Round up #167: Barnes & Noble hitting new lows, Alexa when you have to go

Round up #167: Barnes & Noble hitting new lows, Alexa when you have to go

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

I brought my Echo Spot to work, and it’s…

When Amazon announced new hardware, I said about the Echo Spot (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping):

“Having a small, always available screen is going to make it a big part of people’s lives…”

It has 4.3 stars out of five right now, with 429 customer reviews.

It’s currently ranked #22 bestselling out of all electronics at Amazon.

I brought mine to work (we have an Echo Show (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) at home), and it’s…one of the coolest things ever! 🙂

I should describe my situation a bit.

I have my own office with a door which closes (and which I can lock). It is small, and the walls are thin enough that we can all hear each other.

I have the little “Magic 8-Ball” looking video screen sort of under my elevated monitor.

I’m able to put it on wi-fi at work (I could use a hotspot on my phone, but there is a public wi-fi network I can use. One thing I find particularly nice: when I log it into the wi-fi network, I have to check a box to acknowledge the terms. That page appears on my Echo Spot’s touchscreen! That means that I don’t need to use my phone at all to get on the network. Oh, by the way: swipe down from the top to find settings.

There is a 3.5mm (standard, like an a SmartPhone) audio jack, so I can just plug headphones in there. That way, I can listen quietly.

I can have it play music, podcasts, and so on.

However, I also do use the videoscreen. I can drop in on the Echo Show at home to check on the dogs. 🙂

When I ask for my Flash Briefing (“Alexa, what’s the news?”) some of it is actually video.

I also have watched videos: I’ve watched some of a Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda. Now, I need to be clear: none of this interferes with my work. 🙂 For example, I might watch at lunch.

I highly recommend the Spot…and I would think there may be an opportunity to get it for under $100 within the next year (might be a special sale).

“Is this the end of Rico…er, Barnes & Noble?”

Investors weren’t happy with Barnes & Noble’s report of the financial covering the holidays…and while I’m sometimes baffled by the reaction to Amazon financials, this seems reasonable.

  • According to this CNN Money chart, the stock price is down more than 20% this year. I’ve also heard that it is at the lowest price this century…since the mid-1990s
  • Online sales reportedly dropped 4.5%…that’s a bucking a significant general trend of increasing online sales
  • Reportedly, holiday book sales overall grew…meaning that B&N also underperformed compared to that industry

A new CEO apparently hasn’t reassured investors…bottom line, I don’t see anything at this point which shows a path to overcoming these deficits. They may be a target for purchase this year…and I can possibly see foreign investors being interested.

Firefox on Fire TV…a great end around

I noted that having the Firefox browser available on the

Fire TV family (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

was a way to get around Google blocking YouTube, and it does that quite nicely. There is already a link to YouTube on the landing page, so it’s just a couple of “clicks”.

However, I just ran into another great use.

I use the Comedy Central app to watch a particular series. Well, I did…now, it asked me to sign into my TV provider. Unfortunately, my provider wasn’t listed, and they said they were trying to sign up more.

I thought I might end up watching clips on YouTube, but then it occurred to me that I could just browse to Comedy Central’s site, and they might have full episodes.

They did. 🙂

That means we can watch the full episode on our TV, just like we usually would. There is a risk that Comedy Central stops showing full episodes, but that would be a real paradigm shift….for them, and for other sites.

Indie authors: you can now do X-Ray for your books

X-Ray is a great feature, which looks you look up things (characters, for example) in a book. Not just find them, like an index, but you can see the density of references to that character.

Indies (independent authors), certainly in the beginning, didn’t know how to get it for their books.

Kindle Direct Publishing

now lets you do it, and while I haven’t tried it yet, it looks like a pretty easy process.

It can be done automatically for your book, using content from Wikipedia.

However, you can also make your own custom content!

I expect we’ll get some clever things that way.

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney (at AmazonSmile*)

has a wonderfully sardonic “Catalog”, for example, which is a sort of glossary of items in the book, somewhat like X-Ray without locations. One of the entries:

“COCKROACH: La Cucaracha, the kitchendweller. Decently dressed in brown or black, discreet and humble, he lives in hovels as readily as in grand hotels. He has been with us a long time. He crawled about the middenheaps of the Neanderthal just as well as he now crawls about the middenheaps of the Parisian. He is fit and he survives. He watched the dinosaur and the pterodactyl die, and he saw Babylon flourish.”

It’s important to note that the cockroaches aren’t anthropomorphized or significant at all in the actual main text.

Alexa at CES

The Consumer Electronics Show just ended, and there are always all sorts of strange things there. This year, Alexa was definitely a star.

