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This is an old page from Rod Begbie's blog.

It only exists in an attempt to prevent linkrot. No new content will be added to this site, and links and images are liable to be broken. Check out begbie.com to find where I'm posting stuff these days.

Filed under 'amazon'

December 30, 2010

Lending Kindle Books

Just launched, Amazon now let you “lend” Kindle books. A fab feature, but sadly crippled in this (initial?) form.

1) You need to initiate the process from Amazon.com — you can’t do it from a Kindle
2) Publishers have the right to disable lending, and a quick scan through my Kindle purchases show that most large publishers have blanket blocks in place.
3) Loans are currently limited to 14 days, and you can lend a book once and only once. Publishers currently cannot adjust these limits.

Despite these gripes, this is clearly a big step in the right direction. Hopefully this is just Amazon’s first stab at shifting the digital-media-lending Overton window.

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December 18, 2010

Research: Remarkable 2nd order XSS @ Amazon or How to hack Amazon with a book

A pretty long game. Publish a book demonstrating XSS, and Amazon will serve it up!

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November 25, 2009

Love the new Kindle boot screen

Love the new Kindle boot screen

The "relaxing with a book against a tree" motif is such a perfectly romanticized vision of reading. Far better than the regular reality of where I read: crammed on the piss-smell-filled Muni.

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November 12, 2009

Choose Your Own Adventure books for Kindle

I can barely think of a less-perfect match than “Kindle” and “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The “Back” button will be priceless!

July 1, 2009

Amazon.com: The Economist: The Kindle Store

This makes me tremendously happy — The Economist is now available as a Kindle subscription. Interestingly, it’s priced almost identically to the dead tree subscription, which is causing a rare amount of bitching in the Amazon reviews from those who don’t understand the, erm, economics of magazine production. (Clue: Adding dead-tree subscribers increases the rate you can charge advertisers. Adding advertising-free Kindle subscribers doesn’t.)

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March 3, 2009

Kindle for iPhone. Well played Amazon

Sharp (and surprising) move by Amazon — you can buy any ebook from the Kindle store, and read it on your iPhone.

I suspect this is a trojan horse move: give users a live demo of how how good the bookstore (with its free samples) is, let them build up a library of purchases in Amazon’s walled garden, then once they realise how crummy (and battery-draining) the iPhone is as a reader, reel them in in for Kindle device sales.

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January 27, 2009

Amazon recommendations

Amazon recommendations

Anyone want to hazard a guess at what I was looking at that garnered these recommendations?

* A pink camera
* A PD James novel
* Headphones
* Twin pack of nipples

January 8, 2009

Amazon.com: Ari Brouillette's review of The Secret

I’ve often been sneery at the unmitigated hokum that is “The Secret”, but this review might have convinced me to open my mind to it.

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December 3, 2008

Amazon Mobile for iPhone

Amazon releases an iPhone app for optimized shopping, including an wickedly-clever tool that lets you snapshot products in bricks’n’mortar stores and will then unleash Mechanical Turk users to find matching products on Amazon.

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July 20, 2008

Amazon.com - Universal Wish List Button

Bookmarklet that lets you add items from any online store to your Amazon.com wishlist.

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July 10, 2008

Zoomii.com - The "Real" Online Bookstore

Whizzy Amazon-browsing UI, for those who like to judge books by their covers.

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June 2, 2008


In 2004, due to a job change, I switched from commuting to work via public transport to driving each day. The biggest change this made to me was the sudden loss of time I had previously largely used for reading (and, it should be said, playing Game Boy). My book consumption dropped significantly; my only other regular (how to put this delicately? “porcelain-based”) reading time given over to catching up with Entertainment Weekly and Private Eye.

But the pendulum is shifting back again now I’m in San Francisco. The route betwixt home and office is now more easily travelled by Bart and Muni than private automobile. Thus—hurrah!—I have time to consume the printed word once more.

Given that I’m a lazy unfit bastard, though, the thought of carting around weighty chunks of paper was less tempting than ever. I glanced at Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, but the idea of paying $400 for a device whose sole purpose was to get me to give more money to Amazon didn’t seem to make much sense, not matter how tempting and shiny the Kindle might be. But within a week, after unexpectedly earning a decent chunk of change from Amazon1, I decided to pull the trigger. I am nothing if not an irrational sucker for a shiny gadget.

A month later, I’ve finished reading three books2 on the device and the novelty has worn off, so here’s my experience so far.

