Round up #183: Alexa Guard, saving small businesses

Round up #183: Alexa Guard, saving small businesses

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

My recovery

To get this out of the way (don’t worry, I’ll do some newsier stuff after this story):

Walker with I'M BUFO license plate

I had hip replacement surgery on January 17th, and that’s why you’ve been seeing “reprints” (re-posts, actually). This is the first fresh thing I’ve written for the blog since, although I’ve been tweaking the Bookish Birthdays.

Knock virtual wood, it’s been going remarkably well! I don’t feel pain much; that’s nothing of which to be particularly proud, it’s just a thing…like being tall. Since the surgery, I took half a Norco and a Celebrex (I took the latter because I thought it was more for swelling). This is all with consultation with my surgeon, and those are all the pain meds I’ve taken.

I am taking aspirin (81 mg twice a day), but that’s to lessen the chance of blood clots…so I take it for six weeks.

I’m up and around with the walker…that “license plate” was a gift from our adult kid for my wheelchair. I used to have a personalized one like that on a car I owned, so I thought that was very thoughtful!

I’m actually sitting at the kitchen table right now writing. The first day or two, I didn’t get out with the dogs, which was very hard for all of us. Now, I can be out here, but I have to be constantly aware. That’s the weird part, and where my lack of feeling pain is a disadvantage: it is quite possible to dislocate the replacement at this point. There is bone growing, which will take a long time…my leave is set for seven weeks.

I read a lot and watched a lot of videos, so I have a good idea what not to do. It’s some weird things; if you turn 90 degrees, most people leave one foot still pointing forward, so it ends up perpendicular…and then, pop! So, I have to take little steps, like an eighth of a circle at a time. I was referring to that as my “Arte Johnson Shuffle”, for the old man character (Tyrone) Arte played on Laugh-In who took very short strides.

So, a moment’s inattention could put me back in the Operating Room.

Fortunately, I have very good kinesthesia and self-awareness: many years ago, the most money I ever made in the theatre was being a stunt coordinator (often for children’s shows). I also used to go barefoot whenever it was legal…and you have to be aware of your feet in that case. I always remember I was walking barefoot in the rain through San Francisco’s Japantown. As I passed, one older person leaned to the other and said quietly, “Samurai”. 😉

I probably won’t need to wear shoes for some time. I also keep my hair professional for my day job, and I’m letting that grow out…hey, I’ve got to have some fun with this, right? 😉

Amazon has definitely been a big part of my recovery! I already pre-wrote

As a writer who is also on social media, this gadget is my best new tool in years!

about the

iClever folding keyboard (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

which has been simply amazing! Even though my Significant Other (ironically) doesn’t like tech much at all, we got a second one…my SO doesn’t thumb-type well (neither do I), and although it won’t be used much, it will make a difference. The thing that convinced me? Adding items to the Alexa shopping list. Yes, it could be spoken, but my SO also doesn’t like to talk to tech all that much (but will set timers and play music with Alexa).

Another gadget we bought, which has been really worth it, is this:

Asgens Power Strip,6 Way Outlets With 4 USB Port Charger 110-250V Charging Station Smart Power 2 Layers Socket Tower With 9.8 ft Extendable Cord (at AmazonSmile*)

That seems like a little thing, but my SO doesn’t like cords showing. This thing is vertical: sort of looking like a Coleman Lantern. You can wind up the main cord inside it. You can also turn outlets off on and with a button. Each outlet is plenty large to handle the biggest wall adapter I have, and it has USB ports. When I’m not using it, it sits very nicely on a window sill.

Alexa is helpful; setting timers for my walking laps around the bed (per Physical Therapy, and with the walker), for example. Amusingly, I also “dropped in” on my SO once…from the bedroom to the family room. 🙂 I tried texting, and that didn’t work, so I used the video call from my Alexa app on my phone to our

Echo Show (at AmazonSmile*)

That link is to the 2nd gen, although ours is a first gen. The 1st gen is no longer offered new from Amazon, but you can get used ones for under $100. I also put our

Echo Spot (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping)

in the bedroom, but it was just easier to use the phone (the Spot is on the headboard).

By the way, I’m not saying that our dogs are spoiled, but for the beginning of my recovery, I was confined to a bedroom, and they had the run of the house. 😉

As for entertainment, device-wise, it’s all Amazon. We have a

Fire TV Stick (at AmazonSmile*)

and a

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

in the family room.

Would it have been easier for me if it was the other way around.


However, I didn’t want to change the arrangement. That would be harder on my SO, and I didn’t mind having the motivation to get back in the family room. The cube controls our TV; in the bedroom, I have a remote.

