24 hours with Amazon Prime

Preamble

As a analytically minded person, is it worth getting Amazon Prime?

I signed up yesterday and spent the evening setting up the various services.  It was on offer with £20 off, it was the day before The Grand Tour came out, and I recently bought an Amazon Dot – well played Amazon, well played.

As I’m sure you’re aware Amazon Prime comes with a few bundled goodies to sweeten the deal. But are they actually useful? I think the real value is the next day delivery (if you order lots of things from Amazon), the online photo storage and perhaps the video. Everything else falls short of being good enough to be considered a real product in it’s own right.  Yes, I know that’s on purpose – but the marketing material would have you believe otherwise.  How about that.

The loan of a book a month from the Kindle Lending Library

Rating: 4/10 (based on going to an actual library being 8/10)
You’re not going to find many books you actually want to read in there. Browsing the catalogue from your desktop is virtually impossible and it’s been made that way deliberately. This is frustrating and annoying. Also annoying is that if you use the Kindle app on your phone you get nagged to upgrade to Kindle Unlimited all the bloody time.  You can share this with someone else on your household account, but they won’t thank you for it.

Prime Music

Rating: 6.5/10 (based on Spotify Premium being 10/10)
Better than I expected, but still full of annoyances. And again with the constant nagging to upgrade to Music Unlimited.
The selection is ok. It feels like they’ve taken the time to make it just-good-enough that you will use it but not good enough that you won’t consider upgrading.

You can’t share this perk with anyone else in your household, and since there’s no point in two people in your household having a Prime account each, you end up setting up another Chrome profile just to access the music service for managing play lists etc. Also annoying is that you can’t play music on an Echo or Dot and play music in the browser at the same time. This raises the question of what will happen if you have two Amazon Alexa devices on the same account and you try and play music on both. If you can’t (and I don’t know yet, perhaps someone can comment if they do) then one of the good features of Alexa is somewhat spoiled.  (Edit: some searching suggests that indeed you cannot listen to Prime Music on more than one device at at time.)

This service is a very good replacement for the kitchen radio but not a replacement for even a free Spotify subscription.  If you already have a premium Spotify account then this will be of no interest to you at all.

Prime Video

Rating: 7.5/10 (based on Netflix being 10/10)

Not so many nag screens here, but guess what, you still need to spend more money for the full experience.  It’s a bit galling to discover that some of the headline shows need to be paid for (Game Of Thrones for example).  But, there is some genuinely good exclusive content here, The Grand Tour for example.  I don’t see myself watching it more than Netflix but it’s worth, say, 3 quid a month of the £6.50 a month Prime subscription.

Installing on an iPhone was easy enough, but on Android it’s outrageously bad.  You have to install Amazon’s “Underground” app store, and to do that you have to enable “Unknown Sources”.  Unlol.  The app works fine, and you can uninstall Underground once it’s on there.  The app on my Sony TV is fine.  Prime Video doesn’t support Chromecast, which isn’t a surprise but is, you guessed it, annoying.

Next Day Delivery

Rating: 10/10 (based on going to the shops being 1/10)

I don’t order that much from Amazon, which is why I’m wondering if this is all worth it, but when I do having it turn up the next day for “free” is nice.

Unlimited Online Photo Storage

Rating: 9/10 (based on Google Drive being 7/10)

Google also offer unlimited photo storage, but critically they compress your photos.  The Amazon offering does not (based on MD5 sums for a picture selected at random).  There is also an excellent Linux cli util called acd_cli (https://github.com/yadayada/acd_cli).  You’ll want to exclude videos and other files from being uploaded because they will count towards your 5GB limit for other stuff.  Something like this:

acd_cli --verbose ul -xe mov -xe mp4 -xe ini . /Pictures

Don’t be surprised if this has a storage limit applied in the future.

Prime Early Access

Rating: 0/10 (based on normal Amazon shopping being 10/10)

Early access to the electronic jumble sale that is Black Friday.  Pointless.

