Tag Archives: Jasper Fforde

Serendipity and diagnosis

Some years ago Jasper Fforde remarked at a Q&A type meeting at our local library that despite spending such a large part of his life in bookshops doing promotional signings etc., his favourite places to buy books were charity shops as there weren’t too many to look through, but a wonderfully eclectic mix.

I am inclined to agree since last week I found a Russell Hoban book I hadn’t read (Kleinzeit), which I would never have thought to go looking for. At the same time I bought two CDs of Arvo Pärt music, a composer I had heard of but not heard. All three are a delight.

The music reminded me how beautiful and varied the voice is as an instrument and I have been using vocal parts in some recent work. In addition it prompted me to attempt to create more vocal sounding tones. Logic Pro comes with an awe inspiring instrument creator / synthesizer which allows you to ‘build’ your instrument from first principles. It is notionally based around a string but you first decide whether it is to be struck, plucked, hit by an impulse, bowed or blown. You can then have another impulse  with a similar range of actions which are either reinforcing or moderating on the first. You have a choice of material from Nylon to Wood to Glass to Steel and parameters for vibrancy, tension and resonance. These factors can vary with how hard / fast the note is played, or where on the scale you are. I wanted an instrument that sounded like a wheezy organ pipe at low frequencies and somewhere between a whistle and a bell at the higher ones for a piece I was working on about the end of steam railways. It took only about an hour to produce just what I had in mind, which surprised me a bit. What surprised and pleased me more was how vocal the instrument sounded, particularly if you talk to a lot of aged Welsh smokers.

I haven’t quite finished Kleinzeit yet, I think subconsciously I am spinning it out a bit as I don’t want it to end, but it has provided me with a name for the ailment suffered by Mr. Thompson in a piece I had written but hadn’t named. Mr. T has a case of Kleinzeit’s Skewed Hypotenuse.

Become Apps

Living in Hay it is easy to be reminded of the many people who make a living writing books, indeed one of my favourite living authors (Jasper Fforde) lives nearby and can often be seen around and about. Hay is peculiarly receptive to a bohemian lifestyle and the Welsh climate conducive to working outdoors for only half the year at most. Wanting to live somewhere with a bit of land to it, but unsure how to make a living from it, it seemed only logical to consider writing over the winter months as a source of income. Not having a gift for literary efforts proved an overwhelming obstacle until I considered software development, something I had done on and off for 25 years or so. Adopting and adapting the aspiring author’s mantra of “Write what you know” I formed the idea for a coherent set of Apps for the iPhone/iPad suitable for people arriving at that stage in their lives when they start thinking about how it is all going to pan out in the long run.

Firstly, as I remember it, the main task is to get to grips with ones finances. I was never one of those people who stuff bills and statements in a drawer unopened, but had applied absolutely no critical thought to financial planning. Step one for me was to clear a bit of elbow room by eliminating unnecessary and unproductive expense and saving instead. I became an avid lurker on the Motley Fool message boards, absorbed a lot of common sense, and took a fair measure of control over things. To that end, and knowing that things have got a lot worse for young people in the interim, I expect that many people would like to efficiently clear even perfectly serviceable debts so I wrote Become: Debt Free. This was the first App I had written, the first time I had used a Mac, or Objective C so it took a while but I was pleased with it when it was done.

The next step for me was to start making better use of my time, so my next App was to be a sort of Project Planning App but without the tedious complexity which most of them come with. Believe me I have used Primavera and similar for over 20 years and they don’t need to be anywhere near so complex and capable as they are except for about 5% of their users. The conceptual design for Become: Organised was for an iPad App where as much as possible was done by dragging things about the screen and data entry was kept to the minimum. Development is ongoing but I got a bit sidetracked for a while.

Sales of the first App were sluggish and having no inclination to spend money advertising it, or the foggiest idea how to do so effectively even if I did, I decided to release a free version to attract attention and possibly engender some upgrade sales should people like it and want more. Whilst producing this, it occurred to me that I could produce another free app in broadly the same area which did the sort of calculations I used to horse around with on spreadsheets when I first fell under the spell of the Motley Fool. These mostly centred around the ideas that a) when you have debts, everything costs you more, and b) concentrating on gradually improving your net worth is a lot more productive in the longer term than ‘rate tarting’ with savings and loan accounts. It took longer than I expected to produce Become: Savvy to do this but I am happy with the end product and I learnt a fair bit of new stuff which I will use now I am returning to Become: Organised. Both these last two are free Apps, and both carry iAds which are supposed to earn the developer revenue to replace the lost sales revenue. Needless to say this has not been a path to unimagined riches, but I remain hopeful once Savvy is approved and on ‘sale’, and iAds are available outside the US, as at least half my sales are elsewhere.

The last App in the original plan, Become: Whole has yet to completely crystallise, but I envisage a sort of time machine interface (Like the Mac backup software I mean) where you can scrub back and forth from the present to any future date and see what current investments and expenditures become, and what needs to be done and when, in order to achieve future outcomes. As with all these Apps, the complexity required is not the problem, it is the simplicity required that takes the time. Doing the maths and taking all the factors into account is just calculation, making it straightforward and engaging is the real task. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had it, and I paraphrase a little here, “The thing is not complete when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.