Posts Tagged ‘amazon’

I have been a happy Amazon Prime customer for the last couple of years. One of the biggest perks of using it the availability of large number of videos available for instantly watching. Infact, I watched almost all episodes of Star Trek (TOS to Voyager) using this method.

Sometime in the second or third week of January, this method broke down. Whenever, I tried to play the episodes of Voyager, I got an error in Flash player. Basically, it will open a dialog box saying ‘Updating Player’ which will soon error out saying "an error occurred and your player could not be updated”. If you retry, it will get stuck with ‘Updating Player’ .

I was using Ubuntu 11.10 on a 64 bit machine. I tried lot of things and nothing really worked. I installed and reinstalled Adobe Flash plugin and other codecs and basically made a mess of my system. Finally, I found a simple solution in Amazon Instant Video forum in an unrelated thread. The link is here . The solution is very simple . Install hal and libhal1 package for your distro. If you are using Ubuntu, the command is

sudo apt-get install libhal1 hal


Few of my friends also had this issue and installing these packages seems to fix the issue. Unfortunately, this useful tip seems buried under other  noise and hence I decided to put a separate blog post. If this did not fix the issue I recommend looking at Adobe’s Problems playing protected video content on 64-bit Ubuntu Linux page. This has some additional information on making flash work.

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MIT OCW is one of the best things that happened in education in the last few years. It features hundreds of course materials available for free to anyone who is interested. I became interested in OCW to improve my CS and Math skills. So far, I have completed multiple courses and currently I am trying to follow their MultiVariable Calculus course.

It always amazed me that MIT was willing to put such high quality stuff out in the open – Sure, my toiling on Calculus or Linear Algebra does not have a “tangible” outcome – meaning, I am not going to get MIT certified for all the hours I spent on it. But it does help me do well in courses in my university based on these courses. For eg,  I have a different perspective of how things work in data mining or machine learning after watching few of MIT lectures on  Calculus / Linear Algebra etc.

MIT OCW has a detailed page on donating where they provide all necessary information. I do try to support MIT OCW by donating at least couple of times a year – But as a student my monetary contributions are limited which always bothered me. 

A Simple Idea

Few days back, I got an idea after reading this post . Basically, the post details the amount of referral money that GNOME foundation gets from Amazon when users buy songs from Amazon MP3 store via Banshee. Sure, the amount is small as the audience is small – People who use Linux AND Banshee AND buy from Amazon within Banshee !

I also remembered that MIT OCW does have Amazon referral link. More details are given at OCW’s Amazon referral page. Amazon gives MIT OCW 10% referral when people buy items from Amazon when either clicking on book links from OCW or when they visit to Amazon through the URLs in the referral page. Since the OCW audience is considerably bigger, I searched for the amount of referral money that Amazon brings. The details are scarce but this link says the amount is around $30,000 at the end of 2009.  That is pretty impressive considering it is almost 20% of the visitor donation of 2009 !

Whenever I want to buy something in Amazon (that’s my primary choice as I have Amazon Prime) , I directly search using the Chrome’s Amazon search instead of going to Google. So, I reasoned that if I could somehow make MIT OCW as the referrer, then OCW will get the referral fees from whatever purchases I make. Even though it might be limited, it indirectly increases my “contribution” to MIT OCW.

A small technical detour

Before we modify our browsers to make MIT OCW as the referrer , we might have to change some habits – Don’t worry , it will only make you more efficient 🙂

First, when you are buying do consider Amazon. Of course, not at the expense of your finance. But lot of times, I find that Amazon has the cheapest rate or the difference is reasonably negligible. Since most of the blog readers are students, you may be interested to know that they offer one year free Amazon Prime for students. Your shipping will be free if you chose two day shipping. Even otherwise, Amazon has free super saver shipping for most items above $25. Most of textbooks cost  a fortune and you will be eligible most of the time.

The next is to directly search in Amazon instead of searching the item in Google and going to Amazon by clicking the link. If you feel you might miss some cheaper alternatives, check out other book search engines like vialibri.net which searches multiple sources anyway.

One of the coolest Chrome Geek tip is to use its search engines effectively – Chrome comes with lot of built-in ones and allows you to assign keywords for them. To manage them, click on the Wrench icons and select “Preferences” (Options in Windows) . In the “Basics” tab, go to the section on “Search” and click on “Manage”. You will get a new window listing known search engines.

