About Chris Poindexter

Chris Poindexter is a technology writer, photographer, and staff contributor to Digitizd. He has spent the last four years on the road writing two books on full-time RV living available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Besides technology, Chris writes about photography, personal finance, science, technology, and travel. He and his wife are currently living large on Florida's treasure coast.

Samsung Announces Galaxy S4 Zoom

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When cameras first turned up in cell phones there was more than a little skepticism from the technology market and mockery from photography aficionados. No one is really laughing at the concept anymore as smartphones have taken over the top spot on image sharing sites by a wide and ever-growing margin.  It’s become obvious that the camera people use the most is the one they have with them and the one they have with them is embedded in their phone.  It’s no surprise when convenience triumphs in the technology market.

If a little is good a lot must be better, right? That appears to be Samsung’s philosophy with the latest variation of the S4 Galaxy, called the Zoom, that takes smartphone photography to another level. One could argue the Zoom is more like a camera that makes phone calls and appears to be the second generation of the Galaxy Camera.

Like Batman’s nemesis Two-Face, the S4 Zoom is clearly a device of two minds. One side has a retracting 10x zoom in front of 1/2.3 in 16-megapixel image CMOS sensor, the other side is all S4 Android smartphone. The camera side includes extras like image stabilization, an actual in-camera flash instead of the anemic LED flashlight imitation on most phones and image editing software.

The marriage of phone and camera is further enhanced by some clever software tricks such as the ability to send someone pictures via MMS while on the phone with them without interrupting the call. Of course, there’s no guarantee who you’re calling will be able to view the photos without interrupting their side of the call, but one has to start somewhere.

Other features include dual-band N wifi, Android 4.2 and a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera. The real devil will be in details like photo workflow, battery life and picture quality before I can pronounce the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom the holy grail of point-and-shoot photography but it is an interesting step in that direction all the same.

I could see the S4 Zoom replacing camera purchases for many people getting ready to go on vacation and it’s thin enough they’re not going to resent carrying it around when they get home. It does hint at some interesting possibilities for real-time applications involving photos and videos. My sense is this is going to be a niche model at best, but time will tell.

Will iOS Rally Against Android?

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In the battle between Android and iOS the next move will be Apple’s and likely announced at WWDC, which is already underway.

So far the tide seems to have shifted in Android’s direction and it seems likely iOS will have to bend in the direction of being more customizable going forward. That’s a big change for Apple, which has so far remained tightly in control of the user experience. Android is open and customizable, iOS far less so.

More Than Lock Screen Widgets

Users want more than screen widgets from Apple, they want apps that can manage calls, change the keyboard layout, customize the home screen and make substantive changes to the user experience. All things allowed with Android, but not iOS. It will be interesting to see how far Apple is willing to go in letting users and application developers run as it quickly runs into functionality such as application data sharing and allowing users to select default applications, two features currently not available on iOS.

Not The Only Challenge For Apple

Apple is facing challenges on several fronts, including phasing in streaming from iTunes which hit an early snag when a bug allowed test users to stream any pre-release album. Oops. Getting out from under the iTunes download only model has put Apple behind the curve in some respects to more established competitors and playing from behind is an unaccustomed position for them.

They’re also facing litigation by the DoJ that paints Apple as the ringmaster in an ebook price fixing scheme. It’s good to remember that the last time a government lawsuit actually changed anything was 1984 with the breakup of AT&T, though it’s an unneeded distraction at a time when Apple should be focusing on its product pipeline and customers.

The Post Steve Jobs Era

Apple is the same company with mostly the same people running it and only one big change at the top. Yet ever since Job’s death it seems as though Apple has struggled to find its footing in product development. For the first year afterwards it seemed like they were going to pull it together as their share price continued to climb, but recently Apple stock has returned to prices not seen since Jobs was alive and product development has lost its cutting edge appeal.

Pro users are hoping for a reason to stay with Apple and the Mac Pro product manager’s promise of “something really different” is coming late as many have already started considering PC alternatives. Video pros were already feeling snubbed by the FXP X fiasco and if the “something really different” doesn’t wow video editors, many of them could drop Apple altogether.

