Services Technology

Mr Robot on Amazon Instant Video: Love it!

I’m usually a Netflix of a BBC iPlayer person. I have long been an Amazon Prime customer but it’s only recently that I’ve started to bother with the company’s Instant Video streaming service.

I really enjoyed watching ‘The Vikings’ on Amazon’s Instant Video service but because there’s not been a download function, I’ve used the service intermittently.

That changed when I bought an Amazon Fire TV. It’s now the third ‘box’ in our house — that is, the Sky+ satellite Pay TV box is probably still primary. Although it’s a close call between that and the Apple TV. We access Netflix through the Apple TV. And then the children use the Amazon Fire TV a lot.

Now and again I’ve had a look at some of the movies.

However when I got notification from Amazon that they’d added a download option for Instant Video, I changed my tune.

All of a sudden I felt the service was significantly improved: Offline viewing is sadly still a very, very important feature despite what the mobile networks would have us all believe.

I happened to flick up the Amazon Instant Video app when I was on the train to Scotland last week. I did a bit of work for half the journey then I decided to try it out. I’d downloaded a 90 second trailer of “Mr Robot” to watch.

This is a new series just released on Amazon produced by USA Networks. It follows “Elliot”, a cyber-security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night, who gets recruited by a mysterious underground group to destroy the firm he is paid to protect. That’s what the blurb said.

I watched the trailer and thought, “You know what, that is rather good.”

So I hit “stream” on the first episode.

I happened to be in a main station on the way up to Scotland — Darlington I think it might have been, so the train wasn’t moving. I was astonished when the first episode began to stream… in what looked like high quality.

I was further astonished to be able to watch the first episode, end-to-end, without any gaps… ON THE TRAIN! I think Amazon must have built in a heck of a lot of compression and smart algorithms combined with their AWS heritage to get the data to the Three mobile network as fast as possible.

My signal was up and down like a YoYo as you’d expect on the way up to Scotland. Yet I ended up watching almost three episodes in quick succession — all of them streamed.

I’ve obviously now downloaded the rest ready for further viewing. I would like to recommend you take a look at Mr Robot if you’re a bit of a geek.

I’ve really appreciated the virtual realism that they’ve displayed. Everything I’ve seen in the episodes is a heck of a lot more relevant and real than any of the ‘Hollywood hacker’ scenes I’ve seen before in other movies and TV shows. It’s also got some good pace about it — a bit like the energy I saw in The Social Network.

If you haven’t checked out Mr Robot, have a look. And if you are a Prime customer and haven’t tried Amazon Instant Video can I recommend downloading the app and having a play?


It’s a brave new world out there… Have you come across the book, Wool?

I was captivated by this Wall Street Journal post about the eBook marketplace. Here’s the quick summary:

Hugh Howey’s postapocalyptic thriller “Wool” has sold more than half a million copies and generated more than 5,260 Amazon reviews. Mr. Howey has raked in more than a million dollars in royalties and sold the film rights to “Alien” producer Ridley Scott.

And Simon & Schuster hasn’t even released the book yet.

In a highly unusual deal, Simon & Schuster acquired print publication rights to “Wool” while allowing Mr. Howey to keep the e-book rights himself. Mr. Howey self-published “Wool” as a serial novel in 2011, and took a rare stand by refusing to sell the digital rights. Last year, he turned down multiple seven-figure offers from publishers before reaching a mid-six-figure, print-only deal with Simon & Schuster.


The story goes on to highlight that the publisher has now got involved and has put Mr Howey on a standard media tour. The publisher is busy banging the traditional marketing drum as that’s how they’ll make their money. What I find so fascinating is that having heard about the book, I think I might check it out.

What I mean is that I’ll probably buy it. It’s $5.99 or £5.39 for the eBook. I don’t want a physical copy though.

I wonder if the Wall Street Journal piece this weekend was effectively delivered via public relations paid for by the publisher? Because it’s helping the author — I’ll buy his book, he’ll get 70% of the proceeds — but that certainly won’t help Simon & Schuster. Not at all.

I wonder how many other people will hear about the book via traditional channels such as television, print and radio and then reach for their Kindle or Kobo?

