Archive for the ‘Round-ups’ Category

Round up #175: Alexa Kids Edition, Prime will still be a bargain

April 29, 2018

Round up #175: Alexa Kids Edition, Prime will still be a bargain

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

Amazon Prime will be cheaper than Netflix Standard on May 11th

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

is an incredible deal…and that will continue to be true after a price raise effective May 11th for new subscribers (the price increase goes into effect for renewals on June 16th).

The annual price is going up to $119 from $99. Yes, that’s a significant increase: about 20%. The last increase was in 2014 from $79 annually to $99…that’s a bigger increase in terms of percentage, about 25%.

It’s noteworthy, though, that it’s still just about $10 a month ($9.92, approximately). Standard Netflix is $10.99 a month (they have a cheaper one at $7.99…only one screen at a time, and no HD). Hulu is $7.99 a month…ad-supported (with commercials). No commercials on Hulu? $11.99 a month.

Now, that’s comparing apples to oranges…actually, it’s more like apples to the entire produce aisle. 😉

Prime is so much more than just video, and they keep adding more things. Here are just some of the benefits:

  • Prime Video (with HD and up to three at the same time…more than Netflix Standard)
  • Prime Reading (read from a selection of about 1,000 books and some magazines)
  • One free Kindle book to own each month (from a choice of usually six)
  • Unlimited photo storage
  • Free two-day shipping on many orders

and again, that’s not everything.

Even given all that, some people who perceive this as “over $100 a year” rather than “under $10 a month” will quit Prime over this, so why would Amazon do it?

We recently found out that Amazon has over 100 million Prime subscribers. That’s worldwide (and it’s very important to note that there are many more users than subscribers…if we count Significant Others, children, and so on, I would be confident that there are more people using Prime than the population of the United States), and this price change is for the USA. If the price raise was on 100 million subscribers, and it was $20…that’s 2 BILLION dollars. That’s significant, even to Amazon. 😉

They won’t just take that as profit: they’ll invest it in things that make Prime even more attractive to even more people. It’s not going to take much for those Prime buyers to make up the difference for any who do leave over this (which I think will be a tiny percentage).

I will say that if Prime was just video (which it isn’t), I find three major reasons why I don’t watch Prime as much as Netflix or Hulu:

  • For me, discovery is a lot harder…it’s easier to find things I want to watch on Hulu or Netflix. That means that Prime video is pretty much a back-up plan
  • There doesn’t seem like as much selection…Hulu for us is mostly current shows, Netflix is originals (I’m watching the new Lost in Space, for example), but we do watch older things on both
  • Most of you probably don’t care about this, but Prime Video is not available to me in VAM (Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality) space…and I watch video in VR just about every workday (during lunch, which I exercise)

Some of you may be wondering if there’s a way to extend your current Prime subscription at the current price before it goes up. Well, this

9to5 Toys article by Patrick Campanale

has a convoluted method…but there is a comment from someone who said they tried it last time and it didn’t work. It basically involves canceling and buying a gift membership for yourself.

We’re just going to pay the $20 more…

“Keep My Songs” by Monday, April 30

Amazon is no longer going to store your previously uploaded music…unless you tell them to do it before Monday, April 30th.

You just have to go to

Your Account (at AmazonSmile*)

then go to the Music Settings and click the “Keep my songs” button. I listen to music like this a lot…oh, and this doesn’t affect AutoRip music or digital music you’ve purchased…it’s just outside source audio you’ve uploaded.

I know this is late notice, but I think everybody will have gotten an e-mail about it already. I just thought a back-up (so to speak) alert was worthwhile.

Amazon’s 2018 Q1 financials

You can get the details

here

by listening to the webcast recording and/or looking at the slides, but bottom line…they did great! They more than doubled their profit (due in large part to their web services), and sales were up 43%.

According to this

CNN Money graph

the stock is up nearly 3% in the past five days (the webcast was on the 26th)…and more than a third up over the year.

Investors like them…they really like them! 😉

In-Car Delivery

In this

press release

dated April 24th, Amazon announced that Prime members in 37 cities and surrounding areas with certain types of cars (Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac and Volvo of particular kinds, and a connected car) will now be able to get packages delivered directly into the trunk of their cars…even when they aren’t they.

What they are doing is even better than what I wrote about as a joke in this April Fool’s Day post in 2017:

AFD News: Amazon to open brick-and-mortar department store

This can be a real game changer.

I can certainly see using this at work. With my car parked in a publicly accessible place, they could deliver something into my trunk with a four-hour limit (that’s on delivery day…it’s not that it takes four hours to get there.

Nice!

I can also see this on vacation, parked at a hotel. Of course, it would work at home, too. 🙂

What’s the cost for this service? It’s included in Prime! Worth ten bucks a month now? 😉

Kid-friendly Alexa

This

press release

from April 25th introduces the

Echo Dot Kids Edition (at AmazonSmile*)

and new Amazon FreeTime features for Alexa.

A lot of the parental control features are free, and then there is a paid “Amazon FreeTime Unlimited” tier ($2.99 a month), which gives more content use (certain Audible books, apps).

That’s what they have for Kindle books, too.

They didn’t create a new Unlimited product for Alexa…they added features to the existing plan. If you already subscribe, this is just an expansion of what you get.

This is a clever move…I’d recommend you take a look at the page. Oh, and the $79 for the Kids edition includes a free year of FreeTime Unlimited.

The “Alexa Brain” initiative

Alexa is going to get a whole lot more conversational and useful…and soon.

According to this

TechCrunch article by Sarah Perez

there are some major improvements ahead!

  • Alexa will remember things you tell it, for future recall
  • Alexa will have “context carryover”…in other words, Alexa will be able to stay on topic. If you say, “When was Stephen King born?” and follow it up with, “What’s his newest book?” it should be able to answer that
  • Alexa will automatically launch “Skills” (the Alexa equivalent of apps) that will answer your question…even if you haven’t previously enabled it

Prodigious week, huh? 😉

I’m guessing some of you have opinions about these…feel free to share them with me and my readers 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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Round up #174: Alexa blueprints, 9 free books

April 23, 2018

Round up #174: Alexa blueprints, 9 free books

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

World Book Day tie-in: 9 books for free!