First up, the things that I knew because every review mentions them: The screen is excellently clear and comfortable to read (the variable font size means you can switch to larger print when you're tired), and the page-change lag is negligible. The built-in wireless networking works just grand, meaning you can surf Amazon's bookstore and download new books wherever you are (within the US). And yes, the Next/Previous Page buttons are as annoyingly easy to hit as has been reported. It's not too bad when you're sitting down and reading, but when trying to get comfortable lying on your side I've usually had to page back and forward a bit to correct for accidental nudges.

That said, the ease of page-flipping illustrates an unexpected advantage of the Kindle beyond simple lightness: It’s much easier to read than a regular book when you’re standing on a train with one hand gripping a pole for support. You keep the Kindle in the other hand, your thumb poised over the “Next Page” button, and can flip without moving more than that one knucklemuscle. (The exception to this are books with footnotes, which require a somewhat frustrating hyperlinky jump to read.)

Amazon’s book selection is decent, if not comprehensive. Maybe half of the books I’ve searched for are available. Some areas are noticeably lacking—Computer textbooks, which would benefit massively from being searchable and lightweight, are missing due to the lack of a monospaced font on the Kindle. Interestingly, my reaction to books that are not available is that they are effectively dead to me. I’d love to read them, but now that I own a Kindle, I don’t think I’d want to buy deadtree again.

For me, the biggest surprise was something that seems to have been played down on Amazon’s site, but is a killer feature to me. For every book in the Amazon Kindle store, you can send a free sample to the Kindle. The sample usually includes the first chapter or two of the book—more than you might be able to skim in a regular bookshop—enabling you to better evaluate the title before purchasing, which Amazon has made characteristically seamless; at the end of each sample is a one-click link which will charge your credit card and download the book to the Kindle within a minute. As I type this, my backpack holds eleven samples of books I’m interested in, effectively acting as a queue so I need never be without reading material.

Perhaps surprisingly, given my EFF-loving copylefty fair-use tendencies, the DRM imposed by Amazon doesn’t bother me too much (summary: your purchases are tied to your account, so you cannot “gift” or “loan” books to others or read them on any device other than a Kindle). Unlike music, which I want to own so I can it enjoy over and over for the future, I tend to read a book once then stick it on a shelf, resulting in, as part of the moving process, the dumping of many boxes of once/never-read books at the local Goodwill. And given that Kindle ebooks are always cheaper than Amazon’s already heavily-discounted prices, I’m even less worried about the effectively ephemeral nature of the licensed ebook.

In summary, if you asked me if I recommended the device, I would offer a solidly warm yes with the following caveats: First, you should browse Amazon’s Kindle store first to work out what proportion of books you’re interested in are available. Secondly, you should be comfortable spending $360 on a device that will undoubtedly drop in price and/or be superseded by improved hardware within a year (also known as “being an iPod owner”). And finally, if you’re of a collectory bent, recognize that the satisfaction of a stuffed bookcase cannot be felt with e-ink and bits in flash memory.

But for me, the Kindle has reignited my love of reading, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me next.

1 My blog post about Programming Interviews Exposed got a shedload of traffic. The links in that post to Amazon had my referral ID attached, and some of that traffic bought the books, along with assorted other trinkets (including an engagement ring!), leading to me making a tidy sum in commission3. Thanks again to whoever submitted that post to Reddit!

2 Bad Monkeys (a recommendation from Keith, which in turn I recommend to all), Feeding the Monster and Faithful (which was a reassuring read during the Sox’s sweep by the A’s last weekend). It’s worth noting that I already owned hardback copies of the latter two, but they had languished unread on a shelf.

3 And yes, the links in this post are similarly referalified. Given that Amazon offers me $35 for every Kindle they sell through such a link, it is left as an exercise for the reader to judge how this affects the impartiality of what I’m writing.

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May 14, 2008

UPS: Tracking Information

UPS: Tracking Information

Nice work UPS. The package Amazon overnighted me last night? Has been delivered in 2006. Now that is speedy delivery.

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April 10, 2008

Ten Thousand Cents

Mechanical Turk project where users were paid $0.01 to draw a section of the $100 bill.

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January 16, 2008

SimpleDbIntro - boto - Google Code

My SimpleDB account got enabled yesterday, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it. This looks like a handy Python library for accessing it (and the other Amazon Web Services)

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January 14, 2008

Amazon.com: HD DVD will still win

Fantastic reading: HD-DVD fanboys in denial on Amazon discussion boards.

