Beyond the 3-R’s: Snow Day Calculator

Core Curriculum is the new anti-Christ!  Or so it seems.  I hear about how it’s dumbing-down our kids and sucking the creativity out of their souls.  After meeting three local teenagers, all I can say is:  If this is how Core Curriculum changes education.  Thank-you!

From left to right: Gustavo Farias, Tanishq Dubey, Calvin Breseman

“The proof is in the pudding,” as the old saying goes.  Or in this case, the proof is in the prediction.  Calvin Breseman, Tanishq Dubey, and Gustavo Farias proved to their classmates at Prairie Grove High School that the can accurately predict snow days using their homegrown Android App, Snow Day Calculator.

“Don’t do your homework, snow day tomorrow,” Calvin posted on Facebook.

Since that day, people downloaded more than 3000 copies of the 18 year-olds’ free app with near 100% accuracy for over 60 metropolitan areas around the country.

Curiosity made me search these guys out via Google+.  We sat down together at the local StarBuck’s to talk.

Calvin and Tanishq developed the app after taking a college class in programming.  Their teacher, Mr. Burger, taught them how to program in JAVA, which is what android apps use.  The class gave them the basic foundation.  The app required 400-500 lines of code. According to Calvin that is “not that much.”  They also used Android Studio to develop the app.

Okay, but that’s the back-end of the work.  First Calvin and Tanishq developed the algorithm.  Tanishq did most of the programming, while Calvin worked on design aspects.

They share the spreadsheet through GoogleDoc, which makes it easy to update.

Oh Lordy! This is Love-One’s and my winter exercise. We resist buying a snow-blower just so we have a reason to get out of the house and into the weather.

It probably helped that they thought of the idea in the wintertime.  Cold, dark days and nights, hoping for snow days, drove the duo to the computer starting in 2012.  The algorithm takes into account wind speed and snowfall rate.  Their original prototype also required temperature, but they soon found that skewed the results, and led to inaccurate prediction.  They gathered data from for in-depth, hour-by-hour data collection, then input the data into their spreadsheet.  In order to be accurate in different parts of the country, the algorithm takes into account the average snowfall per year for the area with the assumption that the resources devoted to snow removal is proportional to the inches/year.

So what is Gustavo’s role in all of this?  He came late to the game, as the app promoter.  He’s the “people person” of the budding business group.

“I’ll get the Northwest Herald to cover you,” he said.

Calvin and Tanishq just laughed, “Yeah, right.”

Gustavo came through, and then some.  The AP and NBC5Chicago picked up the story.

Once they decided to build the app, the young men took a systematic approach that they learned in the high school engineering class.

  • First came defining the problem.  The class devoted the first two weeks just to problem definition.
  • Next, came developing the tool, which required many versions of the spreadsheet so that the same conditions in different cities like Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Seattle, gave accurate results. They created the first version in 2012 and refined the formula until 2013.
  • Finally, they developed and tested the app.  They removed back doors, and dead-end code.

Due to their diligence, not a single app-crash occurred in the 3000 downloads to date.  And the app is the Number One GooglePlay app for predicting snow days:  That’s Snow Day Calculator by Boreas Applications.

Not to rest on their laurels, Tanishq, Calvin, and Gustavo continually refine the app based on user feedback.  Because of the various screen sizes different models of smart-phones, some users had trouble with navigation.  The young men get annoyed with bad reviews, but they assess every complaint and respond to their customers’ needs.  Sometimes people put in bogus data, like snowfall of 100 inches in an hour, and then complain about the results, which is triple-annoying.

The obvious question:  What about an iPhone app?  Tanishq and Calvin learned from Gustavo that iPhone users have different interface expectations than Android users.  Developing iPhone apps requires specific Apple tools, which they don’t have right now.  They are hoping to borrow the tool, so they don’t have to buy them.  Plus, they are working on a version that will glean information using the GPS so the entry is automated.  That will make life easier for the users, and eliminate some of the bogus entries.

The teens’ enthusiasm for the app really got me excited, too.  I had a hard time getting them to talk about something other than the app.  But I did get a bit of personal information out of them:

  • Gustavo was a foreign exchange student from Brazil last year, but transferred as a permanent student for 2013-14.  He wishes to study economics or marketing.  He may go back to Brazil for college or preferably, attend Madison, University of Wisconsin.  He plays football, and is involved in the theatre group at Prairie Grove High School.  This summer, Gustavo will be a translator at the World Cup soccer games.  He has one brother, a quiet 12-year-old, still in Brazil.  He advises other kids his age to grab the opportunities that you see and try to be a part of them. Don’t think that just because you are in high school that you can’t do it.
  • Calvin has three brothers and one sister, all younger than he.  He works with his architect dad during the summer, helping collect measurements and design data.  He plays Baseball in the spring, which requires about 30 hours a week.   Notre Dame accepted his application, but he’s got some other schools he’s waiting to hear from:  John Hopkins University, University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Tanishq began programming when he was eleven years old.  He is one of five Senior Class Presidents and a Mathlete.  He is also part of the theatre tech group for the spring play. Tanishq has one younger brother.  He credits his dad for fostering his interest in programming.   He plans to go to University of Illinois and major in computer engineering.    Tanishq’s advice:  Don’t be discouraged by failure; start small and work up.
They got some blow-back and bad press when an MIT student challenged them with a Trademark infringement.  Listening to the teens talk about the different types of Trademarks and what can and cannot be Trademarked made me glad I watch The Good Wife.  The bottom line: Snow Day Calculator is a common term, like washing machine.  So the boys are free to use it, regardless of the MIT student’s claim to the name.
Wow!  These guys really impressed me.  I have a feeling our future is in pretty good hands.


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