Road Trip of the Living Dead

Posted May 24, 2015 by waynedgrant
Categories: Expat

Tags: , , ,

I make no secret of my obsession with zombie movies. This does not mean I like just any movie with zombies in it. There’s no place for “Zombies vs Werewolf Strippers” or whatever else in my movie collection. I mean the good zombie movies with subtext, engaging characters and plot. If I had to narrow it down to my top two zombie movies of all time it would by George A, Romero’s  Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) in that order (in my opinion “Dawn” is one of the rare examples of the superior movie sequel).

Both movies were filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which is around 400 miles from where I’m currently living in New Jersey. I’ve done a number of road trips across the North Eastern US and with time running out on my stay in the USA I embarked on my final vacation here: A Road Trip of the Living Dead.

While the drive to Pittsburgh was a long one for me all of the locations for both movies are within 40 miles of each other. With a car you can easily hit them in a few hours. The google map below shows all the locations and points of interest I took in over a single day.

“Dawn” Locations

For my trip my initial stops were in Monroeville to visit a few “Dawn” locations. These correspond to the red pins on the map.

First up was the so-called “Mall of the Dead”, Monroeville Mall. This is where most of “Dawn” was set.

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On the exterior much of the mall is still recognisable especially at the rear.

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As it has been almost 40 years since “Dawn” was filmed nothing of the original look remains in the interior. However, you can still locate areas where some of the movie’s action took place such as the corridor leading to the heroes’ hideout.

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Up until the week before I visited in May 2015 the small arched bridge featured in the movie still remained. This had just been torn down at the time of my visit which was a disappointment. At the time of writing a campaign was underway to save the dismantled bridge and preserve it in a museum.

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Other locations in the mall are more difficult to locate such as the balcony where the notable “No More Room in Hell” dialogue takes place. See the link to “Adam the Woo’s” video at the end of this post for a great guide to how to find this and other locations in the mall.

Next up was the location of the “Zombie Hunt” scenes which is only a couple of miles from the mall on Logans Ferry Road. Unlike the mall this road is mostly unchanged from the movie only missing the army trucks, mob of armed rednecks and National Guardsmen drinking Iron City beer.

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A short walk further along Logans Ferry Road is Monroeville Airport where the helicopter refuelling scene and a few zombie kills were filmed. I didn’t attempt to enter the airport as I had no wish to get in trouble with Homeland Security.

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Living Dead Museum

Next stop was Evans City which is 40 miles to the North of Monroeville. “Night” and another Romero movie The Crazies (1973) were filmed here.

My first visit in Evans City was to The Living Dead Museum which is the green pin on the map.

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The museum is small but packs a load of cool stuff into the space including original props from many of Romero’s movies, memorabilia, a “Maul of Fame” and many recreations of zombies from the films. At $3 it is a bargain. Note that the museum is not open every weekday so check their opening hours on their website if you are planning a visit.

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“Night” Locations

Next up were various “Night” locations in and around Evans City which are the blue pins on the map.

I thought Monroeville Mall would be the highlight of my trip. I was wrong as Evans City Cemetery knocks it into a cocked hat.

It looks almost exactly as it did in the opening scenes of “Night” right down to the sign at the entrance.

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The particular headstone Barbara cowered behind and the grave stone on which Johnny had his head smashed in remain in place.

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I wrapped my trip to Evans City by visiting the Bridge where the posse scenes from “Night” were filmed and the location of the Farmhouse where most of the movie was set. Both are located close together a few miles north of Evans City on Ash Stop Road. The bridge looks quite different as its missing the trusses’ it sports in the film. The farmhouse is long gone having been demolished straight after filming. You can see a newer house sitting on the same foundations from Ash Stop Road.

My final act of the day was to pay homage to the “Zombie Hunt” scene by sampling a few bottles of Iron City beer. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Me with an Iron City

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If you want to do a similar road trip then the following YouTube videos by Adam The Woo make for a good overall guide.

The first video takes in most of the locations from “Dawn”. I get the impression that they didn’t have permission for some of their filming which means they visited a few places I wasn’t prepared to trespass in (like the grounds of Monroeville Airport and the back stairwell of Monroeville Mall). The second video recreates all of the action of the “Night” cemetery scene right down to the individual headstones.

