1 year of Amazon in Italy

As you might guessed it from my writing style or something else, I am Italian, so I guess it would be nice to tell some stories that might be not known outside the country.

One year ago Amazon started to operate in Italy.

They started with a viral campaign in Rome and Milan with a box with amazon logo (no name on it) and the slogan "it's not the usual box". Well, now you might not understand it, but we have a way to say "dare un pacco" (give a box) that means "to cheat sb". (ex: "that seller gave me a box!" might also mean "that seller cheated me!"). So this has caught the attention, because no name on the advertisement, just the "amazon smile" and the slogan that could also be understood as "it's not the usual scam"

Just a couple of billboards and the media talked all over of it. For free. Brilliant.

They added the whole ISBN catalog to their website, carrying preorders for books not on stock: probably it is the only company in Italy that will charge the credit card only at shipping time, instead of order time. If the book is out of stock, you just order it, you will be charged only when they ship it. Awesome, right?

Some publisher did not like this idea and complained:

We are a publisher of poetry and stories. We sell our books exclusively on our ecommerce. It's not possible to find our book anywhere else. But from today we are on Amazon.it. How Amazon could sell our books without our permission? [...] It's unfair!

Actually, if I were a publisher, I would be extremely excited to have my books listed for free on a mainstream catalog instead of an obscure ecommerce!

Of course Amazon just removed their books from the store, and that publisher was even happy about that!

I would like to say thank you to Amazon to remove us from their marketplace, understanding our problem. This is a good signal. [...]

I wonder how they can be happy about this, I took hours to find this story again on Google (I read it months ago), due to the obscurity of this publisher...

What I find revolutionary about this company is how they care about the customer. For example at work my computer was infected by a virus, and it had a strange redirect on the amazon login page: it became in English suddenly, asking SSN and ATM PIN number. After I contacted the customer service, not only they immediately understood the problem, but they called me on my mobile phone (calling a mobile phone in Italy is ridiculously expensive), forcing me to change the password.

Another day I added my friend address to send a gift when I was abroad, they called me again to make sure I'm not a scammer! How many ecommerce websites would do that??

Another way to advertise themselves is that they applied a 30% discount to the whole Italian books ISBN catalog. Awesome idea!

Was the government happy that a foreign company invested millions to build an huge warehouse (probably the bigger in the country) and hiring hundreds of people in a period of economic crisis?

No, of course! A new law, dubbed "anti-amazon law" was created, forbidding to retailers to apply a discount bigger than 15% on books!

Even the publisher itself can't discount their own books, they can do at most 25%, for at most 30 days, at selected locations.

Weird! That is a crazy way to limit the culture in a period where the people has to save money.

Who will buy remainders and unsold stock at just 15% of discount???

I guess I have to say farewell to that old, unsold books, sold at just 1€ (90% discount) in supermarkets...

The color cartridge is over, total color pages printed: 0

Earlier this year, at work, I was out of thermal rolls for my fax. I went to a local store: they asked me over 22 euro for a roll. The same roll that, when I went in Shenyang I bought for less than 50 cents (and in fact I bought a lot of them).

22 euro it'a lot of money, because a roll lasts me a few months due to a lot of unsolicited spam...

So, I bought an inkjet fax from Brother, since it seems to have a very good price/quality ratio. I chose a simple one, one that looks like a fax, not a printer.

I buy it, I install it and I am very happy.

After a few months I notice that the yellow, magenta and cyan ink cartridges are drained out, while the black is still 20% left! WHAT?? I printed ZERO color pages! ZERO! Probably this machine combines all four colors to make black ... Or do regular cleaning in night hours to keep the nozzles clean, wasting a lot of color.

I went to see on Amazon how much it's a new set of cartridges: as expensive as unicorn blood! An original set of LC1000 costs over 45 euros!

Almost like a new fax machine! (Note: the set of cartridges that comes a new printer, both inkjet and laser, lasts much less than normal, as the first initialization wastes a lot of ink)

Fortunately, a compatible set cost less than 5 euros (yes, ten third-party cartridges cost the same as an original one) But, I found an even cheaper solution:

See that transparent window? The printer can see the remaining ink with a photocell. Just darken the window with a sticker or color it with a permanent marker, and the cartridge will be seen as full forever. (But the printer also have an internal counter, sometimes you have to remove it and put it back, the printer will think it is new and will reset the counter)

100 reasons to NOT use Parallels

Yesterday afternoon I installed the trial version of Parallels to test the vaunted virtualization feature of the Boot Camp partition, ie: use the real version of Windows inside a window in OS X. I was surprised at how, in the beginning, everything was running fine; even if the partition was not a real Windows Boot Camp partition, but a common PC disk, everything seemed to work perfectly.

Then I decided to restart to Windows, and I noticed the first odd thing: instead of the Windows 7 boot animation, there was the Windows Vista one ... what???

Is that possible??

