Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Access Control, Database and Less Orange

We have just updated SARWeather again. This time, the changes were mostly related to:
  • Giving more access to users who have not yet created an account
  • A general re-design of the user interface, now featuring Less Orange(tm)
  • Moving the back-end WOD Service to a data-base for forecast meta-data.

Access Control

Users who have not created a SARWeather account, or are not logged in, can now browse the list of previous forecasts. Forecasts can now be marked as public or private, and any user can browse and view any public forecast. The link from the share pop-up in the forecast results page is now only needed to give access to private forecasts.
The new public/private flag can be set on the forecast request page, when the forecast is initially ordered. It can currently not be modified after the fact, but you can send an e-mail to admins@sarweather.com if you need the flag changed.

Visual Design Changes

We’ve improved usability on mobile devices, by making all buttons taller, and some of them narrower to compensate. We have also moved all controls into the side-bar, including the [Play] button on the forecast result page, which is now called [Aninmate]. We also moved all controls in the previous forecasts list into the side-bar and made them into buttons like on other pages.
With so many buttons everywhere, the orange colour became quite overwhelming. We re-designed the buttons in a subdued grey colour, which lights up in yellow and red if the button’s function is active. Along with this, we reduced the number of headings in the side-bars, and instead made them into heavy black horizontal bars which really divide the bar into sections.
Finally, the previous forecasts page has been re-designed with clearer icons for the forecast status and a new icon indicating that a forecast can be re-calculated with new data. This icon is even click-able to go directly to the request forecast page to repeat the forecast. We also draw attention to forecasts which cover the current time, by writing them out in a bold font.

Database fore Forecast Meta-data

This change should not be directly visible to users, but the Weather On Demand (WOD) service which lies behind the SARWeather application now uses a PostgreSQL database to store job meta-data. This meta-data was previously stored in individual files and could not be searched, and there were occasional race conditions with multiple processes accessing the same files simultaneously, and code to work around those problems.
This change improves performance and scalability of the service, which will be important as the number of forecasts grows.

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