“F Weather” Pebble Watch Face

Posted March 21, 2015 by waynedgrant
Categories: Code Projects, Meteorology, Open Source

Tags: , , ,

Hot on the heels of my Cirrus Pebble WatchApp I’ve just completed another creation for the Pebble: “F Weather”. F Weather is my homage to one of my favourite web sites: THE FUCKING WEATHER. THE FUCKING WEATHER tells the weather like it is and so does F Weather except it does so for your current location:

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There are a few differences between F Weather and my Cirrus WatchApp. First of all this is a watch face rather than a watch app so it’s not interactive (but then again it doesn’t need to be interactive to relate the current temperature through the medium of swearing). Secondly F Weather is written in C and PebbleKit JS. This makes it much faster than the PebbleJS based Cirrus WatchApp. I haven’t written any C for 13 years or so and thoroughly enjoyed getting back into it.

Current conditions are looked up from Yahoo’s RESTful query services which involves two calls.

The first call takes the current longitude/latitude position available to the Pebble and looks up the corresponding WOEID and city name: city, woeid from geo.placefinder where text=”40.87,-74.16″ and gflags=”R”&format=json

The second call uses the WOEID to look up the current temperature: item.condition.temp from weather.forecast where woeid=12760611 and u=”c”&format=json

This process is repeated every 15 minutes.

My code is open source and hosted on github. It can be found here: pebblec-watchface-fweather. The install PBW can be found under Releases.

Cirrus Pebble WatchApp for Weather Display Live

Posted January 17, 2015 by waynedgrant
Categories: Code Projects, Meteorology, Open Source, Weather Station

Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t mind admitting that I am a bit obsessed about the weather. I am especially fastidious in keeping up with the current conditions where I live. This has manifested itself in several of my recent coding projects that display data from my weather station including my own web site, a web service, a PiFaceCAD based console and an android app widget.

I bought a Pebble smart watch last year on a whim and have found it useful for its notifications of texts, emails and phone calls (I keep my phone on silent so the Pebble’s vibration based notifications are especially handy). Given I have access to my weather station’s data on all of my other devices doing the same with the Pebble was a logical choice for a new project.

Previous weather projects I have written have directly fetched and processed Weather Display Live’s clientraw.txt file. For my Pebble watch application I wanted to make more use of my own web service. This would simplify the coding process as the service, unlike clientraw.txt, exposes weather data in a well-defined structure and many different measurement units. In addition PebbleJS toolkit has built-in support for making http calls to JSON-based web services.

I coded the application in Javascript using the CloudPebble website. For a browser based IDE CloudPebble is very feature rich with syntax highlighting, github integration and logging. It also has the ability to deploy directly to a pebble watch provided you have a paired smart phone for the watch on the same wireless network as the computer running CloudPebble.

The only other code that was required was a web page to expose configuration settings for the application. This currently has to be hosted on the web. In my application’s case this page allows the configuration of the web service URL and a choice of metric or imperial weather measurement units.

The finished application makes use of the Pebble’s menu UI. It populates a top-level menu of current weather data including temperature, surface pressure, humidity, rainfall and wind. Selecting any of these top-level menu items displays a sub-menu of more in-depth information for the particular measurement including daily high and low values.

As usual my code is open source and hosted on github. It can be found here: pebblejs-watchapp-cirrus.

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Cirrus Android Widget for Weather Display Live

Posted December 13, 2014 by waynedgrant
Categories: Code Projects, Java, Meteorology, Weather Station

Tags: , , , , ,

One of my recent projects was to develop an Android widget to display the values found in online WD Live clientraw.txt files. It accesses the same data as my other weather related code projects this year: a JSON Web Service for Weather Display Live and a PiFaceCAD Weather Display Console.

I’ve name the Widget “Cirrus” after the cloud genus. The widget supports 18 different weather data points (and displays the current trend for many of these) and 16 different measurement units. It also has colour coding for easy recognition of different temperature ranges (using the BBC Weather temperature colours) and UV index (using the US EPA UV Index colours).

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I use the widget to display the current conditions for both my own weather station and others when I travel. So far I have installed and run it successfully on a Samsung Note II (Android 4.4.2), Samsung Galaxy Express (Android 4.1.2) and a 2013 Nexus 7 (Android 5.0.1).

