Tag Archives: amazon

What happened to Pigeon post?

You might have heard Amazon are serious about their drone based delivery system for certain items, I assume for their prime customers.

In the letter (pdf), Amazon’s head of public policy, Paul Misener, says that “in the past five months we have made advancements towards the development of highly automated aerial vehicles” for its new service, which it calls Amazon Prime Air. Misener says the five-pound limit covers 86% of products sold on Amazon.

Meanwhile, the FAA’s British counterpart told the Guardian that it could foresee a time when, once drones have proven their airworthiness and ability to avoid obstacles safely, they would be allowed to operate autonomously

I wrote about Amazon Prime Air, which myself and many others thought was a publicity stunt (although to be fair Adewale was right on the money). I  also wrote about pigeon post, which something which I thought was flipping crazy but might actually work.

Nathan Rae is the man with the vision and I recently saw him and asked him what he made of Amazon Prime Air? He said it was good news but what makes Pigeon post really special is the protocol. That protocol is physical package protocol (PPP?)

Thats where the magic is…

How can we ever trust the 5 stacks?

There is a lot to be said about Aral Balkan‘s talk from The Next Web conference (I gather his RSA talk had less technical problems). However I heard and saw it live at Thinking Digital 2014 a few days ago. Like when I heard him talk at Thinking Digital 2013, there was so much I wanted to say in return.

I agree on some level that its about the user experience, I disagree open source and free software is a lie, waste of time and not really free (Aral cleared up the fact he was talking about cost not freedom) Picking the low hanging fruit is certainly entertaining but is unfair, for example Mozilla’s dependence on Google is eye watering but there was no mention of Ubuntu, with their own phone, tablet, TV and computer operating system. I mean Ubuntu totally redesigned their operating environments to work consistently across all of them.

Thinking Digital 2014

During Thinking Digital most of the people I spoke to after Aral’s talk were unaware of most of the problems. I was frankly a little shocked and annoyed this was news to many smart people. But thinking about it some more, Aral’s calls to action afterwards were missing, so most people just felt like it was hopeless. (Maybe a little scaremongering?) Just what you want to ponder over at lunch time…?

I don’t blame Aral (although it always sounds like I have beef with him always), he highlighted the problem but if he included a few thoughtful practical actions (Although as Aral points out, his main takeaway/action was to create Indie Tech alternatives), it could be less gloomy and less fearful…

  1. Read the EULA (End User License Agreement) even skimming it will help you understand whats going on. (although I totally understand how verbose and how hard they are to understand.
  2. Take some responsibility for your own actions
  3. Take an interest and set your limits for issues like net neutrality, copyright, security, privacy, etc.
  4. Support the Open Rights Group (and others fighting for your online rights)
  5. Evaluate the services you use on cost in time, cost in privacy and cost in ownership. Everyone has a figure/percentage, if you don’t… get one!

The Big Picture - Open Rights Group

As mentioned in my post from the quantified self 2014, everyday its becoming even more difficult to trust any of the stack/cloud providers. Not only is the EULA changing more times that is reasonable but there’s some seriously messed up (law breaking) things happening.

Google, Facebook and Amazon have shown us again this week why the combination of a quasi-monopoly, vested interests and an inscrutable algorithm can be a dangerous thing for internet users, since it allows them to influence what we see, know and buy.

Don’t even get me started on Facebooks new messenger app which listens and Apple’s EULA which Norway agrees is over convoluted. The 5 stacks just can’t help themselves but comb through our data and when that runs out they want even more. Its certainly the main business model of the early 21st centenary but it doesn’t have to be that way. Very interesting when put in the context of Mariana Mazzucato’s fast paced talk from Thinking Digital 2014.

public vs private sectors

Even quasi-monopolies can be toppled or made to operate within the realms of public good and moral acceptable. We just need to be smart and work together. This is partly why I’m going to make my way down to Brighton for Indie Tech summit.

Although I’m writing about Aral’s talk again, he’s wasn’t the best of the conference. Sure I’ll go into plenty of detail in the next post.

Update – Jo from Indiephone has wrote a follow up piece about this post clearing up some of my points.

Upgraded devices, upgraded life


It was something Steve said a while ago, which got me thinking… It was something like reliable devices are more important than you think.

