Amazon Web Services Outage – Explained

Earlier this week, an Amazon Web Service (AWS) failure caused a massive outage all over the internet. Now we know why. It was a typo – yes a typo.

Amazon released a detailed report today explaining what happened. An employee entered what they thought was a routine command to remove servers from an S3 subsystem. By mistake, they entered a larger number than intended. These servers supported two other S3 subsystems, both of which manage the storage and metadata for the entire region. Down went the dominoes.

AWS assures everyone that it’s prepared for the occasional failure. Fixing the employee’s error should have been as simple as rebooting the subsystems. However, AWS admitted that it hasn’t actually restarted those subsystems in years, and S3 has grown considerably in the meantime.

If you’ve ever rebooted an older computer and notice it chugging on start-up, you’ll understand the feeling AWS must have had while waiting for the system to come back.

In response, AWS says it’s putting in safeguards to prevent this kind of error from happening again. Apparently, creating these safeguards had been in the works for a while, and AWS is making it a priority after this outage. Considering it even brought down AWS’s own conference mid-speech, this is probably for the best.

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Star Trek Invades Alexa

I am a big fan of Amazon;s Alexa devices. These far outpace Siri (Apple) or Cortana (Microsoft) in how they can actually be a useful tool in your home.

Amazon’s Alexa devices are constantly being improved through updates and skills. An now we learn that Amazon has added another Wake Word option.

Wake Words, of course, are the words you can use to cause Alexa to start listening to your requests. Without the Wake Word, Alexa just sits waiting. For privacy nuts, this should be proof enough that Amazon is respecting the customer’s private moments and conversations, but some still suspect she’s listening anyway. Alexa devices provide a hardware button to stop her from listening completely.

Originally, Alexa came with just three Wake Word options: Alexa, Amazon, and Echo. But, now Alexa has a fourth Wake Word as Amazon has added “Computer” to the mix.

Rumor suggests that Amazon is still intent on providing the ability to allow customers to create their own Wake Words sometime in the future.

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Alexa will be Powering Sync Enabled Ford Vehicles

If you are the proud owner of a Ford with Sync3 check this out. Alexa is coming to Ford. For me this welcome be a welcome addition.

Exactly a year ago, Ford announced its plans to equip its vehicles with Amazon’s powerful voice-enabled service Alexa and it seems the auto-maker is finally closing in on its promise.

At CES, Ford announced that it will begin rolling out its new Alexa integration later this month. This means owners of Ford vehicles packing its Sync 3 entertainment system will be able to control their cars remotely by speaking to Alexa via the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Tap.

The implementation will take place in two phases, with a slew of additional features expected to follow later throughout the year.

The first stage will enable drivers to remotely turn the car engine on and off, check fuel levels as well as lock and unlock the doors. Eventually, Ford owners will be able to ask Alexa to find destinations, play music and read audiobooks, check news, place orders and control smart home appliances straight from the vehicle.

To connect Alexa to the internet, Ford is additionally implementing a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot capability on select Sync 3-equipped models. Powered by AT&T, the LTE hotspot will support up to 10 devices at a time.

The car-maker also announced its engineers are working on a solution which will allow Samsung Gear S2 and S3 owners to connect their smartwatches to Sync 3 for seamless integration with alerts and parking services.

That ought to make Ford’s new vehicles more appealing to gadget freaks, just like me.

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Beware Holiday Email Scams

It’s the holiday season, which means shopping is buzzing more than usual. Many of us are are using online storefronts to purchase our gifts. While this is quite convenient, it can also lead to some problems.

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We know that scam emails are nothing new, but recently a fake email claiming to come from Amazon has cycled around. The message reads as follows:

Hello,

There was a problem processing your order. You will not be able to access your account or place orders with us until we confirm your information.click here to confirm your account. We ask that you not open new accounts as any order you place may be delayed.

 

For more details, read our Amazon Prime Terms & Conditions.

Of course, this is garbage. Clicking on the link in this email leads you to a fake “Amazon” login page, where the scammers ask you to kindly enter your credit card information. Once you’ve done so, it redirects you to the real Amazon website, but the damage is already done.

It’s worth reiterating email safety tips so you don’t fall victim to traps like these. Never click through links in emails that ask for personal information. If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, go to amazon.com in your browser and sign into your account from there. Amazon and other reputable companies will never ask you for your password or other sensitive info via email.

Amazon also asks that if you receive a spoofed email like this, forward it to stop-spoofing@amazon.com so they can review it.

Of course, this is garbage. Clicking on the link in this email leads you to a fake “Amazon” login page, where the scammers ask you to kindly enter your credit card information. Once you’ve done so, it redirects you to the real Amazon website, but the damage is already done.

It’s worth reiterating email safety tips so you don’t fall victim to traps like these. Never click through links in emails that ask for personal information. If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, go to amazon.com in your browser and sign into your account from there. Amazon and other reputable companies will never ask you for your password or other sensitive info via email.

Amazon also asks that if you receive a spoofed email like this, forward it to stop-spoofing@amazon.com so they can review it.

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Amazon Announces “Prime Reading”

About a week ago I wrote about Amazon Prints and now Amazon continues to improve Prime membership with a new exclusive.

Amazon Prime subscribers now have access to more than a thousand free books, comics and magazines

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Prime Reading is the latest addition to Amazon’s premium subscription service adds more than a thousand best-selling books with titles including The Hobbit, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Man In the High Castle, The Millionaire Next Door, Half Way Home and When I’m Gone.