One major announcement was Alexa Onboard. While the headliner on this is that it will bring Alexa into cars, it has other important implications, as mentioned in this

Voicebot.AI article by Bret Kinsella

Alexa will, for the first time, be able to function significantly without an internet connection. It sounds to me like it may mean that Alexa could still turn my lights on and off if wi-fi was working, even if the internet was down. That would be a giant improvement, and make Alexa much more reliable and therefore perhaps get it into even more places.

Speaking of places…Kohler showed a toilet with Alexa built-in…so you can flush with voice control. My Significant Other doesn’t like using Alexa to turn on and off the lights, as opposed to a light switch. While I get that it’s more hygienic, but I would feel uncomfortable saying, “Alexa, flush.” 🙂 The toilet also plays music, though, so Alexa could help with that…and it’s heated, and it has lights which can change color, and it opens automatically…and it’s only $7,500.

I’ll be fine when I have Alexa in my auggies (augmented/virtual reality glasses, or other perceptive device), so I can talk to Alexa at any time anywhere. 🙂 Sound ridiculous? Vuzix introduced just that at CES:

psfk article by Zack Palm

What do you think? Do you see a path to continued viability for Barnes & Noble? Do you see any reason Amazon would want to buy them…or someone else who might? Would you talk to your toilet? Do you use X-Ray in books? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!

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

All aboard 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.


4 Responses to “Round up #167: Barnes & Noble hitting new lows, Alexa when you have to go”

  1. Phink Says:

    I’ve been saying for quite some time that Barnes & Nobel, Sears, and K-Mart are all dead stores walking. It seems there are a couple more I feel this way about but can’t think of them at the moment. I would love to be wrong but I think in the not to distant future there will be zero of all those stores.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      All three of those fit into the category of what I’ve called “dinostores”. They succeeded not because of quirky individuality (as many small bookstores do), but because of large, deep, generalized inventories. The internet does that so much better that it’s hard to survive on that basis. However, they can to some extent pivot and evolve. In B&N’s case, though, it seems to me it has hit a new low without an upward strategy being apparent.

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Some of my earliest comments here were about how I had a business discount with B&N, but how I found their customer service to be abominable, and once I started dealing with Amazon the contrast was stark. In the eight years that I have had kindles, I have been in B&N stores exactly three times — I just have had no use for them, and based on my own experiences, their travails over the years have not been at all surprising.

    I’m not sure about Amazon buying them — I think acquiring that large a network of brick & mortar outlets might be too big a mouthful to swallow with not enough upside.

    The tech press went into CES with many stories about the conflict between Google and Amazon for digital assistant market share. Post CES all the stories seemed to be about how dominant Google appeared to be — that they had won the mindshare contest. Yours is the first in print description I have read of any Amazon Echo/Alexa CES announcements. A lot of tech journalists seem more in touch with where Google is coming from, and quite tone deaf about Amazon’s advantages in ordinary households. Some of them even have difficulty acknowledging that Amazon is now one of the preeminent technology companies — they continue to see Amazon as that upstart retailer (:grin).

    I currently have four Echo/Alexa devices that I have yet to unbox: a Look, a Spot, an Echo2, and a Connect. I also have hands free Alexa on my Moto X4 smartphone (configured, but not used very much), and Alexa on my Fire HD 10 tablet (not even configured yet). As I’ve mentioned before, the lack of wake words is limiting my ability to use all my devices. Over the Christmas holidays, my brother was visiting. We were sitting in the living room where my original Echo (wake word Computer) was situated across the open space from the kitchen where my Show (wake word Amazon) resides. We were trying to have a conversation about various technology topics — especially my use of Amazon and Microsoft stuff. The constant interruptions from the Echo and the Show as to how they couldn’t answer was funny. Then it got hilarious as we tried to think up euphemisms for the wake words while continuing our conversation. I finally got up and turned the microphone off on both.😎

    I’m glad to hear the news about Xray as I have become quite addicted to it. I always wondered why more titles didn’t use it — as it seemed that a simple automated process could provide the relevant Xray entries. I wondered if Xray required authors to manually indicate the terms, and that was limiting it to mostly big five books.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I’ve seen quite a bit of reporting on Alexa at CES, but that’s undoubtedly partially the bubble effect. I indicate an interest in them, in various ways, so I see more of them.

      I do think you are right, though, that tech writers would rather focus on Google. That seems tech elitist to me…Google is a tech company, and appeals to techies (although also to non-techies). Amazon’s market is the mainstream…the Kindle won out in large part because it was easier to use, not because it was a technical wow (besides the wireless part, but wireless tech existed).

      I also have done very little with the Echo 2, but I’d suggest you try your Spot. Easy to set up, and I like mine a lot.

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