Don't tell the bears!
Backup, backup again and then stick another copy in a fire safe.
Don't tell the bears!
Backup, backup again and then stick another copy in a fire safe.
Catfood Earth uses satellite imagery and data feeds to create live wallpaper for Windows and Android. Earth shows you the current extent of day and night combined with global cloud cover (clouds updated every hour). You can also choose to display time zones, places, earthquakes, volcanoes and weather radar. The Windows version includes a screen saver. Catfood Earth was first released in 2003. Version 4 was fully remastered to support 4K resolution on both platforms.
Catfood Earth can be quickly configured with three different themes. After installing, run Catfood Earth Settings and click one of the buttons to activate a theme. If you want to customize further then visit the layers and advanced tabs of the settings app, described in detail below. The themes are:
Natural is the default theme. This combines day, night and cloud cover. The day image uses NASA's blue marble next generation monthly global composite. combined daily so you can see changes in snow, ice and even vegetation throughout the year. Next, global cloud cover is blended on top of the day image (updated hourly). Finally Catfood Earth computes the extent of day and night and blends in NASA's city lights image. You can update the image as frequently as every minute and watch the terminator between day and night move across the planet and change shape with the passing seasons. The video below shows how all three components of the natural theme change over the course of a year:
The time zones theme shows the current time zone in each country and optionally international zones as well. This theme is highly configurable, you can choose to show borders, pick colors, show hours or hours and minutes and control transparency. Catfood Earth can also show the local time for anywhere on Earth, see the places layer for more details. The video below shows how the time zones change by country from May 2021 to June 2022:
The final theme, earthquakes, uses a different daytime map with a more geological look and adds earthquakes for the past 24 hours. Size is proportional to magnitude and the quakes fade out over 24 hours so the most recent are highly visible. Again it's possible to customize extensively via layers. You can show active volcanoes and control the colors used, transparency and which magnitudes to plot. The video below shows a month of earthquakes as seen in Catfood Earth:
The layers tab is where you can fully customize Catfood Earth. Use the checkboxes to activate layers and then click each layer to access detailed settings. Layers are listed in the order that they are drawn (i.e. clouds are drawn on top of the day map, and then night is drawn on top of the clouds and so on).
The first layer is the daytime map. Catfood Earth ships with two defaults. The first uses NASA's blue marble 2 monthly images, merged with a more attractive ocean image. Catfood Earth interpolates these images daily so the extent of snow/ice and vegetation will change in a subtle way throughout the year. The other default is a less colorful map that I feel works well with earthquakes and volcanoes. You can also browse to and select a different image if you don't like the defaults.
All the images and data layers in Catfood Earth use an equirectangular projection so if you are using custom images you should make sure that they use the expected projection.
Clouds come from the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These images are web mercator by default, my website downloads the global composite every hour and transforms the image to equirectangular for Catfood Earth. If you have a different source for clouds you can enter a custom URL. You can also set the color and transparency of the clouds layer. The defaults are designed to make the clouds fairly subtle.
The last natural layer is the nighttime map. Catfood Earth ships with NASA's 2016 update to city lights. This layer is drawn on top of daytime and clouds where it is currently nighttime (updated as often as every minute, see advanced options below). You can set the transparency of the layer and also the width used to blend the terminator between day and night (in degrees). It's also possible to select a different nighttime image if you prefer.
The time zones layer is based on the IANA time zone database. You can change the colors used to show the time zones and control the transparency of national and international zones. You can also choose if minutes are displayed with the time zone legends at the top of the screen. This is a good layer to use in combination with the Places layer and the Political Borders layer (both described below).
This layer displays political borders in a configurable color.
The places layer shows a list of places optionally combined with the local time for each place. I've used this to show office locations around the world (handy to know if it's a good time to call someone) and also to track my geographically dispersed family. Catfood Earth ships with a default list of major cities. You can add to this, or remove everything and start from scratch. You can even export and import the list to make it easy to share between different devices. For each place you just need to provide the latitude, longitude and time zone (from the same source as the time zones layer).
Earthquake data is downloaded from the USGS feed and can show global quakes from magnitude 2.5 up. There is a lot you can fine tune for this layer - The fill and accent colors, number of past hours to show (up to 24), the transparency range (older earthquakes are more transparent) and the minimum magnitude to plot. You can also choose whether to show descriptions or not and the order in which to plot the quakes (time based, or size based which makes it easier to see what's going on when a lot of quakes hit a small area).