In the last month I’ve upgraded my work Laptop to the Lenovo (better not let me down guys) Thinkpad X230. Up from the X220. Then I upgraded my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7+ to a Google Nexus 7 (2012 edition) and finally yesterday I rooted my HTC One X and put Cyanogenmod 10.2 (stable) on it. I was thinking about upgrading to the Nexus 5, and that may still happen once my contract runs out and the non-removable and poor battery on the HTC one X drives me up and over the wall.

The only thing I haven’t upgraded or done anything with (as such) is my kindle which I found is completely br0ken now. I did look in the shops and consider buying a Koob from WHsmiths and then the Nook ereader in John Lewis but I decided, unless they supported a wireless delivery system like the Kindle, then its going to be more of a pain than it really should be. So more research is needed, as it might be only the Amazon Kindles support some wireless delivery of your own document (yes I’m too spoiled to plug in the ereader everytime I want to read something new). Right now I mainly use the ereader for instapaper and a couple of work documents here and there. If I’m going to get another Kindle, its going to have no keyboard and has to be one of those paperwhite ones. (i’m sure ebay is full of ones people will be getting rid of, because they didn’t get the Kindle Fire)

So why upgrade?

The Lenovo Thinkpad X220 I had was screwed, not only screwed but it had been in for repair a total of 3 times (see the videos on youtube). It was past its guarantee date and frankly it was totally fcuk’ed for no reason of my own.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7+ I had rooted and put Cynaogenmod 10.1 on it (Android 4.2). Massive upgrade from Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) But there was another problem. Bluetooth didn’t work which was a real pain but the biggest problem was ever since I upgraded it to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), it had suffered from the Sleep of Death (root or no root). Which means you can turn off the screen and the whole thing goes to sleep. Not only does it go to sleep but it drains all the power left and won’t actually draw any power from the mains. Aka, if you get it wrong, you can wake it up after a night of sleeping and it will be totally dead.  Then you got to kickstart it into taking some power, so you can finally power it back on. This is a nightmare, specially in the middle of a conference. I tried and tried to fix it but in the end it was time to give it up.

Originally I wanted to get the 2013 edition with the 322ppi screen. But frankly for £99, I can live without the back camera and high rez screen. You should see the 720p screen of the Nexus vs the 1024×600 screen of the Galaxy Tab 7+. Ok its the same resolution as my OneX but looks just as amazing. The camera resolution isn’t  a problem because the resolution on my HTC One X is great and what I usually use for taking pictures.

Finally the HTC One X. I adore my HTC One X but there are many things which drive me nuts about it. Main one being the non-replaceable battery, but there is little I can do about that. Its a quad core phone, when everyone else was installing dual cores. However the phone was seriously crippled by HTC’s bloatware. Even with a new launcher it felt sucky. Ideally I wanted to buy the Nexus 5 but to be honest, I thought I should root and install a new Rom. To be fair to HTC, they honored the open bootloader option and it worked without fuss.

So there you go, the Thinkpad X220 is back at work expecting another repair from Lenovo. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7+ is expected to end up on my wall as a replacement to my photoframe project. The Kindle in the bin? The OneX somewhere on ebay in the future depending on how well the Cynaogenmod 10.2 change goes.

Going forward, I’ll be avoiding buying a Android phone/tablet which isn’t a pure google experience. On the Kindle front, who knows. Thanks to Simon for helping me out during the installation (I used these instructions but had to convert them to Unix, due to running Ubuntu) of the OneX.

Amazon missing pigeon post?

Amazon has a lot to do before Prime Air’s drones start flying

Forgot to blog about Amazon prime air earlier this week. Amazon plans to deliver some goods via drones/octocopters.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is testing unmanned drones to deliver goods to customers, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos says.

The drones, called Octocopters, could deliver packages weighing up to 2.3kg to customers within 30 minutes of them placing the order, he said.

Theres a million reasons why its not going to happen in the next few years but the thing which I believe Amazon have missed is Pigeon post.

Pigeon posts packet switching network is a lot more efficient and could scale way beyond Amazon’s idea of one Octocopter per package. If your going to do it, do it with scale in mind Bezos!

As Nathan Rae posted to tech news today

Push me a message

Pushover with ifttt

Pushover makes it easy to send real-time notifications to your Android and iOS devices.

