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Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

A bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

You know when you’re watching a fan or a wheel or something else quickly spinning and it seems to stop spinning and even looks like it’s spinning backwards? And you blink your eyes and remind yourself you’re not on drugs and haven’t been drinking heavily but it’s still somehow simultaneously spinning and not? This optical illusion occurs most commonly with video cameras (but can also occur looking through your normal eyeballs) when the frame rate of the camera matches some multiple of the rate of the thing being filmed, as with this magically levitating helicopter.

Since each frame has to ensure the blade is in the same position as the last it therefore needs to be in sync with the rpm of the rotar blades. Shutter speed then needs to be fast enough to freeze the blade without too much motion blur within each frame.

Here the rotor has five blades, now lets say the rpm of the rotor is 300. That means, per rotation, a blade is in a specific spot on five counts. That gives us an effective rpm of 1500. 1500rpm / 60secs = 25.

Therefore shooting at 25fps will ensure the rotor blades are shot in the same position every frame. Each frame then has to be shot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blade for minimal motion blur.

In the video above, a home security camera catches a bird flying with a wing speed matching the frame rate of the camera, which makes it look like the bird is just magically hanging in the air, like some sort of avian wizard.

Radiohead hid an old school computer program on their new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

As if you already didn’t know that Radiohead are a bunch of big ole nerds, there’s an easter egg on a cassette tape included in the Boxed Edition of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. At the end of the tape recording, there are some blips and bleeps, which Maciej Korsan interpreted correctly as a program for an old computer system.

As a kid I was an owner of the Commodore 64. I remember that all my friends already were the PC users but my parents declined to buy me one for a long time. So I sticked to my old the tape-based computer listening to it’s blips and waiting for the game to load. Over 20 years later I was sitting in front of my MacBook, listening to the digitalised version of the tape my favourite band just released and then I’ve heard a familiar sound… ‘This must be an old computer program, probably C64 one’ I thought.

The program turned out to run on the ZX Spectrum, a computer the lads would likely have encountered as kids.

An alphabet made from classic rock band logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Alphabet Of Rock

Dorothy has designed a pair of posters of alphabets fashioned from rock band logos: one for classic rock and one for alternative rock. How many of the band names do you know? Me? Fewer than I would like.

These reminded me of Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy prints.

Update: See also the ABCs of Heavy Metal poster by Aye Jay. (via @thoughtbrain)

Awaken, a documentary full of arresting imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

This might be the most beautiful three minutes of your day. Director Tom Lowe is making a feature-length documentary “exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and the natural world” called Awaken. This trailer is stuffed with some of the most arresting imagery I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps most striking is the moving time lapse footage, which was shot from a helicopter using equipment of Lowe’s own design…I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

Awaken will be out next year and, unsurprisingly, is being executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).

Free diving the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Watch as champion free diver Guillaume Néry dives to the bottom of the world’s deepest indoor pool (131 feet deep!) while holding his breath. The dive was filmed by Julie Gautier, who was also holding her breath while working.1

And about that pool…it’s part of the Hotel Terme Millepini in Italy. From Wikipedia:

Y-40 “The Deep Joy” pool first opened on 5 June 2014 and was designed by architect Emanuele Boaretto. It is 40 metres (131 ft) deep, making it the deepest pool in the world. It contains 4,300 cubic metres (1,136,000 US gal) of thermal water kept at a temperature of 32-34 °C (90-93 °F). The pool features underwater caves and a suspended, transparent, underwater tunnel for guests to walk through. It includes platforms at various depths, ranging from 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) to 12 metres (39 ft), before the walls of the pool narrow into a well-like funnel which plunges straight down to 40 metres (131 ft). The hotel offers tickets to freedive and scuba dive.

That’s pretty cool.

  1. What’s that phrase? Behind every successful man is a woman who is holding her breath even longer while filming a video?

Wolf trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Wolf Tree

I took this photo of a wolf tree over the weekend. When thick forests were cleared for pasture and farming by settlers to colonial America, single trees were sometimes left by design or accident. In the absence of competition for light and space, these trees were free to branch out and not just up. They grew tall and thick, providing shade for people & animals and some cover for predators like wolves. Being the lone tree in an area, wolf trees were often struck by lightning or afflicted by pests that had nowhere else to go, contributing to their grizzled appearance.

