August 13, 2017

Software: Your power tools are made in sweatshops.

Ulysses, a popular text editor for Mac and iOS, just changed over to a subscription model at a pricey $40 a year. I’m happy to say that the price guarantees that this app will not be made in a sweatshop. Hear me out on this.

It’s often not evident to someone complaining about paying too much for a 99¢ app that a human being sweated over that app. They probably put hundreds of hours into development and may now spend hundreds more answering support emails. And we haven’t yet gotten to the time required to update the app with no further compensation.

Even when the developer of a successful app charges $10 for it, that doesn’t even pay for an hour of development time and an hour of support time at minimum wage. In that light, it’s easy to see why so many great apps get abandoned. The developer may have created it from a passion, but finds there’s better pay in a sweatshop.

We’re paying too little for our tools.

As far as software is concerned, we’ve gotten a free ride. The launch of iOS created an industry of underpriced apps. Developers who were building Mac apps and selling them for $20-30 found they struggled to get $5 for the app on iOS, even though both probably required the same amount of development time. And here we are 10 years into iOS and we’re still underpaying for those apps we rely on. As consumers we’re used to getting the Walmart price on everything, but we’re willing to pay even less for our software.

Why those great apps die.

There are a lot of apps that are dogs out there and not worth 99¢. But the problem is that developers of great apps are not making enough to keep at it. No wonder so many apps disappear from the App Store or haven’t been updated in 5 years. Recently I talked to the developer of a very cool photo app. He noted that he makes less than a dollar a day off the app in new sales now, which has made buying the tools he needs to create the app not feasible. So he can’t update the app, it struggles on new iOS updates, ratings go down and sales continue to drop. But then we complain when these great apps die, despite the fact that we usually get well more than our money’s worth out of them.

Why sustainable models are so costly.

Ulysses is not a 99¢ app. They charged substantially more: $45 for the Mac app and $20 for iPad. So the price leap to a subscription model was not much of a leap, if any. As a company, Ulyssees will probably not spend this subscription money on building employee nap rooms, employing a staff gourmet chef or taking team building trips to Tahiti. They seem to be a well-run business. Recently they adjusted their business model to focus exclusively on Ulysses, their most successful app. Marcus Fehn and Max Seeleman made the wise choice in devoting all their resources to their core business. They also made a wise choice in moving to a subscription model. It gives them a consistent (but not much bigger) revenue stream, so they can focus on a more consistent product with deeper, under-the-hood updates. These will that make Ulysses an even more dependable and more depended on software. However, that does cost money.

Let’s do the math on this: According to the Ulysses site they have 12 employees. So if we multiply that by the German minimum wage of $9.79 an hour, the company would shell out about $250,000 a year in salaries. But those are sweatshop wages. You can’t keep the best employees for that. For argument sake, let’s double it: half a million dollars a year. Then there’s the other business costs: the office, computers, benefits, etc. Running even a lean company that size can easily hit a million dollars a year. At the new subscription rate, that’s 25,000 subscriptions they need at full price just to break even. As you can see, a sustainable software company can live off 99¢ apps, even if they produce a hundred of them. And to grow, software companies today pretty much require a sustainable model.

Is $40 a year too much?

Probably not. Microsoft and Adobe both made their initial billions off pricey update business models, but are now gravitating to pricey Office 365 and Creative Cloud subscription models. Do users feel they’re overpaying these companies? Yes. Are most willing to give up the software for cheaper competitive products? No, probably not. These are necessary tools: the cost of admission for doing the work they do. Though you’re not hearing many of the voices of those willing to pay for a Ulysses subscription, it’s a necessary business tool for them, and me. Paying the $30-40 a year ensures those who continue to use Ulysses will get an app that improves and becomes more valuable to its users. And this model will ultimately lead to more users as quality continues to improve.

The new model gets a big thumbs down.

So far, the comments to the original post about Ulysses new subscription model are overwhelmingly negative. As Marcus noted on Twitter Thanks, everyone, for yesterday’s debate. Was good getting some insight without having to dig beneath a thick cover of hate. :)” However, when you read between the lines of these comments, you’ll notice a trend: most of the people saying auf wiedersehen” to Ulysses—are casual users, not power users. It’s understandable why they’re miffed: They paid a lot for Ulysses, but don’t appear to use it that much. In their anger, these commenters are revolting by seeking out alternatives. The new Bear for Mac and iOS is one. Incidentally, Bear is $14.99 a year (not pricey) but its also a dreaded subscription model that these commenters say they refuse to pay for. (If you really want an solid, inexpensive, non-subscription text editor, try the well-seasoned Byword for Mac and iOS. $18 for both. I’m typing this on it now.)