I love the fact its simple and works with ifttt. Heck I can imagine some scenarios with ifttt and taskrabbit. But I’m left wondering the advantages of a private push service over using something like xmpp/jabber?

Yes its going to be somewhat cheaper than using SMS, more extensible  than twitter direct message and less hassle than xmpp? But running yet another service on your phone? Isn’t this what Amazon SNS was about?

Amazon Glacier

Mouth of the Matanuska Glacier - Alaska

I love the idea of Amazon Glacier

Amazon Glacier is an extremely low-cost storage service that provides secure and durable storage for data archiving and backup. In order to keep costs low, Amazon Glacier is optimized for data that is infrequently accessed and for which retrieval times of several hours are suitable. With Amazon Glacier, customers can reliably store large or small amounts of data for as little as $0.01 per gigabyte per month, a significant savings compared to on-premises solutions.

This is how I use SpiderOak right now. All backups stored there in deep storage just in-case… It will also be a great place to store photos, videos and old projects… Oh and it seems to work for UK users too.

Great work Amazon… I’m going to see if Spideroak offer anything like this before switching. As I could easily use Dropbox for daily stuff and Amazon Glacier for everything else.

Welcoming the App Bazaar

App Store

I know theres tons of blogs and views beating up Android for its different device capabilities and how un-developer friendly it is (sure I blogged about this before?) but I’m calling ball on it all. Ok I’m not a developer but frankly opportunistic developers/people are seeing the beyond this whole fragmentation debate and thinking theres lots we can do here.

Being a free and open kind of guy, I draw lines between Apple/Microsoft’s app stores and Cathedral, Android/The Web and the Bazaar/Market. Yes I went thereEric S Raymond on your ass (not literally of course)

Amazon just recently celebrated their first birthday of their own app store, which you can install alongside Google’s market I mean play store (I can’t be the only one who thinks this sounds like a Durex thing?). There were reports that the Amazon store was actually making the developers using it more revenue than Google’s play store. This can be seen as a good and a bad thing, but for me the choice is a good thing. Google set out give people the choice in a over protected market and they have achieved some great things, including opening the door for other companies to make a tidy business.

A long time ago I gave a thumbs up to Boxee for doing something similar. This is old hat for GNU/Linux for example which has had the ability to add repositories from anywhere you trust (or don’t trust, even!). For example I’m a fan of OMGUbuntu and Webupd8, both which run their own repositories or if you prefer app stores as such.

I haven’t even began to play with some of the repos in XBMC yet, but I remember seeing quite a few for Boxee which were all aimed at providing p0rn and nothing else. And to be fair its a business model which I could imagine would work very well. Certainly something Google and Amazon may not want in their own stores, but theres certainly enough demand to warrant its own ecosystem (like it or not). The same is very true of the darknet stores such as the jailbroken Cydia store.

Amazon Kindle Fires off

Kindle Fire

First impressions of the Amazon Kindle Fire?

Fantastic! Its roughly a 7inch Kindle/Tablet with some decent power and enough storage for general consumption… And its only 199 dollars!

That means even if they shift the dollars price over directly into pounds its still a very reasonable price. Funny enough its about the same price as the HP touchpad when it was on sale.

Theres still quite a lot which is unknown such as side loading apps, which version of Android and ultimately how hackable the device will be but Amazon have totally blown the Nook Color out of the water ($249). In fact a lot of the tablets will struggle against the Kindle Fire, even the Ipad. The Kindle fire is just so cheap that it will be come a thing people will just have. Amazon have gone for the mass which frankly isn’t a bad idea at all.

Not having the Android Market isn’t a massive deal because frankly its just a matter of getting the developers to submit the same application to the Amazon store instead. Amazon have really taken the ideals of free and open to the maximum, now if only I was in the States! Maybe I can buy one off the back of the amazon account confusion…?

The other Kindles all look good and finally its good to see Amazon releasing a Touch screen version for all those who can’t live without touching the screen. But for now I’m sticking with my Kindle as I’ve not really seen enough to make me switch, plus I like the keyboard anyway.

Kindle Array the answer to the large scale e-ink display?

First Rasterbation

I have been asking the question over and over in different circles, is there such a thing as a large scale eink display?

It seems the answer is no but I’m more interested why not?

