My Rambling Thoughts

It has been a good run; so long, Amazon

Amazon has ended its free shipping service to Singapore. It has lasted from 7th June 2013 to 5th Dec 2017. The writing was on the wall when more and more items were ineligible for free shipping, and Amazon soft-launched its Prime service in Singapore in July.

So long, Amazon. :lol:

My order history:

Year#OrdersFree ShipFwd
20033
20042
20054
20063
20073
2013120
2014050
2015051
20160512
2017171

I really went overboard in 2016 and bought a bunch of stuff that could not be shipped to Singapore...

Another way to look at Lego sets

There are three usual ways to look at a Lego set: its price, number of pieces and weight.

Many Lego sets now have very small pieces that inflate the piece count, that is why some people are using weight to judge a set's "substance". Except that the given weight is the total weight: plastics, instructions and packaging.

Let's look at Taj Mahal (10189): 5,922 pieces, 4,901.77g, 0.828 g/pc.

Weight (g)#pcs%age% by wt
>0.000 (?)00.00%0.00%
>=0.000 (Zero)00.00%0.00%
Tiny>=0.010 (Non-zero)3225.44%0.90%
>=0.200 (1x1 plate)1,79630.33%9.01%
Small>=0.360 (1x2 plate)68711.60%5.23%
>=0.440 (1x1 brick)1,31022.12%14.82%
Medium>=0.800 (1x2 brick)1,17519.84%25.79%
>=1.640 (1x4 brick)2924.93%11.03%
Large>=2.320 (2x4 brick)1292.18%7.08%
>=3.210 (1x8 brick)2113.56%26.14%

Data is from BrickLink. It is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate, but it should be close enough.

Even though this was the set with the most pieces (until the new UCS MF upstaged it), it was not as big as expected because it had many tiny pieces (anything less than 1x2 plate is tiny).

How about the two UCS Millennium Falcons?

10179: 5,180 pieces, 6,297.11g, 1.216 g/pc.

Weight (g)#pcs%age% by wt
>0.000 (?)10.02%0.00%
>=0.000 (Zero)00.00%0.00%
Tiny>=0.010 (Non-zero)3897.51%0.91%
>=0.200 (1x1 plate)94118.17%4.03%
Small>=0.360 (1x2 plate)3336.43%2.03%
>=0.440 (1x1 brick)99219.15%9.24%
Medium>=0.800 (1x2 brick)1,55630.04%28.05%
>=1.640 (1x4 brick)3717.16%11.17%
Large>=2.320 (2x4 brick)1092.10%4.67%
>=3.210 (1x8 brick)4889.42%39.89%

75192: 7,521 pieces, 7,184.10g, 0.955 g/pc.

Weight (g)#pcs%age% by wt
>0.000 (?)120.16%0.00%
>=0.000 (Zero)00.00%0.00%
Tiny>=0.010 (Non-zero)7499.96%1.46%
>=0.200 (1x1 plate)1,73423.06%6.26%
Small>=0.360 (1x2 plate)75710.07%4.00%
>=0.440 (1x1 brick)1,49119.82%12.31%
Medium>=0.800 (1x2 brick)1,72422.92%27.03%
>=1.640 (1x4 brick)4626.14%12.06%
Large>=2.320 (2x4 brick)1762.34%6.64%
>=3.210 (1x8 brick)4165.53%30.24%

Many of the new pieces are very small pieces.

The Tower Bridge (10214) is often criticized as overly inflated with small parts. Just exactly how many?

10214: 4,287 pieces, 3,541.45g, 0.826 g/pc.

Weight (g)#pcs%age% by wt
>0.000 (?)00.00%0.00%
>=0.000 (Zero)00.00%0.00%
Tiny>=0.010 (Non-zero)2175.06%0.83%
>=0.200 (1x1 plate)1,15626.97%7.63%
Small>=0.360 (1x2 plate)2666.20%2.71%
>=0.440 (1x1 brick)1,23428.78%18.44%
Medium>=0.800 (1x2 brick)95122.18%28.60%
>=1.640 (1x4 brick)2265.27%11.59%
Large>=2.320 (2x4 brick)1343.13%9.39%
>=3.210 (1x8 brick)1032.40%20.81%

About 2/3 are small parts. When 60% of a set are small parts, it will be perceived as overly inflated.

Let's look at a large City set, the Police Station (60047): 829 pieces, 1,315.46g, 1.587 g/pc.