Perhaps WWDC will put all these fears and the sense of general unease to rest and demonstrate that Apple’s problems are related to communication rather than any real issues with their product development. It promises to be an interesting day for Apple watchers and many of those watchful eyes will be on Wall Street.

Three Free And Easy Ways To Thwart Government Snooping

Locking up your digital life is not terribly difficult these days. - photo by Christine Zenino

Locking up your digital life is not terribly difficult these days. – photo by Christine Zenino

Unless you’ve been hiding in some mountaintop religious monastery you’ve already heard the news about the NSA spying on millions of Americans. This should have been a headline back in 2006 when the program started but I guess mass indignation is better late than never.

Let’s face it, the government isn’t the only entity spying on you these days and hiding from these all pervasive services is becoming both increasingly difficult and inconvenient. Personally, I like being able to whip out my phone and see where I am in relation to where I’m going. Yet every time I do that I’m sharing my location and activities with an array of businesses that include my cell provider, Google, and probably another half-dozen companies looking over my electronic shoulder.

Going completely dark on your data trail is possible, but it’s extremely difficult and really inconvenient. The good news is that, unless you really are trying to hide from the government, it’s fairly easy these days to mask parts of your digital trail. You don’t have to hide all of it, just enough to muddy the waters and leave gaps in your digital life. There are some simple and free tools out there that can make Big Brother snooping a lot more difficult.

Tor

Tor used to be somewhat difficult to install and use but now adding it to your browser is pretty easy. Since the Tor network is open, anyone can establish a relay and monitor traffic coming and going on the node. You can bet that every major government on the planet is running a Tor node but that really doesn’t matter because you’re not using Tor to hide secrets from the NSA, you’re using Tor to keep your internet service provider from knowing all your business.

Tor sets up an encrypted link from your computer to the relay router and all your ISP sees is the encrypted connection. It’s none of Comcast’s business where you surf, right? You don’t have to use Tor for everything you do, just the things that aren’t anyone else’s business.

TrueCrypt

TrueCrypt is industrial strength, state of the art encryption that will even slow down the most seasoned government spy agency. You can use it to encrypt entire drives, including the boot partition, or create smaller encrypted containers that you can store safely online, on your computer, a thumb drive or even email them around.  If your data gets stolen it’s useless without the passphrase.

TrueCrypt has one really neat feature and that’s the ability to nest encrypted containers. One password opens up the outer container and second secret pass phrase opens up the inner secret container.  So, if you’re being waterboarded at GITMO you can give up the outer container password and no one knows the secret container is even there.

JavaScrypt Encryption and Decryption

Fourmilab has this nifty little javascript tool for encrypting the text of an email. You can run the javascript tool locally on your own machine or at the web site. Paste in the plain text and encrypt it with a passphrase or paste the encrypted text and decrypt it with the same passphrase.

JavaScrypt turns this:

This is a secret message. Don’t read me Big Brother!

Into this (the passphrase is “digizd” if you want to try it out):

##### Encrypted: decrypt with http://www.fourmilab.ch/javascrypt/
ZZZZZ XNKLE MMUBX XJHTT USFFX SVUEP WAFQI PLLDH TMFEX PTMTX HULAD
UDXXC EHPKW XMRWO IUOWG HEOHW LAMCP FQFLA JMKWR PFTXR AISQK EUGIG
XTEHF OQUVC OQCCV AMNJG HPKPS ASDNS BGTQX MHJAI KDFVL VUWGD DTWJR
AHRLR KCWJU OUGHR FILOV MUDNV MBBRQ GCZZZ YYYYY
##### End encrypted message

It’s not bulletproof encryption but it would take a real person computer time and effort to decrypt it. Again, you don’t have encrypt every message, just the ones you want to make Big Brother work for.

Commercial Solutions

If you want to encrypt your cell phone calls from the prying eyes of the government, there are new commercial solutions like SilentCircle that can encrypt your voice, text and emails for a flat annual fee. The downside is that unless both parties subscribe to SilentCircle, only your side of the conversation is encrypted, but at least it’s your half.

I believe our government is about to find out the hard way that the more pervasive and widespread snooping becomes, the more likely it will motivate people to explore their options for encryption. The encryption you employ doesn’t even have to be all that bulletproof, just inconvenient to crack. If enough people do just that, it will keep the codebreakers at the NSA busy for a long time trying crack grandma’s cookie recipe.