For USA customers, Amazon is doing at giveaway to tie into

World Book Day

on 23 April. The sale ends at 11:59 p.m. (PDT) on April 24, 2018.

You can go to this page:

World Book Day with AmazonCrossing (at AmazonSmile*)

and download up to nine books, free to keep.

Clearly, this has been popular, with nearly 5 million pages read so far. Some of them are quite well-reviewed.

I did get them all for us, but I will say, I’ve felt burned by AmazonCrossing titles before, where I didn’t end up liking the translation (finding them a bit “stiff”).

Note that I haven’t read these specific titles, and they could be great. 🙂 Can’t beat the price…

Game changer! Make Alexa answer whatever questions you want…easily!

This is a remarkable innovation, coming a bit out of nowhere.

It seems obvious that Alexa is an important platform, in its infancy. That’s not just

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

I use Alexa a lot in the Amazon shopping app on my phone. If I want to listen to the news in the car (I usually listen to text-to-speech, but I’m also a big news consumer), I listen to my Flash Briefing (Bluetoothed through my car’s audio system). I’m sure it runs at least thirty minutes…with no commercials.

Well, Amazon just introduced something that lets anybody create Alexa question and answers (and skills)…and that, to me, especially has application for businesses.

They are called

Skill Blueprints

They definitely have some cool ideas, including for “choose your own adventure” type stories, but I’m going to suggest you start out by skipping all that.

Go directly to Custom Q&A.

This is simple and obvious. You write a question, then write Alexa’s response to it.

It will be available to all of the devices registered to your account.

I set it up first with some phone numbers…”What’s so-and-so’s phone number?” My Significant Other will use that.

However, where I see a real application for this is businesses and other organizations.

Regular readers know that I work for a healthcare organization. We have great people at desks who help people find departments within the buildings. I love seeing someone looking a bit lost, asking them if I can help them find something, and then sometimes actually getting to walk them to their destinations! If you are there for a procedure, you can certainly be nervous and not at your best.

Imagine the option of having a number of Alexa devices around, and people being able to ask them! Sure, asking people is probably a better experience, but you can’t always have people everywhere…and asking Alexa is cutting edge.

It’s a bit tricky for some things: I’d have to write questions for, “Where is X-Ray?”, “Where is Imaging?”, “Where is ultrasound?” and so on.

Still, it could work really well…and you can write funny or reassuring answers as well.

Oh, that’s worth noting: if you do use a question that Amazon already knows how to answer (like, “Alexa, what time is it?”), your answer replaces the stock answer…which could lead to some interesting jokes.

For the custom Q&A, there is no skill to launch…you just ask.

For the actual skills, you do give them a name and invoke them.

They give you blueprints for the babysitter, pet sitter, and houseguest. Those are nicely done for guiding you…for the pet, you enter where the leash is, what the pet’s allergies are, emergency contact numbers, etc.

I’ve only experimented with it some so far. I like the process: after you finish the skill, it’s available to use within about two minutes, and then can be edited a couple of minutes after that.

It would clearly be better to write them out first. On the phone numbers, I put the “1” region code in front of most of them…but didn’t on one of them (so I had  to go back and standardize).

One of our dogs is named “Patty”, and as a joke, I created a phone number: “What is Patty’s phone number?” “1-555-555-yap-yap-yap-woof!” It didn’t work at all at first…and that was because it was hearing “patties phone number”. I changed the spelling in the question, and that worked.

The other thing is that it didn’t speak it like a phone number: it said, “Five hundred and fifty-five”. On the other phone numbers, it read just the digits: I assume having the words at the end changed its interpretation.

I haven’t checked the public skill creation area for a while, but if they haven’t done this sort of thing there, they should! I’d love it if you had the choice to make a blueprint in to a public skill, but that’s not available yet.

I also looked at the privacy…if you put in social security numbers as one of the things it can answer, that does look to me like it could be read at Amazon…but not by the public outside of your account.

They could do more with this (let it tie into a database, for example), and I’m sure they will…but I think this has giant possibilities.

Amazon makes paying taxes less…taxing

Okay, this is not going to affect a lot of my readers…but it will affect some. 🙂 It also generally shows how Amazon keeps trying to innovate in different areas.

When I’ve done our taxes in the past, I would have many documents from Amazon…statements for every “territory” where I got a royalty for one of my books, for example. I think for our 2016 taxes, there were more than ten. For 2017? There was just one! That may seem like a little thing, but I do find doing the taxes stressful, and this really reduced my uncertainty.

Thanks, Amazon!

2017 Letter to Stockholders

Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to stockholders is also interesting. This year’s

version

is no exception (note that you’ll have the option for more than one document here).

Unusually, there are some solid numbers in it. Jeff notes that “…we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally…”.

There was a mention of the Kindle…but Alexa got a lot more coverage…

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


You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!


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

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

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

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

Round up #173: Alexa Announcements, #AmazonClosed

April 9, 2018

Round up #173: Alexa Announcements, #AmazonClosed

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

#AmazonClosed: people report Amazon accounts abruptly closed

There has been a trending hashtag on social media where people claim that their Amazon accounts have been closed. The suggestion generally is that those customers don’t know why.

Here’s one article (of many) on it:

KUTV article by Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair

Here’s a Twitter search:

Twitter search for #AmazonClosed

My intuition on this is that there is a real problem. My guess is that thousands of people have had their accounts closed…and that in many cases, those accounts were closed inappropriately and will be reinstated, after enough contact with Amazon Customer Service:

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

What could have caused a sudden uptick in accounts being closed?

One possibility is a new examination revealing people who actually were violating the Terms of Service. That could be part of it, although something like that returning false positives could also be part of it.

Another possibility would be that people have figured out how to hack or spoof customers’ accounts…and are using them for activities which violate those Terms of Service. It could be a combination of these, too.

There may be some other contributing factors, such as hearing about accounts being closed which would have been at the normal (very low level), but are being surfaced as part of this movement.

