Alex Rattray is more than just the kid who doesn’t wear shoes—he’s an entrepreneur. A self–taught hacker, he’s created over seven apps, like Emerald Exam and the Musical Toilet. He’s also started multiple businesses (have you heard of PennCycle?). And every night, he sleeps with Ben Franklin.
Street: We know you’ve created a lot of apps, but what’s your current project? Alex Rattray: I just finished working on Emerald Exam, which is a start–up that I’ve been working on for a little over a year... It lets students take in–class exams on their laptops without being able to cheat. Students download a desktop application, and it opens up a full screen which prevents them from switching out of it.
Street: We've heard you hate students. Why? AR: I was always bullied by students.
Street: Of the apps you’ve created, which is your favorite? AR: The Musical Toilet is a lot of fun. Basically, there’s a little webcam that’s watching the toilet bowl. Using advanced computer vision algorithms (but actually though), men and adventurous women can just start going and it starts playing music when it detects a stream. When you move your leg to the right, it goes to the next song, and when you move your leg to the left, it tweets at you on Twitter.
Street: What does it tweet? AR: Well if it was me, it would say something like “@RattrayAlex is jammin' out to ‘insert song’ while takin’ a pee.”
Street: Are you a Mac or a PC? AR: These days I only use Apple, but I really prefer Linux. That’s, like, too hipster for practical purposes though.
Street: You’re also known for walking around barefoot. How did that start? AR: Mostly I just felt like it. I also had this epiphany: The more you wear shoes, the more worn down they get. But the more you wear your feet, the tougher they get. And it’s great to feel like you have strong feet. You feel more connected with where you are.
Street: You’re in the middle of the wilderness, but you have one thing with you. What would that be? AR: My backpack, because I’m literally prepared for anything that could hit me in the woods. It’s all in there: rope, gorilla tape, a leather moon that has a pair of scissors and a knife, a toothbrush and toothpaste, two sticks of deodorant, et cetera...
Street: Fill in the blank: My PennCard looks like… AR: Like my mom didn’t have a very good camera at the time.
Street: If you had a bicycle built for two, who would be your plus one? AR: Benjamin Franklin, to be honest, but that’s pretty boring because people will think it’s just ’cause he started our school, but actually I came to this school because he started our school. I have a giant door above my room with a huge spray painting of his face and his thirteen virtues that he had. I actually made an app of that: BFvirtues.
Street: What’s your spirit animal? AR: I’ve been told dolphin.
Street: Why? AR: Dolphins are really sexual.
Street: If we gave you an elephant, where would you hide it? AR: Oh, that’s a wonderful question! I actually think about that sort of thing—well, not specifically that—all the time. I can tell you that there is a two–story office space for sale just at the other side of Saunders Park, between Market and Lancaster, and that looks like it could be good. There’s also a horse stable between 66th and Woodland, and that looks like it could be ideal.
Street: What’s your secret talent? AR: I can make a “Z”-shape with my tongue. Well, a “Z” is pretty hard. I can turn my tongue upside down.
Street: There are two kinds of people at Penn... AR: Those who say fih-nahnce, and those with a stick–free colon.
Street: Any last words? AR: Brick feels great to walk on. It’s almost as good as grass. That’s the thing with brick: it’s cool, and even in the hot summer it feels pretty good. Walking down Locust barefoot? Amazing.