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Sun Surveyor: A Cool Way to Look on the Bright Side, Day or Night

By Patrick Nelson
Dec 14, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Sun Surveyor: A Cool Way to Look on the Bright Side, Day or Night

Sun Surveyor (Sun & Moon), an app from Adam Ratana, is available for US$6.49 at Google Play. sun surveyor

There's a tool out there that you may not have known you needed.

Writing a statement like that make me think I should have gone into the marketing business -- but wait.

Gardeners, photographers, outdoors enthusiasts, outdoor events organizers, architects -- you name it -- will all benefit from this miracle tool made possible by the magic that is the magnetic- compass enabled smartphone.

What is this extraordinary thing, you may ask?

Sun Surveyor (Sun & Moon) predicts the position of sun and moon for any place and time. It provides live on-screen visualization of the track of the sun or moon within the smartphone environment.

This is an incredibly useful bit of functionality if you are a gardener, because it means you can predict sun and shade for a spot in your yard over the course of the year. Use it in conjunction with a gardener's bible like Sunset's Westsern Garden Book, which tells you sun tolerances and requirements for particular plants, and I'll bet you'll see results. Planting a vineyard?

Photographers can plan shots, including shadows, for the golden hour -- that time just before sunset or just after sunrise that can generate superior tones in pictures.

Architects can orient buildings to a climatically friendly spot.

Testing the App

My use for this app, which I've been testing over the summer and can recommend for your next-spring app arsenal is slightly less high-brow. I've been using it for boondocking.

"Boondocking," if you're unfamiliar with the term, is a camping activity here in the West where you legally set up primitive camp on wide-open public land. About 42 percent of California's total area is publicly accessible land -- hence, a 42,000,000-acre windy but generally sunny backyard.

A problem that I used to regularly encounter while weekend boondocking -- an issue that Sun Surveyor corrects -- was how to set up a rickety pop-up four-sided shade canopy, with one hook-and-looped canvas side wall, to maximize shade and view -- without having to keep moving the side wall to chase the sun.

Sun Surveyor allows you to arrive at your prospective campsite day or night and set up camp for optimal shade, view and vehicle position the next day, using the app's sun trajectory view. No guesswork.

A Stellar Contribution

I found that it worked every time I took the trouble to use it. On the one occasion I eyeballed the trajectory -- too lazy to whip out my tablet -- I got it wrong and spent much of an afternoon in 95-degree full sun, which insidiously wormed its way under my shade canopy through a non-walled side.

Fixing the problem would have meant moving an entrenched vehicle that the canopy was tied to for wind abatement purposes, and associated hassle.

How Much Would You Pay?

Expensive, dedicated tools and laptop software that do a similar, though less heavily featured job have been available and are used commonly in the cash-rich film industry. However, Sun Surveyor is $6.49 in the Play store.

But wait -- there's more.

Publisher Adam Ratana has built a superb, useful set of interfaces. A 3D compass with map view lets you add sun and sun path to your position. Dawn and dusk projections and others are included.

For outdoor events like mine -- or any summer picnic or other activity -- 3D is the most useful view, because you can see exactly where the sun will rise or set. This view can be projected out over time. So pop-up canopy positions -- or a performing stage for the ambitious, for example -- can be planned in advance of the actual event.

An augmented reality view lets you use the device's camera to actually see sun projections, or pinpoint the time the sun will be at a specific point.

Any location or any time can be specified with a time machine slider control, and I can see the AR view as being highly useful in a location scout role. In fact, there's a trajectory screenshot-to-share function too, for sending findings back to Scorsese or whomever.

In Conclusion: Sun Surveyor is a Chop-O-Matic of an app -- a five out of five, and I don't say that very often.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

How important is a candidate's knowledge of technology in winning your vote?
Extremely -- technology is at the center of most of the world's big problems and solutions.
Very -- a candidate who doesn't understand technology can't relate to young people.
Somewhat -- a general understanding is sufficient.
Not very -- choosing good advisers is more important than direct knowledge.
Not at all -- technology is often a distraction from more important issues.