Lets change the way you search items, in say, Wikipedia. Go to the entry for Wikipedia and click on ‘Edit’. You will see a new smaller window. The item we are interested is the second textbox which is labeled as “Keyword”. Set it to some mnemonic you want -  For eg wiki. I set it just w. Now click save and close the window. Go to Chrome’s address bar and type “wiki Blah” (or in my case w blah). Watch Chrome magically take you to the appropriate wikipedia page directly – No intermediaries like Google ! Think of all the seconds that you can shave off for each Wikpedia search 🙂

I have mnemonics for everything in my Chrome. I use y for Yahoo, b for Bing, a for Amazon and so on. So all you need to do to search for some item in Amazon is to type “a item” in Google’s address bar (assuming ‘a’ is mnemonic for Amazon).

If you are using Firefox, then its now as straightforward. Firefox does come up bundled with few search engines and Amazon is one of them – but reaching is a bit tricky. Now press “ctrl+k” to reach the search pane (or use the mouse !) Once you are in search pane, you can switch search engines, by using the arrow keys. Once Amazon search engine is selected, type the appropriate keyword and the Amazon’s result page pops up.

Firefox also offers an easier way. Click on the list of search engines list in search pane and select ‘Manage Search Engines’ . Now in the new window, select the appropriate search engine and click on ‘Edit Keyword’. For eg, you can set ‘a’ for Amazon. Then you will be able to type “a item” in address bar to search for “item” in Amazon directly !

Changing Referrer in Chrome

Changing the referrer in Chrome is easy. Click on the Wrench icon and select “Preferences” (Options in Windows) . In the “Basics” tab, go to the section on “Search” and click on “Manage”. You will get a new window listing known search engines. Now select the entry for Amazon and click Edit. (I f you cannot find the search engine for Amazon, then go to Amazon and search for dummy stuff and check again). In the “URL” textbox append the words “&tag=mitopencourse-20”. In Ubuntu, your URL field will look like this (you can even copy this one !)


In Windows, my entry looked like this :


The word “tag=mitopencourse-20” is what that makes MIT OCW as the referrer. I have assumed that you are using Amazon US. If you are other versions of Amazon, use the following table and swap the word “mitopencourse-20” with the other.

Amazon Locale

Referrer Code














Now search for something in Amazon directly using the keyword you set previously. For eg, if you used “a” as mnemonic then try “a itemName” and find if the tag that you just set appears in the url of the search results page. If so, then great ! Else, recheck the previous steps.


Changing Referrer in Firefox

Changing the referrer in Firefox is a two step process – Since Amazon comes a default search engine, modifying it directly does not seem to work. Instead , you have to move the item to your local search plugins folder and then change referrer there .

Ubuntu (Or Linux)

1. Find your user specific firefox search plugin folder. Typically it is at ~/.mozilla/firefox/<profileFolder>/searchplugins. Replace the word <profileFolder> with appropriate name. For me it is at ~/.mozilla/firefox/72p71i29.default/searchplugins . If it does not exist, create it.

2. Assuming English as your firefox locale , move the file /usr/lib/firefox-addons/searchplugins/en-US/amazondotcom.xml to your profile folder. It is important that you move the file and not just copy it.

3. Open the file in some editor like vim. Check for the line that starts like

<Param name="tag" value="someRandomText"/>

4. Now modify that line and change the value to “mitopencourse-20”. Your line must look like

<Param name="tag" value="mitopencourse-20"/>


Of course if your Amazon locale is different, use the above table to find the appropriate referred id. Reopen Firefox and search for something in Amazon directly using the search engine (either the search engine in search pane or using its keyword). If the search result has the tag for MIT, then great ! Else please repeat the steps again more carefully.


Windows 7

1. Find your user specific firefox search plugin folder. Typically it is at C:\Users\<userName>\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<profileName>\searchplugins . Replace <username> with your actual username and profile name with your actual profile name. For me it is at C:\Users\zionWin\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\jon9mxki.default\searchplugins . If it does not exist, create it.

2. Move the file “C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins\amazondotcom.xml” to your profile folder. It is important that you move the file and not just copy it.

3. Open the file in some editor like notepad++. Check for the line that starts like

<Param name="tag" value="someRandomText"/>

4. Now modify that line and change the value to “mitopencourse-20”. Your line must look like

<Param name="tag" value="mitopencourse-20"/>


Of course if your Amazon locale is different, use the above table to find the appropriate referred id. Reopen Firefox and search for something in Amazon directly using the search engine (either the search engine in search pane or using its keyword). If the search result has the tag for MIT, then great ! Else please repeat the steps again more carefully.



