The official blog for Numerous. Life's most important numbers available at a glance.

The Most Important Numbers in the World

I have a number habit. Which is to say I regularly—some might say compulsively—track a variety of numbers in my life. I bet you do too.

Lately I’ve been checking the price of Bitcoins, even though I don’t own any. (Right now one bitcoin costs $869.184.) Every day I track my weight (181.6 lbs this morning) and macronutrient ratio (45/37/18 protein/fat/carb yesterday). My kids are bad about losing cash, so I keep track of allowance account balances for both of them. (Hudson is at $8, Sam has $16.) I check the temperature inside and outside our house in Colorado several times every day. (Currently 60F inside and 0F outside. Brr!) I also keep track of a variety of personal finance metrics, fitness data, and key performance indicators for the companies I’m involved in.

I like keeping up to date on these numbers. They represent important parts of my life. What I don’t like is logging into a bunch of different web sites—or more recently, a bunch of different apps—to track them. To get at some of them, I have to sign into a web site with my email address and a password (not fun on an iPhone), then switch to a different app to get my two-step verification code, then back to the browser to enter that code. And even the simple apps that don’t require login at all each require multiple taps, swipes, and mental context switches. Painful.

What I want is a simple, elegant view into my numbers. That’s what we’re building at Numerous.

Your numbers are sure to be different than mine. Last week John wrote about one of his wife’s most important numbers: the blood glucose level of one of her students, who is diabetic. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I talked to my father-in-law, who told me he's tracked every mile he's ever run. He's nearing the 50,000 mark. I recently traded emails with Obama for America CTO Harper Reed, who tracks a whole lot of different numbers.

Everyone has important numbers in their life. What are yours?

PS. Since I started writing this post the price of a bitcoin has risen to $882.79518. Just FYI.

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The Perfect Use Case

As we talk to people about our new venture, they are, of course, curious about what it is we’re actually making. When I explain it (and admittedly I’m not the best pitchman around), some people “get it” right off the bat. Alas, for others, my imperfect analogies of “Twitter for numbers” or “a social Wolfram Alpha” just don’t blow their hair back. For those hardened skeptics, we need…

The Perfect Use Case

Everyone has one, it’s just a matter of zooming in on their lifestyle and finding it.

My wife, Jen, was one of these skeptics. Here’s the use case that swayed her.

She’s a teacher and she once had a student with type 1 diabetes. The student’s blood glucose levels could swing unpredictably throughout the day and there was an ever-present risk of fainting, seizures, or worse. To manage the condition, Jen or another teacher needed to measure the child’s glucose levels not once or twice but 3-5 times a day. If the number was too low or too high, she would follow a protocol which typically involved administering glucose tablets, calling one of the parents, waiting for the parent to return the call, and finally verifying with the parent that no other action was needed.

Apparently dealing with phone calls while trying to guide a class of young children is a little distracting to say the least.

Fast forward to a not-too-distant (we hope!) future where our app exists. Now the same scenario might look like this:

  • At the start of the school year, Jen would invite the child’s parents to track their child’s glucose levels using Numerous on their iPhones.
  • Each time Jen takes a measurement, she updates the result on the class iPad or her iPhone.
  • The parents can choose to get notified any time the number changes or only when it goes above or below certain thresholds.

So not only would both parents get notified immediately of any concerning glucose levels and be able to check all the test results throughout the day, Jen wouldn’t have to make and take phone calls in the middle of class time. If a parent felt that further action was needed, they can make a comment in the app and Jen would confirm, also with a comment.

Fast forward a little more, and the testing device itself ties into our API, updating the result without Jen having to even touch her iPhone.

So there you go. One person’s compelling use case. Have one of your own? Tell us about it in the comments or by tweeting to @NumerousApp.

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Design Inspiration

While Charlie’s first day on the job was Monday of last week, I left my job two weeks earlier and that gave me some extra time to think about design and begin mockups. (BTW, my mockup tool of choice: Photoshop. I own and love Pixelmator but I’ve been using Photoshop since v2.5 so it feels like an old friend.) I could have gone the wireframe route and tried to forego style completely for now but, well, wireframes are boring.

