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An idea many people already had

October 8th, 2011
tech, startups, ideas, logging  [html]
After writing about how I'd decided I should be thinking about starting a startup, I sat down and brainstormed some ideas. One of them seemed kind of promising: beat distraction with an automated logging tool, so that people could look at how they'd been spending their computer time and use that information to limit time spent on distractions. Then you could reward people for meeting goals or something. I did some initial searches and only found things aimed at bosses that wanted to make sure their employees were working, so I thought of making something that people would use voluntarily to make themselves more productive. I decided to try and make a simple proof of concept: some code to log what your active application is, and whether the machine was currently idle. This was fun and didn't take long.

When writing a friend to ask what they thought, however, I did some additional searches, and this time found that someone already made this. And they have many competitors. It also turns out not to have been all that good an idea: none of these companies seem to be doing all that well. So I should actually be happy that someone else already tried this: finding out it was not a good idea in two days is much better than in a year.

I'm still running the code, because I might find the data useful some day, and if you're interested in it, I put it on github. It's mac only, and not ready for non-programmers to use, but the usage information is:

Compilation:

  $ gcc -o prodlog log.m -framework Foundation -framework AppKit -framework IOKit -Wall

Installation:

  $ sudo mv prodlog prodlog_helper.sh /usr/local/bin/

Testing:

  $ prodlog
  1318078591 0 Terminal # format is epoch timestamp, seconds idle, active app name

Run automatically:

  $ crontab -e
  * * * * * /usr/local/bin/prodlog_helper.sh

Observe:

  $ ls ~/.prodlog/
  131800.log.gz   # past files are gzip compressed
  131801.log.gz
  131802.log.gz
  131803.log.gz
  131804.log.gz
  131807.log      # current file is not compressed
  lock

  $ zless ~/.prodlog/131802.log.gz  | tail -n 4
  1318029688 0 Google Chrome
  1318029689 1 Google Chrome
  1318029690 2 loginwindow
  1318029691 3 loginwindow

Each file should hold up to 10k samples and represent about three
hours.  In a year you should use about 30MB.


licensing
---------

idler.h
 - see copyright notice in the file

log.m, prodlog_helper.sh
 - I release these into the public domain

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