Archive for the ‘Alexa’ Category

The next time you ask Alexa a question, I might be the one to answer it :)

September 17, 2019

The next time you ask Alexa a question, I might be the one to answer it 🙂

Oh, this is going to be a major temptation for me!

My readers, and the people with whom I work, and, um, people on public transit 😉 know I love answering questions. It’s one of my favorite things to do!

I also like Alexa, of course.

These two loves comes together in Amazon’s

Alexa Answers program

which just went public.

Anybody can sign up for it, and then you see questions which Alexa wasn’t able to answer. You can answer them, and they’ve done a good job of gamifying it: you get points earn badges, and there is a leaderboard. You can see if your answers are being shared by Alexa and what Alexa users think of your answers

Probably just as fascinating for me is seeing the questions being asked.

Some questions are, of course, by kids.

However, there are also cases where Alexa has apparently misunderstood the question. My favorite one that was visible when I looked this morning?

“How many calories are in saint louis?”

Well, the answer is gazillions, I’m sure! 😉 I’m confident that Alexa misheard something else as “saint louis”.

Some questions, I hope, aren’t being asked in emergencies: “How fast is a green anaconda?”

To be clear, you aren’t answering the questions real time. Alexa failed to answer the question. Community members answer them, so that the answer can (after some sort of vetting and weighting, of course) be available in the future. I think Alexa may even be able to return to you later with the answer.

Another important thing: eventually, they could do this in many languages…which I’m sure is part of the future of Alexa.

My guess is that I could, if I devoted enough time and energy to this, be one of the top question answerers. Communication is what I do in my day job as well, and I can be accurate and succinct (when I choose to be…I prefer verbosity, but can be focused). I can also be clear.

That’s going to be the difficulty: not to wander down the rabbit hole. I’m already stretched quite thin (although things are looking up at work: we are about to double the size of my team).

Still, maybe I’ll just answer one…or, a couple, or…to quote Admiral Akbar, “It’s a trap!” 🙂

Update: I’ve answered one now (about Ray Liotta’s roles). You get 300 characters, and a nice feature is that you can hear how it will sound when Alexa says it. I’ll be told it is “live” once Alexa can share it, and I’ll get statistics such as how many times it has been shared.

What do you think? Are you going to be answering questions? Does this seem like a good way for Amazon to “crowdsource” answers? Should they be crowdsourcing? Do you think this can be manipulated and abused, so that wrong answers (or, perhaps, answers with an agenda) are given? I think somewhat of an analogy is Wikipedia, which is one of the greatest resources ever created…but that can be, at times, unreliable and prejudiced. It usually doesn’t take long for the corners to get smoothed, though. You can let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* 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.

Amazon has released an Echo Auto set up video…we should have them soon!

March 7, 2019

Amazon has released an Echo Auto set up video…we should have them soon!

It’s still only available by invitation, but there’s a major indication that those of who requested the

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

should have them soon!

I got the acknowledgement of my request on September 20th, so it’s coming up on six months.

I’m very excited about this! I use Alexa in the car frequently, and it’s just not that easy to launch things from my phone. We have very strict rules in California…interactions with our phone are supposed to be 1-touch only while we are driving (I think that’s right). If I already have the Alexa app open, I can launch it (to make a request) with one touch, but I’d much rather be able to do the whole thing by voice.

It also has really seemed like they are working hard to integrate more apps with Alexa for the car…directions, but a lot more.

The indicator that we may have them soon is this

Amazon YouTube video on setting up the Echo Auto

which was just published.

There’s very little reason for them to put that out unless people need to use it. My guess is that some people have them already; Amazon likes to have user quotes when they put out a press release for a new product.

We’ll see, but my guess is that I’ll have mine by the end of the month!

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!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* 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.

I’ve published my first Alexa skill! Here’s how you can, too

February 18, 2019

I’ve published my first Alexa skill! Here’s how you can, too

Amazon recently made publishing skills to the

USA Alexa Skills Store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

very easy!

