Best of both worlds: Businessman melds passion for creating apps with country life
March 10, 2014
First thing's first at Hopeful Hill Ranch. John Powers gets up each day while most others are still hitting the snooze button. He feeds the horses and his wife's chickens and then makes his way back to the kitchen for breakfast and his first cup of coffee. Powers then saunters the 30-second commute to his office, turns on his computer and gets to work designing iPhone apps and games. It's a life millions would envy.
Whether it's an engineer or techie searching for a way out of the rat race or a mountain lover looking for a better way to make ends meet, Powers is living the dream. Powers and his wife, Janey, moved to Nevada County from the Bay Area 15 years ago. Back then he was an engineer who had a lengthy and successful career, working for companies like Atari and Apple. His ranch was never intended to be a place for retirement, and he now finds himself designing games and apps for iPhones and iPads.
"I never consider myself retired," he said, noting that the incredibly brief commute to his desk is his favorite thing to do. He loved working for Apple and continued to do contract work for them after he left the company. Powers continues to thrive off the creativity and challenge of creating new programs.
"For me, the fun is in learning new things," he said.
Powers' segue into apps started with the Palm Pilot. He was immediately smitten with the device when it hit the market and wanted to program it. His first app was the Wine Master, a program to help oenophiles track their personal wine inventories. After that came the Beer Master.
He was then asked by friends to write similar apps for cigars and whiskey — projects that required him to venture into new subject matter. He went on to write Big BUDS, another learning and insightful experience, for which he tapped into the knowledge and work of cannabis advocate and author Ed Rosenthal.
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Not all of Powers' apps revolve around vices and life's little pleasures. He continues to create programs that intertwine his everyday ranch life with his thirst for knowledge and challenge. He wrote an app to make the most of the solar panels on his barn, which can read and record the real time of solar. He also installed a weather station and then hooked it up to a computer, which can tell him about soil temperature and moisture, as well as solar radiation.
The subsequent app has been downloaded thousands of times by users around the world.
"It's very exciting to think that people all over the world are using my software," Powers said.
"I think we're up to 45 countries."
His passion keeps him equally involved in the tech industry and local farming community. Powers served on the farm bureau and helped found Nevada County Grown.
Of course, he wrote an app for that, too. The Nevada County Grown Farm Guide is a mobile guide to local food and is available free on iTunes. He's working on the 2014 version, which should be out next month.
Star Trux is Powers' latest venture. The arcade-style game was created through his company Poohbah Industries with the help of longtime friend, Ken Balthaser. Powers' son, Rob, who lives next door, does the artwork.
Powers and his wife have four sons — Rob, Matt, Jason and Joe — all of who work in technology.
"We have a lot of interesting conversations when we all get together," he said.
Jason is a senior web producer at Salesforce.com and Joe is a network engineer at Quest, while Matt and Rob have both worked in the gaming industry. Matt owns land adjacent to Hopeful Hill Ranch and plans to eventually make a home in the area.
"Matt's a city boy that loves to come to the country," Powers said. "I thought for a time I was a farmer but then confessed to myself I'm really an engineer who likes to ranch. We're right in the middle of all this wildlife. That's very pleasurable. I apply my engineering skills to the ranch. I like the contrast to come inside and create things that come alive. It's quite thrilling to create something, then put it on your iPhone."
To see more about Powers projects on the ranch, go to http://www.hopefulhill.com.
For more information about all his apps, go to http://www.poohbah.com.
Freelance writer Katrina Paz lives in Grass Valley.