Category Archives: Amazon

A few words about eBay

loudspeaker imageI listened to an informative 22-minute audio clip titled Going Going Gone by James Surowiecki and published by Wired magazine in 2011. Mr. Surowiecki discusses the rise and fall of auctions on eBay and claims that consumer behavior and expectations have radically changed as a result of the web, eBay, Google, and Amazon. eBay auctions grew like mad through about 2007, then began to lose steam. Auctions comprised only 30 percent of eBay sales in 2010.

eBay logo in crosshairsI think that one flaw in the eBay auction model is that the time that an auction ends is preset. A real world auction ends only when bidding stops. The eBay auction model encourages “sniping” — waiting until the last second before placing a bid. (I use eSnipe. It works well. Why put your cards on the table early?) Sniping discourages new eBay bidders.

The growth of Amazon Marketplace has hurt eBay. So has Google: shoppers use Google to easily find even rare items across the web.

Like Craigslist, eBay’s failure to police its neighborhood has resulted in a chaotic marketplace. On the other hand, Amazon’s tight control of its sellers has created a relatively safe, stable marketplace.

If you’ve ever bought or sold on eBay, this is a worthwhile listen.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

MBAs are lousy CEOs

Fortune magazine, in its December 1st edition, has published an intriguing article titled Google’s Larry Page: The most ambitious CEO in the universe.  It quotes a Google manager who’s worked with both Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Larry Page:

Fadell, who before founding Nest led the development of the iPod and iPhone at Apple, says Page and Jobs approached innovation in radically different ways. “Steve was a marketer who really loved product and got the user-experience details right,” Fadell says.  “Larry is a serious technologist and someone who is really steeped in science and in theory, and he has a real love of product.”

Larry Page and Jeff Bezos
Larry Page and Jeff Bezos

I relate to Page’s approach, but Jobs’ obsession with user interface certainly also led to revolutionary products. Note that neither leader was an MBA or lawyer.  Jeff Bezos, an ace programmer (not an MBA), is taking Amazon where no retailer has gone before.

Steve Ballmer and Randall Stephenson
Steve Ballmer and Randall Stephenson

In contrast, Microsoft was led into near irrelevance by Steve Ballmer, a sales manager with an MBA.  The entity that calls itself AT&T is busy making enemies of its customers everyone under the leadership of MBA Randall Stephenson.  (This genius caused his employer to lose six billion dollars, yet took home 21 million dollars that year.) General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith (MBA) drove GM to produce millions of lemons which nobody wanted, leading to their chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For the moment, Google is in good hands. The jury’s still out (see Apple’s Software Quality Problems) on Apple’s Tim Cook (MBA). Even Microsoft may be headed in the right direction, now that Satya Nadella is CEO. True, he has an MBA degree, but he’s reputed to be a product guy — not a numbers guy.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Which service providers encrypt your data?

The EFF has moved its “Who has your back?” report. It’s now at The report explains,

We’ve asked the companies in our Who Has Your Back Program what they are doing to bolster encryption in light of the NSA’s unlawful surveillance of your communications. As of now, eight companies—Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft,, SpiderOak, Twitter,and Yahoo—are implementing five out of five of our best practices for encryption.

Graphic by Electronic Frontier Foundation

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Amazon’s quality control problem

Recently I bought ten Sony CR2032 “calculator” watch batteries from Amazon. At least, I thought that I did. Here’s the description: Sony Lithium 3V Batteries CR2032 10 pack by Sony. The actual seller is an unknown entity called Wholesale Batteries.

The first four batteries that I used ran out of steam within a few hours. I measured the open circuit voltage for two unused batteries from the ten. They measured about 3.04 Volts.

genuine vs counterfeit batteries

Either these batteries have been stored at elevated temperatures or they are counterfeits.

I’ve learned that counterfeiting of calculator batteries is indeed a problem:

If counterfeiting remains a problem on Amazon, it risks falling into the dubious eBay seller category. Somehow, Amazon needs to impose quality control on its independent sellers.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695


Amazon as importer and distributor

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon continues to disrupt traditional commerce models.

