Seeing the Future: Amazon Go

On Friday, while walking up California Street in San Francisco enjoying a morning of street photography, my friend Doug and I happened across the new Amazon Go store at 300 California Street. Neither of us had been in a Go Store before so we went in to check it out.

Turns out I had months ago downloaded the Amazon Go app to my iPhone – so I was enabled for the Store. I needed to login to the app to complete my setup. Once logged in, the app displays a diamond-shaped bar code which is scanned by the gate turnstiles to let you into the store – a process just like using a boarding pass to get on the airplane. 

I had a guest with me – so the helpful Amazon person by the door explained how I could take my guest with me into the store: let him walk in first, scan using my code, followed by me and a second scan of my code.

Once inside, we were surprised by the range of items available in a space that seemed a bit larger than most 7-Eleven convenience stores but smaller than the usual supermarket (Whole Foods?) store. There were lots of prepared food items – but many other things as well. Very nice assortment!

While in the store, I noticed one guy come in who must be a local regular – as he breezed through the turnstile, went to pickup his item (lunch) and then walked out.

One of the sections in the store has Amazon Go “merchandise” where I found a dark chocolate bar that would be my sole item purchased on this initial visit. I picked up the bar, turned around, browsed another aisle, and then headed for and walked through the exit gate. That was it – I was done.

My friend was curious about the technology being used – wondering if RFID on the items was involved. He asked and was told that basically a combination of overhead cameras along with weight sensitive shelves were used to identify the items we picked up to purchase.

All in all a very cool shopping experience! Having had to tolerate checkout lines many times at a 7-Eleven near my former office, I can see how this new future would quickly win me over!

Note that this Go Store at 300 California Street is open Mon–Fri, 7AM–9PM. Closed Sat–Sun. Amazon says it stocks: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, Grocery Essentials

Thinking about Google+

A friend invited me about 10 days ago into Google+, Google’s new “social” service. As many others have commented, it’s very well done for a “field trial” as Google calls it. The UI is very nice – with a couple of exceptions like endless comment streams – and Google+’s handling of photographs is beautifully done. You can get to my Google+ posts by clicking on the G+ icon over at the top of the right sidebar on this page.

Of course, Google+ is still new – and it’s attractive partially just for that reason. It’s sort of like the new restaurant in town. Still, I’m finding that Facebook is getting less of my attention as a result of Google+. How about you?

As for Twitter, I typically keep Twitter running – as a separate app – off on the right side of my display and always in view along with my browser. It’s a parallel feed – and I appreciate it’s “information density” with short posts, no integration of comments, etc.

Facebook, on the other hand, I run in a separate browser tab – a tab that I have to decide to click and go to – just like my email (ugh!). In the “attention economy”, seems to me that’s important – at least in the desktop environment.

On a mobile device, it’s clearly a different story. Each app is “all consuming”! We’ll see how the Google+ iPhone app affects our mobile usage – once that app is released.

Going forward, it’ll be very interesting to see where Google+ goes. Might it replace my separate blog here? Or…?

Implemented Facebook Comments

Earlier this afternoon, I implemented Facebook Comments here on my personal blog. It was trivially easy. There’s a WordPress plug-in available called, appropriately enough, Facebook Comments, which was a quick install and a straightforward configuration to enable. Once configured, the comments were active.

I fretted a bit about one configuration option – should I leave the old WordPress comments on – or just enable the new Facebook comments system? I decided to leave the old comments on – the new Facebook comments are positioned above the WP comments on the individual post pages.

I made one tweak to the Facebook Comments php code to add a link to #respond just above the Facebook comments section. By default, that link goes to the WP comments from the home page – and I didn’t want that. If someone wants to add a new comment, I’d prefer they do so using the Facebook commenting scheme. [Update: Scratch that – version 3.0 just became available – we’ll see whether I try to make that change again – or not! Turns out I did make the mod – it’s now in facebook-comments-display.php!]

Time will tell whether this makes sense or not. MG Siegler just wrote a post about the experience with Facebook Comments on TechCrunch. Meanwhile, I must say it’s a trivial implementation for a WordPress blog. Yet another example of Facebook extending its reach!

My Online Life

A colleague asked “So Scott – tell me again what you do about emails you open with 1) PDFs and 2) links – that you want to read later, on the airplane?”

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. If I’m on a web page that I want to read – just not now – I quickly archive it (using a bookmarklet) to Instapaper. Instapaper has both an iPhone and an iPad client as well as a browser interface I can use on my Mac – so I can go back and read the article anytime, anyplace. If I sync my iPhone/iPad Instapaper apps before getting on a plane, the articles are all stored in the Instapaper app on the device – so I can read even without network access. I use Instapaper ALOT for asynchronous reading of articles.
  2. If I’m on a web page that I want to remember – perhaps not an article to read but something else, then I bookmark the page using Pinboard (using another
    bookmarklet) – see: http://pinboard.in/tour/. Pinboard provides me a chronological history of interesting pages that I might want to go back do. Has a lot of other features (tagging, etc) that I’m just beginning to learn how to use effectively.
  3. For PDF’s, I just download them to my Downloads directory and periodically go back and review what’s there. If it’s a PDF that I might want to be able to read on my iPhone/iPad, I may save to a Dropbox directory instead – so that I
    can access it wherever I have a network connection. This works great when you’re bored at lunch, etc. – except when on a plane. For the plane, you have to remember to download the PDF into your device using Dropbox and to also mark it as a favorite so that it’s saved locally in the device.

How about you? How are you managing your online life?

Looking at Traffic, Food and Recipes!

