Round up #186: make your own Flash Briefing, Middle-Earth map

Round up #186: make your own Flash Briefing, Middle-Earth map

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

Escape (?) from New York

Do we have to start calling Jeff Bezos “Snake”? 😉 **

While there were apparently a lot of people looking forward to Amazon opening a new HQ in New York, there was also a lot of opposition to it. That split has politically been interesting, in terms of who supported, who opposed, and how close they were to the proposed site.

Amazon has now decided not to proceed with the project.

Does that mean another city for “HQ2”? Not necessarily…they already have a Virginia site as part of the HQ2 plan.

They are also doing work other places (Boston, for one) even though those aren’t HQs.

One interesting speculation I heard: Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer) living and property situation may be changing due to a major life event, and perhaps that made New York not as attractive as it would have been before. I don’t buy that one (Amazon corporate decisions are not capriciously made to suit Jeff Bezos’ whims…at least, I find that very unlikely).

There has been a lot of writing on this…while we knew that Amazon was increasingly a part of our lives, I didn’t expect them to be driving the political debate to this extent (and this isn’t the only issue where that’s the case).

Google news search for “Amazon New York”

Update on Amazon Giveaways

Close to two years ago, I was doing quite a few Amazon Giveaways:

Amazon Giveaways: so fun I’m running four (update: 5!) right now 🙂

With a change in my life situation, I wasn’t doing as many…but I did recently do one for my birthday.

As may not be a surprise, it’s changed quite a bit since then.

One of the first things that stood out to me was there were a lot fewer options that you could set as a requirement to participation.

This could be affected by the type of thing for which you are doing the giveaway, but it’s worth noting that this was a giveaway of a physical item:

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

I had the following options:

  • No requirement
  • Follow an author on Amazon
  • Watch a YouTube video
  • Watch an Amazon video

They removed an option to have them take a poll, and two that had to do with Twitter (follow someone on Twitter and tweet something specific).

I also didn’t have as many options for how the item was given away. I could pick a number for a participant, and the lowest was 600. Interestingly, I got to 600 pretty quickly…within hours. Again, that number may be different for different items.

Definitely worth doing giveaways…just not as much flexibility as there used to be.

If you want to start a giveaway, you’ll find a link on many Amazon product pages.

If you want to try to win a giveaway, you can start here:

Amazon Giveaways (at AmazonSmile*)

You can publish Alexa skills…Flash Briefings, anyone?

Poof! You’re a news network! 😉

Amazon recently opened up publishing skills in the Alexa store to everybody who meets the simple requirements.

This is so big and so new that Amazon hasn’t been able to answer a question about it for me yet.

As this is a round-up, let’s just really focus on one skill type which I think could apply to the largest number of my readers.

You start here:

You do need to set up a free developer’s account.

I’ve created skills before…in particular, I created a quiz skill for my day job which worked very well. Once we knew what the content was going to be, it only took a few minutes.

One of the blueprints they’ve added is for a Flash Briefing.

Yep…you can create something to which people can listen on their compatible Alexa device every day (or once a week), You can publish it generally, or just for your followers.

You can add text (which Alexa will read) or audio (a recording) content.

I just created one (which I haven’t released) to test it, and found a big limitation for the Flash Briefing: 400 characters…a bit less than a tweet and a half. Hm…it’s possible if I picked a different category it would be longer, but I don’t know yet.

It became available to me right away…certainly under two minutes.

The text took some massaging…no special characters, and one of the things that meant for me was dropping parentheses. I’m testing it with On This Date in Geeky History, but I could also test Bookish Birthdays (although that would probably run longer than 400 characters quite often, since I include a title/series per author).

UPDATE: Adding a comma between the celebrity and the credit made a big difference! So, it looks like this (without the quotation marks): “Andre Norton, Witch World, J.T. Edson, Bunduki,”. That’s pretty easy to update for me…just replacing all “(” and “)” with commas. I may try publishing the Bookish Birthdays….I probably should test it for a few days first to see how much time it takes to do.

Once you’ve created it, you can either make it available to specific people or publish it generally in the Alexa Skills store (or keep it private to just you). Please don’t share this, but here’s the link so you can hear mine if you want:


I’m not ready to commit to making it generally available (SEE BELOW), although I think I can adapt my posts on it (which I do anyway) in about five minutes. I’d also like to find more of a separation between the celebrity’s name and a work for which they are known. The parentheses do that visually, but they aren’t an option. I want to experiment with it: see if it will take a period, for example. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take a colon.

Update: I have published both the Bookish Birthdays and The Measured Circle’s Geeky History Today (the latter is still in review at time of writing)…which meant having to revoke the sharing.

There’s another skill that reads blog posts…those could presumably be longer. However, it needs a WordPress plug-in which I think requires a business account…and that costs $25 a month. I’ve used the free version of WordPress for close to a decade, which has worked well….changing to the paid plan is not something I want to do at this point.

I suspect many of you can find a use for this…I’d appreciate knowing your use cases.

Baby Skill Activity API

Speaking of skills, Amazon has just announced a new Baby Skills API (Application Programming Interface) for Alexa. Basically, parents/guardians will be able to track things like feedings and sleep by talking to their devices. It’s an interesting move, and it will help integrate Alexa even more into people’s lives.

PSFK article by Rachel Gonzales

Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings TV series releases a map

Amazon is working on a TV new series based on

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (at AmazonSmile*)

They are being pretty secretive (hey, it’s Amazon) about what it’s going to cover…but they have released a (vague…no place names) interactive map:”>

Well, I could keep going, but that’s enough for today! Oh, wait! I will link to today’s

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile*)

which has 53 titles, including ones by bestselling authors Melinda Leigh and Robert Dugoni.


Do you have any opinions or questions on 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 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! :) 

** In John Carpenter’s movie, Escape from New York, the main character (played by Kurt Russell) growls out “Call me Snake”

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog


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