This feels potentially as significant to me as when YouTube started, or what became

Kindle Direct Publishing

It’s a new democratized distribution platform…a way for you to reach the public (or, and this is significant, a set of “followers” you specify).

Once you’ve set it up, it’s about as easy as using Twitter or publishing a blog post. Anybody with average computer skills should be able to put your information out there…and it’s then available to Alexa users in the USA (I’m sure other markets will follow).

You can have Alexa read text up to 400 characters a day (or once a week…your choice). You can also use your own voice, if you prefer.


How much is 400 characters? I’m showing you right now. Spaces and punctuation count, but this paragraph is going to be 400 characters. You can’t use special characters (like a colon or a parenthesis so this one wouldn’t work because of this parenthetical phrase), but you can tell, you could get quite a bit of information out to the public in 400 characters! Think of the possible uses! Go for it!-B


Here are some use cases which occur to me:

  • A special at your restaurant
  • A daily joke
  • A featured movie at your movie theatre
  • A new release at your bookstore
  • Your commentary on the news
  • A piece of trivia
  • News on your WIPs (Works In Progress) as an author
  • Where your band is playing

Now, while I’m saying single things, you could probably list more than one. I’ve also skewed this towards businesses/creators…you don’t need to be doing these as a business. I’ve been a writer for a long time, but I don’t make my living that way.

Oh, that’s important! With the method I’m going to talk about in this post (doing a Flash Briefing), I don’t see a way to monetize it at this point. However, I would predict that would eventually change…not necessarily that you are charging for the skill, but that there is some kind of revenue sharing from Amazon, like they do with borrows from Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s the skill I’ve published so far:

Bookish Birthdays

UPDATE: I now have created more of these, four at time of writing. You can see them here: https://amzn.to/2EmJkyc

You can add it to your Flash Briefing, and then manage it like you would any other news source in Flash Briefings (Alexa App – Settings – Flash Briefing).

This is content which I have already been creating. With any creative content, that’s often the hardest part…creating the content. Yes, a publishing process can take a lot of work, as can promotion, but you can’t do anything unless you have the content.

I have to massage it a bit to get it to fit into the Alexa skill…I primarily publish the

Bookish Birthdays

here in this blog, but I’ve already been reformatting them to fit into one of my Twitter feeds:

https://twitter.com/bufocalvin @BufoCalvin

It takes me less work to get it ready for the Alexa Skill than it does to get it ready for Twitter. It’s mostly removing parentheses, adding commas (which makes Alexa pause slightly…to separate the name of the author from the one representative work/series I’ve chosen), and then editing the skill.

One challenge to the Alexa Skill which doesn’t happen with Twitter: it’s moderated. When I update it, even when I’m just changing the birthdays, it has to be approved by Amazon. They say it could take 1-2 days, which could obviously mess up something which is date-based like this. Practically, though, it took several hours the first time (for the overall skill), but updating it just took a few minutes (YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary).

What negatives are there to this?

  • Even though it didn’t take me five minutes to update it today, it’s still a commitment
  • The way I’m doing it is manual updating. I’m on the West Coast…it’s entirely possible that I won’t have this updated on a given day by 9:00 AM Eastern (6:00 AM Pacific). That may disappoint people who want to hear it before they go to work. I’ve had that feeling that when a news source is a day behind in my Flash Briefing…and that could affect someone’s confidence in your “brand”
  • It’s also possible I might miss a day (I had major surgery about a month ago, for example). I’m not seeing a way to prepare them ahead of time (although it can be done with an RSS ((Really Simple Syndication)) feed, so it could possibly be scheduled ahead). I would love to see Amazon give us seven slots, so we could prepare a week’s worth at a time…maybe tied to a calendar. However, listeners don’t pay for this, so at least they wouldn’t “lose any money” if it isn’t there
  • There are some content rule limitations, but they are pretty generous; you are allowed to do “mature” skills, which could include profanity and nudity (these guidelines must go for all skills, since the Flash Briefing doesn’t have images)…here are the guidelines: https://blueprints.amazon.com/help/terms?page=content-guidelines

So, how do you publish an Alexa Flash Briefing Skill?