Bottom line here: Amazon really, really doesn’t want to close anybody’s account, for obvious reasons. However, they do have the right to do so (we’d be devastated). If this happens to you, contact Amazon Customer Service to see if you can be reinstated.

Allegations about Amazon

I do my very best to avoid politics in this blog. However, there have been times where things which happen in the government can affect Kindleers.

Recently, in the news (you’ve likely heard about it), there have been allegations about Amazon having negative effects. Most analysts believe those statements have resulted in a drop in the value of Amazon shares, which can eventually affect their ability to invest in future developments, which would impact people who use Kindles or read Kindle books…even if they pay no attention to politics.

I’m not going to link to any stories or cite the source, but if you want to read them for yourself, just Google Amazon in the news…or watch pretty much any of the major news sources.

What I will do here is look at a couple of the main “charges”.

One is that Amazon has negatively impacted the U.S. Post Office.

Amazon uses the USPS to deliver packages, although they also uses a lot of other methods. For that to hurt the USPS, they would need to lose money on delivering those packages, or in servicing the account in some way.

These are some things to consider:

  • Does Amazon get a different deal from other customers with similar use profiles?
  • Who sets the price? Amazon? USPS? Postal Regulatory Commission?
  • Does the Post Office lose money  delivering the packages? Alternatively, could they charge more in order to earn more profit? If the USPS rates are below the going market rate, what would happen if they raised them? Would they maintain their marketshare? If some people pay more to other delivery services, why do they do that?
  • Let’s say that the USPS has underpriced their services: would Amazon be wrong to take advantage of that rate? If they were, what should happen to them?

Another charge is that Amazon has negatively affected unemployment, since many retail jobs at competitors (especially small local businesses) may have been lost.

  • How many retail jobs have been lost?
  • If Amazon was not around, would that number be different?
  • How many jobs has Amazon created? Is it more than the number of retail jobs lost?
  • What are the nature of those jobs? Who qualifies for the jobs? What benefits/salary are offered? What’s the long term outlook for the jobs?

I’m not going to offer my own answers to this is this forum…I’ll leave that up to you. 🙂

“Alexa, announce that you can donate through Alexa”

There are lots of Alexa features, but I thought I’d highlight two.

You can now have Alexa announce something…in your voice. I’ve tested this out: I get the idea, but it’s kind of weird. I was at work, and asked my

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

to announce that I was trying a new Alexa feature, and I’d be leaving soon. I hadn’t warned my Significant Other, because I wanted to see how well it would work.

My SO did hear my voice out of at least one of our Echo devices at home…but said it was too garbled to understand.

I tested it myself later…and I get that comment. When I knew what it was going to say, no problem, but as a surprise, it might be difficult.

It’s also a bit strange because the person who hears your voice can’t respond exactly. They could announce back, I suppose. You are also announcing to all of your devices.

There are a lot of people who seem to like the idea, but there are other ways to communicate through your Alexa devices, especially if you enable the Drop-in feature…which sounds quite clear.

So, I don’t know that we are going to use this one much…but I’d love to hear from you if you are using it effectively.

The other one I think is really cool!

You can make a donation directly through your Alexa device!

At the time of writing, there are 48 possible charities…you can just say, “Alexa, make a donation”. If you don’t specify a charity, Alexa can make a suggestion. It certainly sounded to me like they wanted to add a lot more, and there could be some very interesting 501(c)3s and others doing that. After all, you can currently support any of many, many more charities at

Smile.Amazon.Com

Here’s the list that I found of current charities, but I’m sure it could change any time:

  • American Cancer Society
  • American Heart Association
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  • Apache Software Foundation
  • Best Friends Animal Society
  • Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary, Inc.
  • Bowdoin College
  • Bridges to America
  • Comic Relief
  • Coyote Point Rifle and Pistol Club
  • Detroit Achievement Academy
  • DonorsChoose’Farestart
  • Feeding America
  • Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
  • ICE Foundation
  • International child Art Foundation
  • KUOW
  • Language Creation Society
  • LongNow Foundation
  • Lowcountry Furniture Bank
  • March of Dimes Foundation
  • Mary’s Place Seattle
  • Mediatrix Media
  • Moments with the Book
  • National Public Radio
  • One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)
  • PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
  • ProPublica
  • RED, a division of The ONE Campaign
  • SLB Radio Productions, Inc.
  • Seattle Children’s
  • Semper Fi Fund
  • Soles4Souls, Inc.
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • St. Mary’s Center
  • American Red Cross
  • The Ember Cast
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Tor Project
  • United States Fund for UNICEF
  • West Seattle Baseball League
  • Wikimedia Foundation
  • WorldReader
  • Wounded Warrior Project
  • Wreaths across America
  • Hawkwing, Inc.

Hm…some interesting choices in there…

I tried a couple of links on the Amazon Pay site which were broken…again, that’s intriguing.

I’ve heard that Amazon is considering a peer-to-peer pay service, like PayPal. That is something I would use from time to time, to contribute to group gifts at work. We’ll see what happens…

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal: Up to 80% off top nonfiction on Kindle

Today’s (April 8th)

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) has some good books!

Here are some that caught my eye out of the 39):

  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham
  • Code Girls: the Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
  • Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
  • Mini Habits for Weight Loss by Stephen Guise
  • American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
  • The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
  • My Fair Junkie by Amy Dresner
  • The Science of Likability by Patrick King
  • Habit Stacking by S.J. Scott
  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
  • Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
  • Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
  • I Am Brian Wilson by Brian Wilson
  • Lion by Saroo Brierley
  • Moon Shot by Jay Barbree

Have opinions on any of these stories? Feel free to share them with me and my readers 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.

 

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.

Round up #171: Alexa boldly goes, an EBR of a different color

March 14, 2018

Round up #171: Alexa boldly goes, an EBR of a different color

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

“You know, the only thing wrong with the Kindle Oasis is that it doesn’t cost enough.”

That’s what you’ve been saying, right? 😉 Well, you can pre-order the

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

right now (it’s being released on March 22nd). It comes in a gold color, and has 32 GB…with Special Offers, it $279.99. Outside of that, I’m not seeing any real innovations…seems like a status symbol, unless I’ve missed something.

