Round up #154: writing length, Trekifying Alexa

Round up #154: writing length, Trekifying Alexa

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

On the Alexa front

Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant available on the Echo family, current Fire tablets, the Fire TV family, and more, is undoubtedly a big part of Amazon’s future. It is (or can be) already part of our literary lives, reading books to us with text-to-speech (when not blocked by the publisher), playing audiobooks, answering questions about authors and works, and more.

Even though there is growing competition (Samsung’s next rumored flagship form is reportedly going to include a new assistant, Bixby, with a lot more capabilities…I took a quick look to see if the name could be inspired by author/screenwriter Jerome Bixby, but I’m not seeing an immediate connection), Alexa is going to be prominent for some time to come.

Amazon is spending a lot on development, clearly, and users are getting some good results.

One simple thing: you can now use “Computer” as a “wake word” (what you say to get the device’s attention). People have wanted that from the beginning, because of the Star Trek connection (that’s how people on the Enterprise activate their computer for voice-based interactions). You can change that in your Alexa app and settings. I could choose it for our Amazon Echo and our Echo Dot, but not our Amazon Tap.

The Tap, though, has an extraordinary, game-changing update (which I just got yesterday…it’s been rolling out). It allows you to put the

Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

in “Hands-Free Mode”.

That’s right: the Tap, which initially required you to push a button to talk to it, can now hear you from across the room, just like the original Echo.

That’s a giant change!

Screenshot showing options for the Hands-Free mode

Now, as you can see in the above screenshot, they recommend that you put the device into sleep mode if you aren’t actively using it. That’s because listening takes power (as humans know…it’s an active function to be quiet and listen, and it takes energy). The reason why the Tap was portable was because it didn’t listen all the time, to some extent.

The real question here is why anybody would now pay $50 more for the original Echo, which can only work when plugged in (although there are some third party battery options). The sound is probably somewhat better, but the Tap can get quite loud. You could also supplement by Bluetoothing or cabling to other speakers…not an option with the original Echo.

Do you hear the characters when you are done reading the books?

As regular readers know, I don’t “hear” the voices of characters when I read books (and I don’t visualize the scenes, unless they are particularly…unclearlywritten and I can’t figure out what’s happening without that). One of my regular readers who is an expert on reading has told me that’s unusual in someone who reads well (which I think I can objectively say I do), but it’s always been the case for me, at least for decades.

Once I found out other people (including my Significant Other) do hear the voices, I was intrigued.


Richard Lea article in The Guardian

was even more fascinating to me. It’s about a study where many people reported continuing to interact with fictional characters (including hearing them) after finishing a book.

Has that happened to you?

I am inspired by fictional characters (Doc Savage, for one), but I would describe it as “pull” rather than “push”. In other words, I might consciously think about what Doc might do in a situation, but the character doesn’t appear in my life unbidden.

How long does it take to write a masterpiece?

I thought this was an interesting infographic reported in this

EBOOK FRIENDLY post by Ola Kowalczyk

It shows you how long it took authors to write certain well-known books. It varies widely. I do think I can write quickly…but I haven’t written a new book in some time. The shortest one listed took 2.5 days, and the longest 16 years…

Emerald City on TV and L. Frank Baum

As a long time Oz fan, I’m enjoying and am impressed with the NBC series

Emerald City

It’s based not just on the first book, but on various books in the “Famous Fourteen” original books by L. Frank Baum, and shows a depth of knowledge.

There have been a couple of (I think perhaps ill-advised) references to the 1939 MGM musical with Judy Garland, but in many ways, it is closer to the original books.

I’ve started to analyze that in-depth, comparing the three (Baum, EmCity, and MGM)…by its nature, that work is spoilerific (as all analysis will tend to be), but if you are caught up or don’t care about spoilers, I think you’ll find it interesting as it grows:

Parallel Wizards: 3 views of Oz (Baum, Emerald City, MGM)

New “His Dark Materials” booking coming this year

NPR article

You can order

The Book of Dust (at AmazonSmile*)

for Kindle delivery October 19, 2017.

It should be a bestseller…and if there is another “Game of Thrones” book this year, it could be a very good year for tradpubs (traditional publishers) and brick-and-mortar books indeed. They might also spur more e-book adoption, in part because big books can be a lot easier as e-books…and listening to part of the book may also be attractive.

Visual media has seen some real success with returning to older properties in the past couple of years (Star Wars, The X-Files), but I don’t think that necessarily had a lot of impact here. Books often go back for sequels, although that may have been more true with public domain works (there are Dracula sequels perhaps every year).

