Never Too Old to Code: Meet the 82-Year-Old App-Maker

Never Too Old to Code: Meet the 82-Year-Old App-Maker


  • Masako Wakamiya is one of the world’s oldest iPhone app developers
  • She asked software developers to come up with more for the elderly
  • Wakamiya learned the basics of coding and developed ‘Hinadan’

When 82-year-old Masako Wakamiya first began working she still used an abacus for maths – today she is one of the world’s oldest iPhone app developers, a trailblazer in making smartphones accessible for the elderly.

Frustrated by the lack of interest from the tech industry in engaging older people, she taught herself to code and set about doing it herself.

The over 60s, she insists, need to actively search out new skills to stay nimble.

“As you age, you lose many things: your husband, your job, your hair, your eyesight. The minuses are quite numerous. But when you learn something new, whether it be programming or the piano, it is a plus, it’s motivating,” she says.

“Once you’ve achieved your professional life, you should return to school. In the era of the internet, if you stop learning, it has consequences for your daily life,” Wakamiya explains during an AFP interview at her home near Tokyo.

She became interested in computers in the 1990s when she retired from her job as a bank clerk. It took her months to set up her first system, beginning with BBS messaging, a precursor to the Internet, before building her skills on a Microsoft PC, and then Apple’s Mac and iPhones.

She asked software developers to come up with more for the elderly, but a repeated lack of response led her to take matters into her own hands.

Wakamiya learned the basics of coding and developed ‘Hinadan’ one of Japan’s first dedicated app games for the over-60s – she is now in such demand that this year Apple invited her to participate at their prestigious Worldwide Developers Conference, where she was the oldest app creator to take part.

‘Source of inspiration’
‘Hinadan’ – ‘the doll staircase’ – was inspired by the Hina Matsuri, a doll festival which takes place every March, where ornamental dolls representing the emperor, his family and their guests are displayed in a specific arrangement.

In Wakamiya’s app, users have to put them in the correct positions – a task which is harder than it sounds, requiring memorisation of the complex arrangements.

The app, which is currently only available in Japanese, has been downloaded 42,000 times with hundreds of positive comments from users.

And while these figures are relatively small compared to Japan’s big-hitting apps which are downloaded in their millions, ‘Hinadan’ has proved popular enough that Wakamiya plans to release English, Chinese and possibly French versions of the app before next year’s festival.

Its success has propelled her on to the tech world stage, despite the industry’s reputation for being notoriously ageist

In Silicon Valley, workers in their 40s are considered old by some firms and according to media reports citing research firm Payscale, the median age for an employee at Facebook is 29 and at Apple is 31.

But international tech firms and start-ups are slowly waking up to the economic potential of providing for silver surfers, and Wakamiya has already met with Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook.

Wakamiya recalls: “He asked me what I had done to make sure that older people could use the app. I explained that I’d thought about this in my programming – recognising that older people lose their hearing and eyesight, and their fingers might not work so well.”

“Mr Cook complimented me,” she says proudly, adding that he had hailed her as a “source of inspiration”.

No time for sickness
Wakamiya concedes that she finds “writing lines of code is difficult” but has a voracious appetite to learn more.

“I want to really understand the fundamentals of programming, because at the moment I only learned the elements necessary for creating Hinadan,” she explains.

More than a quarter of Japan’s population is aged 65 and above, and this is projected to rise to 40 percent by 2055. The government is struggling to ensure its population remains active and healthy – and so also see the dynamic octogenarian as an inspiration.

“I would like to see all Japanese elderly people have the same motivation,” one official told AFP.

Wakamiya says her ultimate goal is to come up with “other apps that can entertain older people and help transmit to young people the culture and traditions we old people possess”.

“Most old people have abandoned the idea of learning, but the fact that some are starting (again) is not only good for them but for the country’s economy,” said Wakamiya, who took up the piano at 75.

Hinting that her good health is down to an active mind and busy life, she adds: “I am so busy everyday that I have no time to look for diseases.”


Kill Your Old Ideas So You Can Be More Creative

I spent ten years “writing” a TV show about Silicon Valley. I spent hundreds of hours talking about it, collecting ideas in a giant Evernote file, brainstorming the soundtrack—but not much time writing it. Because every time I thought I had a handle on it, I thought of a better version. Over the years, I adapted my unwritten pilot into an unwritten book, movie, web series, and comic strip. I chased every idea at once, until the project loomed grand and unwieldy in my head. I was building up a mountain of idea debt.

