Archive for the ‘Round-ups’ Category

Round up #189: Gene Wolfe, Amazon Key for Garages

April 28, 2019

Round up #189: Gene Wolfe, Amazon Key for Garages

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

What a difference a day makes…

Amazon announced recently that

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

members will soon get 1-day shipping for free on most items (cutting the time in half from the current 2-day). This, by the way, will not apply just to the USA, but will eventually roll out to more countries.

Is this a big deal?

Everybody is certainly acting like it is. Stocks of some other big retailers have actually dropped, perhaps related to this (and perhaps related to what was seen as a good financial report from Amazon).

Will I care?

There have been a few times when I’ve paid more to get something in one day.

I’ve already seen this, although it wasn’t necessarily the commitment. I ordered something today at about 2:47 PM (on a Saturday), and I’m supposed to get it tomorrow…and that would have been true if I’d ordered it up to 7 hours later, according to them.

One of the things that certainly may happen is people may procrastinate more. It may also increase sales around holidays, when you hear last minute about someone else attending a function. We usually keep a few “mystery guest” gift items around for just that reason. Rather than running out to the store, they could order from Amazon.

Why can Amazon do this?

Supposedly, because logistics are getting better. Some Chinese retailers already have 1-day shipping within China (Axios article by Erica Pandey). Robots may be paying off, but Amazon is also going to invest $800 million on this…much of that will have to do with controlling the door to door process, buying trucks (eventually, self-driving), planes, and more. They’ll also get more employees…and I would expect more investment in non-human workers.

I’ve seen some very odd negative comments on this.

One said that Amazon was “continually” (or “continuously”…I forget which) raising Prime prices. Amazon has raised Prime prices twice…in about fourteen years. If a fountain was supposed to be running continually, and it only worked on average once every seven years, I think I’d be a bit disappointed. 😉

Yes, the amount of time between the first and the second raise was a lot shorter, but I don’t think that’s a solid indicator that it’s going to continue to speed up.

Another person commented on how Amazon’s profit machine was still humming along…when the e-tailer didn’t make any profit for so long in their first years that I heard someone describe Amazon stock as like a “Ponzi scheme.” 🙂

I do understand people expressing concern that this may be harder on workers, but again, Amazon has said that they will increase staff…and increased efficiency should mean less work for the employees (essentially, better efficiency is getting the same product with less work).

Just sounds like another reason for me to be happy with Prime!

What about returns?

While Amazon has made it easier to return items, people still don’t like having to box them up for the returns. I always wait to break down the boxes (for recycling) from a shipment until I’ve tried out the items to make sure they work and are as expected.

One idea I had recently…I’ll bet Amazon could develop reusable boxes. We’d take out our products, flatten them somehow, and Amazon would pick them up with the next shipment. They’d be able to pop them back open, and use them again (probably not cardboard). I don’t know how all that would happen exactly, but I think it would be a big hit for the way it would save on packaging. Even when you recycle a box, it’s certainly not with 100% return to use. I always feel a bit of remorse about all the boxes we get, even though we recycle diligently. Amazon’s recent introduction of allowing you to choose a weekly delivery date, so you can get fewer boxes, helps, but this would be even better. I think it just hasn’t occurred to most people in the past because an order tended to be a one time thing, or at least rare. With Amazon, many people get orders every week. You’re welcome to the idea, Amazon! 🙂

However, with a recent announcement, you don’t have to box them up at all!

You can simply take them to certain Kohl’s stores (currently in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Milwaukee) for return (Kohl’s page.

Starting this July, that service will expand to any Kohl’s store in the USA! (Chris Welch article in The Verge)

Reportedly, the vast majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a Kohl’s.

Why would Kohl’s do this? Isn’t Amazon a competitor?

I assume the return centers are in the back of the store, so you have to pass by other merchandise on the way or the way back. I don’t know that, but it would make sense. Some people may buy from Kohl’s when returning Amazon items (oh, worth noting…not all items are returnable that way).

I probably should have mentioned this under my first part of this on shipping: third-party merchants. Third-party merchant items aren’t returnable this way…and Jeff Bezos has said they are more than 50% of the sales now.

The reason I should have brought that up with the shipping is that 1-day is the shipping…not the turnaround time from when you order. We’ve noticed that many items with Prime are taking a lot longer than two-days to get to us; we’ve had it be more than a week. That’s because of the third-party part…Amazon gets the shipping done within two days, but may not get it from the seller for several days.