Volcano data comes from the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program. This shows currently active volcanoes around the world. You can set the fill and accent colors, the transparency to use and whether to show descriptions or not.
The final layer shows weather radar from the National Weather Service. This layer is US only. Enter a list of one or more radar stations to display, separated by commas. You can find your local station(s) at the NWS web site.
The advanced tab of Catfood Earth Settings controls how the final image is displayed and also allows you to render sequences of images (this is how I made most of the videos above).
Set how often the image is updated in minutes, as frequently as every minute which is handy if you're displaying the local time for places. You can also skip the first update when Catfood Earth loads (potentially useful at boot time when Windows is starting a lot of programs).
There are some settings relating to text display: a global font size and an option to use drop shadows.
Earth can be centered to a specific longitude (default 0) or to a specific time. If you choose a time then the image will rotate throughout the day to keep that local time at the center of the screen.
It is also possible to set a specific output size and location for the wallpaper. The default is to fill the screen.
Click Render Images to output a sequence of images. If you use a proxy server click Proxy Settings to configure.
Finally there are some troubleshooting options that you might be asked to use if you need help with the product.
Render Images allows you to create frames from Catfood Earth based on current settings. This is useful for making animations based on how the Earth image changes over time. Set a start date/time (UTC), how to increment time between frames, the number of frames to generate, the size and an output folder. Earth will then create a sequence of JPEGs. This works well with computed layers like day/night and time zones. It will not work well with live data like clouds and earthquakes. I have made videos from live data as well, but this involves storing many images and/or data points and is not currently supported in Catfood Earth.
Catfood Earth is a little different on Android. Because phones are mostly used in a portrait orientation the wallpaper shows the full range of latitude but only a segment of longitude depending on the screen size of the device. The wallpaper is the same as the natural theme in Catfood Earth for Windows (blue marble 2 day map, clouds, city lights night map) with the optional addition of earthquakes.
Run Catfood Earth and click Settings to configure. The slice of Earth displayed is based on a central longitude. By default this will update to your phone's current location. You can also set a manual location. -90 degrees works well to center North America. In addition to the central longitude you can opt to show recent earthquakes, control cloud and night transparency and the width of the terminator between day and night. There are advanced options to ignore screen size changes and reuse the most recent image, and to paint black under the menu bar which is useful on some devices.
After configuring Catood Earth just select it as your current wallpaper. You can do this from device settings or tap the Set Wallpaper button in the Catfood Earth app.
Catfood Earth for Android is optimized for battery life. It will update around every ten minutes and so it might take that long to see any changes to settings. Clouds are downloaded every hour. If using your phone location it accesses the last location fix established by other apps.
Catfood Earth for Windows requires version 4.8 of the .NET Framework. You almost certainly have this already and the installer will download if necessary. The installer for Catfood Earth is digitally signed. You may get a warning about it being infrequently used which you will need to ignore to install.
For support please visit this post, check to see if your issue has already been addressed and if not leave a new comment.
I was looking for a ‘live’ time zone clock for my desktop. Catfood Earth offers by far the best time zone tool around and a whole lot more. Beautiful, functional and thoughtfully designed, it brings the world alive. Martin Pratt
While Catfood Earth is a ‘fun’ product, it has been indispensable to me and our global business from a professional standpoint. It lets me know when I can communicate with clients around the globe and the weather I might be headed into on client visits. All the features are outstanding and there is no product available in its class. Joe D. Clayton
Thanks for such a great piece of software! It is so rare to find such a well-thought product, and then still with customer service that even surpasses it! Already well worth the cost — and all the unexpected features to boot! Thanks!! Hilton Kaplan
This is the best application of earth real live images for desktop I've experienced! Julie Branch
Catfood Earth 4.30 is available to download.
This update fixes a couple of problems with the screensaver. It now has improved support for multiple monitors (the image will repeat rather than stretch). There was a problem with the screensaver not starting in some cases. This should now be fixed. After upgrading to 4.30 please find and run the 'Catfood Earth Screensaver Settings' shortcut to configure the screensaver.
4.30 also includes version 2022d of the time zone database.
Catfood Earth for Android 4.20 adds support for Material You, the custom color scheme introduced in Android 12. By default every wallpaper update will also subtly change your system color palette. You can override this from settings -> Wallpaper & style and switch back to basic colors if you don't like the Catfood Earth colors. This update was surprisingly painful. You can install Catfood Earth from Google Play, or for existing users it will automatically update in the next day or so.
