It’s Weather Time!
The weather is obviously a large component of observing and my wife decided to surprise me the other day with a special Oregon Scientific Wireless Weather Station (WMR200A). But this isn’t just some contraption to grab the local weather from some “professionally broadcast” place: This is to make your own weather measurements!
My review of the WMR200A is as follows… tedious is the first word that comes to mind with setting this up. Having no formal education in the meteorological sciences, this was a bit more work than I expected. I found myself bobbing between the “quick start” guide as well as the full manual several times before I was able to figure out which pieces go where. Just trying to put the batteries into the pluviometer took me about 15 minutes. Eight tiny screws and a rubber lined battery case later, I had to jump back in just to hit the “reset” button after putting things together. The manual made a good attempt to show what to do, but came up a bit short in my opinion.
Once I finally got all the pieces together, it was time to turn to the control panel, or “central display”. This display is probably the most robust feeling piece of equipment in the set – the others were a bit more flexible plastic. Maybe that’s to help with the obvious weathering it must endure vs. the friendly indoor climate? Either way, the display seems robust. Of course, I was surprised to see that none of my instruments were registering anything (even when I moved the anemometer). Pressing “CH” and “MEM” at the same time will initiate a scan and try to link up with devices. I’m becoming an expert at this clever bit of re-syncing, as it seems to drop devices (especially the anemometer) frequently. I’ve still not yet figured out how to prevent this from happening, although searching around online seem to suggest it may have something to do with the USB connection. Removing it didn’t seem to help the device properly register. I’ve been moving the base around a bit thinking maybe there were some issues with the signal.
There is also some software available for a computer to grab information from this display. In a single word: Failure. Plugging the USB into the computer is the only part of this process which was tireless. The “mini sized” CD that comes with it is a disaster for cd-roms which slurp in the disk. And even then, once I installed it, it immediately went to go download another 50M replacement online. Top that off with no Windows 7 support, and an unsafe requirement of turning off Vista’s UAC to prevent the software from crashing right away on start up – we’re talking disaster. If you think I’m joking, I’m not: this software has a lot of issues. Honestly, I never got it working properly and eventually uninstalled it.
Luckily I spent some time searching around and came across an open source package which actually seemed like a replacement. A bit quirky, the Weather Station Data Logger is a pretty well featured program capable of doing exactly what I had in mind: getting my weather measurements online quickly. This wasn’t a trivial task, but with a few tries I was finally able to get it working somewhat. You can see the results in the new weather tab at the top. The graphs are a bit whacky from my experimenting and fiddling about, but they should stabilize over the next few days if everything keeps working properly. (Of course, now’s a good time to replace all your Woodinville Weather links with mine. /wink)
I started with the 3.x series and was met with many crashes and not a lot of luck. I then noticed there was a 4.x “beta” online which I figured I would give a spin and everything seems to be working as advertised. The Weather Station Data Logger has an unfortunate acronym, WSDL which everyone knows is really the “Web Service Description Language”. This makes searching for extra help a bit challenging, but luckily the manual in the 4.x series is pretty reasonable. If you install this software, you are going to have to read the manual. Just flipping through the options tab and clicking a few buttons here and there will probably not get you where you want to be.
Aside from gathering the data from the display/control device over USB, the Weather Station Data Logger also has various features built into it to help you process the data. In the “Options…Misc” tab, you can change the size (and number) of graphs you have displayed, which is key to getting it to actually generate more than one graph which can be exported to a web page. The 4.x series also includes a template system which allows one to create a web page very easily. But it doesn’t stop there: It even has the ability to upload these templates and graphs to a web server on a regular basis – all from the same software package! Huge kudos to the author – this software should have been included with the WMR200A in the first place.
While I have been able to get this mostly working, I have not yet figured out how to upload the log file created by the Weather Station Data Logger. Instead, I am putting the values I am interested in into a template and then have a separate cron job running on my web server which sweeps up the template and stores the result into a database. However, this only occurs as often as the FTP transfer. The FTP transfer occurs once every five minutes (by default; I lowered it to two), but the log file samples seems to suggest readings once a minute are recorded.
Another gripe is that the Username/Password information provided to the program is not masked during display. In my case this isn’t too big of an issue, but it seems like something easy enough to correct.
Overall, I’d say this process was much more involved than I had expected (and things still aren’t working properly three days later). Yet at the same time, it’s been a pleasant learning experience and each day I seem to fix another problem I find. At some point, adding a webcam or two here should complete remote monitoring features. With a bit of luck, that process will not be as tedious and fraught with challenges. Until then, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the weather.