Amazon introduces Conversation Mode

Back in 2015, I shared in this blog that I had sent this to Amazon about the then new

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

“I am enjoying our new Echo very much. I did want to make a suggestion which would make it feel much more natural. You could introduce the option to put it into conversation mode. Once there, you would not have to say “Alexa” to get it to pay attention to what you said..That would continue until you took it out of conversation mode, or until it was quiet for a certain period of time. For example, that would allow you to ask a question, get an answer, and then say thank you and get a response without having to say “Alexa, thank you.” Getting it into conversation mode could be accomplished with a natural language sentence, like “Alexa, let’s talk.” As you know, the remote already works that way…you don’t have to say Alexa.”

That’s now been introduced. You don’t say anything special to get it to go into Conversation Mode…instead, it’s a setting in the app, which makes sense. People are concerned about the Echo listening to them without a conscious choice being made, and the app is much more private than being able to enable it verbally.

You go into the Setting on the app, and then to the settings for the individual device. You can turn on “Follow up”.

I do like it: I can ask Alexa what time it is, then follow up with what’s the weather, and I’ve only had to say “Alexa” once.

“Xin chào, Amazon!”

Expect to hear news about Amazon and Vietnam tomorrow (at time of writing), Wednesday March 14th.

A slightly skewed fact?

Okay, I like it when Alexa gives me funny responses…but I also want a reliable answer. 🙂 I was quite amused this morning. I asked Alexa, “Who starred in Star Trek?” (I was testing something.). The answer I got was, “Star Trek Beyond’s stars are Jeff Bezos, Idris Elba, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin.”

Jeff Bezos first? Fascinating… 😉

Bezos was in the movie, by the way, although it wasn’t a lead role, certainly.

Also, looking at the “card” in the app…no Oxford comma? That’s a debate for another day, I suppose…

Speaking of Alexa (again…there is a lot more innovation happening in Alexa right now than in EBRs…E-Book Readers), Master Replicas has made a working model of HAL 9000…powered by Alexa! It’s nice to report that on Douglas Rain’s birthday (Rain was the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the sequel).

Mashable article by Adam Rosenberg

amazon first reads (sic) formerly Kindle First

It’s almost halfway through the month, and I haven’t written about the

amazon first reads (formerly) Kindle First books (at AmazonSmile*)

yet (it’s been busy).

This time there are six…and I have an easy choice!

  • Feast: True Love in and out of the kitchen by Hannah Howard (memoir)
  • True Fiction by Lee Goldberg (thriller)
  • Trespassing by Brandi Reeds (suspense)
  • H*ll’s Princess by Harold Schechter (historical true crime)
  • Digging In by Loretta Nyhan (contemporary fiction)
  • A Glimmer of Hope (The Avalon Chronicles) by Steve McHugh (fantasy)

No question here: Lee Goldberg is good, so I’m very comfortable getting it. That’s not to say that others on the list weren’t also tempting: in fact, I would say this is the most appealing list for me in some time.

Things have been really busy, and I’m not quite sure when it is going to slow down (probably not until May, really)…and things will get a lot easier when I’ve been doing the Bookish Birthdays for a year. 🙂

What do you think? Would you buy a Champagne Gold Oasis? If you did, would you put a cover on it…maybe a customized one that said, “Yeah, I spent more money than you” on it. 😉 Just kidding: if you want to buy a CGO, go for it! Does it bother you that Alexa prioritized “the boss”? Would you want a HAL assistant? No surprise, but for me, WOOT! 😉  I suspect some of you might have opinions about the Oxford comma…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.

Ultimo Round-up #1 (for February 2018)

March 2, 2018

Ultimo Round-up #1 (for February 2018)

This is my first attempt at a replacement for my

Snapshots

series of posts, which I had done monthly for close to eight years. I’m not doing them in part because Amazon changed its search results, and honestly, while I enjoyed doing all the math and thought I got useful insights out of it, my sense was that many of my regular readers just found it a wall of words. 😉

What I’m going to try to do instead is look at what happened in the preceding month (“ultimo” basically means in the previous month). As an experiment, I’ll be interested even more than usual in your feedback, which you can give me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Amazon Press Releases in February 2018

Amazon press release archive

  • Amazon kicked off the month with a great financial report, which saw the stock price soar upwards, hitting $1,500 a share. That certainly wasn’t following the broader trend of the market
  • Whole Foods, in particular how it interacts with Amazon Prime (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), was featured in a couple of press releases. Prime members can get 5% off when using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card, and customers in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach (at least some areas of those cities) could get Prime Now delivery of some Whole Foods items…which meant free two-hour delivery of qualified items with a $35 minimum order
  • The Bosch TV series, based on the books by Micheal Connelly ( at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) was greenlit for its fifth season
  • Amazon also announced a new series based on Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas (at AmazonSmile*), the first book in the Culture series
  • In a specifically book announcement, Amazon has a new imprint, TOPPLE Books, helmed by Jill Soloway (who led Amazon’s breakout series, Transparent). According to the press release, it will “…spotlight the voices of women of color, gender non-conforming, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer writers”. It’s listed at the Amazon Publishing site, but the link isn’t live yet

Outside of official press releases, there is always buzz about Amazon in the news…here are some things from February 2018:

  • Amazon is going to sell UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) bouts (pay per view) through Amazon Video
  • A survey suggested more than half of Amazon customers would use an Amazon cryptocurrency (although it isn’t clear to me that they realized that “Amazon Coins” already exist…at least for videogame purchases (CNBC article)
  • Amazon’s healthcare initiative continue to make news (as a reminder, I’m not commenting on that because my “day job” is in that industry and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so publicly)
  • Amazon layoffs in Seattle made the news, although there was a tendency to tie that into automation (including the Amazon Go “just walk out” store concept). This Money article does point out that Amazon employs over half a million people, has thousands of job openings, and reportedly hired more than 100,000 people in 2017. They are also reportedly going to bring 2,000 jobs to the Boston area
  • Amazon may have spent a billion dollars buying Ring, which makes video doorbells. Amazon already has a home vidcam (tied into the ability to have Amazon deliver your packages inside your house), but that one is really for in the house (pointed at the door). I think this is a good match (I don’t know that’s it’s a good buy)…tying your video doorbell into your Echo Show or Echo Spot, so you could see who was at the door easily, makes a lot of sense to me

Some other miscellany:

  • Today (March 2nd…Dr. Seuss’ birthday) is Read Across America Day (Official Site)
  • Author Penny Vincenzi reportedly died on February 25
  • Author Cynthia Heimel reportedly died on February 25
  • Dolly Parton donated her 100 millionth book (and we applaud the singer!)
  • Harper Lee’s will was unsealed…and some readers of it were unsettled
  • Prime Music launched in India
  • Author Terry Goodkind caused a bit of a flap commenting on the cover of the fantasy author’s own book

There are over 6,000,000 titles in the USA Kindle store…

I’m interested in your opinion of this to shape how (and if) I do something similar at the beginning of next month. Are there things you would like to see covered more or less extensively? Please let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.