The effort needed to make this change will be only few minutes – You are not killing kittens. Also this does NOT increase the price of your item that you buy from Amazon. All that happens is that when you buy something from Amazon, MIT OCW will get a 10% cut.  It is not clear to me whether that applies only to textbooks or to any items. Typically, referrals works for all items.

I think this might be the simplest way that you can contribute to MIT OCW without much effort from you. Please spread the word !

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1. Giving You More Control

Facebook had some very interesting announcements last week. Probably the most analysed was the creation of groups. The post also contained a paragraph missed by most – whic says that you can now export your facebook data ! To me it looks like a bigger news 🙂 Ofcourse it is not in a immediately machine translatable form but still it is cool ! It is currently not possible to import it back but its a great move forward. Kudos to facebook. In line with the tradition that all new facebook announcements come with some issues, Groups also seems to have lot. For a humorous account check out Facebook new groups feature rife with abuse . In a related issue, some people realized that Facebook app on smartphones sync more information than expected – In case if you use the app check out Is the Facebook App Playing Fast and Loose With Your Personal Data? .

2. Amazon Amps Up Apps Rivalry

This is a surprising move from Amazon – Not sure what is their ultimate aims are : Will it just stop with providing proper recommendations to users or will it be a rigorous process like Apple. Also will there be additional APIs that allow app developers and make the app Amazon distributed only ? We will know soon the success of this move.

3. Change to BIOS will make for PCs that boot in seconds

The much hyped EFI technology atlast seems to get used in a wider scale. Now that the recent versions of Ubuntu have around 10 second boot times it should be interesting see the new boot times.

4. Stuxnet: Fact vs. theory

Stuxnet seems to have captured the imagination of public much like Conficker. This post discusses some of the fact and myths.

5. G2 Detects When Rooted and Reinstalls Stock OS

Hmm this is a bit worrying as I was planning to move to an Android smartphone sooner or later !

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Defcon was held in Las Vegas some time back. As usual there were lot of cool hacks – My favorites were Hacker Spoofs Cell Phone Tower to Intercept Calls and Web attack knows where you live. Both were incredibly clever and a bit creepy.

2. A regular expression to check for prime numbers
This post got lot of attention recently. The claim to fame is a clever (but inefficient) regular expression to check prime numbers. The trick was to represent the numbers in unary format and use regular expression backtracking to check for divisibility. Cool !

3. High-Speed Robot Hand
One of the mind blowing robot demos I have seen.

4. Amazon Prime for Students
This is an interesting move by Amazon to offer 1 year of free prime membership to students. I am not sure what percentage of students will continue with paid prime membership after a year. Usually, the students (especially foreign) students are pretty tech savvy and can search patiently for the lowest price deals. Let us see how successful this program becomes.

5. The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets
An interesting article series by WSJ that analyzes the amount of cookies and other tracking stuff popular websites uses. I was pretty impressed with the whole article series "What They Know". Check it out !

6. Google News
Update on Google Wave announced the shuttering of Google Wave. I was pretty impressed with the technology and quite sad to see it go. But there have been adequate (less confusing? ) replacements so I am sure most people will not miss Wave. Google will definitely add Wave’s features to other products so Wave will kinda live on.

Another of my favorite post was New Google Buzz API features, including a hose of fire. I have always wanted to play with Buzz programmatically but its limited API was hampering me. Recently, the Buzz API has made impressive strides that I should check it out again. The availability of fire hose is really neat. Lets see if I can build something cool !

7. GNOME Census
This article caused a huge commotion in the GNOME community especially with respect to Canonical. I have to say the census was very interesting.

8. Massive Censorship Of Digg Uncovered
A very interesting article. Looks like there is some organized conservative group that is burying more liberal articles. What surprises me the most is that digg did not have any mechanisms to prevent a group of people gaming the system. If my intuition is correct, it is a relatively simple data mining problem using topic models, anomaly detection and collusion detection/role discovery in relation graphs.

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Hello all, I am back after almost a month. I completed my masters successfully – more on that later ! Now to the usual business….


1. India unveils prototype for $35 touch-screen computer
Probably one of the most important announcements of recent times. Using a tablet instead of PC/laptop is a smart idea – But I hope this does not limit the usefulness of the device. If students are the primary target, it must be more than a media consumption device. And building a general purpose tablet is pretty hard. The device seems to have a lot of features – color screen, USB, WiFi and even ability to video conference ! If they can really bring the price to sub $50 it will be amazing ! That being said, I have my own doubts about how the information will be passed to students – If the students are dependent upon this device, then most likely they will not have access to WiFi at home. If they could somehow make a way to access the EDUSAT / GyanDarshan programs it will be interesting. I guess we will see more of government’s plan soon !

