One on One with Developer of the Streamflow Plus App, Tod Landis

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 5.41.57 PMImagine starting a store and in five years selling over 50 billion things. This is exactly what Apple announced last month. 50 billion apps have flowed out of the app store at a rate of 800 apps per second. According to Apple, there are now 900,000 apps in the store with 93% of them being downloaded at least every month.

This is a story of one app in the store. Since my review of Streamflow Plus last year in my 7 Best Water Apps blog post, I have corresponded with the app developer, Tod Landis. Now Tod is not a water scientist, a water engineer, or someone who works with the USGS.  Tod is a programmer with a normal day job. Tod shows us that with ability and curiosity one can have unlimited digital reach now.

1. How did you get the idea for the streamflow app?

I live in the San Lorenzo Valley, near a gaging station on the San Lorenzo River (USGS 11160500). I was curious about how the river height there varied. I’d visit the USGS web sites, and so on, comparing what I saw on a bridge over the river to heights on the site. Then I needed sample data to test some other software I was working on (the Entrance open source project)  and thought of this river data. At first I was importing data into a MySQL database and manipulating it there. Ultimately that led to the iPhone app.

 2. How long does it take to develop a mobile app like streamflow?

About a year, off and on. These things take on a life of their own, you can keep tweaking them forever.

3. Have you received some unexpected feedback or been surprised with any comments about your app?

Yes,  I was surprised by the feedback when I took Streamflow out of the app store for a while. A number of people emailed saying they wanted it for their new iPhone 5, for a family member, a friend, and so on. Someone is building a cool kiosk application using it. A Red Cross emergency worker wanted it for a new phone. They really like it.

4. Is there anything USGS could do to make their water data more mobile or program friendly?

What is already available from the USGS is pretty fantastic, actually, and Streamflow will tap into more of what they provide as I  find time. (I have a daytime job!) One thing that would help,would be to provide some automated way for mobile apps receive notifications when there are problems. I get emails, but I haven’t figured out a way for the app to check system status automatically. Maybe there’s a status web site out there already, and I just don’t know about it? Also, surface the NWS predictions and critical level heights in the USGS data portal.

5.  If you had unlimited resources (time or financial) what one feature would you love to add to the streamflow app?

Streamflow needs height predictions, and I’m looking at that now. Historical data where available. A rewrite for iOS 7. An Android port, too. More work with topo maps, and more work on “telling the story” of how watersheds work. e.g. I’m very curious about is the amount of energy in a river for a given flow. High flow events are when rivers do the real work carving their channels. I’d like to get a handle on that.

I read a book last year titled Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age in which the author provided ten short essays on what he perceives as the ten most important biases in computing technologies and the steps we can take to mitigate their influence. These included the following:
  1. Time: Do not always be on
  2. Place: Live in person
  3. Choice: You may always choose none of the above
  4. Complexity: You are never completely right
  5. Scale: one size does not fit all
  6. Identify: Be yourself
  7. Social: Do not sell your friends
  8. Fact: Tell the truth
  9. Openness: Share, don’t steal
  10. Purpose: Program or be programmed
Basically the author argues we should take the time to understand this world we have built and learn how to engage it on our terms. I think this is exactly what Todd did with his app and probably we all should learn to do more. I asked Tod if he thought most folks should learn how to program. I liked his answer.

That’s a tough one. Nearly everyone should get a laptop and I think many people will get something out of a programming course. I’m actually kind of a luddite though…the machines should work for us, not the other way around!

Here is to making the machines work for us today.
Streamflow Plus ($2.99, ioS) is a user-friendly app that displays real-time stream height and flow data read from USGS river gaging sites and even plots river flows or levels as charts. This app was recently updated and now updates its USGS gaging stations list on-the-fly when you change states and the charts are now much larger.


    • Hey Kirstin,

      I forget about the River Forecast Centers. I will mention it to Todd. THANKS!

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