Archive for the ‘Alexa’ Category

Alexa gets a(nother) game changing new feature: memory! [updated]

May 5, 2018

Alexa gets a(nother) game changing new feature: memory! [updated]

I recently wrote that this was going to happen, although I was surprised when it showed up this morning!

Well, it happened when the Alexa app last updated, I’m sure…I’m running 2.2.2— on a Samsung Galaxy S7. It updated on May 2nd.

However, I’m not seeing any documentation on it at Google Play or within the app. It could be that the ability is out there, but they haven’t fully documented it yet…that has happened with Amazon before.

So, what’s the feature?

Memory.

Sure, you’ve been able to enter things into Alexa memory before…using a shopping list or to do list, for example.

This is much simpler than that.

You just…tell Alexa to remember something.

For example, I said, “Alexa, remember that Doc Savage’s first name is Clark.”

Then, later, I could say, “Alexa, what is Doc Savage’s first name?”

Alexa told me, and told me that I had asked Alexa to remember that.

I wanted to check the parsing, so I said, “Whose first name is Clark?”

No problem: the response was, “Doc Savage’s first name is Clark.”

I was curious what would happen if the same answer was true for two things. I told it to remember that Superman’s first name is Clark.

After that, when I asked whose name is Clark, it told me both of them…cool!

The next thing I did was give it contradictory facts…so I told Alexa that Superman’s first name was Wayne. When I asked what Superman’s first name was, it told me Clark and Wayne…impressive!

I did test: I could ask Alexa in the (free) Amazon shopping app, and it knew what I had asked our

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

to remember.

I can see many uses for this, including as a quiz. My guess is the most common use will be the equivalent of jotting something down on a piece of paper.

I’ve checked at the Amazon site as well, and can’t find anything on this yet. One big thing I haven’t discovered yet is how to get Alexa to forget something. 😉 I’ve asked several ways. I also couldn’t find what it was remembering in the Alexa app…I suspect the documentation will show up in the few days. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]

I’m assuming any information being remembered can be seen by anybody on the account…at least those with the credentials (username and password).

I also don’t know how secure this is, although I’m assuming as secure as anything else on your Amazon account.

If you test it out, I’d be curious about what you think! Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Update: I got some responses from Amazon…good to know!


Hello Bufo,

I understand your concern regarding the New Feature “Remember This”. Glad to assist you.

A) Regarding your First Query. To  make Alexa forget something that you told it to remember, you need to delete the information from the Alexa App.

To do so:

1. Go to the homepage in the Alexa app.

2. Find the card containing the information you want to delete.

3. Select “Delete.”

When you delete the card, Alexa no longer remembers the information.

——- Are there limitations as to how long the responses can be or how many there can be?

Currently there are no limitations or restrictions as how long the response can be or how many there can be.

3. Who sees the responses that are stored… Is it safe to put in, for example, a social security number?
Utterance ID:

You’ll be able to see the responses in the Alexa App. i.e who ever has the access to your Alexa app, they will be able to see the responses stored.

If you still have any other or related concerns, please feel free to write back to us, we will be happy to assist you.


I tested deleting a card (the spurious information about Superman’s first name being Wayne)…worked like a charm.

Oh, I also tried asking like Bizarro might: “What Superman name?” That worked, too. 🙂 Just, “Superman name” didn’t, though.


Another update: since it picks out individual words, you can categorize by mentioning the category. I’m preparing a charitable donation today. When it comes time to do the taxes, I’ve often had to dig a bit to find which organizations and what dates. I asked it to remember, “We made a donation to [organization name] for the taxes on [date].” When I said, “What about the taxes?” it told me my full statement…and would do so with multiple items.

Another good use for me: I’m watching an old movie, and there’s something in it that might spark an article on my The Measured Circle blog…but I probably won’t get to it for a while. I said, “Remember that [movie name] has [trivia] for The Measured Circle.” Then I asked, “What about The Measured Circle?”, and there was my writing prompt!

Truly game changing!


Another update: you can easily delete and edit your items! If you say, “Alexa, what did I ask you to remember?”, then go to the Alexa app on your phone, you’ll see a list. With each one, you can delete it (with the “x”) or edit it (with the “pencil”). I deliberately said a wrong fact. Then, I edited it in the app…it instantly knew the right answer.

So many possibilities! I’ve already used it to remember where the Mothers’ Day gifts are, for example. This is a true digital assistant, like Iron Man’s Jarvis. 😉

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.

