Day: November 25, 2020

Rockstar programmer: Rivers Cuomo finds meaning in coding

“Hi, I’m Rivers from the band, Weezer,” Rivers Cuomo says with a slight smile and a wave. He turns away from the camera for a bit, before launching into his best infomercial pitch. “Imagine you’re on tour, and you’re sitting in your dressing room or your tour bus. You’re backstage. You have stage fright, you’re stressing out. You’re pacing back and forth. And then on top of that, your tour manager is constantly calling you, asking you logistical questions.”

As far as internet pitch videos go, it’s not the most universal. If anything, the three-minute clip loses any hope of populist appeal by the end. In a final shot, the singer in a maroon SpaceX hoodie is the last up the ramp onto a private jet. The plane door closes revealing a Weezer flying “W” logo.

“Download Drivetimes now, on GitHub,” Cuomo adds in voice-over. “This is CS50X.”

It’s not the most polished app pitch video, and Cuomo’s elevator pitch could probably do with a bit of refining before approaching venture capitalists about a seed round. As far as final projects for online programming courses go, however, it’s something to behold. The images alternate between pages of code, Google spreadsheets and POV shots as he takes the stage for a co-headlining tour with the Pixies.

It helped earn Cuomo a 95 in the class.

But while, in its current configuration, the Drivetime tour scheduling tool might have limited appeal, the musician’s final project from Harvard’s follow-up course, CS50W, is immediately apparent for an army of fans who have followed his quarter-century-plus career. This week Cuomo dropped more than 2,400 demos totaling more than 86 hours. Spanning 1976 to 2015, the songs range in quality from tape-recorded sketches to more polished fare. Some would eventually find their way onto Weezer’s 13 albums, or assorted side projects. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.

Available through Cuomo’s “Mr. Rivers’ Neighborhood” site, the tracks are gathered into nine bundles, each available for $9 a piece. “By the way,” Cuomo writers at the bottom of a disclaimer, “this market is my final project for a course I’m taking in web programming.”

For half-a-decade, the platinum-selling rock star has been moonlighting as a computer programming student.

“I was always a spreadsheet guy,” Cuomo tells TechCrunch. “Around 2000, I think I started in Microsoft Access and then Excel. Just keeping track of all my songs and demos and ideas. Spreadsheets got more and more complicated to the point where it was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost writing code here in these formulas, except it’s super hard to use. So maybe I should actually do programming instead.’ ”

It would be an odd side hustle for practically any other successful musician. For Cuomo, however, it’s the next logical step. In the wake of the massive success of Weezer’s self-titled debut, he enrolled as a sophomore at Harvard, spending a year living in a dorm. He would ultimately leave school to record the band’s much-loved follow-up, Pinkerton, but two more more enrollments in 1997 and 2004 found the musician ultimately graduating with an English BA in 2006.

CS50 found Cuomo returning to Harvard — at least in spirit. The course is hosted online by the university, a free introduction to computer science.

“I went through some online courses and was looking for something that looked appealing and so I saw the Harvard CS50 was very popular,” Cuomo says. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give this a shot.’ It didn’t take immediately. The first week course was using Scratch. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s like kind of click and drag type of programming, and you’re making a little video game.”

A six-week course stretched out for six months for the musician. That same year, the musician — now a father of two — played dozens of shows and recorded Weezer’s 10th album, the Grammy-nominated White Album.

“When we hit Python halfway through the course,” Cuomo says, “I was just amazed at how powerful it was and intuitive it was for me, and I could just get so much done. Then by the end of the course, I was writing programs that were really helping me manage my day-to-day life as a traveling musician and then also managing my spreadsheets and managing my work as a creative artist.”

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. The band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. What has seemingly been a bigger issue, however, is organizing those thoughts. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

The “thousands” of spreadsheets became a database, cataloging Cuomo’s own demos and work he was studying from other artists.

“For years it seemed like kind of a waste of time or an indulgence,” he says. “I should be writing a new song or, or recording a song rather than just cataloging these old ideas, but I’ve found that, years later, I’m able to very efficiently make use of these ancient ideas because I can just tell my Python program, ‘Hey, show me all the ideas I have at 126 BPM in the key of A flat that start with a third degree of the scale and the melody and are in Dorian mode and that my manager has given three stars or more to.’ ”

He admits that the process may be lacking in some of the rock and roll romanticism for which fans of the bands might hope. But in spite of drawing on pages of analytics, Cuomo insists there’s still magic present.

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. Given his level of productivity, however, organizing all of those thoughts can get tricky. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

“There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and inspiration in what we traditionally think of as human creativity,” Cuomo explains. “One of my heroes in this realm is Igor Stravinsky. There’s a collection of his lectures called “The Poetics of Music.” And he had a note in that collection. He said he has no interest in a composer that’s only using one of his faculties, like a composer that says, ‘I am only going to write what pops into my head spontaneously when I’m in some kind of a creative zone. I won’t use any of my other tools.’

“He says, ‘No, I prefer to listen to the music of a composer who’s using every faculty at his disposal, his intuition, but also his intellect and his ability to analyze and categorize and make use of everything he has.’ I find that those ended up being the most wild and unpredictable and creative compositions.”

