Archive for the ‘Round-ups’ Category

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

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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.

Round up #178: pre-mortem book thinning, minimum wage

October 3, 2018

Round up #178: pre-mortem book thinning, minimum wage

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

Amazon raises the minimum wage for all U.S. employees to $15 an hour

I do get challenged by some intelligent, caring people about Amazon’s treatment of their employees. I’ve watched hours of video on the issue.

I was very pleased to see yesterday that Amazon is raising its minimum wage for all employees (including part-time, seasonal, and temporary) employees to $15 an hour.

press release

It’s a remarkable move…of course, met by quite a bit of “yeah, but” on the internet. 🙂 I’m a trainer by profession (well, I do performance improvement, too), and I can tell you…yeahbutting people is not a great way to encourage replication of effort. 😉

This may certainly have been prompted by the actions of a Senator (including introducing Stop BEZOS legislation) who did positively reinforce the move. I’m not naming the Senator, because I do try to avoid politics here. I flip articles into the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard which identify that person…and as I flip articles on new books, there are definitely ones which take particular political views (and it seems to me like the coverage of the books recently has been more of a piece than might have been the case three years ago). I will mention legislation and regulation here if it directly affects topics of interest to the readers of this blog (copyright, for example).

I congratulate Amazon on this move, done in time to give something like 250,000 people a raise before the holidays (and will affect another 100,000 seasonal employees).

By the way, UK Amazon workers are also getting a new minimum of £9.50:

The Guardian article by Richard Partington

Amazon is also asking for the Federal government to consider raising the minimum wage…which would lessen the relative cost for them, but would also reduce the competitive advantage for them.

I no longer have something like 10,000 paperbooks in my home

I’m preparing to die in January.

To be clear, I’m not expecting to die…I am having major surgery, but the fatality rate is under 1% (still, likely more than half a percent). I’m probably in relatively good condition for it, reducing my risk.

However, I am using this as a specific impetus to get things in order (something I should have done years ago). I’m checking my will and beneficiaries, that sort of thing.

I’m also considering what our now adult kid would deal with it if my Significant Other and I both passed on. One challenge would undoubtedly be the paperbooks. While our kid prefers p-books to e-books (but reads both), inheriting thousands of p-books would be a burden.

So, I’m getting rid of a lot of them…acting as if I have died, in some ways.

Again, I don’t have any anxiety about the surgery, and I’m looking forward to it! I’m hoping it improves a chronic condition I have considerably. I work in the medical industry: it’s always a bit odd when it feels like I know someone who treats me personally…I’ve trained my surgeon.

I have to be realistic, though: I don’t read my p-books almost ever. I’ve been collecting and saving things sometimes for the benefit of society. I always pictured most of my books being donated to non-profits after I died, so I’m doing that now.

I’m going to send lots of books (and magazines) to the

International Cryptozoology Museum

That’s run by Loren Coleman (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*).

We’ve had some correspondence over the years, and finally met in person not too long ago.

I trust Loren: this is a person who has seems nice, intelligent, and genuinely caring about what many people consider ephemera.

That’s not a tough decision.

Much harder for me has been getting rid of my “stripped” books…in most cases, by recycling them (meaning they are being destroyed).

I’ve tried to give them away, even advertising that I had them. I can’t sell them, or donate them to a non-profit…that was a condition of my getting them when I worked in a bookstore.

Many of you know, but I should explain. When a bookstore gets books from a publisher to sell, they generally are guaranteed that they will sell them. If they don’t, they can return them for credit for future purchases.

It would cost too much money to mail back mass market paperbacks (especially back then, when they might have a list price under a dollar). So, stores were allowed to rip the covers off to show they didn’t sell them, and mail those back. My manager (I later became a manager), let us take them home…with that understanding, that they wouldn’t be sold or donated to a non-profit. If there was a non-profit that you wanted to get books, you could contact the publisher…and they would get the write-off.

Most stores did destroy the books at the time.

I couldn’t even rip the covers off…but I think I’ve evolved in realizing that the book is not the container. E-books have likely had something to do with that. I’m not destroying what the author wrote, just the container.

I did give away some of the strips…it felt great to make some recommendations to someone who asked me.

The one negative in donating the non-stripped books all this year is that it doesn’t spread the write-off over years, but it’s worth it.

I should also be clear: I’m not getting rid of all my p-books! I’m thinking I’ll still have something under 500, including my hardback Oz books. If our kid wants to sell those, it will be easy, and they’ll have some real value. I may keep my Doc Savage paperbacks (again, easy to sell and with value), and maybe some other ones with sentimental value.

