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Want to talk to Mother Nature? Now, there's an app for that.

Grand Rapids tech wizards AJ Paschka and Andy Weber promise to weave weather into our lives in a whole new way through their Weather Collage smartphone app.
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"Not what the weather is...but what it means." 

That slogan captures in miniature a novel software application with potential global reach. Weather Collage is the brainchild of Grand Rapids entrepreneurs AJ Paschka and Andy Weber, friends and tech professionals who have spent the past year designing a digital tool that allows people to receive, interpret and interact with the weather in ways that enrich their lives. 

The idea originated with Paschka, media manager for the GRAM, who has worked in that capacity for the arts institution since it was only a foam model mock-up. A self-described tech and art geek, Paschka adheres to a fusion of left/right brain thinking in his personal and professional life. This fusion of multiple ways of thinking helped birth the idea. He pitched the concept this spring to Momentum, the Michigan-based tech startup accelerator.

"Weather is this very interesting thing that affects our lives every single day; a number of our decisions are made by our atmosphere,” he explained in a presentation for Momentum. “Now that we have mobile devices, we're going to push through and produce some really interesting ways to interact with the weather, and share the weather with each other."

"I'm interested in exploring the world through the intersection of weather and the arts. A web application built with a friend a year or so ago led to a number of insights after it was finished,” Paschka said about the origins and nature of the application in his award-winning presentation to 5X5 last March. “Weather has the unique ability to make us feel, and provide a very interesting way to explore the world.”

“Here's my dream scenario,” continued Paschka, “You wake up, turn on your laptop, and check your Weather Collage. You see it's going to be sunny with a chance of rain later on, and notice that the collage is showing you images you chose of your favorite clothes that you think are appropriate for the weather. You're going to check out ArtPrize, so you choose the ArtPrize filter, which shows you all the places with an outdoor venue. You email your friend the (Weather Collage) image, and post it to your favorite social site. After checking out some venues, your friend and you get thirsty, and decide to grab a beer. You check the Weather Collage app on your phone, and use a filter to see what top beer specialists think is the perfect beer for 62 degrees. It leads you to a great watering hole with the perfect experience. After a while, the weather changes. Light rain comes in, and the bar changes moods--they're using their Collage to sync up their internet playlists to the weather. You take a picture of you and your good friend with your camera phone, and when you share it, the Collage saves the time-stamp and location, but adds the current weather data to it. (You're able to remember all of this half a year later when you log in to your Weather Collage page, and it reminds you of your favorite moments in the rain.) You switch views to Cuisine, and find the best place for comfort food on a rainy day. Although you're in a different time, and a different place, you know you can always depend on the weather."

Frustration with the mundane catalyzed this highly technical innovation. A year before his 5X5 slideshow, Paschka had been creating tutorials on how to add weather icons to websites. Disappointed in the static, lackluster images used to depict dynamically shifting weather patterns, he found inspiration in the pages of a children's flip-up book. One in particular caught his eye: it depicted monsters showing different characteristics depending on which flip-page the reader chose as an overlay. 

Paschka experienced a bolt of illumination, in which he re-imagined weather icons being personalized through a series of data filters imposed over weather meta-data, as described above. For Paschka, it was a defining moment. "It was a reversal of my usual work role. Instead of applying my creative abilities to interpret other people's ideas, I had come upon pure inspiration of my own." 

That inspiration prompted him to enlist the help of his friend Andy Weber, Senior Developer for People Design. Together they created an early version of Weather Collage called Weather Monster, which creates monsters like a children's flip-book would, but controlled by weather data and using location and search to create a collage based on current weather conditions. This site is a simpler prototype for their planned application of far greater potential. Through the fusion of weather and media data, the pair envision a tool that taps into emotional intelligence. They are recognizing that weather has the ability to make us feel.

Since last spring’s 5X5 award and the assistance from Momentum, Paschka and Weber have moved the effort from concept into initial development. Outside investment has been secured and feedback generated through extensive user surveys collected through the Weather Collage page. The pair are intent on a constant user feedback loop and ongoing developer input for their app. Marketing and roll-out of the initial version of the app is expected to launch within two to three months.

Paschka and Weber see Weather Collage as a long term endeavor with a global scope. As the weather affects everyone universally, it would be difficult to imagine a region or market that would not find their tool useful, with some global regions possibly finding even greater need for it than others.

Though admittedly a technically complex creation whose essence and purpose has been challenging to convey to potential supporters, Paschka and Weber ultimately seek to emphasize its human aspects. Paschka invokes the French novelist Marcel Proust’s famous question, asked in a tone of emotional reminiscence, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" 

"Weather evokes emotion," says Paschka. "But emotion is forgotten. This application holds the potential to remember for you.”

“In other words, there's a fifty percent chance on Tuesday you'll have this memory."

If nature can't talk to us directly, Paschka and Weber’s creation aims to help it communicate with us through their Weather Collage.

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