Amazon Key for Garages

You’ve been able to get Amazon packages delivered inside your home (even when you aren’t there ), and in the trunk of your car (with certain types of cars), once you get the necessary software and hardware.

Now, they are promoting getting packages delivered inside your garage.

Amazon Key for Garage (at AmazonSmile*)

This one also makes a lot of sense to me. We keep our garage door (into the house) locked…ever since we had that break-in:

Eight of our Kindles stolen

That’s how they got into the house: they broke a door into the garage from the outside, then came through that inner door. Couldn’t they break down the inner door, too? Yes, but I think that’s a lot higher risk that someone will hear it happening if they are wrong and someone is home. If you have dogs (we do now…it was a real anomaly in our lives that we didn’t have dogs when they broke in before), they’ll also be alerted. Your average dog doesn’t consider the garage their territory, so they are less concerned about it.

The hardware is on sale (in the USA) as I write this.

Gene Wolfe

I wanted to note the passing of science fiction/fantasy writer

Gene Wolfe (Gene Wolfe)

Wolfe started as a short story in the 1950s, saw a rise of interest in the 1970s, but it was really The Book of the New Sun series in the 1980s which cemented the author’s status. Wolfe didn’t write easy, “popcorn” books, which is an accusation often levied at science fiction and fantasy. Those books do exist there, certainly…and there are times that’s what you want. Wolfe is more complex than that…and there are times that’s what you want, too.

What do you think? Is it worth it for Amazon to cut Prime Shipping time from 2 days to 1? If that resulted in a rise in the Prime subscription price (I don’t think it will), would that be okay? Are you using Amazon Key? Does the garage access make it more likely? Have you already returned an Amazon item at a Kohl’s? If not, is that attractive to you? Do you shop at Kohl’s now? Is there a Gene Wolfe book you’d recommend to someone trying the author? 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!

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.

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Round up #188: Bezos’ lauds inefficiency, VSS

April 14, 2019

Round up #188: Bezos’ lauds inefficiency, VSS

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

Today’s (Sunday April 14) Kindle Daily Deal

Today’s

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile*)

has some particularly good options! Remember that you can order these e-books at this reduced price, and then either delay the delivery until the appropriate gift-giving occasion, or send them to yourself and print out a certificate to print, gift-wrap (if you want), and give whenever. I think e-books like this make great small gifts (or larger)…the recipient doesn’t have to have a Kindle to read them (although they do need an Amazon account).

Note: check the price before you click/tap/eye gaze (the last can be an option in virtual reality…and Windows 10 works with eye trackers) that Buy button. The price may not apply in your market, or you may see this after the sale…

Books in the sale include:

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of humankind by Yural Noah Harari | 4.5 stars out of 5 | 5, 764 customer reviews at time of writing | $3.99
  • Second Nature by Nora Roberts
  • The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
  • Hunting LeRoux: The Inside Story of the DEA Takedown of a Criminal Genius and His Empire by Elaine Shannon
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly | 4.4 stars | 2,113 reviews
  • Twenty Wishes (Blossom Street #5) by Debbie Macomber
  • Song of the Lion: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel by Anne Hillerman | 4.5 stars | 832 reviews
  • Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip
  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S Lewis (The Space Trilogy #1)
  • This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today by Chrissy Metz
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (Hercule Poirot #22) by Agatha Christie | $1.99
  • The Dead Room (Harrison Investigation #4) by Heather Graham
  • Darkest Hour; How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink by Anthony McCarten
  • Ending #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate
  • The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith
  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Enjoy!

Jeff Bezos’ Letter to Shareowners 2019

Jeff Bezos, CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Amazon writes an annual letter to the company’s shareowners, and it’s always fascinating!

Throughout the year, Jeff (and Amazon generally) can feel somewhat…guarded. This is one place where you can see the enthusiasm this person who has been there from the beginning still has for the job!

You can read

the letter

here, but I want to call out a couple of things.