Catfood Earth 4.20 is available to download.
This update includes the 2021d time zone database.
After procrastinating for far too long I have also migrated to .net 4.8 and renewed my code signing certificate. You'll get at least one less warning when installing and you no longer need to enable .net 3.5 on Windows 10 which was a pain. This shouldn't make any difference but please let me know if you have any trouble installing or running this version.
Catfood Earth 4.10 is available for download.
The National Weather Service updated their weather radar API. The weather radar layer has changed a bit, you can enter one or more (comma separated) weather station IDs and Earth will show one hour precipitation for all of them. You used to be limited to a single station but with more options for the rader layer to display. Let me know if you love or hate the new version.
4.10 also includes the latest 2021a time zone database.
(I'm sure there are great reasons for it, but the 'new' NWS API is an XML document per station that links to a HTML folder listing of images where you can enjoy parsing out the latest only to download a TINY GZIPPED TIFF file FFS).
Catfood Earth 4.01 is available for download.
The timezone database has been updated to 2020a. There is also a small fix to a problem with screensaver installation on recent versions of Windows 10.
Catfood Earth for Android 4.00 is available for download and is updating through the Google Play Store.
As with the 4.00 update for Windows all images have been remastered to 4K resolution. Earth for Android has also been updated to better support Android 10 (updates are faster and the settings layout looks much better). You'll need to grant location permission in settings to have Earth automatically center on your current location. It's also possible to set a center longitude manually (I find -90 works well for centering most of the Americas).
Catfood Earth 4.00 is available for download.
The main change is that all of the images shipped with Catfood Earth have been remastered to 4K resolution. This includes NASA Blue Marble 2 monthly images (which Catfood Earth interpolates daily) and the 2016 version of Black Marble (city lights at night). The Catfood Earth clouds service has been updated to full 4K resolution as well.
Earth 4.00 also includes an update to the 2019c version of the Time Zone Database.
As well as providing desktop wallpaper and a screensaver, Catfood Earth can render frames for any time and date. To celebrate the release of 4.00 I created the 4K video below which shows all of 2019, 45 minutes per frame, 9,855 frames. You'll see the shape of the terminator change over the course of the year (I always post the seasonal changes here: Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox, and Winter Solstice). If you watch closely you'll also see changes in snow and ice cover and even vegetation over the course of the year.
This follows hot on the heels of the last release as the new clouds layer service running on this blog can update far more frequently than the source used prior to 3.45. You will now get a fresh helping of clouds every hour! Unrelated to this release I've improved the quality of the clouds image as well. If you're interested you can read about this in exhaustive detail here.
I only just released 3.44 with some timezone updates but in the past week the location I had been using for global cloud cover abruptly shut down. If you like up to date clouds you'll want to install the new versions as soon as possible. With this update I'm building a cloud image every three hours and serving through this blog (and thankfully CloudFlare) so any further changes should not require a code release.
Catfood Earth 3.44 is now available to download.
The timezone database has been updated to 2018i.
A bug that could cause all volcanoes to be plotted at 0,0 depending on your system locale has been fixed.
Catfood Earth 3.43 updates the timezone database to 2018e. The big change is that North Korea is moving back to UTC +09 today (May 5, 2018). The time zones layer in Catfood Earth shows the current time in each zone at the top of your screen and color codes each country and region. You can also display a list of specific places (either an included list of major cities or your own custom locations).
Catfood Earth is dynamic desktop wallpaper for Windows that includes day and night time satellite imagery, the terminator between daytime and nighttime, global cloud cover, time zones, political borders, places, earthquakes, volcanoes and weather radar. You can choose which layers to display an how often the wallpaper updates.
Catfood Earth 3.42 is a small update to the latest (2016d) timezone database and the latest timezone world and countries maps from Eric Muller. If you use the political borders, places or time zones layers in Catfood Earth then you'll want to install this version.
Catfood Earth 3.41 fixes a problem that was preventing the weather radar layer from loading.
Both updates fix a problem with the clouds layer not updating. The Android update also adds compatibility for Android 5 / Lollipop.
Also, Catfood Earth for Android is now free. I had been charging $0.99 for the Android version but I've reached the conclusion that I'm never going to retire based on this (or even buy more than a couple of beers) so it's not worth the hassle. Catfood Earth for Windows has been free since 3.20.
Catfood Earth fans will want to download Catfood Earth 3.30. This update fixes a problem where volcanoes were all plotted in the middle of the screen.
