Drastic Software Changes!

Will you want F5 with the proposed mapping changes?

Yes
10
83%
No
2
17%
 
Total votes: 12
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Drastic Software Changes!

Post by Andrew Revering » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:42 am

We are planning some drastic changes to the F5 software and thought we'd tell you about them, and get your thoughts on the planned changes.

1) The new radar we have been talking about for over a year IS still on its way! It's very difficult to get a nice smoothed radar with precipitation type identified by colorizing the various areas and done well, so it's taken us some time but we're getting very close! This will give us a great radar product with the ability to animate. I would expect this to be available in December.

2) A MesoAnalysis product is going to be added, and is already in production in testing phase with AllisonHouse. The product is a true MesoAnalysis that utilizes upper air "observations" from the RUC computer model, and then augments the surface with actual observations and then from that re-calculates all meteorological variables, parcel traces, etc. so the actual surface is reflected in the variables displayed. This will be available both in the F5 software, and replace the existing MesoAnalysis product @ AllisonHouse.

3) -- this is the big one --- The Entire mapping system in the F5 software will be replaced. Right now a GIS graphics engine is used in F5, which gives F5 its power for overlays, unlimited zooming, etc. However, it also makes the software very slow. Text files are downloaded and the software renders those files into what you see on your screen. The new system would replace that by generating all graphics on the web-server and F5 would simply download and display those graphics. This will make F5 MUCH faster and allow us to quite easily and quickly add more models. Additionally, the maps will be much 'prettier' and have ALL grid points in the model data represented. Right now the data is overly-smoothed. Animations will be faster too.

Now this is where we need your input... The new mapping system will remove the ability to do overlays in F5. It will also limit how much zooming you can do. There will be a couple zoom levels, but they are going to be pre-defined regional zoom sectors that you cannot customize.

The tradeoff is better graphics, faster response, smoother animations and having more models and maps to choose from.

What are your thoughts?
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Post by Bob Hartig » Sun Nov 15, 2009 11:54 am

Andy, this is really exciting news! I can't wait to see the new, rewired F5 Data.

My one reservation is the loss of the overlays. I use that feature a LOT in all kinds of combinations, and would much rather have it than faster download time. The zoom constraints, no sweat, but I'd really hate to see the overlays go. If the result is more maps with a higher degree of accuracy, then I can definitely see the value, but man, it's a tough trade-off.

I'll refrain from voting. I trust your judgment both as the program's creator and as a seasoned storm chaser.
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Post by David Bruce » Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:05 pm

Being a new owner of F5 and member of this forum, I respect all of the views everyone will put down here as they know more about the software than I do. With that Said I know what I want out of the software and what brought me to purchasing it. I will admit, I wish we could keep all the old and get all the new as well. It is a bit of a trade off to pretty much lose the control feature of the software of making your own maps with overlays and such. I am torn, I don't really think the speed of the downloads or rendering is slow, I never wished it were faster, for what i have seen of it. I was also looking forward to doing my own zooming for the maps I want to upload in the future to m site. The zoom levels also are a way of personalizing the map you make. SO even with the new features being considered, losing personalization of the software which was a big reason for me to purchase is enough for me to decide against the new way of the software. Just my opinion.

I guess my main question would be, if the maps will be pre-generated and we just select them, (not create how we want) then how are the combination of maps going to be made, will there pretty much be a wide selection of maps to choose from, basically allowing us to choose what we already may have made by our own overlays. Maybe I don't understand how this is going to be done. The new radar I definitely like. I guess i need more clarification of what will become available for maps and zooming. Sorry to be a pest.
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Post by Andrew Revering » Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:12 pm

I appreciate the feedback guys. I look forward to more responses as well. If this becomes a common response, then I may need to rethink the upgrade to accomodate all needs, or perhaps to scrap the upgrade all-together.

Keep the posts coming!
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Post by Andrew Revering » Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:29 pm

I would provide all of the current maps by themselves plus a lot of combinations that would be common. For example:

- Surface wind speed
- Surface wind speed + wind barbs (you would normally have to make this map by doing 2 layers)
- Surface pressure + wind barbs (you would normally have to make this too)

etc.