The Scrivener bandwagon.

I find it interesting that the overwhelming cry in comments is that people are jumping ship and buying Scrivener for Mac and iOS because it doesn’t have a subscription model. Scrivener, from the fine team at Literature and Latte is an excellent competitor to Ulysses, but when you do the math, both versions of Scrivener together costs $65 (the same as Ulysses used to cost.) If you already own Ulysses, you get $10 off your annual fee forever. So two years of subscribing to Ulysses is still cheaper than buying both versions of Scrivener. And it should be noted that Scrivener 3 is in the offing according to developer Keith Blount, so switching to Scrivener and using it over the next three years—will roughly cost what a three-year subscription to Ulysses costs. It’s also interesting that so many of those jumping off Ulyssees’ boat seemed to think Scrivener was too expensive, or they would have already owned it. I do hope those who adopt Scrivener will find an app they love and will not be outraged when they’re faced with paying for new features in version 3. After all, Keith has seven employees to pay too.

Why I’m sticking with Ulysses.

There are a few reasons. First, I’m tired of underpriced apps going away. I used a great writing app called Daedalus Touch to write and compile my eBook The Crap-Free Guide to Twitter Success. But that exquisite, four-dollar app went away because it didn’t have a sustainable model.

Ironically, Daedalus Touch was created by The Soulmen, the company that became Ulysses. In fact, Daedalus Touch was essentially the first stab at an iOS companion app for Ulysses. While Daedalus Touch is no longer available, I know my subscription to Ulysses is more likely to keep the app alive as long as I’m writing.

The second reason I’m sticking with Ulysses is that my dependence on the app is growing. It’s the only iPad app I’ve found that can easily create iTunes bookstore compatible ePubs. The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography was published entirely with Ulysses on iPad. As I add more books to my line, they’ll be written, edited, revised and published with Ulysses too. So I paid for my subscription to Ulysses the first day.

I’ve always said: if there is a free lunch in tech, it won’t last until dessert. We’re used to getting things like 99¢ apps at sweatshop prices, only to cry about them being abandoned because they’re not sustainable. What it comes down to, is that sooner or later, you get what you pay for. And when it comes to good tools, we really shouldn’t be reluctant to pay for them.

Culture
July 15, 2017

Working with Count to Five and BPM.

Note: This article assumes you have a basic understanding of how to use the controls of the Count to Five Delay/Looper pedal from Montreal Assembly.

While Count To Five’s output can seem wonderfully insane, most of what it does is predictable. Even though there’s no MIDI or readout, much of the seeming mayhem is also controllable. I do a lot of recording from CT5 directly into a TC Electronic Wiretap and then assemble these tracks for mixing, so I rely heavily on a BPM structure to get results that follow a timeframe. With a little math (mostly doubling or halving) and a metronome, you’ll be able to control many of your CT5 results. Here’s how to work within the three modes.

M1

M1 is the only mode with a fixed-length buffer and is the easiest to work with. The LEN B knob (DIR2) controls buffer length. The chart below starts with the knob at 7a.

LEN B Pos Length BPM
1 15.625ms 3840
2 31.25ms 1920
3 62.5ms 960
4 125ms 480
5 250ms 240
6 500ms 120
7 1s 60
8 2s 30
9 4s 15
10 8s 7.5

All buffer lengths won’t be practical and 30-240 are the most musically useful. But here’s where the math comes in: when you start turning the DIR1 knob, the speed of buffer playback changes, so you’ll need to factor this into the numbers in the chart above. With the LEN B knob set at 120 BPM and quantization set with the Q switch down to position 2 (Chromatic), the 12n position of DIR1 will pitch your effect down an octave and slows it to half speed (60 BPM). Likewise, if you set DIR1 to 7a or 5p, you’ll get an effect an octave higher at twice speed (240 BPM).

Octaves are easiest to work with. (But if you want to get the BPM for individual notes, multiply each chromatic note up by 1.143 or multiply each note down by .857. Is that math right? Only my statistics prof knows for sure.)

M2

M2 is the trickiest mode. Here the buffer length isn’t fixed, but controlled by how long you hold the left footswitch when recording. Also, the LEN S knob doesn’t use fixed positions for the slices. So while you can’t set precise slice timing, you can control the length of the buffer by using a metronome to define lengths. For example: recording for 4 beats at 120 BPM gives you a 2 second recording.

