The way I approach learning magic, there are three modes in which I find myself working: learning, practicing, and reflecting. One of my biggest struggles is learning to recognize the difference between all three of these useful working modes and the unhelpful, blissful state of procrastination.

I’m getting better at recognizing the numb psyche that comes along with procrastination. When I know I should be learning something new, but I sit and “practice” blind cuts and shuffles, it feels qualitatively different from when I am working on those things because they need genuine improvement. When I know I should be writing a genuine, reflective article about an experience but I choose to browse the media section of theory11.com instead and “get inspired” by what others are doing, I feel that I’ve wasted my opportunity to take another step forward in favor of the safety of admiring those that are on the path.

The only time I never feel like I have done myself a disservice is when I choose performing. If I’m ambivalent or uncertain about what I should be doing, I never go wrong in stopping someone in the coffee shop and sharing my work with them.

My new mantra is, “When in doubt, forego the meta.” “Meta” means things that are related to your thing but are not the thing itself. For magic, this includes but is not limited to reading blogs, buying new props and books, hanging out at the magic shop, going to magic club meetings, or even writing about it. These things are important, but they should never be mistaken for magic itself.

If you’re a writer, you could be going wrong by doing more “research,” but you will never go wrong by sitting down and making the clackity noise. If you’re a guitarist, you could go wrong by reading that new issue of Guitar Player or buying some “inspirational” guitar music from the iTunes store, but you will never go wrong by picking up the guitar and putting your fingers on the frets. Most of the time, these won’t be your best efforts, but sometimes, your art will reward you with something unexpected because you didn’t settle for the numb comfort of procrastination.

More Subtle

One of the things that I’ve been noticing is that I need to make my sleights more subtle. I’ve been watching myself, and I see that I need to improve a lot in this area. I need to hold smaller breaks, make shorter jogs, shift and palm more quietly, top change more smoothly, and shuffle and cut more naturally. Through the miracle of iSight cameras, I’m able to keep iterating on this, but right now it’s a really weak part of my skills.

First!

This is probably a pretty big mistake. I have no credibility when it comes to magic. But the idea of this site won’t leave me alone, so I’m going to write and see what happens. I really have no business writing about magic. I’m only just getting started with taking it seriously. But, hopefully writing about the process of sucking less at it will be of some use, if to no one else but me.

Hours of Incessant Practice

Many hours of incessant practice must be spent to acquire the requisite amount of skill; but it must be remembered if feats at card-handling could be attained for the asking there would be little in such performance to interest or profit anyone.

Don’t think this only applies to cards.

Be open to the unexpected

Today I was reminded of something that was probably one of the most enduringly useful tricks I learned in all of my music education. In a piano lesson, my teacher pointed out that if I have a repeated note to play quickly, pressing that same key on the keyboard with the same finger is slow and inefficient. Instead, use two fingers alternating to press the same key in a kind of walking motion. I use this all the time now even though I never play piano. I use it with my computer keyboard. Navigating a text file in vim? Tapping out six or seven J‘s in a row and watching the cursor move is more efficient than counting lines for a 7j or waiting while my system decides to send the repeated event to MacVim while I hold down the J key.

Sometimes, it really is about the journey. The journey is where you encounter the people and experiences that will stick with you. But you don’t use the journey for what you get out of it. The journey gives you its gifts freely because you were along for the ride.

New Year’s Post

2010

What’s Happened

In 2010, I went on my first cruise. (I thought I would hate it but it ended up being one of the funnest I have ever done.) I also went to NSConference and WWDC. It’s always inspiring to be around engineers that are way smarter and way more accomplished than I am.

One of the things I am most proud of from 2010 is the completion of my first Mac application. Eureka will be in the Mac App Store on January 6, but I both started and finished it in 2010.

Oh, and I got a new dog.

What I’ve learned

2010 was one of the toughest years of my life, but at the end of it, I’m a much better person than I was at the beginning. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Forget about superlatives
    Perfectionism is something that I’ve struggled with since I was a kid. When I say perfectionism, I don’t mean the kind of commitment to excellence that you appreciate from folks who make kickass stuff. I mean the kind of debilitating, self-sabotaging self-requirement that says mistakes are not allowed, that you have to be all things to all people all the time. I owe a big thanks in this area to my reading The Now Habit by Neil Fiore.