Any special requests that someone has could easily be added to the map suite, and then its always available.
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Post by Bob Hartig » Sun Nov 15, 2009 1:23 pm

That might work, but too many overlay maps could easily create a very cluttered index. For example, here are just a few of the overlays I commonly use--and I'm purposely not even including wind barbs at various levels, which to me are simply intuitive:

SBCAPE & SBCINH
MLCAPE & MLCINH
various other CAPE/CINH combinations
ML or SBCAPE and surface dewpoints
MLCINH & 700 mb temps
SLP & surface dewpoints
SLP & 850 mb dewpoints
SLP & SBCAPE
SLP & MLCAPE
SLP & 500 mb heights
SLP & 500 mb winds
500 mb heights & 500 mb vort

I'm just getting started, and so far these are just simple pairings. I often overlay three and even four or more maps, shaded and contoured to help me know which is which. Messy, absolutely, but it works for me, and I love having that degree of interaction with the maps: slap a couple down, add another, pull that one away and add a different one...I really like that.

But my point, now that you've got me thinking about it, is that the number of different overlays I actually use is huge, and it could make for a ponderous maps index. And that's just me; other users will doubtless add to the mapload. The time gained in downloading could be lost just trying to find the right map! I love that you'll be adding more maps, but to avoid clutter, I think you'll do well to limit them as much as possible to new data such as moisture convergence, not composites of maps that already exist.

I might add that I have no complaints with the download time as it stands. Faster is great, but I'm happy with the present speed.

I'm really not wanting to sound negative or shoot down what could be a great idea, Andy. But I think that the ability for your users to customize their own overlays is one of the unique and very strong points of F5 Data.

I'd love to hear more feedback than mine on this matter, both pro and con.
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Post by Jason Blum » Sun Nov 15, 2009 2:44 pm

Tough call.

I'll be brutally honest: I love your product, but canceled service after a few months because it was agonizingly slow. If you could speed it up, I would be thrilled and would definitely reactivate it in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, I also used the overlays and relied very, very heavily on them.

Like I said, tough call!
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Post by Steve Miller » Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:18 pm

I will be the voice in total support of the new version. My primary reasoning is I want to see this product advance and I'll imagine the brains behind it sees potential for said advancement by going a different direction with the processing of maps on the F5 servers rather than on our respective PC's.
The advantage to the current platform is the products are quickly downloaded with very little bandwidth for those of us using it for RUC on cell connections in the field. Downloading text is faster than pre-rendered graphics. That said, I have multiple programs open and the F5 program is hogging resources to render out text to graphic, well, the change to web-based graphics is a plus. 6 of one, half dozen of the other.

Radar: I'm here nor there on radar. A crude current radar depiction with mesoanalysis on the same map would keep me happy. Lightning would sweeten the deal. I am probably contradicting myself on the overlay statement I'm about to write below.
Being able to see a supercell on radar and then see that same sup with an idea of what kind of air it is moving into would be important to me.
Fact is, GR products have a stronghold on the radar display business so reinventing the wheel is not necessary for storm chasers unless you can create a better "wheel" with all the integrations as GR; I would rather see you spend time refining/expanding custom products and adding more to the modeling side of things; ECMWF coming soon? I'm sure your commercial customers will appreciate the radar though so don't take my lack of excitement to heart.

Mesoanalysis: I'm absolutely thrilled about the upcoming mesoanalysis products. If these are used to get an hourly APRWX custom product, I'm even more thrilled! Since these are already rendering in the testbed, what are the chances of us getting to see a screen shot of the output?

Overlays: I have found I rarely overlay model over model on F5. This may be due to my amateur forecasting "upbringing", drawing on paper maps before computers ran neat stuff like F5; I find it more fun and satisfying to draw on my monitor with dry erase markers! I know, I know, I've lost my mind. I can see where model overlays would be convenient, just not for me.
All of this said, I would like to ensure that cities, roads, rivers, etc will still be available on our map output. Losing these points of reference would be rough. City density adjustment is important. This seems like it would be classified as an overlay so I think some clarification of how a lack over overlay might affect all of the non-model attributes.
Bob's list is a good start for some canned combined overlays and I know more will come about in this thread as more people contribute.
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Post by beaudodson » Sun Nov 15, 2009 9:04 pm

Would love to see some of the sample maps. Sounds like some good changes are coming.
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Post by jmagyar » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:38 am

Andy,

You know me, I am blown away by just about anything you create. Do I have quesitons/concerns? Sure. But if you think it is an improvement over what we currently have then go for it. Just don't change the scope or main funtion of the program. Most of us that use F5 is for forecasting storms/tornadic events. Remember last spring, we were joking about how F5 was predicting 20+ inches of snow in western Kansas in late March. You thought it might be alittle off? What did we end up with....30+ inches!!

My point is...just do not change why you made this program. You are talking like its a whole new beast. Thats what scares us. For those of us that attended your online demos....or countless emails back and forth...I think some of us are just scared of change.