Quiet Launch For Lenovo’s Powerhouse Y510p

Lenovo quietly let slip the media powerhouse YP510p.  Stylish and versatile.

Lenovo quietly let slip the media powerhouse Y510p. Stylish and versatile.

I must confess that when IBM sold its laptop business to Lenovo, I had my doubts. ThinkPads had always been my go to choice for rock solid business production and selling off the vaunted brand left ripples of insecurity in IT departments everywhere.

I’m happy that Lenovo managed to not only carry on the ThinkPad tradition of solid reliability but over the years has extended the line in imaginative ways without sacrificing the quality of the name. It is a rare and largely unheralded successes in the technology industry.

Lenovo has continued to field some powerhouse beauties in its laptop line and recently let slip the IdeaPad Y510p with little fanfare.

The Y510p is powered by Intel’s new Haswell i7 2.4 Ghz quad core processor paired up with NVIDIA’s 750M GPU. If one GPU isn’t enough (is it ever enough?) the Y510p can accommodate a second 750M GPU in the Ultrabay slot. If you don’t need the second graphics card you can also use the spare bay for more drive storage or another fan for additional cooling.

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The YP510p features an Accutype backlit keyboard.

Boasting 5 hours of battery life the Y510p is geared toward users who still need big power on their desk for gaming, video editing and other high-powered multimedia tasks. The 15.6 inch LED display has a non-glare finish and the unit ships with a 720p HD webcam and dual microphones backed by Dolby Home Theater audio.

The Y510p is built to move a lot of data with USB 3 which is always on so you can continue to charge your phone or other devices, even the laptop is unplugged. The 1 TB of internal drive space is not blazingly fast but you can supplement it with a 24 GB SSD in the Ultrabay if you need more speed. Other upgrades available include substituting stock DVD drive with a Bluray/DVD drive.

Nice touches to the fit and finish include a brushed metal exterior and Accutype backlit keyboard. Base model starts at $989, Newegg has the model with 12GB of RAM and an 8GB SSD for $1,149.99.

All in all the Y510p is another example that Lenovo is doing a fine job carrying on the name and tradition of IBM’s laptop business.

Windows RT – It’s Dead, Jim

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According to Bloomberg and other sources Microsoft is cutting the price of Windows RT, though that may be a mute issue since few hardware manufacturers are planning on fielding an RT device.

Windows RT was supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to iOS but, like the Zune, it turned out to be a poorly implemented imitation. Microsoft gave RT a few Windows tricks, but the platform is incompatible with many big Windows software applications. Coders had to choose between Windows 8 and RT and that was not a difficult decision for most developers.

Hardware manufacturers are unloading their RT devices faster than AT&T is dumping the Facebook phone. HP and Samsung have dropped support and Acer’s CEO announced today the company is still deciding if they intend to offer an RT device, but definitely seem to leaning toward abandoning those plans.

While the Zune was a blunder Microsoft, and the rest of the tech community, could laugh off one wonders how many high-profile blunders the company can sustain and still stay relevant. The Redmond giant trying to compete with Apple always reminded me of your dad hitting on your college-age girlfriends; part sad, part creepy and a little uncomfortable.

In fairness to Microsoft, Windows RT may have looked like a good idea in the days when Android tablets were really expensive and online productivity apps were still in their infancy. These days cloud productivity has improved to the point many businesses started questioning the cost of Office, Android tablets dropped to the $200 price range and 64 percent of smartphones sold the first quarter of this year will be running some flavor of Android.  The domination of Android makes Windows RT look out of place and Microsoft appear out of touch.

All this culminates with news from the Wall Street Journal that Microsoft is now engaged in a massive reorganization starting with laying off 200 employees in various marketing divisions. As the era of big PCs comes to a close it’s going to be interesting to see if Microsoft can find its footing and a path forward in a rapidly changing technology market.

Google’s Moto X – The Spy In Your Pocket

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The success of Google Now has motivated the search giant to take the next step and launch a phone in head-to-head competition with Apple that will take predictive technology to a whole new and possibly creepy level.