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Round up #172: new features for a Kindle app, people who haven’t read a good (or any) book lately

March 25, 2018

Round up #172: new features for a Kindle app, people who haven’t read a good (or any) book lately

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

Today’s KDD: “Up to 80% off New York Times best sellers & more”

Today’s

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

has really top brand name authors and other well-known titles! I’m quite impressed…titles include:

  • Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child: City of Endless Night (Agent Prendergast) | 4.3 out of 5 stars | 615 customer reviews |  $4.99
  • Robyn Carr: What We Find (Sullivan’s Crossing) | 4.5 stars | 512 reviews | $1.99
  • James Patterson: All-American Murder | 4.1 stars | 232 reviews | $4.99
  • Sara Paretsky: Fallout (V.I. Warshawaski | 4.2 stars | 242 reviews | $1.99
  • David Baldacci: Guilty (Will Robie) | 4.5 stars | 4,232 reviews | $2.99
  • Clive Cussler: Shock Wave (Dirk Pitt) | 4.5 stars | 868 reviews | $0.99
  • Stephenie Meyer: The Chemist | 4.3 stars | 2,066 reviews | $3.99
  • Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins:
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Christina Baker Kline by A Piece of the World
  • Boundaries by Henry Cloud
  • Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines
  • Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall
  • The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
  • You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
  • Let Trump be Trump by Corey Lewandowski
  • You Say it First by Susan Mallery
  • Love Does by Bob Goff
  • The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
  • Wanted by Maya Blanks
  • The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
  • The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren
  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  • Walk to Beautiful by Mr. Jimmy Wayne
  • Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard
  • Willow Brook Road by Sherryl Woods
  • Private #1 Suspect by James Patterson

iOS Kindle app updated

The iOS Kindle app (for iPhones and iPads) was recently updated (March 19) to 6.5, and there are two particularly stand-out new things to me.

One is “infinite scrolling”. That’s something people wanted even back when the Kindle was first introduced in 2007. What that means is that rather  than reading it like a book, whiere you see a certain amount of text and then change to another block of text (like flipping a page on a p-book…paperbook), you can just scroll through the whole book, like one continuous webpage. I definitely see the attraction of that, even though it moves you further away from the “paper behind glass” feel.

The second one for me is that they’ve added an Arabic dictionary. There is a sense to me that Amazon may be working on an expansion into countries with a lot of Arabic-speakers, although Netflix also recently added more Arabic support. It is a top ten language in the world (I’ve seen both fifth and sixth largest cited) with hundreds of millions speaking it as their first language, so it’s worth noting that there are people outside predominantly Arabic speaking countries who also might like to read in Arabic.

The other two things they noted was swiping down in the library to refresh it, and support for split screen view on iPads.

Alexa, the protocol droid?

This was an interesting

Yahoo! Finance article by JP Mangalindan

It doesn’t surprise me that Amazon is working on Alexa doing real-time translation. It can do some minor pieces of that now through “skills”, but there are a lot of AI solutions for “universal translation” not far away (and some that work somewhat now).

What was more intriguing to me was the suggestion that Alexa would change what it gave you as a “translation” if you told it the role of the person. This can be very sticky in language (our adult kid is a linguist, and it’s an interest of mine): many people use overly familiar language, for example, when formal might be more appropriate.

This ties very much into their

Cleo skill (at AmazonSmile*)

What happens is that you have a conversation in a language of your choosing with Alexa. Alexa speaks English, you speak your language. What you are doing is teaching Alexa. It’s a crowdsourcing thing, and you actually get points. 🙂 While this should let Alexa learn about more natural language, there is also a serious risk that people will try to teach Alexa things as a joke…as Monty Python might say, “My hovercraft is full of eels.” 😉 However, I always believe the majority of people will have good intentions…so if enough people use Alexa, it should be fine.

I used to be “fluent” in Mangani, the language the “apes” speak in the Tarzan series of books. There aren’t that many words, and fortunately, the syntax is exactly the same as English. 😉  I couldn’t answer the sorts of questions Alexa will ask, though.

I have no doubt Alexa will learn Klingon…

Anyway, back to the protocol part: I assume this also means that Alexa could give you an idea of what to say in English in certain situations. “Alexa, I forgot our anniversary…” “Alexa, my boss caught me stealing…” 😉

Speaking of speaking, I really wasn’t pleased when our Alexa switch to the new “Brief Mode”. Instead of answering me with “Ok”, Alexa plays a note…a sort of muted “bing bong”; I’m fine with that being an option, but it opted me in without asking me. It told me it did it, but then it was done. I much prefer the “Ok”…it’s part of what makes Alexa special for me. I did go back into the Settings and Alexa Voice Responses to turn it off again.

I would really like Alexa to respond in a whisper when I speak to it in a whisper…I’ve been hoping with that for a while. 🙂

Does nostalgia not work for movies based on young adult novels?

While the market for movies based on young adult novels has generally cooled from the halcyon Hunger Games days, I’m wondering a certain part of it.