Recently I was in the market for a bright LED (light emitting diode) bicycle headlight. Top shelf LED headlights by Niterider and Baja Designs with outputs in the 2000 lumens range sell for $300 to $450. I searched Amazon and found a much cheaper alternative.

SecurityIng® 4 Modes Waterproof 2800 Lumens Cree XM-L U2 LED Bicycle Light
Lamp diameter 0.5 inch
The headlight that I bought is made by China-based Securitying, a company that I’d never heard of. It claimed to produce 2800 lumens, its reviews were favorable, and Amazon sells it for a mere $40. It’s tiny, good and bright, but not perfect. It arrived with no instructions or o-ring mounts, and its low-medium-high-off pushbutton switch isn’t ideal for vehicles. Its output is probably closer to 1200 lumens — not the claimed 2800 lumens. Still, it’s very bright with a nice broad beam.

The interesting part of this is that the Chinese manufacturer seems to have no US-based presence. They’re using Amazon as their importer, American warehouse, distributor, and warranty claims center. I wonder how many other off-shore manufacturers are doing the same?

P.S. I’m so happy with this light that I bought two more: a second to use together with the first one, plus a spare.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

EFF’s Security Report

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has begun publishing its Who’s Doing What report, which contains the results of EFF’s survey of Internet service providers’ internal security measures.

We should all examine this report to learn how secure our entrusted data are. It will help us more wisely choose service providers of all kinds — from your ISP to email, retail sales, and search providers.
EFF Crypto Survey
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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos

Bezos in FortuneJeff Bezos is, like Bill Gates, unusual: both men combine the technical skills and productivity of first-class programmers together with leadership qualities and aggressive business sense. Because of their technical knowledge, neither guy can be misled by technical staff. Fortune named Bezos “Business Person of 2012” and published this portrait: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The ultimate disrupter.

Most managers are pathetic; they can’t actually produce anything, so they become managers of people who are producers. The Peter Principle manifests itself throughout high-tech enterprise. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is an example. In Whither Microsoft? I propose dividing his responsibilities between three co-managers.

Why Amazon continues to grow

One of Mr. Bezos’ strategies is his willingness to accept losses in order to gain market share. Another is to accept losses on a component in order to make money on the whole system; witness Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. His most effective strategy, though, is obsessive concentration on customer satisfaction.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

DRM and Amazon’s Kindle

Last week Amazon disabled Norwegian Linn Nygaard’s account. Her dozens of Kindle book titles were deleted at the same time. She had purchased her Kindle while visiting England and had been using it to buy U.K. e-book titles from Amazon.

Apparently some of her e-book title purchases were not licensed for sale in Norway. Kindle e-books incorporate DRM.

I’ve never trusted DRM (Digital Rights Management). I call it Digital Restrictions Management. When you “buy” an item that includes DRM, you merely buy a license to use it. DRM relies upon the ability of the DRM code to contact the licensor’s DRM server. If the licensor or his DRM server disappears, or as in Ms. Nygaard’s case, the licensor decides to stop your access, you won’t be able to access your DRM-protected material.

Arstechnica published an article (DRM be Damned. How To Protect Your Amazon e-books from being Deleted) about Ms. Nygaard’s Kindle problem together with links to DRM removal procedures. They warn you that disabling DRM from material that you thought you owned may make you a criminal. Thanks, DMCA.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

This guy’s cloud burst.

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking

Never put all your eggs in one basket cloud.

The sad story of what happened to Mat Honan has been big news for the past ten days or so. All of his devices and data were interconnected via Apple’s iCloud, and they all got wiped clean within minutes. Here’s his story, in his own words. Excerpts:

Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification . . .

It turns out, a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card number are the only two pieces of information anyone needs to get into your iCloud account. Once supplied, Apple will issue a temporary password, and that password grants access to iCloud.

