Why I purchase at Amazon even when its more expensive

I live in Germany, a country seriously conservative when it comes to online shopping. We order a lot online, don’t get me wrong, but most people here dislike it and prefer to go shopping for things they could get for half the price online. Apart from trying to support the local economy of small shops and local entrepreneurs providing jobs, the other, much stronger motivation to shop offline is to avoid SPAM eMails.

As the local IT magician I get to talk to a great number of different people with average computer skills and when the conversation comes to online shopping more than 70% of them tell me they would like to shop online but they don’t because then they get eMails they don’t want to get and don’t know how to get rid of.

Newsletters harming the economy

Now this is something we don’t see in any metric, does sending out promotions and newsletters harm our online businesses more than it benefits us? From a one-business perspective the answer is no, because the damage is already being done by others. We already miss out on those potential customers too scared to buy online because our online-colleagues/competition already tortured them with SPAM-like “strategic marketing”.

This means our own promotions help us getting up-, down- and cross-sells (and all the other sells) from the customers we have, but in the big picture these promotions are the reason we don’t have as many customers we should have and don’t grow as quickly as would be natural. To put it the other way around: Newsletters help our local economy more than they help online-businesses.

Why I prefer Amazon.de over other German mail order firms

Now the title of this article indicates another consequence of this marketing disaster: Customers avoid online shops they don’t know. Those of us who still want to buy online whenever possible - me for example, because I decided to sell my car a year ago - try to bundle their shopping in one place to have less newsletters/promotions to unsubscribe from. In Germany I could buy at neckermann, otto, conrad, or others for most of the things I choose to buy at Amazon. Sometimes it would even be cheaper, but the last time I ordered at one of the above i didn’t just get an eMail a day (clicking the unsibscribe every time I got one) until I wrote a formal letter threatening to sue, I also got a printed catalog in the mail twice a year for one and a half years, also until I threatened to sue despite calling in to ask they stop mailing me.

These mail order firms are desperate, they can feel they don’t sell anything anymore and try to get orders by annoying you until you slap them in the face. But that only has the effect that I stopped ordering anywhere but at Amazon altogether - and I’m not going to order at any other mail firm ever again if I don’t really have to. With the exception of clearly privately owned one-person-shops and honest products made by that person.

And thats why Amazon is growing like crazy, once you have deactivated their eMail notifications, you can buy whatever you want there without being spammed ever.

tcdr
tcdr:

Popup that covers only the content. A new low.
via @unknwntrr

They know what you’re there for on the site and therefore abuse your interest by hiding only what you want to see. At the same time they do a great illustration of how much crap there actually is on the site… despite the Ad-locker and the Flash-Blocker! Just sad… AND FUCKING ENRAGING!

tcdr:

Popup that covers only the content. A new low.

via @unknwntrr

They know what you’re there for on the site and therefore abuse your interest by hiding only what you want to see. At the same time they do a great illustration of how much crap there actually is on the site… despite the Ad-locker and the Flash-Blocker! Just sad… AND FUCKING ENRAGING!

As promised here the render result. I added a second group of glow worms and some sound.

And now I’ll have to figure out the compression settings in Blender… :/

Noise Reduction in Cycles (Blender 2.7)

This Tutorial requires some minimal knowledge about Blender, you won’t have fun following it if you’re unfamiliar with using nodes.

So today I found a great Video on Youtube that led me to this article on how to reduce noise in Blender when rendering with Cycles. It shows a handy technique to avoid high sample numbers and thereby long rendering times but still get a clean image without noise. I recommend you give it a read, its very handy information!

Adapting this for my render, as I have a lot of indirect light bouncing around in my scene, creating a very noisy image was pretty straight forward. Here my render with only a few samples (and some compositing that I removed later) without reduction to give you an overview:

The Ignored Settings

Lets start with the settings less often discussed: Light Paths. These allow us to determine how many bounces a ‘virtual photon’ does before it ‘dies’. These are my settings:

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I turned off the caustics, because the blue thing you can see in the video above is made of glass and I’m rendering on CPU, because the scene is too complex for the 1GB VRAM I have in my Notebook. Additionally all the surfaces in the scene except the lights have some sort of gloss to them, so I Added a 0.25 blur to the glossy bounces to reduce the noise caused by blurry bounces.

The transparency- and normal-bounces I set to 8, anything below makes it too noisy to work with the image. Diffuse, Glossy, Transmission and Volume I didn’t touch and left ad their default preview values. And last but not least I turned off the Shadows checkbox, to ignore the transparency of shadows and safe render-time.