Weight (g)#pcs%age% by wt
>0.000 (?)00.00%0.00%
>=0.000 (Zero)00.00%0.00%
Tiny>=0.010 (Non-zero)445.31%0.46%
>=0.200 (1x1 plate)13516.28%2.80%
Small>=0.360 (1x2 plate)333.98%0.96%
>=0.440 (1x1 brick)17420.99%7.34%
Medium>=0.800 (1x2 brick)18822.68%15.69%
>=1.640 (1x4 brick)728.69%10.38%
Large>=2.320 (2x4 brick)716.56%15.21%
>=3.210 (1x8 brick)11213.51%47.16%

It also has many small pieces, but it has many large pieces as well.

Many a times, a Lego set does not feel as "full" as its piece count would suggest. This is due to the heavy use of tiny pieces — they take up 20 - 30% of the piece count! They add to the detail, but not to the structure.

TLG on a roll; a straight-up re-release

TLG released the Taj Mahal (10189) in 2008 for US$300. It just announced a straight-up re-release, with one new element (a brick separator), for US$370.


Taj Mahal (10256), 5,923 pcs, US$369.99

This is the latest death knell for stubborn resellers who refuse to see the writing on the wall.

I wonder what TLG is up to? Despite its high price in the secondary market (US$3+k), this can't be a very high-demand set.

Some people suggest it is to fend off the clones. From what I observed, Lepin only made a one small run and it took some time to sell out. The demand was just not there.

I can think of two possibilities:

  • This is a historical architectural building and there is a continuous trickle of interest in it outside the Lego world. This is why the Tower Bridge (10214) [2010] is still available. But then TLG discontinued Sydney Opera House (10234) [2013] — due to poor sales?
  • TLG has decided to re-release its pre-2009 "great" sets to make them available to fans who missed them the first time round.

The MF hyperspaced out of OOP

It has finally happened — something Lego fans said was impossible — as it would devalue Lego collectivity and hence reduce its attractiveness. TLG has released an updated UCS Millennium Falcon after ten years.


Millennium Falcon (75192) [2017], 7,541 pcs, US$799.99

The old one:


Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon (10179) [2007], 5,197 pcs, US$499.99

The two sets are the same size: ~84 cm (L) x 56 cm (W) x 21 cm (H). They are huge! The new one is more detailed and has some interior sections at last.

What a difference ten years make.

In 2007, US$500 was way too much for "a piece of junk". It sold poorly and TLG had to discount it as much as 50% to clear stock. After it went OOP, its price ballooned up due to its scarcity and it became the poster child of Lego investing. Its price went well over US$3,000. Its price has taken a steep drop with the new set out. A MISB set is now around US$2,000, but is expected to drop much lower as time goes by — you can get a better set for US$800, after all. There are some brave souls who say the old one will retain its value just because it is the original, but come on, only the most dedicated completionist collector will buy it now. My guess is that it will drop to US$1,000 or less — and it'll be a long wait for a bite.

The new set sold out on day one. At US$800 MSRP. People are still on waiting list now. It is like the iPhone craze — they just had to have it.

Somehow, people (Westerners?) have a fascination with the Millennium Falcon. I don't know if it's due to the bad-boy, carefree or devil-may-care smuggler's image of Han Solo.

My thoughts:

  • US$800 is a lot of money. Some people were overtaken by the craze and bought it even though they clearly could not afford it. Here's a simple means test: if you don't have US$800 disposable cash on hand, you can't afford it. When their sanity returns, they will be thinking, "what have I done?"
  • Even if you have the money, do you have the space to display it? The large Lego sets are gorgeous, but they do not have any play value and they do not lend themselves to be dismantled and re-assembled into other stuff. They are ultimately display models.
  • This is the clearest sign from TLG that there are no sacred cows, especially Star Wars sets, now that Disney is milking the franchise every year. For the longest time, people say the UCS MF will never be remade and Lego sets are an investment. Well, ask those people who paid over US$2,000 for their 10179 set.
  • It is also clear that old (pre-2009) designs do not stand up well at all compared to modern designs. They are not as detailed, well-built and "curvy". The high-end Lego sets are getting more detailed every year, partially thanks to their higher price points. The best 2009 - 2012 designs were impressive in their time, but they are starting to look pale alongside the 2015+ ones.
  • Lepin has not released its copy, but it should be pretty cheap (before shipping, anyway). The old one goes for 700 yuan (US$105). The new one will probably be 30% more expensive.

Handling multiple failures

I've always wondered why SMRT never seems to worry about flooding. It was just taken for granted it would never happen. Until Oct 7th. In the aftermath, we are finally told how storm water is handled. And I must say, it is pretty good. Keep in mind that the system was probably designed in the 80s and had worked without a single glitch for 30 years.