Idea debt is the pile of ideas you keep revisiting but never finish, or even never begin. It can be a book, an app, a business, any project that grows in your mind but not in reality. It feels much more impressive than the projects you’re actually carrying out, with all their disappointments and compromises. As screenwriter Craig Mazin says, “The most exciting script in the world is the one you’re about to write. The least exciting script is the one you’re on page 80 of.” So that idea debt metastasizes, threatening to hold up the real projects, or halt them so long that they too become idea debt.

Like financial debt, a little well-managed idea debt is healthy. It’s good to mull over ideas, to file them for later, to give yourself more creative options than you use. But sometimes you need to pay that debt down. Luckily you’re your own debtor, so you have plenty of options.

Make it now

Take one of your big ideas. How small can you make it? What’s the minimum viable product? Shrink it until you can polish off in a day, then go do it. It shouldn’t be perfect, or even good, just done. Next time you dream about the big beautiful proper version of that idea, think instead of your real finished version, and how superior it is to the big version, because it exists.

In his 2006 video Brain Crack, Ze Frank imagined his unused ideas “on a beautiful platter with glitter and rose petals.” To avoid getting addicted to his brain crack, Frank said, “when I get an idea, even a bad one, I try to get it out into the world as fast as possible.”

Brain Crack was an episode of “The Show,” Frank’s daily vlog full of quick-and-dirty songs, speeches, and segments. Cranking out his ideas led Frank to a successful career in short-form video; in 2012 he became president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

Put it in your current project

Writer Ryan North gets a lot of ideas, and he doesn’t have time for them all; among other things, he’s busy writing three strips a week of his webcomic Dinosaur Comics. The problem solves itself, he tells me: “I have often times come up with an idea that’s a lot of work, and then I have T-Rex describe the idea in a comic (usually, hopefully with a punchline) as a way to scratch that itch.”

North cites Kurt Vonnegut, who used up stray ideas by giving them to his recurring character, fictional novelist Kilgore Trout. Vonnegut said that through Trout, “I suppose I’ve now summarised 50 novels I will never have to write, and spared people the reading of them.”

The greatest thing about this trick is that you can always expand on the idea later. One Dinosaur Comics strip, a sci-fi take on the fable of King Midas, became the comic book series The Midas Flesh. A strip about a machine that accurately predicts anyone’s cause of death inspired two story anthologies, Machine of Death and This Is How You Die.

Hand it over

One upside of idea debt’s perverse appeal is that the idea can seem so good, so worthy, that you just want someone to make it happen, whether or not that someone is you. So give your ideas away to a good home.

The easiest method is to tweet out (or blog or Instagram) your idea. If it’s really that good, someone else will try it. Or take it to a forum dedicated to swapping free ideas: The ancient and whimsical Halfbakery, or the subreddits /r/Lightbulb, /r/CrazyIdeas, /r/SomebodyMakeThis, /r/highdeas, /r/AppIdeas, or /r/Startup_Ideas.

There’s just one big rule for this method: You really have to give it away. That means you don’t sell it, rent it, or remain involved in any way.

No one will pay you anyway. Novelist Neil Gaiman says people come up to every author with the same offer (which he always politely rejects): “They’ll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty.” Business ideas are similarly unsellable. As investor Tim Berry says, “The way real people with real ideas get value from them is by building a company to implement those ideas.” Unless the Patent Office will let you register it, it’s worthless. So don’t hand your idea to an expert like you’re whispering into a college grad’s ear, “One word: Plastics.” Just get it out there, and if the experts want it, they’ll find it.

I recently dumped an old story idea (a modern-day Romeo & Juliet told like a fictionalized Planet Money episode) into a Twitter thread. I was surprised how quickly I ran out of thoughts on what had seemed, in my head, like a rich and developed project. I was also surprised when someone who actually does run a fiction podcast emailed me for permission to write the story. (I gave it freely, of course. It’s not my idea anymore!) Even without that response, it was satisfying enough to get a few faves and replies.

Don’t worry about saddling someone else with your idea debt; it isn’t zero-sum. Once you hand your idea over, you’ll feel the pressure slip away. But its new owner will never feel the same obligation; it’s impossible to obsess over someone else’s idea as much as you obsess over your own.

Dump it out

After all the above, what’s left over might look good. But most of it will just never get done. That’s fine! Ideas might feel like pets or children, but they’re not; it’s healthy to abandon most of them. And if your gigantic idea file (pop-science writer Steven Johnson calls it a Spark File) doesn’t load you down, leave it be. But if it does, or you just want to clear your head, then take cartoonist and author Jessica Abel’s advice and dump it all out.

