Saturday, November 09, 2013

Amazon: a player in the market, or a heartless juggernaut?

The book The Everything Store by Brad Stone is creating a bit of controversy, because it gives a strong impression of Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos as being bullies and rather ruthless.

Even if you only read the chapter about the Kindle, there are numerous examples of the bullying character of Amazon. Just one, if true, suffices for me: that they will only take sales people who are of the character who believes that in a negotiation there must only be one winner, and that winner must be Amazon.
If taken far enough, I think that character trait in a person or a company ultimately is destructive. Look at it squarely: if you are a very strong person, and you *cannot* accept loosing under any circumstances, what respect do you have for other people’s lives and feelings? What respect do you have for rules and the law?

Some people in Bezos’ shoes would be having a fun game of having a very successful company amongst other successful companies. But a lot we hear about him indicates that he will never relax before reaching his real goal, which by logical extension is: Amazon being the all-dominating, untouchable, one-winner-takes-all merchant on the Earth.

Even the basic concept of Amazon (notice Bezos' joy when deciding on the name "Amazon" that the river Amazon is not just the biggest, but by *far* the biggest!) from the beginning: one store carrying everything, selling to everybody… what does that imply? It is not a “game” one would play for love of, for example, books and literature. Because he wants to sell *everything* to *everybody*, there is no love for anything in this game. The only attraction there can possibly be in it is the love of dominating and winning over everybody. It’s not even love of money, he could easily have had that, staying on Wall Street.

Jeff seems like a nice person, and I wish I could believe he were at the core. Because one company dominating all sales on the planet is a scary and dangerous idea. But we often see in very strong people that they have two very different faces which live apparently side by side with no trouble, probably oblivious of each other.

And all the different evidence we see, including Jeff’s continued willingness to sacrifice profits for growing market share, all points to this, I see nothing else which fits.
If Amazon is not big enough now to satisfy him, when will it be?
Only when it’s the last one standing. (Then he will begin to look for other planets to move onto, if he still has breath left. Heck, he already has a rocket company.)

The world is complex. I might be wrong. I hope I am.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Me and E-M1

Me with the new Olympus E-M1. A really pleasant and effective camera.
Sorry the camera aint sharp, but it's from a portrait lens, shallow depth of field, and of course it was indoors light, so that's the name of the game. But if you want, you can just google Olympus E-M1, and you will find enough material to choke a digital hippo. It's a very sought-after camera, and I was lucky I got mine so soon, I think many will have to wait a month or two.

That, er, Macarena, you know. And more body pop

I finally had to know what were the roots of this "Macarena" people talk about.

And while we go Body Culture, we may as well go all the way...

The blonde is not your typical popstar pretty, but she has a special attraction somehow.
And for the ladies, there's your dark, sculpted man flesh.

Oh! And I haven't heard this in yeeeears. She is actually a Danish girl.
Sannie Carlson (best known as Whigfield) is the name of a lady with Danish origins who decided to make a mark in the history of pop-dance music by selling millions worldwide. 
In 1994 she gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records with the song "Saturday Night" as the first artist to go straight to number one in the UK singles chart with a debut single. 


I remember Sannie complaining about the music snobbery in Denmark: if it can't be played live with real instruments, it's not "real music".

And going Danish, here is one of the biggest, and the most ridiculed, Danish hits of the nineties. It was only later than I found out the song was actually written by a friend of mine! (Note, not full song, and not official video!!)

There was a joke then: a man has to have half his brain removed. So he talks real slow. But they find out they have to remove the rest too. When he wakes up, he goes... "duppi duppi..."

Thursday, November 07, 2013

New book by Pratchett

Hurrah, the new diskworld book by Terry Pratchett is out.

That is "Rising Steam". But his non-Discworld book Dodger is actually also terrific.

"Do You Really Need FF?"

Do You Really Need Full Frame?, tOP article.
...However, I wonder if perhaps we've now reached a real watershed for "good enough quality." The current 16-megapixel 4/3 sensor in the various current top-line Micro 4/3 cameras is so good that it seems like it might suffice for all but specialty and professional photography. And it's not too bad for those either.

I have been arguing this for a while now (basically since the Olympus E-M5 came out, along with the great lenses for it), and I'm tickled pink (for non-US readers, this means "delighted") that the author of one of the most popular and respected photo blogs now writes it too.

Don't miss this one either. I read it in Mike's book of collected articles, and I loved it, because to a degree, it freed me from the nagging feeling that one day I really "had to" use large format cameras if I wanted "the best" quality.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Wrap Wallet

Wrap Wallet is a kickstarter project for a very compact wallet. I think it's a really good design.
It's not super-cheap of course, $30 for a sew-yourself kit, and $59 for a finished wallet. But it seems that the materials are carefully chosen, and it's a special item. Cheaper prices usually only appear in mass-produced products, which usually then don't have the same personality.

For us Europeans, it's a mystery where we are supposed to keep the coins. But in the US, coins are small and pretty worthless, they still use 1-dollar bills. They must get pretty durn used. European coins go up to denominations which you normally don't want to lose.
From the maker, D Jackson:
I keep them in the small pocket in my jeans! I know coins are a problem for non-Americans because they're actually worth something outside the US. We still have filthy dollar bills instead. I've heard this from a few people and will be working on another version of the wallet which holds coins ...

I haven't worn jeans since they stopped making them in other colors than blue. For some reason I think blue jeans are, I dunno, so bland. So I have no fitting coin pocket.
In the mean time, I use Waterfield's fine compact wallet at  They also have many, many fine products in bags and cases. The best I have found.