Start here:

https://blueprints.amazon.com/

  1. You’ll create an account (if you’ve made personal skills, you’ll already have one)
  2. You choose the Flash Briefing skill blueprint
  3. You’ll either enter an RSS feed or choose to update it manually (note: there is also a blog skill…you’d have to have an RSS just for your 400 character Flash Briefing to use that here. For the blog skill, you need to have a WordPress blog which can install a needed plug-in…I believe that’s the Business account, which costs $25 a month)
  4. You’ll choose daily or weekly
  5. You’ll complete the form and the details…this seemed reasonably clear to me
  6. You’ll choose to publish it or share it. With sharing it, you can choose who can have access…publishing it makes it available to anybody who can use the USA Alexa Skills store
  7. If you publish it, it will be reviewed by Amazon

If approved by Amazon, you’ll get an e-mail within a day or two.

I didn’t do every single step here, just fairly high level to let you see that it is pretty simple. If you have questions about the specifics, you can ask by commenting on this post.

If you do publish this, I’d love you letting me and my readers know! My guess? We hit a million Alexa Skills in the USA store before summer, as businesses, organizations, and individuals realize how this can work for them. I am very, very confident that we’ll see skills by politicians and political parties quickly. People supporting causes will use it. I’d expect to see recaps of TV shows. If you see something particularly useful or innovative, let me know…I expect this to be like Twitter in the way it proliferates.

Could it be better? Sure, and it will be. I’d like to be able to follow particular publishers (so I’m alerted when they publish new skills). I’d like to have a publisher page there like my

Bufo Calvin Amazon Author Central page (at AmazonSmile*)

Discovery of skills is going to be a challenge…but that’s always a challenge.

I’m mulling adding another four more skills in the near future….I just have to balance the time and energy that will take, even though it is minimal.

What do you think? Are you going to publish something? How will you use it? If you’ve tried it, did you find anything more challenging than I suggested? Have you published other blueprints? Will this add a lot of “noise” to the “signal” of Alexa Skills? What skills would you like to see? Would you add a J.K. Rowling feed from the author? How about a Stephen King blurb feed (it feels like the author could do one once a week)? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

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

But wait, there’s more! Another giveaway for my 12 February birthday!

February 12, 2019

But wait, there’s more! Another giveaway for my 12 February birthday!

I already wrote about giving away two of my books for my birthday:

It’s my birthday…but I’m giving you the presents

 

but I haven’t done a non-e-book Amazon giveaway in a while…so I decided to give away a set of Echo Buttons!

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/4d2d284ea4c0fceb

While these are mostly used to play games (by seeing who “buzzes in” first), you can also use them to run Alexa routines (note: you need a compatible Echo/Alexa device for this to work.

Partially, I wanted to see how much Amazon Giveaways have changed…and they have, a lot! I’ll write more about that later (birthday/family stuff, you know), but I did want to get this out to you, my readers…and I’ll tweet it as well.

Good luck!

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

“I’ve got an ad feeling about this”: Amazon taps Harrison Ford for Alexa Superbowl ad

January 26, 2019

“I’ve got an ad feeling about this”: Amazon taps Harrison Ford for Alexa Superbowl ad 

I like advertising…really. My Significant Other (who studied advertising) and I used to go see the Clio awards, which were given for ads. We’d go to the local showing (TV commercials, radio commercials), but people would dress up just for fun.