At this time I do not have any plans to publish the widget on the Google Play Store. I have, however, open sourced the code using the MIT License and made it available via GitHub here:

See the read me for installation and use instructions.


Weather Station Winter Report

Posted November 21, 2014 by waynedgrant
Categories: Meteorology, Weather Station

Tags: , , ,

The onset of Meteorological Winter is a little over a week away here in New Jersey (it runs from 1st Dec to 1st March). Last year’s winter here represented a period of prolonged cold and quite sizeable snow fall. It was certainly more severe than anything my weather station setup experienced in the preceding years in Scotland (although note that the station was only installed there in August 2011 after the severe winters of 2009 – 2010 and 2010 – 2011).

This post relates my experiences with my weather station from last year’s winter (2013 – 2014) and is a record of what worked well and what did not work so well. I run a standard Oregon Scientific WMR200 setup and will describe how well each of the sensors stood up to the harsher than normal conditions. I have illustrated the post with pictures taken at the time and supplemented with various charts produced using my Meteo Sheeva setup.

Winter 2013 – 2014 in New Jersey

Last winter New Jersey, like many parts of the USA, was in the grip of a prolonged Polar Vortex. There were certainly colder places in the USA that winter. There were also places that got a lot more snow. Indeed, according to meteorological records, New Jersey has itself had much colder and more snowbound winters in its past. What made it unusual was how prolonged the cold was and, as a result, just how long the deep snow was able to persist.

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As I have already mentioned it was very cold. The coldest it got according to my instruments was -15.7°C on the morning of 7th January 2014. What was really extreme was that the temperature could remain entirely below freezing for days at a time. The chart below shows the number days per month from December 2013 to February 2014 when the temperature did not rise above 0°C. January was especially gruelling with 14 of 31 days spent entirely below zero.

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The following chart shows the minimum temperature for every day from the start of December 2013 through to the end of February 2014. Extended cold like this quickly becomes wearing on people and machines alike.

dec - feb min temperature

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Note the spike in minimum temperature on 22nd December 2013 (to 13.7°C). This is not a sensor anomaly and I remember that day well. Preceded by some rather cold days the temperature got up to 20.6°C. This made for shorts and t-shirt weather for one day in December. As we can see from the chart the warm weather did not last long and temperatures plummeted and stayed cold thereafter.

Then there was the wind chill. This dropped to a low of -21.3°C on the same morning as the lowest temperature was recorded. I suspect that the wind chill was worse than this in reality as my anemometer is not in the most exposed of locations. The graph below shows the daily minimum wind chill from late December 2013 (when the sensor was installed) through to the end of February 2014.

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Finally there was the snow. Up to 2 feet was present on the ground for weeks at a time. The problem was not that it snowed an incredible amount. Instead what did fall remained for weeks at a time because of the consistently low temperatures.

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Weather Station Sensor Location

The siting of my weather station’s sensors has some bearing on my experiences last winter so I will describe that briefly here.

I am not entirely happy with my weather station setup at the moment. Unlike my previous setup in Scotland I am constrained in terms of space having no garden or roof to speak of. The anemometer/wind vane and rain gauge are installed fairly low down on the makeshift box and pole arrangement pictured below (a UV sensor is also pictured but this was not actually installed until mid-2014). The Temperature/Humidity sensor is better situated and can be found round the corner on another pole in a spot well sheltered from the sun.

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Before I turn to each sensor’s winter performance I will talk a little about batteries. Oregon’s various sensors are wireless and are therefore powered by AA or AAA batteries. Conventional wisdom in weather station circles goes that it is best to swap from alkaline over to lithium batteries when it gets cold as they perform better in such conditions. I stuck it out with normal alkaline batteries last winter and suffered no signal drop-outs from my sensors. Lithium based batteries are no doubt better for extremely cold conditions but they are an unnecessary expense for the kinds of conditions I saw last winter.

Temperature/Humidity Sensor

The WMR200 comes complete with a THGN801 temperature and humidity sensor. The sensor is a relatively small box installed within a plastic weather shield. Mine is mounted on a pole about a metre off the ground. During the winter the shield did its job well as it became heavily encrusted with ice and protected the sensor which kept reporting consistently with no signal drop-outs throughout the winter. The shield even sported a 30cm icicle at times as pictured below.