Twitch Prime

Rating: 5/10 (based on not having it being 0/10)

Skip this if you don’t know what Twitch is.  With Prime you can subscribe to a channel for a month for free.  It’s a free way to support Twitch streamers you like, and you get some crappy game add-ons that you won’t ever use.

Summary

Amazon Prime is basically shareware from the late 90s.  It does do what they claim, but there are constant nags to spend money on the basis that all the good stuff is just out of reach.

The new Amazon Dot in the kitchen was not warmly welcomed by everyone at Whizzy Towers but having it play music on demand has changed that perception quite a lot in the last day.  I have saved the first episode of The Grand Tour to watch tonight, which I am looking forward to since the reviews have been good, and all my photos which had previously been backed up on to a USB HDD are now slowly making their way to the cloud.  I also ordered a £5 book yesterday which arrived today as promised.

However, the shortcomings have the feeling of being deliberate.  Which is more annoying than if the services were just a bit crap.

So all in all you’re getting what you pay for.  It’s not amazing value, but neither is it a total rip off.  Someone at Amazon has done their job well.  I would recommend you get it.

What to do with Unity 8 now

As you’re probably aware Ubuntu 16.10 was released yesterday and brings with it the Unity 8 desktop session as a preview of what’s being worked on right now and a reflection of the current state of play.

You might have already logged in and kicked the proverbial tyres.  If not I would urge you to do so.  Please take the time to install a couple of apps as laid out here:

http://insights.ubuntu.com/2016/10/13/unity-8-preview-session-in-ubuntu-16-10-yakkety-yak/

The main driver for getting Unity 8 in to 16.10 was the chance to get it in the hands of users so we can get feedback and bug reports.  If you find something doesn’t work, please, log a bug.  We don’t monitor every forum or comments section on the web so the absolute best way to provide your feedback to people who can act on it is a bug report with clear steps on how to reproduce the issue (in the case of crashes) or an explanation of why you think a particular behaviour is wrong.  This is how you get things changed or fixed.

You can contribute to Ubuntu by simply playing with it.

Read about logging bugs in Ubuntu here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ReportingBugs

And when you are ready to log a bug, log it against Unity 8 here: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/unity8

 

 

 

Apache – 20 second lag before serving pages

TL;DR:  There is no such thing as a “none” directive in Apache 2.  If you’ve got “deny from none” or “allow from none” then you’re doing DNS lookups on each host that connects regardless of whether you want to or not.

I was experiencing a very annoying problem trying to serve static HTML pages and CGI scripts from Apache 2 recently.  The problem manifested itself like this:

  • Running the scripts on the server hosting Apache shows they ran in well under a second
  • Connecting to the Apache server from the LAN, everything was fine and ran in under a second
  • Connecting to the Apache server from the Internet, but from a machine known to my network, ran fine
  • Connecting from an AWS Lambda script, suddenly there is a 20 second or more delay before getting data back
  • Connecting from Digital Ocean, there is a 20 second delay
  • Connecting from another computer on the internet, there is a 20 second delay

What the heck is going on here?

I spent time trying to debug my CGI scripts and adding lots more logging and finally convinced myself that it was a problem with the Apache config and not something like MTUs or routing problems.

But what was causing it?  It started to feel like like a DNS related issue since the machines where it ran fine where all known to me, and so had corresponding entries in my local DNS server.  But but but… I clearly had “HostnameLookups Off” in my apache2.conf file.  When I looked at the logs again, I noticed that indeed hostnames were being looked up, even though I told it not to.

966381

Why?  Because I don’t know how to configure Apache servers properly.  At some point in time I thought this was a good idea:

Order deny, allow
Deny from none
Allow from all

But, there is no such thing as a “none” directive.  Apache interprets “none” as a host name and so has to look it up to see if it’s supposed to be blocking it or not, which causes a DNS lookup delays and hostnames to appear in your Apache logs.

Enlightenment came from here: http://kb.simplywebhosting.com/idx/6/213/article/

There is also a suggestion that inline comments can do the same thing here:  https://www.drovemebatty.com/wp/entries/11