You’re probably dreading the thought of just deleting all your old ideas. So instead, make a grand gesture: Publish them. All at once. You can talk a little about each one, or you can just paste the raw file. This is the Spark File’s counterpart, the Bonfire.

Writer and consultant John Sexton published all his never-finished ideas in one massive Medium post, The Pile of Old Ideas — Volume 1. It’s a fascinating cascade of ideas: “Your brain is the ultimate VR device,” “The enemies of comedy,” “A taxonomy of farts.” It’s a shame Sexton couldn’t complete any of these. But more ideas will always come.

Inspired by Sexton, Boing Boing editor Rob Beschizza published two dozen unfinished video games in Killing my unfinished game dev projects. They’re fun ideas: A puzzle game based on DNA editing; a simulation of Lenin’s final days; a cow-clicker game about blogging; a Qbert MMO. “Ideas are cheap,” Beschizza wrote. “If you want one, take it. I’ll cheer from a safe distance!”

There’s a thrill and a pleasure to this approach. This is your magnum opus! The abandoned ideas are the new idea! Still, you need to get this done in a day or two. Don’t do what I did, imagining a metaproject that contains all my abandoned ideas going forward, and then abandoning that idea. Meta-idea debt carries a high interest rate.

Make a plan

You’re not going to get rid of all your ideas. Some are worth holding onto, worth doing. But now that you’ve stripped away everything else, you need to get started. You need to make a plan.

Lifehacker has, of course, plenty of help for you. Here’s how to get motivated; here’s how to complete a coding project; here’s how to start a side business; here’s how to finish a project. Choose a planning system: Getting Things Done, a Bullet Journal, Agile development. Choose goals, make a to-do list, and set deadlines.

A couple of years ago, I decided to buckle down and finish my Silicon Valley pilot. I set a schedule, I worked on it daily, and I ended up writing two pilots. I set them aside, came back to them a month later and… they were OK, but not that great, and not worth fixing.

I was free. For decades I’d dreamed this would be my very best project, and now I’d finally tested that theory. Even though I’d disproved it, I considered this a success: It cleared that part of my mind. I archived the pilots and the giant Evernote file. And I moved onto making my next project—for real.


Trump slams Yates hearing: ‘Nothing but old news’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)


President Donald Trump said allegations of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia are “a total hoax.” | AP Photo

President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted his first reaction to testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, dismissing her comments as “nothing but old news” and asking “when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

Trump also said allegations of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia are “a total hoax.”

The series of tweets came as Yates Senate testimony, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, dominated cable coverage and the days news in Washington.

“The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” the president tweeted after Yates and Clapper testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism earlier Monday on the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“[Former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump,” Trump added.

Clapper reaffirmed during his testimony that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, while Yates declined to comment on the subject, citing concerns that she’d reveal classified information.

“Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!” Trump said.

Yates told the Senate panel Monday that while serving as acting attorney general she had informed the Trump White House in January of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian operatives.

She added that Flynn being compromised could’ve made him susceptible to blackmail by the Russians.

Her testimony served as her first public comments on the controversy since Flynn resigned from his post in February.



Paris Wants to Mix Old and New With Eiffel Tower Upgrades (Watch)

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The most recognizable landmark in Paris may be getting a makeover. The Eiffel Tower has been around since the late 1800’s. And while it’s still an iconic building, city officials in Paris feel that it could use a few updates.

The proposed changes would include adding security measures, improving the flow of tourists, upgrading elevators, paint, lights and more. Overall, it’s estimated that these upgrades will cost more than $300 million and will take about 15 years to complete.

That’s a major undertaking. But the city is reportedly interested in hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. And if that’s the case, it might be necessary to add some value in the form of more practical features for the city’s most popular landmarks.

Sometimes, Change is Necessary

Old structures like the Eiffel Tower present a unique set of challenges to the cities or businesses that are charged with operating them. Changing the building completely would take away most, if not all, of the incentive for people to visit in the first place. But sometimes, change is necessary in order to keep those structures operating as they should in the modern age.

This concept is one that’s also relevant to a lot of businesses. Whether you’re actually operating an old tourist landmark or just have some old traditions that have helped your business succeed through the years, you need to find a way to mix the old and new in a way that makes sense for your business.

Eiffel Tower Photo via Shutterstock

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