Introducing AuroraAlarm

I just finished up work on my latest side project, AuroraAlarm.

AuroraAlarm is a FREE service that will notify you via SMS when conditions are optimal for viewing the Aurora Borealis in your area.

I have always enjoyed watching the weather and the stars. However, I’m not much of a night owl, and every attempt I’ve made to stay up late enough to see an Aurora after a solar event has failed, miserably. Time and time again I would fall asleep, and wake up to find that the conditions were great for viewing an Aurora the night before.

I wanted something that would wake me up if there was a possibility of seeing an Aurora. So, I created AuroraAlarm to do just that.

How it works

Every evening, AuroraAlarm checks to see if any solar events have occurred that could trigger a geomagnetic storm, which can produce an Aurora. If a solar event has occurred, it will send a text message notifying all users of the event, asking if they would like to receive a text message during the next few nights if conditions are optimal for viewing the Aurora.

If they indicate that they would like to be notified, AuroraAlarm will send them a text message at night if conditions are optimal for viewing the Aurora in their area.

What are optimal conditions?

  • Dark. Likely in the hours past midnight.
  • A Kp index strong enough to push the Aurora down to their geomagnetic latitude.
  • Clear skies.
  • A dark moon.

The goal

I have no idea if the aurora will be visible from where I live. Honestly, I think there may be a bit too much ambient light for me to see it. But, with the help of AuroraAlarm, at least I’ll be able to find out. And, I’m really not too far (about a 15 minute drive) from some REALLY dark areas. I certainly wouldn’t rule out making this short trip if it allowed me to see one of nature’s most fantastic displays.

CouchDB Plugins for Scout

Back in December I whipped up a series of CouchDB plugins for the Scout monitoring service. The plugins allow you to track all sorts of metrics for CouchDB, including (but not limited to):

  • Mean reads / second
  • Mean writes / second
  • Mean requests / second for DELETE, GET, HEAD, POST, and PUT requests
  • Mean view requests / second
  • Mean bulk HTTP requests / second
  • Counts for various HTTP response codes

In addition, there is a plugin for individual CouchDB databases and individual couchdb-lucene indexes. The database plugin will report:

  • Database size
  • Number of documents
  • Number of deleted documents
  • Number of update operations

The couchdb-lucene plugin will report:

  • Size of the index
  • Number of documents indexed
  • Number of deleted documents

The kind folks over at Scout have just released two new, official plugins based on the ones I created. The CouchDB Overall plugin combines some of the more important CouchDB metrics into a single plugin, and the CouchDB Database plugin reports the same set of the stats as the database plugin listed above.

The original plugins can be found at More information can be found here. I hope you find them useful.

Thanks to Doug Barth for some help on the plugins, and Derek over at Scout for putting together the official plugins.

Proprietary Software Not Necessarily The Best Software

I’m a big fan of open source software. I use it extensively at home and at work. I’ve also contributed to a few projects here and there. I think that on average, it is usually more secure, more stable, and more extensible than proprietary software. Oh, and it’s usually free too.

I got a little reminder today that proprietary software isn’t necessarily the best software. I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10. The first time booting up into the new version of the OS, a little pop-up notified me that some proprietary drivers were available for my graphics adapter. Sweet, I thought. Maybe now I can finally enable Compiz on my work laptop. The driver installed without a problem, and sure enough, most features of Compiz worked without an issue. However, over time I noticed Compiz was slowing things down a bit (it’s an older laptop, with an older graphics adapter), so I disabled it.

Today, I was scheduled to give a presentation to a small group of peers at work. I arrived on time, hooked up my laptop to the projector like I’ve done a hundred times before, and hit the magical key sequence to change the resolution and output to the projector. Nothing. I tried again and again, even rebooting. Nothing. Fifteen minutes after the presentation should have started, I finally bit the bullet and booted into Windows to give the presentation…something I have only done one other time since putting Ubuntu on my work laptop. Man I was pissed, especially since it took Windows forever to boot…reminding me why I switched to Ubuntu in the first place.

This worked fine in version 8.04. What the heck happened?

When I got back to my desk, I did some searching on the web, and found some forum threads indicating that a proprietary video driver could be the cause of such an issue. Remembering I had enabled the proprietary video driver, I quickly disabled it, hooked up to a projector, and tried again. Bingo! Worked like a charm. As a side benefit, I also got the dual-monitor support that had been advertised in the newest version of Ubuntu. Up until now, I couldn’t get that to work either.

So, the moral of the story is, just because it’s proprietary doesn’t always mean it’s better.