Philosophy – Alien Skin Software https://www.alienskin.com Simple Tools. Simply Beautiful. Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:02:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thoughts on Software Reliability https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2017/software-reliability-thoughts/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2017/software-reliability-thoughts/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 14:00:45 +0000 https://www.alienskin.com/?p=24440 With the release of Exposure X3 coming soon, it’s a good time to share a few thoughts about what precautions we take when creating stable, high-quality software our users can rely on.

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With Exposure X3 coming out soon, now seems like a good opportunity to share our thoughts about the importance of creating stable, high-quality software that our customers can rely on.

We’ve been producing award-winning image processing software for photographers and graphic designers since 1993, and quality and stability is a point of pride for us.

Writing reliable software benefits you, our customer. You receive a product you can depend on. It doesn’t crash, so you don’t have to waste time troubleshooting or contacting support.

Our features work as expected. We implement them thoroughly and carefully so they work correctly when we ship. Our marketing materials are honest in their description of what a feature will do.

An important aspect of reliability is speed. Speed is a hidden feature that affects every aspect of editing work. We put a huge amount of effort into performance optimization, so that you can spend your time being creative instead of waiting.

There’s a lot that goes into creating reliable software. It starts with good design. Careful planning helps produce a reliable product.

We also invest a lot of time and effort in testing our software. Testing involves a number of activities – careful manual testing by Alien Skin team members, beta testing by trusted customers, and automated testing, where every build is subjected to a battery of automated tests. Automated testing can quickly find problems during development, leaving time for our test team to do other things.

Another aspect of our reliability is realistic schedules. Giving engineers impossible schedules is a recipe for failure. We make ambitious but realistic feature plans for every release and work steadily toward our goal.

We are proud of our reputation as a software maker that creates products you can trust and will continue our commitment to reliability in our upcoming Exposure X3 release and beyond!

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Exposure X Sneak Peek: Speed https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2015/exposure-x-sneak-peek-speed/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2015/exposure-x-sneak-peek-speed/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:50:46 +0000 http://www.alienskin.com/?p=17115 Exposure X is almost ready! Watch the video to see how we made Exposure X faster and simpler than other photo editors.

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Exposure is growing into a full-fledged photo organizer when it becomes Exposure X later this year. As we designed it, we focused on issues that currently drive us crazy in other products, with the goal of creating the best photo organizer available. Speed is near the top of the list. When you are working on thousands of photos, little delays add up to lost hours of time (and pieces of your sanity).

Simpler

In working to create the best photo organizer, one of our strategies is to question assumptions. There are tedious tasks you might assume are necessary, but really are not. For instance, you can use Exposure X to simply navigate to a folder and instantly see the photos in it. You don’t need to do an import step like Lightroom and Aperture require.

Another simplification is that Exposure X does not have user interface modules. In Lightroom you frequently need to switch between the Library and Develop modules to access different features. That is slow and ties up a little part of your brain constantly asking, “Which module am I in?” In Exposure X all your tools are available all the time, so you can quickly do some photo edits even if you are in the middle of culling or file organization.

Smarter

Another of our strategies is to make Exposure X smarter. Examples can be found in file browsing, which is where we all spend a lot of time. As you look at one photo, Exposure X intelligently guesses which other photos you will visit next and gets them ready for display.

Exposure’s top priority is to react immediately when you press a key or click the mouse, so displaying something is better than making you wait. If the full resolution photo is not ready, Exposure displays a low resolution version and then updates it as there is time. Often that is all you need because you are rapidly flying through a photo set looking for a certain scene. When you stop, Exposure quickly refines the photo.

We focus on invisible features like speed and simplicity because those help you forget about your tools and fully concentrate on your photos.

Exposure X will be available before the end of 2015. Anyone who purchased Exposure 7 will automatically receive Exposure X for free as soon as it is ready.

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Our Giving Program https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/our-giving-program/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/our-giving-program/#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 12:00:10 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=7960 At Alien Skin we have a unique giving program. Every year, each team member chooses a charitable organization for the company to donate $1,000 to. This gives everyone the opportunity to make a difference to a cause that is important to them. This year we donated a total of $11,000 to the following organizations. Some

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stick figure person giving another person a gift

At Alien Skin we have a unique giving program. Every year, each team member chooses a charitable organization for the company to donate $1,000 to. This gives everyone the opportunity to make a difference to a cause that is important to them.

This year we donated a total of $11,000 to the following organizations. Some people split their money between multiple charities.

We hope this will inspire you to help organizations that do good work in your community!

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Adobe Creative Cloud https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/adobe-creative-cloud/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/adobe-creative-cloud/#comments Thu, 23 May 2013 12:00:00 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=7552 We have heard a lot of concern about Adobe's move to the Creative Cloud (CC). Here is what you need to know about it in relation to our products. What is the Adobe Creative Cloud? You can find long explanations of Adobe CC on the web, but here is my simple version. Adobe is switching the

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We have heard a lot of concern about Adobe’s move to the Creative Cloud (CC). Here is what you need to know about it in relation to our products.