We watch Amazon Prime/Hulu/Netflix, and then as an indulgence, I got the

DC Universe app (at AmazonSmile*)

Okay, with the free trial and $7.99 a month (+tax), it’s not much of an indulgence. 😉 They have quite a few older series, which is what I wanted to watch more than the new shows (I like non-dark DC better). I may write a whole review in the The Measured Circle, but I will say that the interface is a bit clunky. It doesn’t always start (meaning I need to force stop it in the Applications part of the Settings on the Fire TV), and it often doesn’t realize I’ve already seen an episode, but the content is worth it to me.

Oh, and of course, I’m reading! I do it on a Paperwhite & a discontinued Kindle Fire HD tablet. I got a few books at the holidays, and I’m enjoying that, plus magazines. I may do something different on that, but this is long enough for now!

Thanks for all the well wishes!

Now, on to other things!

Alexa Guard mode

While this is something which may be wonderful, and we may literally get anecdotes about it saving lives, Amazon has to be very careful with something that you can request now (although that doesn’t mean you automatically get it).

According to this September 20th, 2018

press release

it will do a number of things, including switching lights on and off when you are away so it appears you are home.

I think the standout feature (at least right off) will be its ability to alert you when it hears troubling sounds…breaking glass, smoke alarms, that kind of thing.

While that’s undeniably a good thing (assuming there aren’t too many false positives), it does change a fundamental thing about your Echo device that Amazon has said many times.

It will now be responding to something other than the wake word…and presumably, recording audio.

I don’t know that, but I assume it will record some audio when it hears something “suspicious”, than play it for you remotely. That way, you can assess the actual danger. I can think of many false triggers…you could be watching a show which has breaking glass, and that’s part of some ceremonies which have been in the movies/TV.

I’ve already requested it myself. If you want to do that, go to the settings in your Alexa app. If you are eligible to request it (I think that depends on the kind of hardware you have), you’ll see a listing for “Guard” most of the way down.

Once you’ve done that, you are on the list, and they’ll let you know.

I don’t want to write about someone’s relationship

Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos have been getting a lot of coverage recently in somewhat unusual places, due to their announced change in relationship status.

All I want to address (briefly) is how this might affect Amazon and us as customers.

There seems little doubt that Mackenzie will get credit for her participation in the foundation and at least the early years of Amazon. It is certainly possible that Jeff will lose some power with the company (and Mackenzie could gain it…getting stock, perhaps), but I think that will be handled in a way that doesn’t hurt the company. One choice might be a buy out: cash value instead of the stock. Another might be some sort of non-voting stock. The key thing in terms of continuity is that Jeff’s position as a stockholder is essentially unchanged. That may not be what happens, though.

Here is one article about it:

Yahoo Finance post by P.H. Madore

Who’s going to save small and medium businesses from Amazon? How about Amazon?

Third-party sales growth at Amazon is higher than Amazon’s own sales growth, according to this

press release

There is a lot of data in the press release, all indicating how powerful Amazon has been for small and medium businesses lately. One interesting thing: they said that they thought small and medium businesses selling through Amazon created 900,000 jobs worldwide.

You may have noticed

Amazon Storefronts (at AmazonSmile*)

The feel of the promotion to me is somewhat like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. If they pick your needle out of their haystack, you can really soar. They have curated collections, which are basically departments, but they also let you focus on things like “Artisans” or “Family-focused businesses.”

I’ve talked about Amazon wanting to be the “infrastructure of the internet”, and these are sales made through the internet (even though Amazon pointedly refers to “stores” rather than “sites” throughout the press release), but of physical objects.

This month’s First Reads

Prime members can get two of the following books as Kindle books, prior to their February 1st publication to keep for free:

  • The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler (thriller)
  • The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann (family drama)
  • The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford (historical fiction)
  • Blood for Blood by Victoria Selman (mystery)
  • Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg (fantasy)
  • Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady (memoir)

In the past, people have sometimes wanted to know what I’ve chosen. I’m going with bestseller Barry Eisler (not the only bestseller on this list) and Charlie N. Holmberg (author of The Paper Magician). While Blood for Blood says it’s a mystery, it sounds pretty violent, which isn’t always something we like Sure, Eisler is probably violent, too, but that goes better with “thriller” than with “mystery” for me.

Writers need empathy, but not necessarily sympathy

This came up for me on Twitter recently (I’ve been a lot more active there of late), and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it here.

Someone was asking how they could write about flirting when they never flirt.

My response:

“The same way a pacifist can write a murder scene. 😉 Writers should have a highly developed, generalized sense of empathy, which lets you imagine motivations for different scenarios. ‘Why’ shouldn’t be an issue, but ‘how’ may require research…movies, TV, & books can help here”

What did I mean by that?