  • Bezos points out how third-party sales (other people selling things through Amazon, rather than Amazon selling them directly) has grown from 3% in 1999 to 58% in 2018. This ties right into something I say quite often : Amazon wants to be the infrastructure of the internet. This is a good thing for us as Amazon customers: it makes us (satisfied, loyal customers) one of the most important assets they have. Jeff says this growth happened through programs  “…pushed forward with intuition and heart, and nourished with optimism”
  • Bezos makes a strong case against always going for efficiency. You have to experiment, you have to fail. That may seem counterintuitive for Amazon, which seen to be so much about efficiency, but it’s key. I have a certification in performance improvement (I’m an Associate Improvement Advisor), and there’s something people suggest which always makes me (internally) laugh. They say that you find the most efficient people, see what they are doing, and then teach that to the underperformers. What’s funny about that to me is that it suggests the efficient people have found the “best” way to do something. Those efficient people, at least in using technology (which is my “day job”…technology in healthcare) are like that because they like change, which is super unusual. Even when things are going very well, they’ll experiment. Come back to them in a month, after you’ve shared their “best” practices, and they’ll be doing it differently

Another big thing in the letter is the push for machine learning/artificial intelligence (which we most commonly see in Alexa)…and if you did want to be afraid of something at Amazon (I’m not), that might be a good choice. 😉 It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for software to adapt that ethos that efficiency isn’t always best…which may suggest a slowing down (not just at Amazon, but throughout society) in innovation.

British Amazon workers “exposé”

This

The Guardian article by Anna Tims

may get a lot of play. It’s something we’ve seen before, in terms of theme: Amazon workers talking about how they are exploited. Undermining it being convincing to me is that we aren’t given actual names. That doesn’t mean it’s false, of course, but it does make it less verifiable.

Amazon employees listen to Alexa recordings

Gee, I thought we wanted big companies to listen to their customers. 😉

There has been a ton of

news coverage

about Amazon employees listening to Alexa recordings.

That’s not unauthorized listening. It’s analytical: what did Alexa say, what do I hear that person saying, how can we align the two better…that sort of thing.

I’ve always assumed that had to happen, separated from the employee knowing personally-identifying information. It doesn’t bother me if somebody who doesn’t know it’s me knows that someone asked Alexa to play music by

Puddles Pity Party (at AmazonSmile*)

(which I did earlier today).

You can delete your Alexa recordings if you want…again, I don’t do that, because I want it to learn more things and learn them more quickly.

On your app, you can delete individual recordings something like this:

Menu (three horizontal lines in your top left corner) – Settings – Alexa Account – History

Talk about precious!

Amazon is spending a lot of money on its upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series! According to this

Daily Record article by Craig McDonald

that could be 1 billion pounds (about 1.3 billion U.S. dollars…thanks for the conversion rate, Alexa!).

That’s a next level budget. I wonder if people think it looks like it had more money than heart we’ll see some wag call it “The Lard of the Rings”. 😉

I’m hoping to write about Disney+ (Disney’s $6.99 a month streaming service launching late this year) soon in another one of my blogs, The Measured Circle. Certainly, streaming competition is only getting stronger, but it’s Netflix that should be worried. You see, Amazon and Disney don’t need to profit on streaming, if that acts to increase income in other ways in other parts of the business. Netflix doesn’t have that same luxury that same way.

#VSS365

I have a great deal of fun with writing prompts. I like taking a minute or two and coming up with something creative with very specific rules…and yes, I like it when people show appreciation.

Every day on Twitter, there is a writing prompt for “very short stories” (VSS). It will give you a one word hashtag, and then you are to use that word in a “story”. Mine tend to be snippets of dialog, but other writers do a lot of creative things.

For example, yesterday was “vortex”, and I wrote this:

Your wretched writing is a veritable of amateurish alliteration! Can’t you say anything without it?”
“How’s this–screw you!”
“That reminds me: about your poetry….”

I may do more than one in a day…I deliberately don’t take much time on them, that’s part of the joy for me.

If you want to play along, you can search for #VSS prompt, follow @misskeelahrose (who seems to be the host), or to see my contributions, you can follow my main Twitter feed at

https://twitter.com/bufocalvin

If you are playing, let me know…I’d love to see your VSS!

What do you think? Did you know that humans at Amazon would be listening to Alexa recordings? Do you care? How do you think the Lord of the Rings show will go…is Disney+ a competitor? Do you worry about how Amazon workers are treated? 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!

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.

Round up #187: new Dr. Seuss, Amazon Day

March 6, 2019

Round up #187: new Dr. Seuss, Amazon Day

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

Help the environment and plan your week with Amazon Day

It’s super easy to order things from Amazon with 1-Click. In fact, I’m a little surprised that isn’t a new idiom…instead of “As easy as pie” (and pies are not that easy), things should be described as “As easy as 1-Click”. 😉

We can even order things using an Alexa device…or, um, “No-Click”?