A Wrinkle in Time can be argued to be a box office disappointment. It has a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes, 53% on Metacritic, and 4.2 out of 10 on IMDb. This despite it being a beloved book with a cast of stars and a respected director.

That made me think of another recent movie that didn’t meet expectations for ticket sales: Ender’s Game. It was 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, 51% on Metacritic, and 6.7 on IMDb. The domestic gross was about $62 million on a reported budget of $110 million.

The Giver had a domestic gross of about $45 million on a reported budget of $25 million. It was 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, 47% on Metacritic, and 6.5 on IMDb.

I suppose we could go back to the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz (even though that’s more of a children’s book series than a young adult series). It wasn’t a box office blockbuster when it was first released, and many readers didn’t like some of the things that had been done with it (and they especially didn’t like Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion).

Just wondering…

Almost a quarter of American adults report not having read a book in the past 12 months

There are some very interesting stats from this year’s Pew report on who hasn’t read a book:

article by Andrew Perrin

There are six categories, and the biggest disparity occurs in education. The three slots are: high school or less; some college; and college+. The difference between the highest and the lowest is 30%: 37% of people high school or lower reported not having read a book, where only 7% of “College+” say so. I’ll mention one more before leaving it to the article…adults fifty or older actually reported reading a book significantly less often (28% versus 20%) than younger people.

I’ll mention that fewer people are non-readers than was true in the past couple of years…

What do you think? Why are people reporting they are reading more? Are you going to help Alexa learn a language (or more than one)? Do you want e-books to try to emulate p-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.

Does Alexa know what evils lurks in the hearts of men?

March 8, 2018

Does Alexa know what evils lurks in the hearts of men?

It has been said that, “Laughter is the best medicine”…but like many medicines, it can also be a poison.

A dismissive laugh can “poison” a relationship, for example.

There is one particular relationship where laughter has been getting a lot of negative coverage recently, and it’s significant to readers of this blog.

It’s the relationship between us humans and our

Echo devices (at AmazonSmile*)

Amazon reportedly confirmed yesterday that Echo devices (which host Alexa) have been spontaneously laughing. Those reports describe the laugh as “creepy”, and happening at odd times, sometimes apparently in response to a question, but sometimes with no prompting at all…even in the middle of the night.

When I first heard about this, I asked one of our devices to laugh, and it gave a very demure “Tee hee”. I didn’t keep asking to see if I’d get different laughs, which is possible, but it wasn’t creepy.

I did, though, find various YouTube videos where you can hear it, including this

YouTube compilation

This raises all sorts of interesting points, even though Amazon is reportedly working to fix it.

A first one: how did they capture the video if it was spontaneous? You can ask Alexa to “Say that again”.

Second, why is it happening?

This

Mashable article by Brian Kroeber

says that Amazon says Alexa was thinking it heard the phrase said, “Alexa, laugh”.

I have to say, from what I’ve heard described of the triggering incidents, that seems…unlikely. Did people mutter something like that in their sleep? If you are asking Alexa to turn on the light, how likely is it going to be that it gets close to that? Maybe, “Alexa bath,” I suppose.

Then, why a creepy laugh at all?

I think part of that is the lack of context. Laughing without apparent reason is often creepy. Imagine being on an elevator, and somebody between floors just lets out with a full-throated laugh. I think most people would be taken aback, at the least.

A laugh can also be an “evil laugh”…I’ll explain that shortly. I’m reminded, though, of the opening of the old The Shadow radio show: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…” That statement is punctuated with creepy laughter (different with different actors). As another example, think of Vincent Price’s laugh in Michael Jackson’s Thriller…

What is laughter? What does it signify?

I’ve trained a lot of trainers, and part of what I’ll address is the use of humor. I do think I’ve explained this on this blog again, but it’s worth doing in this context.

Laughter is a signal that there is apparent danger, but no real danger. That danger can be social, of course.

If someone laughs and there is no apparent danger, that unnerves people around them…they look for the apparent danger, in part because they may need to assess it themselves.

A more painful laugh can be one which says that the danger you perceive as being real is being dismissed by the laughter. Picture being in a group of people, and you bring up a concern of yours: “Don’t you think we are under-dressed for the party?” If someone laughs at that idea, they are saying your concern isn’t legitimate.

It’s why someone can usually make a joke about a stereotype about their own group when they are in that group…the group understands that the person doesn’t really mean it. Let’s say that the stereotype was…that you were part of a group which apologizes a lot. Within the group, you could probably say, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think we apologize too much…sorry.” If someone outside of the group made that same joke, it could be taken seriously.