You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!


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

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

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

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

 

Round up #170: Amazon soars and B&N drops, are words worth less?

February 26, 2018

Round up #170: Amazon soars and B&N drops, are words worth less?

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

Is the value of words dropping?

Edward Boyhan, a long time reader and commenter, in a private communication alerted me to to this

The Shatzkin Files post by Mike Shatzkin

It’s a very interesting take, and I do agree with it in some ways.

The basic thesis is this:

Due to changes in technology, it is now easier for someone to produce an image or a video, and to send it, than it is to produce words.

That’s true both for general communications and for creatives.

It’s a big change!

I want to say that, if we are limiting words here to written words, I certainly often do it this way.

I was training a new technology at work. That, by the way, is part of why I haven’t been writing as much narrative in the past week or two. I’ve been able (barely) to keep up the daily stuff I do, but I’ve been having some days where I leave at…6:15 am and get back home at 8:30 pm. Not most of the, but it’s been long days for sure. That’s over, at least for now.

I tend to help other trainers prep…we all help each other. I’ve certainly done some written resources…but I also recorded a roughly 45-minute version of me doing the presentation (and it does have video).

I did that in one take, but I can do that sort of thing. 🙂 It’s not perfect, but I’ll say it was more than serviceable.

It’s so easy to record it and make it available…people can even watch it on their phones.

Echo devices enable leaving audio messages and doing videocalls.

That doesn’t mean that written words entirely disappear, and I certainly still see a value for novels and full-length non-fiction…but in day-to-day life, I agree with Mike Shatzkin that people are generally valuing the written word less than they used to value it.

E-book charges showing up as “Prime Video” charges

Thanks to one of my regular readers and commenters, Lady Galaxy, for the heads-up on this!

Apparently, some people are seeing charges on their Amazon accounts for “Prime Video”, when they haven’t purchased any videos recently.

Of course, “Prime Video” shouldn’t have any charges (unless it’s for the service itself)…watching the videos is included in the

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

price.

Well, according to what Lady Galaxy reported (and I have a very high degree confidence in it), there appears to be a charge encoding issue for some people…a charge for a Kindle e-book (for example) may be shown as a “Prime Video” charge by mistake.

That could certainly be disconcerting!

Fortunately, it sounds like nothing is really wrong…it’s just a misreporting.

Thanks, Lady!

I will say, the backlist videos seem to be a better selection to me lately! Relic Hunter, Laugh-In, My Favorite Martian…things I have seen or would like to see. I still find discovery at Prime Video to be a challenge, and it’s going to be behind Hulu and Netflix for me until I can watch in VAM space (Virtual Reality)…still hoping we get that this year. 😉

Amazon stock hits $1,500

Amazon stock has hit a new high recently, at $1,500. Certainly, investors now seem to embrace the company. It’s interesting to consider the “philosophy’ behind having such a high stock price.

After all, a company can lower a stock price…they can “split” it. I was given one share of Disney when I was a kid, and it ended up helping do the down payment on the first home we bought.

You see, at the time, Disney wanted to keep the price low, so a grandparent could buy one for a grandkid (to simplify the concept). If the price started to get out of the range of that, they would split the stock: if you had one share at, say, $100, you now had two shares worth $50. Initially, the price value is the same…but if the stock goes from $50 to $51, you’ve gained two dollars (since you have two shares), rather than one dollar.

Amazon isn’t doing that, meaning that they want the stock to be bought by “professional” investors, not casual ones.

Meanwhile, at Barnes & Noble…

Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble is not doing as well. Many outlets carried the news story that they are laying off workers: “…lead cashiers, digital leads and other experienced workers”, according to this Fortune article by Casey Quackenbush

Barnes & Noble Is Laying Off Workers Amid Declining Sales

This will be a considerable cost savings for B&N…but if feels a bit like throwing the engine overboard to get better gas mileage. 😉

Any opinions? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post. I will really strive not to wait as long before my next narrative post!

Oh, one more thing: it’s time for my annual Oscar prediction contest, BOPMadness! For more information, see

BOPMadness 2018! Bufo’s Oscar Prediction Madness: make your own & see what we say


You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!


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

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

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

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

Round up #169: “unlimited” Scribd, Bezos’ quest

February 10, 2018

Round up #169: “unlimited” Scribd, Bezos’ quest

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

Amazon gets into health

This is something I need to report, but I also have to say something first. In my “day job”, I am in the healthcare industry (as a trainer and performance improvement expert). That means that it isn’t appropriate for me to evaluate this move in social media. In other words, I’ll give you the facts (or link to them), but I’m not going to give you my own opinion on it.

Amazon (and its Chief Executive Officer, Jeff Bezos), Berkshire Hathaway (and CEO Warren Buffett), and JP Morgan Chase (and CEO Jeff Dimon) have announced that they are teaming up on a healthcare initiative.

Google news search

Amazon has a great financial report

It feels like Amazon has just decided to make a profit…like it was always an option, but they were just waiting for the right moment. 🙂 Some wonderful performers are like that. This is obscure, but I felt that way about Harlemm Lee when the singer was on a reality competition version of Fame. Anything Harlemm chose to do in terms of performance, it seemed Harlemm could do. Didn’t help build much of a career, though. 😉

Anthony Hopkins is another one of those people. In

Amazon’s Alexa Superbowl ad

which was voted the #1 ad, by the way, Anthony Hopkins is just super dynamic and riveting. I think they must have simply said, “Um…can you just, I don’t know, ‘Anthony Hopkins’ this for us?” 😉

The investors now seem convinced, and people have been bullish on Amazon since the report.