Catfood Earth 3.20 for Windows is now available for download. This update fixes a change in the feed address for the earthquakes layer. I've also switched to using the new NASA Black Marble night-time image and 3.20 includes the latest time zone and political border data.
Earth for Android has been updated to 1.30. This includes the new Black Marble image.
I recently upgraded to the HTC One which has a transparent notification bar. This makes it hard to see notification icons when using Catfood Earth as your wallpaper, at least in the summer when it's always light at high latitudes and your white icons are displayed on top of polar ice and clouds.
Catfood Earth for Android 1.20 fixes this with an option to paint black under the notification bar. That's the only update other than the latest Xamarin runtime.
I’ve just released Catfood Earth for Android 1.10. You can control the center of the screen manually (the most requested new feature) and also tweak the transparency of each layer and the width of the terminator between day and night. It also starts a lot faster and has fewer update glitches. Grab it from Google Play if this looks like your sort of live wallpaper.
I’ve just released Catfood Earth for Android. It’s my second app created with Xamarin’s excellent toolkit. Being able to develop in C# allowed me to reuse a lot of code from the Windows version of Catfood Earth. The Android version doesn’t include all the same layers (yet) but it’s got the main ones – daytime (twelve different satellite images included, based on NASA’s Blue Marble Next Generation but with some special processing to make them look better), nighttime (city lights, shaded to show nighttime and the terminator between day and night) and a clouds layer that is downloaded every three hours.
My main worry had been that this would suck the phone battery dry, but after a fair amount of optimization it doesn’t even register on the battery consumption list. Grab it now from Google Play ($3.99, Android 2.2 or better).
Lastly, a nice hike near the Carquinez Strait.
A five mile mostly out and back trail (one small loop element) near the Carquinez Strait.
Start at the parking area close to Eckley Pier (worth a quick detour, be careful crossing the train tracks). Follow Bull Valley Trail up to Carquinez Overlook Loop Trail and down to Port Costa. Go through Port Costa (I'd download the route for this bit) and follow an unnamed (as far as I can tell) trail up to the top of Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park for dramatic views over to the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and Mt. Diablo. The whole hike is pretty exposed but very attractive with great views and a nice town in the middle. Highly recommended.
Timelapse video of the super flower blood moon lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021:
I left my GoPro Hero 8 out overnight in the hopes that the San Francisco fog would cooperate. It did, somewhat! There is some cloud cover scudding by but you can see the eclipse pretty clearly. The advantage of the GoPro is that it has a wide field of view to capture the entire eclipse and is water (fog) proof and so unconcerning to leave out all night. The disadvantage is that you can't really nail the exposure. In nightlapse mode the shortest shutter speed you can set is five seconds in raw mode - way too long. In regular timelapse mode you can't set the shutter speed at all. I dialed in 2 stops of exposure compensation but that wasn't really enough. Better than the last one I accidentally caught on a dropcam so progress at least.
Google Pixel 4 XL 4mm f1.7 1/3,900s ISO55
There is some controversy at the moment over the great highway in San Francisco. Should it stay closed to traffic as the pandemic eases? I enjoy walking and cycling here without cars, but it must be a pain to live nearby with all that traffic shifted to residential streets. It might be moot if the sand keeps flowing inland...
Google Pixel 4 XL 6mm f2.4 1/1,400s ISO40
Photo of downtown San Francisco including a view down Market Street to the ferry building shot from Twin Peaks.
I want to be well informed and, to the greatest extent possible, free from any kind of filter bubble. Hard to do that on Facebook. So the first step is to delete Facebook and Twitter. Now you have some time to design your news consumption.
To me the very best part of the web is RSS feeds so I can quickly skim through hundreds of sites with a consistent interface and no ads. I used to do this with Google Reader but since that was killed I've found Feedly to be an awesome tool and I happily pay for the Pro version. The Android app is great. The web version sometimes gets lost in the list but is fast to use with keyboard shortcuts for cruising through your list. I keep Feedly stocked with news sites, hobbies, work related niche publications and everything I know I want to keep an eye on. The only gap is those unknown unknowns.
Google News is my current fix for finding the stories and context that I don't get through RSS.
As a learning system Google News pretty quickly figures out what you're interested in. It's not perfect so you have to spend some time training it. Once in a while it will decide you need every word written about Ina Garten, but you can easily tell it that it's wrong. A more subtle tip is to often click sources that you violently disagree with. Google News has some tendency to surface different angles but it definitely helps to signal that you are open to uncomfortable takes on a story. This is a powerful filter bubble burster.