What is the Adobe Creative Cloud?

You can find long explanations of Adobe CC on the web, but here is my simple version. Adobe is switching the payment model. For Photoshop CS6 and earlier, you buy it and then you own it forever. In Adobe CC, you will rent it by paying a monthly fee. If you stop paying then Adobe CC products will stop working.

This is more a pricing change than a technological change. The “cloud” part means that you get some file storage on Adobe servers and there are some collaboration features. Applications like Photoshop will run on your local computer, just like they do today. Photoshop CC will not be running on an Adobe server or in a web browser. You will be able to run Photoshop CC without an internet connection for periods of time, but occasionally you have to let it contact Adobe to confirm that your subscription is paid up.

Will Alien Skin products work with Adobe CC products?

Photoshop CC is not out yet, but we have been testing our current products with a pre-release version. We will release free updates for the current version of all our products to fix a minor installation issue. You will hear about the updates here, in e-mail, social media, and the “new message” newspaper icon in our products.

We have also been testing with the pre-release version of Lightroom 5 and everything is working great. By the way, Adobe plans to keep Lightroom as a non-subscription product.

Exposure 5 (out in June) will be our first product that can run as a stand-alone application. You will be able to use it by itself or within Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. Over time we will move in that direction with all our products.

Will Alien Skin move to the subscription model?

We plan to stick with the traditional software model. For example, that means that you buy Snap Art 3 and you own it forever. If you lose your installer then you can download it again for free at any time. If you lose your license code then you can look it up or contact tech support so we can find it for you. You can activate your software on two computers at once and you can move those activations to new computers, including switching between Mac and Windows. While Snap Art 3 is the latest version, we will make free updates to keep it working with the latest host programs.

I’m not going to promise it will be this way for eternity, but this system feels like a good fit for our customers and us for the foreseeable future.

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What do you like to read? https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/what-do-you-like-to-read/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/what-do-you-like-to-read/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 23:17:13 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=7199 Please take a short survey to tell us what you want to see in our articles. This will help us keep the blog interesting and will just take a minute.

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Please take a short survey to tell us what you want to see in our articles. This will help us keep the blog interesting and will just take a minute.

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It’s always a good day to shoot. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/its-always-a-good-day-to-shoot/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/its-always-a-good-day-to-shoot/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 17:00:53 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=6815 Recently we had a lot of cold, cloudy, rainy weather. Each morning a voice in my head said, "There's no light out there for photography. Everything is dead in the winter. Stay in bed!" But then I had some strong coffee, told the voice to stuff it, grabbed my new camera, and headed out. Every

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Recently we had a lot of cold, cloudy, rainy weather. Each morning a voice in my head said, “There’s no light out there for photography. Everything is dead in the winter. Stay in bed!” But then I had some strong coffee, told the voice to stuff it, grabbed my new camera, and headed out. Every time I was glad I did.

Often the thing I intended to shoot didn’t work out, but then I stumbled on other rewarding subjects. That’s how I discovered our heron population. I was going to try a new macro lens for mushrooms, but quickly gave up on finding any in near freezing weather. I was convinced that it had been a waste to go out on a rainy day, but then I spotted a heron. The photo below is all I got at that point, but then I knew to come back. The result was my recent Great Blue Heron article.

great blue heron and gulls

Here is a shot from the next day.

great blue heron

Stalking the herons led to other birds.

For the image below, I began with the Exposure 4 preset B&W Split Toning > Platinum (cool). To find it, start typing “platinum” in the search box above the presets. You’ll see it after you type a few letters. Then I went to the Age tab and added the texture “Wet Plate (border)”. For other great black & white work, see the recent Simon Griffiths portrait project.

small bird photo made to look aged using the Exposure plug-in from Alien Skin

These white birds (gulls?) were tolerant enough for me to get pretty close. Click this photo to see it larger.

white gulls at Lake Crabtree, Raleigh, NC

You’ll need to click this next one to see detail. I may use Blow Up to create a big print for the Alien Skin office.

gull flock in long panorama

All this fun came from leaving the house with my camera on a cold rainy day. There’s no such thing as a bad day for shooting.

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Image Stabilization and Tripods https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/image-stabilization-and-tripods/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2013/image-stabilization-and-tripods/#comments Sat, 09 Feb 2013 16:00:34 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=6644 Image stabilization (IS) in some lenses and cameras will actually make a picture more blurry when used with a tripod. Common advice is to turn off IS when using a tripod. I like to read advice, but then I test it myself. I did numerous tests with my Olympus E-M5 on a tripod with and

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Image stabilization (IS) in some lenses and cameras will actually make a picture more blurry when used with a tripod. Common advice is to turn off IS when using a tripod. I like to read advice, but then I test it myself.