In some cases, they grew alone like this for hundreds of years. Then, as farming moved to other places in the country, the pastures slowly turned back into forests, the new trees growing tall and straight with an old survivor in their midst. Wolf trees often look like they’re dead or dying, partially because of their age and all the damage they’ve taken over the years but also because the newer trees are crowding them out, restricting their sunlight and space. But they still function as a vital part of the forest, providing a central spot and ample living space for forest animals, particularly birds.

More reading on wolf trees, including the possible etymology of the phrase: Wolf Trees: Elders of the Eastern Forest, the Public Land Journal, and What’s up with the “Wolf Tree” at Red Rocks Park? (specifically about the tree in my photo, which might date from the 1700s). I’ll leave any possible metaphorical meaning of the wolf tree as an exercise to the reader.

Hummingbirds flying in slow motion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Slow Mo Hummingbird

National Geographic photographer Anand Varma recently took some slow motion videos of hummingbirds in flight. Incredible footage. It always amazes me how still their heads and bodies are while their wings beat furiously. Here’s National Geographic’s feature on using high-speed cameras to uncover the secrets of hummingbird flight.

World’s smallest birds is just one of several distinctions that hummingbird species claim. They’re the only birds that can hover in still air for 30 seconds or more. They’re the only birds with a “reverse gear”-that is, they can truly fly backward. And they’re the record holders for the fastest metabolic rate of any vertebrate on the planet: A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast. Small wonder that these birds will wage aerial dogfights to control a prime patch of nectar-laden flowers.

Fun facts: some hummingbirds can beat their wings 100 times in a second and can sip nectar 15 times per second. I also like the locals’ name for the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird: zunzuncito (little buzz buzz).

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

One tree, one year

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

In a film shot by Bruno D’Amicis & Umberto Esposito, a normal tree in a forest is kept under observation for an entire year. A surprising number of animals were seen in that time, including boars, wolves, foxes, badgers, deer, and bears.

Four seasons unfolding around a crossroad of smells, signals and messages left behind by the extraordinary wildlife of the Apennines. What you see here is just a small part of this incredible experience.

In the past two years, we have understood that in the vastness of the forest each tree is unique. There are trees where to lay your eggs or where to find a safe cover; trees on which to look for food or, simply, to scratch your back and thus leave behind a trace of your passage. Who knows how many of such trees are around…

A quiet reminder that the world goes on without us.

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

A bunch of libraries and museums have banded together for the Color Our Collections campaign, offering up free coloring books that let you color artworks from their collections. Participating institutions include the NYPL, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Smithsonian, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

Throwback: LA roller rink still has a weekly organ night

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Moonlight Rollerway

Lisa Whiteman has a lovely story and photos about the Moonlight Rollerway, a roller rink near LA that still hosts a weekly night of skating with live organ accompaniment. One of the skaters, Lillian Tomasino, is 86 years old and has been coming to the Moonlight to skate since it opened in the 50s.

Lillian has now outlived two of her long-term skating partners. Frank, with whom she had skated since the ’80s, passed away in 2012, and Dave, whom she had known since they were teenagers, died in late 2016. Although these days skating can cause Lillian significant pain, she has no intention of hanging up her skates anytime soon. After her spinal surgery in October 2016, she was back on her skates within six weeks. “My friends talk about [me skating at my age], and they think it’s great. I don’t give up too easy. As long as I can do it, and I can get out in public. That’s the main thing — ‘cos I’m at home a lot. The senior centers are too tame for me.”

Marching band plays Daft Punk at Bastille Day parade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

At the Bastille Day parade in Paris, with Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron looking on, a marching band played a medley of hits from Daft Punk. Macron gets it pretty quickly while Trump looks confidently clueless as usual.

The United States of Food Puns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Each of the 50 US states made of food and named accordingly, e.g. Arkanslaw, Pretzelvania, Tunassee, Mississippeas. Maps? Food? Language? How many more of my boxes could this project possibly check? Oh, this was a kid’s idea and his dad went over the top in helping him achieve it? CHECK.

Oh, and to teach the kid about capitalism, of course there are t-shirts and posters available.

Where do ideas come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

In this video, creators like David Lynch, Susan Orlean, Tracy Clayton, and Chuck Close share their thoughts on the creative process and where new ideas come from. For some, inspiration strikes. For others, new ideas come from copying someone else’s old ideas imperfectly. For artist Chuck Close, ideas are generated through the process of working:

I always said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Every great idea came out of work. Everything. If you sit around and wait for a bolt of lightning to hit you in the skull, you may never get a good idea.