Additionally, users will have access to electronic magazines such as Bon Appétit, National Geographic Traveler, People, Sports Illustrated, HGTV, Popular Mechanics, Golf Digest and Runner’s World. As for comics, subscribers can download the first volumes of Transformers: Robots in Disguise and Complete Peanuts.

Amazon Prime already included one free pre-released book, but Prime Reading provides much more access to reading material for subscribers – putting it on par with Amazon’s unlimited video and music streaming service for select TV shows, movies and songs.

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Amazon Prints is Launched for Pennies a Print

Are You an Amazon Prime member who uses Amazon’s Cloud Photo Service? I have been using this service for quite a while now and it’s a winner. As a bonus here, all of my photos are backed up like never before. Today my photos not only live my iPhone but they are safe and sound both in Microsoft’s OneDrive and Amazon Prime Photos. If you are a Amazon Prime member this additional service is available to you – and I highly recommend it.

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Before we move on to Amazon’s new Photo Print service another side benefit to this service is that all of my photos now act as my screensaver on my Amazon Fire TV. All of those amazing photos now show up on my 60″ TV for everyone to enjoy.


OK let’s move on to the new stuff.

Amazon has just launched Prints, a new service that offers to print your photos, with prices starting at 9 cents each.

You can order prints in various sizes, as well as a range of photo books that start at $20 each; shipping is free on orders of $15 or more. Amazon also reported that custom stationery and calendars will soon become available as well.

Amazon obviously hopes its new service will help Prime customers take advantage of the full-resolution photo storage that’s bundled with its subscription plan. It launched Prime Photos in 2014. I have been using it ever since.

Amazon Drive customers who pay for the company’s cloud storage service can also order prints from their uploaded photos.

Amazon’s prices come in lower than Shutterfly’s, the latter charges 15 cents per print and about $30 for its starting range of photo books.

You will need a Prime subscription or an Amazon Drive account to try Prime Photos; there’s more information on the company’s site.

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Amazon Prime Gets Even Better

In many ways Amazon Prime has become my go-to streaming service. Of course Netflix has some outstanding original content (which I enjoy) however Amazon Prime has continued to regularly improve its service since it’s launch just a few short years ago.

Amazon Prime is the ultimate product bundling deal imaginable because it combines several service including physical free shipping digital subscriptions for music, videos, and more. This week Amazon took an aggressive step to better compete with standalone subscription services (like Netflix & Hulu) by offering a new variety of Prime offerings by the month.

I have happily subscribed to Amazon prime for years. With this subscription, you can get most Amazon.com purchases delivered to your home in two days for free plus an astonishing array of digital services, which include:

Amazon Video. Unlimited access to movies and TV shows in SD, HD, Ultra HD & HDR (where possible).

Amazon Prime Music. Unlimited streaming from Amazon’s music service, which includes ad-free and personalized radio stations. This is replace Apple Music & iTunes for me.

Free Kindle books. As a Prime subscriber, you get access to over 1 million Kindle e-books for free, plus the Kindle Lending Library, which lets you borrow one free e-book per month.

But the problem with Prime is that it is only available in a one-year subscription, whereas competing standalone services are all available month-to-month. To close this gap, and convince potential customers that the wide swath of Prime perks is worth consideration, Amazon is now offering two monthly Prime subscriptions. They are:

Amazon Prime (Monthly). This is the annual plan, but month-to-month. That is, you get all of the perks of the yearly Amazon Prime membership, but pay $10.99 per month instead of $99 per year. (So it’s cheaper to get the annual subscription if you can afford it and know you’ll use it all year long.)

Amazon Prime Video. Finally available as a standalone subscription service that can take on Netflix and Hulu, Amazon Prime Video costs $8.99 per month, undercutting those services when you compare functionality. Netflix costs $7.99 to $11.99 per month (where only the most expensive versions offers HD and or Ultra HD) and Hulu is $7.99 (with limited commercials) to $11.99 per month (no commercials).

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If you go with the yearly Amazon Prime subscription, and then take advantage of the shipping perk, that is still the best choice. But this move with a monthly subscription service signals that Amazon is serious about keeping its digital media services both competitive and desirable.

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KIndle’s New Home Screen

I love my Kindle. I do rotate between it and physical books but when I am using the Kindle I really enjoy it. One of the things that has always bugged me about my Kindle however was the boring – never changing home screen. Well if you have a Kindle and the home screen bugs you to – I have some good news.

Amazon has started rolling out their new home screen which includes highlights of books you have recently looked at, a personalized reading list and some recommendations.

Amazon has also done away with the light button, which is now tucked behind a new ‘gear’ option that also gives you quick access to other settings like airplane mode and syncing.

This update is the biggest change Amazon has applied to the devices in years.

Another nice new feature is the ability to share quotes from books you’re reading directly on Facebook and Twitter. And if anyone clicks on the quote, they will also get a preview of the book the quote from that is view-able on any device and therefore does not require an Amazon account.

Amazon has also updated its recommended books strategy so you can now add your favorite genres and review or rate specific books in order to tune the suggestions you see.

The update is being rolled out to the Kindle Paperwhite (2013 and 2015), Kindle (2014), and Kindle Voyage (2014) in the coming days.

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