I did numerous tests with my Olympus E-M5 on a tripod with and without IS. I used multiple lenses, apertures, and shutter speeds. There was no sharpness difference in any of my tests. Other E-M5 owners reported the same in online forums. I’m sure that IS+tripod is a problem for some cameras and lenses, just not for mine.

I’m going to leave IS on since I switch between handheld and tripod frequently. If I turned it off for the tripod then there would inevitably be times when I would forget to turn it back on.

For me, the lesson is that you should gather as much advice as possible, but then see whether it actually applies to your situation. There is no substitute for experiments with your particular equipment.

Thanks to Tony Sweet for mentioning the IS issue in his recent newsletter.

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The Best Features are Invisible https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/the-best-features-are-invisible/ Wed, 19 Sep 2012 14:00:32 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=5369 When improving a product, many people have an instinct to add features that grab your attention. This usually involves new buttons and sliders. It's easy to show off that kind of feature, but it's often bad for the product. Every new control complicates a product. Customers are slowed down by having to learn the controls.

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list of features with the silly ones crossed out

When improving a product, many people have an instinct to add features that grab your attention. This usually involves new buttons and sliders. It’s easy to show off that kind of feature, but it’s often bad for the product. Every new control complicates a product. Customers are slowed down by having to learn the controls. The core features that they really care about are obscured by the new glitzy features. Eventually you have an intimidating behemoth like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop.

The best features are invisible. Speed is my favorite. Simplified user interface is a strong runner up. That often involves removing controls. Marketing people howl in pain when they hear that. “Now we have less features to point at in our screen shots!” So what? You serve your customers better through simplicity than through feature lists.

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Draw outside the lines! https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/draw-outside-the-lines/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/draw-outside-the-lines/#comments Wed, 15 Aug 2012 13:30:50 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4496 Our first product was Eye Candy and it was successful because it figuratively and literally drew outside the lines. The lines in question are the "marching ants" at the edge of a selection in Photoshop. In 1993, filters were not allowed to draw outside of the marching ants, only inside the selection. That made many popular effects

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Our first product was Eye Candy and it was successful because it figuratively and literally drew outside the lines. The lines in question are the “marching ants” at the edge of a selection in Photoshop. In 1993, filters were not allowed to draw outside of the marching ants, only inside the selection. That made many popular effects impossible to implement as Photoshop filters, such as shadows and glows.

demonstrating Alien Skin effects inside and outside the selection in Photoshop

Usually it is a terrible idea to break the rules of an application programming interface (API) like the Photoshop plug-in specification. The API is the agreement between Photoshop and the filter that helps them cooperate smoothly, like the traffic laws for automobiles. In this case I didn’t go through a red light, but I did drive on the median to deliver important features to graphic designers. Officer, it was an emergency. The designers really wanted shadows and glows!

So, how did we draw outside the marching ants? Here is roughly the sequence of events.

  1. The customer is using Eye Candy to create a glow. She clicks OK to apply the effect.
  2. Eye Candy saves the selection in a temporary file.
  3. Eye Candy sends two fake key presses to Photoshop. They are Command-D to drop the selection and then Command-F to rerun the last filter.
  4. Eye Candy exits. Now we are back to Photoshop, but nothing has happened to the image yet.
  5. Photoshop drops the selection and then runs Eye Candy again. Now Eye Candy can draw anywhere on the image because there is no selection. It reads the old selection from the temporary file and uses that shape to decide where to draw the glow. Now Eye Candy finally draws the effect on the image.
  6. Eye Candy exits for real this time.

All this happens so fast after the user hits OK that they don’t notice anything strange. It just looks like Eye Candy can draw where no other filter could.

Lying to Photoshop about what the user is doing may seem dangerous. It is. Those fake key presses caused a steady stream of bugs. For example, in Finnish Photoshop the shortcut for dropping the selection is not Command-D. All the bug fixing was painful, but it was worth it because we could do effects that no one else could. That helped get Alien Skin Software off the ground.

After a few years, Adobe extended the plug-in API to allow drawing anywhere. That was a relief and Eye Candy became much easier to maintain after that.

When all your customers want something that seems impossible, don’t give up. Try solutions until you find one that works, even if it requires driving on the median for a few years.

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Communicating with Clients https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/communicating-with-clients/ Thu, 09 Aug 2012 14:00:38 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=5173 I ran across a story of a bride who was dissatisfied with her wedding photos. What is the lesson from this experience? It's not, "Take better photos." We all know we should learn more about our craft and do a good job. I suspect that the photographer did know how to do a better

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One of the few good wedding photos from the original story

I ran across a story of a bride who was dissatisfied with her wedding photos.

What is the lesson from this experience?