You can also make a joke about yourself…as a trainer, I can be seen as someone who talks a lot. I’ve made this joke to my students: “Actually, I was once treated for a sunburned tongue.” 😉

When I talked to trainers about establishing rapport and credibility, I suggested they may want to make a joke about something obvious about themselves that might be a vulnerability during the introduction. If they were afraid of being perceived as being too young to know the subject, make a joke about that: “I know I might seem young to know this topic, but I guarantee you I’ve done my homework…if I didn’t, my Mom wouldn’t let me play Minecraft.” I always make a reference to “…geeks like me”, to cover that concern that I’ll be too geeky (in a computer class).

This is all rule of thumb, but I find it works well. Humor can be a great tuning mechanism, to get people seeing things from the same place you are…this idea of apparent but false danger is quite complex. However, making a joke about something that might be sensitive to some people is a risk. You might think that no one seriously thinks the Earth is flat…but if you make a joke about that and you happen to have a flat-Earther in your audience, you are in trouble. What did you gain from the joke? That’s the trade-off…risks and benefits.

Well, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, but I did want to explain why laughter could be creepy coming from Alexa…and it was fun for me to explain it! 😉

I’d say more, but I think I’ll let Alexa have the last laugh…

What do you think? Has your Alexa laughed spontaneously? If so, did it bother you…and can you explain why? Feel free to let me and my readers know 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.

AI outscores humans on a reading comprehension test

January 18, 2018

AI outscores humans on a reading comprehension test

Are we going to start adding SAT scores to your phone/computer’s tech specs? 😉

There has been a lot of coverage lately about two AIs (Artificial Intelligence programs) which outscored humans on a reading comprehension test.

While it has perhaps been overstated,as indicated in this

The Verge article by James Vincent

I still think this is important.

Basically, what happened was that two different AIs read articles, and then answered questions about them. Humans did the same thing with the same articles, and were just out-edged in the (very high for both) percentage of correct answers.

This is impressive, although it’s not “The Singularity”, when AI changes everything.

One big issue is that these are the very top of the line AIs…and where the humans rank among humans is unknown, since they just used people found through

Amazon Mechanical Turk

They could be the best of the best (our adult kid makes some money through AMT, and would undoubtedly score exceptionally high in reading comprehension), but they could be average or otherwise.

There also might be a question of motivation. The AI would presumably be focused in some way in turning in the best possible score, and the Turkers might just have done what they thought would be acceptable to the requester.

Before we go further, I also want to say that some extraordinarily intelligent people don’t do really well on reading comprehension tests. Why? A test assumes there is one correct answer; intelligent people can often see multiple correct answers. My kid (and I) are good test takers. That requires not just intelligence, but empathy: you have to be able to figure out what answer the person who writes the question wants, not just what is the correct answer.

I explained that to our kid early on…don’t give the right answer, give the one they want. Then, feel free to add a note explaining why another answer might be as good as better, but you don’t need to prove the teacher wrong. The game for grades isn’t purely intellectual excellence…

It’s why some people with delusions, or even just confidence in unconventional wisdom, are very intelligent. You need to be pretty smart to come up with challenges to the question…if you believe cats are capable of speaking, but just don’t choose to do so, you are going to have to explain why the consensus understanding of brain function and speech organ anatomy is wrong.

Looking at the types of questions asked, they do require parsing natural language. They don’t require inference of…emotional content.

For example, if a statement was, “Batman has the Batmobile to drive,” and the question was, “What car does Batman use?”, the AI might be able to answer that, and most English-literate humans would. It doesn’t have the answer flatly stated, but you can figure it out with additional knowledge (which the AI has).

If it said, “Batman drives the Batmobile; the Joker has the Jokermobile”, the AI could probably figure out the answer to the question, “Who drives the Jokermobile?”

That’s a big improvement over where we were even five years ago!

However, it would be a bigger challenge if a story included someone saying, “Get out! I never want to see you again!”, and then you asked the AI to identify who was mad at whom.

AIs are getting better at that sort of thing too, though. I talk about the development of “artificial empathy” being essential in us having really effective conversational tech. I have a great, free, Microsoft app on my work phone (Seeing AI), which will tell me a few possible emotional states when I take a picture of someone. It’s intended for people with visual challenges…lots of fun for everyone, though, and worth getting (I’d have it on my Android personal phone if it was available…haven’t checked recently).

Some news stories I read are already written by AIs, or certainly, selected by them.

What do you think? Does this matter to you? Would it bother you if AIs read as well as people? Consider this: AIs might have prejudices in how they interpret what they read…those could be in-built by the people developing and training the AI, but it could also be something they develop which we don’t even understand or notice. When would you consider a robot (an AI is a robot, as I define it) intelligent…and would that mean they deserve some sort of rights? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Bonus story: just in! Amazon has announced the finalists for their HQ2 (second headquarters):

In alphabetical order:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Miami, FL
  • Montgomery County, MD
  • Nashville, TN
  • Newark, NJ
  • Northern Virginia, VA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Toronto, ON
  • Washington, DC

According to this

press release

that could mean $5 billion and 50,000 jobs to the eventual winner. Toronto being on the list intrigues me…changes regulatory commitments, for one thing. Offhand, I’d like them to go to the place which would get the most economic benefit out of it…

Bonus sale:

If you are a Prime member, there are some limited time specials on Alexa products…the Echo Show is $179.99, instead of $229.99, for example.