If you remember Google bought Motorola and the new Moto X, slated to launch later this fall, is the first big product to come out of that marriage. Motorola head Dennis Woodside teased the crowd at D11 by announcing he had the phone in his pocket but wasn’t ready to show it off.

The phone, which will be made in Texas, will be loaded with a sophisticated array of sensors that will keep tabs on what the user is doing 24 hours a day. The Moto X will know if you’re in the car, walking, biking or out for a run and adapt itself to your activities.

The phone will also use contextual information to anticipate why you’re taking the device out and adapt itself to the situation. If you’re near a picturesque setting you might pull out your phone and discover the camera already activated. If it’s near mealtime you might find maps listing nearby restaurants specializing in your favorite foods and whether you’ve been there before.

Imagine a phone custom made to provide Google with a wealth of new data about your every move and that’s a glimpse into Moto X. What will be interesting is finding out if users want any company knowing that much about them. Any phone these days can be used to monitor your location and movements but an array of sophisticated new sensors sending a constant data stream combined with everything Google already knows about you is definitely some next level tech.

Sales figures after the phone is launched will tell us whether consumers are willing to trade privacy for convenience or if Google has ventured into territory their customers are unwilling to explore.

Five Hacks To Make Your Android Phone Do Awesome Things

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Technically a “hack” for your phone involves rooting it first, but that can cause problems such as voiding your warranty and, in extreme cases, can brick your phone. That’s bad.  Short of that there’s still a lot you can do to change the look and function of your phone without worrying about the downsides of rooting an expensive device that you depend upon heavily.

If you’ll allow me to use the softer definition of “hack” here are some great tools for making your phone do some pretty awesome tricks.

Fix The Annoying Autocorrect On The Galaxy S4

jb_keyboardInstead of real autocorrect, the Galaxy S4 and several other phone models, have a suggestion bar where you pick the word you want. Some people are okay with that, others miss the speed of real autocorrect. It’s easy to have autocorrect your way with an app called Jelly Bean Keyboard that also gives you the option of a split screen keyboard for thumb typing.

Run Your House With Iris

The Iris system available at Lowes stores makes home automation a breeze by packaging the system for you. Turn lights on and off, change the thermostat, even look around inside your house all from your Android phone. Iris is one of the few that gives you a decent amount of control from the free subscription account and $9.99 a month for more advanced controls, including contractor “day pass” access codes.

Improved Themes With Beautiful Widgets Pro

beautiful_widgetsTired of the stock themes and boring widgets on your Android phone? Apparently a lot people are because Beautiful Widgets Pro is one of the longest running top rated apps on Google Play. Get thousands of themes and different layouts. Go ahead and spend the $2 for the pro version, it’s worth the coin.

Harness Your Computers Media Power With Gmote 2

Gmote allows you to start and stop movies or music from a distance, stream music to your phone and even run your PowerPoint presentation. It’s like a remote control for your PC or laptop.

The Name Is Bond, James Bond

mobile_cameraWith Mobile Hidden Camera you can turn your phone into a stealth surveillance device, taking pictures or recording video without them appearing on your screen. Autoshot and burst mode options available for taking pictures and a stealth mode that makes it look like your device is powered off. A word of warning there 007, recording conversations may not be strictly legal in every state. And bring the car back in one piece, will you?

Six Awesome Apps For Your New Android Phone

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Connected devices are taking over as the world undergoes the most momentous technology shift since the internet was first opened up to the public. The same way PCs took over from mainframes, mobile devices are quickly replacing PCs and full size laptops.

Smartphone prices continue to drop and screen sizes get wider as more people want to do more things on their phone. It’s not so much that smartphones are taking over, it’s connected devices that are taking over and some of them happen to make phone calls. And what we’re seeing today is just the warmup act, what’s coming is even more amazing.

In the meantime smartphones have taken over our lives and have become more than a convenient phone, they are task managers, a compass when you’re lost, a light in the darkness, a still camera, a video camera and a device to watch movies and play games.

If you’re new to smartphones, here are the first six apps you’ll want to explore on that new Android phone. I was going to put Google Now on top of the list, but that’s only available for Android 4 and, for the five or six people who have that, it’s an awesome feature. The rest of us have to wait and that’s why Now didn’t make my list.