It’s not, “Take better photos.” We all know we should learn more about our craft and do a good job. I suspect that the photographer did know how to do a better job, but he cut corners because he wasn’t being paid enough.

It’s not, “Avoid clients who are dumb and cheap.” You should walk away from some clients, but don’t be so quick to blame the customer. She is not an expert in photography, but that doesn’t make her stupid because that’s not her job.

For me, the lesson is that you need to communicate with your client. Don’t be a robot that produces exactly what she asks for. Your first task is to educate her on what options are available and how important they are. This particular bride admits that she could have spent more money. The photographer just didn’t ask her to.

In the early days of Alien Skin Software we sometimes dismissed customer suggestions or complaints because we thought we were smarter than them. These days if I hear that kind of comment I nip it in the bud. Assume your customers are smart. It’s not just good for business. It’s a happier way to live your life.

Derek Sivers wrote a great little article on thinking that other people are stupid.

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Teaching https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/teaching/ Fri, 29 Jun 2012 20:04:01 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4855 I stopped programming about six years ago. That used to be my passion. At times I have missed it, but the company needs me in another capacity, so that's what I do. For a while I was sad about not programming because it felt like a waste for my hard won skills to sit idle,

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a stick figure person asks another if he can ask a question. answer is "always"

I stopped programming about six years ago. That used to be my passion. At times I have missed it, but the company needs me in another capacity, so that’s what I do.

For a while I was sad about not programming because it felt like a waste for my hard won skills to sit idle, but recently I realized that those skills are indirectly being used. I advise our programmers all the time. It is almost as fun as programming. Maybe passing on my tricks to other programmers is a better use of my time than actually programming. This way there are enduring benefits through multiple people.

As I thought about this I noticed that everyone at Alien Skin is a teacher. We have a collegial environment where everyone shares knowledge freely. We are never embarrassed to say, “I don’t know,” and ask questions. We are always happy to stop what we are doing to answer questions. The business benefits are huge, but the main reason we work this way is because it would be depressing not to.

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Don’t Work. Have Fun! https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/dont-work-have-fun/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/dont-work-have-fun/#comments Fri, 22 Jun 2012 14:00:01 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4523 When I was young I was confused by people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who kept working after they got rich. I thought that money brought happiness and work was the unpleasant thing you did to make money. It took many years for me to realize that they mostly worked because it

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Kevin and Jack from the TV show 30 Rock

I'd rather be Kevin Parcell than Jack Donaghy. How about you? (© 2010 - NBC Universal)

When I was young I was confused by people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who kept working after they got rich. I thought that money brought happiness and work was the unpleasant thing you did to make money. It took many years for me to realize that they mostly worked because it was fun, not for the money. In Steve’s words, “The journey is the reward.”

Over the years I’ve come around to Steve’s perspective. Now I work because I like to make things. I like hard problems. I like to help other people succeed. Money is not on the list, which is probably why I’m having fun.

Whether an activity is work or play is largely a matter of attitude. So choose to play! If you decide that helping people and making great things is fun, then most jobs become fun. If you want proof then just watch the TV show Dirty Jobs.

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Stop trying to fix open plan offices https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/stop-trying-to-fix-open-plan-offices/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/stop-trying-to-fix-open-plan-offices/#comments Fri, 25 May 2012 14:00:53 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4700 I recently read a New York Times article about how companies are tweaking open plan workspaces to make them less irritating. The problem is that workers don't have privacy or quiet in a cubicle farm. The most creepy solution is from Autodesk where they secretly play a whooshing noise throughout the building. Holy crap, that

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stick figure sitting next to a loud speaker making a whoosh sound

I recently read a New York Times article about how companies are tweaking open plan workspaces to make them less irritating. The problem is that workers don’t have privacy or quiet in a cubicle farm. The most creepy solution is from Autodesk where they secretly play a whooshing noise throughout the building. Holy crap, that is disturbing. I have a better idea, give people offices you cheapskates!

I was about to write an essay on this topic, but then I remembered that I already did.

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Hire people who are better than you. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/hire-people-who-are-better-than-you/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/hire-people-who-are-better-than-you/#comments Thu, 24 May 2012 15:00:00 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4676 Recently Terence solved a hard image processing problem that has bugged us for years. I'm pretty good at math and image processing, but his advanced technique was a little over my head. Am I sad that I can't follow Terence's mathematical magic? Hell no, it feels great! I love working with people who have skills that

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two stick figure people talking about math

Recently Terence solved a hard image processing problem that has bugged us for years. I’m pretty good at math and image processing, but his advanced technique was a little over my head.

Am I sad that I can’t follow Terence’s mathematical magic? Hell no, it feels great! I love working with people who have skills that I don’t. At Alien Skin I’m surrounded by people who are better than me at design, programming, art, finance, testing, and customer support. I get to learn from them and we accomplish great things.