There is a disadvantage to this, though, and I’ve certainly done it.

It means that I tend to just order things when I realize we need them…and that realization may come several times in the same day! It might be spread out over days.

This means I might have placed several orders in a week, and so, we may get Amazon boxes literally every day, with maybe one or two things in them.

Amazon has just introduced

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

which is only available for

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

in the USA currently.

What happens is that you designate a day of the week (say, Saturdays) as your Amazon Day. Unless otherwise instructed (which is easy to do), Amazon will group your orders together and deliver them on that day.

Even before this was officially released, Amazon says it has saved tens of thousands of boxes.

This also has the advantage of you knowing when things will arrive. I will admit to some dismay when a package has arrived a day early: I may have carefully planned the arrival of an item for a day when we would be home (we do have a mail theft issue in our area).

This doesn’t affect the Amazon Lockers (which we use a lot…but some items can’t be shipped there, and sometimes the locker is full).

You can choose to have a specific item arrive on one of the other six days of the week (to get it sooner, presumably), or switch the Amazon Day when you want.

There’s also a parallel here with the Alexa shopping list we use…my Significant Other and I feel very differently about that. I want to add things to the list when I think about it; it might be days before we need it. If my SO sees it, they think they need to go right now! We kid about it, but we know: I don’t like the list to be empty, my SO doesn’t like to have things on it. 🙂 It’s like how I feel about the laundry hamper: it should always have something in it. Otherwise, it feels like it is taking up space for no reason. 🙂

Now, with Amazon Day, we can do it both ways…add things to the Amazon Day shipment (the list equivalent), or have it resolved right away.

Amazon to open another grocery chain

According to this

Business Insider article by Rebecca Ungarino

and other sources, Amazon plans to open a second grocery chain (in addition to Whole Foods) with lower-priced offerings.

That honestly makes more sense to me.

Amazon has done well with lower-priced (but not bargain) items that do the job but aren’t luxury. They haven’t done as well with the high-end items. It’s also an opportunity for Amazon to really innovate, maybe doing checkoutless stores, such as those with which they have already been experimenting.

I don’t picture them as having aisles long enough to land an airplane, like some stores, and a million choices.

My guess is that it will be a lot of Amazon brands, also mainstream brands, but pretty narrow focused. Sort of like the Amazon 4-Star Stores:

My trip to an Amazon 4-Star Store

A smaller selection of high-value items.

It’s reasonable to wonder if that would work for a grocery store: don’t people want to get everything in one store?

Well, we don’t do that…we shop at several stores. Part of that is being vegetarians; no single store has a great selection.

I also think of it kind of like a 7-11, and that’s not meant to be disparaging. It may be the place where you just run in and grab a few things you want (including pre-packaged lunches).

Amazon may also arrange it as a pick-up location: you order maybe ten things, and then they already have it boxed when you get there…

New Dr. Seuss book coming in September 

While it isn’t listed for pre-order yet in a Kindle edition, it can be pre-ordered in hardback:

Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum (at AmazonSmile*)

Dr. Seuss died in 1991, which is quite some time ago…and this one is, well, interesting. It will be Dr. Seuss’s (I’m adding the terminal “s” the way they did) words, but it will be illustrated by Andrew Joyner. According to this

auburnpub.com article by Kaitlin Gates

there will also be “cameo” appearances by other Dr. Seuss characters, like The Cat in the Hat. That, honestly, doesn’t encourage me…it seems a bit gimmicky. Still, I’ll have an open mind and be hopeful.

My recovery

I had hip replacement surgery on January 17th, and got back to my day job yesterday. The change has been amazing! I’m walking without a cane for the first time in years…I keep looking for where I put it, when I actually didn’t bring it at all. I can also do stairs again, which means I get to rework my paths.

It was a lot of work; literally hours every day of PT (physical therapy) and wound care. I’m a very compliant patient…I definitely follow the rules, and I think that helped. I was also in relatively good health for the surgery, and a newer technique was used (the direct anterior approach with the Hana table…don’t look up videos if you are squeamish, but it typically shortens recovery time).

I thought I would get more reading and writing done, but that work was disruptive, as well as taking naps (which they said would happen). I don’t feel chronic pain much, so I (with the agreement of my surgeon) only took a half a pain pill the first night.

