Kindle, EPUB, And Amazon’s Love Of Reinventing Wheels

Last last month, a post from the relatively obscure Good e-Reader claimed that Amazon would finally allow the Kindle to read EPUB files. The story was picked up by all the major tech sites, and for a time, there was much rejoicing. After all, it was a feature that owners have been asking for since the Kindle was first released in 2007. But rather than supporting the open eBook format, Amazon had always insisted in coming up with their own proprietary formats to use on their readers. Accordingly, many users have turned to third party programs which can reliably convert their personal libraries over to whatever Amazon format their particular Kindle is most compatible with.

Native support for EPUB would make using the Kindle a lot less of a hassle for many folks, but alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t long before the original post was updated to clarify that Amazon had simply added support for EPUB to their Send to Kindle service. Granted this is still an improvement, as it represents a relatively low-effort way to get the open format files on your personal device; but in sending the files through the service they would be converted to Amazon’s KF8/AZW3 format, the result of which may not always be what you expected. At the same time the Send to Kindle documentation noted that support for AZW and MOBI files would be removed later on this year, as the older formats weren’t compatible with all the features of the latest Kindle models.

If you think this is a lot of unnecessary confusion just to get plain-text files to display on the world’s most popular ereader, you aren’t alone. Users shouldn’t have to wade through an alphabet soup of oddball file formats when there’s already an accepted industry standard in EPUB. But given that it’s the reality when using one of Amazon’s readers, this seems a good a time as any for a brief rundown of the different ebook formats, and a look at how we got into this mess in the first place.

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Hackaday Links: March 13, 2022

As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, its knock-on effects are being felt far beyond the eastern Europe theater. And perhaps nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the space launch industry, seeing that at least until recently, Russia was pretty much everyone’s go-to ride to orbit. All that has changed now, at least temporarily, and has expanded to include halting sales of rocket engines used in other nations’ launch vehicles. Specifically, Roscosmos has put an end to exports of the RD-180 engine used in the US Atlas V launch vehicle, along with the RD-181 thrusters found in the Antares rocket. The loss of these engines may be more symbolic than practical, at least for the RD-180 — United Launch Alliance stopped selling launches on Atlas V back last year, and had secured the engines it needed for the 29 flights it has booked by that April. Still, there’s some irony that the Atlas V, which started life as an ICBM aimed at the USSR in the 1950s, has lost its Russian-made engines.

Bad news for Jan Mr√°zek’s popular open-source parametric search utility which made JLCPCB’s component library easier to use. We wrote about it back in 2020, and things seemed to be going fine up until this week, when Jan got a take-down request for his service. When we first heard about this, we checked the application’s web page, which bore a big red banner that included what were apparently unpleasant accusations Jan had received, including the words “reptile” and “parasitic.” The banner is still there, but the text has changed to a more hopeful tone, noting that LCSC, the component supplier for JLC’s assembly service, objected to the way Jan was pulling component data, and that they are now working together on something that everyone can be happy with. Here’s hoping that the service is back in action again soon.

Good news, everyone: Epson is getting into the 3D printer business. Eager to add a dimension to the planar printing world they’ve mostly worked in, they’ve announced that they’ll be launching a direct-extrusion printer sometime soon. Aimed at the industrial market, the printer will use a “flat screw extruder,” which is supposed to be similar to what the company uses on its injection molding machines. We sure didn’t know Epson was in the injection molding market, so it’ll be interesting to see if expertise there results in innovation in 3D printing, especially if it trickles down to the consumer printing market. Just as long as they don’t try to DRM the pellets, of course.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but it turns out that there’s a lot you can tell about a person’s genetics just by looking at their face. At least that’s according to an AI startup called FDNA, which makes an app called “Face2Gene” that the company claims can identify 300 genetic disorders by analyzing photos of someone’s face. Some genetic disorders, like Down Syndrome, leave easily recognizable facial features, but some changes are far more subtle and hard to recognize. We had heard of cases where photos of toddlers posted on social media were used to diagnose retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina. But this is on another level entirely.

And finally, working in an Amazon warehouse has got to be a tough gig, and if some of the stories are to be believed, it borders on being a horror show. But one Amazonian recently shared a video that showed what it’s like to get trapped by his robotic coworkers. The warehouse employee somehow managed to get stuck in a maze created by Amazon’s pods, which are stacks of shelves that hold merchandise and are moved around the warehouse floor by what amounts to robotic pallet jacks. Apparently, the robots know enough to not collide with their meat-based colleagues, but not enough to not box them in. To be fair, the human eventually found a way out, but it was a long search and it seems like another pod could have moved into position to block the exit at any time. You could see it as a scary example of human-robot interaction gone awry, but we prefer to look at it as the robots giving their friend a little unscheduled break away from the prying eyes of his supervisor.

Ask Hackaday: What Is Amazon Thinking By Entering The Palm-Reading Business?