Being the only smart person in the room sounds fun on paper, but in real life it’s boring and you end up doing all the work. Smart people hire even smarter people.

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$12,000 in Donations https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/12000-in-donations/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/12000-in-donations/#comments Fri, 18 May 2012 14:01:53 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4577 Once a year, each team member at Alien Skin chooses a charity to receive $1000. This year we donated a total of $12,000 to the following organizations. Some people split their money between multiple charities. American Red Cross Amnesty International Appalachian Trail Conservancy Arts Together Brier Creek Elementary School Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Conn Elementary

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stick figure person giving another person a gift

Once a year, each team member at Alien Skin chooses a charity to receive $1000. This year we donated a total of $12,000 to the following organizations. Some people split their money between multiple charities.

I hope this inspires you or your employer to help organizations that improve our world.

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Calculator Millionaire https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/calculator-millionaire/ Wed, 02 May 2012 18:43:17 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4491 I've witnessed the following speech many times from entrepreneurs. "This new product idea is great! The potential market is everyone in the USA who owns a computer. To be conservative, let's say that's 100,000,000 people. [The calculator comes out.] I think we could sell the product for $20, but let's be conservative and say $10. [tap tap]

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two stick figure people dancing and holding calculators

I’ve witnessed the following speech many times from entrepreneurs.

“This new product idea is great! The potential market is everyone in the USA who owns a computer. To be conservative, let’s say that’s 100,000,000 people.

[The calculator comes out.] I think we could sell the product for $20, but let’s be conservative and say $10. [tap tap] And just to be super conservative, let’s say that only 1% of people buy it. [tap tap tap] Whoa, that’s $10,000,000. We’re rich!”

At this point everyone starts dancing around the room and planning ways to spend the millions that just popped out of the calculator. Often this is followed by crying a year later.

When George Browning and I were starting Alien Skin Software in 1993 we talked to Don Rainey, an experienced local CEO. We mentioned our calculator millionaire numbers and estimated that easy money would be pouring in soon. Don laughed and said, “Guys, I promise that if you ever get rich you will have earned every penny.” I love that quote.

At the beginning of a business financial estimates are pointless wild guesses. The only sure thing is that there is a lot of work to do, so get to it. Challenging work is the reward anyway, not the money at the end.

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Who feeds your fish? https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/who-feeds-your-fish/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/who-feeds-your-fish/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2012 14:00:58 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=3891 In my yard there is a tiny pond, just four feet across. I tried to keep goldfish in it, but they always died after a few months. Years ago a friend named Lin used to mow my lawn. One summer Lin put new fish in the pond and they did well. At first I fed them regularly.

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man dreaming of fish eating a hamburger

In my yard there is a tiny pond, just four feet across. I tried to keep goldfish in it, but they always died after a few months.

Years ago a friend named Lin used to mow my lawn. One summer Lin put new fish in the pond and they did well. At first I fed them regularly. I found that the fish were still healthy even when I didn’t feed them for a week, so I put less effort into it. I suspected that the fish were eating mosquito larvae and plants, so the food was just supplemental.

The next spring I noticed that the fish were doing well. That’s when I realized that I had forgotten to feed them all winter. I guessed that they hibernated in the mud and didn’t need much food when their body temperature was low. Just then Lin walked up and I told him my theory. He sighed and said, “Jeff, I fed the fish during the winter. I’ve always fed the fish.”

Embarrassing moments like this helped me grow up. Now I try to be aware of all the people in my life who quietly keep things humming along.

Who feeds your fish?

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You need less process than you think. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/you-need-less-process-than-you-think/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/you-need-less-process-than-you-think/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2012 14:00:33 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=4021 There are many people and tasks involved in getting a software product out the door. In our early history there was a lot of chaos around a product release. Near the end we frequently discovered forgotten or very late tasks. To try to fix this we started crafting incredibly detailed schedules for each product, with

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There are many people and tasks involved in getting a software product out the door. In our early history there was a lot of chaos around a product release. Near the end we frequently discovered forgotten or very late tasks. To try to fix this we started crafting incredibly detailed schedules for each product, with tasks like:

  1. start thinking about the box, due July 9
  2. first draft of the box, due July 25
  3. feedback on first draft, due August 1
  4. second draft of the box, due August 14
  5. finalize box design, due August 22
  6. send box design to the printer, due August 24
  7. put left foot forward, put right foot forward, inhale, exhale, etc.

We used Microsoft Project to keep track of all this detail. It sucked. Only one person knew how to use it, so all changes went through him. He would put the giant finished Gantt chart in a public place, and no one ever looked at it. A complete waste of time.

We thought that creating a bunch of process would help people stay organized. Instead, it created busywork and then frustration when most people ignored the process.