Tipp: If you render with your GPU instead of your CPU, go to the oerformance section of the render panel and set the tile size to 2^n = 256x256 or 512x512. This speeds you up significantly. If you render with your CPU, try 16x16, 32x32 or 64x64.

Now for the samples.

The samples strongly affect your image quality, they are your image. The more you can afford to wait for your Computer to calculate the better, right? No. Thats why I have to give you some information instead of a step by step tutorial.

At some point increasing the number of samples improves your image only so little, you won’t notice anymore. For Example I tried 100, then 50, then 10, then 20 and then 25 until I had found that at 25 samples the quality improvement slows down too much to be worth the extra render time. This basically is how samples improve your image, more always means better, but at some point you won’t notice anymore:

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The same curve btw. holds true for time vs. samples, with the samples on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. With that in mind, here are some sample samples:

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The interesting question then is to see at how many samples your scene stalls out improving in render quality. You’ll get a feeling for it, especially if you take an afternoon and play around with all the render settings.

Noise Reduction in Cycles

Now lets move on to the actual noise reduction. We will achieve this by selectively blurring the rendered image. Yes, we will blur the entire image; but doing so we will retain the sharp edges of objects. We’ll achieve this in compositing after the render has finished, but to do so we need a way to know the sharp edges of the objects in our scene. Now we could to this in a fancy way with a normals pass and thereby get a perfect result, but I’ll do the noob and blur the things with the same texture together. If you want more accuracy, use Render Layers or do the entire thing using a normals map and an edge-split like filter you’ll have to device yourself in the compositer. My skills aren’t that fancy yet, I just got started with blender like a week ago…

1. Turn on the Material Index pass. To do so select the Scene Options in the Properties Panel and under “Passes” activate Material Index. I activated the ‘Normal’ as well, so I would have something to explore after this experiment. And the ‘Z’ is turned on, to see if I can use it to add Depth of Field after the render as opposed to how I do it now in the camera’s properties.

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2. Go through your materials and add IDs, so the Material Index pass actually has some use.

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3. Figure out how many samples are the best for your render. This you’ll have to do through trial and error, I went with 25. Samples are per pixel, so theoretically it shouldn’t need to be changed if you change the resolution.

4. Render one single frame at at least 75% of Full HD. (That is 1920x1080px and 75%)  Eat a salad or go for a run, its going to take some time. Mine took 10 Minutes.

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This is my render result - still pretty noisy, especially the polished concrete.

Compositing

I used a pass Index for the Floor-Material, one for the back wall, one for the “tree”, one for the lights and one for the glowy things on the “tree”. This allowed me to use the ‘Mask ID’ Node in the Compositor to mask off the sections I wanted to blur. First, here is the Node-Group I created to blur:

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I numbered the nodes in the group.

Switch to the Compositor.

  1. Automatically createdwhen you group it afterward
  2. First node I added. Connect the ID Mask Node to the ‘IndexMA’ hook of the Render Layers Node. Do not activate anti alias, we’ll blur it anyways.
  3. The Blur Node inputs the alpha value of the ID Mask, because we’re going to edit the mask before we’re going to use it. Set the Blur Node to Gaussian or Fast Gaussian, I like percentages and won’t scale it much, so I activated ‘Relative’ to be able to use percent instead of absolute values. If you want to output your render in a significantly different size than the single frame you’ve just rendered, don’t use relative.
  4. Using the Color Ramp we’re now “growing” the blurred alpha mask by brightening the mid-tones. If you’ve ever used a graphics Program, this is equal to increasing the size of a selection.
  5. This alpha mask with soft edges is now used as factor in the Mix node to mix solid black with the rendered image. Now we have an image that only shows the parts selected by the alpha mask and otherwise black.
  6. The Images gets blurred and
  7. is then cut to have hard edges with a Mix node and an un-blurred ID Mask.
  8. Automatically created when grouped, this is the connection to the rest of the compositor.

And here is an animated GIF of what we just did:

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We repeat this step with every material we added a pass index to and combine them using Mix nodes in ‘Add’ mode. For me this looks like that afterwards (I added some glow to my green lights in the tree):

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And there we go, almost no noise to be seen ion those perfectly smooth surfaces without any structure to them. If you use textures and bump-maps, normal maps and interesting lighting, you’ll definitely not get any noise in your images anymore.

Follow me on Twitter or here on Tumblr to see the 2s short clip once its done rendering and uploading.

And if you’re a Blender Guru you might have an idea on how to use a normal map to do this?