How will this blog (and my other writing) be affected? There will be some significant recovery time from the surgery (it’s a hip replacement), but I’m hoping to be able to write pretty quickly…I’ll write ahead some as well. In fact, I’m picturing being able to write more, since I won’t be able to return to work right away. If I did die, our kid will have access, but I don’t know that the blog would continue in any form. Would I write a post to be published post-mortem? I’m thinking about it…

Jeff Bezos Day One Fund

Speaking of donations, Jeff Bezos (not Amazon) recently announced a $2 billion fund that will focus on “…funding existing non-profits that help homeless families, and creating a network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities.”

Business Insider article by Zoë Bernard

Again, there was a lot of yeahbutting, but my hats off to Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos…oh, wait, I’m looking to donate some of my hats, too. 😉

Some quick notes

  • While I’ve read it before, I’m going back through Dracula…and I’m really impressed! There is so much to it, so many perspectives, several “acts” in different settings…not all classic books hold up like this
  • I’ve gotten to be a lot more active on Twitter, and there is a really robust writer community there! Not everything resonates with me, but some people can write both novels and tweets 😉
  • Amazon just announced a 4K Fire TV Stick with an Alexa remote (at AmazonSmile*). It’s $49.99, preorderable for October 31st, and can voice control compatible equipment, similar to the Fire TV Cube. Interesting development…and you can buy the remote separately
  • The Amazon owned Audible has introduced significant original content…I may check that out
  • Amazon opened a “4-Star” brick-and-mortar…items are rated 4 stars are above (5 is the highest) on the site. It sounds funky and fun…Leticia Mirand’s Buzzfeed field report

Probably enough for now! If you have thoughts and/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. 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 #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials

July 29, 2018

Round up #177: Project Vesta, Amazon financials

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

Amazon Financials for Q2 2018: more sales, more efficiently

This time, the investors liked the financials…understandably.

Net sales increased 39% (as I’ve pointed out before, that’s what you might see in a startup, not a mature company).

Net income? $2.5 billion in 2018 versus $197m in Q2 2017…yow!

That’s a lot better efficiency.

AWS did well, but sales also did well, and advertising is a big part of what’s happening now.

The Q&A is often the most interesting part of the call…you can read it here:

Seeking Alpha call transcript

In the Q&A, the transcriptions show “Alexa” showing up 17 times…and “Kindle” once, and the latterhat =was for

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

🙂

It’s a different story in the

Amazon’s press release

  • Alexa: 31 count
  • Kindle: 4 count
  • Fire TV: 5 count

I can (finally) watch Prime Video in VR

I know this probably doesn’t affect a lot of you, but it’s been frustrating for me!

Typically, at lunch at work, I do “floor work”…exercises on a yoga mat. I have a chronic condition, and that helps it. While I do it, I watch video…reading would be an option, but I can’t hold an e-book reader during most of the exercises (I do sometimes do it during part of it). Typically, I watch Netflix or Hulu: they both VR apps.

I would have been watching Amazon Prime Video…but no app and no way to watch. I watch it at home some; I’ve been rewatching the 1970s series, Kung Fu (which holds up surprisingly well). There was an interesting case of synchronicity recently: I was watching an episode where Caine is trapped with others underground. Caine gets them to basically meditate to reduce their use of oxygen, while a desperate rescue effort is happening. That is similar to what happened with the soccer team in Thailand…and I was watching the episode (I watch them in order) on the same day! But I digress… 😉

There still isn’t a Prime Video VR experience…but the Oculus browser was upgraded enough that it worked! That, by the way, gives me a “hit” on my predictions for the year. I said:

“I just can’t believe that there won’t be a way to watch Prime Video in VAM space before the end of 2018! That’s the prediction.It might be through an experience (which is what apps for VAM are called), or it might be through some sort of VAM browser system that lets us watch it like we would on a computer.
The Year Ahead 2018 (underling added for emphasis)

It’s not as good an experience as Hulu/Netflix which have custom designed experiences optimized for VR. The Prime Video experience…is more like watching on a TV versus watching in a movie theatre. Bottom line…it works. 🙂

“99 F-words appear in the book, 99 F-words appear!”

So, I read the sequel to

The Naturalist (Theo Cray #1) by Andrew Mayne (at AmazonSmile*)

It’s

Looking Glass by Andrew Mayne (at AmazonSmile*)

I enjoyed it…not as much as the first one, but I did enjoy it.

The number of times that the “F-word” appeared in the book stood out to me…I don’t mind that. I don’t use profanity in my personal life: I can quote it, but I don’t use is spontaneously.

In this case, it’s not used unreasonably…events in the first book changed the main character somewhat, which makes sense. I was curious as to how many there were, so I ran a search (not something you can do in a paperbook…and I don’t think they’d put it in most indexes).

It showed that there were 99 results…my guess is that’s as high as the counter would go, and it’s actually off the scale. 😉

It’s not bothering other readers, apparently: it has an average of 4.7 stars out of 5 with 497 reviews.