One last note today: it was nice to see a book by Hans Holzer, author of

Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*

on Stranger Things. 🙂 I’ve been watching Stranger Things in Virtual Reality while I exercise during lunch at work (I’m not done yet, so please, no comments on plot points). Holzer is a great writer, very amusing, regardless of whether or not you “believe in ghosts”. 😉

Enough for this morning…I may write pretty quickly, as I said, but I could always write more with more time!

Opinions/questions on/about any of these stories? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.




10 Responses to “Round up #154: writing length, Trekifying Alexa”

  1. Phink Says:

    I got my first Echo through the invitation only $99 deal. From the very beginning I wanted “Computer” for the wake word so much I could not stand it. Yes, because of Star Trek. However, now I’ve gotten used to ‘Alexa’ and don’t want to change it. I did however change the one in the home office to “Computer” from “echo”. I never liked that one but it’s close enough to “Alexa” I had to name it something else. So, in the office I get to say “Computer”.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I get that “Computer” thing…I was quite impressed when I was in a Disney hotel years ago, and was quite sure the voice of the elevator (announcing the floors) was Majel Barrett (the voice of the computer on Star Trek…and who played Nurse Chapel, just to hit the high points).

      I won’t change the wake word to that, though, because I’m sure I’ll get a lot more false positives…I probably say “computer” fairly often.

      After they made a change, the Echo devices in your home should know to which one you are speaking, so it isn’t as necessary to have different Wake Words as it might have been before.

  2. Phink Says:

    For those that may not know: Immersion Reading is when you are listening to the audio book while reading the printed word at the same time.

    I am like Bufo and never, ever hear characters when reading. I have no idea what they sound like plus I never envision what they look like if the book does not describe it to me. However, if I’m immersion reading (my favorite kind of reading) that is out the window. I just finished the “His Majesty’s Dragon” series and because of the audio books in that series I do envision what those characters sound like. The narrator for His Majesty’s Dragon was one where the narrator did a great job changing his voice to fit the characters. Jim Dale (Harry Potter) is the best I’ve ever heard at this by the way.

    Bufo has said on here that is why he does not like audio books a lot because he does not want the narrator interpreting the characters for him. Myself, that is why I do like audio books. I enjoy hearing their interpreted voices.

    Just a little side note: The Fire’s and android apps immersion read by actually highlighting the text while the audio plays. This is convenient because if you need to go back a page, just flip back and the audible book also starts at the top of the previous page. Even with that convenience I seldom do it that way. I almost always play the audible book on my Echo Tap while following along with my Kindle Voyager. My #1 wanted feature on an EBR is true immersion reading even if it has to be done through bluetooth.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I like to hear actors interpret characters (I used to be an actor), but as you note, not as my first exposure to the characters. An audiobook, for me, is very much like seeing a movie…and I always prefer to read a book before I see the movie. 🙂

      Good explanation of immersion reading…thanks for sharing that!

      • Phink Says:

        I have said this on here before but some may have not seen it. I immersion read when I could afford to do so before there was a name for it. I could be wrong about this but I imagine Amazon came up with that word. I never heard it before them.

        Before I bought my first kindle if I could afford it I’d sometimes buy both the Audio Book CD and the hardcover. I’d immersion read that way. Of course before I discovered used ones at Amazon most times I could not justify $40 or more for both the hardcover and audio book CD. I got really excited when I’d discover an audio book in the bargain bin that I was wanting however. Shoot, in the early parts of the millennium some audio book CD’s were close to $50. I think the Harry Potter’s retailed for close to $50 if I remember right. Audible was a God send for me. Especially after they were bought out by Amazon. I was a member even before that.

  3. Phink Says:

    Hey Bufo, not sure what you can do with this info or if it’ll interest you in the least. People who know me well sometimes give me the business as Beaver used to say because of my record keeping. I keep extensive records on reading as well.

    Tuesday will be my 8th anniversary of being a Kindler. Here are some stats I keep up with using Excel.

    Cost breakdown of Kindling
    Total cost of all books $878.48
    Total cost of Kindle readers $1,263.85 (Adding what I’ve bought and subtracting what I’ve sold)
    Total cost of accessories $357.78
    Other cost $62.38
    TOTAL COST of Kindling $2,562.49

    Daily Cost Breakdown
    Date I started Kindling 2/21/2009
    Today’s Date 2/17/2017
    Total Days 2,919
    Total Cost of Kindling $2,564.29
    Book cost per day $.30
    Kindling cost per day $.88

    Percentage of Cost
    Books $878.48 — 34.3%
    Readers $1,263.45 — 49.3%
    Accessories $357.78 — 14%
    Other $62.38 — 2.4%

    Non-Free books purchased 191 — 60.8%
    Free books purchased 123 — 39.2%
    Total books purchased 314 — 100%
    Average price per book $2.40
    Average Non-Free priced book $4.60
    Price per book considering all cost $8.16

    The tabs in my Excel file are: Reading Log, Ratings, Yearly Favorite Book List, Favorite Book List, Kindle Purchases, Current Inventory, Cost of Kindling, Cost Breakdown, Categories.