Echo and Alexa devices (at AmazonSmile*)


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.

Round up #166: YouTube, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon device deals

December 6, 2017

Round up #166: YouTube, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon device deals

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

There are still great deals for the holidays at Amazon

I’m quite impressed with the deals this year at Amazon! It doesn’t feel like there is as much luck to it…while the “competition” is fun, it’s also good not to feel like you have to keep hovering over that Buy button. 😉

We are in Day 4 of

Amazon’s 12 Days of Deals (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

They do theme it (today is “For busy little elves of all ages”), but there are always deals in many categories. At time of writing, there are 167 pages of deals.

For Amazon devices, they are doing some interesting things with refurbs (you can get an Echo “tower”, the big tall one, for $69.99, which they say is 58% off). They are also doing bundles: today, you could do a basic Kindle and a Fire 7 for just $94.99! You can get a Fire TV Stick and an Echo Dot for $59.98 (33% off).

You can sort the deals, not only by price high to low or low to high, but by discount. The highest discount I’m seeing right now? 95%…

Toodle-loo, YouTube

Well, I’ll miss ya, YouTube.

It’s not that YouTube is going out of business, but Google is currently blocking YouTube viewing on the

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

(by the way, I was just speaking with someone at work yesterday, and we agree: the Show is our favorite Alexa device at this point), which they’ve done before. When I tried it just now, I got a message saying that YouTube was not available on that device…even though the Amazon piece of it seemed to launch.

While I did sometimes use the Show to watch YouTube, that’s still probably not that big a market for YouTube.

More important for me, and probably for many people, is that YouTube will not be available on the

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

starting January 1st, 2018.

That means, pretty much, that I’ll never watch YouTube again…at least while this situation persists.

A Fire TV and a Fire TV Stick are our sources of TV…we have one in the family room, one in the bedroom, and that’s it.

I was watching YouTube quite often in the bedroom (getting ready in the morning), but that will be done.

Oh, wait! I need to rethink this a bit…there are (at this point) some YouTube videos I really want to watch. There are some great creators whose work is available on YouTube. For that matter, one of our dogs has a video on YouTube (“Treadmill, Elf!” at YouTube). I will still have a place I might watch YouTube: in virtual reality on my Samsung Gear. I usually watch Netflix or Hulu (I’m partway through season six catching up on The Walking Dead, for example), but if I heard about a YouTube video I really wanted to see, I could see it there. Random discovery, though? Done.

So, there’s a question here: will people not buy a Fire TV device because it doesn’t have YouTube, or will they stop watching YouTube because it isn’t on Fire TV?

The answer is probably neither.

People will watch YouTube on phones and tablets (hm…will YouTube continue to work on Fire tablets? Stopping that would be hard…the Fire TV needs an app, a tablet doesn’t), and they’ll still buy the relatively inexpensive Fire TVs.

That’s my opinion…here’s another take on it:

The Verge article by Chris Welch

Amazon is also “delisting” new Nest thermostats from Google, and they stopped carrying the Chromecast some time ago.

As some of my readers can guess from how I felt about brick-and-mortar bookstores (I’m a former manager of one) not carrying Amazon published books, I don’t think it’s a good play (on either of their parts). It’s worse on Google’s part, I think…they are choosing not to let their product be available to people, as opposed to Amazon making someone else’s product not available, but it all results in diminishing your customers’ (or potential customers’) experiences.

Barnes & Noble announces financials…and the stock market responds

According to this

Money.CNN.com graph

Barnes & Noble is down almost 14% in the past five days.

Not coincidentally, that’s since they released their second quarter financial results:

press release

Comparable store sales are down (which they blame in part on no Harry Potter book this year), but perhaps more troubling for their strategy is that non-book categories were also down.

Is this stock market drop a short-term response to a bad quarter because there wasn’t a Potter book?

Um…the stock is down more than 40% year to date, so that’s a no.

Alexa lists have really improved

We use the Alexa lists, and I was very pleased to see really significant improvements to them recently. In one case, they did what I asked (but I’m not saying they did it because I asked it). It’s a simple thing, but they moved the button that deletes all of your completed items. It used to be in the same place as the button that took you to your completed items (so you could, with one tap, put them on the active list again)…therefore, if you tapped twice because you didn’t think it responded the first time, you could accidentally wipe out your history (we did it a couple of times). The new arrangement is much better.

