The Business Side of App Development

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Introduction

Bind It is an iPhone and iPad app that converts webpages into eBooks that can be stored and read from within the iBooks app from Apple. It is coming soon to the Mac and maybe someday to Android as well. Right now, you can find it here for $0.99 in the Apple App Store.

Making a successful app takes a lot more than just writing good code. Here I write about what I did outside of Xcode to make Bind It.

Product Development

I frequently come across long form articles that I want to read, but either don’t have the time or want to save it for later. For me it was common to catch an article I wanted to read at work, but wanted to wait until I was off the clock to read it. Sometimes I had a long wait while getting my oil changed or at the doctor’s office and wanted to catch up on those saved articles.

Bookmarks or leaving tabs open didn’t really work so well. Eventually, I ended up with a mess of bookmarks that I considered non-permanent and cluttered up my bookmarking system or I lost the tab I’d kept open for weeks.

My brother lives in a cellular dead zone and if I was watching his kids for him, I had an opportunity to catch up on some reading, but no internet. Besides, articles disappear. They get deleted or moved behind a paywall on the internet. I didn’t know how soon I would get to an article and didn’t want to lose it if I took too long. I needed a solution that didn’t require a constant internet connection, kept my articles organized, and kept them perminantly.

My wife had different needs that I wrote Bind It for. She likes to read amateur horror stories from a subreddit called Nosleep. Some of them are long and she would often lose track of ones she wanted to finish. She also uses the Reddit iPhone app to read them and the text in it is small and hard on the eyes.

eBooks are packages of text and images that are portable. eBook readers, like iBooks, allow you to store these eBooks, manage them, and view them. The reader will scale the text for you and even allow for different viewing themes that work better for day vs. night. eBook readers work to reduce eye strain.

What we needed was an app that created an eBook on the fly from a web page. It needed to figure out which images and text were important. It needed to search for and throw away ads and user comments at the bottom of articles.

Branding

I had originally named the app Book It, which I think is a little catchier. It was so catchy that an online booking company had already caught it. Book binding in the digital world is really what Bind It is doing, so I changed the name to Bind It. As a bonus, the logo I had created for it still worked. I’m mostly happy with the name and logo.

My software companies name also needed to be updated. Vineyard Enterprise Software, Inc worked well enough for the name of the staff augmentation company I started in the 90’s, but didn’t really stand up well now that I focus on web and mobile development. Vincode is shorter and easier to remember, so I trademarked it. It fits the modern web and mobile world better. Apple doesn’t allow you to use tradenames, so until I formally change the name of the company it will show up as the longer, older name for now.

Advertising

A decent idea, app, logo, and name aren’t enough to get any traction in the App Store. You must buy advertising. At $0.99 per sale, of which Apple passes $0.70 to me, spending a lot on advertising isn’t viable.

My current plan is to run a trial advertising campaign on the amateur story subreddits, like Nosleep, to target them specifically. The readers of these subreddits are one of the main two use cases for Bind It, so hopefully conversions will be decent. At $1 per 1000 impressions, it should be affordable too. Based on the initial trial marketing campaign on Reddit, I might roll the campaign out to other short story sites on the web. If anyone has a site that they think would work well with Bind It, let me know. I’ll make sure Bind It works for it and may help support it with advertising.

Web Presence

You must have a website these days and it needs to look professionally designed. I settled on Wordpress as the content management solution for my sites. It is extremely popular with over 25% of the web sites running it. I chose it solely for its popularity, but I was pleasantly surprised dug under the hood to start working with it. There are a lot of themes that are very professional looking to get started with. Making professional sites dynamic functionality is trivial if you have been building dynamic sites for a while.

I registered vincode.io since it is common to use the “io” top level domain for tech companies these days and vincode.com was already registered.

Social

I created a Facebook page for Bind It. I don’t expect much to be going on over there, but it was easy to create and it lets people in my life have a glimpse into what I do for a living.

This article will also appear on LinkedIn. I’m hopeful that posting on LinkedIn will get a handful of early adopters during the initial soft rollout. This will find more bugs before I start advertising could head off some negative reviews when I ramp up marketing. I’ve already put out two revisions of the app based on early testing.

If any significant social activity springs up around Bind It, it will most likely be on Reddit since I plan on advertising there. I created a Bind It subreddit where I can get feedback from people. Hopefully participation will be higher there since the people I advertise to will likely already have a Reddit account to post under.