Interesting times.

Here’s the blurb for Wool:

In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo.

Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies.

To live, you must follow the rules. But some don’t. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism.

Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside.

Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.


Using Collect+ to return my Amazon package was painless

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I have to say I wasn’t feeling that good about being forced to use the Collect+ service to return my Amazon package. Although I expect nothing but greatness when it comes to Amazon, I did wonder how it could possibly match my standard (super-high) expectations of Amazon.

I shouldn’t have worried, I really shouldn’t.

Here’s the background: Over the Christmas period I ordered a big noticeboard for the office via Amazon. I buy everything I can on Amazon, primarily because of the purchase experience and the predictability. Unfortunately when the product arrived one of the corners was seriously damaged.

I did a few clicks on Amazon and — boom — they instructed me to print out a returns label. No bother, I thought.

It was only when I continued reading that I saw the mention of Collect+.


Here’s the Collect+ overview from their website:

Collect+ is a new parcel service delivering freedom and convenience, not just parcels. We have built a network of over 5,000 local corner shops, open from early ‘til late and often 7 days a week, allowing you to drop off or pick up parcels at a time and place that suits you.

I did wonder. This all sounds good but what’s the actual user experience when you head into the local corner shop? Especially when you arrive with a huge noticeboard-sized package?

I stuck the return label on the package and put some selotape over it to protect from the elements. Thoughtful, I reckoned.

Then I checked for my nearest local shop. Even on a Sunday it was open until 6pm. I arrived at the Spar mini supermarket and I had to take a moment behind the car wheel to mentally prepare myself for the consumer horror I was potentially about to be exposed to. I could picture the scene and it wasn’t pretty. I was mostly thinking about the possibility of a totally disinterested employee telling me words to the effect of “I dunno what you mean”.

I did see a PayPoint sign on the wall of the shop as I did the mental preparation. On that sign, bottom right, was a Collect+ logo. So I wouldn’t feel totally stupid trying to explain what I wanted. At least I could respond with, “Well, there’s a Collect+ logo on the sign outside” when challenged by the fictional shop assistant.

I did feel rather strange walking into the shop with a package. It’s not the standard user experience, you see. One or two other shoppers stared as I waited to be served at the… well… the payment concession bit. I didn’t see any Collect+ branding but I did see the PayPoint machine which, I began to understand, seemed to be the glue that underpins everything.

It was my turn shortly.

“Hi, I’d like to drop this off,” I said, nodding to the package.

“Oh sure,” said the shop assistant chap, “Just bring it round here.”

He took the package from me and then explained he just needed to scan the barcode and give me a tracking number.

I was thinking of some handwritten scrawl on a used Bounty wrapper — that was the model in my mind — but no, the shop had a proper machine. And everything 😉

He scanned the barcode and the machine duly printed out a receipt with the tracking ID.

“Thanks very much,” the chap said, handing me the receipt.

I thanked the guy and walked away, wondering why I had ever doubted Amazon’s smart thinking executives.

It was utterly simple.

I’ve got my proof of delivery. As far as I’m concerned, job done. The shop assistant explained that apparently a Collect+ truck will arrive tomorrow morning and pick up the package.

I’m delighted.

I’m impressed with the Collect+ service. I might even give it a shot with some deliveries. You can opt to have items delivered to your local corner shop rather than your home address which makes a TON of sense if you’re out all day or if you can’t stand getting one of those notes through the door from the postman.

The place I selected today is open from 730am until 8pm daily, however the nearest Collect+ place to me is actually a service station… which is open 24-hours a day. Absolute genius. I doubt very much that you can actually walk into the store with a package to return (or pick up) at 4am in the morning as service station places usually swap to doing business through “the window”, don’t they? I’ll need to check.

Thank you Amazon. Thank you also to Collect+ team for creating such a seamless service.


Spider Catcher: You definitely need one of these!

If you live in the countryside — or anywhere that’s not hermetically sealed (like an ultra-new block of flats), the chances are you get visited by spiders, large and small.