M3

M3 is also tricky since you set the length of the buffer manually. (That, and the fact that you can have 3 play heads moving at three different speeds.) Again, by using a metronome when recording to the buffer you can be precise with the buffer length. Here’s how I made the sample below:

Control Setting
Q Switch Position 2 (Chromatic)
DIR1 12n (-Octave)
DIR2 2p (Orig Pitch)
DIR3 5p (+Octave)

I then held down the left footswitch to record for about a second. The result is DIR1 playing once, DIR2 playing twice and DIR3 playing 4 times for the length of the buffer and repeating, creating a nice rhythm. The easiest way to set head alignment is to do a scrub recording first to set your controls for pitch and then do the final recording so the heads are already synced before you start. (Obviously this is not an easy live technique.)

You don’t have to work with octaves. Fifths can provide some nice rhythms when Q is set to position 6. Or setting the heads two notes part with Q in position 2 can give you more complex rhythms.

Note that it’s best to be precise when you start recording the buffer. Any hesitation (even tiny) after starting to record will be doubled or halved, throwing off the pacing. I recommend striking your chord before you start recording and things will line up correctly as they did in the sample below.

This was created by playing one F minor chord through the Count to Five. It was recorded into a TC Electronic Wiretap with a Godin Multiuke, Fairfield Accountant compressor, CT5 and Caroline Meteore reverb.

You can adjust the heads on the fly (if needed) to sync up or stagger. In the scenario above, you’d turn DIR2 up a note for a split second and then back. Each time you do this it will advance the play head a bit. Keep doing it until the play head controlled by DIR2 is aligned and then do the same to DIR3. This can be useful when working with reversed sound to get the alignment sounding more natural.

Music
July 7, 2017

Review: Moment Wide v2 Lens

By far my favorite lens attachment for the iPhone has been the Moment Wide. This add-on lens converts the iPhone’s wide lens into an 18mm super-wide, a really useful length for shooting landscapes and architecture. What made the original Wide exceptional is not just the excellent quality and design of the optics, but also the superior coatings, which add a natural-looking crispness that’s missing from most mobile camera pix.

So why mess with perfection?

The original Moment Wide was built for iPhone 5. Since then the iPhone built-in lens has gone through an evolution with a bigger lens and an added 6th lens element for sharper images. The old Moment Wide couldn’t take full advantage of the optic improvements. By creating a larger Wide v2 lens, the Moment designers were freed up to create a lens that had more glass for better sharpness and worked better with iPhone and other mobile cameras. It’s also likely that the new wider mount and more forgiving glass will somewhat future-proof the Wide v2. Moment has new Tele, Macro and Superfish lenses with the v2 mount as well, but these keep the original optics and all work fine with the iPhone Plus.

Moment Wide v2 Lens performance.

The Moment Wide v2 sets a new standard for mobile photography. As you can see in the un-retouched photo at the top of the article, everything is more crisp and clear than you’d expect from a phone cam. There’s no loss of light so the exposure is identical with or without the lens on the iPhone Plus. As with the original Wide, the Wide v2 is superbly corrected for the barrel distortion (lines bowed outward) you usually see on super-wide lenses. For closer inspection, download the original full-size image.

The only real negative I’ve discovered with the Wide v2 is occasional lens flare in the bottom corner of images when the light source is on the side at roughly 90º to the lens. This is likely the result of strong (but not necessarily direct) light hitting the bigger, more protruding convex lens element where it sticks out beyond the petals of the lens housing. Not an issues in most images, but worthy of mention.

Mounting.

Moment got off to a rocky start, mounting the original wide lens on previous iPhones with a stick-on, pressed-metal bracket and later a pricey v1 case (that was overkill for most of us.) The cheaper of the two new cases is excellent. It’s thin (yet padded) enough that you’d consider it daily protection for your iPhone, but is easy to take off for those of us who normally keep our iPhone naked. The strap mounts make it easy to secure your iPhone around your neck when actively shooting and the alignment for the lens mounting is flawless.

This is NOT a toy.

It’s not that every other brand of lenses for the iPhone are just novelty playthings. True, most are and some of these lesser lenses are made a plastic (rather than metal and glass) while others are of primitive design or have no coatings. In the other camp, there are some mobile lenses of great quality that are pricier than Moment. But Moment has set the bar so high, even lenses from the well-known gourmet glass companies pale. Nothing came close to the original Moment Wide before. Now with Wide v2, Moment has a lens which has moved into a class by itself.

I’m surprised that Moment was able to keep the price of the Wide v2 to $100. This is the quality of glass you expect in interchangeable lenses on digital cameras. So if you’re one of those serious iPhoneographer” oxymoronic types like myself, the Moment Wide v2 this is well worth the investment and will likely be useful for years to come.

Moment Wide v2 in their shop

By the way, if you have original Moment lenses they’ll work with the new iPhone 7 cases through an adapter that Moment sells for $5.



