Congratulations to Larry and St. James City Weather in Florida on your selection as’s Featured Weather Web Site for January 2006!

St. James City Weather went live in September 2003 shortly after Larry moved there. He’d previously been tracking weather at his home in Zebulon, NC, but it wasn’t being published until his move to Florida.

Larry is currently using a Davis VantagePro wireless, along with a wireless soil temperature and moisture station measuring soil moisture and temperature, and water temperature in Henley Canal by his home. He uses two different PCs to gather and generate the data on site; a Compaq Presario and a Dell dimension. The Compaq is connected to the weather station and is dedicated to that purpose. The Dell generates his tide data, graphs, and all his uploads. He uploads using a SAMBA mount of the directories on the Compaq and then KERMIT scripts run as cron jobs. This works very reliably for him. Only clientraw.txt from Weather Display on the Compaq is uploaded from the Compaq, using Weather Display’s real-time FTP.

Larry uses a variety of different software for different purposes. He describes himself as rather picky about how he wants things, and (like me) he likes something about most of the software that is out there – but there’s also things he doesn’t like about each as well. So (unlike me – he’s got the skills!) he takes what he likes from each and cobbles them together as seamlessly as he can. Larry like the overall looks and configurability of VWS’s graphs but prefers Weather Display’s data generation. Like many, he wishes VWS produced graphics in .gif or .png format instead of just the much larger (in terms of file size) .jpg format. Larry also prefers WeatherLink’s NOAA summaries more than any of the others, and so uses WeatherLink for the NOAA-style reports.

Tide data is important at Larry’s island location. He uses Xtide after trying several Windows-based tide generation programs, none of which quite satisfied him. He literally picked up a PC off the curb (wish I lived in that neighborhood…), replaced it’s hard drive, installed a copy of RedHat Linux that he’d been given for free, and began using that machine to run Xtide.

For HTML editing, Larry’s primary tool is a text editor called Notetab. He had tried a variety of of other WYSIWYG editors but since he always ended up modifying the markup they produce, he gave up and stuck with the Notetab text editor.. Since all of his site is PHP driven, he can also edit the scripts in Notetab, so that one program meets all his web editing needs.

Larry’s main motivation in putting his weather data online relates directly to the reasons he has a weather station in the first place. As Larry puts it, “I'm sure this is a familiar story to those who have their own stations. There comes a time when you realize that the local news weather and, etc. is "sorta close" to what you've experienced at your house, but it's not quite right. It's particularly true here in SWFL. On any given day the TV station might get an inch of rain while we get nothing or vice versa. When the light bulb goes on and you're a data oriented person like I am, well, you just have to get your own station so you know exactly how much rain you really got. From there, it's a simple leap to understand that there are other people that feel the same way and want to know what's happening here, not what's happening over there.“

His secondary motivation at this point is that it's good advertising for his computer services business. Nothing wrong with that, Larry!

Larry credits Tom's site for providing him with a good "base" to work from for creating some of the scripts used on his site. He says that without Tom's work things would have taken much longer to get to the point that they have.

Larry is also motivated by what he describes as “bad sites.” He says, “Much of what I've done with my site is an effort to make sure I don't make the same mistakes that drive me nuts on other sites. I work very hard to keep my site bandwidth friendly. In my area dailup still outweighs broadband by a significant margin. I also want to make sure that the actual data is always right there. One of the things I always get positive feedback on is that every page of my site, with only a few exceptions such as the individual tide charts, has the current conditions and the highs/lows for the day right there for all to see. Most people come to a weather site for the weather, not the animated gifs and intro pages. I have little patience for having to hunt around a site to find what the temperature is right now. I've seen sights that it takes 3 or 4 clicks to actually get to any data and that drives me nuts. Lot's of them are very nice looking sites but I'm definitely a function over form kind of guy. I think my site kind of reflects that as well. I've tried to keep it clean, fast loading, and keep the data right there in your face".