The social game for Bind It is a little weak. This is an area that I plan to continue to work on.

Conclusion

I wrote Bind It because it filled a need that I personally had. I want other people to use it as well so I put a lot of effort into the business side of app development. Give it a try.

Flashback 2 - Heading to Graceland

As a child of the 70’s, Elvis was everywhere. He was on the movies that Channel 13 played in the afternoons on summer vacation. His music was all over the radio. His cool blue vinyl record was spinning on my grandmother’s record player when she would baby sit my brother and I.

When I woke up cold in Wisconsin and saw that directly south of me was Memphis, TN, I knew where I was going next. With Nicole and the cats snuggled together under layers of blankets, I started up van, turned on the heater and hit the road.

I forgive you for thinking that I am an straight up idiot for being in Wisconsin in November without an auxiliary heat source in the van. I just haven’t gotten to that yet and you will think me an idiot for other reasons.

I was using one of those small ceramic heaters that you can pick up at Walmart for $20. They worked great in my condo and I had a really beefy inverter to power it, so I should have been fine. Unfortunately, the heater cut itself off after a few minutes of working. The heater was rather old and these things die periodically, so I trashed it and replaced it with a newer model from a Wisconson Walmart.

It was about 4:30 in the morning when I finally had to stop for gas. The gas station was out in the middle of nowhere and was mostly abandoned except for a single clerk. This was one of those dirty gas stations that has a diesel and oil soaked gravel parking lot out back. My luck kicked in while I was putting gas in the van. I heard a hissing noise. I must have ran over something in the parking lot of this shit hole station.

Since I was stuck until a tire shop opened, I figured I’d wait until morning to call AAA. I got the new heater out and plugged in. It didn’t work at all. Figuring that the inverter wasn’t strong enough, I set up the generator and plugged the heater directly into it. The heater immediately cut out.

I was cold, tired, and feeling inadequate because I couldn’t keep my weird little family warm. Now, I’m not the type that misdirects my anger at inanimate objects. I don’t slam doors or break dishes. Something snapped in me and smashed the shit out of that heater all over that gas station parking lot.

Finally Nic talked me into trying to go back to sleep. I did so reluctantly and in defeat.

When we got up later in the morning, I was thinking more clearly. I realized the leak in the tire wasn’t that bad and that I could air up the tire and drive 5 miles back up the road to a tire shop that opened early. I didn’t need to wait on a tow truck or change a tire in the cold on oil covered rocks. Once we got the tire fixed, we were back on the road to Graceland. The patch in the tire didn’t take and we had to stop in tire shops two more times before we finally got it done right, but we took it in stride.

Social media makes everyone’s life seem more glamourous than it actually is. Generally people don’t post embarrassing or boring photos or stories about themselves. The various #vanlife Instagram accounts always show people waking up next to the ocean or a mountain lake. Nobody posts how they woke up in a Walmart parking lot again or in a shithole Illinois gas station with a flat tire.

Announcing: Bind It

Bind It is an new iOS and macOS application from Vincode.  See the About sidebar to see what it does.  This will a $.99 application in the Apple App Store when released.

The app is currently in Beta testing.  Email mo@vincode.io if you are interested in becoming a tester.

Classic VW Beetle

The Beginning and Facebook Drama

With all the drama from this car getting stolen, I thought I would let everyone know why I bought a 1974 VW Beetle when I am downsizing and planning on living in a van.

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For those who missed it or aren’t Facebook friends with me, about a week ago I bought a classic VW Bug. The doors didn’t have any keys, but I only paid $3,700 for the car so I didn’t expect anyone to risk going to jail to steal it. It is probably about the cheapest car in my apartment parking lot, so I figured a different car would be targeted first. Wrong. I got home from having lunch with my friend Jerry and it was gone.

I should have realized that the car stood out and may be worth more than I paid for it. The first time I bought gas, I was approached by someone who wanted to talk about it. My apartment manager half-jokingly offered to trade me her ’06 black Beetle for it. I parked in front of Dunkin Donuts to get a coffee. The girl who got me a cream donut and coffee had that glitter in her eye and flirty welcoming smile that could melt any man’s heart. I half expected the bug to wink back at her and for them to leave together. Everyone loves that car.