But it is not without its flaws. If there were a public review, it might have been caught.

There are 5 sensors and 3 pumps. Sensor 1 is the low-watermark. It stops all pumps once cleared. Sensor 2 activates pump 1, sensor 3 pump 2 and sensor 4 pump 3. Pump 3 is stand-by. If it were activated, it probably means one or both pumps failed to work. Sensor 5 is the high-watermark. It sends an alarm to the control center.

In this case, sensor 1 and 5 failed.

See the flaw now? If sensor 1 fails, the pumps will never activate. If sensor 5 fails, you don't get a notification. And it is the most likely to fail because it is the least tested.

The storm water pit could hold 5,000 m^3 of water. The estimated rainfall that day was 640 m^3. Thus the water had been accumulating for some time.

First, how do we lower the chance of failure with the existing infrastructure?

Easy, we use data from all five sensors. If sensors 2 to 4 are working normally, it would be an anomaly if sensor 1 is clear but sensor 2 is not. In computer programs, we often go to a safe-state, e.g. ignore it, for such cases. But physical sensors can fail, and this has to be taken into account.

Second, how to even out the usage? Sensors 4 and 5 are seldom used, together with pump 3. It is easy to rotate pumps, but not sensors, since they are hard-wired in place.

Third, what if everything failed. How can we detect it? This can be re-phrased. How can we check remotely that the sensors and pumps are working? Again, it is difficult to check that the sensors are working, but it is easy to check that the pumps are working by adding a sensor at the outlet to the external drain and turning on one pump at a time.

I don't have all the answers now, but if I'm paid a million a year, I'm sure I can think of something. ;-)

Blade Runner 2049

Here's my one-line summary: this movie is good, but it will not make money. There is little action, is slow-paced, and the philosophical aspects will either bore most people or fly over their head.

This film is breaking my long-standing rule to not watch sequels, especially ones separated by decades. :-P (Of course, I watched a couple of reviews to make sure it is of certain quality first.)

As someone who does not like the first movie — I'll say it is a flawed masterpiece — this one works. It does everything right that the first movie did not.

Blade Runner (1982) is a sci-fi dystopian cyberpunk detective noir movie. It has great visuals that holds up even today, but it has a weak story. There is no mystery and Deckard, the protagonist, does not do any detective work. In this movie, K does. He has a keen sense of observation, he investigates, follows the leads and connects the dots.

Except that the movie is really long (163 mins), overly loud at times and sometimes slow. But I attribute that to modern films having fast tempo and after you are used to it, you find older movies a drag. This movie gives you time to soak in the gorgeous sights.

I like especially how it does Ghost in the Shell better than Ghost in the Shell (1995). What does it mean to have a soul? That is central to GitS and only incidental in Blade Runner, but this movie does it better.

Not a spoiler: K discovers the answer for himself, as well as his relationship to others. It is beautiful.

Spoilers (read after watching the film, trust me):

Blade Runner 2049 is not for everyone. If you like the original, or you think it is good-but-flawed, or you like GitS, you will like this. But you don't have to watch the original to enjoy this. It stands on its own. However, if you like explosions, action-adventure, happy-ending, everything spelt out or every loose-end tied up, this is not the movie you are looking for.

I bought the Blade Runner (5-disc DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition) [2007] for US$54.99. I had only watched the Final Cut (disc 1). I have no intention of buying the blu-ray. I'm considering buying the blu-ray for this movie. That's my seal of approval.

Update: I just found that disc 1 of my Blade Runner box set is spoilt. :cry: Oh well, should I replace it?

Breaking the petrol cartel

Sinopec won a second site in Singapore, and rumors are that Shell will release 10 to 15 stations to them.

Here's what Sinopec needs to do to send a shockwave: offer 20% lower prices upfront.

Actually, this is not as shocking as it seems. The local petrol companies maintain high pump prices, but they routinely give rewards that mount to 15 - 22% discount.

Next step is to implement a tiered loyalty system. The average mileage is 20k km, if the average FC is 11 km/L, it works out to be 1.818T per year.

If a car pumps 200L of petrol in 3 months, it gets an additional 1.5%. This is very easy to meet. 400L (average), 3%. 600L, 6%. 800L (only cab and Uber can meet this), 9%.

See, easy.

