Appearance: Fracture Blog

After mentioning some of my adventures in photography now that Declan is here, I was asked by Drew at Fracture to answer a few questions about what I’ve learned.

You can check out the brief interview over at the Fracture blog.

Do yourself a favor and order a Fracture. They print photos onto glass, and the results are beautiful. I’ve gotten a couple already and they’re awesome. I’m paid to say that on ATP, but not here, so you know I really mean it.


Clarkson on Manuals

I’ve spoken about my love of manual transmissions in the past. Drivers like myself that prefer them are a dying breed. Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear, has written a post with some thoughts of his own:

It was convenience that killed off the LP, and yet more convenience that heralded the demise - in about a month - of the CD. Because when a better idea comes along, it’s incredible how quickly it takes off. One minute, you had a phone on your hall table. The next, you didn’t. Because it was in your pocket, or on your wrist.

Oh, I know there will be some snuffly noses and damp handkerchiefs from the purists. But look at it this way: when we are all driving hybrid cars that can find their way around by themselves and sipping fuel in the same way that a vicar sips his tea at an old lady’s funeral, there’s nothing to stop people who crave the past driving a big V8 with a manual ‘box and a longwave radio.

In the same way that today the horse is completely useless. You can’t even eat it. But the countryside is full every weekend with people using them just for fun.

In my brain, I know that Jeremy is right. Advancements such as the dual-clutch gearbox have nearly all the benefits of a traditional manual transmission, with almost no drawbacks.

My heart, however, will always love a traditional manual. I will always love the challenge of gracefully using three pedals with only two feet. What I said in 2010 still holds true, four years later:

Thanks to Aaron McLeod for sending me the link.

Quick programming note: eagle-eyed bat-eared (?) listeners of Analog(ue) #18 will recognize this as the post that I didn’t think was worth posting. Enough of you were kind enough to ask for it, so, here it is. :)


Tacky Lights from the Sky

As previously mentioned, Richmond takes Christmas lights really seriously. One of my favorite houses is Christmas on Wendhurst. The owners are really nice, and the display is always really well done.

This year, someone took a drone out and filmed the Wendhurst house. The results are as cool as you’d expect:

See if you can spot what the neighbors do to their house in the video. It’s quite funny. If you can’t, here is a shot from a year ago.

Additionally, some of the facts and FAQ answers on the Christmas on Wendhurst site are really astounding. A few highlights:

  • Over 170,000 lights
  • Set up starts in early September; teardown ends in February
  • Their electric bill is an additional $1,000

Fast Text Financials

In the past, I’ve seen some developers — most notably Jared Sinclair — open up regarding the living they’ve made off the App Store. I’ve always found these sorts of posts fascinating (see also Pomplamoose’s recent tour dissection). Here’s the lifetime financials of my recently discontinued app, Fast Text.

Income

Year Total Apple Payments
2010 $43.10
2011 $118.65
2012 $89.76
2013 $295.36
2014 $282.52
Total $829.39

It’s worth noting that Fast Text didn’t debut in the App Store until late June 2010. Additionally, it was only updated a few times. The only “major” update was to add support for sending e-mails (in addition to text messages). Otherwise, the app has mostly remained stagnant since 2010.

Expenses

Year Item Cost
2010 Apple iOS Developer Membership $99
2010 Opacity Express $40
2011 Apple iOS Developer Membership $99
2012 Apple iOS Developer Membership $99
2013 Apple iOS Developer Membership $99
2014 Apple iOS Developer Membership $99
Total $534

I used Opacity Express in order to generate my awesome icon. Otherwise, the only thing I paid for was the annual Apple iOS Developer Program membership.

I don’t consider WWDC as an expense related to Fast Text, though I’ve gone from 2011-2014. Of those four times, only once have I paid my own way; the rest of the times work paid for me to go.

Analysis

Let me start by saying that I earned $295.39 from Fast Text during its lifetime. That certainly isn’t bad, but broken down a bit, the picture is less rosy.

Let’s take the total duration of time Fast Text was in the store as 4.5 years, though it was actually slightly less. With that in mind, let’s look at some averages:

Yearly Profit: $65.64
Monthly Profit: $5.47
Weekly Profit: $1.26
Daily Profit: $0.18

That… isn’t that much. Surely more than nothing, and I’m thankful to finally be in the black. However, that almost wasn’t the case.

In 2013 and 2014 both, Fast Text was mentioned on ATP. That led to huge spikes in downloads:

Sales Chart

Before those two mentions, Fast Text was not actually profitable at all. In fact, it wasn’t profitable until at least its third year in the App Store, after the first spike.