My definition of “empathy” is being able to tell how people feel (or how they will feel in a given circumstance). I considered it an essential quality when I was hiring trainers. A successful trainer has a lot of empathy…even just preparing material, they can tell what is going to be difficult for someone to understand. They can figure out for which things they will need to use more real world analogies, for example.

When doing the training, they need to be able to have a sense of the room…are they going too quickly? Are they going to slowly?

Sympathy, on the other hand, is related to feeling the same way as someone else…nowadays, that usually means feeling their pain or suffering by realizing how something is going to affect them.

Those two are very different.

It would be possible for someone with clinically no sympathy to be a successful trainer. They would need to see the value in getting people to understand, but they wouldn’t have to feel bad for someone who wasn’t. On the other hand, someone with no empathy would likely be a terrible trainer…they couldn’t adjust as needed based on the emotional state of the students.

It’s similar for writers.

They need to be able to imagine how someone would feel. Let’s say someone is writing a very violent character when they themselves are non-violent (the “pacifist” in my tweet above). They don’t have to align their feelings with the character…they don’t have feel what they feel. They just have to imagine how that person would feel.

That might be by equating the joy of the violence with, say, the joy the author felt in winning a tennis game…but there need not be a personal analog at all.

I should emphasize: that’s just how I feel about it, the way I use the words. Empathy is intellectual, sympathy is emotional. Here’s what says:

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Which Word To Use And When

What do you think? Would you use Alexa Guard? What would you want it to do if it hears a sound…remember that it has directional hearing? Maybe it could just take a picture of that area (if pointed that way)…maybe it could lock the doors, turn on your Ring camera to record anybody near the front of the house, or yell, “Intruder alert!” What’s your scenario for Amazon’s first big bad PR out if it? Do you have any concerns about Mackenzie and Jeff’s change? Do writers need to feel sympathy, or just empathy…and is that how you use the terms? Is it possible to have one without the other? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think 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


9 Responses to “Round up #183: Alexa Guard, saving small businesses”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I’m so pleased to learn your recovery is going well!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Thanks, me too! 😉 I’m getting some writing done much earlier than I thought…

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Thanks for the mention of the vertical power strip. MBR is a rats nest of connectors. After some research I went with this One:

    because it has 8 outlets and 8 amps for the 4 USB ports (which provides for simultaneous fast charging on all 4 ports

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Yes, there are a lot of choices. The key feature I was looking for was a retractable cord, which I don’t the one you selected has. I alternate between being at the kitchen table and being in bed at this point. When I’m at the kitchen table, I’m quite mindful of the appearance of cords (my Significant Other doesn’t like to see them). So, when I’m done at the table, I put the two USB cables (micro and C) into a Ziploc bag, and retract the cable into the power station. Makes for a pretty neat looking package. 🙂

      I really only need three ports where I am (I have many more in the bedroom…including an alarm clock with two USB ports, which is very handy!).

      * One for my ASUS laptop…it’s much less needed than it used to be, but I still use it. I’m writing on it right now
      * One for my phone
      * One for my Fire tablet…I can’t sit up for hours and hours, but I leave my set up out there is I’m only going back to the bedroom for a bit

      This all goes back to something about which I wrote more than eight years ago…we need true wireless (walkaround) charging!

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Get well soon!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Thanks…I’m working on it. 😉 There’s nothing much that can speed up the bone growth, though, so it will take a while to get back to where I was, and hopefully beyond. I was told it could be a year to get to 100%…but I could be at 90% in three months.

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Not much press notice of Bezos divorce. Stock hasn’t moved much. One article did point out that they have residences in 5 or 6 states with different rules — so where they choose to file will have an impact. It’s early days to wonder about the impact (if any) on this.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Well, either we don’t consume the same “press” or we have a different definition of “much”…or a combination. 😉 I would say there isn’t a single mainstream news source I use that didn’t report on it, although they didn’t make it the top story. I say mainstream because, you know, I don’t the Fortean Times is going to cover it…

      If it has an impact on the stock, I would guess it will happen when we know more about the settlement.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        The two mainstream places that had articles that I saw were in the WSJ and the WashPo and both of these had little beyond the announcement itself. I did expect more from the tech press, but the only article there was in a daily science journals synopsis that I get — it was an odd place for the article, and it did have a lot of speculative “what-if” postulates with to me zero credence.

        Stock price was up mildly all last week, but today it was down sharply (I’m a stockholder now — so I have my Echo Show displaying the MSFT and AMZN prices throughout the day😎). I expect some may be selling in advance of AMZN’s 4Q report on Thursday. Since their guidance with the 3Q report was below expectations, some may be anticipating a downer quarter. OTOH if they beat their guidance, could give the stock a boost. Tech stocks in general are not doing well.

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