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Ice was a real hazard generally last winter. Indeed the accumulated ice managed to bow the previously vertical trees near the sensor to be almost horizontal under its weight.

winter weather

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The only let down with the THGN801 was a strange behavior that manifested whenever the air temperature dropped to -10°C. Whenever this occurred the humidity would continue to be reported by the sensor but would not vary until the temperature rose above -10°C at which point it would start to report the true value again.The following chart shows this behavior starting at just after midnight on the 7th of January and persisting until mid-morning on the 8th of January (where the blue plot goes flat).

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Basically the humidity reported by the THGN801 below -10°C will almost certainly be incorrect and as will the associated dew point. Various weather forum searches have informed me (for example, here) that this is not an individual sensor fault but an endemic problem with the THGN801 and other similar sensors . If I lived in an area with frequent -10°C cold I would not be relying on Oregon gear.

Anemometer / Wind Vane

The WGR800 is a combined anemometer and wind vane. Mine is mounted, less than ideally, on a relatively short pole. The sensor performed well with no signal drop-outs all winter. The only issue I had with it was with the wind vane component on top and I put this at least partly down to its low position. When heavy snow fell on it overnight it could become encrusted on the vane which froze and locked into a single fixed position. Pictured below is one occurrence of this (note the rain sensor is starting to disappear beneath the snow. More on this below).

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While frozen the wind vane reported a constant (and incorrect) wind direction until it defrosted sufficiently to move again. This wind vane would typically only be frozen for a few overnight hours at a time when there was heavy snowfall. One such instance is charted below when there was wind but a suspiciously constant South-Easterly wind.

wind vane frozen 25 jan

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Rain Gauge

The final outdoor sensor I had last winter was the PCR800 rain gauge. There is not much to say here as it was completely buried under deep snow for much of last winter as pictured below. Once it was buried I felt it was safer (for it and for me) to leave it there insulated under the snow until it was revealed in the thaw. Despite its imprisonment it reported (understandably zero rainfall) constantly with no signal drop-outs throughout the winter.

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Winter 2014 – 2015 in New Jersey

My setup remains the same as it did last winter apart from the addition of a UVN800 UV sensor. Customer reviews show this to be a particularly delicate sensor prone to permanent failure in colder conditions. Given that temperatures here are already falling frequently below zero and UV is already a distant summer memory I have already mothballed the sensor until spring comes around.

The rain sensor did fail the following May when it was hit by 11.5 cm/hr rain. As a result its innards got a bit wet and no amount of drying could get it to signal consistently again thereafter. I have since replaced it with a spare unit. The question is, did its icy incarceration shorten its time span? I will never know but if my replacement rain gauge starts to become entombed in the same way this winter I will fish it out and bring it inside. There is no point in risking it in conditions where there is no rain to report anyway.

With a week to go and temperatures already plummeting here I have prepared all of the deployed sensors with new batteries. All that remains now is to see what this winter will bring to my corner of New Jersey.

JSON Web Service for Weather Display Live

Posted October 26, 2014 by waynedgrant
Categories: Code Projects, Meteorology, Weather Station

Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been busy implementing a new website for my weather station over the last few weeks at Wayne’s Weather.

There are a number of new technologies being employed. I’ve ditched my bespoke (and ugly) HTML and instead use Bootstrap for a client responsive UI. Chart and image viewing is now more user-friendly thanks to Lightbox. I have also made extensive use of JQuery to pull in information from various sources and to provide a more dynamic experience.

The functionality of the site has also been extended. There are now more in-depth current readings supporting both metric and imperial measurements, forecasts and weather maps from for the local area have been integrated and I have added a weather webcam and a weather almanac. I intend to write posts to cover the wunderground and webcam build outs soon.

For now this post will concentrate on an unexpected off-shoot of my efforts: a Web Service that exposes Weather Display Live data.