I like Harrison Ford. 🙂 It feels like Ford’s been out in the public a lot more in the last few years. I saw a great interview with the actor, and I’ll be totally paraphrasing, but I think you’ll be able to imagine the voice. When filming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, a door on the Millennium Falcon accidentally crushed Ford (there was eventually a considerable fine). Earlier in the day (as I recall), the movie star and pilot had been chatting with a Bell helicopter pilot (the meeting was accidental, as I remember). Anyway, Ford is severely injured, but is thinking about how disruptive it would be if an ambulance came and took “Han Solo” to the hospital. Remembering the pilot, Ford pulls the business card out of a pocket and says (gravelly voice): “I got a guy.” 😉 That pilot airlifted Ford…

I like Amazon and I like

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

I felt like I won a trifecta! 😉

Just as they did a thing last year with celebrities after Alexa “lost its voice”, they are doing a campaign this year based on the “Amazon Beta Testing Program”. You can see four teaser ads here:

Amazon’s YouTube channel

Besides Harrison Ford, they have Forest Whitaker, Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer (from Broad City), and astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly.

I think the beta testing program is a joke, and that the celebrities will be shown testing something goofy and probably tailored for them.

One fun element: say, “Alexa, what is the Amazon Beta Testing Program?” to your device. An interesting point was that it asked me to say a confirmation code back to it before continuing. I have a couple of “cards” in my Alexa app about it, but I’ll leave that for you to see. It mostly just says that more is coming on February 3rd.

Fun!

Recovery update: I had hip surgery about a week ago…and today (pre-approved by my Physical Therapist), I went to a park and walked there (on a paved path) with my walker! I couldn’t have done it without my Significant Other, who is being so supportive. I can honestly say that I think my prep helped, but the surgeon must have been great…and progress has really been made in the tech for this surgery!

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.

 

Amazon Prime members can now watch the ultimate cautionary tale against smart homes…like Amazon’s Alexa

November 18, 2018

Amazon Prime members can now watch the ultimate cautionary tale against smart homes…like Amazon’s Alexa

Many people are afraid of Amazon’s Alexa (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and other smart home devices.

In some cases, they fear what human beings can do with the information (which might be obtained through intentional interaction, or observation, visual or audible). They may not be comfortable with Amazon knowing so much about them.

In others, it is concern about the technology itself. It might fail to function, malfunction…or perhaps, in some future, develop its own agenda.

The last one may seem ridiculous, but it’s been part of our pop culture consciousness for a very long time…going back at least as far as Karel Čapek’s 1924

play R.U.R. (at AmazonSmile*)

Whether they call it the “robot rebellion” or “the singularity”, the concept of human-created intelligence developing independence and using it to dominate its creators is firmly established.

This was especially true in 1970s science fiction cinema. Colossus: the Forbin Project (at AmazonSmile*) is one example (and a personal favorite). That one is available for streaming through the Hoopla public library service, as indicated by JustWatch.

Another one, which I had not seen for years, is

Demon Seed (at AmazonSmile*)

I remembered it.

Based on the

Dean Koontz novel (at AmazonSmile*)

it is about a scientist (Fritz Weaver) who creates an artificial intelligence system which takes over the smart home the scientist created…and, well, I don’t want to spoil what happens.

Julie Christie stars (arguably a more important role than Weaver’s), and Gerrit Graham has a nice small role as a computer tech (so different from the rocker Beef that Graham played in Phantom of the Paradise a few years earlier).

The smart home is very much like what we have with Alexa: a voice-interface turning the lights on and off, controlling the thermostat…oh, it’s probably a bit beyond what most of us have, but not ridiculously so. It’s called “Alfred”, presumably after Batman’s butler, but interesting that “Alexa” and “Alfred” are so similar…coincidentally, I’m sure. 😉

Robert (Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) is great as the voice of “Proteus”! Interestingly, the actor is uncredited, presumably to make Proteus seem more real.

A few content warnings: there is some minor female nudity in the movie (another common thing in what I call Seventies Social Sci-Fi), violence, and sexual violence themes.

With that caution, I think you’d find it an interesting watch! It does intrigue me that Amazon chose to “go there”…I wonder how many people will watch this by asking Alexa to show it to them! You could do that with the

Fire TV Cube (at AmazonSmile*)

which is on a Black Friday sale starting today for half off ($59.99)…I listed it as one of

My favorite Amazon Black Friday sales this year

Gee, I wonder if someday Amazon will let us choose “Alfred” as the Alexa wake word…of if Proteus will allow it. 😉

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.