Seems reasonable to me.

It’s also interesting: if Amazon even hints they are getting into any industry, the competitors’ stocks seem to drop now. Happened today with FedEx and UPS with the announcement that Amazon is getting into the delivery business…and eventually, that looks like it will be even for things not sold through Amazon:

USA Today story by Mike Snider

My flu

Wow, that was a bad flu! I’m still not 100% (after more than two weeks), but I started getting my old energy level back a couple of days ago. Just thought you might want to know…

A tale of two apps

You know, it’s weird. Apps are super high tech, and I watch them on our

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

However, they can be very unreliable. One of the apps I watch is CNNGO (I watch a number of new sources, but CNN will give me 24 hour news…that was good when I was sick, as I would drift in and out). Every time I go to watch it, though, I have to start it twice. I start it, it crashes. I start it again, and then it’s fine. Since Amazon started doing “single sign on”, it also hasn’t worked on our Fire TV Stick. It just won’t complete the sign-in process, and that’s frustrating. It is a first gen Fire TV Stick, and maybe that’s the issue.

On the other hand, Amazon recommended that I watch a TV series on the

Tubi TV app (at AmazonSmile*)

This is ad-supported TV (and movies). When I start an episode, there are usually three commercials first.

The choices, though, are interesting!

I’ve watched episodes of Fireball Xl5, a “Supermarionation” show (which I did remember, but not specific plot points). I’ve watched Ultraman Max, a re-boot series of an old Japanese show I used to watch. We binged The Dead Zone TV series, based on Stephen King’s book.

While commercials can come on in the middle of the episode, I would say the app is made by people who respect the shows. These are not public domain shows, which some apps really butcher. There are some pretty obscure videos, and the slant is geek-friendly…but the interface is pretty good. As we moved from one device to another, it did know where we were in the series. It wasn’t hard to find the watch list (which isn’t always the case).

Free app, ad-supported…worth checking out. 🙂

 Scribd goes back to unlimited

Scribd

was a pioneering subser (subscription service), before Amazon had

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

While it started out as “unlimited”, they throttled it way back for a while, especially with audiobooks. Now, they’ve gone back to unlimited e-books, audiobooks, and magazines…although there is an asterisk on it. I don’t think that’s going to affect most people…I think it’s intended for what they said caused them to cut back before, the true outliers. My guess is that you could listen to ten audiobooks in a month and be okay. It’s $8.99 a month, and there are other options.

I think it will make sense for some people. We are quite happy with Kindle Unlimited, and if you are a Prime member, you also automatically get

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

If you already have those, I don’t think there’s an urgency to go to Scribd. I do have to admit, though, that we do pay for Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. 😉

Any other rose by name a

These were carefully written headlines by many people, but they ended up being…well, somewhat misleading. This is one example (not incorrect):
Geo
New York Times article by Michael Blanding: “Plagiarism Software Unveils a New Source for 11 of Shakespeare’s Plays

That’s all true, but the software doesn’t indicate that those plays were plagiarized. The software, WCopyFind, can be used by professors to identify papers which copy other sources. In this case, what it did was find that many of Shakespeare’s plays used words used in A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels by George North. It’s not that there are whole sentences which are the same, but that Shakespeare probably read the book, and was influenced by that book to use similar language. That’s certainly significant, if true, but it’s not nefarious.

“Jeff Bezos’ Quest To Find America’s Stupidest Mayor”

While some people really, really want Amazon to select their city for their second HQ, and lots of cities are offering a lot, not everybody is down with the idea.

Here’s one example:

Huffington Post article by Dean Baker

No question, there is some risk in a giant company coming to town…although I’d personally love to live near an Amazon HQ!

If it’s not required, is that okay?

This one is…complicated for me.

Twin Cities Pioneer Press article by Lisa Kaczke

The Duluth school district has removed To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the required reading, because of their uses of an ethnic slur.

The story makes the point that the books will still be available in the school libraries, and can be used for optional reading.

My tendency is always that books should be available to students, and these will be. I get the concern about language in required reading. It does feel like the books aren’t being as respected, and both of these books comment on racism…they don’t indicate approval of it.

I wrote about this issue…wow, about eight years ago:

The Chronological Cultural Context Conundrum

Do you have opinions on any of these stories? Feel free to share them with me and my readers 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.

Round up #168: an ad with Jeff, two authors to follow

January 27, 2018

Round up #168: an ad with Jeff, two authors to follow

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

Rough week…

I tweeted about this, but I haven’t addressed it here.

There’s a good reason for that…

I’ve been as sick as I’ve been in years this week. I very rarely take a sick day…and not because I soldier through, but because (knock wood) I don’t get sick very often. I work in a healthcare organization, and I’m really careful…I’ve had doctors compliment me on my hygiene. 🙂 I clean my hands a lot, I don’t touch elevator buttons (I use my cane’s handle, usually)…that sort of thing. I did get a flu shot: I would get one even if it wasn’t legally required for me (well, you have the option to wear a mask if you decline the shot).

None of that makes you totally virus-proof, though, although it does help.

I was sick on Monday at work…and didn’t get back there the whole rest of the week! I did see my doctor. It turned out I had a secondary infection as well as a virus, and the second one is treatable with antibiotics.

I’m not a clinician, but news reports suggest that those secondary infections have been a real problem this year…people don’t realize that they get something which is treatable after they determine that they had something which wasn’t (at least, not with a medication except for symptoms).

I would love to have gotten a lot more writing done, but I’ve been quite out of it. Our dogs have been my role models: I’ve been sleeping (or at least in bed) most of the day. 🙂 I haven’t even been reading a whole lot, but I have been some. It works for me to leave on the TV, and just sort of drift in and out of consciousness. 🙂

I have, though, been able to write a bit…so the Bookish Birthdays have gotten out, and so have the tweets on “On This Date in Geeky History”. I’m feeling better but not well today…this was the first day since Monday that I did my normal morning routine: ate my usual breakfast, did my usual exercise. The dogs were happy…dogs love ritual.