The other thing is that you can create your own lists! We used to just have a shopping list and a to-do list, but I added a separate pharmacy/vet(erinarian) list. My Significant Other really likes having an empty list, and when I put on there a pet med we didn’t need for a month, that wasn’t happening.

The other list we are using right now is a list of “giftees” for the holiday. While we don’t record in it what we got for whom (we do that in a Google doc), it lets us know for whom we still need to shop.

“How’s the book coming, Bufo?”

I am still working on “Because of the Kindle”, and I do intend to finish it…but I’m not quite sure when. I originally wanted it out by the 10th anniversary of the Kindle (back in November), and then I was thinking by December 25th, but it honestly will probably be into next year. It’s just a much bigger project than I originally envisioned…and I started doing some daily things which really take up some time.

I have the Bookish Birthdays, and it can take a half an hour easily to do one. Once I’ve been doing it for a year, that won’t be true, though. 😉 I do get positive response to them.

The other public one is “On this date in geeky history”. That’s tied into  The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip. It definitely is building that, which is good, but again, that takes some serious time.

I also have something I’m currently doing just for work (although I do it on my own time), and that may eventually become public, but that takes some time, too.

I totally understand how those have started taking up my time: I teach time management, I’ve taught project management, and I’ve completed my work for a certification as an “Associate Improvement Adviser”. I can objectively say I’m good at it: I can see the results I get when I train other people in it, and measurement is part of all this. However, it reminds me of a quote which is in my book

The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

“Another romantic lunacy. We assume that a personality problem can be liquidated merely through an understanding of it–as though a man could lift a ,mountain once he admitted it was heavy.”
–Dr. Charles “Doc Bedside” Bedecker
Chthon
written by Piers Anthony

🙂

I’m not saying that this a problem. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of not having a traditional publisher: I’m not being pressured to meet a deadline, and therefore put out an dramatically incomplete work.

My apologies to those of you have wonderfully contributed thoughts for the book that it isn’t out as soon as you thought…and that does mean there is still time to share your thoughts with me for possible publication.

The book is in my plans, though!

Would you watch a video on Amazon for a discount?

This

Quartz article by Helen and Dave Edwards

talks about a new patent by Amazon.

The basic idea is that you get to an Amazon product page, and if you watch an advertising video, you get a discount on it.

I think that makes a lot of sense.

People do a form of that now with

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

One way you can do a giveaway is to have people watch a video (or at least part of it) before they can enter. I’ve done that one myself, so I can tell you for sure that people do it.

Of course, based on an earlier story in this round up, it might not be a YouTube video… 😉

 

I finally did it…

I’ve never cracked a smartphone screen before, but I finally did it with my Galaxy S7 Edge. We were at the dog park, I was wearing gloves, and I dropped it…face down on to rocks. I can still use it, but I do have hairline cracks when I’m watching VR. We’ll need to replace my SO’s phone soon, due to a life change, but we will instead be replacing two phones. 🙂 Fortunately, there are two for one deals around. It’s also possible I’ll try to replace the screen myself…there are kits for about $40, and while I’m better with software than hardware, I can do some of that. Just don’t ask me to put oil in your car…I literally put washer fluid in the oil once.

What do you think? What is Barnes & Noble’s future? Does the YouTube thing matter to you? How long will it last? Can Amazon develop an alternative to YouTube…or would it be more like Amazon’s traditional publishing, where it has a market niche, but doesn’t threaten the tradpubs (traditional publishers)…or do you think Amazon publishing does threaten them? 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.

Groups, Scenes, and Routines now available in Alexa

October 29, 2017

Groups, Scenes, and Routines now available in Alexa

I love that Amazon keeps giving us new features for free…but I still think they could explain them better. It may be that they are going to do a video for this one (they’ve been doing videos a lot lately), and that I’m just ahead of the curve on exploring it (a reader sent me a private e-mail alerting me to their arrival).

When I typed “Routines” into Amazon Help, it took me to the right place, the Alexa page…but then there was nothing there about it. 🙂

I’ve been playing with it for an hour or so, and I do really like what I’ve gotten it to do…I can turn on lights in a given room just by saying, “Alexa, lights on”, and it only affects that room. I don’t have to remember the names of the lights.

Let’s take a look at it:

First, I was doing this in the Alexa app on my phone (a Galaxy S7 Edge, but that shouldn’t really matter with the Alexa app).

There are two places in the menu (accessible from the Home screen, probably in your top left…three horizontal lines, what some people call a “hamburger”) involved with this. One says “Routines” and the other one says “Smart Home”. Even though Routines comes first in the menu, I’m going to Smart Home first, which I think makes the most sense. That might be different if you already have things set up in another Smart Hub.