Now we have a simple standard release schedule. It’s just a rough outline and we don’t bother to customize it for each product. We just look it over occasionally. It’s interesting that our releases go much smoother than they did when we devoted huge effort to detailed schedules.

What has changed? In the early days the model was Dad planning your homework assignments and then pestering you to do them. If you forgot an assignment, Dad yelled at you and then helped you do the work. Now we treat team members like adults. They are given broad tasks with deadlines. It’s up to them to figure out how to get there, ask for help, or go down in flames. With adults you don’t need a lot of process.

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Embrace Uncertainty https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/uncertainty/ Wed, 21 Mar 2012 14:00:58 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=2384 It's human nature to hide uncertainty, but fight that instinct! I'm impressed when I meet someone who admits they don't know about a topic. It shows maturity and self confidence. I'll qualify that a little. I'm impressed if they also show curiosity about the right answer, make intelligent guesses and admit that they are guesses,

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creepy illustration of embracing uncertainty

It’s human nature to hide uncertainty, but fight that instinct! I’m impressed when I meet someone who admits they don’t know about a topic. It shows maturity and self confidence. I’ll qualify that a little. I’m impressed if they also show curiosity about the right answer, make intelligent guesses and admit that they are guesses, or think of ways to discover the right answer.

This frequently comes up in job interviews. I ask progressively harder questions, not to make the applicant feel dumb, but to see whether they will be honest when we reach a topic they aren’t familiar with. Pretending that a guess is knowledge (a.k.a. bullshitting) might work at slack companies, but do you want to work for a slack company? If the applicant admits they don’t know the answer, but offers some ways to figure it out or makes good guesses (and admits they are guesses) then I am often just as happy as if they knew the answer.

Apply this principle even when no one is looking. Don’t kid yourself that you know something when you are just guessing. You will be much more successful if you go find the actual answer.

Don’t let uncertainty make you stop asking questions. Ask constantly, especially when you get a new tool for gathering data. Just be critical. Examine data from multiple angles to be sure it makes sense before you declare that you have an answer.

This is the essence of science. You admit you don’t know something, then go try things until you figure it out. And let me tell you, science works! The internet, airplane, and penicillin weren’t created by bullshitters.

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Giving up feels great! https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/giving-up-feels-great/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/giving-up-feels-great/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 14:00:06 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=2923 Some of the happiest times of my life were when I gave up: dropping out of school, quitting a job, ending a dysfunctional relationship, shaving my head rather than fighting my receding hairline. Usually the exact moment was scary (how will I pay rent?), awkward (disappointing my advisor/boss/girlfriend), or depressing (admitting failure). But soon afterward

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Some of the happiest times of my life were when I gave up: dropping out of school, quitting a job, ending a dysfunctional relationship, shaving my head rather than fighting my receding hairline. Usually the exact moment was scary (how will I pay rent?), awkward (disappointing my advisor/boss/girlfriend), or depressing (admitting failure). But soon afterward I felt free as a bird and that feeling stayed with me for a long time. In fact, I’m feeling cheerful right now just thinking about not being in those unpleasant situations.

The traditional view is that lazy people give up too soon. Sure, but if you are a responsible, hard-working person then you probably give up too late. If you have repeatedly done your best but a situation is making you miserable then get the hell out. Don’t agonize over sunk costs. That time and money are gone and more suffering won’t bring them back. Don’t worry about looking like a failure. Worrying about what other people think makes you their servant.

I apply this to business all the time, especially in the last five years. I canceled lots of distracting marketing projects and relationships with high maintenance resellers. It was not fun dealing with the disappointed business people, but it was worth it. That freed up time for important activities, like releasing two or three products per year (we used to do only one).

Pare your life down to just the few things you do well and you will find happiness. You will probably be successful too, but I care much more about the happiness.

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Support Makes All the Difference https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/customer-support/ Tue, 13 Mar 2012 15:00:13 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=2795 The two best marketing tools are great products and great support. Nearly all companies try to make great products. They don't all succeed, but everyone tries. Sadly, I don't think that many companies understand the value of great support and do as little as possible. My recent experiences as a customer reminded me of this. The

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The two best marketing tools are great products and great support. Nearly all companies try to make great products. They don’t all succeed, but everyone tries. Sadly, I don’t think that many companies understand the value of great support and do as little as possible. My recent experiences as a customer reminded me of this.

The Good

A button on my Kindle recently broke. Amazon’s support page was easy to use and after submitting my request someone quickly called me. The support person was friendly, helpful, and immediately offered to replace it for free. The new Kindle would not connect to the Internet. Amazon again quickly replaced it. They didn’t have to do any of that because my Kindle was far past the warranty period. A broken product could have made me dislike Amazon, but I was treated so well that I trust Amazon more than ever and want to buy more from them.