I did get some pictures digitized…I’ve been meaning to do that.

Anyway, I’m hoping I can get back into writing more narratives now…

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the new Dr. Seuss book? Do you like character cameos in books? What would get you to go to yet another grocery store? Does Amazon Day sound like something you’ll use? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

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

February 17, 2019

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

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

Escape (?) from New York

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

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

Amazon has now decided not to proceed with the project.

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

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

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

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

Google news search for “Amazon New York”

Update on Amazon Giveaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had the following options:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Giveaways (at AmazonSmile*)

You can publish Alexa skills…Flash Briefings, anyone?

Poof! You’re a news network! 😉

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

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

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

You start here:

https://blueprints.amazon.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVOKED SO IT COULD BE PUBLISHED TO THE STORE

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

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

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

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

Baby Skill Activity API

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

PSFK article by Rachel Gonzales

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

Amazon is working on a TV new series based on

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

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

https://www.amazon.com/adlp/lotronprime”>https://www.amazon.com/adlp/lotronprime

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

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile*)

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

Enjoy!

Do you have any opinions or questions on any of these stories? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Round-up #184: new Paperwhite under $100, legal news

February 8, 2019

Round-up #184: new Paperwhite under $100, legal news

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

Woody Allen sues Amazon for $68m

“…80 percent of life is showing up”.
–Woody Allen

What happens, though, if there’s no place for you to go?

Woody Allen is suing Amazon for not releasing the filmmaker’s most recent movie, according to this

Variety article by Gene Maddaus

and other sources.

This is a bit of a tricky one…it looks like Amazon didn’t release it because of allegations against Allen…but this would be a case, to quote the cartoon Super Chicken, where “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” 😉

In other words, the allegation was undoubtedly known to Amazon when they entered into the agreement…although one could argue that the climate has changed.

In other legal news…

Okay, I didn’t want to lead with this, and I’m carefully trying to not be political with it.

The lead story in the news tonight has to do with Amazon CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Jeff Bezos who wrote this

post on Medium

Okay, let’s see…basically, it has to do with a publisher threatening to release embarrassing information (including intimate pictures) of Bezos if the Bezos-owned newspaper doesn’t stop investigating the other publication.

If everything is as alleged, it sounds like blackmail.

This is a very important story, and I could write thousands of words about the politics of it, but this isn’t the place.

The key thing is that, if a new crime has been committed, it could invalidate previously established cooperation deals…which could really up-end what’s happening. Ask your friends who are into politics and/or the law.

On the Amazon side…Bezos going public with this is, perhaps, a surprise, since it could compromise the image of the CEO and hypothetically, the company.

I think many people will see the article as a positive and a smart way to go in this situation.

You can comment on this story, but I’m unlikely to reply on anything political.

Amazon financials were great, so the stock…

dropped. 🙂 I kind of get it this time, though. Amazon didn’t make a profit for years…they were investing in the future, basically. Then they started making a profit, which the investors liked. Now, they are suggesting that in the next quarter, they are going to invest a lot, which could affect the profit.

This feels like….being in a relationship with someone with a gambling problem, who manages to give it up, and then says they are just going to get involved in a friendly game again.

The investors may be afraid that they are going to go down that no-profit path again.

Here’s where you can see the specifics:

https://ir.aboutamazon.com/quarterly-results

Here’s a search for news stories on it:

Google news search

New, water-resistant Paperwhite is $30 off for Valentine’s Day

The

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

is my all-time favorite Kindle model so far, and is on sale for under $100 right now ($30 off).

Definitely a good deal!

My recovery

Just a quick note on my recovery from hip replacement surgery. Surprisingly, I’m having to spend more time on it now than I did before. That has to do with wound care (for the incision). I don’t have any pain, and I’m more mobile currently than I was before the surgery. Now it makes sense that I’m out of work for about another month. I couldn’t effectively be at work with this routine.

Do you have thoughts/questions on any of these stories? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

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

Round up #183: Alexa Guard, saving small businesses

January 22, 2019

Round up #183: Alexa Guard, saving small businesses

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

My recovery

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

Walker with I'M BUFO license plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the

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

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

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

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

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

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

Echo Show (at AmazonSmile*)

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

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

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

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

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

Fire TV Stick (at AmazonSmile*)

and a

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

in the family room.

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

Yes.

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

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

DC Universe app (at AmazonSmile*)

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

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

Thanks for all the well wishes!