Round up #179: the uncanny Alexa, Todd Bol

October 22, 2018

Round up #179: the uncanny Alexa, Todd Bol

Todd H. Bol, founder of Little Free Library, has reportedly died

I wrote about the Little Free Library program close to five years ago:

Round up #235: Little Free Library, “Buy It Now” public library button

I lauded it then, and still think it’s a great thing. We have one in our neighborhood. They are small glass (?) fronted bookshelves…sort of looking like a large dollhouse. People leave paperbooks (p-books) in there, and can also borrow them (well, I suppose many don’t bring them back)…no charge. It’s just a way to share the love of literature.

Little Free Library

The site reported the October 18th death of the founder, Todd H. Boll, in this

blog post

To me, Boll made a really significant difference in the world…there are reportedly more than 75,000 LFLs out there now around the world. They have a number of ways to share your support.

Thank you, Todd Boll.

Alexa’s new Whisper Mode is a weirdly realistic voice

I do love Alexa’s new Whisper Mode!

Tell Alexa to enable Whisper Mode. The first time you whisper to it after that, it will confirm that you’ve whispered and let you know (in full voice) that it will whisper back in the future.

That’s great, and something I had suggested.

I often interact with our

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

and

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

while my Significant Other is asleep…having the former control the TV, having the latter tell me the weather and such (the first one’s wake word is “Alexa”, the Show’s is “Echo”). Whisper Mode is perfect for that.

However…

One thing that surprised me is that Alexa sounds much more realistic to me when whispering. So realistic, in fact, that it creeps me out a bit…my Significant Other had the same reaction.

It’s because of something called “the Uncanny Valley”.

I just recently made that the question for my

#1TweetExpert

series…I answered it, and so did one of my author siblings. 🙂 You are, of course, welcome to answer them as well…sometimes, other people do.

Here’s the basic idea:

When something appears fully human, we are comfortable with it. When something appears to wholly non-human (like a cartoon character), we are also comfortable.

When something is close to human, but isn’t (such as an android which never blinks), it bothers us. The Uncanny Valley isn’t a place…it’s a dip in a comfort horizontal line graph. It’s closer to the fully human side than the wholly non-human side.

That may be, unfortunately, an evolutionary thing. Some people have a visceral reaction when they see someone who has a physical (or even behavioral) difference which could be perceived as a future challenge for the species if it was inherited. I think most people don’t at least consciously have that feeling any more.

It used to happen with our dogs…we had three dogs, and one of them would sometimes have seizures from a pancreas condition. The dogs normally got along fine, but during a seizure, the other two dogs would go for the throat. It certainly created a problem.

Well, we don’t have any reaction like that to Alexa whispering! It’s more a “hair on the back of the neck” thing.

Why is it more realistic?

I’m not quite sure…I think there may be fewer variations in whispering. The “uncanny” part may be just because it is coming from a box, rather than a human.

It’s an ongoing issue with artificial intelligence, and especially with XR (augmented/virtual reality).

The alternative Nobel Prize in literature

Who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature this year?

No one.

The Nobel was in disarray when the Significant Other of one of the Academy members was sentenced for sexual assault, so they decided not to award one (although it’s possible they’ll award one next year which at least includes titles from this year).

In its stead, a “New Academy” (formed earlier this year) awarded a prize…it went to

Maryse Condé (Segu) (at AmazonSmile*)

Congratulations to Maryse Condé!

Speaking of prizes, Anna Burns won the prestigious Man Booker award for fiction for

Milkman (at AmazonSmile*)

Congratulations to Anna Burns!

Do you want to pass along your congratulations? Have you ever seen a Little Free Library? Have you use one? If you are using Alexa Whisper Mode, does it fall into that uncanny valley for you? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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.

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.


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