What I’m Working On

I’m actively developing two applications for the iPhone at the moment. The first, Spirotron, is a pretty simple graphical jamming tool thang – it’s a silly bit of fun. It’s in the vein of the Jeff Minter Tripatron tools that used to run on the Atari ST, and is a bit like an interactive spirographs. Except that it’s animated and draws much stranger patterns.

Spirotron is tantalisingly close to being finished. To be complete, it needs some artwork for its icons, it needs to start up showing a nicer pattern that the current random ones, and most importantly, it needs to be tested on some actual hardware, rather than just in the simulator!

The second application I’m working on is a tool for helping people (including me) to get fit by starting running. There is an absolutely fantastic program called the Cool Running Couch To 5 K Program that is also described in another dedicated C25K site. A quick summary is that starting out as an unfit couch potato who feels ill after running for the bus, you slowly build up your fitness over nine weeks, until by the end you are able to jog continuously for half an hour!

Each week you do three exercise sessions that, with warming up and cooling down, take less than forty minutes. In the first week you jog for just one minute, and then walk for a minute and a half. You repeat this until you’ve done eight jogs, and then cool down again. The whole process is finished in half an hour. On a beautiful day like today, that would be a perfect start before getting on with work!

In the second week, the runs are a little longer, but by that time you are ready for them. Each week the intensity slowly increases, but as you are getting better along with the exercise, you never find it becomes difficult or unpleasant.

I started this with my wife, Misa, about three years ago. It really did seem to work. It wasn’t a complete breeze, but it was completely achievable, and it was paced in a way that made the small increments each week manageable. It was easy to really get in to it, and feel a fantastic sense of achievement from completing the runs.

In the fourth week or so, we discovered Misa was pregnant with our Son Robi, and so we stopped running together. I signed up with a gym near work that had Body Pump lessons (which are also brilliant, but not the subject of this post).

Right now, having done no significant exercise for about ten months, I am aware several times a day, that my body is slowly shrinking back in to something slow and stagnant. It’s quite a horrible experience! I’m really ready to start out with some exercise again, and I think getting running is going to be my goal.

I think running is ideal for me at the moment because all that’s required is somewhere to run, and a good pair of shoes. There are no gym fees or membership! Also, summer is on its way, and I want something that’s going to get me out of the house each day (my current office) for longer than it takes to take out the bins!

In case you’re starting to wonder, it’s not my goal to get myself in to super buff shape, or be able to run a marathon 🙂 I just want reach a level of fitness where I can play football with my son, swim for a good long time in the sea, and move along with a spring in my step again, rather than a droop in my shoulder. Pulling my stomach back in to line is a priority too, but I’m not expecting to replace it with a wrought iron, wash board, peck deck.

Back when Misa and I started the Couch to 5 K program, the major trouble I had wasn’t the exercise, but instead working out whether I was meant to be running or walking while also bouncing along. I’d be trying to read the tiny numbers on my phone’s stopwatch with my eyes jiggling about, up and down in their sockets, checking the ground for things not to run in to, and attempting to compute whether 7 minutes and 27 seconds means it’s time to run now or walk, for Week 2’s running pattern.

A friend suggested that I could record a message on my phone that would play continuously during the run. It would be mostly silence, but now and then would prompt me with what I should be doing. “Keep running for another minute”. “You’ve got 30 seconds left”. “Okay, now walk for 2 minutes. You’ve got three more runs to do”. That kind of thing. Instead of just recording the message, which would take a whole half an hour or something, I decided to write a computer program to generate them for me, which took much longer of course. The programming turned out to be more tricky than I had imagined. I suggested it to James Gray, and he turned it in to Ruby Quiz 82.

The other problem Misa and I found, was that occasionally, we would forget which runs we had done and when we’d done them. This was frustrating, as it meant we didn’t know if we’d definitely done all of the three runs for a week, or if we’d done a run a time too many and should have moved on. I didn’t solve that at the time.

A few weeks back I got talking to the same friend who gave me the recording idea, and somehow we came up with the idea of turning Couch to 5 K in to an iPhone application. I checked on the App store, and in fact, someone has already done this, which is great. I think I could write a much groovier application though.

I want the application to look beautiful, but at the same time, present all the information that you need in a really clear and concise way. Of course, it’s got the audio part too, and I that too must also be excellent. The app must help me and others see clearly what we have chosen to achieve and it will help us through the experience. Getting yourself fit is a great thing, and something to feel proud and positive about. I want the application to complement that. In a way, it is like going to the shop and buying a nice new pair of running shoes. The desire to put them on, and feel the lovely spring of a cushioned heel, helps you to be enthusiastic about the first few runs!

I’ve got a pretty good idea of how I want the app to look and behave now. My brother is an artist, so he’s working on putting together the application’s art work. In fact, he works at an animation school and so knows some voice actors, which might be really useful in finding someone who can speak the voice of the running coach.

So today, I think I’m going to do some work on C25K, and leave Spirotoron alone for a little.


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