What you can get right now is amazing enough.

Netflix

netflixNearly identical to the experience you get on your PC. Even at 3G speeds you can still watch your favorites movies and TV shows. In fact, for spouses that Netflix cheat (watch an episode before their partner) most often that cheating happens on their phone.

Any.Do

any.doIf your life is driven by a hectic schedule, tame the wild timeline of your life with Any.Do. Featuring online sync, task snoozing, speech recognition, and a raft of options for reminding you about appointments, Any.Do is your digital valet. While it may not cover for you on the last bender, you can wipe away the evidence with a flick of your finger. Like it was never there.

The Weather Channel

weather_channelThis app made our list of Top Rated Weather Apps and is a must have if weather is a concern. Whether you’re at home or on the road the weather will never again sneak up on you and ruin your outing.

Pocket

pocketWhen you see something online you want to read later, store it in Pocket. The best part is you can sync Pocket across multiple devices for later viewing. You can also archive stories after reading them which are searchable by subject.

Google Hangouts

hangoutsIf your phone has dual cameras Hangouts is awesome for being able to have face to face meetings on the go anywhere. I use hangouts to routinely talk to family and friends and have regular meetings with a publisher in Virginia. Flip between rear and forward cameras to show your friends a view of where you are.

Google Voice

voiceIf you didn’t have enough reasons to get Google Voice before, you have another good one now. A Google Voice number is better than a burner phone and coupled with the app it’s nearly seamless on your phone. You can give it out to anyone without any connection back to your regular phone number. Screen calls, block numbers or route callers to specific voicemail boxes. The feature most people like the most on Google Voice is the transcripts of voicemails which is free, most cellular providers are charging extra for that feature. Google Voice is better than a phone number.

This is far from an exhaustive list but it will get you started with a set of features that will transform the phone in your hand into an information gateway to the world around you.

Like I said up above, this is just the warmup act. What’s coming just around the corner is even more amazing.

The Cloudy Future Of Professional Software

Holger Winnemoeller, senior research scientist, Adobe, demonstrates “Painting with Bob” during Adobe MAX - Photo courtesy of Adobe/David Zentz Photography

Holger Winnemoeller, senior research scientist, Adobe, demonstrates “Painting with Bob” during Adobe MAX – Photo courtesy of Adobe/David Zentz Photography

Those who depend on professional software for video editing, engineering and imaging have good cause to be concerned about the future. The tech market has been undergoing a dramatic but largely unheralded change that is just now beginning to cause some consternation among professionals who depend on big software applications to make a living.

The symptoms of the change have been apparent for some time, but the first real alarm came when HP announced a 20 percent drop in PC sales. The hardware industry was quick to point fingers at Windows 8 as the problem, but the change that’s happening now in the tech industry goes deeper than any one operating system.

The World Goes Mobile

As 90 percent of the world discovers they can get by just fine with cloud-based productivity software running on smartphones and tablets, the whole concept of a “seat” for software packages is quickly becoming outdated. This will certainly roll up on the big software providers like Microsoft, but the first wave of the tsunami hit the shores of hardware manufacturers.

It’s no surprise then that Meg Whtiman, CEO of HP, put some distance between her company and Microsoft, suggesting the future for HP is “multiple operating systems, multiple architectures and multiple form factors.” In other words, HP is diversifying their product line as fast as they can make the changes. When it comes to revenue in 2014, HP is not counting exclusively on Windows machines.

The Google Nexus 10 is one of the devices challenging the role of full size laptops and PCs - Photo courtesy of Google

The Google Nexus 10 is one of the devices challenging the role of full size laptops and PCs – Photo courtesy of Google

PC Sales Hit Leaves Software Companies In a Quandary

Fewer people buying PCs and big laptops means fewer people buying big software packages. Adobe addressed this problem by moving their entire product line to a subscription service in the cloud. A bold move that solves the problem for Adobe by turning their user base into walking ATMs, but it remains to be seen if users are going to stick with them.

Apple solved the problem by trying to make their professional applications, like Final Cut Pro, into an application that was more friendly to non-professionals to spur wider sales. What they fielded was called FCP X and professional users abandoned them in droves.

