A minstrel came awandering

Jacques Mattheij wrote an article that was later featured on Hacker News about wandering around Europe and offering his services for free, which sounded like a lot of fun, so I got in touch with him and invited him to stay. I didn't check with my wife at this point because I thought why scare her for no reason, he'll probably not get back to me.

On Monday the 3rd of March Jacques arrived for a stay of two days (I'd gotten round to asking my wife a couple of weeks earlier, she's a good sport). Is there a good way to ask your wife if it's OK to let a stranger you met on the internet in to your life for two days? Thought not.

Save hours of planning with weeks of coding

My expectation was that between us we'd be able to knock together a basic prototype that would actively block television adverts, we'd already discussed ideas in email. In the end we didn't code at all.

Jacques wanted to go over the flaws in my idea and he found plenty, to the point where I almost thought "he's right, I'll just move on to something else". Apparently he's earned the nickname Dr. No for finding reasons why things won't work but this is more from the point of working around those issues.

For example, why would anyone trust the software, would it work effectively enough to not annoy people (letting the occasional advert in by accident), could we use existing systems to prove concepts? We did manage to overcome these objections (on paper at least) and the Minimum Viable Product we mapped out ended up being quite different to what I thought it would be. But it's given me a lot more confidence that the product can be built now.

My vision before we met was for an internet connected device that sits on the HDMI cable to the TV and buffers the video stream whilst actively checking for and blocking adverts. I didn't expect to create any hardware in the two days we had but thought we could possibly build a software proof of concept. Jacques convinced me that custom hardware was expensive, liable to fail and a nightmare to develop.

On Jacques' suggestion we looked at using existing kit to sidestep the hardware requirements and ended up with a strikingly different approach, settling on a Samsung Galaxy S4 'phone running Android.

Next steps

Now Jacques has left I've got a good idea of the components needed to make this thing work. I'll be using Xamarin tools to develop with C# on Android and Azure for any server side components. If anyone is interested in getting involved, send me an email at r at ryanoneill dot com. I'm not sure where this will go yet, it may just be a fun idea to blog about.

On Jacques...

Jacques is an interesting, generous, knowledgeable and quirky person. He has a lot of interesting stories and is very open. If he's a con-man, then I'd love to be conned some more as he went away from us out of pocket.

I suspect most Alpha Males will not get on well with Jacques. It's just a male thing, a lot of us don't like being told that we are wrong but that's the best discussion to have with Jacques as he can be convinced if you argue your point well.

Without his help I probably wouldn't have got the concept to where it is. He even insisted that he wants nothing in return. We (my wife as well) definitely enjoyed having him around and would do so again, if he can ever recover from the punishing schedule he's set himself for visiting a LOT of businesses.

I recommend subscribing to Jacques' RSS feed if you are interested in tech businesses.

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Ryan O'Neill

Mostly about tech, working for myself and my thoughts.

Ludlow, Shropshire, UK