My poor Significant Other has started coughing,  but we are hoping it doesn’t develop into something like this. Once you retire, you can’t take a sick day. 😉

I’m hoping I’m up long enough this time to include some interesting stories!

Thanks to people who have tweeted good wishes! I really, really want to be back at work on Monday…I do like my job!

Two very different authors to follow on Twitter

It’s interesting. I see a lot of tweets, although a lot of my random exposure (as opposed to having subscribed) comes in my morning

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

read.

By the way, Flipboard…what a brilliant app! There are many ways to get news (loosely defined), and I am a data junkie. I watch 24 hour and non-24 news, I read, and so on. Interior (only) to my family, we have a quite intense discussion on politics, and I do stay on top of all of that. I’ve tried different things, but Flipboard works the best for me…and reading is my preferred input method.

Some authors have good tweet feeds, but there are two (who are quite different) I want to mention here.

David Brin @DavidBrin at TMCGTT

is a well-established science fiction author, a Hugo and Nebula winner.

Brin is also a futurist…I’m surprised that more news shows aren’t interviewing David Brin about privacy issues, including voice assistants. Even though it was written a long time ago, The Transparent Society

Review: The Transparent Society

is still one of the best books on the topic.

I like Brin’s feed because it so often contains exactly what I want science to be: that “oh, wow!” moment of wonder at the world. Now, I have to also say…it does include politics. I try not to do politics here at all (if I report a story that has to do with something the government is doing, it’s because of how it affects the topics relevant to this blog), so I thought I’d give you the heads up.

The most recent post at the time I write this is (without being uncritically convinced) is about a report that raptors (birds, not “dinosaurs”…I call them that myself, and it sometimes confuses people) perhaps deliberately using fire to flush prey. Within ten posts, there is one specifically about books: SFF pairings for Black Mirror episodes.

I’ve been pleased to see the recent rise of anthology TV series again, hearkening back to the classic days of The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. I may write a post about that in my

The Measured Circle blog

although there are several possible blog topics in my hopper already.

David Brin: iconic, science-focused, and with a multi-faceted feed.

The other author I’ve been really noticing is

Mike Wells @MikeWellsAuthor

I haven’t actually read any of Mike’s many books yet, although following the author, you can often get one free. In fact, at time of writing, you can get an omnibus of books 1,2,3 in the

Lust, Money & Murder series for free. Note: I am not “taking responsibility” for this link, which means feel free to download it. 🙂 Amazon has this weird thing that if too high a percentage of the books people get through your links are free, they don’t pay you “advertising fees” on the others. Not a problem if I just give you a straight up link.

I did download that one, and I will get to it when my head is clear again.

Why do I suggest an author I haven’t read?

I did read this

blog post from 2011

and I thought it was brilliant!

It’s called, “Does Bruce Willis Have a Dog?” and shows why authors should use Significant Others as early readers of their work. 😉 Seriously, I thought it was well-written and insightful, and echoed Mark Twain’s advice in some ways.

I think every tweet I’ve seen has been book-related…mostly about Wells’ own books, but not exclusively.

Wells strikes me as very much a contemporary author, with a good sense of social media.

If you do read Twitter, I’d suggest trying following these two…and hey, you might want to try the books, too. 😉

Alexa is getting a lot more conversational

I wasn’t able to talk a whole lot this week, and that was a problem: much of our home is run by Alexa, and I couldn’t get out a communication very well. However, Alexa does understand a whisper, which helped. I’ve said it before, but I do with Alexa could be set to respond by whispering when I whisper. Our dogs understand not to bark if I’m being quiet…you know, unless somebody walks by the house. 🙂

I’ve noticed this as a rising trend.

For example, on one birthday listing, Alexa commented on how cool the birthday celebs were…not just a “seed catalog” listing, but a coherent paragraph.

News is also being broken down by topics in a different way, although the names strike me as a bit off. The entertainment news is called “The Skinny”…which is what CBS news calls theirs. Maybe they are connected, I haven’t checked. The business news is “The Flywheel”…and I can’t see that without thinking of Groucho Marx (Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel”).

Amazon’s advertising has usually been pretty social-media driven, but they have bought big ad play before. There is a teaser ad out there for their Superbowl ad:

Did Alexa Lose Her Voice? (YouTube video)

It actually features Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer)…acting! I like commercials (I know, I know…what doesn’t Bufo like?). My SO and I have gone to the Clio awards several times in years past.

I’ll be looking forward to the full ad, which I’m guessing may be a series of them.

Competition is good

I’m never upset when another company brings a new competitive challenge to Amazon. Competition breeds innovation.

Google is now going to compete with Amazon on audiobooks. The Amazon-owned Audible is giant in that area…may lead to some interesting new features.

I think this another news story probably came as a surprise to many people who think that e-books have maxed out their marketshare:

Sam Rutherford post on Gizmodo

Walmart is partnering with Kobo’s parent, Rakuten.

If this only meant that they were going to sell Kobo EBRs (E-Book Readers) in the stores, no big deal…but they are also going to sell e-books and audiobooks!

That is potentially a big market increase for e-books. It wouldn’t surprise me if Walmart hasn’t liked running out of some super-mega-bestsellers recently, and saw that people could still buy them as e-books.

That fits Walmart’s book-selling habits: having the biggest sellers available, and then gift books. At least, I think that’s the case…haven’t been in a Walmart in years. I think they also used to do genre titles, and that fits e-books as well.

Be interesting to see how this impacts Amazon. There are people who like Kobos better than Kindles, although I’ve always felt that the Amazon services outweighed any possible hardware advantage.

Oh, and Barnes & Noble has revamped its independent publishing platform…it’s no longer called NOOK Press, but will be “Barnes & Noble Press”.

press release at Business Wire

They are offering a 65% royalty rate on e-books over $10. Amazon has used a 70% rate, but only books that align with Amazon’s vision…that allow certain features, and fit a certain price range.

