Archive for the ‘Alexa’ Category

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.

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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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