Round up #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials

Round up #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials

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

Amazon Financials for Q2 2018: more sales, more efficiently

This time, the investors liked the financials…understandably.

Net sales increased 39% (as I’ve pointed out before, that’s what you might see in a startup, not a mature company).

Net income? $2.5 billion in 2018 versus $197m in Q2 2017…yow!

That’s a lot better efficiency.

AWS did well, but sales also did well, and advertising is a big part of what’s happening now.

The Q&A is often the most interesting part of the call…you can read it here:

Seeking Alpha call transcript

In the Q&A, the transcriptions show “Alexa” showing up 17 times…and “Kindle” once, and the latterhat =was for

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


It’s a different story in the

Amazon’s press release

  • Alexa: 31 count
  • Kindle: 4 count
  • Fire TV: 5 count

I can (finally) watch Prime Video in VR

I know this probably doesn’t affect a lot of you, but it’s been frustrating for me!

Typically, at lunch at work, I do “floor work”…exercises on a yoga mat. I have a chronic condition, and that helps it. While I do it, I watch video…reading would be an option, but I can’t hold an e-book reader during most of the exercises (I do sometimes do it during part of it). Typically, I watch Netflix or Hulu: they both VR apps.

I would have been watching Amazon Prime Video…but no app and no way to watch. I watch it at home some; I’ve been rewatching the 1970s series, Kung Fu (which holds up surprisingly well). There was an interesting case of synchronicity recently: I was watching an episode where Caine is trapped with others underground. Caine gets them to basically meditate to reduce their use of oxygen, while a desperate rescue effort is happening. That is similar to what happened with the soccer team in Thailand…and I was watching the episode (I watch them in order) on the same day! But I digress… 😉

There still isn’t a Prime Video VR experience…but the Oculus browser was upgraded enough that it worked! That, by the way, gives me a “hit” on my predictions for the year. I said:

“I just can’t believe that there won’t be a way to watch Prime Video in VAM space before the end of 2018! That’s the prediction.It might be through an experience (which is what apps for VAM are called), or it might be through some sort of VAM browser system that lets us watch it like we would on a computer.
The Year Ahead 2018 (underling added for emphasis)

It’s not as good an experience as Hulu/Netflix which have custom designed experiences optimized for VR. The Prime Video experience…is more like watching on a TV versus watching in a movie theatre. Bottom line…it works. 🙂

“99 F-words appear in the book, 99 F-words appear!”

So, I read the sequel to

The Naturalist (Theo Cray #1) by Andrew Mayne (at AmazonSmile*)


Looking Glass by Andrew Mayne (at AmazonSmile*)

I enjoyed it…not as much as the first one, but I did enjoy it.

The number of times that the “F-word” appeared in the book stood out to me…I don’t mind that. I don’t use profanity in my personal life: I can quote it, but I don’t use is spontaneously.

In this case, it’s not used unreasonably…events in the first book changed the main character somewhat, which makes sense. I was curious as to how many there were, so I ran a search (not something you can do in a paperbook…and I don’t think they’d put it in most indexes).

It showed that there were 99 results…my guess is that’s as high as the counter would go, and it’s actually off the scale. 😉

It’s not bothering other readers, apparently: it has an average of 4.7 stars out of 5 with 497 reviews.

It was worth a borrow from

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


Amazon’s next big thing…

What’s going to be Amazon’s biggest headline generator later this year?

I’d say the strongest rumor is a home robot…I find a lot of references to “Project Vesta”. Here’s a summary:

Bloomberg article by Mark Gurman and Brad Stone

My guess is that this “big thing” will be pretty small. 🙂 I would speculate that it won’t be like Rosie on The Jetsons: human-sized, and able to push a vacuum. I’m thinking they aren’t going to be able to grab something and manipulate much. I picture it more as a little Echo on wheels, which can follow you from room to room. It will talk to you using Alexa, and control home devices. It could have a little screen…that’s a great way for it so have a face with expressions, and to be able to show you useful information.

I would expect some spatial awareness…perhaps even being able to point to a lamp and say, “That one?”

I’m going to intuit a cost of at least $500…$1500 wouldn’t surprise me.

Timeline? I think we hear about it this year, maybe it will be in employees’ homes and some beta testers, but not released to the public until 2019.