November 23, 2007

Amazon Kindle Real-Life Review (Verdict: Lightweight, Long Lasting and Easy to Grip... In Bed)

Best review I’ve seen of the Kindle so far. I’d be tempted to get one, but for the much-noted DRM restrictions. If I’m unable to “lend” or “borrow” e-books I’ve purchased, like I currently can with dead-tree, then it’s of no interest to me.

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September 25, 2007

Amazon.com MP3 Downloads

Amazon’s un-DRMed 256kbps MP3 store launches. It’s got the full EMI and indie catalogues that iTunes has DRM-free, plus the Universal catalogue.

There’s an optional downloader for Windows and Mac that allows you to queue up entire albums and import them into iTunes automagically, but you can also download individual tracks without any software.

My only problem with it? The first track I tried buying — “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond — turned out to be a live recording without being marked as such. So now? I get to test Amazon’s refund policy!

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April 18, 2007

Format War Soliders: Sync'd HD-DVD Purchase by Fanboys Spike Amazon Rank, Blu-Rayers Set To Retaliate - Gizmodo

A couple of hundred HD-DVD fanboys did an organized reverse-boycott, all purchasing HD-DVD discs on Amazon on the same day to try and prove… something. Not quite sure what. Really it emphasizes how lousy both formats are doing that a sales graph can be moved so dramatically by a few hundred customers.

March 7, 2007

TiVo Amazon Unbox service launched | PVRblog

You can buy and/or rent movies or TV shows from Amazon’s Unbox service, and have them show up on your TiVo. Bigger library than Apple’s movie service — Could this help keep TiVo afloat a smidge longer? (Your first $15 hit is free. I just “bought” The Departed)

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January 10, 2007

O'Reilly Radar > TurkTunes?

Combine Amazon’s various webservices to create a “hum a song into a microphone and find out what it is” system. Most cunning feature: Using the “Mechanical Turk” artificial-artificial-intelligence service to use humans to identify your humming!

December 16, 2006

Amazon Customers Vote: Wii & PS3

Amazon are rather sensibly randomly distributing the chance to buy a Wii or PS3 from them. Sign up before midnight tomorrow for a shot at getting one.

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December 15, 2006

Abusing Amazon images

Good to know — How Amazon image URLs are constructed.

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December 8, 2006

The DVD Wars

Tracking the popularity of the competing blue-laser DVD formats by comparing Amazon data. Very smart. HD-DVD is winning at the moment. (Wonder if that’s just because people getting HD TVs are searching for “DVD HD”?) Let’s see how the PS3 affects this.

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September 16, 2006

Amazon.com: Wall and Piece: Books: BANKSY

If you’re just hearing about Bansky this weekend, might I recommend this book. It’s a compendium of his finest work, and it’s truly impressive — both funny and thought-provoking. But mostly funny.

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September 8, 2006

Amazon.com Unbox Video

There’s an instant discount of $1.99 on your first purchase, so you can kick the tyres and download a TV show episode for free. And yes, the DRM they use is strippable using FairPlay4WM.

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August 10, 2006

Amazon.com: 1Lb Fat Replica

Just the thing to keep in the fridge next to the Green & Black’s.

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August 5, 2006

388 Amazon users "review" a 1-gallon bottle of milk

My favourite is the haiku: “my old speak and say / sprayed me with tuscan whole milk / when the cow said moo”

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June 14, 2006

Amazon.com Grocery

Amazon take on Costco. Bulk non-perishable groceries, all eligible for free shipping.

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May 23, 2006

The Sheep Market

10,000 sheep, drawn by MTurk users, for $0.02 each.

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May 18, 2006

JungleDisk - Reliable online storage powered by Amazon S3™

Cross-platform mountable network file-system storing your precious data with Amazon’s S3 service.

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February 7, 2006

Refund Please

Keep track of items you purchase from Amazon — If they drop the price within 30 days, you can get a quibble-free refund. I got back $9 from them today for four CDs I purchased last month! I might try and make a bookmarklet or GreaseMonkey script to handle this automagically.

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December 25, 2005

Filling Amazon's Tall Orders | BusinessWeek

Slideshow tour of one of Amazon’s shipping centers.

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December 6, 2005

~stevenf: What

Amazon have clearly realised that there’s money in the banana stand.

November 4, 2005

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Get paid for grunt-work that’s too complex for computers to deal with. Awesome name, and further proof that Amazon is really competing with Google, not buy.com.

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About This Site

This is an archive of groovmother.com, the old blog run by Rod Begbie — A Scottish geek who lives in San Francisco, CA.

I'm the co-founder of Sōsh, your handy-dandy guide for things to do in San Francisco this weekend.