My blu-ray collection

Anime

Year DVD Price Show Notes
1979 Y US$14.99 Castle of Cagliostro 2015 I got the US edition for the subtitle and commentary. It has identical video stream as the 2014 Japan remastered version. It is also much cheaper! I actually prefer the 2008 VAP release. That has the correct color balance and is much sharper.
1982 Y ¥26,832 Macross box set 2012 MSRP 41,040 yen. No subtitles. I have the 2003 R1 DVD box set. (3 boxes at US$60 each — and that was on offer! This was before the anime bubble burst. Later it became US$20 per box. Ouch!) It was considered good at first. It was later that people realized how over-processed it was.
1983 Y ¥20,541 Mospeada box set 2013 MSRP 30,240 yen. No subtitles. I have the R1 DVDs.
1984 Y ¥5,032 Nausicaa 2010 MSRP 7,344 yen. This is the original release with the red tint. I prefer this to the remastered one from Miyazaki Hayao Complete Box/Works (2014). That one removed much of the grain as well.
1985 Y ¥13,143 Macross DYRL (First press limited ed) 2012 I got the limited edition as it included the Flash Back 2012 music video. No subtitles.
1985 Y ¥5,000 Macross DYRL 2016 This is the v2 release. It is sharper and uncensored. This time, I just went for the no-frills standard edition. No subtitles.
1986 Y ¥4,932 Laputa: Castle in the Sky 2010 MSRP 7,344 yen. It has filtered grain.
1992 Y ¥4,941 Porco Rosso 2013 MSRP 7,344 yen.
1997 Y ¥4,941 Princess Mononoke 2013 MSRP 7,344 yen.

I bought most of the blu-rays from Amazon Japan. Blu-rays usually have a 20% discount.

I have quite a bit more Studio Ghibli shows on DVDs. Sadly, most of their early R2J DVDs are trash today; they are optimized for CRT displays. For blu-rays, partially due to the expense, I only buy the ones that I like. You can guess which ones. :lol:

I missed the Miyazaki Hayao Complete Box/Works when it came out. Even if I did not, I would probably skip it as it is very expensive and I only want 1/4 of the shows inside.

Missing on the list is The Irresponsible Captain Tylor box set (1993), at a whopping 40,132 yen (MSRP 54,000 yen). I have four versions of the DVD box sets (I really like this show), including the ultra-expensive remastered one from Japan that is split up into three boxes — each one is US$200, IIRC :-O — and I misplaced one disc, argh! The blu-ray is an upscale of that.

Animation

Year DVD Price Show Notes
1986 Y US$19.99 Transformers: The Movie 2016 The only movie. This is the 30th anniversary edition.
2008 N US$20? WALL-E 2008 3-disc special edition. This is my first blu-ray disc, IIRC. Back then, I thought I would transit to buying Pixar movies on blu-ray. It turned out to be the last Pixar movie I buy.

Missing: Cars (2006). Disney wants US$25 for it. Let me think about it. :lol:

Like Studio Ghibli shows, I'll only get my favourite Pixar films — I already have most of them on DVDs and do not want to double-dip. My list: Cars, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille. At US$25 a disc, I'll just buy the first one. US$20, maybe two.

Chinese

Year DVD Price Show Notes
1989 Y HK$170 God of Gamblers [賭神] 2015 Remastered version with grain intact. It is one of the rare HK blu-rays done right. It is now available for just HK$108 (US$13.85)!
1990 Y HK$138 Swordsman [笑傲江湖] 2012 The show that revitalized martial arts genre in HK film.
1993 Y* HK$108 Flirting Scholar [唐伯虎點秋香] 2015 Stephen Chow is famous for his comedies, but I find them all too wacky. This early film has the right balance.

* I have a R0 DVD version.

I would love to get Millionaires' Express (1986) too, except that the blu-ray version is a 90-mins cut instead of the original 101-mins running time. I've covered this before; the best version to get is the Dragon Dynasty's R1 DVD.

There are a couple of other shows I'm interested in, but they are only available on DVD. (In some cases, they have long been discontinued.)

Only a handful of Hong Kong movies stand up to the test of time.

Classics

Year DVD Price Show Notes
1934 Y US$22.99 It Happened One Night 2014 This is very expensive for some reason.
1938 Y US$9.99 The Adventures of Robin Hood 2008 An early color film. Still the best Robin Hood show with witty dialogue.
1941 Y US$13.89 The Maltese Falcon 2010 The film that started the noir genre.
1942 Y US$13.00 Casablanca 2012 70th anniversary edition.
1952 Y US$14.99 Singin' in the Rain 2012 Makes you want to grab a lamp post in the rain.
1959 Y* US$14.49 North By Northwest 2015 * I have a high-quality R0 DVD version.