Then yesterday while at lunch with a couple of colleagues in BBC R&D, Robert was asking me questions about my Kindle because he was considering buying one for his girlfriend and I was running through the advantages and disadvantages. Somewhere in the conversation, Andy mentioned my question about a large scale eink display (the advantage of being public again). I explained why I think it would be good and somewhere along the conversation one of us 3 suggested (think it was Andy) taking a Kindle apart and stitching them together.

I had quick thought, you could make an array of kindles and then control them to display what you want. My next thought was if you could tile post to the Kindles/eink display.

And that was it! An array of eink displays fed the right part of the whole document.

The advantage of a Amazon Kindle over a standard eink display is the wifi radio and email address, which means you can send each one a document remotely via something like rasterbator and if you can control them, you can remotely make them display a document as a screensaver. Later in the lab while eating cake (we seem to eat cake quite a bit on Fridays) I thought maybe this could be done via Arduino using the USB shield. Practically you would only need to root each Kindle using this method. Then by uploading a slightly different image to each one, you could create a tiled display or as I’m calling it a digital array.

Ultimately you want some software running on a Kindle which you upload the document/image to, it interrogatives its neighbours to work out how big the array its in is and only displays the part which makes sense. Because the Kindle is running gnu/linux, it would be possible but to be fair I’m not even going there, but if someone else wants to be my guest.

I’ll be hacking around with this concept in the near future, and welcome any thoughts or ideas on this idea.

Currently I’m just double checking if there is a large format eink display and trying to work out what is the best eink display to start with? The Wifi Kindle makes sense because its cheap enough, software hackable and easily hardware hackable. Although the Kindle DX does also look pretty good. I’m hoping for the Kindle Fire sale to start pretty soon, maybe.

My manager Adrian at work set me the challenge of putting our whereabouts system on the array or even the MCUK status updates. Right now, I’m going to just get two going then build on that… Hopefully there will be more details as and when it happens…

An update…

Of course I’ve been doing my research and it seems NEC created a A3 size eink display a while ago, it also seems I wasn’t the only one thing about turning them into tiles.

Additionally, e-paper modules can be used to form large screen displays by combining up to eight modules, which incorporate the company’s original multi-tiling controller. The A3 e-paper module is composed of especially narrow frames, with two sides measuring just 1mm, which enables the creation of large screens that feature effective multi-tiling

Also I noticed on the eink site… This recent picture…

2.4 meters certainly counts as a large eink display… So the question is how do we get our hands one and how much do they cost?

Well I’m looking at NEC, Neolux and  Motion Display if there listening…

Thinking Digital conference Kindle test1

Thinking Digital Conference Schedule on a Kindle

For those who have been interested in my kindle hacking/project. I’m happy to say the Thinking Digital conference schedule is now up on the Amazon Kindle store.

I might need to do some tweaking and yes it doesn’t look the best but remember it is a hack test and we can clean up the schedule next time for sure.

The first thing you will notice is the schedule actually costs money to download. £0.70 in the UK. The reason for this was down to Amazon. They charge a minimum fee of £0.99 to store and share the book over Amazon’s Whispernet. Although I think this is a bit of a rip off, specially because thinking digital already have a PDF version which they host on there own site, its not bad if this experiment does actually work. And heck, conference organizers could use it to make a little extra too I guess.

The Tweet URLs now seem to resolve to the book ok, which is a promising sign that my conclusions are actually correct.

So next step is to tell Herb Kim about the ebook and add notes next week at Thinking Digital. Hopefully I can pursued a couple of people to add notes too, so we can test the collaborative feature out. If you want to be part of that test, give me a shout… It should work on any device which runs the Kindle software.

A new/different way to collaborate at conferences

Future Everything notes on my kindle

Been thinking for a while about the way I take notes…

I tend to write down short lines of text which tend to make sense to myself only, but I’ve been thinking for a while do I really need my laptop to take notes? Specially since my main laptop battery fails after about 5mins of use (my own fault for buying it cheap on ebay I guess) and my backup battery lasts 20mins maximum.