Jana Pope Kratochvílová

One of my favorite albums of the eighties.
My perhaps favorite track, "Spy", was not embeddable, but it's here.
Old interview. And a second one.

Amira Willighagen (9) sings opera

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Olympus OMD EM-1 Review - Stills & Video

[Thanks to TCGirl]

One of the many things which impresses is that this is the second review to tell us that the second generation 5-axis stabilization in the Olympus E-M1 permits him to shoot sharp images at shutter times of over one second! That's astonishing. Like he says, this is no gimmick, this can make the difference between a good pic and an unusable pic.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Nikon goes retro (updated)

For readers with long memories, I've been wondering out loud
for many years why nobody made digital cameras with looked like the beautiful old-time cameras: metal and dials and such.
Later, Fuji did it, and of course got a big hit with the fabulous X100. I knew they would.

And now, the second retro DSLR (after the Olympus OM-D): the Nikon Df. (Digital Fusion, they say.) It doesn't even have video. And it is full frame. And it's even more physical/retro than the OM-D: it has a shutter speed dial and a IOS dial, for Pete's sake!
And damn, it looks good. (Except the deep casing for those buttons on the  left side of the lens mount. What's up with that? Ugly, and may get in the way of the fingers.)

I honestly can't say if it will work better in any practical way than the more modern black-plastic blob forms, but for us who used to work with cameras in the seventies/eighties, it just has an instinctive aesthetic which it is very hard to ignore.

Below: somebody made a mockup of the black version based on Nikon's teaser videos. Damn, that looks good. (Though I think the red line is a bit "nineties" by now. Too old to be fresh, but not old enough to be Retro.    :-)

... And here is the real thing.

Looks better without the red line, I think.
And in fact looks great. Odd, normally I prefer silver (if it's real metal), but with this one, I may just think the black version looks better.

Fortunately I need this camera like a twit needs a bicycle, because I just got my Oly E-M1! It is lovely. Well, not the prettiest camera they have made, but it feels right in the hand and all the right ways. Fast too, I actually notice that the shutter lack is so near zero, it's almost shocking.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hadfield hits again

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, book.
(Haven't read it yet, but they say it's good.)

Trains through winter landscapes

Trains through winter landscapes, photos.

If you like trains, or winter landscapes...

(There are several more good ones at the original page.)

With gears like these, who needs brakes?

Many-gear machine.
its engine runs at 200 revolutions per minute but the last gear of its 12-gear mechanism is locked to a block of concrete. It looks still but, in reality, it is moving. You just can't see it because it completes one revolution every two trillion years.

I think that if you made the sequence a bit shorter, so that the last gear would run at, say, 1 rev per 1 year, then it might be a demonstration of the power of gearing. I don't think the motor would be stopped, geared so low. I think the most likely outcome is that the last gear would actually break free of the concrete. Or if it's embedded deeply, the last gear may twist and break. Even a very weak machine, geared right, can move a lot, given time.

Our friendly neighborhood engineer, Bert, weighs in:

Hi Eolake,
There are a few fields, for example in clockworks, where one will employ long gear trains solely for the progressive speed reduction and without concern or need for high output torque. Only in such applications will most or even all gears have a similar load bearing capacity. If, however, you are seeking to increase torque, then it will make sense to use progressively meatier gears along the transmission path to ensure that each element be able to handle the increasing forces involved. Note, in the image below, how the gears get bigger with increased gearing ratios, for example.

Of course, as an art project, there's nothing wrong with the design shown in the video. But a "proper" implementation of the design would involve more "manly" gears. The middle gears would look something like these (the red thing is a worker's hard hat):

(Dang manly gears)

I have no real idea of how large the output gears would be, but it is safe to say that I wouldn't be able to find an illustration of such planet-sized items anyway. Fabricating such a gear train would fall perfectly in the absolutely pointless category of endeavors, mind you, as the earth would be long gone well before breakage became of any concern.

In the case of such gear trains, designed so that each stage is sized to handle the transmitted torque, it is quite hard to predict where a breakage will occur as each and every element will be loaded at (or near to) its limit capacity when said limit is reached. A predictable breakage point is sometimes provided in the design, in the form of a shear pin or other weak link, to protect the heavy, expensive and hard to replace elements from catastrophic failure caused by jamming by an external element. It is much better to have to replace a big pin than to find out that the lock doors just fell off their hinges while crushing and ultimately sinking some boat...

In the case of the assembly shown in the video, unchanged, assuming that:

  • none of the gears is defective or otherwise weak,
  • the relative positioning and alignment  of the elements is perfect,
  • initial assembly is done with all elements in a relaxed state (i.e. no pre-loading is applied),
  • proper maintenance and lubrication is provided for, #drumroll#

... it is safe to assume that first failure will occur, many years after power-up, from wear somewhere inside the gearbox mounted on the motor, or from the motor itself. You will be pleased to know that the gear embedded in concrete is quite safe from harm! :-D

Working on the basis of your hypothesis, that is a gear train similar to that of the video but with a demultiplication limited to one year per revolution at the output, and maintaining the above assumptions, breakage is indeed likely to occur at or near the output gear. However, the failure point will likely be at the root of a tooth, where the material is subjected to the highest stress (i.e. a tooth will break off). This would likely take days to occur, depending on the amount of backlash (slop) in the assembly.


Thanks, Bert,
Indeed I am sure that it was an art project. Or something like that. Nothing practical, but intended to show that: "wow, there are just a few gears here, but the last one will take over a trillion years to go 'round!"