Missing: Stagecoach (1939). It is released by Criterion and is very expensive at US$27.99. It is also not fully restored.

Also absent is Time Machine (1960). The cover makes me pause. The DVD cover is so much more classic. The video could be better as well.

English

Year DVD Price Show Notes
1985 Y US$8.79 Clue 2012 This one might not have made the cut if I had firmed up my blu-ray buying policy. :lol:
1987 N US$6.99 The Princess Bride 2015 Not watched.
1996 Y US$7.99 Independence Day 2016 20th anniversary edition. Remastered in 4K.
1997 Y US$8.59 The Fifth Element 2015 Remastered in 4K.
1998 Y US$7.97 Shakespeare In Love 2014 Anyone who has read R&J for literature will get a chuckle out of this. You can tell where the scenes come from.
1999 Y US$7.51 Galaxy Quest 2009 A really good spoof on Star Trek.
2003 N US$9.99 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 2011 Not watched.
2010 N US$8.53 Inception 2015 Not watched.
2014 N US$6.09 Edge of Tomorrow 2014 Not watched.
2016 N US$12.99 Arrival 2017 Not watched.

Missing are Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ghost in the Shell (2017). They are in the pipeline.

What about Indiana Jones and Star Wars?

I'll buy Indiana Jones when it is transferred properly. For Star Wars, only if the original non-special editions (as seen in theatre) are released.

Amazon blu-ray pricing tier

From cursory browsing of blu-rays on Amazon, it seems that they fall into tiers: US$25, US$20, US$15, US$10.

Note that this applies to vanilla movie blu-rays. 3D, combo, special editions, non-mainstream studios, documentaries may cost more.

Only the newest top blockbusters and popular Disney films can command US$25. That extra US$5 is the "disney tax". Most new shows and blockbusters command US$20.

After some time, the show will drop to US$15. Older or unpopular shows end up at US$10 or less.

We can infer two things here.

First, Amazon does dynamic pricing — it sets the price based on demand. It is pretty simple. Keep the price if there is demand. Else lower the price slowly. If there is high demand again (relative to stock level?), then raise the price.

Sometimes Amazon will drop price sharply. It can last from a few hours to a few days. I think this is usually due to price-matching. Sometimes it price-matches against its own low-volume third-party seller who lists at an ultra-low price. (People have gotten cheap lego this way before.)

Second, it tells us the popularity of the shows. It is clear that newer and popular shows are priced higher. There are a few older shows that still command US$15, but most are US$10 or less.

Buying blu-rays

I'm on a slow quest to buy blu-rays of the shows that I like. My criteria is simple: it must be in my "top n shows of all times" and is a significant upgrade from the DVD. I have maybe ~150 shows on DVD. When my quest completes, I hope to have around 30 shows. (Note that one show may have multiple discs.)

Buying blu-rays now? Isn't that kind of late? Ultra HD blu-rays are just out. :lol:

Well, I won't be buying Ultra HD blu-rays until they can be copied, which at this point, seems unlikely to happen for another few years. At this point, most sources are only 2K, so I doubt they really have more details than blu-ray. It is an additional expense to remaster video at 4K, and studios may never recoup that cost.

Another almost-requisite is a large display. It is said to make a difference only at 65" or larger. I have no plans to get a new display until my current 40" one dies — which will take another 3 - 5 years. :-P

For most part, I think blu-ray is sufficient. In fact, rewatching some of my old DVDs, I find them mostly okay too — especially the ones that are digitally transferred and/or remastered. I'm rather surprised at myself. I no longer seek the best video quality. Good enough is enough. :lol:

Apparently many people thought so too. Even after a decade, blu-ray (first released in Jun 2006) is a fraction of DVD sales — 15% or so. Ultra HD blu-ray will be even more of a niche. And sales of physical media is declining as people take to streaming.

Streaming is not good enough for me though. The bitrate used is just too low to preserve all the details — 15 Mbps vs 50+ Mbps for Ultra HD blu-ray. The so-called 4K encodes do not have 4K worth of resolution. :lol:

Why I won't be buying the Matrix blu-ray


Blu-ray rip

The Wachowski Brothers tinted the first movie to match the colors of its two sequels: green in the Matrix and blue in the real world. They went way overboard with the green and the contrast.


1999 DVD

The original 1999 DVD is the one with the original color. The Matrix scenes are brownish. I prefer it for the most part.

Newer is not always better as directors / studios tweak the colors and DVNR. Grain-free always look better initially, but it is very difficult to remove grain without losing some details too.