Weather Display Live

Weather Display (and its equivalents such as MeteoHub) can generate clientraw.txt files containing a weather station’s readings and can upload them to a web server periodically and frequently via FTP (in some cases every minute). The primary purpose of this is to drive a Weather Display Live (WDL) dashboard:

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The WDL clientraw.txt format is well documented and I have previously used the HTTP addressable clientraw.txt to drive a custom Android widget and my PiFaceCAD Weather Display Console. The disappointing aspect is WDL itself. Don’t get me wrong it’s an excellent weather dashboard and I still have it available in my new website. The problem with it is that is Flash based which is not as widely supported as it used to be. It’s pretty much not an option for mobile device clients running IOS or Android, for example.

To counter this I wanted my new website to make far greater use of the information contained in the clientraw.txt files outside of WDL dashboard itself. My old weather website made use of PHP to grab weather readings from clientraw.txt and place them into web pages before serving them up to the client. This was an approach I wanted to move away from.

I’d just cut my teeth on using JSON formatted web services with my experience as a client to the Wunderground API. I liked the idea of having a page load its own data from the client side where it could conceivably be mix and match data from various services. I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to create my own web services to expose WDL data and call them from my own web site.


I settled on using PHP for the implementation for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I’ve used it for server-side processing on-and-off for a few years and know if fairly well. Secondly because I intended to write a general solution which I could open source for others to use and PHP is ubiquitous in the hosting world.

The result was json-webservice-wdlive, a JSON formatted web service API.

The API exposes two URLs. The first URL returns current weather conditions including Temperature, Pressure, Rainfall, Wind, Humidity, Dew Point, Wind Chill, Humidex, Heat Index and UV. The second URL returns a weather almanac for Month-to-Date, Year-to-Date and All Time records. Both JSON and JSONP (enabled with the addition of a callback attribute to the URL) are supported.

Besides exposing the data in the default units found in clientraw the responses also contain many alternative units. For example, clientraw files store wind speeds in knots. The Web Service responses, on the other hand, respond with Bft, knots, km/h, mph, and m/s.


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Note that I only expose the data I need for my own purposes (i.e. what my weather station setup supports). However, it would be a simply matter to expand the service calls to add, say, solar measurements or extend the selection of almanac measurements. Anything else WDL clientraw.txt files provide can be exposed, if required, with minor code additions.

I have made the json-webservice-wdlive source code available as a GitHub project. Have a look in the project’s README for installation instructions. json-webservice-wdlive is also running live on my own weather website. You can try it at by clicking on the links below:

Refer to the API page on my website for more details on the Web Service’s response fields including the different measurement units and number field formatting details.

I also make use of the service in three places on my own website: the Current Conditions, Weather Almanac (pictured below) and the Forecast page where I mix my service’s results with those from the Wunderground web service.


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If you have a WDL enabled website feel free to install json-webservice-wdlive to expose your weather data to others and/or to include your information in your own pages.

PiFaceCAD Weather Display Console Build Out

Posted July 19, 2014 by waynedgrant
Categories: Code Projects, Meteorology, Weather Station

Tags: , , , , ,

I bought a Raspberry Pi back when they were first released in February 2012. It was purchased with the intention of setting it up as data logger for my WMR88 weather station. I got it up and running for that purpose using wview. However, I soon found a better solution for my data logging requirements in the Meteo Sheeva.

The Pi then found its way into a box and remained there unpowered for over two years. I wanted to put it to good use but no ideas were forthcoming to utilise it. Then inspiration struck.

I had just completed an Android application widget that could poll the WD Live files hosted on a website and display the current weather conditions therein. I use it on my smart phone to see the current conditions at home. Could I use the same principle to create a custom weather display console? It seemed like a cool little project and would put the Pi to good use at last.

The first thing I needed was some kind of simple, dedicated display for the Pi. Trawling the web I found a few products on offer that did just that. Unfortunately they all required soldering which I’m just not brave enough to try. Then I discovered the PiFace Control and Display (PiFaceCAD).

The PiFaceCAD is a neat bit of kit. It attaches to a Pi via its GPIO ports and provides a small backlight 16×2 character screen, five buttons, a three position navigation switch and an IR receiver. All of these features are programmable via Python. I ordered it and the compatible Camden Boss case from MCM and they arrived a few days later.


The assembly was a little fiddly as the Camden Boss case is a very tight fit around the Pi and PiFaceCAD. I’ve illustrated the process in the pictures below.

