>> software >> Software Ideas

When I find myself wishing for a program and unable to find it, I put it in this list.

When I discover one of these already exists, I move it to my list of useful programs.

When I (help) get one to a usable point, I move it to my list of projects.

The Audio Engine

I would love to have an open-source, real-time, auto-scaling audio DSP engine for general-purpose hardware - something like an open-source Kyma for arbitrary hardware. Discovering this already exists would be spectacular, but since I have not yet found it, I work towards building it.

A Better (D)VCS

Git is a powerful piece of software with a poor user interface and a few shortcomings.

I chip away at designing a better VCS.

Note that before I started thinking about designing a new DVCS, I planned an improved hook manager and a distributed code review system for Git.

Browser Usage Reporting Tool

I am easily distracted, and the World Wide Web is an always-present option for distraction.

I am also obsessively honest.

I think an effective way to reduce the amount of time I lose to needless browsing would be to make the "new tab" page in my browser require me to specify the basic activity I'm opening the tab for - "work", "curiousity", "personal", etc.

The tool could then keep track of how much time I spend with a given purpose active.

That data could be used to generate an overall report of time spent browsing in each category.

That report would effectively be an interface to your browsing history, showing you how you're spending time on the web.

If it was a static HTML file, you could publish it daily and have other people keep an eye on it. Accountability is one of the most effective tools I know for staying focused.

You could add support for budgets, too, I suppose, but you could do that just about as well by just establishing those by other means with the people you share your history with.

Interactive Browser-Based Git Tutorial

Until a much better DVCS gains major mindshare, git is what I'll be using.

Because it's hard to learn and understand, I really wish there was an interactive browser-based tutorial I could point people to.

It should break things down into lessons, which have a starting repo state and an ending repo state (perhaps for multiple repos, when dealing with remotes), along with the canonical steps to get there. This site is close to what I want, but it fails some of my criteria below.

It should let you work with actual file contents, because without that experience you won't really be learning git. The whole point is to version a set of files. This effectively means being able to open up a code editor panel. Bonus points if it lets you evaluate JS, as you could then do real programming exercises in here.

It should give good visualizations of how you're manipulating the DAG of commits ( does the visualizations really well).

It should offer all the core git commands.

It should let you use basic shell commands too - edit to open a file in the editing UI, and the standard bash friends of cd / mkdir / rmdir / ls / rm, at least (if perhaps in a newbie-friendly form).

It should let you experience interacting with remotes.

Git-it takes an alternate approach I have considered before, which is bundling all this up for downloading locally as a desktop app. That raises the barrier to entry by requiring you to install multiple tools and fuss with your local environment (especially a pain in the context of enterprise development, where even developer workstations tend to be incredibly locked-down).

Isomorphic Git would be a huge help in building this.


I occasionally use Watson to keep track of how I spend my time, but I think a significantly better command-line interface for the job is possible.


I care a lot about art in various media, and have in spare moments here and there mapped out a data model for tracking works and makers I'm interested in, and the times I've experienced those works.

Think of it as an unfinished, over-engineered todo list for experiencing artwork.

It's more a playground for practicing data modeling and experimenting with software design than it is a focused product.

OSS Desktop / Mobile Calendar Client

I would like a clean, consistent, functional, hackable interface to calendar data that works on multiple platforms (at minimum, Android and OS X, as they're what I currently use).

Perhaps what I want is already out there. I haven't really looked much.

I basically want my calendar to look, feel, and behave analogously between desktop and mobile devices.

I would also like a few features I haven't bumped into, such as the ability to set reminders after events (for when you want to timebox things).

OSS Calendar Data Manager

I want my computers to share calendar data with each other, regardless of form factor. If two of my devices are on the Internet, or on the same local network without a net connection, they should come to agreement quickly about my current schedule (or force me to resolve conflicts if some exist).

I tend to assume this requires a central server running somewhere, but perhaps that's not the case. Though I would want a good backup system if the system was genuinely decentralized so I'd have low risk of losing things.

Distributed Scheduling Assistant

Scheduling an event with more than about two people is a pain. It means a lot of back and forth proposing dates then finding out that they don't work for someone in the group.

Computers could just do this for us, if everyone in the group uses an digital calendar.

Feed it a list of CalDAV (or similar) URLs and an event length (allow support for an optional target datetime range, e.g. "next month") and it finds you a list of slots of that length that are currently open for everyone. Then press "invite" to send invites to all the URLs.

That outline may be ill-formed in its current incarnation (not sure caldav supports invites), but the core idea is reasonable. I don't know the calendaring protocols well enough to know if it fits with them or not.

Note this proposal involves some security concerns. You could abuse naive designs to mine people's unavailable/available times, which is more than you likely meant to give someone when you said "sure, a jam session could be fun - here's my schedule QR code."

Using nonced URLs for accepting invites should prevent that from being feasible (the nonce loses access rights once the engine has found a solution [though the engine can re-grant it rights if the initiating user chooses to reschedule]).