Larry has a lot of plans for St. James City Weather. He’ll be moving his weather station from the Compaq PC to a new rack mounted server he’s putting together as time allows. He’s seeking a 30' foot bracket tower to raise his anemometer a bit higher. His wind readings are good from all directions but south, where they are modulated somewhat by his house. Raising the anemometer another 5 feet would help the situation. Such a move would “force” a move to a wireless anemometer transmitter which would then “force” him to replace his VantagePro 1 with a second generation VantagePro 2 since the wireless anemometer transmitters are no longer available for VP1s. Dontcha hate it when that happens? He’ll make his VP2 a Plus model while he’s at it, adding solar and UV sensors. Larry is also also working on some PHP scripts to replace the VWS generated mesomap so he can provide maps at different scales. This is one the most asked for features from his visitors.

Larry will also be adding a second console or Envoy to his forthcoming VP2 so he can run Mark Teel’s wview software on his Linux machine. He very much likes wview’s graphs, as they are both clean and bandwidth friendly. He has, like many others, tried splitting the console output to both machines but without satisfactory results.

Data from St. James City Weather is sent to CWOP, Weather Underground and Weather for You. Larry especially likes participating in CWOP, for several reasons. He appreciates the data quality reports, and this is particularly important to Larry as he runs 3 other stations in his area in addition to the one at his home. The data quality reports give him a heads-up that something might be amiss at a site he may not have looked closely at for several days. He also enjoys the many ways data can be viewed at Weather Underground and the many nice graphs available there.

Larry’s interest in weather was triggered when he slept through a tornado that destroyed a house only 200 yards from the one in which he was sleeping. He was home with the flu and wasn’t even aware of the tornado’s near-miss until the next day. But his interest was really sparked when he got his first weather station.

Hurricane Charley was Larry’s most rewarding experience with weather. He says, “We had a lot of damage here on the island and afterwards I had a lot of people calling me asking questions and in many cases just looking for someone to talk to, to release some of the emotion.” Sounds as if Larry has had more “close encounters” with big weather than have most weather enthusiasts!

As you’d expect, Larry has sound advice for someone thinking about getting into weather as a hobby: “Two words. Do it! I know it's cliche, but if you even think this would be a fun thing to do jump right in. It's a very rewarding and education experience. On the practical side of things, by the best quality gear you can afford. Like anything else poorly built and unreliable equipment can be frustrating enough that you'll give up.”

His advice on creating a weather web site is equally on point. “Don't forget your visitors, and listen and act on their feedback! If you're are putting up a weather site, you're probably doing so to share the information. It's easy to forget that lots of people still use dial up, that not everyone uses IE, and that people are looking for information. If you're doing something cool on your site just because it's cool, then maybe you ought to rethink it.” Great thoughts, Larry, and ones all of us can learn from!

Larry, 43, is married and has a seven year old child. After twenty years in the telecommunications business working with Nortel Networks, he decided to move out on his own. As he says, “It's not much fun being on the road all the time when you have a 3 year old at home.”

In a prior life, Larry was a heavy metal guitar player, and has a fairly extensive guitar collection. Defying predictions of his friends and relatives that one day he’d outgrow listening to hard rock, he’s still at it. Larry also loves motorcycles and has owned everything from sport bikes to touring machines to cruisers. He says, “Life is more fun on two wheels.” Larry also plays hockey, though growing up in central North Carolina, he had little opportunity to skate. He played his first game of hockey at 30 years of age. He says he’s not the worst guy on the ice and does some things well. Larry doesn’t feel like he’s in the game until the goalie starts yelling at his defensemen and he start getting crosschecked in front of the net!

Larry is also a self-described Star Wars geek and has not one, but two Star Wars tattoos to go with his other “ink.“ Along with these other sedate hobbies, Larry is a “snake nut.” His interest is mainly scientific; he doesn’t keep snakes as pets. He does “catch and release” with snakes, recording data about each one he finds. A snake hook and bags are within reach nearly all the time. His bumper sticker reads “I Brake for Snakes” and indeed he does, sometimes catching other drivers by surprise!

Congratulations, Larry, on your well deserved selection as’s Featured Weather Web Site of the Month for January 2006, and a hearty congratulations to the other nominees as well! All of your sites are an inspiration to us all.

Writeup by Gary Oldham, posted Sat Jan 07, 2006 8:54 pm on original


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