Mark My Words 3.0

"[Machinery] will never be a substitute for the face of a man, with his soul in it, encouraging another man to be brave and true." — Charles Dickens



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Amazon Wish Lists, ScraperWiki and IFTTT

Recently, I purchased a few items from the Amazon Kindle Store because they had been reduced to less than £1.50. I thought to myself: “I wonder if there’s a Web service that could alert me when other such items on my Amazon Wish List are reduced to less than £1.50?” There are, indeed, Web services that do such things: camelcamelcamel and Chintzee. However, these Web services do not work for the Amazon Kindle Store (but do for most other Amazon items). I asked on Twitter whether anyone knew of a Web service that would work and I was prompted by @torresk to try IFTTT. Of course, IFTTT didn’t have exactly what I wanted but does allow you to take an RSS feed and trigger an alert every time a particular condition is met. In this instance, I want to be alerted whenever an item on my Amazon Wish List is reduced to less than £1.50. Simple, huh? Well, not quite.

To get this to work you’ll need a few things:

  1. To be registered on IFTTT.
  2. To be registered on ScraperWiki.
  3. To have a ‘public’ Amazon Wish List. To do this, go to a wish list and click “Manage this List”, then “Change privacy settings” and choose “Shared with link”. Once you’ve done this, click “Share with Friends” and note down your unique wish list code i.e. the bit after /registry/wishlist/.

Next, go back to ScraperWiki and fork my AmazonScraper. You’ll notice two variables at the top: wishlist and limit. Update wishlist to the code that you noted down above and change limit, if you wish. Click “SAVE SCRAPER” and then “RUN”. You should see under the “Data” tab that the items in your Amazon Wish List have been added. Of course, you should have a few items in there first! It should look like this:

Go back to the scraper overview and edit the schedule to run every day (a paid account will enable you to change this to every hour). Then, click “Explore with API”. Change the format to rss2 and ensure that the query in SQL is: select * from `swdata` order by pubDate desc limit 10. If you have more than 10 items on your Amazon Wish List you may want to change this number (the maximum is 200). Copy the URI ready to be used in IFTTT, it should all look like this:


Finally, create a new recipe in IFTTT selecting “Feed” when you’re presented with “this”. Choose “New feed item matches” and then paste in the URI that we copied earlier into “Feed URL”. In “Keyword or phrase” type: Is going cheap! Then, choose how you want to be alerted. I requested to be emailed using Google Mail when an item in my Amazon Wish List is going cheap but feel free to set whatever method you feel is appropriate to you. You should then be presented with a screen that looks like this:


That’s it, I think. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. For the geeks, an enhancement would be to iterate over the pages of an Amazon Wish List if you have more than 200 items in there. Have fun!

Scientists vs. psychics

This is a short post and focuses on an article I picked up from the BBC earlier today. (It’s also on the Guardian website, too.) The article reports on how scientists have attempted to ‘debunk’ ‘psychics’ by designing an experiment to test two people’s ‘psychic’ abilities. Two quotes from the article intrigued me. The first is the reaction from one of the ‘psychics’ to the experiment itself:

But one of the mediums, Patricia Putt, rejected the suggestion that this showed any absence of psychic powers - saying that she needed to work face-to-face with people or to hear their voice, so that a connection could be established.

This is intriguing because the psychic makes a very valid point. The point is that the scientists had fabricated an experiment that was conducted within a laboratory setting. It also questions the operationalisation of ‘psychic abilities’. For these scientists, psychic abilities meant being able to create ‘psychic readings’ of five volunteers and then getting the volunteers to identify themselves from the readings. Who decided that that was an appropriate experiment? Are there other experiments that would generate different results? The second quote is even more interesting given its author: 

But Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, who helped to organise the test, said it showed that claims to have special abilities “aren’t based in reality”.

This is interesting because of the use of the word ‘reality’. In trying to make a mockery of the ‘psychics’ the skeptic fails to appreciate that the experiment itself was conducted in a ‘reality’ that may be different to the ‘natural’ settings of everyday life. As Karin Knorr-Cetina notes:

In the laboratory scientists operate upon (and within) a highly preconstructed artifactual reality.

While the results of the experiment show what they show one must be careful as to how far the results can be generalised. Scientists say this to social scientists all of the time (and that’s without saying that this experiment only used two ‘psychics’ and five volunteers), so don’t be fooled by the ‘purity’ of experimentation! And, scientists and skeptics, don’t forget that the laboratory is of itself an artificial reality.

Google Now.

Haiku Deck.

Noisy Typer.

Custom themes in Google Mail.

The Knowledge Graph from Google.

Google Drive.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus. The “duo" is set to come out in May and includes a "real-life" pen, too.

The birth of a book: using traditional printing methods at Smith-Settle Printers in Leeds.

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