My first printed magazine experience

As I opened my mailbox today, among the countless spam flyers there was an issue of the first printed magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.

The issue’s yellow cover had the word “PROG” written in large letters. I run an indie Mac software company and do a lot of programming. But this magazine is not about PROGramming (as my sister, who happened to see it lying on the table, assumed). It’s about PROGressive Rock music. Yes, that music that was most popular in the early 70-ies, or as my former bandmate, Michael, introduced the Pink Floyd medley we were about to play: “This music was written before we were born. Nevertheless, it’s good.”

Prog Magazine

I love Progressive Rock and adjacent genres, like Jazz-Rock Fusion, Progressive Metal and everyone’s favourite: Classic Rock, whatever this means for you.

But this story is not about music. Rather, it’s about my weird first interaction with the magazine.

As I tore the thin cellophane in which it arrived and removed a one-page ad, which I didn’t care to look at, I was surprised to find a CD attached to the magazine itself. Its thin paper sleeve had a nicely designed cover with flying ravens, which reminded me of Steven Wilson’s melancholic song from 2013, “The Raven that Refused to Sing.”

Steven WilsonI know that adding “melancholic” was redundant here. Just as Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, and Elvis was the King of Rock’n’Roll, Steven Wilson is the King of Melancholy. But I digress.

The CD has a sample of new songs from various artists. It would’ve been nice to listen to it.

Except: who listens to CDs nowadays?

My stereo system in the living room doesn’t have a CD or DVD player attached to it. Two Macs that I use, an iMac from 2015 and a MacBook Pro from 2012 don’t have a CD slot. Yes, I do have 3 CD devices at home: my son’s PC, my older MacBook Pro from 2010, which my wife uses to run Windows, and Xbox One, connected to the TV in the basement, which kids use. Basically, nowhere I can listen to music and enjoy it.

I already imagine you asking: “Who reads printed magazines these days?”. And you’ll be right. I’m surprised myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll cancel the subscription because I also subscribed to their online version, which is cheaper, doesn’t have to ship from the UK and available all the time.

But then again, maybe not. There’s something about the feel of its glossy paper and the curiosity of just flipping through it. And, frankly, I forget to read the online articles. There’s so much to read online already. But I digress again.

So, after looking at the cover of the CD and wondering how I’m going to listen to it, I flip it over and look at the small print on the back:

CD Back

“If you experience any problems using this disc, you should first visit our support page at: www.futureplc.com/discsupport.”

Why yes, I do experience a problem using this disc! It might be not the problem you people expected when you built this support page but… still, I wanted to try my luck. Deep inside, I had a vague hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to listen to the tracks on this disc online and they had instructions on this page.

I carefully type the address.

I press Return.

The page slowly loads.

And I’m presented with:

404 page

Nobody cares about discs anymore. I bet Steven Wilson could write a great melancholic song about it.

While my code gently weeps

It’s an observation and not a solid fact, but it surely looks like a significant part of software developers, at least those in the Apple ecosystem, are also aspiring musicians. From personal experience, any Apple developer’s conference of 100 attendees can easily assemble several bands, and in fact, there is one, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, that has a raving fan base in the community and an album in iTunes.

As to myself, despite my mom being a teacher of music theory, solfège, and classical music in general, my interest in music only started when I became a teen.

And while I don’t think that teen hormones had anything to do with it, somehow from liking rap music I went on to develop a keen interest in learning to play an electric guitar. I remember well that I was mesmerized by the guitar work in En Vogue’s “Free your mind” and on Aerosmith’s “Amazing”. Now when I think of it, I never learned to play these two.

We also had a cool music teacher in grade 8. In those classes, we watched and analyzed Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It so happens that David Gilmour is also such an inspiring guitar player.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

Long story short, I convinced my dad to buy me an electric guitar when I was about 15 and taught myself to play using some books, the Internet of mid-90ies, and a little help from my friends.

Speaking of friends, with some of them we formed a progressive rock band and started to write music. The band was called “Gray Eclipse.” Yeah, marketing wasn’t our strongest point, and we were all fans of Pink Floyd.

We went on to record a couple of demos in a local studio and, after running out of funds for that, my dad sponsored some recording gear. So we continued to record at my apartment (except for the drums, of course). These recordings resulted in a demo album which we were very proud of. We ordered cover art, burned our CDs, printed the cover on an inkjet printer, had a concert in a local community center and tried to get some recording deal. One label liked half of the songs, so we started to work on more material.

Unfortunately, our 18-yo keyboard player drowned in the sea, while heroically saving a mom and her daughter from the same. We became older, and adult life took over our time. Most of the recordings from that time are on SoundCloud. To this day I’m very proud of these.