Here’s my options I’ve been thinking…

  • Use my laptop, bite the bullet and buy yet another laptop, then use Evernote or Tomboynotes
  • Leave my laptop at home, rely on my Android phone. Maybe even buy a spare battery, so I can run it at full power (wifi, bluetooth, etc) all day
  • Leave my laptop at home, rely on my Android phone and work out how to use my bluetooth keyboard with Android. Still need to think about battery however
  • Use my Kindle, which has pretty much endless battery battery and a physical keyboard

Of course I used my Kindle

Kindle powered

The thought was Amazon added a feature which allows you to add notes to a ebook and share it with other people using the Kindle or Kindle reader. The notes are accessible on the web but theres a problem. The problem is Amazon notes only really work as expected with documents on the Kindle store. This means although I am able to add notes to a PDF of the Future Everything conference. First its a bit crap because its a PDF and secondarily I can’t share the notes publicly very easily (its worth noting Calibre does allow you to pull the notes off the Kindle).

Generally the keyboard on the Kindle is ok, nothing compared to my bluetooth keyboard but slightly better that the onscreen keyboard on my phone. The symbols option is a pain but because I’m writing rough notes, it doesn’t matter so much.

Future Everything notes on my kindle

I also had a little bit of a panic when it seemed like most of my notes had gone. But it seems to be a way the Kindle shows the notes. In the end I was able to bring them all back (well they hadn’t actually gone anywhere). I was writing one set of notes per speaker but you can do more, making it possible to tweet/share the notes too which I might do more of next time.

In the picture above you can just about see the little numbers which are the different notes. The Kindle software assigns a number but it might do something different

So where from now…?

Well the Thinking Digital Conference is in less that two weeks, so I’m gearing up for doing the same with this wonderful conference but…

  1. I’m going to get the conference schedule in a non-PDF format from Herb Kim
  2. I’m going to try and get the schedule posted on Amazon’s Kindle Store, so when I share the notes. The actual document will be partly available instead of the usual message about it being a personal document.

If this works well, I’ll try collaborate editing with someone else in future but also if this does actually work, it will be a really nice way to collaboratively edit notes at a conference and I can certainly see it taking off in the future. Specially if as I suspect you can annotate and collaborate on notes on many different platforms and devices together.

I’m surprised no one else has thought about doing the same really, or maybe its just not possible?

My Kindle Ecosystem

Chrome to Kindle

I pretty much take my Kindle most places and people keep asking me what I feel about it? I always say its great and of course I carry it around everywhere… (in actual fact it would be great if Amazon recognized the fans/ambassadors like myself)

Then they usually ask about the books… What book are you reading?

This is where I tend to divert from the normal kindle owner.

So how do I get news on to the Kindle? Well there seems to be a whole bunch of ways.

  1. Calibre is your long lost friend
    No matter what you do this is the first point of call for any ebook reader, even the ipad. It converts ebooks and with the recipes you can point it at almost any website and it will turn it into a ebook for reading on the device. One of my favorite recipes is the Google Reader recipe, turns my unread RSS subscriptions into a nice ebook. And to top it all off, Calibre can be setup to automatically send the ebook to the kindle. Of course I have this setup, so I never have to sync my kindle anymore. In actual fact I only need to plug it in once a month when the battery is low.
  2. Instapaper is simply great
    Instapaper most people know about but one of the new features is the ability to send to a Kindle as a kindle compatible .mobi file. No need to wait for Calibre. Plus it also has the option of sending only when there’s a certain amount of clipped content, so you don’t get lots of empty or single page ebooks. On top of that the Kindle treats them as periodicals so, it automatically archives old ones instead of clogging it up with old instapapers.
  3. Klip me with chrome and soon others
    Send to Kindle with Klip.me works exactly how you expect. The only thing is it currently only works on Chrome and Safari. They are working on a Firefox version but till then you can use the beta bookmarklet service which does the same thing but not so elegantly.
  4. Email for Free
    One of the things which Amazon don’t make very clear is the ability to send emails with attachments to Amazon and have them delivered for free over wifi. This of course totally displaces Amazon’s own conversion service, whispernet and if your like me, don’t really trust Amazon enough to give them access to everything on my kindle (see the whole 1984 issue), then you bought a wifi only kindle.
    Your email address is what ever your kindle email is but with @free.kindle.com instead of @kindle.com. This is very handy for example I have sent things from my Evernote to the Kindle for further reading. Of course you have tell amazon which email address are valid, so you don’t get spam on your kindle.
  5. Send to Kindle from Android
    Nice little tool if you happen to for example get a tweet to a very interesting but lengthy post but can’t be bothered to read it on the small android screen. Usually I bookmark it using delicious, instapaper or readitlater but now I can go direct to the kindle which is handy.