(M. Jagger/K. Richards)

Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Don’t hang around, baby, two’s a crowd

No technical skill was requs guy’s e-life. The hacker(s) just needed patience, knowledge of customer service procedures at each provider, a method, a couple lucky guesses, and convincing telephone presence. We worry about the security of 128-bit encryption, or the virtues of SHA-2 (secure hash algorithm) versus SHA-1, when the most vulnerable part of any system is the humans who use it.

The fact that the authentication value of a credit card’s last four digits is zero at Amazon and significant at Apple is worrying. Apple claimed that a service rep didn’t follow its password reset procedure. In fact, the procedure WAS followed; it was just a flawed procedure. Apple has reportedly changed their customer service procedure for authenticating an account owner over the phone.

Amazon’s Kindle is just part of a System.

Amazon Kindles
Amazon Kindles
photos: Amazon
Amazon’s margins may be slim on its new Kindles, but it will make money on follow-on purchases of content.

Amazon introduced 4 new Kindle e-readers yesterday. They all push the “bang per buck” point to new heights. Amazon can afford to make little or no money on these devices because it has an infrastructure in place that Kindle owners will want, and be willing to pay for.

In fact, you may already be paying Amazon for use of this infrastructure. The Amazon EC2 system quietly provides reliable on-line storage to a number of headliners. Netflix moved most of its content to Amazon EC2 last year. Dropbox is built upon it, as are some on-line backup storage vendors. Their business model gives away a limited but useful taste of the paid product. As users’ needs grow, they’ll bump into the free product’s limits, and be happy to pay for more.

Everyone has their eyes on the new Kindle Fire, since it puts pressure on Apple’s wildly successful i-Pad. Let’s see how Apple responds.

The real power of all these products is their tight integration into Amazon’s system. Amazon has made it painless and easy for Kindle users to access book and periodical content. What Jeff Bezos, chairman of Amazon, is good at, is almost giving away razors in order to make money selling razor blades.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Amazon’s CEO introduces new improved Kindle e-book reader

Screenshot of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: The Charlie Rose Show

Amazon shows new, smaller Kindle e-book reader with same screen size, improved battery life, plus a $139 WiFi-only model

Charlie Rose, a lawyer turned television interviewer, is amazingly clued-in to information technology trends. On Wednesday night, he (again) interviewed Jeff Bezos, the long-time CEO of

Jeff brought with him Amazon’s newest version of its ground-breaking Kindle e-book reader. It’s smaller, lighter, has better screen contrast, and has a one-month battery life, yet retains the same screen dimensions as the earlier Kindle. It looks like a winner. It will be released on August 27. The conversation had the easy, natural flow of a meeting between old friends — which apparently is the relationship between Jeff and Charlie. I especially enjoyed hearing Bezos, with apparent candor, explain the reasoning behind some of the Kindle’s design decisions: the trade-off between touch-screen functionality and minimum glare, for example. He emphasized that high contrast paper-like presentation with minimal eye strain remain Kindle design goals.

Mr. Bezos mentioned that at Amazon, over the past three months, sales of books in Kindle format have outnumbered sales of hardcover books by about 50%, and that this margin is widening.

The interview goes on to cover Amazon’s remarkable success, which Mr. Bezos attributes to Amazon’s concentration on customer satisfaction, and its willingness to suffer initial losses as it gains market share in new markets. (Sounds like the Japanese way of doing business.) All in all, it’s an interview worth watching.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.

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Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Amazon’s new Kindle 2 receives positive reviews

Amazon has introduced the Kindle 2 wireless reading device. Early reviews indicate that it fixes most of the first generation Kindle’s shortcomings. It sounds like an upgrade in every way – an almost human-like reading voice, a basic web browser, a thinner case with better ergonomics – although its price is still high ($359.00). Users report that among their favorite features is that, unlike its competitors, the Kindle doesn’t ever need to be connected to a PC; it’s completely wireless and standalone. Steve Gibson positively loves his Kindle 2.
Amazon seems to have hit a home run with not just this product, but the whole Kindle system: wireless bookstore, easy downloading of books and periodicals from a huge selection, easy on the eyes paper-like display, and good battery lfe.
Now, if Amazon would just drop the price a bit . . .
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