I open Chrome to look for some solution on the internet and here is the second horror that I see: the taskbar is no longer visible. Parallels had changed some setting to not to keep it on top. Probably they did it to give Windows programs a nicer look under OS X, but now Windows is unusable, not to mention that Windows 7 does not have that setting anymore, and can not restore it to its original state (unless you use an unofficial patch).

As angry as an hungry monkey, I continued to search a solution to restore the Windows 7 animation instead of the Vista one. It seems to happen when the bootloader does not have a default language setting. Just type in as an administrator:

bcdboot %WinDir% /l it-IT

and it should work! It should, because iI get an error that "Windows can not find a Windows installation". What? In fact, from the control panel, in the boot options, there is no operating system!

Enraged like a gorilla, I immediately uninstall the Parallels Tools, but on reboot I still get see the same problem. So, I open the system restore to revert to a working state. Too bad! I got this error:

(This version of system recovery is not compatible with the Windows version that you are trying to recover)

That error appears even before Windows starts, so there is no way to continue or ignore it...

I took the installation DVD and... surprise? I can not even reinstall! I have to format the disk and start over!

Moral: here are 100 (or less) reasons for not using Parallels

  1. The "trial" version does not access internet
  2. It installs the boot loader for Vista on Windows 7
  3. For installing the Parallels tools I haven't been asked for the administrator password. They used an undocumented and risky way to install them
  4. The taskbar is hidden without an option to restore it to its original state
  5. The startup time for Windows increases considerably
  6. The Mac startup time increases considerably
  7. In the Windows start menu you will find all the Mac applications
  8. They made heavy changes to the system without asking or at least explain what they will do
  9. In Windows, files are associated with Mac programs (eg: Windows tries to open a JPG with Mac Photoshop)
  10. The hard drive is littered with all those hateful resource forks (.dsstore)
  11. It gives 1GB RAM to Windows x64: not enough
  12. Uninstalling on Mac leaves a lot of leftover files
  13. In the end it is better to reboot and have a decent speed than using it slower and virtualized
  14. Thanks to its permanent changes, you'll have to reformat Windows, losing all data

I cannot think of other reasons, is enough for now

AVG is ridiculous

I installed AVG on my home computer, needing a free antivirus.
 After installation, you need a full disk scan, and since AVG bugs you every 10 minutes with no chance to say "don't ask me again", I finally consented to that useless scan.

After a few hours, it found a virus and deleted it without asking.
 Intrigued, I checked the quarantine to investigate.
 It was HackerNovello.htm, a very old file (more than 12 years!) from an ezine that I found on IRC; New Bies:

                 |   _   _               ____  _           |
                 |  | \ | | _____      _| __ )(_) ___ ___  |
                -+- |  \| |/ _ \ \ /\ / /  _ \| |/ _ Y __|-+-
                 :  | |\  |  __/\ V  V /| |_) | |  __|__ \ :
                 |  |_| \_|\___| \_/\_/ |____/|_|\___|___/ |

                       NEW BIES (num 2) (data 07/03/99)

AVG detects a virus in a story where the author says that in the DOS time he put førmat c: /autotest /q /u in the autoexec.bat. This is a command that does a quick format of the system drive without confirmation.

Ok, just find "format c:" in any file and automatically becomes a virus to delete without asking??

Then it detect as virus stuff in grey range, as trainers for video games, almost all keygens, even joke programs (style: Invert the screen) and bugs you if Chrome uses more than 300 megs of RAM when I have more than 6 gigs free...

Ugh... when I have free time I will uninstall AVG...

Update: I had to replace the o with an ø in the format command, because Avast is so smart to block the access to any page that contains the string!! Weird!

Firefox 8 is out, gets no cake as a gift

Last Tuesday Firefox 7 8 has been released, did you already download it?

What has changed?

Here is the (serious) list about what has changed: 

  1. At the first start will prompt you to disable extensions
  2. There's twitter as a search engine
  3. Improvements in the visualization engine
  4. The menu "About"

As per tradition, Microsoft has always sent a cake as a gift for each new major version. This time they didn't send anything, stating:

“We didn’t do it since we thought it was getting to be overkill. Every six weeks is a lot of cupcakes”

As smart as a moth

The other day I was using a gas lamp. The air temperature was quite cold and, without gloves, I was a little uncomfortable. I noticed that the lamp emitted a pleasant warmth, so I started to keep my hands close to the glass.
I turn back the hand to warm the other side...
BANG! Here's the result!

A few milliseconds can cost millions

A British company will spend 300 million dollars to lay a new cable under the Atlantic, linking London to New York.

The track has been carefully calculated to be slightly shorter and thus have a shorter transmission time: 6 milliseconds faster.
Pay 300 million dollars to save just 6 milliseconds?? Is it worth it?