Having escaped most social media (I still have LinkedIn which is the cockroach of platforms) I really hate the feed based approach that Google takes with News. I understand it but I hate it. Probably the worst usability crime is that it will often refresh without being asked. I'll be halfway down the list, spot an interesting article, get distracted, and then when I switch back I see that tempting story for a fraction of a second before the whole feed reloads. Often that story is then nowhere to be found. There is a feature to save for later, but I try to avoid this because future me isn't likely to have time either and it adds the burden of yet another to-do list to keep track of.
Related to the feed is the tendency to show me the same story again, and again, and again. Other than ignoring a topic or publication there is no mechanism to just dismiss a story. I know that the algorithm has worked really really hard to find it but I don't need to see it every day for a week or more. It's OK, in fact desirable, to be done with the news. As with the feed I know that it's someone's job at Google to work on engagement and my time is an externality to their optimization algorithm. It's a big irritation all the same.
Lastly for me I also get a lot of context from podcasts. I use Podkicker Pro on Android (also worth paying for). We live in peak podcast times and I don't have enough time to listen to everything that I want to.
Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian: A growing chorus of scientists and philosophers argue that free will does not exist. Could they be right?
This is an interesting and profound question. Do we live in a block universe where every action we take is predetermined or are we actually capable of making choices. It certainly feels like choices are possible, but reality doesn't care about feelings and it could be the case that free will is an illusion. Unfortunately Burkeman repeatedly makes this mistake:
""For the free will sceptic," writes Gregg Caruso in his new book Just Deserts, a collection of dialogues with his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett, "it is never fair to treat anyone as morally responsible." Were we to accept the full implications of that idea, the way we treat each other – and especially the way we treat criminals – might change beyond recognition."
The presence or absence of free will is presumably a global phenomenon. If the criminal has no choice then we also have no choice in how we treat criminals. It gets worse:
"Smilansky is an advocate of what he calls "illusionism", the idea that although free will as conventionally defined is unreal, it’s crucial people go on believing otherwise – from which it follows that an article like this one might be actively dangerous."
This might be a dangerous article, but not for this reason. If there is no free will then people are going to believe what they were always going to believe. The risky proposition that could actually lead to bad consequences is that people believe that there is no free will when there actually is. Even if we prove conclusively that reality is completely deterministic then nothing changes (that wasn't always going to change that way in the first place - see my (somewhat) tongue in cheek solution to the Fermi Paradox).
So what should we believe? I think it's important to consider that we don't understand enough biology and we don't understand enough physics.
"And from the 1980s onwards, various specific neuroscientific findings have offered troubling clues that our so-called free choices might actually originate in our brains several milliseconds, or even much longer, before we’re first aware of even thinking of them."
These results are fascinating but have never troubled me. It actually takes the brain a little while to process all the data from our senses but we live in a physical reality that doesn't hang around waiting for this latency. So of course we need to respond quickly to events, often before we're aware of them. This leaves plenty of room for free will in how we train ourselves to respond. The brain simulates likely situations and how it should react to them. This could be an inevitable consequence of the big bang, or it could be that free will has a meaningful influence. I don't believe that we have enough evidence to say either way.
We don't even understand the biological basis for consciousness. It's called the hard problem for a reason. Consciousness is (presumably) expensive and it seems odd that evolution would have selected for it if it has no purpose. Of course in the block universe it's possible that this doesn't matter. It's a mistake that was always going to be made. It could be that we decode the algorithm and can run it on a computer and that if we start with the same conditions we always get the same results. Consciousness is classical and we can prove that it is deterministic. Or it could be that it hinges on quantum effects that mean we can't understand the biology without understanding the physics.
""This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics," says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne."
Maybe, but doesn't that depend on what the laws of physics actually are?
There are different interpretations of the physical basis of quantum mechanics. Is decoherence truly random? If so this might be a basis for free will. Run the same starting conditions twice and you get a different outcome. Or is the many worlds interpretation correct? In this case we potentially still live in a block universe, just an unimaginably larger one where every permutation of every decoherence event exists at the same time. Every possible version of you is out there, but each one is trapped in their own predetermined path through the multiverse.
I can't wait to see further progress in both areas. Until we know more the free will question seems impossible to answer. If we prove it's a fiction then nothing matters and nothing can be changed. Absent proof it's probably best to assume that free will exists and that this post was written because I chose to.