I put a post on Facebook and asked everyone to share it so that if someone saw it they could call 911 and report it. A good friend, Vicky, posted it to her neighborhood group. Vicky and I both live in the Little Italy district in Omaha and someone in her group saw that it was only a few blocks from my house. Luckily I was able to retrieve car with only minor damage to the ignition lock. It is now securely in a garage awaiting an electronic alarm.

Internal Conflict

Now it is time for me to come clean. My plan for the car is to turn it into a bugeye Baja Bug. Like this one:

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This is where the conflict comes in. I hadn’t expected to buy such a nice Beetle. The car I bought only has only minor surface rust on the pan. The interior is in better shape than my Corvette’s. It has 65,000 miles on the odometer, that I naturally disregarded for a car that old. After closely inspecting the car, there is a good chance that number is accurate. Replacing the engine, transmission, suspension and about half of the bodywork and interior feels… just wrong. When I told my brother, the plan he had an open look of disgust on his face that mirrored my own gut feeling.

If you try hard enough, you can justify any bad behavior to yourself. I just keep telling myself that by “donating” the parts I remove on eBay, that there will be many more complete bugs in the world for it. In fact, by putting more bugs in the world, I’m doing God’s own work. Or is that Hitler’s own work? Uh… This isn’t working.

Baja Bug

The idea to make a Baja Bug came to me in Quartzsite, AZ while there for the big RV show and RTR. Several people I saw there were driving around in Sport UTV’s that were licensed as motorcycles and legal to drive on the roads there. The Sport UTV’s were so small, that people parked them in the strangest places and got away with it.

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The usefulness of crossing an ATV with a golf cart are immediately obvious if you are staying on BLM land near Quartzsite or some other area of the Southwest. You can tear across the desert and get to places that your van or RV can’t get to. You can also set up camp with your rig’s awning and exterior furniture and not have to take it down to go and get water, food, and other supplies in town. The major downside is that you need a motorcycle license for them, which Nic doesn’t have. They also aren’t legal to drive on the streets in most state that we would be visiting. The cons ultimately outweigh the pros, so no go for the Sport UTV.

But hey, no worries. Previous generations had a better solution anyway.

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Update 02/07/18:  I didn’t ever get to finish this project.  It was a situation where I needed to focus on finishing out the van build and stop getting distracted with side projects.  I ended up selling the little Beetle for what I had in it.  I still believe in having a Baja Bug if you are driving around a full size RV, but it really isn’t necessary when you are using a smaller Class B like I have.

I still want a Baja Bug and may still get one, but I will probably buy a finished one.  It doesn’t seem like anyone gets their money back out of the conversion and it is just cheaper to let someone else take that hit.

Flashback: The first leg of the first trip.

Dad and I had had just about enough of trying make this 2014 Ford E-250 into the perfect cross between a stealth camper and a Sportsmobile. My struggles with depression had already delayed this project months beyond where it should have taken. It was already the beginning of November 2015 without having my vision of what the van should be fulfilled.

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My mom has an eloquent way with words. As she would say, “It’s time to shit or get off the pot”. It was time for Nic and I to finally hit the road. We finally just decided to throw the cats what we thought we would need into the Van and get going without much of an itinerary. The only place we really knew we were going was The House on the Rock. After that, it was just the open road.

The House on the Rock was a destination because Nic had been there on a family vacation as a child and had fond memories of the trip. I had never been there and anywhere besides Omaha, NE was good by me at this point.

It is easy to see why the House on the Rock would be awesome to see as a kid. It is pretty awesome to see as an adult. I won’t ruin the experience for you, but the whole thing is basically an eclectic collection put together by a nutty 1970’s free bird. Right up Nic’s alley.

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It doesn’t matter how much the SSRI’s impact my libido. I’m not giving this a try.

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There was only a couple problems with the House on the Rock. It was in Wisconsin, it was November 2015, our little space heater wasn’t working, and no one in my little family has much body hair except me. Nobody was having much fun that first night sleeping in Wisconsin.

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I woke up in the middle of the night and made a decision. I looked at what was straight south of us on the map, got behind the steering wheel and, started driving while everyone else slept. We were on our way to Graceland.

Burnout

For those who don’t know, I lost my mind in the summer of 2015. As I told a friend who asked if this came suddenly, “No, this was a long time coming.” I had been trying to fight off anxiety and depression using alcohol and willpower for quite a while, but that only works for so long. At the time, I didn’t know that I had limits to the amount of stress that I could handle and I piled it on recklessly. In the end, I burned out and had a mental breakdown that left me unable and unwilling to work in my profession as a Software Architect.