Apparently, yes. Using the line will cost 100 times more than a normal line: it is reserved for financial brokers who trade thousands of shares per day. An advantage of 6 milliseconds would result in an annual gain of 100 million dollars.

In fact, in my experiments, a few seconds cost me 5 euros...

Some criticism to Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

I tried in the emulator the new Android 4, which was announced recently.

I must say that, compared to the previous versions, despite the new fancy graphics, it seems much more responsive, whereas the emulator is much slower compared to a mobile phone.

Defects? I found several, here's a summary:

  1. Until now you could put in silent mode from the lockscreen. Now that function has been replaced with a button to take a picture, just like in iOS 5. I understand that if Apple did it, it's probably a good idea to copy, but silent mode is much more useful than taking a picture. And that "take picture" button that is available in almost all cell phones has a reason to be, right?
  2. "Add Widgets" screen in the drawer. Well, this was definitely "inspired" by GO Launcher, but it is quite useless! There is already an add widget menu by holding down the finger on the desktop, why replicate this function? They could replace it with a list of running programs
  3. Applications in drawer will no longer flow in "Android style", but have an "iPhone style" with a black background as seen on iPhone OS 3. Why return to the past by copying from the competitor?
  4. The background does not scroll between screens with that parallax effect typical of Android, but it is a simple static background as with the iPhone. How nice...
  5. In all screens there is a search bar with Google as if the search button that they put on all the phones is useless. The bar is as wide as the entire screen. Why just don't put, a small icon in the corner for start a new search?
  6. The interface is very dark. Probably with a Super AMOLED screen is awesome, but with a normal screen like mine, it will be unreadable in the sun.

Of course there are also other advantages:

  1. 3G data counter is well integrated with the system. Farewell 3G Watchdog 
  2. Settings are more intuitive and accessible from the notification bar
  3. The wireless networks menu is nicer
  4. Better management of photos (although in 70% of cases, the manufacturer provides a different program to manage your photos, because the default one is too rough)
  5. You can disable apps. Once an app is disabled, it will be made invisible and will not be executed. Hurray! Finally, I can turn off some ass-programmed apps like Facebook and Skype, which are executed even if I do not use them!

Live presentation of Windows 7 on Japanese TV

At a Japanese morning show, is presented a new Sony computer with touch screen monitor.

How will work the touchscreen?

Will this "tacchi paneru no monitaa" be truly revolutionary?

Let's see the video:

"uh, convenient, right? Here, open Google Earth, this gesture will magnify..."

LBE Privacy Guard: a must have for Android

If you have a phone or tablet with root access, you should definitely install LBE Privacy Guard!

This program acts as a filter to all applications, a window will appear to ask you whether or not to authorize the action.

The actions to be filtered are: phone calls, send SMS, access to contacts, network access, send your serial number or mobile number, send the GPS position.

It seems almost unnecessary, but helps a lot to find malicious applications!

Take, for example, Blob Blast, a malware that I found by chance.

First of all, let's explain how I found it: by clicking on a paid advertising into another unrelated application.

Why its programmer should spend money to advertise a free application that does not show even banner ads inside?

When we click on a banner advertisement, we must always consider the fact that for every click, are spent on average 30 cents. If 1000 people clicks the advertising, are being paid 300 euros. It means that the programmer expects to earn much, much more than 300 euro. But how he could make money if the application is free and does not show even banner ads?

With malware.

Let's see the permissions required when installing Blob Blast:

  • Services that cost you money:
    send SMS messages
    Allows application to send SMS messages. Malicious applications may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
  • Network communication:
    full Internet access
  • Your personal information:
    read contact data
  • Allows an application to read all of the contact (address) data stored on your device.Malicious applications can use this to send your data to other people.
  • Phone calls:
    read phone state and identity
    Allows the application to access the phone features of the device. An application with this permission can determine the phone number and serial number of this phone, whether a call is active, the number that call is connected to and the like.
  • Storage:
    editing / deleting the contents of the SD card
  • Your Accounts:
    discover known accounts
    Allows an application to get the list of accounts known by the device.

Why a simple game like this, has permission to send SMS, read all the numbers and email contacts, go online and delete files on the sd card, when it should have no need to do that??

The answer comes to us with LBE Privacy Guard: When we open the game, we get told that the first thing the game does it to access the phonebook.

We want proof? If we disable the access to Internet, does not attempt to send the phonebook! It means that the game tries to access the Internet, and, only if it succeeds, tries to send the entire address book!

They probably want to sell user data to spammers, or, if the phone is in a particular country, send sms to premium numbers. For example, an application could subscribe you to some useless ringtone service with high weekly fee!

And so are all applications from Wee Cat Games! Forgotten Blocks, Tracy Says, Color Crash, are all malware! (Their contact details are also fake)

Here is an example of their ad:


I have already reported the problem to Google, hoping for a quick solution. Meanwhile, root your phone, install LBE Privacy Guard, it's free, and be more careful when you install an app

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