Radar really is not that important to me. I have GR3 for chasing, and GR2AE for armchair chasing, or loading archived data of storms I chased to see what was going on. But...on the other side...it sounds like it might be something we can utilize day of chase on a mobile connection. How big will the image files be? Will it also cache the images so we don't have to redownload each time we move the map slightly, or change zoom levels...(Like a Java based radar program that is out there now) I was just thinking about seeing the lastest forecast data, while on the road would be a big help!!

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Post by jmagyar » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:54 am

Andy,

A few more thoughts....Could the downloads be in a format that allows transparency? That way they possibly could still be stackable? Now what would really be cool, is for a way that the program could adjust the transparnacy (spelling I know....its Late!!) on a per image basis.

Will it still operate as a server? So basically we would be selecting an image, and then uploading that straight to our destination without any modifications? OH...and will it work on a 64 bit system? Remeber that the current F5 Server has 'issues' with 64 bit. It won't restart the program after your forced 24 hour close/reopen command.

Will the old system be stopped as soon as the new software is released? Or will you operate both for the current season, say through June?

Will it be at the same price point? I assume us lifers have nothing to worry about? :)

Do you have a time frame for release? Are we talking 2010 season or beyond for release?

About Bobs coments on the clutter...my suggestion is a list somewhere in the program with an index of all available maps...and then have a section on the main screen for basically bookmarked maps that the user selects off the index. That way, the only maps listed are the ones that the user plans on using.

With all that said...I still say...GO FOR IT!!

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Post by Bob Hartig » Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:58 am

Steve Miller wrote:I want to see this product advance and I'll imagine the brains behind it sees potential for said advancement by going a different direction with the processing of maps on the F5 servers rather than on our respective PC's.
I concur. The thing I'd never want is for my concerns about the overlays to hang up progress. Right now, Andy, you're the guy who really "sees" where F5 is heading and what it will look like. This means that trust comes into play for the rest of us, and trust is something you've certainly earned. I've always seen you as being deeply committed to F5 Data and to your clients, and the improvements you've made have consistently been true improvements that added value. So, yeah, I love the overlays, but not at the cost of hampering your vision for where F5 is headed. It may just be time for me to let go of something great in the interest of getting something even better. I agree with others that some screen shots, when they become available, would be helpful.

As for the other changes coming, I'm particularly excited about the mesoanalysis stuff. I've always loved having the RUC maps on Allisonhouse--they were a selling point for me when I subscribed. From the sound of it, this feature will be taking a quantum leap.
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Post by smyezek » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:07 pm

First of all your poduct is great. When I use the product I do like to use the overlay and be able to overlay a few maps to help determine a possible target area. By looking over one map and then have to download a different map, I may end up missing something that would have otherwise popped into my mind while looking over a couple of overlays. My next concern would be how far you would be able to zoom into an area? I'm not one that would need to be down to a street level, but down to a few county levels would be good.

I've been using your product off and on now for a few years, and have noticed that it only gets better. Your team has done a great job and keeps putting out a great product. It does sound like the next version will be just as good. I look forward to using it again next spring.

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Post by Andrew Revering » Mon Nov 16, 2009 5:47 pm

I'm investigating several possibilities right now, running tests in various environments and with different options. I think the best compromise of all worlds that I can do is:

- Provide a web-server generated graphics engine
- Images are compiled on the web server with user options sent to the server from F5 software.

This means that the F5 user can still build their overlays and options (the interface for setting it up may be slightly different), and those options are passed to the web server for the image creation, and it is sent back for viewing in F5. This will allow for:

- All map overlays you currently have (counties, cities, terrain, etc.)
- Overlaying multiple layers (SLP & MLCAPE or whatever)
- Setting a custom zoom level and image size (to fit screen, or for your web site needs)


I'm still working out the details, and in testing preliminarly it seems comparable to the speed F5 has right now... I don't think there will be a performance boost to do it this way because images are created as they are requested to accommodate for zooming & overlay requests, so there is a few second delay to generate them and then display them... and zooming in and out will actually be slower because each zoom requires another call to the server for a new image... however the benefits are:

- Much nicer looking graphics
- Much more power regarding map types, models
- Much nicer animations
- Better graphics for your web site
- Expandability for new map types (surface plot, streamlines, pressure centers & boundaries etc.) & models



Other than a delay waiting for the image to build (which would add up to about the same delay you have now), the only negative I can think of is it would take longer to zoom and pan... something on the order of 5 seconds per change in view.

