A simple expense tracking app

Two friends, on two separate occasions, expressed the need for a simple mobile app to keep track of daily expenses. Apparently there are lots of apps out there that try to do it, but try to do too much and end up overcomplicating the simple task of recording where and what one has spent one’s money on.

It sounded like a nice little project that I could use to sink my teeth into mobile development, and maybe even bust a few moves with my design-fu that has laid dormant since I took up my current full-time role as a developer.

So, since the recent weekend, I’ve been working on little app to do just that – keeping track of daily expenses, and telling you where all your money went. Hopefully, it’s reason enough for why I haven’t been blogging as profusely as before – I’ve been coding on the train!

I’m still keen to continue posting here, hopefully there will be progress updates on the app.

But maybe you’d like to help me out by answering some simple questions using the comments box below.

  1. How do you keep track of your daily expenses?
  2. Would you use a mobile app to do it? Why or why not?
  3. Do you use any form of categorization?
  4. If your wallet kept track of all your expenses, what questions would you ask it?
  5. Any other ideas?

Wish me luck!

Make Commodity Beautiful

I’ve noticed something perculiar in the way I’ve begun to use email ever since I switched to Fastmail in my recent mini IT infrastructure shakeup. Previously, I was quite content with Thunderbird hitting up an IMAP account off a cheap web hosting account, and didn’t think much about it.

The big switch came about when I was spending far more time on a work machine than my trusty Thinkpad. I wasn’t comfortable setting up a desktop email client at work, the web email interfaces on my hosting account was downright horrendous, and I wasn’t about to rely on the big G’s ad-funded service for my primary email needs.

So I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a Fastmail account. I’d used Fastmail way back when generous was 16mb’s of email storage, and fast was building your web interface with no images – just straight-up HTML. This was a second coming of sorts.

Every since I’ve started using Fastmail, I’ve even begun to prefer it over firing up Thunderbird on my desktop. Upon further reflection, I’ve been able to narrow it down to one reason – the interface.

The Fastmail web interface is not particularly exciting to look at. I’d say it’s even a little spartan compared to most post-web 2.0 outfits. But where it really sings is the way the whole interface is designed with the power user in mind. The clincher for me was the VIM-like key bindings. I could quickly navigate through my email, report spam, mark, delete and file emails all from my keyboard – no mouse required.

~snips nerdy gush-fest~

The point I’m trying to get at, is that email has largely become a commodified service. Although, I had the the pick of any desktop app, and a choice of 4 different webmail interfaces, I decided instead to paid good money for Fastmail’s web interface.

The more I look, the more I see commodities being bolstered and somewhat “resold” with a coat of thoughtfully applied interface. Programmers all over the world swear by GitHub. Mac OS X coats a BSD Mach kernel with a gratituous gobs of lickability. And, more recently, Sparrow and Fluent are in the market to repackage what is essentially a 26 year old protocol.

If you’re looking for a startup idea, pick a commodity software and make it beautiful. It is a significant, fixable unmet need that is just waiting pay out.

Open source software is particularly suited for this for two reasons. Firstly, you have full access to the source code, and secondly, they usually have a lot of room for improvement as far as UX goes.

Show this article some love on Hacker News.

Apprenticeship and making it in digital media

The practice of apprenticeship has become something of a lost art in the digital media industry.

It seems every other digital media graduate wants to start their own thing, go the freelance route, and expect work to come knocking on their doors. The prospect of such a trajectory is not completely unfounded. From a cost perspective, it is relatively easy to set up shop, and start doing business. But the reality is, where barrier of entry is low, many other invisible forces come into play, leaving only the super talented, hardworking and lucky ones really making it right off the bat. For everyone else (including yours truly), It. Is (was). Tough.

To gain any headway into the industry, it almost requires putting oneself out there and asking to work for very little remuneration, in exchange for the opportunity for some experience. Sadly, as far as I’ve observed, there have been two ways this process has been bastardized.

First, opportunistic, conniving, cheap-ass individuals looking for free work under the pretense of “you could make it your portfolio piece”. For a plethora of reasons, you’ll rarely get a good portfolio piece out of such an engagement, and you’ll learn nothing that directly enriches the practice of your craft.

Second, agencies who s/apprentice/cheap labour/g without providing any real guidance and opportunity for growth.

There’s a lot to be said about how convoluted the industry is, as is every other industry, but when one is dealt cards, it is still up to one to play the best hands possible.

One of the better hands one could play, is to eat humble pie, seek out a well respected digital craftsman that one deeply admires, and offer to work for him or her in exchange for invaluable on-the-job experiences. Heck, offer money for the opportunity to work. I reckon it is a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself many times over.