Master your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

Read more useful iPhone Photography articles: CrapFreePix.com

Photography
May 28, 2017

Review: Bluristic Camera App for iPhone.

Turns camera blur into an artform. ★★★★★

Your iPhone Camera app is designed to freeze a moment in time, which is normally what you want. But Bluristic gives you a unique visual storytelling technique: capturing 8-16 seconds of time in a single image. Developer Johannes Pfahler has concocted an app that blends multiple photos for a fluid, poetic image.

The best tracking.

Bluristic’s superpower is the ability to track a moving subject. (Most blur apps struggle and usually leave you with unintelligible color streaks.) Just tap the subject on the screen and hold the shutter. Bluristic will do its best to keep the subject in focus. You’ll get the best results if you use the single focus setting in the toolbar and keep the red tracking dot close to the focus rectangle.

Manual save?

Like most blur apps, you must manually save the image in Bluristic. (Since the technique is experimental, there will be failures you don’t want cluttering your Photos app.) In Bluristic manual save can be useful, since you have some post processing options. Once the image is captured you can tap the sliders icon to set the image’s black, white and gray point or let Bluristic do this automatically. (I’d turn on the button on the bottom of the sliders and leave this up to Bluristic.) In Bluristic’s settings (gear > wrench) you can save your image as an Ultra big, uncompressed PNG file, which photographers will find meets the standards for professional editing.

A word about RAW.

Bluristic essentially shoots a movie and creates your final image from it. You can save the RAW images as a .DAT file in Bluristic’s iTunes File Sharing Folder or save a hi-def .MOV video. But that’s all added work that can detract from shooting images.

My Take

Bluristic is a real dream for long shutter” experimentation. I’m getting so many nice results hand-held that I’m not relying on the tripod for blurred images as much. Nice to b able to experiment without having to bring anything along, but the iPhone on your pocket.


Technique: The yin of stillness and the yang of movement.

When you blend stillness and movement in an image it can help balance as well as strengthen both. The Blend mode in Bluristic gives you nice even exposures with blur, as well as focus, and is a good place to start. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Tripod with moving subject. Mount your phone on a tripod to get a still background for your subject to move against. This is useful for blurring waterfalls, streaking car headlights and contrasting moving subjects.
  • Follow a moving subject. If you move with the subject and keep the red tracking dot near the focus box, the subject will remain in focus while the background blurs. You can follow the subject as it moves or walk in an arc around still subjects.
  • Move in a pattern. If the subject is bold, try moving in a pattern, like streaks or tiny circles. Less will be in focus, so your results will be more abstract. This can create patterns that become the composition. For example, lights will take on the shape of the movement.
  • Just hold still. Hand hold your iPhone and hold the shutter for the full 8 seconds in normal light or 16 seconds in dim light. While a still subject will stay in focus, you’ll get soft focus on the edges.

Get Bluristic in the App Store


Get The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography at iTunes

Photography
May 28, 2017

Crap-Free Pix .com now part of wolfewithane blog.

My book, the Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography was first published in 2015 and updated for the iPhone 7 and iPhone7+ last year. This ongoing project has been a lot of fun and has been the book I’m most happy with. With minimal marketing put behind it, sales have been moderate (which is considered exceptional by self-published eBook standards.)

Though the book is updated regularly, I also created the companion CrapFreePix.com site to post more in-depth articles related to topics in the book. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to devote the time to a really serious site, I started CrapFreePix.com as a series of articles on DayOne’s Publish platform. This was extremely simple to make happen, but DayOne seems to have abandoned Publish.

I’m in process of moving CrapFreePix.com over as part of my occasional blog. Much thanks to David Merfield, owner of my blogging platform Blot. David did some magic behind the scenes to make my iPhone photography articles all get indexed on a special page connected to the CrapFreePix.com URL. If you’re not familiar Blot, it’s an automatic blogging platform that turns a Dropbox folder with text files written in Markdown (the de facto content markup language of the web) into blog posts. It’s convenient to write posts on my iPad in ByWord app and move them to Dropbox. At $20 a year, Blot is a real bargain for those looking for control and editorial freedom a notch above what you get on Tumblr and Medium and for who don’t want to deal with the quirks and complexities of WordPress.

Slowly new posts are being added and current Publish content is being revised and moved over. If you want to bookmark the page, it’s up in the nav and at http://crapfreepix.com. Your comments are always welcome and Twitter is the best place for those.

Oh, the book. (Wouldn’t be much of a marketer if I didn’t get in a plug for that.) The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone photography is available on iTunes and DRM-free, so it’s readable on any ePub reader on any device. Updates are free forever. You can expect those shortly after the release of a new iPhone or a new iOS.

Photography