Now, on to other things!

Alexa Guard mode

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

According to this September 20th, 2018

press release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is one article about it:

Yahoo Finance post by P.H. Madore

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

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

press release

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

You may have noticed

Amazon Storefronts (at AmazonSmile*)

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

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

This month’s First Reads

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

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

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

Writers need empathy, but not necessarily sympathy

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

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

My response:

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

What did I mean by that?

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

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

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

Those two are very different.

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

It’s similar for writers.

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

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

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

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Which Word To Use And When

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

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

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

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

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

 

Round up #182: Digital Day, Alexa reads your e-mail (to you)

December 25, 2018

Round up #182: Digital Day, Alexa reads your e-mail (to you)

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

Alexa reads your e-mail (to you)

…and it’s a good thing. 😉 People obviously have privacy concerns about smart devices, and that’s reasonable. After all, there was a widely-reported case recently (in Germany) where Amazon (not Alexa) sent a link to a customer which allowed that person to download over 1,500 recordings…made of another customer.

Washington Post story via Chicago Tribune by Hamza Shaban

While someone sent that to me as a sort of “Ah, ha, told you so!” story, I actually found it quite reassuring. I suspect we hear about major breaches, and this one appears to have been human error…which Amazon has said it has taken steps to limit in the future. I suppose it’s reasonable to be concerned that Amazon had over 1,500 recordings, but Alexa didn’t send it to someone else…a person did. If there was a systemic problem, I think we’d know.

You can also delete your recordings if you want: one way to do that is by going to Settings – Alexa Account – Alexa Privacy in your Alexa app.

I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t be surprised if Alexa was clandestinely reading your e-mail (Google reads your Gmail, but tells you it does…Dragon Naturally Speaking asked me if it could, to be better informed on things like quirky names), but that’s not at all what this new feature does.

You connect your e-mail to Alexa through that Alexa app: Settings-Email & Calendar. It gives you a choice of Google and/or Microsoft (you can have multiple accounts) for e-mail (you can also have Apple or Microsoft for calendars). I’m using it with my Outlook from work.

It will read you your unread e-mail which you have received in the past 24 hours. You can then: read; reply; delete; archive; or next. I’ve used it, and it works really well! At this point, you can’t initiate an e-mail (only respond), but I find it quite useful…and cool. 😉

Echo and Alexa devices (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) (might not work on all devices)

Kindle Unlimited: up to 40% off (including existing members)

I always keep an eye open for a sale on

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

We’ve been happy members since it started…it’s well worth the usual price of about $10 a month (when you buy a two-year membership), what with over a million e-book titles, plus magazines and audiobooks, but at 40% off? That’s about $6 a month! You can buy it as a gift, or extend your own membership…and the latter isn’t always available.

The offers are here:

Kindle Unlimited offers (at AmazonSmile*)

This deal is good through January 1st, 2019 (have you started practicing typing “2019” yet?). 😉 Hm…I also just saw the date of January 11th, but through January 1st for sure.

Your pictures as the screensaver on Fire TVs

Amazon has also added a nice, easy-to-use new feature for the

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

Your device will ask you, but you can set to use your own pictures as your “screensaver”. They made this simple: your Prime Photos app has a Groups choice at the bottom. Each of your Fire TVs that you authorize gets its own group. You just add photos into that, and that’s it. There’s a plus in your bottom right when you are in the group, or in when you are in “Yours”, you can choose Select from your top right corner, tap on the ones you want, then go back to your top right to “Add to Group”. You can add to more than one group at the same time (we use two Fire TVs).

Friday is “Digital Day”

This Friday, December 28 2018, is Amazon’s

Digital Day (at AmazonSmile*)

The sales will start on the 26th, but this

press release

says the biggest deals are on the 28th. These are deals on digital content: e-books, e-magazines, apps, utility software, and so on.

In years past, some of the deals haven’t interested me much, but there have been some good things as well…and you might have gotten Amazon gift cards to spend. 🙂

Comments or questions? 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

Round up #181: Amazon “Wish Book”, Echo’s evidence

November 12, 2018

Round up #181: Amazon “Wish Book”, Echo’s evidence

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

“YOU get free shipping…and you get free shipping…and YOU get free shipping…everybody gets free shipping!”

Yep…Amazon’s making like Oprah with the cars, and giving everyone, not just

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

members, free shipping through the holiday season (well, at least as late as you can have holiday gifts shipped for December 25th).

press release

This is on literally hundreds of millions of items.