There are three sections in Smart Home: Devices, Groups, and Scenes.

Devices

I should mention first that we currently control lights in our home with a Wink hub and we have a Harmony hub and remote (but that’s for the TV and those devices). One of the main reasons I use Alexa devices is to control those Smart Devices. I also have a Samsung Smart Hub, but I’ve never configured it.

My Smart Lights did show up on the Devices tab, and there was an option to add a device. There is a Help button (a question mark in a circle) in my top right corner, which is contextual. It gives me help for the tab I’m on now.

Tapping that, it let me connect Smart Home device via skills (I’m already using the Wink skill). You could also connect those devices (at least, Zigbee compatible ones) directly to an

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

I have one on pre-order…estimated to arrive November 3rd to November 7th. Interestingly, sending it to an Amazon Locker seemed to mean it might be later than if I had sent it to our home (which isn’t safe to do). On the other hand, I just needed to order a cable, and it will arrive at the locker faster since it will be delivered on a Sunday.

I’m looking forward to testing out the Echo Plus in the next week or ten days.

Since Alexa already knows all of our Smart Devices, let’s look at

Groups

Here’s the idea of a group: you take one or more devices (usually more than one) and create one name which refers to all of them…sort of like a distribution list for e-mail. If you have five lights in the Family Room, you can create a Family Room group, and then assign those five lights to it.

You then associate one of your Alexa devices with that group. For example, our

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

is in the family room, so I associated the Family Room group with that it.

Note: you can’t have a single device and a Group with the exact same name…I had a light named Family Room, so I couldn’t use the same name for both.

I should also mention that I had previously created groups in the older version of the Alexa app, and those appeared here.

If you tap “Add Group”, you’ll get a choice between “Smart Home Group” and “Amazon Multi-Room Music Group”. The latter is so that you could have the same music (or podcast, or…) playing on several Alexa devices at the same time.

When you tap the “Smart Home Group”, you are given the choice of creating a custom name, or picking some “Common Names” (Backyard, Basement, Bathroom, Den, Dining Room, Downstairs, Hallway, Kitchen, Lounge, Office, or Upstairs). I wonder if the Common Names are actually common, being drawn (perhaps dynamically) from choices Amazon users are entering in Custom Name.

Once you do that, you are then asked to select an Alexa device to associate with that group. Note that you can only associate an Alexa device with a single Group.

Next, you can choose devices to put into that Group and Scenes…I think my Scenes came from my Harmony, but there were some that definitely didn’t (like “IAmBack”).

Once you’ve done that, you save.

Now you can just say, “Alexa, lights on”, and that device will only turn the lights on in its group.

Note that you don’t need to set up an Alexa Device to control the lights (or other devices) physically closest to it.

I do see this as a big improvement. While I like remembering lots of names, my Significant Other doesn’t. It’s easier to just be able to say, “Alexa, lights off”, than “Alexa, turn off the Family Room”.

The Scenes are less clear to me, but in speaking with a relative who uses them in other contexts, the key difference seems to be that a scene can have diverse states: with a Group, you can only turn all of the lights on or off. With a Scene, you could have it turn two lights on and two lights off. I can see the value of that. I haven’t tested it yet, though.

What about Routines (remember, that’s a separate Menu entry)?

This adds a couple of dimensions. One is that you can have it happen either on command or at a certain time.

The other is that it can do some Alexa actions.

The first option shown is

“When this happens”

That is commonly called a “trigger”…it’s what makes an action happen. You can either give it a custom statement you say verbally, or you can pick a time and a recurrence pattern (when it repeats). Your recurrence pattern defaults to Every Day, but you can change it to “Weekdays”, “Weekends”, or select a single specific day.

You could use this for an alarm for work. “At 6:00 AM, turn on my bedroom and family room lights, start the coffee, and give me my Flash Briefing”. You would set that as happening on weekdays (if you work Monday-Friday).

When you choose “Add Action”, your choices are:

  • News (your Flash Briefing)
  • Smart Home (either “Control device or “Turn on scene”)
  • Traffic (Alexa will give you the traffic report)
  • Weather (Alexa will report the weather)

Once you’ve added one, you can tap “Add Action” again to add another.

I can really see the value to this one, too…as one example, we could set the lights and such to come on at a certain time every day when we were on vacation…and set another Routine to turn them off. That would make it seem like we were home.

I will say, I think this is a lot of work for the average person. A hobbyist would do it, but it seems like a lot of steps.

Here are my suggestions for two other ways they could do this which would be easier:

“Match Now”: you would set up your devices the way you want (lights on or off, etc.) then tell Alexa to remember that as a scene.

“Copy Me”: Alexa starts a recorder, then you do actions which it subsequently remembers…like a macro recorder.