It was worth a borrow from

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

certainly.

Amazon’s next big thing…

What’s going to be Amazon’s biggest headline generator later this year?

I’d say the strongest rumor is a home robot…I find a lot of references to “Project Vesta”. Here’s a summary:

Bloomberg article by Mark Gurman and Brad Stone

My guess is that this “big thing” will be pretty small. 🙂 I would speculate that it won’t be like Rosie on The Jetsons: human-sized, and able to push a vacuum. I’m thinking they aren’t going to be able to grab something and manipulate much. I picture it more as a little Echo on wheels, which can follow you from room to room. It will talk to you using Alexa, and control home devices. It could have a little screen…that’s a great way for it so have a face with expressions, and to be able to show you useful information.

I would expect some spatial awareness…perhaps even being able to point to a lamp and say, “That one?”

I’m going to intuit a cost of at least $500…$1500 wouldn’t surprise me.

Timeline? I think we hear about it this year, maybe it will be in employees’ homes and some beta testers, but not released to the public until 2019.

Quick Notes

  • Rumor has it that Amazon is working on “shared gift lists”, where more than one person can put items on and off the list. That could be really useful: for someone’s birthday, for example, if you bought a gift, you could remove it from the list so other people didn’t also want to buy it…like a wedding registry
  • Alexa is getting equalizer controls, so you can change the sound profile (you can be “all about that bass, no treble” to quote Meghan Trainor). That can make a difference: I find that in some older recordings, you have to up the treble to be able to understand them properly
  • Alexa Cast lets you continue doing something you were doing in Music Unlimited (such as listening to a playlist) on an Echo. It’s pretty limited right now, but it’s a start
  • We still have a lot of problems with our Echoes not knowing which one we want to do something…and since they do different things, that matters. For example, in our family room, we have an Echo Show and a Fire TV Cube near each other. The Fire TV Cube (which we like) controls things on the TV that the Echo Show can’t. Quite often, the Echo Show tries to do something it can’t do, when we are speaking to the Fire TV Cube. Amazon supposedly is making this “Echo Spatial Perception” (ESP) better by moving it to the cloud…we’ll see 🙂
  • I sometimes chat with Alexa (“Alexa, let’s chat”) which is how you can test out chatbots which are in a competition to improve Alexa’s conversational skills. For the first time recently, I had one which actually offended me. It made an ethnic joke, for one thing…I let them know in the feedback
  • In case you were wondering, there are just over 300 posts in my Birthdays category…I’ll be quite happy when I’ve done the Bookish Birthdays for every day of the year! That doesn’t mean no more work on it, since new authors become famous enough to include, but it will mean a lot less work
  • I’m getting a lot more interaction on Twitter lately! Quite a few authors are following me, for one thing. For another, I’m having fun doing something I created: #1TweetExpert. I give a term (it’s been one a day), and ask if you could educate people on it in one tweet. They can cover all sorts of things, which includes books. Some of them feel random even to me, but I may also want to provide context for term I’m hearing used, perhaps on the news. If you’d like to answer one or more, I’d love that! If you want to suggest a term for me to do, feel free. Here’s a Twitter search for it: https://twitter.com/search?q=%231tweetexpert&src=typd
  • I was surprised in Amazon’s financials press release to see this: “… the ability for developers to turn text into lifelike speech using Amazon Polly, for free”
  • Another one of the named Amazon services (how many are there now?): “…Amazon Sumerian, a new managed service that allows developers to create and publish augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D applications quickly and easily without requiring any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise”

That’s a lot of topics! If you have questions or comments, 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

 

Round up #176: buy a delivery business from Amazon, Prime Day 2018

July 4, 2018

Round up #176: buy a delivery business from Amazon, Prime Day 2018

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

Hold on to your money: Prime Day starts July 16

Amazon has made the official announcement that this year’s
Prime Day (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

will start at noon Pacific Time (3:00 PM Eastern) on July 16th and run through midnight Pacific July 17th…36 hours. That’s why they keep saying it is “Prime Day (and a half)”. 36 hours is 1.5 days.

However, as pointed out in this

press release

sales have actually started today!

For example, the

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

is $100 off (making it $129.99 instead of $229.99) through Prime Day…with an important caveat.

You need to be an

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

member (but you can get a free trial membership).