We never came back together as a band, although my old bandmate and I started to work on a new song in the last year. Hopefully, we’ll get it finished and will be able to share it within the vast and lonely expanses of the internet.

I kept my interest in playing guitar and still have fun playing and occasionally recording stuff. Some recordings are available on the same SoundCloud, including covers of some of my favorite solos.

In 2015, I also recorded two videos of geeky parody covers. First was “Cocoa Police”, based Radiohead’s “Karma Police” with lyrics that only make sense to those who followed community discussions of the transition from Objective-C to Swift.

The second is a more accessible (for non-developers) cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “App Oddity” tells about the ups and downs of indie app development.

In my most recent video, I recorded the solo from Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, which is one of my favorite albums.

Lately, I try to write and record in a jazz-rock fusion style, and that’s my current focus of creative musical work.

I wonder if the reason that so many indie developers are also musicians or are active in other arts, such as performing or writing, is that programming, especially as an indie, also expresses one’s creativity. As Steve Jobs famously said, it’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that drives us.

Licensing changes and pricing

Today Bohemian Coding, an indie Mac development company, who develop the fantastic design application Sketch, announced a change to licensing and versioning scheme of the application.

They are trying something new for them, after moving away from the Mac App Store in the last year, to have full control over the licensing process, among other reasons.

As is expected, such changes bring a lot of response from existing customers. And many are unhappy with change. And they wrote about their disagreement in comments to the blog.

One thing I noticed is that Bohemian Coding’s announcement doesn’t include the price of the new license scheme. So customers can’t really know what they are going to pay. And so some assume that it’ll be $99 per year. Some argue that it should be $50 per year because previously major updates were about every two years. Some say that it should be based on upgrade pricing, which is indeterminate.

The truth it, is that I think Bohemian Coding should’ve announced the pricing structure in the same blog post. Yes, maybe they haven’t decided yet. But price is of such utmost importance to customers’ feelings towards such changes, that leaving it out is, in my opinion, a mistake. People have visceral, immediate response to pricing, on subconscious level.

Consider this: current new license of Sketch is USD$99. The license is for a major version that runs for about two years. Yes, maybe you bought the license 6 months before the new major version and then it’s less value (one thing that the new theme tries to avoid). In any case, taking this price into account:

  • What do you feel about the change to paying $99 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $20 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $49 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $139 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $79 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?

Did you get an immediate gut feeling of “that’s a rip-off”, “that’s a bargain”, “that’s fair”, “kinda OK”?

Maybe Bohemian Coding thinks that the have time to decide about the price because they have at least 6 months before people need to buy the new licenses. I know many people at Bohemian Coding, and they’re smart and passionate. But I wouldn’t suggest putting the announcement off until that moment. Look at what’s happened with Smile’s announcement of TextExpander 6 going to a subscription-based model. Lots of backlash from the customers and the media. Mainly because the people thought they got the price wrong. Then Smile adjusted the prices to a level that seemed reasonable to more people, especially to the existing customer base.

If Sketch announces the pricing now, they’ll remove the speculations and will still have time to adjust the pricing strategy before new scheme goes into effect, before first people are billed.

Pricing is hard. Pricing is psychology. Don’t let people guess what you pricing will be. Tell them the price, then observe the reaction.

Update:

The blog post from Sketch was updated with the pricing decision, after they got questions from customers. Now they have to watch the reaction and have a thick skin.

Can you play something?

I play guitars. Not professionally. And though I played in a band many years ago and we had a demo album and a small concert once, I was much worse of a player back then.

I write and play on guitars for pleasure. For me, it is both a form of meditation, a creative outlet and something that I can always challenge myself with and see improvement. It is a constant reminder that desire and practice make you better at that thing. And while other people often compliment me on my playing, I often feel like an impostor.

In my combined work & music room in the basement, I have three guitars, two electric and a classical. And some people who come to our house and see them (and the other audio equipment) friendly ask me “Can you play something?”

This question usually puts me in an uncomfortable position. I honestly don’t know what to play. Despite starting playing the guitar over 20 years ago, I don’t have a performing repertoire, and nothing comes to mind at these moments as to what I should play.

Should I try to impress with my half-baked jazz-rock fusion composition (which for me are one the heights of my achievements but most people won’t appreciate) or just play some chords to a song everyone knows. Or maybe I should play “Smoke on the Water” riff or, god forbid, “Stairway to Heaven”?

Should I have an “always-ready-to-please-anyone” repertoire?

Do you ever find yourself in a situation? If yes, how do you handle it?