Tag Archives: amazon

A new Amazon seller scam

Amazon, so convenient, yet so annoying when things go wrong. This useless seller looks like a new type of scam to me. It seems to go like this:

  1. New seller appears, offering just about everything in Amazon’s catalog.
  2. You don’t notice this when buying, but the shipping window is open-ended (from a few days up to months). However you are optimistic, after all most Amazon orders arrive pretty quickly.
  3. Seller very quickly notifies you that the item has shipped. Great!
  4. Nothing arrives after a few weeks.
  5. You check the feedback, and now it looks terrible.
  6. You notice that the “tracking number” is completely bogus. Just a made up number and random shipping company (the seller is apparently based in Shenzen, but somehow the bogus tracking number comes from Singapore post?)
  7. You try to cancel the order. However Amazon won’t let you do that, because the item has been dispatched and it’s still in the shipping window (which, remember, doesn’t end for another couple of months).
  8. You contact the seller. Amazon forces sellers to respond within 3 days. This seller does respond! … to every message with the same nonsense autoresponse.
  9. As a result you can’t cancel the order either.
  10. There is no other way to escalate the problem or cancel the order (even though this clearly violates UK law).
  11. Seller now has your money, you have no product, and no way to cancel for another few months.
  12. Profit!


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Amazon have launched WorkSpaces. Back in around 2000, I nearly launched a similar product called OfficeMaster — “your office on the net”.

Here is a web page and some screenshots I dug up:






How did this work?

This was before open source high performance virtualization was available, and so what we had at the back end was a small collection of Linux servers, which you would literally log in to using a VNC browser plugin (or a native VNC client for advanced users).

Inside your user account you had a basic X window manager, KDE, StarOffice, GIMP and a web browser. We had a nice graphical welcome screen written as a Tcl/Tk app (and planned to replace it with a Flash demo).

I even patched the kernel to support 32 bit UIDs, expecting enormous numbers of users (or at least, more than 64K users). And I spent some time hardening the distro (RHL-derived) to remove obvious points of exploitation.

IIRC I reckoned that each logged in user would consume around 32MB of RAM, at a time when perhaps 512MB was the most RAM you could physically fit into a server. We planned to aggressively swap out users who disconnected. Some benefit was had because everyone was running the same binaries of KDE, StarOffice and so on, resulting in a fair amount of sharing.

Why did it fail (to launch)?

At about this time I had broadband at home, but that was pretty unusual. Most people were on 56k modems, and I did a lot of testing around peoples’ houses and it was pretty obvious that running applications over VNC was not going to be very usable. Faster broadband adoption might have saved the idea.

We also felt it was a solution in search of a problem (and I still think the same about this Amazon announcement, and also things like Cloud-based desktop apps). If your company already has PCs running Windows, why would you want to rely on an unreliable remote third party service to do what you could already do on your local machine? You’re not really saving on management costs either because you still have to license and manage your own hardware.

The pricing was also uncertain. You can fit a number of concurrent users on each machine — say 16. Office-type users tend to use their machines at the same time of day, so you can at most oversubscribe by a factor of, say, 2. That machine might have cost you £1000, plus there is a substantial cost of colocation, bandwidth and administration (remember this was before the days of Puppet, so each physical machine had to be tediously installed and managed by hand). I think we looked at charging people £20/month, which would have been a theoretical revenue of ~£7000/machine/year. I’m skipping a lot of detail here: you also needed an NFS server per several machines, a web server, database, spare servers and so on. But that’s both quite a lot of money for providing dubious value to the end user, so we never found out if the market would have supported that, and I don’t think we would have made a profit at that subscription level.

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Could this be the cheapest item (inc postage) on Amazon UK?

Micro USB cable for 86 pence. That’s only possibly 10-20p above the postage charge.


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Amazon MP3 – give me a zip!

I got a £3 Amazon MP3 voucher after visiting the AWS tech conference in London last week.

The Bryan Ferry platinum collection was £3.79 for 45 songs and I’m prepared to chip in 79p. But wait … You can’t just pay some money and download the music. You have to install some binary blob!

$ rpm -q --scripts -p amazonmp3.rpm
warning: amazonmp3.rpm: Header V4 DSA/SHA1 Signature, key ID 70e6adf9: NOKEY
postinstall scriptlet (using /bin/sh):
update-mime-database /usr/share/mime

# setsid amazonmp3 --reset-first-run &
postuninstall scriptlet (using /bin/sh):
update-mime-database /usr/share/mime
$ rpm -qlp amazonmp3.rpm
warning: amazonmp3.rpm: Header V4 DSA/SHA1 Signature, key ID 70e6adf9: NOKEY

(I’ll give them some respect for having an RPM version, but not for having a binary blob when what I really want is a tarball or ZIP file …)

Anyhow, if I have the time I will set up a firewalled VM in order to make this 79p purchase. I haven’t got around to it quite yet …

Update: Thanks to everyone who replied. Looks like clamz or banshee.fm are the way to go here.

Update #2: The little command line tool clamz was exactly what I was after.


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