And there’s been no shortage of compositions. Cuomo says the band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. After decades of feeling beholden to the 18-month major label album release cycle, the singer says that after the Demos project, he has a newfound interest in finding more ways to release music directly to fans.

“I don’t feel like I’m really good at understanding the big-picture marketplace and how to make the biggest impact in the world,” he says. “My manager is so good at that, but I just told them like, ‘Hey, this feels like something here. First of all, it’s really fun. The fans are really happy. It’s super easy for everyone involved.’ The coding part wasn’t easy, but for everyone else, it’s a couple of clicks and you’ve got all this music, and it’s a cheap price, and there’s no middleman. PayPal takes a little bit, but it’s nothing like a major label. So, this could be something. And there’s just something, it feels so good when it’s directly from me to the audience.”

For now, computer science continues to take up a major chunk of his time. Cuomo estimates that he’s been spending around 70% of his work hours on programming projects. On Wednesday nights, he helps out with programming for a meditation site (another decades-long passion), and he plans to take Harvard’s follow-up CS50M course, which centers around developing for mobile apps.

There are, however, no immediate plans to quit his day job.

“I can’t see me getting a job at a startup or something or maintaining somebody’s website,” he says. “But maybe the line between rock star and web developer is getting blurred so that musicians will be making more and more use of technological tools. Besides just the music software, we’ll be making more and more use of means of distribution and organization and creativity that’s coming out in the way we code our connection to the audience.”

 

15 Holiday Marketing Tips for Small and Big Businesses

How prepared are you for the holiday sales? Since October, holiday shopping has brought in billions after billions of dollars in revenue.

Just recently between Nov. 1 and Nov. 11, AliBaba Singles Day sales brought in a whopping $75 billion in sales with 800 million shoppers participating, according to reports.

Although the pandemic has affected the lives and livelihoods of billions, the holiday season is one many look forward to, to spend quality time with family and friends. Gifts play an important role in these exchanges. In fact, 25% of holiday shoppers will be buying gifts for others this season.

Similarly, 64% of people are as excited about holiday shopping this year as in previous years. Another report tells us that 75% of holiday shoppers will be conducting up to 50% of their holiday purchases online.

How prepared are you for this prepared set of shoppers this holiday season?

In this post, I’ll highlight 15 key things to include in your holiday sales preparedness checklist to help you maximize sales this season.

Dates

Holiday shopping typically starts in October with Thanksgiving and Halloween sales.

The holiday shopping calendar highlights major holiday shopping events throughout the year.

This should form a core part of your overall marketing strategy. By knowing the dates in advance, you can better strategize and prepare.

Deals

With the dates marked, you can plan out the type and number of deals available to your customers for each shopping event throughout the year.

Shoppers are usually looking out for the deal of a lifetime, especially during the holiday season. You should find out the best way to offer deals that won’t steal your profits.

You can keep an eye on your competitors. Find out what kinds of deals they’re offering their new and returning customers.

Discounts

holiday marketing tip

Prior to sales, some customers make it a point of duty to document the current prices of items in their shopping lists.

This is because most retailers do not actually offer discounts, they simply mark-up the price and “slash” it again.

Ensure you’re giving real discounts. Promote it via your newsletter, social media handles, website, etc.

Paid Ads and Promotions

If you’re a dropshipper for instance, much of your marketing will be in the form of paid ads and promotions.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Google, etc., allow you to run paid ads to promote your business.

Test run them and stick with what works best for you. Also, hone your targeting and copywriting skills to reduce costs and improve effectiveness.

Website

This holiday season, your website can either make or mar your entire marketing efforts. Is it fast loading, easily navigable, searchable, and fast to checkout?

If your e-commerce website isn’t user-friendly, you will be losing customers in droves and leaving money on the table.

Conduct a detailed website audit with a view to optimizing every touchpoint along your customer journey map. This is very key to an enjoyable user experience.

SEO

SEO is all about search and discoverability, on-site and off-site. 87% of buyers start their online buying journey with research, using Amazon or Google.

To succeed with e-commerce SEO, you have to think like a typical shopper. Some shoppers conduct product-specific search, others prefer store-specific search.

Optimize for search on your website and for search engines like Google. Enable auto suggest/autocorrect features to help shoppers find what they’re looking for.

Social Media

Are your social media handles doing their bit? Have you designed banners or planned out posts to promote your upcoming deals, discounts, or sales?

Are you planning to use an influencer, run multiple social media ads, hire a new social media manager, or improve your LinkedIn marketing strategy?

Social media, with billions of daily active users, can play a major role in your holiday marketing drive. Do not ignore it.

Photography

Product presentation is also important in e-commerce. Shoppers cannot touch, feel or taste products in your webstore.

There are three simple ways to ace this. One, take professional product photographs with killer product descriptions.

Two, incorporate product videos for a more in-depth, 3-D experience. Three, use VR to let shoppers virtually try-on products before purchase. Shopify Plus has this capability.

Shopping

A smooth shopping experience will guarantee you happy customers and repeat purchases, which can increase customer average order value and lifetime value.