The Problem For Professional Users

Adobe claims the subscription model is better for professional users but no one is really buying that logic. The problem is that big PCs and laptops are becoming a specialty niche resulting in diminished software sales and fewer profits to pay developers.

Before they were purchased by big companies, most of those professional specialty applications were built and managed by small companies. The bigger fish in the software industry went around buying them and bundling the applications into software suites. Now there’s not enough profit for the big companies to keep working on desktop software and those companies are turning to their user base for more money. Even users who don’t use the software every day would have to pay the same monthly subscription fee as those who use it every day in most subscription plans. I see many part-time users saying no to that deal and jumping ship to other products.

The real question here is do we owe any of the big software companies a living on the terms they set? These applications would be profitable if managed by a smaller company without all the corporate overhead. Cool Edit Pro was doing just fine before being purchased by Sony, as was Acid. Professional software would be a successful niche for many companies, just not for the big players.

Most professionals will probably sign up to the new business model, they don’t have many alternatives and a subscription payments are just a cost of doing business to them, but some won’t be able to make the transition. Video editors are having a very big problem with the new cloud software model and Adobe isn’t helping matters by being less than clear in their user communications. It’s generally not a good business practice to have to prove yourself all over to your customer base. Sony has an alternative to Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC in Vegas Video but if they go subscription users will be turning back to turnkey systems made by Avid, where many of them started.

Any way you slice the old PC software model is changing, profits are shifting to mobile development and developers are moving along with the market. Before long there will be video and high-end image editing programs for tablets and other portable devices but whether those new programs on low-end hardware will be adequate for professional use is unknown.

Right now professional software users are feeling underappreciated and cast adrift by big software and the future is cloudy for both parties in this dance.

Five Top Rated Weather Apps

The weather has turned from something to that can ruin your picnic to something that can buff your house away.

The weather has turned from something to that can ruin your picnic to something that can buff your house away.

As global warming dumps more and more energy into our atmosphere it’s changing our weather from something that used to spoil the family picnic to something that relocate your home on surprisingly short notice.

While you may not be able to do anything about the severity of storms, tornadoes and hurricanes but at least you can get a heads up about threatening weather wherever you happen to be. So while pictures of the devastation in Oklahoma play out on television, maybe this is a good time to take a minute to review some of the top weather apps out there for your mobile life.

The Weather Channel

weather_channelYou would expect people who make weather their business to have one of the top apps and the Weather Channel does not disappoint. You don’t have to guess when you’ll run into weather problems when you get messages like “Expect rain to start at 3:15.” Track multiple locations, get forecasts, updates and all that in a very attractive mobile application. Also available for iOS.

AccuWeather

accuweatherGet push notifications of weather data, even on tablets with the highly rated AccuWeather app available for both Android and iOS. Find out where extreme weather is happening, anywhere on the planet and get specific forecasts for people with physical limitations such as asthma, allergies, or respiratory illness. Get radar from around the globe and satellite overlays with Google Maps. Dewpoints are another great feature for storm chasers.

1 Weather

1_weatherLifeHacker called it one of the most attractive and feature packed apps out there and one look and I’m sure you’ll agree. Consistently one of the highest rated weather apps available on Google Play, 1 Weather is loaded with compelling features. Not only can you track multiple locations, 1 Weather will track where you are and bring the weather data for your current location. Live animated radar and extreme weather warnings. Sorry iPhone users, currently only available for Android.

Weather Bug Elite ($2.99)

weather_bugI wouldn’t suggest a paid app unless you were getting some really cool features in exchange. Probably one of the neatest is Spark Alert that turns your smartphone into a lightning detector and gives you up to the minute information on lightning strikes in the vicinity. A must have app for anyone who works outside or on elevated structures. Also available on iOS.

Weather Pro ($2.99)

weather_proThere’s also a free version but spring for the $3 to get rid of the ads. Weather Pro is for detail people wanting the specifics of wind speed, direction, relative humidity and barometric pressure. Automatically shows your current location and gives you pan and zoom capability. Graphical forecasts and many other features make this a another great choice for monitoring the weather.

We may not be able to stop global warming but at least those punishing storms but at least they don’t have to be a surprise.

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