However the response of the program overall should be improved in regards to clicks and program response. The delay will be in waiting for server responses. To get an idea... it could take on the order of 2-3 minutes to LOAD a NAM-WRF full 84 hour animation. (the animation itself once loaded would be very smooth and nice..much better than what it is now) To compare, I just did an animation that took 1.5 minutes to load.

The alternative is to make the whole thing very snappy, but then you lose the ability to zoom in, do overlays and customizations...which I think we already decided is not what people want.

Of course another alternative is to not change anything.


As some of you have alluded, this is making way for a completely web-based product... IE... a web site you log in to for viewing all your maps. This is around a corner even farther down the road, but this would be a web-based F5... not intended to replace the software version by any means! The software version will still be supported, as evident by upgrading the software with this change first... and those who want the web site instead of the software will have the ability to switch their subscriptions, so no worries there. Those who prefer the software will still be able to use it and have support for it. I do have to differentiate between the two so that there is reason for people to choose one over another, and that may be the customability that the software provides you with. Another advantage to the software may be to customize images to place on your site, etc. I'm still planning this all. I just know that originally F5 was a web-based product when my partner Nick Benson helped me out with that aspect. Then he jumped ship and I shifted it to a software product and not everyone was happy with that move! So I want to bring back those who I lost in that shift by providing a web option as well.

Some other questions I see in this thread:
Could the images be in a format that allows for transparency?
Yes, however if you're suggesting that your map be transferred in several images layer by layer, that would vastly slow down the process. Each one of those is another 5 seconds of wait time, which I don't think is reasonable.
Will it still operate as a server?
Yes. The functionality of F5 as a tool to update your web site is not going to change.
Will it work on a 64 bit system?
That's a good question! The current F5 does not play nice with all 64 bit systems...but that has nothing to do with these changes... thats just a matter of me figuring out what the issues are and fixing it.
Will the old system be stopped as soon as the new software is released?
Essentially, yes. This will replace the old system. Its possible that I have a phase-in period depending on the route we decide to go, but at some point all software with the old mapping system will stop working and users will be forced to upgrade.
Will it be at the same price point?
Lifetime subscribers have nothing to worry about. :-) Our prices have been known to change, with sales popping up here and there quite frequently. I have no intention to increase the price of the subscription, however I always reserve that right. I do not have the capability to automatically change billing on a current subscription, so whatever you're subscribed at is the rate you're locked in to until YOU decide to cancel and re-sign up. I could change the rate for new subscribers, but again I have no intentions to do that at this time. My goal here is to make the product more attractive to all users, new and old, and also to support a backend system for new products coming out...including but not limited to a web-based F5 (web site), a cell phone app, and commercial data services.
Do you have a time frame for release?
Anyone who has been with me for years knows that my timelines are pointless. I have been known to claim something will be released at a given date and to not actually fulfill those timelines until over a year later! :-) So take everything I say with a grain of salt, but with that said... I would LIKE to see this available in some form by spring 2010. It will be a big undertaking though as I have to port all my existing code over to a couple different languages, which is a LOT of code.

Regarding the new MesoAnalysis product coming... there really isn't anything to show regarding new graphics... what you have in AllisonHouse now overlaid in Gibson Ridge radar software is the same look of what you will have with MesoAnalysis. Similarily the F5 version will look the same as any other model you currently have. The difference is in the background, what the data is made up of. ...and that is an upper air 'observation' from RUC that has the surface data replaced with actual observations, and then parcel traces are calculated using Virtual Temperature... together these things mimic the method used by the SPC to show their MesoAnalysis products, and then after all of that is done, we run our 160+ map calculations against it, including the APRWX suite of products. This greatly increases the accuracy of all parameters, including my severe & tornado indices. I'm excited to see what comes of it all.

You may find it interesting that the original purpose of creating the MesoAnalysis code was to provide a very accurate way to determine precipitation type falling right now, so that I can properly colorize the new radar image soon to come out.
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SPEED

Post by twcmaster » Mon Nov 16, 2009 7:01 pm

Since this is my first post, let me start off by saying that I love F5 Data and all the great support that Andrew provides to his customers and the weather community.

As for this particular situation, I am all in for the quickest option possible. I find myself using the actual program (not the allisonhouse feeds) less and less due to becoming impatient and accessing much of the same data online, but faster. I would prefer to give up the overlays completely to have a snappier interface.

Some may disagree, but I feel waiting any more than a fraction of a second defeats the point of installing standalone software to begin with.

Thanks again Andrew for accepting our input!
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