Have you heard about this One? At least three United States senators have, and they want to know what Amazon plans to do with all the biometric data collected by the Amazon One program. It’s their new contactless payment method that uses your unique palm print instead of cards or phones to make purchases, gain access to venues of work and play, and enter or pay in whatever other spaces Amazon can invade down the line. The idea is that one day, we’ll all be able to leave our homes without any form of money or ID of any kind, because we’ll all be stored away in Bezos’ big biometric file cabinet.

We tossed this one around in the writer’s room back when the Amazon One concept was nothing but a pile of buzzwords and a render or two, but these kiosks are now active in 50+ Whole Foods and Amazon 4-Star locations across the US. Here’s the deal: you can only sign up at a participating store that has a kiosk, because they have to scan your palms into the system. We were worried that the signup kiosk could easily take fingerprint scans at the same time, but according to the gifs in Morning Brew’s review, it just uses another of their point-of-sale palm scanners along with a touch screen and a card reader. But you still have to hover your entire hand over it, so who’s to say that the scan ends where the fingers begin?

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Amazon Drones Don’t Go Far

If you are like us, you’ve wondered what all the hoopla about drones making home deliveries is about. Our battery-operated vehicles carry very little payload and still don’t have a very long range. Add sophisticated smarts and a couple of delivery packages and you are going to need a lot more battery. Or maybe not. Amazon’s recent patent filing shows a different way to do it.

In the proposed scheme, a delivery truck drives to a neighborhood and then deploys a bunch of wheeled or walking drones to deliver in the immediate area. Not only does that reduce the range requirement, but there are other advantages, as well.

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Hackaday Links: June 6, 2021

There are a bunch of newly minted millionaires this week, after it was announced that Stack OverFlow would be acquired for $1.8 billion by European tech investment firm Prosus. While not exactly a household name, Prosus is a big player in the Chinese tech scene, where it has about a 30% stake in Chinese internet company Tencent. They trimmed their holdings in the company a bit recently, raising $15 billion in cash, which we assume will be used to fund the SO purchase. As with all such changes, there’s considerable angst out in the community about how this could impact everyone’s favorite coding help site. The SO leadership are all adamant that nothing will change, but only time will tell.

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PSA: Amazon Sidewalk Rolls Out June 8th

Whether you own any Amazon surveillance devices or not, we know how much you value your privacy. So consider this your friendly reminder that Amazon Sidewalk is going live in a few weeks, on June 8th. A rather long list of devices have this setting enabled by default, so if you haven’t done so already, here’s how to turn it off.

Don’t know what we’re talking about? Our own Jenny List covered the topic quite concretely a few months back. The idea behind it seems innocent enough on the surface — extend notoriously spotty Wi-Fi connectivity to devices on the outer bounds of the router’s reach, using Bluetooth and LoRa to talk between devices and share bandwidth. Essentially, when Amazon flips the switch in a few weeks, their entire fleet of opt-in-by-default devices will assume a kind of Borg hive-mind in that they’ll be able to share connectivity.

A comprehensive list of Sidewalk devices includes: Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd Gen), Echo (4th Gen), Echo Dot (3rd Gen), Echo Dot (4th Gen), Echo Dot (3rd Gen) for Kids, Echo Dot (4th Gen) for Kids, Echo Dot with Clock (3rd Gen), Echo Dot with Clock (4th Gen), Echo Plus (1st Gen), Echo Plus (2nd Gen), Echo Show (1st Gen), Echo Show (2nd Gen), Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8, Echo Show 10, Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Flex. — Amazon Sidewalk FAQ

Now this isn’t a private mesh network in your castle, it’s every device in the kingdom. So don’t hesitate, don’t wait, or it will be too late. Grab all your Things and opt-out if you don’t want your doorbell cam or Alexa machine on the party line. If you have the Alexa app, you can allegedly opt out on all your devices at once.

Worried that Alexa is listening to you more often than she lets on? You’re probably right.

Amazon’s Custom T-Shirt May Rub You The Wrong Way

How far would you go in pursuit of the perfect black t-shirt? Would you let Amazon build a virtual double of your body? They already know so much about you, so what’s a body scan or two between customer and company?

So here’s the deal — Amazon is trying to launch a brand of bespoke clothing called Made for You, and they’re starting with custom solid color t-shirts. Here’s how it works: you give them $25 along with information about your height, weight, and skin tone. Then you upload two pictures of your torso to their app, and these get turned into a 3D model of your body. Once your avatar is built to match, you design your shirt to fit the model. In theory, you get a really good idea of how it will fit.

You can choose from two different fabrics and eight colors, and can customize the neckline, the shirt length, and the sleeve length. If you want to, you can put your name on the tag. Then your perfect t-shirt gets made in the US from imported fabric — either lightweight or medium weight pima cotton. We’re not sure if robots or people are making them, but our money is on people. After all, Amazon is the company that created Mechanical Turk to form a pool of humans available to do on-demand work via the Internet. This is along those lines but with tailors sewing to your specifications. The big questions are what do you get, how does the technology make these better than off-the-rack, and do you give up your privacy in return?

One-Size Fits One

To say that these are custom t-shirts is a bit of a stretch. Oh you don’t need to worry about the t-shirts being skin-tight and showcasing your spare tire — if it’s a relaxed fit you want, that’s one of the options. But the current options are limited.

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