A fast loading, navigable, and searchable site with speedy checkout and multiple payment gateways, is a shopper’s delight.

A bad shopping experience, on the other hand, could lead to cart abandonment, high churn, and negative reviews.

Checkout

Sometimes, online shoppers abandon cart not necessarily because of a bad shopping experience. Maybe they’re just window shopping or checking out shipping cost.

They could also forget their shopping cart and get distracted by work, colleagues, a meeting, an appointment, etc. How do you plan to recover such abandoned carts?

Many shopping carts, e-commerce platforms, software, apps, or plugins can help you automate shopping cart recovery this holiday season.

Payments

holiday marketing payment tips

Payment problems are a pain in the neck when it comes to online shopping. It takes considerable time to search for different products, fill up your shopping cart, and complete checkout.

For the past three days I’ve been unable to make payment for items in my shopping cart due to issues with payment gateways. Some of these are holiday items.

Getting this far and not being able to complete an order can be frustrating. Ensure that you have multiple payment options available.

Packaging

Packaging is another key component of e-commerce sales, especially this holiday season. Pakible provides comprehensive packaging solutions for retailers of all sizes.

If you’re a dropshipper, you probably won’t see your product packaging before they’re shipped to your customers, but it is important that you do.

Product packaging can create a positive or negative first impression, so watch it. You can also brand your products with special packaging or printed labels.

Shipping

After you have packaged your customer orders, you would need to ship them. With e-commerce, you can ship products across the world to your customers wherever they are.

A trusted shipping carrier can help you get your orders to your customers as fast as possible, for as low as possible.

Long shipping times and high shipping fees are two of the biggest turn-offs for online shoppers. Ensure that you’re guilty of neither.

Delivery and Fulfillment

Your customers’ orders have arrived at your storing and sorting location. Now it is time for last mile logistics, and a lot can go wrong between your warehouse and your customer’s door.

For instance, a delivery truck with perishable groceries may break down for hours leading to delays and decomposition, which can lead to order cancellation.

Timely and professional delivery is one of the most important legs of your online shopper’s journey. Make it delightful, and your customers will reward you with even more business; awful and they’re gone.

Returns

Returns are almost avoidable but inevitable. If you sell fashion items or apparel, ensure that your size charts are comprehensive and detailed. Include in-depth product description and use professional photographs.

Over 50% of shoppers engage in bracketing, i.e. the act of buying all sizes, colors, etc., of an item with the intent to keep only the one that fits and return all the others.

This is a costly practice. On National Returns Day (Jan. 2, 2020), UPS returned 1.9 million holiday purchases. Returns cost billions of dollars. They also create extra greenhouse gas emissions (due to reverse logistics), and some of them end up in landfills.

Conclusion

This holiday sales preparedness checklist can help you plan your holiday marketing in advance, minimize losses, and maximize profits this season.

The post 15 Holiday Marketing Tips for Small and Big Businesses appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

The FCC rejects ZTE’s petition to stop designating it a “national security threat”

The Federal Communications Commission has rejected ZTE’s petition to remove its designation as a “national security threat.” This means that American companies will continue to be barred from using the FCC’s $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund to buy equipment and services from ZTE .

The Universal Service Fund includes subsidies to build telecommunication infrastructure across the United States, especially for low-income or high-cost areas, rural telehealth services, and schools and libraries. The FCC issued an order on June 30 banning U.S. companies from using the fund to buy technology from Huawei and ZTE, claiming that both companies have close ties with the Chinese Communist Party and military.

Many smaller carriers rely on Huawei and ZTE, two of the world’s biggest telecom equipment providers, for cost-efficient technology. After surveying carriers, the FCC estimated in September that replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment would cost more than $1.8 billion.

Under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, passed by Congress this year, most of that amount would be eligible for reimbursements under a program referred to as “rip and replace.” But the program has not been funded by Congress yet, despite bipartisan support.

In today’s announcement about ZTE, chairman Ajit Pai also said the FCC will vote on rules to implement the reimbursement program at its next Open Meeting, scheduled to take place on December 10.

The FCC passed its order barring companies deemed national security threats from receiving money from the Universal Service Fund in November 2019. Huawei fought back by suing the FCC over the ban, claiming it exceeded the agency’s authority and violated the Constitution.

TechCrunch has contacted ZTE for comment.

Save up to 50% on Beats headphones this Black Friday

Save up to 50% on Beats headphones this Black Friday

SAVE UP TO 50%: Beats headphones are on offer in Amazon’s Black Friday Week sale, saving you up to 50% on list price.


Amazon has really delivered with its Black Friday Week sale, with impressive deals on everything from laptops to robot vacuum cleaners. Something we haven’t seen a lot of yet are Apple deals, but they are still out there. You just need to know where to look.

We have tracked down the best deals on Beats headphones, with up to 50% off popular wired and wireless models. You can pick up Beats EP, Beats Solo3, Beats Studio3, and more sets at heavily discounted rates.

More about Beats, Black Friday, Mashable Shopping, Shopping Uk, and Uk Deals