How app ideas are born

Yesterday I returned from the third Release Notes conference. Like in the previous two years, I had a fantastic time, meeting old and new friends, getting educated and inspired. If you’re in the business of making software, you should definitely check it out.

Release Notes Conference Venue

One of the highlights of this conference is the dine-around — a dinner with a small group of participants that fits around one table. All the participants get split into such groups and go to different restaurants based on their food preferences. This year I was in the group that dined at a sushi place, Tanoshii.

The food and the chat were great. Then came the bill. One bill. What should’ve been 11 separate bills (as Charles, one of the conference organizers, instructed restaurants ahead of time) became one, long, list of items.

I believe that the process of paying the bill took at least 30 minutes and involved quite a lot of fiddling like marking in the bill, counting and passing around credit cards.

Naturally, with all the app developers around the table, this turned into a discussion of how we could solve it faster with an appropriate app. Curtis, who gave a fantastic business talk the next morning, started to brainstorm ideas of how to use latest Apple mobile technologies to build an app to split such bills in a short time. Others have joined. The app now used photo scanning with OCR, face recognition, drag and drop, and ARKit.

Everything seemed to be ready and planned, and Curtis was almost prepared to take on the project during the weekend.

I realized that the app was missing a catchy name. I got an idea, and this was my only contribution to the “project”. In my mind, it could only be named after its inspiration: Tanoshii.

My first printed magazine experience

As I opened my mailbox today, among the countless spam flyers there was an issue of the first printed magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.

The issue’s yellow cover had the word “PROG” written in large letters. I run an indie Mac software company and do a lot of programming. But this magazine is not about PROGramming (as my sister, who happened to see it lying on the table, assumed). It’s about PROGressive Rock music. Yes, that music that was most popular in the early 70-ies, or as my former bandmate, Michael, introduced the Pink Floyd medley we were about to play: “This music was written before we were born. Nevertheless, it’s good.”

Prog Magazine

I love Progressive Rock and adjacent genres, like Jazz-Rock Fusion, Progressive Metal and everyone’s favourite: Classic Rock, whatever this means for you.

But this story is not about music. Rather, it’s about my weird first interaction with the magazine.

As I tore the thin cellophane in which it arrived and removed a one-page ad, which I didn’t care to look at, I was surprised to find a CD attached to the magazine itself. Its thin paper sleeve had a nicely designed cover with flying ravens, which reminded me of Steven Wilson’s melancholic song from 2013, “The Raven that Refused to Sing.”

Steven WilsonI know that adding “melancholic” was redundant here. Just as Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, and Elvis was the King of Rock’n’Roll, Steven Wilson is the King of Melancholy. But I digress.

The CD has a sample of new songs from various artists. It would’ve been nice to listen to it.

Except: who listens to CDs nowadays?

My stereo system in the living room doesn’t have a CD or DVD player attached to it. Two Macs that I use, an iMac from 2015 and a MacBook Pro from 2012 don’t have a CD slot. Yes, I do have 3 CD devices at home: my son’s PC, my older MacBook Pro from 2010, which my wife uses to run Windows, and Xbox One, connected to the TV in the basement, which kids use. Basically, nowhere I can listen to music and enjoy it.

I already imagine you asking: “Who reads printed magazines these days?”. And you’ll be right. I’m surprised myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll cancel the subscription because I also subscribed to their online version, which is cheaper, doesn’t have to ship from the UK and available all the time.

But then again, maybe not. There’s something about the feel of its glossy paper and the curiosity of just flipping through it. And, frankly, I forget to read the online articles. There’s so much to read online already. But I digress again.

So, after looking at the cover of the CD and wondering how I’m going to listen to it, I flip it over and look at the small print on the back:

CD Back

“If you experience any problems using this disc, you should first visit our support page at: www.futureplc.com/discsupport.”

Why yes, I do experience a problem using this disc! It might be not the problem you people expected when you built this support page but… still, I wanted to try my luck. Deep inside, I had a vague hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to listen to the tracks on this disc online and they had instructions on this page.

I carefully type the address.

I press Return.

The page slowly loads.

And I’m presented with:

404 page

Nobody cares about discs anymore. I bet Steven Wilson could write a great melancholic song about it.