    Here’s what I’ve learned, too. Chances are (and this is OK, by the way) that there’s no aspect of me that is superlative. I used to be the smartest person I knew. Then I went to graduate school and met some ridiculously smart people that cared a helluva lot more than I did. And in my computer science program, there were people like that too.

    There have been a lot of things I thought I was superlative. But slowly, one by one, I have been disabused of all of those. What’s dangerous is that if you base your identity on superlatives, you’ll eventually be left with just the shell of an identity when those are stripped away. So, what have I learned to base my identity on? The answer to that is simple: things that don’t change. Being a husband, friend, uncle, son, a software engineer, guitarist, Pez collector, and other things. And what’s left? Getting better at them and helping others get better at their thing too. That’s it.

  2. Keep Your Balance
    When I have a decision to make, it’s easy to let a particular emotional component of the situation make me lose perspective. When a new client contacts me with a project, I have a decision to make. If all I think about is the money, I might overlook how additional time commitments might affect my marriage, work, and other deadlines. Even if I manage to keep those things in balance, maybe I’ll have to burn the midnight oil or forego my exercise routine to make it all happen and that could affect my health. This isn’t to say that I won’t still take the project, but when I do I will know it’s a better considered decision that I would likely have made a year ago.

  3. First Person Transitive
    Merlin Mann’s been using this phrase for a while and it’s been such a huge help to me. My friend Patrick says it this way, “Don’t worry; do. If there’s nothing to be done, don’t worry.” When I face a problem, I face a simple question: Is there anything I can do about this? If the answer is yes, then get your ass to work. If the answer is no, then accept the state of things and make the best of it. There’s no other option.

2011

In 2011, I have some modest goals:

  1. Be a supportive and encouraging husband to my awesome wife as she finishes up her medical school prerequisites.
  2. Write and release at least one more indie code thing. I have several ideas in the pipeline for Mac, iOS, and the web, so we’ll see which one makes it out first.
  3. Continue getting into better physical condition.
  4. Slow down and enjoy things better than I did this year.

That’s it. Really those are my goals for 2011. Of course the usual ephemera such as being a good friend and remembering to take out the trash when it’s full, but those are ongoing, unmeasurable things. So, for 2011, my list is four deep. That seems manageable.

Super Sad Excuses | TriQuarterly Online

Matt Wood

You just need the perspective to sort out the necessary from the guilty pleasures, to distinguish the real problems from the self-inflicted, and to have the courage to step away when something makes you unhappy.

Thanks, Matt, for calling folks forward for a healthy dose of autonomy, empowerment, and ownership of what’s under their control.

Final Choices and Sensible Defaults

Patrick Rhone

I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again.

This is such an unbelievably huge power move. I agree that big ticket items should be carefully considered. Right now, I’m in the midst of just this process with my needing to buy new clothes. I plan to buy things that will wear well and for a long long time. I discovered this benefit initially after receiving a Levenger Circa notebook as a gift a few years back. I still have, use, and love that notebook and foresee having it for many more.

While Patrick is spot on about final choices, I would add that it also goes for things you buy on a more frequent basis as well. For instance, I never think about what pencil I’m going to buy and use. I know I use Uniball Kuru Toga pencils. (Thanks to Patrick for turning me on to these as well.) If I lose, break, or for some other reason find myself needing to buy a pencil, I don’t go to Staples and gawk for an hour at the wall of mechanical pencils. I hop on the Amazon app on my iPhone while I’m waiting in line at Starbucks and order a couple to show up at my door step in two days.

This is something that I’ve termed “sensible defaults.” It’s a phrase I’ve picked up from studying UI design principles, but it’s something I’ve been able to work into other areas of my life as well. For instance, by picking sensible defaults at the eateries we frequent I was able to lose 50 pounds last year.

Is it a little neurotic? Absolutely. Does it mean you might spend a few weeks or months on a quest for the perfect bag to carry around your kit? Boy, ask my wife. Does it mean you might miss out trying the hot new dish at Pei Wei or the new exercise craze? Indubitably. But, in my opinion, the tranquility is well worth that opportunity cost. And the potential for doing something awesome with the saved time and neurocycles is priceless.