The unboxed PiFaceCAD:


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The unboxed case with the included rubber feet. I prefer clear cases if I can get them as they are more interesting to look at than opaque cases:


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My Pi ( a Model B Rev 1) maneuvered into the bottom half of the case. It’s a tight fit to get it in place, especially the composite video port:


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The PiFaceCAD attached to the Pi via its GPIO pins. Getting the PiFaceCAD into the bottom half of the case is difficult as the five buttons have to fit into small cut outs. I was sure I was going to break something but fortunately I didn’t:


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The top of the case snapped into place. Again it’s tricky to fit it around the Pi’s USB and Ethernet ports:


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Finally the assembled unit powered up, with the PiFaceCAD software installed and running the supplied SysInfo demo program:


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Coding in Python

With the hardware up and running the next step was to code the weather display application itself. The PiFaceCAD provides a functional, easy to use Python API. The API exposes the ability to write to the display, control its backlight and add event handlers to the various buttons and the IR receiver.

I had never coded in Python before (Java has been my mainstay for last few years with the occasional foray into PHP and C#) but found it to be a straightforward language to pick up with a gentle learning curve and excellent documentation. The language’s dynamic typing took a little getting used to given my background but I started the exercise prepared to learn new ways of doing things (I did not want to “code Java in Python”). Coming from Java I really appreciated the lack of boilerplate code required by Python and just how little code it took to get things done without sacrificing readability. I expect to be doing a lot more coding in Python in the future.

Python’s library support is also excellent. I was pleased to find a JUnit like capability in the “unittest” Module and made use of decimal, urllib, threading and time modules in my solution (as well as creating a few modules of my own to handle, transform and format weather data).

What I did not do was code on the Pi itself. I instead coded the project on my Macbook using the excellent PyCharm Community Edition IDE from JetBrains. I periodically uploaded my unit tested solution to my Pi via FTP for integration testing. The code targets Python 3.2.3 which was the version available on my current version of Raspbian (released Jan 9th 2014).

pifacecad-wdlive on GitHub

The result of my endeavours was the pifacecad-wdlive application which I have hosted on GitHub. If you are interested in installing pifacecad-wdlive then head to the README for setup instructions. If you want to fork pifacecad-wdlive to add extra capabilities then all of the source code and unit tests are available in the GitHub project.

The current version of pifacecad-wdlive supports 16 different weather displays which are selectable using the PiFaceCAD’s navigation switch (this switch also controls the backlight) and 16 different measurement units toggled using the PiFaceCAD’s buttons. Better yet all of these functions can be controlled via a normal IR remote control (I have mine working via my XBox 360 remote). The application can be configured on the command-line to point at any WD Live enabled website and polls for updated weather conditions every 60 seconds.

Finishing Touches

If my Pi ever lost power I did not want to have to start pifacecad-wdlive manually every time the Pi restarted. To execute pifacecad-wdlive on startup I added the following line to the Pi’s /etc/rc.local file:

su - pi -c "python3 /home/pi/pifacecad-wdlive/" &

Those wanting to do the same will want to adapt these lines to match their particular pifacecad-wdlive installation and clientraw.txt URL.

A normal weather display unit such as the WMR88 or WMR200 can display weather anywhere it can receive mains power and wireless sensor data. My PiFaceCAD, on the other hand, was shackled to an Ethernet cable. I decided to make my setup a little more portable by adding a wireless adapter to the Pi. I picked up an Edimax Wifi USB from Amazon to accomplish this.

A wasted hour of following various (conflicting) manual instructions on the web ensued as I tried and failed to set the wireless adapter up on the Pi. I then stumbled on and installed wicd-curses and promptly got the Wifi working.

My one concern in using a Wifi USB adapter was that of power. I feared that having the Wifi USB adapter and the PiFaceCAD connected to the Pi at the same time may require me to use a powered USB hub. Fortunately my 0.7A Samsung phone charger was up to the job so a powered hub was not required.

Here is the finished build out complete with Wifi adapter and displaying pifacecad-wdlive’s summary weather display screen for my own weather station:

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I’m quite pleased with how the build out has turned out. While it would probably have cost around the same money to buy a new weather display console from Oregon creating this was a lot more fun and satisfying.


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