A contributing factor may have been my age, at the time 43 in years. Was it a midlife crisis?  Couldn't be right?  After all I didn’t have difficult children, crippling debt, or a loveless marriage. I already had a motorcycle, a red corvette, and a hot younger woman. I should have been safe. Regardless, I still wanted to run away and live a life of solitude as many men do at this age.  In the end I chalked my breakdown to hereditary major depressive disorder.  There is something of a history of this on my maternal side of the family, so the theory is plausible.  Don't worry, I'm medicated now and doing fine.

More and more I’m coming to realize that many of those who wander aren’t necessarily looking for something, but trying to avoid the world and all that comes with it. At the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous one woman stood at a group meeting and said that she no longer needed anxiety medication since hitting the road. Several heads started nodding in agreement at this comment.  I know when Nic and I travelled it helped me tremendously.

I heard another long woman traveler speak about nature deficit disorder, where not being in nature enough can cause personal distress.  I think there is something to this. We watch the movie Blackfish and and are horrified at how we keep orcas in constrained captivity. Then we go and sit at the same desk in front of a computer most of our waking hours, stuck in our own Westworld loops. All this completely without sense of irony.

My brother reads a favorite blog, Bowman Odessey, where the author is clearly struggling with this very subject. Or maybe I’m coloring it with my own experiences.  You decide.  Regardless it is well written and worth killing a couple minutes here and there. Check it out.

Site Kickoff

Hi.  My name is Maurice C. Parker and I am the sole founder, President, and head janitor of Vincode.  Vincode is the new trade name for Vineyard Enterprise Software, Inc.  Welcome to my company rebranding and rebooting.

I started Vineyard as a company for me to develop that did staff augmentation for Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies.  Since that time, my career has had many twists and turns.  In short, I never did grow the company into a staff augmentation company and used it over the years for mostly tax purposes.  The new plan is to use it is a vehicle to release mobile apps and do freelance consulting.

Back in the 90’s the name Vineyard Enterprise Software, Inc was pretty good.  There were lots of three word company names that got shortened to their acronyms.  Domain names weren’t a primary concern when naming your company back then either.  If so, I wouldn’t have spent the last 20 years typing (or spelling over the phone) a 30 character email address, maurice@vineyardenterprise.com.  The old name doesn’t represent what I do now or the industry that I work in.  Vincode is shorter, more contemporary, and my new email address is only 13 characters now, mo@vincode.io.

In the interests of self-promotion, I will be writing regular articles for this site.  I have over 20 years of industry experience as a consultant and many of those experiences are very unique.  I think sharing them will help enlighten others out there that don’t have the same number of battle scars that I do.  I will be cross-posting them to both Medium and Linkedin, so if you already like those platforms, you can find them there as well.  The topics will be about Software Architecture, SDLC, Project Management, Change Management, Quality Assurance, Ops/DevOps and other IT disciplines.  More importantly, I will write about the interactions between these disciplines and how that can impact overall project productivity.

I hope you’ll stick around.

Blog Kickoff

I'm at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or RTR for short.  For those not familiar with the term rubber tramp, a rubber tramp is basically a hobo on wheels.  The wheels can be anything from the largest RV or bus to a motorcycle.  All types of person are rubber tramps from all different socio-economic classes.  On one side of me is a retired circuit board designer from Intel.  Across from me are hippies selling barley and beet juice shots.

I'm here because my wife Nicole and I are in the process of becoming full-time vandwellers, a subclass of rubber tramp I guess.  I came down here to learn more about the lifestyle from the people who live it all the time.

In the photo above is my rig, the white cargo van.  I'll put up detailed posts about the different modifications made to it to make it into a stealth camper van.  Stay tuned.  Behind my white van you can see a blue-black van owned by Youtube blogger Dave2d.  Check out Dave's channel and others if you are curious about the lifestyle.

While, I am fairly new vandwelling, I do have some experience.  Nicole, the cats, and I lived out of the van for 2-3 months total last year to see if living this way suited us.  It did and now we are working toward becoming full-timers ourselves.

This process for us is well underway.  In this blog I will document how over the next year or so we prepare for finally going full-time.  I will also do flashbacks to fill you in on the journey thus far.