    I have bought, sold, or given away Kindles (not Fires, just EBR’s) a total of 25 times in 8 years. On the Kindle’s Purchased tab it tells all the information on every transaction. The longest I have owned a Kindle is my Paperwhite Next Gen (1701-D it’s name) for 1,231 days and counting. The shortest was the first gen Mindle and I had it 38 days.

    I’m not sure if this will interest you at all but it’s here in case it does. I’m only one person but I really doubt many of your readers has this much info on their purchase history. One friend of mine say’s it’s useless information. Maybe it is but I like it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I love that! There is a lot to unpack there.

      No information is useless…to one who knows how to use it. 😉

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I currently have 6 Alexa-enabled devices (an Echo, 2 Dots, a Tap, a Fire TV and a Fire TV Stick). I don’t actually use Alexa on the Fire devices — so with 4 wake words, Amazon is keeping up with my Echo device usage (barely). I currently use a different wake word for each Echo — although I hope Amazon will someday add inter-echo communication so I could ask one device to play music on several Echo devices. Also user-customizable wake words would be nice (:grin Susan, Barbara, Candy, etc.).

    A few days ago the WSJ had an article on how Amazon and Google’s are rushing to add telephony to their voice activated assistants — this is an idea I’ve been talking up for a while now. They mentioned that Amazon had a big head start, but was slowed by staff turnovers, and not as much smartphone experience as Google. It appears that the problems with this idea are not mainly technical, but have to do with carrier relations (1), and the possible regulatory requirement to provide 911 service (2). They point out that 911 is not required for things like Skype. Also Microsoft (at the recent WinHEC conference) said they are planning “cellular tablets” with full Windows 10 capabilities.

    Huawei recently announced that they will be adding Alexa to its Mate 9 smartphone in the US — although I don’t get the impression that this will include any linkages with the telephony parts of the Mate 9 — it’ll just be another app on the phone.

    I have enabled hands free mode on my Tap, but I can’t get it to hear me — there must be something I’m missing. If I push the “listen” button, it works fine.

    Like you, I don’t “hear” characters. Before the advent of the kindle, I would mentally visualize scenes — usually based on some modified real world places I was familiar with. The kindle has totally transformed my reading experience.

    If there’s a word or phrase I’m unfamiliar with, a long press will bring up dictionary/wiki info to help me out. I’m currently reading a series of mysteries set in Scotland, and this feature really helps with Scottish dialectical oddities, and their food nuttiness (I’m about to head out and see if I can find some Irn-Bru to taste test :grin)

    Visualization in the kindle/internet world is also very different. Now I tend to read on my kindle with a laptop close by. As the story moves through various real world geographies, I bring them up on Google maps — I can zoom in on roadway, satellite, birds eye, or street views to put myself right down into the story’s location. Doesn’t work so well for science fiction or fantasy though ( a coming feature update I’m sure :grin ).

    Often times something will be mentioned in a story that will send me off to Google search for digressions on topics or personalities that might consume an hour or two 😀 .

    One of my favorite authors is Rex Stout — he was reputed to throw off a Nero Wolf novel in about 3-4 weeks. It seems to me that most popular traditionally published mass market fiction authors (at least the ones that I read) turn out one new book per year. I suspect this has a lot to do with traditional publishing cycles rather than how fast an author can write. Many of the Indie authors that I read seem to turn out new stuff every couple of months.

  5. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I’m late to this discussion, but it clued me in to something I hadn’t realized. It was the confluence of reading this article, binge watching the early seasons of “Midsomer Murders” on a streaming service and reading a cozy mystery series set in the Cotswold area of England. As I was reading a section where the the lord of the manor was speaking, I realized I was hearing the voice of John Nettles, the original DCI Barnaby.

    So thank you for helping me to realize something I hadn’t realized about my own reading style.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I love it when people give me self-awareness, so I’m happy if I can in some small way return the favor. 🙂

      Well, I do know one thing I can tell people that heightens their self-awareness and will change their lives forever. I always carefully ask for permission before I tell that story, so I’m not telling it now. 😉

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