The Bad

I recently watched hundreds of people get stranded in Miami overnight because they waited over two hours to get through passport control. It’s not clear whether American Airlines or the TSA was the root cause, but how American mishandled the situation is what I’ll always remember. Passengers were left in confused mobs. There were not enough American employees there and the ones that were seemed disinterested. Passengers were begging for information and in many cases the American employees refused to talk to them. I witnessed families who had just arrived in the US who were on the verge of tears. Welcome to America! No amount of advertising or special deals will ever get me to fly American again if I can possibly avoid it.

The Helpful

At Alien Skin Software, our personal experiences like these are what guide our tech support. As you can see in these cases, a big part of good support is simply attitude. Just treat people the way you want to be treated. Get back to customers quickly, keep them informed of what is happening, be friendly, and don’t be a stickler about rules.

Good support doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it does require a lot of effort. If management doesn’t care then they won’t try hard to find people who are good at support. You can’t put random people in that job. It is a rare person who can deal with the pressure of disgruntled customers all day. You have to carefully search to find good support people (like our Robert Lounsberry) and then give them good tools (like Zendesk), access to the programmers who make the products, and the authority to give customers whatever they think is necessary.

When we read comments from happy customers it makes us happy too. Keeping that virtuous cycle going is our goal. Here are typical comments we received in just the past few weeks. I have about 100 more, but I got tired of copying and pasting.

Happy Customers

I was amazed at how fast my issue was solved. I sent a message about my problem, walked away from the computer for no more than 5 minutes and when I came back, my problem was already solved. I thought, due to the time of day it was, I would have to wait until the following day to have the problem resolved. I was very impressed with the customer service.

Was very satisfied with the quality of support received from Robert – love the fact that you don’t have to repurchase the produce if I decide to upgrade my computer down the track to a MAC from Windows Vista.

EXCELLENT SUPPORT. Fast responding, accurate advice, effective solutions. My kind of support.

Very prompt reply and very satisfied – Many thanks

fantastic and helpful.

Fantastic product & Service…..

Excellent support, quick response, thank you !

Alien skin is the best miles around!

love your products, and your technical support is polite and helpful

Keep up the excellent work!

ALIEN SKIN “ROCKS”

all good, quick response.

every time robert is very clear and a kind person, i am really happy about his support!

excellent

Brilliant and dedicated support given by Robert – second to none. I’m a very satisfied customer – thanks.

Excellent support.

The response was quick. The request was met with friendly service. Thanks for taking care of your customers so well.

The service was thorough, and attentive. Thank you.

Strange name. Bizarre logo. Great plugins.

Great software!

Great customer support! thanks – I let all my friends know about your great software.

You guys are great! Thanks again!

Thank You so much for years of great filters that have made my life so much easier!!!

Many Thanks to Robert in sales for his assistance in upgrading. Love your software.

Love Exposure 4, I didn’t think you could improve on 3 but I’m really very pleased, thank you!

Thanks for the quick turn around, and succinct answer.

Thanks …you guys are great

Love your stuff!

keep up the great work!

Great job. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for providing such good and helpful products.

Exposure 4 Rocks!!! Thanks

Very prompt and informative supprt team.

Very pleased with quality of customer support.

Awesome stuff! Cheers

keep up the great work!

nice tools, great service ! thank you

Keep on a rockin’ me baby!

LOVE your product! Thank you so much!

love your stuff

Thanks for your great products!

keep up the GREAT work! Your stuff is INVALUABLE!!

Regarding your software: LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT,

Just keep up the good work! I really enjoy your plug-ins.

Love your products and support is stellar!

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The opposite of putting effort into it. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/the-opposite-of-putting-effort-into-it/ Fri, 03 Feb 2012 14:39:17 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=3392 I just found a big envelope in my mailbox with the following messages on the outside. Yawn. Those messages make it 95% likely that I did not request the information and that it is unimportant. Spammy marketers like this make us all so jaded that we end up throwing out truly important items like bank

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I just found a big envelope in my mailbox with the following messages on the outside.

Yawn. Those messages make it 95% likely that I did not request the information and that it is unimportant. Spammy marketers like this make us all so jaded that we end up throwing out truly important items like bank and tax notices. Lazy marketers make the world a worse place.

But of course I opened it just in case. I’m one of those anal retentive people who still checks their spam folder too. Sure enough, it is a cookie cutter sales pitch to buy space at a design conference. Then I noticed the signature with the cute dotted i and I felt even more sad for the world. This is the same company that I recently praised for fun marketing.

Oh well. I’m not going to give up on the marketing world, but I certainly won’t buy anything from this company.

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Put some effort into it. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/put-some-effort-into-it/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/put-some-effort-into-it/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2012 15:00:02 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=3380 Today I received a package. The card is pretty fancy, similar to a real wedding invitation. Inside is a sales pitch to advertise in a magazine, but it is written as a romantic proposal. Inside the box is a ring with a D on it. A lot of thought went into this marketing project. It

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Today I received a package.