2. In Price War, New Kindle Sells for $139
I was pretty surprised by this move as their previous price cut resulted in Kindle 2 being sold out ! At this rate, I am sure they will fall to sub $100 within this year !

3. Researcher Releases Facebook Profile Data
Interesting information ! I did download the whole torrent file out of curiosity (and seeding them !) but the information as such available in this torrent is not very interesting – Lets see if they any one else takes this further ! I would be most interested in friendship information that is publicly available. Even if only 50% of people have their friends public that should allow us to estimate lot of interesting things . Keeping my fingers crossed !

4. Phys Ed: Your Brain on Exercise
Looks like exercising results in new brain cells. Yet another nudge for me to start going to gym 🙂

5. A Scientist Takes On Gravity
One of the weirdest articles I read in recent times – I am not sure what the implications but is definitely an interesting read.

6. You Want My Personal Data? Reward Me for It
A very interesting idea ! The article had lot of neat ideas – My favorite line is this – "Every search on Google, Mr. Acquisti notes, is implicitly such a transaction, involving a person “selling” personal information and “buying” search results". I installed Bynamite extension couple of weeks ago and playing with it. Some of the information it provides are interesting. I would be very interested in knowing how the ad networks get my "interest". Also if I delete an interest in Bynamite, does it really removes it from the ad networks ?  A related article is Online, We Pay With Our Time Spent Searching.

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1. Google News
In a surprise announcement , Google has acquired ITA. ITA was one of favorite tech companies and the fantastic work they do in a messy industry is just amazing. It is interesting to see what impact it will have on Kayak, Bing etc. More details are at Taking off with ITA .

Google News site has been refreshed to make it more personal. I have tweaked my settings, but I am yet to see a big qualitative change in the content. Details are at : Google News redesigned to be more customizable and shareable.

Google to Add Pay to Cover a Tax for Same-Sex Benefit – It is little nice gestures like these that make you feel Google is still (if only marginally) a different company 🙂 Also , Google is doing some work in Social Search by adding Google Buzz to the mix. I tried some sample searches but felt, they did not fully figure out my social circle’s content. You can read more at Google Social Search, Now With Google Buzz .

2. Woot’s Deal Of The Day: Woot! — Amazon Buys It. Price? $110 Million
Woot is a company with a very interesting business model and a very different culture. And in an interesting news, Amazon has acquired Woot – I am not sure what Amazon gets from the deal. Read the email sent by Woot CEO to his employees – very funny and well written.

3. Windows Live
I think, Microsoft is doing some credible stuff with Windows Live. They refreshed Hotmail recently, introduce Wave 4 and lot of other interesting changes. Is Windows Live Delivering What Google Buzz Promised discusses some thing I have been mulling. Is everyone fixated on Facebook – Google that they are ignoring Microsoft ? Windows Live has some very neat features like Activity Streams , Aggregators etc that let you interact with other social networks and communication systems from within Live.

You may also want to read Windows Live, Twitter and Social Network Interoperability for additional details.

4. e-book wars
An thoughtful post by Rakesh Vohra. It mostly deals with basic ideas and formulation. It should be very interesting to have a game theoretic model of this market. Let us see how the discourse develops.

5. Chrome Nanny Blocks Time-Consuming Sites to Keep You Productive
Shameless plug. Looks like my Chrome extension has been LifeHackered 😉 The immediate impact is amazing – The number of users doubled almost overnight. And there were hundreds of tweets and retweets. The influence of Life Hacker is amazing 🙂


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1. Visions for Theoretical Computer Science
The basic aim of the this page is to highlight the broad research directions in TCS in such a way that even lay persons can understand. I think they have done an admirable job.

2. Express social objects in Atom format
I learnt about Activity Streams from Diaspora’s page on technology they are evaluating. I also played around with Google Buzz’s activity stream data. The idea looks very cool even though I feel the standard is less expressive.

3. How to Make an Artificial Cell
A detailed discussion of the recent break through by Craig Venter and his team.

4. Bringing improved PDF support to Google Chrome
Good move. I would be glad if they bring Flash support too 😉 In the other Google news, they introduced a command line tool to control many of their services. It is limited by gdata APIs but still there are lot of them. See more details at Introducing the Google Command Line Tool.

5. Tech News
Lot of interesting stuff happening in Tech World . There is a new price war between Amazon and Barnes & Noble – See E-Reader Prices Are Slashed . Also check out Swype and SeaMicro .

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