Don’t worry, Prime members: you’ll get free 1-day shipping on something like three million items.

Is this strictly a competitive move? Well, it is that…it will get some people to buy online who usually buy in brick-and-mortars.

It may also get some people used to the convenience, and then they may decide to become Prime members.

Before we became Prime members, I went through and calculated how much we had spent on Amazon shipping in the previous year. That wasn’t a good indicator of our future satisfaction, though. It turned out that we bought different things when there was free two-day shipping. With two days, we suddenly tended to buy more things from Amazon which we otherwise were buying in brick-and-mortar stores.

There are also all those other Prime benefits, from video to music to photo storage to access to books and more.

Amazon’s “The Best Books of 2018”

I find this interesting every year!

Amazon sent me a press release (not something they do often, I’m afraid) to announce their

The Best Books of 2018 (at AmazonSmile*)

They break it down:

Featured in Best Books of 2018

Best of the Year by Category

By the way, this was amusing: “1-16 of 182 results for Top 100 on Kindle”…that’s like when people say they are committed to something “110%”. 😉 It actually turned out that there were only about 100 results (99, to be exact). 

One interesting thing for me: looking through the top 100 Kindle books, I’ve read…zero of them. A change in lifestyle has meant being more careful with money, so I’ve been reading more older books and books covered by our

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

membership.

I usually do get e-books at gifts, and I did last year…but although I haven’t analyzed it, I’m guessing that the books on the list usually aren’t released in the beginning of the year.

Their number one book?

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I do want to commend them on their selections! I looked through the science fiction section (it was only logical to do, after all), and it really wasn’t the “usual suspects”. I think the editors make a real effort to create opportunities for discovery…they’ve succeeded. 🙂

Amazon’s 3rd Quarter financials

We were back to what seems like normal to me…Amazon announces absolutely amazing growth for a company this age and this size, and the investors feel disappointed and the stock goes down. 🙂

Operating cash flow was up 57%. Net sales were up 29%. Net income per diluted share was more than ten times what it had been in the same quarter in 2017.

What more do you want, right? 😉

Finance.Yahoo.com chart

It hasn’t recovered yet…but I’m confident it will before the end of January.

Browse the listings of accomplishments in the press release, and I think most people wouldn’t have been surprised 25 years ago if that represented ten companies!

Amazon HQ2 announcement seems close

There are lots of rumors swirling about Amazon’s second headquarters selection…including that they may split it between two cities. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got the announcement this week. People are analyzing everything, including where Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos eats. My intuition is the Northeast, but it will be interesting to get the official word.

Remember the Sears Wish Book?

I remember it being a big deal when we got the Sears Wish Book (basically, a holiday toy catalog). We would go through it, folding pages down, and putting our initials next to things we wanted. That didn’t mean we would get any of them…it was fun, like a game!

This year, Amazon is sending out a physical catalog (in addition to a gazillion TV commercials).

If you don’t want to wait for it (and I doubt everyone will get one), you can get it for free for your Kindle:

A Holiday of Play

A Jury of Your Gadgets?

There were a lot of ways to go with that headline, for sure! 12 Angry Echoes? Alexa for the Defence? Even “I, Echo”?

A judge in Vermont has ordered Amazon to turn over possible Echo recordings from a home involved in a double homicide, according to this

ABC News story by Mark Osborne

and many other sources.

It’s interesting…for one thing, they don’t even know that there are relevant recordings. There shouldn’t be recordings until the wake word is heard, but I suppose that could happen. The article also mentions phone pairing data…that could be helpful in establishing who was there, but it doesn’t just happen if you are passing through. If the perpetrators were known to the people in the home, maybe even if the event happened after a social gathering which involved them, then there could be interesting information.

Have any thoughts on these stories? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

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

Round up #180: Alexa’s birthday sale, local B&N change

November 4, 2018

Round up #180: Alexa’s birthday sale, local B&N change

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

A Barnes & Noble near us is going to…

open!

Weren’t expecting that, were you? 😉

I first heard about this on

Nextdoor.com

which we find to be a very mixed bag for us. Sometimes, it seems essential: I think it’s particularly effective for lost pets. It’s a localized social network, where you are hypothetically only speaking to your neighbors (which can be pretty broadly defined). Someone may post that they’ve seen (or found…or lost) a dog or cat, and it seems like the situation is often resolved in mere minutes.

