Getting Aural

Ah, white noise. The boon of therapists’ offices, what my end of a conversation sounds like to Simon, and an Anthrax album. There’s a lot to be said about “a constant background noise, especially one that drowns out other sounds.” Namely that it helps me get to sleep.

Some of the more popular uses for Simon’s iPod Touch are Scrabble, some calorie calculating application that he uses to maintain his svelte physique, and the Internet, though he may or may not agree that these are the most important, they certainly are to me. That was, until he found Ambiance.

For .99 you get such classic zone-out tracks as “Airplane,” “Wind – Haunting,” and “Rain – Car – Wipers.” Other doozies include “Owl” and “Fan – Oscillating.”

Never one to be swayed by new age, hippie mumbo-jumbo, it took a while for my cynicism to be chipped away enough for me to actually try the thing. Basically any sort of droning sound you’ve ever heard is available for you to have at your fingertips. It’s perfect for when you want to drown out the sound of your roomates watching porn, or a nagging significant other. As someone who is annoyingly light and sound sensitive when it comes to sleeping conditions (and temperature sensitive…and just sensitive in general) this app works like a dream.

Sorry, I had to.

As I listened to the waves crashing upon some invisible shore I wondered, “What sort of genius thought of this application?”

The answer is Matt Coneybeare, a 28 year old San Franciscan who went to University of California Berkley for Computer Science. Matt took some time out of his soundproof day to answer some of my questions about what sort of noise the Ambiance creator has been making.

Jerk Ethic: What was the first job you ever had?

Matt Coneybeare: Burger King Drive Through Attendant.

Jerk Ethic: Technically what do you do for a living?

Matt Coneybeare: I write iPhone apps. I just quit my day job working for GoodGuide.com, writing their iPhone app for them.

Jerk Ethic: What’s your average day of work like? Break it down for me.

Matt Coneybeare: I sit on my couch with my computer and play MarioKart Wii games every 45 minutes. I tend to focus on one application at a time, so I’ll usually write a bit of code, then take a break so I stay sharp. I also play with my dogs a lot.

Jerk Ethic: How do you explain writing code in layman’s terms? My mom prints out emails, and she reads my blog, so if there’s some way to make it accessible to her…

Matt Coneybeare: Imagine writing a 20,000 line essay. The words and punctuation are carefully chosen to give the right feel and convey the right point. This is similar to how code works, except that in code, if you misplace a comma, the whole paper blows up and nothing is readable.

Jerk Ethic: What’s the project you’re most proud of and why?

Matt Coneybeare: Right now it’s Ambiance. I made this app for myself initially but it has evolved into so much more. I’ve received email about how I’ve changed some of my customers lives! For example, a few have Tinnitus, which causes constant ringing in their ears. Listening to my app has allowed them to tune out that ringing and get some peace. People use my app to calm their baby, and to help them focus in a rowdy workplace. It makes me proud that I’ve made something that people really rely on to help them get through the day.

Jerk Ethic: What was the inspiration for Ambiance?

Matt Coneybeare: All throughout college I used an app called “Noise” for the Mac, it just played white noise over and over. I would use it to help me focus while studying so that I could block out background noise. When Apple gave me a scholarship to the WWDC [Worlwide Developers Convention, Apple’s developer conference], I thought it would be nice to spend that week writing an iPhone app for myself, and I thought a reimplementation of Noise would be perfect. I made it for myself and used it for about a month before my girlfriend suggested I put Rain and other soothing sounds in it. I put those in and decided to put it out on the iTunes store, hoping only to make back the $40 I spent on the sound clips and the image. It took off, shooting to #2 on the top downloads list, and staying there for three weeks. I am the #11 most downloaded app of 2008.

Jerk Ethic: Do you have trouble sleeping?

Matt Coneybeare: Nope. But I do usually listen to “Rain – Porch” as I’m falling asleep

Jerk Ethic: What noises comfort you?

Matt Coneybeare: Fan, Rain, Wind.

Jerk Ethic: What noise drives you batshit?

Matt Coneybeare: Cicadas.

Jerk Ethic: How and where do you get the sounds from?

Matt Coneybeare: I have licensed the sounds from several sound file websites across the net (Soundrangers.com, Soundsnap, etc.) I’ve also had user-submitted sounds. I’ve hand tweaked each to make sure they’re seamless and high quality.

[Note: Soundrangers and Soundsnap are sites dedicated to creating royalty-free sounds, although Soundsnap recently implemented a “partially free” policy and a pro-membership option. Soundrangers was founded by Barry Dowsett and the ridiculously-appropriately-named Kevin Tone, while Soundsnap was started by Tasos Frantzolas, a young sound designer out of Greece. Both sites are focused on creating sounds for Hollywood, interactive media, and upstart application developers everywhere.]

Jerk Ethic: If you could design any app what would it be?

Matt Coneybeare: I haven’t figured out my next big idea yet.

Jerk Ethic: Do any of the people you hang out with understand what the hell it is that you do?

Matt Coneybeare: Yes. My girlfriend knows what it’s like to be a developer because we talk about it all the time.

Jerk Ethic: What’s your dream job?

Matt Coneybeare: What I’m doing now! I just quit my job to be an independent mobile app developer.

Jerk Ethic: What are you working on right now?

Matt Coneybeare: You’ll have to wait and see

Jerk Ethic: Werewolf or vampire?

Matt Coneybeare: Werewolf… I’ve never been elegant enough to be a Vampire.

If you want, you can check out the new version of the app, currently under Apple review. Sneak a peek at the Coneybeare Labs site, under the project Ambiance.

I cannot begin to express how awesome the current version of Ambiance is, especially if you suffer from insomnia or a lack of vacations. If you spend one dollar today – other than donating to this blog – I recommend purchasing this app, stat.

Drop me a line, feed me some noise: AinsleyDrew at the gmail one.

Oh! And check out our super-awesome new website, designed by Thomas Bradley. We’re still souping it up.