All in all, this is a great improvement…but I think most people won’t use it because it will be too hard without them seeing the potential advantages. Amazon should set up some more scenarios, maybe through video.

A few more thoughts:

  • having durations would be a nice improvement for the future…not just turning a light on at 6:00 AM, but turning it on at 6:00 AM for one hour
  • Alexa could suggest saving patterns it detects. If you normally turn on the bedroom light at 6:00 AM, and then turn on the Family Room TV and the Family Room Light twenty minutes later for an hour, and then turn everything off and lock the door, Alexa could suggest saving that as a Routine after you’ve done it a few times in a row
  • The Echo Show (and Echo Spot) could do this gesturally…you flip your index finger up and it turns the light on in that room. That could be great fun, especially if you could use custom gestures! Yeah, yeah, I know…not that finger. 😉 I’m thinking more like “magic hand waves” to do things in your house

Hope that helps! I’ll be interested in hearing what you think! 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.

 

 

Least expensive Alexa hardware so far: Amazon Dash Wand…free (sort of) for Prime members

June 15, 2017

Least expensive Alexa hardware so far: Amazon Dash Wand…free (sort of) for Prime members

I want Alexa everywhere!

Amazon’s digital assistant is like Iron Man’s Jarvis…and it does more and better than the original Star Trek’s computer on the Enterprise.

Well, on the latter, the computer’s abilities weren’t always the same…but it took quite a while to look up something (and we could hear relays closing), and it couldn’t interact with the ship much. If it could, Kirk would be saying, “Computer, fire photon torpedoes”…or perhaps, “Computer, open ‘Battle Time’ skill!” and letting it manage everything. Oh, wait, they tried that…right, Dr. Daystrom? 😉

I have it on our Echoes (Dot and original). I have it on my Tap I take to work. I have it on our Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. I have it on my Galaxy S7 (as part of the Amazon shopping app) and my work iPhone (again, through the app).

When I don’t have Alexa available, I know it…sometimes, I really want to ask Alexa something, even when that’s not an option.

You can get Alexa for free (if you own a compatible SmartPhone with that shopping app), but the least expensive hardware option from Amazon to date has been the

Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote | Streaming Media Player (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

for $39.99, although the

Echo Dot (at AmazonSmile*)

currently matches that price, because of a

Big sale on some Kindles and Echoes

Amazon just introducde a $20 option…and

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

members get a limited $20 credit when they purchase some things, so it’s cost neutral. Details on that here:

For a limited time, receive a $20 promotional credit when you register your Amazon Dash Wand with your Amazon Prime account (at AmazonSmile*)

Now, this isn’t part of the Echo family: it explicitly says it won’t play music.

I’m checking to see if it will read text-to-speech enabled Kindle books: I can see it as a handy bedside item.

That’s not what it’s designed to do, though: it’s designed for shopping. You can magnetically stick it to your refrigerator (the Echo voice remote used to (and may still…I’ll have to check) come with a magnetic cradle, but this is magnetic itself).

You can ask it to order things for you…and it can also scan barcodes to order things. That’s one of the big things for Artificial Intelligence in the future: how can it sense the world? For years, we’ve been the sensory apparatus for our computers…we would have to tell them what was going on in the real world, from punch cards to keyboards to mice to touch. That’s sort of like our relationship to dogs. 😉 Dogs have better sensory apparatus, and we do more of the cognitive work. AI/computers can do some specific types of “mental activity” better than we can (recall of specific data, but increasingly, predictive tasks and other things…an AI just got a perfect score on Ms. Pac-Man, something no human had done before), but most are pretty limited on the kinds of generalized perception humans can do. While we can’t smell things like a dog or use echolocation like a dolphin (although some humans have shown they can use it to some extent), we actually see and hear pretty well…and process the data very efficiently (if imperfectly).

The ADW (Amazon Dash Wand) has an “eye” for scanning.

It will do some Alexa tasks: it will answer questions and control your smart home. By the way, if it really sounds like it does in the video on the product page, it’s much better than the Dot.

Now, I do have to say: the product page is sorely lacking. I’m asking questions, but for example, it doesn’t list what powers it. Is it a replaceable battery? Do you charge it? On another topic, can it Bluetooth (I don’t think so)?

You also get 3 months of a normally $14.99 a month Amazon Fresh membership…I’ll have to see if that is automatic renewal or not.

Overall, it’s a very intriguing item, and I am ordering one.

Update: here is the direct link Amazon Dash Wand (a href=”https://smile.amazon.com/Amazon-Dash-Wand-With-Alexa/dp/B01MQMJFDK/ref=sr_1_3_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1497534770&sr=8-3&keywords=amazon+dash+wand”>at AmazonSmile*)

What do you think? Are you going to get one? If you are not a Prime member, would you pay for it? 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! :) 

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