The only easy and semi-direct comparison I have is Bugshot, Marco‘s far-more-useful-but-also-$0.99 app. It earned Marco quite a lot more money — over $3500 — in just a few weeks.

To Be Clear…

  • The app was $0.99 for its entire run. The price was never changed.
  • I didn’t market the app outside of a couple mentions on ATP.
  • I didn’t put near enough care into it, hence it getting discontinued.
  • The app was really simple. Far simpler than many other $0.99 apps.
  • Not updating your app is undeniably not the path to financial success.

My experience may not be yours. It may be better. It may be worse. If nothing else, it’s just another data point.

Burn It Down

On the latest episode of Analog(ue), we discussed self confidence. One of the facets of this discussion was that I’m reticent to join Flickr and put my photographs online, because I have so many friends that are way better photographers than I am. I don’t feel like my photos are up to snuff.

Matt Gibson had a bit to say about that feeling:

…that’s one of the major differences between a good photographer and a bad photographer: developing the discernment you need to throw away the rubbish. To show people only your best photos.

Matt makes a really great point.

I’ve been trying to get better about “burning”, as Matt calls it, less-than-perfect pictures. I’ve already been taking the same approach with blog posts. I have several posts I’ve written — even completed — but not published.

Being that self-critical can be difficult, but it makes me a better writer, and a better photographer.


Fast Text Discontinued

After four years, five months, and twelve days, I have removed Fast Text for sale from the App Store. I pulled it this past Wednesday.

Fast Text is an app that, when I released it, I was very proud of. When I started, I didn’t know any Objective-C, but I somehow learned enough to get Fast Text into the App Store. In fact, that was Fast Text’s real purpose: to allow me to say “why yes, I do have an app in the App Store”. As an added bonus, it allows me to quickly send recurring messages (“On my way”, “Leaving now”, etc.) to Erin.

Fast Text has served both of these purposes, but it has gone on to overstay its welcome.

It is no longer an app that I am proud of. Fast Text hasn’t been updated since March of 2013. It hasn’t been updated for iOS 7, much less iOS 8 nor the new iPhones 6. Fast Text is quite obviously from a bygone era. I don’t know when I’ll have time to properly update it, and to continue to charge even just $1 for it is disingenuous.

Furthermore, now that I have some amount of "fame", I can’t help but feel that I’m subtly hinting to people that perhaps I’m not very good at being a developer. That I don’t really know what I’m talking about. That I’m a fraud.

Problems

Ever since iOS 7 was announced, I got questions about when Fast Text would be updated to support the new look and feel. Given that the app is entirely vanilla UIKit, updating for iOS 7 doesn’t really amount to much. However, the new message screen had some rotation bugs, which I really wanted to fix. I started down the road of converting it to Auto Layout, but ran into a world of problems.

They are likely problems of my own creation, but for a project that I have precious little time to work on, they seem insurmountable.

Races

As time went on, everyone joked about whether Overcast — an entirely new app — would be released before I shipped the Fast Text update for iOS 7.

Overcast won.

The joke then moved on to “will the iOS 7 update come out before iOS 8?”.

iOS 8 won.

At some point, the jokes got really old; likely because of the guilt I felt about the situation. As with all good jokes, they struck home because they were justified.

Eventually, I stood back, looked at the situation, and realized enough was enough. I should stop kidding myself, realize I won’t ever find the time to update it, and just move on.

Why not make it free?

I’ve been asked several times — most notably by John during the latest episode of ATP, why I wouldn’t just make Fast Text free?

I certainly could, but I’m not sure what that really accomplishes. Yes, the app still works, but it doesn’t represent something I really want to attach my name to anymore. I’d rather it not exist than for it to continue to exist in its current form.

Why not open source it?

Candidly, I have nothing to gain by doing so. I don’t think the community does either.

Why not pull a Marco?

After ATP, I actually got a couple of propositions from individuals wanting me to sell. While extremely flattering, I don’t really see the point. It would be nice to have a little extra cash in my pocket, but surely I value Fast Text more than anyone else does.

Additionally, for better or worse, I don’t want to see it live on under anyone else’s control. I’d rather Fast Text cease to exist than become a completely different entity.

Thanks

To any of my customers over those four years who bought Fast Text, thank you. Every single sale made me smile, and not (usually) because I was getting ~$0.70. It was extremely nice to know that something I did, all by myself, including the horrendous icon, was worth even just a little of someone’s hard-earned money.

For those of you that may have bought it on a lark, just as a way to throw a little cash in my pocket, thank you. It is wholly unnecessary, but I appreciate it. I hope my silly little app provided at least a little bit of use to you.