So immediately I’m faced with that primordial design question: What should the app look and feel like? A good place to start seems to be the central focus of the app: numbers. OK, what is the essence of numbers? Hmm. Numbers, numbers, numbers. 1, 3.1415, 99%, $2,000,000. They are themselves emotionless and yet inspire incredible emotion in us (like the last time my checking balance went negative). As great as hot pink looks in an iOS 7 navigation bar, I’m thinking this puts us mostly at the cool end of the color spectrum and away from primary colors. And since a single number can say so much, this points towards minimalism and restraint of whimsy.

With this in mind I look for inspiration. For some reason I’m drawn to the precision of modern German engineering, then to Eastern Bloc graphic design, and then outward through Europe. I surveyed Russian Constructivist posters, Bauhaus, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Otl Aicher, Wim Crouwel, and more. I even went to (gasp!) a real book store and there found a coffee table book featuring, of all things, Romanian movie posters. In it, something jumps out at me:

A Romanian John Wayne movie poster!
A Romanian John Wayne movie poster!

I really like the color palette here:

Color palette

In fact I’ve been using it for all of my mockups and I think it looks great. Will our final app retain any of this early design inspiration? Maybe, maybe not, but at least it’s a start.

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The First Week

Last night we wrapped up our first workweek on Numerous, and we've already gotten quite a bit done.

To kick off the week, we made a first pass at what functionality we want to include in v1.0 and prioritized some other things for subsequent releases.

John has the earliest version of the Numerous app running on his iPhone 5s, which is awesome. It doesn't do a whole lot, but it's a lot more than void main() {}. First light!

He also got us set up on Git and Bitbucket. Why not GitHub? Because we're cheap, and Bitbucket is free for up to five contributors.

I set up some of our public-facing stuff, including the infrastucture for this blog, including Jekyll, S3/Route 53 static site hosting, Google Custom Search, Disqus, and Feedburner. I also put together our Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

I did some early design work on the API, posed some important questions, and found reasonable answers by reading up on the API's for Twitter, BaseCamp, FullContact, Keen IO, Stripe, Twilio, and GitHub.

I can't wait to see what we get accomplished in week two. :-)

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In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

Since John and I are starting Numerous from scratch, I have the exciting opportuniy to do something I haven't done in a long time: construct a new toolset. I've decided to go down to the bare metal.

I started with a new computer: a MacBook Air. I didn't transfer any documents or settings from my trusty mid-2009 MacBook Pro, instead opting to do a clean install of OS X Mavericks and build up from there. A lot of cruft can build up over the years, and I didn't want to bring it along with me into my new environment.

Next, I made the switch from Safari to Chrome. In addition to Numerous, I still have significant responsibilities at Spanning and need to maintain an environment where I can deal with Spanning email, documents etc. I wanted to keep that separate from my Numerous work and my personal stuff, and Chrome lets me do that. I created three user profiles, one each for Spanning, Numerous, and Gmail. That way I can stay plugged into all three while not crossing the streams.

At the same time, I switched from Apple's to Gmail's web interface. Even before OS X Mavericks' issues with Google IMAP became known, had become unbearably slow for me. The web UI is fast and well-integrated into the Chrome browser. I've been dealing with all of my email this way for only a week or so, but I can already say I'll never switch back.

Finally, and most importantly, I'm choosing a new programming language. Most of my Spanning Sync and Spanning Bakcup work was in PHP, so that was my default choice for the server-side work on Numerous. But while I may be comfortable with PHP, it's old and crusty. I had decided to learn Node, but John has (mostly) convincecd me to learn Go instead. In a previous life I was a C/C++ programmer, so I'm told it will make sense to me. Plus—Rob Pike!

Starting fresh is exciting—and a little scary. Mostly though, I'm thrilled by the many possibilities.

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A Call for Quiet

Too much information
Running through my brain
Too much information
Driving me insane
—The Police

This is a call for quiet.

Our world is increasingly saturated with information. Computers generate it. Sensors record it. The internet in all its various forms transmits it, faster and faster. Devices in our pockets, on our wrists, on our desks and walls, and attached to our faces force it into our consciousness. It's too much.

It all started with the noblest of intentions: to inform. But then, propelled by the profit motive, the inexorable march of technology, and our own innate desire for more, it spun out of control. Now information is crowding out the better parts of our lives.

We must reclaim our sanity, our quiet. We must establish personal space in which to reflect, daydream, and hear things said only softly. We must insulate ourselves from the din. We must regain control.

This is a call for quiet. For less noise, so that we can hear the signal. Or, if we so choose, that we can hear nothing at all.

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