Round up #174: Alexa blueprints, 9 free books

Round up #174: Alexa blueprints, 9 free books

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

World Book Day tie-in: 9 books for free!

For USA customers, Amazon is doing at giveaway to tie into

World Book Day

on 23 April. The sale ends at 11:59 p.m. (PDT) on April 24, 2018.

You can go to this page:

World Book Day with AmazonCrossing (at AmazonSmile*)

and download up to nine books, free to keep.

Clearly, this has been popular, with nearly 5 million pages read so far. Some of them are quite well-reviewed.

I did get them all for us, but I will say, I’ve felt burned by AmazonCrossing titles before, where I didn’t end up liking the translation (finding them a bit “stiff”).

Note that I haven’t read these specific titles, and they could be great. 🙂 Can’t beat the price…

Game changer! Make Alexa answer whatever questions you want…easily!

This is a remarkable innovation, coming a bit out of nowhere.

It seems obvious that Alexa is an important platform, in its infancy. That’s not just

Echo and Alexa devices (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I use Alexa a lot in the Amazon shopping app on my phone. If I want to listen to the news in the car (I usually listen to text-to-speech, but I’m also a big news consumer), I listen to my Flash Briefing (Bluetoothed through my car’s audio system). I’m sure it runs at least thirty minutes…with no commercials.

Well, Amazon just introduced something that lets anybody create Alexa question and answers (and skills)…and that, to me, especially has application for businesses.

They are called

Skill Blueprints

They definitely have some cool ideas, including for “choose your own adventure” type stories, but I’m going to suggest you start out by skipping all that.

Go directly to Custom Q&A.

This is simple and obvious. You write a question, then write Alexa’s response to it.

It will be available to all of the devices registered to your account.

I set it up first with some phone numbers…”What’s so-and-so’s phone number?” My Significant Other will use that.

However, where I see a real application for this is businesses and other organizations.

Regular readers know that I work for a healthcare organization. We have great people at desks who help people find departments within the buildings. I love seeing someone looking a bit lost, asking them if I can help them find something, and then sometimes actually getting to walk them to their destinations! If you are there for a procedure, you can certainly be nervous and not at your best.

Imagine the option of having a number of Alexa devices around, and people being able to ask them! Sure, asking people is probably a better experience, but you can’t always have people everywhere…and asking Alexa is cutting edge.

It’s a bit tricky for some things: I’d have to write questions for, “Where is X-Ray?”, “Where is Imaging?”, “Where is ultrasound?” and so on.

Still, it could work really well…and you can write funny or reassuring answers as well.

Oh, that’s worth noting: if you do use a question that Amazon already knows how to answer (like, “Alexa, what time is it?”), your answer replaces the stock answer…which could lead to some interesting jokes.

For the custom Q&A, there is no skill to launch…you just ask.

For the actual skills, you do give them a name and invoke them.

They give you blueprints for the babysitter, pet sitter, and houseguest. Those are nicely done for guiding you…for the pet, you enter where the leash is, what the pet’s allergies are, emergency contact numbers, etc.

I’ve only experimented with it some so far. I like the process: after you finish the skill, it’s available to use within about two minutes, and then can be edited a couple of minutes after that.

It would clearly be better to write them out first. On the phone numbers, I put the “1” region code in front of most of them…but didn’t on one of them (so I had  to go back and standardize).

One of our dogs is named “Patty”, and as a joke, I created a phone number: “What is Patty’s phone number?” “1-555-555-yap-yap-yap-woof!” It didn’t work at all at first…and that was because it was hearing “patties phone number”. I changed the spelling in the question, and that worked.

The other thing is that it didn’t speak it like a phone number: it said, “Five hundred and fifty-five”. On the other phone numbers, it read just the digits: I assume having the words at the end changed its interpretation.

I haven’t checked the public skill creation area for a while, but if they haven’t done this sort of thing there, they should! I’d love it if you had the choice to make a blueprint in to a public skill, but that’s not available yet.

I also looked at the privacy…if you put in social security numbers as one of the things it can answer, that does look to me like it could be read at Amazon…but not by the public outside of your account.

They could do more with this (let it tie into a database, for example), and I’m sure they will…but I think this has giant possibilities.

Amazon makes paying taxes less…taxing

Okay, this is not going to affect a lot of my readers…but it will affect some. 🙂 It also generally shows how Amazon keeps trying to innovate in different areas.

When I’ve done our taxes in the past, I would have many documents from Amazon…statements for every “territory” where I got a royalty for one of my books, for example. I think for our 2016 taxes, there were more than ten. For 2017? There was just one! That may seem like a little thing, but I do find doing the taxes stressful, and this really reduced my uncertainty.

Thanks, Amazon!

2017 Letter to Stockholders

Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to stockholders is also interesting. This year’s


is no exception (note that you’ll have the option for more than one document here).

Unusually, there are some solid numbers in it. Jeff notes that “…we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally…”.

There was a mention of the Kindle…but Alexa got a lot more coverage…

Have any thoughts about any of the stories in this post? Feel free to let me and my readers know 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.


3 Responses to “Round up #174: Alexa blueprints, 9 free books”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I may be wrong but I think those “free” books were originally Kindle First Reads. I know “Still Waters” was because it was one of my choices.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I don’t know about all of them, but some of them for sure. The Kindle First choices are published by Amazon, and these AmazonCrossings books are part of that larger group. They also are part of Kindle Unlimited, generally (I think probably always).

  2. alanchurch Says:

    Nine free ebooks. Very useful blog about ebooks and amazon.

    Sent from my iPad

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