I may write another app in the future, but to be honest, it’s not likely. For now, I’m just going to continue to pour my energy into Erin, Declan, this website, ATP, and Analog(ue). That’s more than enough to keep me busy.


Unladen Follow

Not just a Monty Python reference (hi John!), Unladen Follow is a very neat tool by my pal Allen Pike. It computes, as best it can, how burdensome following a new Twitter account will be. This allows you to avoid the regretful unfollow by deciding before you follow someone whether or not they will clog up your timeline.

Here is me, for example:

Casey scores a 3.4

For comparison, here is notorious perpetual tweeter Glenn Fleishman:

Glenn scores a 343.2

I had discussed a tool very much like this on Analog(ue) #17. I knew that Allen had written something like this in the past, but erroneously believed that he had retired it. Unladen Follow is actually quite a bit more than I wanted — it is far more complex, considering many annoying Twitter faux pas in order to assign a Tweet Load score.

You can optionally choose to log into Twitter using Unladen Follow, and it will report to you which of your follows has the highest Tweet Load Units.

Unladen Follow is a great example of why having a robust API can allow for tools that improve your platform, not hinder it.


Behind the Syrup

My pals over at Studio Neat recently released a stop-motion video that explains how to use their Simple Syrup Kit. It’s a really fun, short video:

Dan describes the motivation behind using stop motion:

There are two things that I love about stop motion. It is super approachable; a five-year-old could make a stop motion movie. The other thing I love is, inherently, you see the creator’s hand (not literally) in the work. The visual of stop motion somehow allows you to understand it was crafted by a person, painstakingly.

On their blog, Dan explains how they did it. It’s a really interesting post about how simple-yet-tedious techniques can produce really interesting results. Don’t miss the video at the end, which is an unedited version that shows you how they made syrup shake in mid-air, and pens write all on their own.


Fun Christmas Albums

I love Christmas music. Naturally, I enjoy all the classics like Burl Ives and Mannheim Steamroller. But over the last couple years, I’ve found a trio of albums that I really enjoy, and you may too:

  • Pentatonix - PTXMas
    Amazon - Beats - iTunes - Rdio - Spotify
    An amazing quintet that got their start on reality TV, Pentatonix’s first Christmas album is excellent, and amazing considering all the music comes from five voices. My favorite track is “Carol of the Bells”.

  • Pentatonix - That’s Christmas To Me
    Amazon - Beats - iTunes - Rdio - Spotify
    Released this year, Pentatonix’s follow-up Christmas album may be even better than their last. My favorite track is “Mary, Did You Know?”.

  • Family Force 5 - The Family Force 5 Christmas Pageant
    Amazon - Beats - iTunes - Rdio - Spotify
    Definitely not for the faint of heart, Family Force 5 is a “crunk rock” band. I’m old, so I don’t know exactly what that means, but their takes on classic Christmas songs are a ton of fun. I’ve had this album on heavy rotation since Jason Alford introduced me to it a few years ago. My favorite track is, unsurprisingly, “Carol of the Bells”.

So, check out the above, and I think you’ll find your Christmas will be just that much sweeter.

Thanks to Myke, Faith, and Jason for links to Beats & Rdio.


Tacky Lights Navigator

Here in Richmond, Virginia, we take our Christmas lights seriously. Really seriously. It is a local tradition to go out with a group of friends or family, and look at all the ridiculous Christmas lights that local homeowners put up. We call this a “Tacky Lights Tour“.

Professional tour-goers, like your humble author, will often get together a bunch of friends so that it’s affordable to hire a limousine. Doing so allows everyone to safely enjoy their lights with their holiday beverage of choice. Though to be honest, I’m even more excited to do a family trip with Erin and Declan this year.

Does this seem a bit silly? Maybe. Before you judge, check out this awesome example from last year:

A photo posted by Casey Liss (@caseyliss) on

Not enough? You can try this. Or this. Or this.

You get the idea.

Last year, rather than taking a limo, we rented a minivan. I was the designated navigator. I wanted an easy way to navigate between houses that I can use on my iPhone. I ended up writing a single-serving page that simply has a list of all the addresses you want to visit. If you tap on any address on your iPhone, it will open Apple Maps and route from your current location to that address.

In preparation for this year’s tour, I just updated my local copy. In doing so, I thought the page may be of use to others. I originally posted about it on Tumblr last year, but I thought I’d mention it again here.

You can see the source for my Tacky Lights Navigator here. Edit it for the houses you select from the official list, post it somewhere you can get to from your iPhone (such as Dropbox), and go (safely) enjoy those tacky lights!