We’ve gotten great deals in the past (especially on Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)), but this year does really look it will be significantly bigger and better. A few highlights:

  • This year’s sweepstakes (at AmazonSmile*) (which started July 3rd) is amazing, with prizes including $50,000, an Alexa-equipped Lexus, and a SmartHome makeover. There are lots of ways to enter, detailed here (at AmazonSmile*). One way is to visit the Prime Day page when logged into your account and stay there for a minute…I’m not sure how many people realize that they are timing you like that…
  • Giant (really giant) Smile boxes are visiting a few cities, and you can watch online (at AmazonSmile*). My guess? At least one of these will open up to reveal a concert by a top music act which is featured on Prime Music.
  • Free PC games from Twitch…every day through Prime Day
  • Try Kindle Unlimited for three months for $0.99
  • Buy your first Kindle book (there are people who haven’t bought Kindle books? 😉 ) and get a $10 credit for e-books, p-books (paperbooks) and Audible audiobooks on Prime Day

I have an Amazon gift card to spend…but I’m going to wait until Prime Day. 🙂

Did a judge just really expand Fair Use?

I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, but I do follow copyright pretty closely. My natural tendency is to reserve rights for the creator, rather than giving the work to society.

About eight years ago, I explored the idea of making copyright permanent in exchange for much broader Fair Use rights:

Should copyright be permanent?

However, I’m cautious about expanding Fair Use without something in exchange.

Judge Claude Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia in a recent

ruling

decided that a site which used part of a photograph that it had found on the internet did not infringe upon the photographer’s rights.

Fair Use has a number of factors which makes a ruling a bit complicated in terms of setting precedent, but this one does concern me. I need to look at it more closely…

Wanna buy a business?

There are a lot of ways to make money with Amazon…you can get royalties as an author, you can be a third party seller, you do tasks through Amazon Mechanical Turk, you can be an Amazon Flex driver…and now, if you invest $10,000, Amazon will help set you up with a delivery business!

Amazon says you could make up to $300,000…but of course, you could also lose money.

Even with help, running a business isn’t easy. The old saying goes that when you own a business, the business owns you. Even just as a manager (not owner) of a bookstore, I worked…a lot.

I absolutely think this is a good opportunity for the right people! However, unless Amazon does screen very carefully (and they certainly might), a much bigger number of people will fail than succeed…just like in most businesses.

Little House in the Phantom Zone

There have been a lot of stories and opinions published

news search

about the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), which is part of the American Library Association, renaming the Laura Ingall Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

They explain the decision in this

statement

For me, the key statement is this:


“Wilder’s books are a product of her life experiences and perspective as a settler in America’s 1800s. Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.”


This ties directly into an issue I examined in another article from 2010:

The Chronological Cultural Context Conundrum

I think they probably are doing a safe thing, renaming the award so that it doesn’t tie into a specific person. I would challenge you to name any fiction author who was widely popular at least fifty years ago who didn’t write anything that could be seen as offensive today…

Some Fire Tablets can work like Echo Show devices

The

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

is one of my favorite non-reading Amazon devices…it’s an Echo, but with a screen. Yes, it can show me some commercial videos (movie trailers and such), but I really like how it shows information…and how I can make “videocalls”.

I also like the Echo Spot: I keep one at work.

My Echo Spot is here: it’s cute!

Now, some of the newer Fire Tablets are going to have “Show Mode”, which lets them work like an Echo Show. That includes the videocalls.

Those functions certainly would drain the battery, so Amazon has also introduced the

Show Mode Charging Dock (at AmazonSmile*)

You don’t need that, but it’s going to make things better.

A few really short notes:

I’ve had the Fire TV Cube for about a week:

Fire TV Cube: 1st impressions and menu map

I really like it! It’s not perfect, but it is a whole new class of device. You might think you have enough Echo/Alexa devices, but you might consider swapping out one of your old devices for this one. Look for a bargain (although it may be a bundle) on Prime Day.

My Significant Other and I have both really liked

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni (at AmazonSmile*)

It’s not common that we both like the same book this much.

I’d say the last time that happened was with

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim (at AmazonSmile*)

Both books are available through Kindle Unlimited…

Not lost in translation…

I haven’t always been pleased with the translations from Amazon’s AmazonCrossing imprint. They’ve often seemed…stilted.

That’s not the case with

A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa, translated by Risa Koboyashi and Martin Brown (at AmazonSmile*)

I have read many translated books in my time, and assuming that this accurately reflects what the author intended (and my intuition is that it does), it reads as very natural English. Not just in the words, but in the use of idiom…”as the crow flies”, for example. I doubt that the Japanese equivalent term has anything to do with crows. 😉

That one is also available through Kindle Unlimited at time of writing.

Have an opinion on any of these stories? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post. My “day job” activities have started to slow down a bit after being super busy…that will help my responsiveness. Oh, and some of you know about our dogs: Elf got bitten by another dog at the dog park recently. Elf will be okay, but it may be a couple of weeks of recovery (and it’s a difficult time for us…by the way, Elf was literally just sitting there and it was unprovoked). That means no trips to the dog park…which gives me back literally a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday. Definitely not worth it, but it is a reality…


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 #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.

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.


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