Contemplating Mac App Store

I’ve been working on my first indie Mac app in my spare nights and weekends for several months. Just as I’m nearing the 1.0 release, Apple announces the Mac App Store. Oh boy… This is sort of a perfect storm. I don’t have any existing customers or really much of anything that can’t be ripped out to go the Mac App Store route.

Parameters

I have a kickass full time gig with Agile Web Solutions working on awesome stuff that is tons of fun. So, I’m not necessarily looking for my indie work to support Ann Margaret and me full time. My goal is still rather lofty, but it’s one that is 100% measurable: I want to pay off our student loans sometime before one of us dies. We’re two well educated people with three bachelor’s degrees and three and a half master’s degress between us, so the number is pretty hefty, but it’s definitely a target that’s not likely to move much.

Enough Theorizing. Let’s use numbers.

Before the Mac App Store, I was targeting a $25 price point for my app and planning to use FastSpring as the payment processor. I figure that by the time I offer discounts, promotions and whatnot that I’d like to get 80% of that, so $20. For simplicity, let’s say FastSpring takes 10%. That’s $18. Now, I want to consider that Uncle Sam gets his cut too, so let’s call that 25%. So, for each license I sell, I get to apply $13.50 of dynamite to the mountain.

With the Mac App Store, Apple gets 30% of the sale price. So, a $20 price point becomes $14, which then becomes $10.50 of useful income.

But wait a minute, can I sell my app for $20 on the Mac App Store? If Apple’s keynote is any indication, that’s not going to work. The iLife and iWork apps are shown in the keynote video as selling for $14.99 and $19.99 each respectively. Users will perceive that Pages or Keynote is infinitely more complex than my app, so how can I “get away” with charging the same price? In the past, my argument was that the iLife and iWork bundles were priced as low as they are because it’s the price Apple perceives folks would pay for the one or two apps in the suite that they were really after. The individual pricing of apps on the Mac App Store screens in the keynote makes that argument no longer hold water.

Assuming that is true, let’s say I drop the price to a nice $9.99 price point. Apple gets $3 leaving me $6.99, from which I have to pay taxes leaving a net of $5.24. I really cannot envision selling my app for less than $9.99…

The Arguments for Mac App Store and My Answers

  1. Low Overhead It’s true you don’t have to write license and trial code. But, I have been working with CocoaFob and it’s just fine. Trials are a little trickier, but it’s not hard to implement something there. I already have a time limitation in my app and just need to add a few additional tweaks. I have my own hosting account with Dreamhost that has unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth, so I don’t worry about those aspects either. So, I consider the low overhead argument moot.
  2. Increased Exposure/Cog in the Apple Machine I think this argument is simply overvalued. Lukas Mathis rightly points out that the App Store as it exists for iOS is simply terrible for discovering apps. I hadn’t considered it but the point Lukas makes about pirate stores being a better, more curated experience for users is fascinating and depressing all at once.

Arguments Against Mac App Store

The Mac App Store is not without its drawbacks, but unlike the iOS App Store, there really is a viable alternative where one can sell an app without being in the App Store.

  1. No integrated free trial system Yes, in theory you could provide a free trial download on your website, but this is something that Apple needs to bundle in as it is part of the user’s experience and there are millions of users who are well accustomed to the free trial model on the Mac.
  2. Customer distance With providers like FastSpring, you get access to the user database. Apple keeps that under wraps so you can’t know anything about your customers. What Apple is saying is, “These are not your customers. They’re ours.” This makes things like cross selling nearly impossible and things like newsletters and customer interaction an additional step for the user during first launch or some other time.
  3. No paid upgrade path As far as I know, it’s the same situation as on iOS. This has caused a lot of trouble for a lot of developers there and on the Mac, it will be the same situation without some significant changes.
  4. Some types of software can’t be sold If the appeal of the Mac App Store is that you don’t have to do all this overhead of licenses and trials and whatnot, what happens if I want to develop a prefpane or a Photoshop or RapidWeaver plugin? Oh, now I have to do all that stuff that Apple was supposed to handle, and as a result, that benefit is nullified for all development.

The Question

Is it reasonable to expect that I could sell two and a half times as many copies of my app in the Mac App Store?