Quick Notes

  • Rumor has it that Amazon is working on “shared gift lists”, where more than one person can put items on and off the list. That could be really useful: for someone’s birthday, for example, if you bought a gift, you could remove it from the list so other people didn’t also want to buy it…like a wedding registry
  • Alexa is getting equalizer controls, so you can change the sound profile (you can be “all about that bass, no treble” to quote Meghan Trainor). That can make a difference: I find that in some older recordings, you have to up the treble to be able to understand them properly
  • Alexa Cast lets you continue doing something you were doing in Music Unlimited (such as listening to a playlist) on an Echo. It’s pretty limited right now, but it’s a start
  • We still have a lot of problems with our Echoes not knowing which one we want to do something…and since they do different things, that matters. For example, in our family room, we have an Echo Show and a Fire TV Cube near each other. The Fire TV Cube (which we like) controls things on the TV that the Echo Show can’t. Quite often, the Echo Show tries to do something it can’t do, when we are speaking to the Fire TV Cube. Amazon supposedly is making this “Echo Spatial Perception” (ESP) better by moving it to the cloud…we’ll see 🙂
  • I sometimes chat with Alexa (“Alexa, let’s chat”) which is how you can test out chatbots which are in a competition to improve Alexa’s conversational skills. For the first time recently, I had one which actually offended me. It made an ethnic joke, for one thing…I let them know in the feedback
  • In case you were wondering, there are just over 300 posts in my Birthdays category…I’ll be quite happy when I’ve done the Bookish Birthdays for every day of the year! That doesn’t mean no more work on it, since new authors become famous enough to include, but it will mean a lot less work
  • I’m getting a lot more interaction on Twitter lately! Quite a few authors are following me, for one thing. For another, I’m having fun doing something I created: #1TweetExpert. I give a term (it’s been one a day), and ask if you could educate people on it in one tweet. They can cover all sorts of things, which includes books. Some of them feel random even to me, but I may also want to provide context for term I’m hearing used, perhaps on the news. If you’d like to answer one or more, I’d love that! If you want to suggest a term for me to do, feel free. Here’s a Twitter search for it:
  • I was surprised in Amazon’s financials press release to see this: “… the ability for developers to turn text into lifelike speech using Amazon Polly, for free”
  • Another one of the named Amazon services (how many are there now?): “…Amazon Sumerian, a new managed service that allows developers to create and publish augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D applications quickly and easily without requiring any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise”

That’s a lot of topics! If you have questions or comments, 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 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


9 Responses to “Round up #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials”

  1. Zebras Says:


    A suggestion for your difficulty of different Echos trying to control the Fire TV Cube functions, I went ahead and named the TV Cube “Echo” this way it doesnt get too confusing. My booming voice tends to set off an Alexa through the wall to the bedroom, rather than a device that might be closer but to the side, thus we ended up with three “Alexas”, a “Computer” and now an “Echo” to keep things less confusing.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      Your suggestion did end up with a good result, although I did it somewhat differently.

      I have the Fire TV Cube and an Echo Show flanking the TV. What I like most about the Show is what it “pushes” to me, rather than what I “pull” from it. It reminds me about things on my calendar, shows me the time, and gives me quite interesting headlines (I can tap the screen or ask it to give me more information on it).

      On the other hand, the main purpose of the Fire TV Cube is to do things I ask it to do.

      What I ended up doing was giving the Show the “Echo” wake word, and leaving the Cube as Alexa.

      An interesting thing for me on that is that when the Show suggests trying things to say on the screen, it does now suggest that I say things like, “Echo, what’s the weather?” rather than, “Alexa, what’s the weather?”

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    So much to comment on — I’ll try to keep it brief (for me)😜.

    On the call, there was quite a bit of talk about increased productivity in the DC’s allowing them to slow somewhat the construction of new ones.

    Your problems with getting multiple Alexa devices in a room to respond correctly is a problem I wrestle with frequently. I’m approaching 10 Alexa devices, and in my open plan home chaos (mostly) rules. I’ve had to turn off recognition on some devices until I want to use them. As I’ve stated before, Amazon needs to provide more wake words — especially if they want the 3rd party Alexa device environment to grow into IOT-loaded appliances with Alexa built in. The WSJ recently had an article (with a humorous cartoon) talking about this coming ambient home.

    Of course, there are some severe technical issues with providing more wake words without also leading to a flood of unanticipated wake-ups with many deleterious consequences resulting.

    Quite frankly, given the current state of robotics technology, I can’t think of anything useful being possible in a home robot in the near term — Amazon would be better served to invest elsewhere.

    I am pleased with the small but steady improvements that Amazon is making to the Alexa feature set. To that end, I just received a Fire HD10 show mode docking station. It’ll be interesting to compare it with the Echo show.

    I’m just back from two weeks in England — I’m about to get my first pair of hearing aids. It will be interesting to see how these Bluetooth-enabled devices can interact with audio streams from my Alexa devices.

    I’m about to buy 10 shares each of MSFT and AMZN — just for giggles. Almost 95% of my expenditure will go for the Amazon shares — seems out of whack given their latest quarterly reports.

    FWIW, I much prefer these kinds of posts as opposed to the Bookish Birthday ones . . .

    Maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself not very invested in guessing what new gizmos might be announced as we approach the end of year selling frenzy:roll:.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      For the record, I prefer more narrative posts to the Bookish Birthdays, too. 🙂 However, there is clearly value in the Bookish Birthday posts, so I’ll keep doing those, too. Won’t be too long until I’ve done one for every day of the year, and then it will get easier.

      I agree with you about the home robot…I’m hoping Amazon can surprise me by making it useful/entertaining in a way I’m not imagining yet. It does intrigue me…I’ve had some robots. Amazon can develop many things at once, as we’ve seen. I’m hoping for an XR (VR/AR/Mixed Reality/Merger Reality/VAM) device, but we’ll see.

      I think that eventually, Alexa will just get smarter about the tone you use when talking to it. I’ve been training Nuance’s Dragon a lot lately…it really understands the difference between standard dictation and a “command”. It might not just be done by tone: it might be able to recognize when you are looking at it, which would be one way to go (although it would also have to work when you aren’t looking at it…you might be cooking, for example.

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I agree with your comments about Nuance Naturally Speaking. I used to use it a lot — I have a shortcut sitting on my desktop for the latest “pro” version which I bought a few months ago — I’ll install it eventually. It’s been my experience that the more you provide Dragon with corrections to its mistakes, the better it gets. It also seems to learn one’s preferred turns of phrase.

    Your comments about “tone” affecting recognition reminded me that Chinese, more than most languages, uses tone to convey very different meanings for the same spoken word — this makes the language difficult for westerners to learn (notwithstanding their even more difficult writing system).

    I’m currently trying to work out how to configure the Alexa devices in my bedroom. I currently have a phone (with hands-free Alexa), an Echo Spot, an Echo Dot2, and a Fire HD10 sitting in a Show Mode dock on the floor If I were to add a Fire TV Cube (which is reputed to currently be on Sale at Best Buy and Staples for $90 — as are most of the rest of the Amazon device menagerie), then I might have to retire the Dot, and give it to a sibling (or one of their offspring). OTOH these discounts are probably inventory clearance in preparation for some new devices — so maybe I should wait.

    I’ve only done a few things with the Show Mode HD10, but it seems identical in functionality to the Show. I like that it displays responses to requests in text on the screen (something the Dot can’t do) as well as voice — as I’m hard of hearing. I haven’t tried making calls with any of my Echo devices yet — something to look forward to. A good review of the Fire with Show mode can be found here:
    A more detailed comparison of features Show Mode Fire with dock versus an Echo Show can be found here:

    One thing reviewers point out is that the Fire HD10 is not a good music playback device. I’ve been plugging my Dot into a Bose Soundlink Color speaker for music in my bedroom. If I replace the Dot with the Fire/Show Mode, I would connect it to the Soundlink — that sounds (:grin) like a win all around.

    My “real” Show is in the kitchen — a good place for it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Just to be clear, I’m actually not referring to Dragon Naturally Speaking, but to Dragon Medical One. I’ve used the former, and didn’t like it much…it was such a resource hog! DMO works remarkably well. I’ve trained probably hundreds of people on it, and when I’ve checked with some of them weeks later, all of them were using it (with I think one exception which was a technical issue, not the fault of the software). That’s very unusual.

      I also appreciate your field report on Show Mode! I think it’s a great move on Amazon’s part.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        I’ve never had much of a resource problem with Naturally Speaking. OTOH I’ve always run it on top of the line H/W with lots of memory. In recent years, Nuance has taken advantage of relatively new SIMD instruction sets in Intel processors, and in GPU’s to make performance quite reasonable — even on mid-line laptops.

        Some years ago I was consulting with a local hospital on various technology questions — mostly having to do with digital radiology. One day the hospital administrators asked me if I would sit in on a demo that Nuance was going to conduct of their medical transcription product. This hospital had been having staff call an internal number, and dictate their reports for later transfer to paper by medical transcriptionists.

        I was very impressed with the speed and accuracy of the product and recommended that the hospital start a pilot investigation. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that both their medical and legal products deal with quite restrictive vocabulary spaces, and a certain commonality of jargon that makes the recognition problem somewhat simpler than in the more general case.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        The program we are using is Dragon Medical One…and the processing happens in the Cloud. I think I had Dragon 7 or 8 at home…it was years ago. I wasn’t on a top of the line computer at that point.

        DMO has a lot of understanding of context, which is why people pick a specialty (everybody has access to all of the vocabulary). It guesses where you are going based on that specialty.

        I had a funny experience with that as I was testing it. I was reading it some of Alice in Wonderland to test it (I actually always have a copy of Alice on my device with me). It was changing things into medical terms…Alice in Wonderland might turn into something like “aneurysm”, for example.

        Well, I had my specialty set as “General Medicine”. When I changed it to Clinical Admin (for managers and such…not for providers or staff), it got me completely right. 🙂

  4. The Year Ahead: 2019 | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Round up #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials […]

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