I’ve been doing a bit of looking at traffic today – web traffic that is – across both my personal and our Glenbrook web sites.

ScottsKitchen.comFor my personal sites, it’s interesting that my recipes blog, ScottsKitchen.com, has been running about twice the number of page views daily that this blog receives. While I tend to think of sjl.us as my personal “hub” – the web doesn’t. It likes food (and recipes) much better! 😉

InMenlo.comOur hyperlocal blog – InMenlo.com – has yet again twice the number of pages views – it’s become very popular indeed. Fascinating that a significant amount of InMenlo’s traffic comes from Facebook while the traffic to ScottsKitchen and SJL.US comes primarily from the search engines.

Part of that is seasonal – my high heat upside-down roast turkey recipe on ScottsKitchen.com is an annual Thanksgiving favorite! Since I posted it in 2005, it’s consistently been the top page on that site. Our late fall roasted tomato soup recipes were also pretty popular this year.

The other perennially popular recipes are those for oven roasted tri-tip (a Christmas favorite around our house) and grilling tri-tip on our Weber charcoal BBQ.

In my book, the “gold standard” for a superb recipe site is SimplyRecipes.com run by Elise Bauer. She does a wonderful job – combining great recipes with luscious food photography! The iPhone web app version of her site has come in very handy for me many times!

My other go to iPhone app for cooking is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The paper edition of this cookbook was my late friend Chris Gulker’s go to bible for cooking! His kitchen copy is delightfully bookmarked, spattered and stained – a real working volume!

Needed: Better Audio Compression

I seem to remember recently that Google announced a new image format that offered significant (40+%) reductions in image sizes – part of an effort to make the web more efficient.

I’m an avid podcast listener – I currently have over 6 GB of podcasts sitting in my iTunes library. These podcasts simply take too long to download – they’re typically in the 20-40 MB range in size.

Why?

Aren’t there solutions available that would dramatically reduce these file sizes?

Why aren’t we making progress in this area? What am I missing?

About that Header Image – Overlooking Luggala

When I launched this new WordPress-powered version of my blog over the weekend, I quickly looked through some recent photos to find one that would be suitable for use in the header image. The one I picked, which I’ve loosely titled “Band on the Run!“, was taken on November 19, 2010, in County Wicklow in Ireland. Seems like a near perfect shot for an album cover, doesn’t it?!

We’re standing on a cliff overlooking Luggala – the Guiness estate. We had just jumped out of our tour bus (Wild Wicklow Tours – highly recommended!) and were headed over to capture the views when I snapped this photo with my Canon PowerShot S95. My Glenbrook partner Carol Coye Benson and I were in Ireland teaching our Payments in a Mobile World workshop earlier that week. That’s Carol out in front of the band in the photo!

Here’s a page showing all of the header images that I’ve used over the years on sjl.us.

Thoughts on Migrating from TypePad to WordPress

Since 2003, this blog has been hosted by TypePad. They’ve provided excellent service – I have no complaints in that regard.

So, why did I decide to migrate from TypePad to WordPress?

Basically, the TypePad version of this blog had been put together (by me) using Advanced Templates and a bunch of hacks. It worked – but even I couldn’t figure out how to maintain it going forward.

So, I decided to migrate.

Over the last two years, I’ve launched several other blogs based on WordPress – and have become more familiar with the administrative aspects of WordPress. WordPress has just become more comfortable. That’s not to say it’s simple. WordPress is complicated – especially with respect to themes, plug-ins, etc. Be careful.

That said, while the posts export and import readily, there are many other issues – like image libraries that don’t export/import cleanly, category archives that have different permalink locations, and photo albums that simply don’t migrate. Not a pretty picture – but no surprise given the current state of the blogging art. Cruft. Crap.

I stopped using the TypePad photo albums a few years ago – when I became such a Flickr fan. But, there earlier links are still around, in the search engines, etc. Want to view my photos? Checkout my Flickr site!

Among other things, my migration initially screwed up the images displayed on another of my TypePad blogs. We’ve figured out a clever workaround for that – but it’s dependent on both the old and new sites being available. No way to cut the cord between the two without a lot more work. We’ll deal with that eventually.

Tonight, I spent time adding a bunch of redirects for the TypePad category archives – to their new locations on my new WordPress instance. This was just another giant hassle – but, with only about 30 categories, something I could get done without a lot of pain. Luckily, .htaccess provides a lot of power for redirection of URLs – but it’s still a giant PITA.

Tonight, I think we’ve got most of the conversion issues resolved. I’m watching the logs to see what URLs from searches aren’t resolving correctly – and may need to add a few more tweaks. Such is the life of the aging sysadmin…

Dealing with the Interwebs!

So, last night I rolled sjl.us over from TypePad – where we’d been since 2003 – to a hosted WordPress.org site. All in all, took about an hour to do the work – and then another couple waiting for the DNS change to propagate.

All of the old post content is now on this site – although almost all of the URLs have changed as a result of differences between TypePad and WordPress handling of permalinks. Unfortunately, the import/export process doesn’t support all of the images in my historical posts either – so we’ll be manually sorting through those over the holidays and trying make things presentable again. Such is the nature of things.

Hopefully, Google will begin making sense of this new site in relatively short order – although at the moment I’m frustrated with Google Webmaster Tools and an inability to force a refresh of the site’s robots.txt fiie. Apparently this only happens on a 24-hour cycle.

What happened to the “real-time web” anyway?!

[Update: I decided to change the permalink settings in WordPress to mimic the permalink format that TypePad used. So far, so good. Some of the archive and category pages aren’t mapping – but the individual post pages are now working nicely.]