On the other hand, we sometimes see things there which…don’t reflect our concerns. That might be something seen as suspicious activity which we don’t view as that. Local police departments may also post on Nextdoor (around the country), and that can be helpful.

Anyway, someone posted a story about Barnes & Noble opening a new store in our area, and there were positive reactions to it.

It’s going into a fairly new, destination shopping center, The Veranda:

Barnes & Noble at The Veranda

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager (and I did other retail), I get the positioning of this center. It’s intended to feel upscale, to be a somewhat luxury experience. You have to do something to compete with the convenience and often better prices shopping online. I have said before in this blog that you need people to be willing to spend more money at your store because they want to help you.

Some people also want to spend more money so they can show that they can do it, of course. 😉

This shopping center has a fancy movie theatre: it has a full bar and food service to your theatre seat.

My Significant Other and I (we like to go to the movies) went there once; we aren’t likely to go again.

First, those two advantage don’t help us much: we are teetotaling healthy-eating vegetarians. However, that wasn’t the issue. You can book your seats ahead of time, but when we got there, I couldn’t really use that seat due to a disability. That can happen…it could have been marked more clearly online, but I anticipated that the theatre would have ramps rather than stairs, which many places I visit do.

It was that they didn’t seem to be concerned about it, particularly…they weren’t dismissive, it was more like they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. It was an easy problem to fix (there were lots of empty seats), but they seemed confused by anything out of the ordinary.

For the Barnes & Noble to succeed, they are going to need to focus on customer experience. People will need to want to go there, be willing to spend more money than they would online (and less conveniently), and be satisfied when they leave.

That could happen, and I certainly wish them luck…

Happy birthday, Alexa! 

Amazon’s talktec Alexa recently turned four (!) years old, and they are celebrating with a sale.

I didn’t exclamation point that sale, because we are heading into a season with a lot of sales, and I wouldn’t say this one is really standing out to me. It’s always nice to save money, of course, but I suspect there may the same and bigger opportunities now that we are into Black Friday month.

Here’s the

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

You can buy the 2nd gen

Echo Dot (at AmazonSmile*)

for $10 off ($29.99). A better deal? You can get four of them for $99.96…making the only about $25 apiece. Do you need four of them? Well, don’t forget…these can make good gifts. 🙂

Some other discounts:

  • Fire TV Stick 4K & Echo Dot for $79.98
  • 2 Fire TV Stick 4Ks for $10 off with code TWOPACK
  • 2nd gen Echo for $79.99 ($20 off)
  • Echo Spot (my favorite) for $99.99 ($30 off)
  • Fire HD 8 and Show Mode Charging Dock $109.98 ($20 off)

These prices reportedly go through November 6th.

Alexa Election Skills

There are several skills in the Alexa store that tie into the election. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk politics! I do vote in every election, and talk politics thoroughly with very view people. However, publicly, I make a real effort not to bring it into it…I think that would interfere with some people enjoyment of this blog and the information they get out of it.

Alexa, though, is becoming more and more part of our lives and society. I tried a skill suggested to me (LiveBallot): it wanted to know for which candidates I was going to vote! I had activated that one, but I won’t use it. I appreciated that it had recorded statements from some candidates, but what I really want is results…and not just from candidates, but on propositions.

Here’s a search for

Election skills in the USA Alexa Appstore (at AmazonSmile*)

Hopefully, you’ll find something that helps you there, whatever you decide to do (or not to do).

Amazon Black Friday deals per ZDNet

Thanks to a reader who alerted me to this

ZDNet article by Elyse Betters-Picaro

which purports to be based on information given to them by Amazon about the latter’s Black Friday deals.

Intuitively, this feels pretty solid, but Amazon hasn’t announced them.

While they list sales before Thursday, November 22nd, the ones they list that day certainly are attractive!

I don’t want to take too much away from their scoop…I’ll point out the new Paperwhite for $40 off ($79.99) and the Echo Spot for $89.99 (also $40 off). Oh, and when you buy an Echo device, they say you can get an Amazon Smart Plug for $5.

I’ll be keeping my eye on prices as they get officially announced!

Thanks, reader!

Any thoughts on any of these stories? Would you feel okay telling Alexa for whom you were voting? Do you ever not tell Alexa things you think are too private? Will a new Barnes & Noble be able to make it in today’s environment? Are you planning to give Alexa devices for the holidays? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

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

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.


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