The biggest problem with the kindle for me is simply once you read something in the google reader ebook its hard to find out who exactly wrote it. I keep meaning to modify the recipe include the blog titles. If I happen to be in a place with wifi, I can link to the kindle webbrowser but then I’m stuck again.

Ideally I would be able to send it to readitlater, instapaper or whatever. I though about using the tweet function but as I’ve discovered the tweets well pretty much useless. Don’t get me wrong it does what it says and its great if your reading a book but its no good for self published stuff.

Finally I don’t understand why but I can’t get my kindle to work with my HTC Desire mobile wifi hotspot (myfi). If I did I might be able to sort out some kind of solution but I can’t work out why…

Saying all this… I still love my kindle

The ebook dilemma

My sister and I spoke on Skype the other day and I said to her I finally got around to reading What the Dog saw by Malcolm Gladwell which she bought for me about 2 years ago at Christmas. Yes about 2 years to read a book (of course it didn’t take that long in reality) but it did take a while in between all the other stuff I was doing. I guess I should have read it while I was in hospital last year.

She said she had watched a programme on BBC Three called Kara Tointon: Don’t Call Me Stupid. It was all about Dyslexia. And she had kind of got it. I had watched the same programme a while ago on demand and to be fair I did think it was going to be crap but actually it was pretty good, even though I had never ever heard of Kara Tointon, and to be slight blunt don’t really care.

I’m a hard person to buy presents for and of course I want to make it as easy as possible for loved ones to buy stuff for me if they would like to. Books are a regular choice but they usually end up on my book shelf and read by myself sometimes up to a year or so later. In actual fact I have a fantastic book which Si Lumb lent me a while ago around late Summer. called Last night a Dj saved my life. Its right by my bedside but I’ve never read more that 5 pages of it so far.

We talked about the possibility of ordering a ebook and sending it to me via Amazon’s Wispernet but it worries me. So far I’ve never bought a kindle book, just uploaded ebooks from elsewhere. My problem with ebooks is simply the DRM. Yes I have a kindle right now and there’s readers on most devices and platforms (no linux client by the way, but there is a web client now) but what happens when I don’t? What happens when Sony bring out a decent ebook reader which is colour and half the weight of the kindle (aka the weight of a feather) or maybe someone develops a foldable eink display… How am I going to move my books from the Kindle to what ever? On top of that, don’t even get me started on the sharing aspect….

So in light of this, I suggested to my sister that she should in future just get me Amazon gift tokens and I can use them for books or ebooks. Its not as personal/nice as buying a book but it also works and theres much more chance of me actually reading it.

Kindle everywhere your ebooks everywhere…

Kindle everywhere

Amazon are really cornering the reader market. Not only do they have one of the best ebook readers, but its also one of the cheapest (using there ability to ship many of them). But what really smashed it for them has to be the app which pretty much runs on everything. From PC’s to Android phones. Windows phone 7 to the ipad. Now there launching a kindle for the web. This will optimise any browser into a ebook reader. Impressive stuff.

But I’m worried…

This all seems to be out of the same play book as Apple and there itunes music ecosystem. I can already imagine the special links being sent around social networks pointing into the kindle ecosystem. The only saving grace is the kindle for the web.

Hopefully Amazon will follow the Google approach with these things and leverage the web not fight against it.

If Amazon screw up, Google seem to be right behind with there own ebook store.

What does this mean for the Kindle device, well this is all good news for the Kindle. Kindle is a fantastic eink device but shouldn’t be the only place to see ebooks. Hopefully more people will make there way through ebooks on devices like their phones then make there way towards reading on a eink device. I use to read my ebooks on my PDA (compaq ipaq) and it was painful but I found myself getting use to it. Now I can’t imagine using a phone or anything LCD like to read large amounts of text. But thats just me…

Its great Kindle is everywhere, and people can choose how they want to view the ebooks, period. Choice is good!

Now if they can just sort out the ability to buy a book and ebook version at the same time that would be great.