The card is pretty fancy, similar to a real wedding invitation. Inside is a sales pitch to advertise in a magazine, but it is written as a romantic proposal.

Inside the box is a ring with a D on it.

A lot of thought went into this marketing project. It isn’t just the usual dry sales pitch form letter. The writing is pretty cute. I chuckled a few times. The card is signed by a real human. The ribbon was probably tied by hand. Someone put effort into making the ring or finding a place to buy such a specialized item.

Although they aren’t getting my business right now (we don’t need to advertise more), I’ll certainly consider it in the future. Also, the project is interesting enough that I’m telling other people about it. Putting some effort into your projects pays off, maybe not now, but in little indirect ways that build up over time.

Update: This same company sent me a traditional spammy letter just a few days later. Both sad and funny at the same time.

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Little things matter. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/little-things-matter/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/little-things-matter/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 14:30:50 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=3372 After a lifetime of using thin single-ply toilet paper at schools and jobs, I finally asked myself why we put up with it. I guess schools need to save money, but thin toilet paper is used at most businesses too, even rich ones. Sad. Now we use Charmin Ultra Strong at Alien Skin. I wouldn't

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After a lifetime of using thin single-ply toilet paper at schools and jobs, I finally asked myself why we put up with it. I guess schools need to save money, but thin toilet paper is used at most businesses too, even rich ones. Sad.

Now we use Charmin Ultra Strong at Alien Skin. I wouldn’t use it as a recruiting tool, but the little things in life are worth doing even if they don’t make you money. I mentioned this to Terence and he responded with his technique for judging a restaurant. Check out the bathroom. If it is beautiful and clean then they probably take pride in everything.

My alternate title for this article is Give a Shit. That’s what I gave for a few Festivus gifts last year. Oxfam makes it easy and they have a great video.

Yes, I did the origami in that photo. I think it scared everyone away from that bathroom.

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Being a grown up pays off. https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/being-a-grown-up-pays-off/ https://www.alienskin.com/blog/2012/being-a-grown-up-pays-off/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2012 19:30:21 +0000 http://blog.alienskin.com/?p=3354 If you give a kid a rule without an explanation for its purpose then she is likely to ignore it when you aren't looking. Kids are smart and they know that "because I said so" is a lame reason. "Because I said so" means "I don't care enough about you to give a real reason"

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If you give a kid a rule without an explanation for its purpose then she is likely to ignore it when you aren’t looking. Kids are smart and they know that “because I said so” is a lame reason. “Because I said so” means “I don’t care enough about you to give a real reason” or “I am more powerful than you. Submit to my will or you will suffer.” or “I don’t know why we do it. I robotically follow orders and you should too.” Those messages don’t inspire me to follow rules.

It took me many years to realize that there are practical reasons behind grown up behaviors. Be a grown up because you are selfish! It can get you a job, a business deal, and most importantly, a date.

Here are some rules and why they benefit you. Do them because you want to succeed, not because a grumpy old man like me pesters you.

Behavior

Say please and thank you.

Why

This shows that you understand I am doing you a favor, and I have earned some karma with you that I might be able to exchange for a favor later. I don’t really think through it that way on a daily basis, but that is what politeness is about. It doesn’t take much effort but it makes people want to do more favors for you.

Recently I received a hand written thank you note from Joanne George on behalf of her team at Shutterbug Magazine for a holiday basket we sent. Contrast that with a magazine whose representative rarely returned my phone calls. Guess which one we advertise in?

 

Behavior

Return phone calls and e-mail within 24 hours.

Why

The longer you wait the stronger the message that I can’t rely on you. Put some effort into the response. If I asked a question then answer it. Write coherently. It doesn’t take much of this for me to abandon business deals or give up on an employee.

 

Behavior

Do what you say you will do.

Why

If you realize you won’t be able to accomplish what you promised then let me know long before the deadline. That’s not so bad. We can adjust the deadline or scope of the project. That is immensely better than silently forgetting or doing the work at the last minute to produce crappy results.

If I have to remind you to do something then you are wasting my most precious resource, my time. I’m not going to pester you. I’ll just stop working with you.

If I know I can point you at a task and forget about it then I’m never going to let you go. You want money, favors, backrubs? I’ll pay a very high price to work with grown ups.

 

Behavior

Tell the truth.

Why

Don’t kid yourself that you are a good liar. Lies are usually detected.

If you will lie about small things then you will lie about big things too. Grown ups are not going to work with you after they catch you lying.

It is always better to deal with an embarrassing truth than to try to cover it up. I am impressed when I meet a person who admits that they don’t know something or had a failure. That confidence and honesty will help you learn and grow.

 

You can break these rules for short term gain, but you will be constantly hunting for new people to step on. That is a lot of work. It is easier to follow these rules and reap the rewards from happy long term relationships.

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