Apple also revamped theirs, and dropped the “i” from “iBooks”, reportedly.

Well, that’s it…I’m about out of steam for now. I’m doing better today, but I’m going to lay down for a while…

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


You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!


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

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

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

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

Round up #167: Barnes & Noble hitting new lows, Alexa when you have to go

January 14, 2018

Round up #167: Barnes & Noble hitting new lows, Alexa when you have to go

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

I brought my Echo Spot to work, and it’s…

When Amazon announced new hardware, I said about the Echo Spot (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping):

“Having a small, always available screen is going to make it a big part of people’s lives…”

It has 4.3 stars out of five right now, with 429 customer reviews.

It’s currently ranked #22 bestselling out of all electronics at Amazon.

I brought mine to work (we have an Echo Show (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) at home), and it’s…one of the coolest things ever! 🙂

I should describe my situation a bit.

I have my own office with a door which closes (and which I can lock). It is small, and the walls are thin enough that we can all hear each other.

I have the little “Magic 8-Ball” looking video screen sort of under my elevated monitor.

I’m able to put it on wi-fi at work (I could use a hotspot on my phone, but there is a public wi-fi network I can use. One thing I find particularly nice: when I log it into the wi-fi network, I have to check a box to acknowledge the terms. That page appears on my Echo Spot’s touchscreen! That means that I don’t need to use my phone at all to get on the network. Oh, by the way: swipe down from the top to find settings.

There is a 3.5mm (standard, like an a SmartPhone) audio jack, so I can just plug headphones in there. That way, I can listen quietly.

I can have it play music, podcasts, and so on.

However, I also do use the videoscreen. I can drop in on the Echo Show at home to check on the dogs. 🙂

When I ask for my Flash Briefing (“Alexa, what’s the news?”) some of it is actually video.

I also have watched videos: I’ve watched some of a Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda. Now, I need to be clear: none of this interferes with my work. 🙂 For example, I might watch at lunch.

I highly recommend the Spot…and I would think there may be an opportunity to get it for under $100 within the next year (might be a special sale).

“Is this the end of Rico…er, Barnes & Noble?”

Investors weren’t happy with Barnes & Noble’s report of the financial covering the holidays…and while I’m sometimes baffled by the reaction to Amazon financials, this seems reasonable.

  • According to this CNN Money chart, the stock price is down more than 20% this year. I’ve also heard that it is at the lowest price this century…since the mid-1990s
  • Online sales reportedly dropped 4.5%…that’s a bucking a significant general trend of increasing online sales
  • Reportedly, holiday book sales overall grew…meaning that B&N also underperformed compared to that industry

A new CEO apparently hasn’t reassured investors…bottom line, I don’t see anything at this point which shows a path to overcoming these deficits. They may be a target for purchase this year…and I can possibly see foreign investors being interested.

Firefox on Fire TV…a great end around

I noted that having the Firefox browser available on the

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

was a way to get around Google blocking YouTube, and it does that quite nicely. There is already a link to YouTube on the landing page, so it’s just a couple of “clicks”.

However, I just ran into another great use.

I use the Comedy Central app to watch a particular series. Well, I did…now, it asked me to sign into my TV provider. Unfortunately, my provider wasn’t listed, and they said they were trying to sign up more.

I thought I might end up watching clips on YouTube, but then it occurred to me that I could just browse to Comedy Central’s site, and they might have full episodes.

They did. 🙂

That means we can watch the full episode on our TV, just like we usually would. There is a risk that Comedy Central stops showing full episodes, but that would be a real paradigm shift….for them, and for other sites.

Indie authors: you can now do X-Ray for your books

X-Ray is a great feature, which looks you look up things (characters, for example) in a book. Not just find them, like an index, but you can see the density of references to that character.

Indies (independent authors), certainly in the beginning, didn’t know how to get it for their books.

Kindle Direct Publishing

now lets you do it, and while I haven’t tried it yet, it looks like a pretty easy process.

It can be done automatically for your book, using content from Wikipedia.

However, you can also make your own custom content!

I expect we’ll get some clever things that way.

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney (at AmazonSmile*)

has a wonderfully sardonic “Catalog”, for example, which is a sort of glossary of items in the book, somewhat like X-Ray without locations. One of the entries:

“COCKROACH: La Cucaracha, the kitchendweller. Decently dressed in brown or black, discreet and humble, he lives in hovels as readily as in grand hotels. He has been with us a long time. He crawled about the middenheaps of the Neanderthal just as well as he now crawls about the middenheaps of the Parisian. He is fit and he survives. He watched the dinosaur and the pterodactyl die, and he saw Babylon flourish.”

It’s important to note that the cockroaches aren’t anthropomorphized or significant at all in the actual main text.

Alexa at CES

The Consumer Electronics Show just ended, and there are always all sorts of strange things there. This year, Alexa was definitely a star.

One major announcement was Alexa Onboard. While the headliner on this is that it will bring Alexa into cars, it has other important implications, as mentioned in this

Voicebot.AI article by Bret Kinsella

Alexa will, for the first time, be able to function significantly without an internet connection. It sounds to me like it may mean that Alexa could still turn my lights on and off if wi-fi was working, even if the internet was down. That would be a giant improvement, and make Alexa much more reliable and therefore perhaps get it into even more places.

Speaking of places…Kohler showed a toilet with Alexa built-in…so you can flush with voice control. My Significant Other doesn’t like using Alexa to turn on and off the lights, as opposed to a light switch. While I get that it’s more hygienic, but I would feel uncomfortable saying, “Alexa, flush.” 🙂 The toilet also plays music, though, so Alexa could help with that…and it’s heated, and it has lights which can change color, and it opens automatically…and it’s only $7,500.

I’ll be fine when I have Alexa in my auggies (augmented/virtual reality glasses, or other perceptive device), so I can talk to Alexa at any time anywhere. 🙂 Sound ridiculous? Vuzix introduced just that at CES:

psfk article by Zack Palm

What do you think? Do you see a path to continued viability for Barnes & Noble? Do you see any reason Amazon would want to buy them…or someone else who might? Would you talk to your toilet? Do you use X-Ray in 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.


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