When we used to live in Marlow, our cottage was beset with spiders — especially when it had been raining. They used to come in for the shelter.

I am not scared of spiders, per se.

It’s the fright that gets me.

You know when you’re sitting down, relaxing, watching television or having a conversation or doing something relatively sedate and then — boom — out walks a massive 50p-coin-sized critter? It’s not doing anyone any harm. It’s just a shock.

And then I’m compelled to do something about it, especially if it’s huge and it keeps on running toward me.

My preference is to remove it from my presence humanely. I’d rather avoid killing them.

One day my wife was — as the Americans call it — freaking out about a huge spider and there was no sensible, easy way to catch it. I was ordered to kill it. That was a bit of a challenging affair given my shoe didn’t quite ‘fit’ the uneven weird corners of the bathroom in our old place.

So I resolved to sort this out. I decided I needed a better way of handling the issue. So I went online to Amazon and searched for: Spider Catcher.

Here’s what popped up:

It’s a plastic wand-type thing that has extendable bristles on the end. Stick them over the spider and let them retract to pick up the spider. Then dump it outside or out the window as necessary.

That’s the concept.

In practice it works perfectly. Absolutely perfectly.

There’re £9.13 each. I bought two!

Money well spent in my opinion.

You do have to be reasonably quick if you’re trying to catch a running spider — and it’s not that effective on tiny ones. But I’ve never, ever had a missed result (sometimes after a few attempts on my part).

Even if you normally just stamp on them — the Spider Catcher removes the issue of having to go and find some kitchen towel to wipe/pick up the remains.

Thoroughly recommended.


7 days later: The Bluebeard’s Revenge shaving cream is working brilliantly!

So I’ve been shaving with The Bluebeard’s Revenge shaving kit for about a week now. The team there very helpfully sent me over both the ‘luxury shaving cream’ and the ‘post shaving balm’. (Read my original post on this subject).

The kit also included a funky shaving brush which I’ve been using to apply the cream.

Apart from being a luxurious experience, the major concept behind The Bluebeard’s Revenge product range is helping you seriously reduce the ‘desperate-dan’ look by 5pm. Here’s the science bit:

Designed by a real life Blue Beard who was bored to death with being a Desperate Dan look-alike, the flagship product in The Bluebeards Revenge™ range is a paraben free, premium quality shaving cream with added ingredients to specifically combat tough stubble. It has been formulated to our unique specification in one of the UK’s premier male cosmetics laboratories who are renowned experts in the field of shaving cream.

Decelerine™ contains a mixture of active ingredients that delay hair growth, reducing the frequency of shaving and depilation and at the same time providing a recovering effect on the skin.

I have to report that one week on, I’m feeling good. My skin is surprisingly soft after the shave and for most of the day — but what’s more interesting and a touch exciting, I have to say, is that my ‘beard’ (i.e. growth by say 7pm) appears to be a lot softer than I would have otherwise expected. I think the Decelerine is working! At least, it feels this way.

By way of balance I should point out that my shaving regime is slightly different than two weeks ago. Previously, I was simply using Gillette’s latest and greatest foam (PowerProExcelPlus Mach 9++ or something) along with an equally expensive Gillette blade. I’m still using the Gillette blade but I’m now applying The Bluebeard’s Revenge shaving cream with the brush and then using the post shave balm. I have not yet plucked up the courage to consider trying The Bluebeard’s Revenge Scimitar shaver.

I recognise that it’s all very much subjective however I reckon my shaving experience has improved 100% over the old regime. I do genuinely feel better in the morning and throughout the day as a result. As for the expense, well, The Bluebeard’s Revenge shaving cream and post shave balm each retail at £9.99 vs the old Gillette Shaving Foam at £4.09 (current price from Boots). So you could certainly argue that the cost for this experience is significantly higher. I’d estimate that the cream and the balm will last a lot more than the Gillette stuff, if only because I don’t feel I need to use so much of The Bluebeard’s Revenge product.

You can order direct from The Bluebeard’s Revenge website or pick their products up from Amazon. If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, delivery is free:

Thank you to the team at The Bluebeard’s Revenge for the opportunity to trial their products!