CalDAV itself probably doesn't have all the features this would need in order to work, so you'd have to stand up an API that acts as the intermediary between the scheduling logic and actual calendar URLs. Each user would have to opt into that API

Once it's arrived at an acceptable date, it could show a review UI (making note of the most-crowded schedules), and on confirmation it can send invites to everyone who got a QR code scanned.

Note that such an API doesn't have to be on a server - a single person's phone could do the job by scanning QR codes from other devices to get the nonced URLs, as long as the other phones are on the same WiFi network.

That said, you'd probably want the API available on a server, so that you can plan events without everyone being in the same physical space (which is what the distributed QR scanning logic assumes).

Shared Schedule Conflict Monitor

I'd really like a program to warn me when a set of CalDAV URLs have a schedule conflict in the next month. My wife and I use CalDAV to have a constant view of both our schedules, but we're human and so miss conflicts anyway sometimes.

I feel this must exist out there somewhere. I'm surprised it's not built into Google Calendar in some form, but it doesn't seem to be as of 2020-04-14.

Open Source Calorie/Nutrient Tracker

The FDA has a branded food products database that would be a decent baseline for "scan a UPC and add calories to the day".

Pair that with their regular nutrient database and a source of meal ingredients and amounts (like an OSS recipe database, perhaps?), and I think most meals could be pretty quick to enter.

Obviously you'd still want support for adding random calorie entries, as well as UPCs that aren't yet in the branded food products DB.

Aforementioned DB gets updated every now and again, so you'd want to design this to be capable of taking advantage of these updates, rather than using a one-time snapshot.

Open Source Fitness Tracker

I am a firm believer in the value of data, and I'm intrigued by the idea of keeping a record of things like my heart rate and physical movement for analysis and better understanding of my health.

I am not at all interested in generating that data and handing it over to a company specializing in health analytics, as the day will come when that data is either sold to a health insurance company to help them determine my rates, or just be part of a massive data breach (and who knows how it will be abused then).

To that end, I would like an open-source phone app that can save the constant stream of data generated by a fitness tracker and sync it to a larger storage mechanism.

In practice, that likely means buying a fitness tracker that speaks the ANT+ protocol and finding or building an Android app that can record the streams of sensor data to my phone. In practice, the two device profiles that would actually be useful for physical fitness are probably heart rate and step count, since for focused walking / running / cycling, you can use GPX tracks to generate speed and distance.

RunnerUp is not what I'm looking for, but should serve as an example of an app that uses ANT+ data. This blog post on using a Raspberry Pi to track your heart rate shows that you can do it without an Android device (using this Python implementation of ANT).

It would be nice to be able to get raw accelerometer data, which I believe is what's usually used for sleep tracking, but I don't see a mechanism that would make it possible at present.

In tandem with this, I would like some tools that can analyze the data locally on my system to show me the big-picture trends.

Since I first conceived of this idea, I have learned about GadgetBridge and have purchased a BangleJS smartwatch. I'm not sure what the precise next steps are, but I have working hardware now.

Open Source GPS Track Analyzer

Runners and walkers often use proprietary programs to record their ambulation and analyze it for data points like average speed, distance covered, estimated calories burned, and the like.

Those programs usually store user data on remote servers. That means the users have little control over the data, which could easily be stolen by or sold to third parties (like health insurance companies) against the users' will.

I would like to have a program that analyzes GPS track files for similar purposes. I would like it to work locally on the computer where the data are stored, so that the user can maintain control of their personal data while still gaining insight into the details of their walking and running routines.

I have a little work on this in a private repository alongside a bunch of GPS tracks. I should consider splitting the programs out from my personal data and publicizing what I do have.

Real-Life Marauder's Map

The Marauder's Map was one of J. K. Rowling's cleverer ideas.

It should be possible to build something surprisingly close to the original using GPS, OpenStreetMap data, a color e-ink display, and an internet connection.

The most crucial functionality of the map, the ability to see the name and location of everyone in a defined area, you could not reproduce. People who carry an internet-equipped GPS device (like a smartwatch or smartphone) and who will let it report location to the map software could be displayed, however.

Using the stream of location data, the map could display an area of the earth that displays the locations of all linked devices, dynamically resizing it as necessary so that all participants are visible but the map is zoomed out no further than necessary to enable that.

With OpenStreetMap's raw data, it should be possible to render the map in a visual style similar to the one from the film adaptations. This OSM watercolor tile generator could serve as a great example of how to build out the tileset. Not sure how up-to-date it is, but for a POC you could maybe just hack the rendering logic to use an archaiac visual style.

The color e-ink display is not necessary, strictly speaking. It would certainly enhance the effect, though, if mounted on the wall in a plausible frame. The lower framerate e-ink displays suffer from might make it less convincing, but the texture and coloration of paper would make it look much more like the genuine item.

I doubt I will ever work on this - it would be highly entertaining, but it seems to have little practical value, and I care about my other ideas more.