Shopping with your Amazon Echo

August 25, 2015

Shopping with your Amazon Echo

One of Amazon’s key strategies is to become what I call the “infrastructure of the internet”. They want to be the way you interact with the web: not just one on ramp to the information superhighway, but the GPS as well.

The Echo is a big part of that.

I find it much easier to ask my

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

a question when I’m at home than to ask my SmartPhone.

I think that’s something that some Echo-skeptical tech writers miss.

Not everybody walks around their homes with their SmartPhones in their pockets. They come home from work and start them charging.

Sure, many people love their SmartPhones, but others associate them with obligation, with responsibilities.

With the Echo, you are in the comfort of your home, and you are just asking a question…not finding your phone, unlocking it, having to take a physical action.

It’s like talking to a friend…a friend who is always listening and willing to help.

A primary purpose for using the internet is shopping.

Certainly, people thought the Echo would be all about shopping…it’s not. For me, it’s a minor use of the device, although I expect it to become more important over time.

Currently, the Echo can reorder something for you that you have previously bought using Prime.

That seems pretty restrictive, but it makes some sense. You don’t want a long conversation while you confirm your address, you payment method, and so on. It’s reasonable that it wants to repeat a successful action from the past.

Note, though, that you won’t necessarily get the same price you got last time. If the price has changed (which happens), you would get the new price.

The Echo will confirm the price for you before you place the order, though.

Incidentally, I haven’t found a way to order more than one of something…I’ve tried saying, “Order two…”, but that doesn’t work. Since it is Prime, though, I suppose I could order the same item…then order it again.

What happens if what you want isn’t something you have ordered before?

Well, that’s actually pretty easy.

The Echo will inform you that it has added the item to your shopping list because it couldn’t find it.

In the app, go to Home -Menu (three horizontal lines) – Shopping List.

Once you get there, you’ll see a list of your items with a checkbox.

The trick here is to tap the item.

When you do that, you’ll get five choices:

  • Search Amazon for [item]
  • Search Bing for  [item]
  • Move item to To-do List
  • Delete item
  • >Alexa heard [item]

That’s right: you can even use Bing to find some other place to buy it!

If you do check the box, it will strikethrough the item, and give you a choice to delete it.

You can also manage the list here. You can add an item (it doesn’t search Amazon, it just puts it on the list as if you had spoken it, giving you the same items as above).

Additionally, you can view completed items. Those are ones you have checked, but not ones you have deleted (even if you had checked it first). If you tap that “View completed” link (it also shows you the number you have), it gives you a choice to “Delete all”, or you can delete individual ones. You can then “View active”. Doing that means that you don’t see the completed ones with the active ones any more.

Currently, there is only one shopping list, even though multiple people may be using the same device.

I do think it’s convenient to have the shopping list on my phone when I go out.

The shopping list also has triggers for IFTTT (If This Then That). That’s a website where you specify that when something happens with one of your apps, something else happens.

One other tip: you can have it search for an item by saying, “Alexa, do you have any [item]?” It will search your past purchases, and if that doesn’t find anything, add it to your shopping list, giving you the above options.

That did lead to an amusing thing.

I keep asking our Echo different thing, testing its knowledge. So I said, “Alexa, do you have any tattoos?”

That’s why I now have “Tattoos” on my shopping list… ;)

Update: I wanted to add something holding back from shopping with my Echo: it doesn’t find things on

http://smile.amazon.com

That’s Amazon’s special storefront which is just like the main Amazon.com site…except that you can designate a non-profit and Amazon donates money to it when you buy (many) things. It would be nice if Amazon would allow us to just default all purchases to go through Smile.Amazon: I can’t think of a reason why I would prefer to not have the donation go to the non-profit when possible.

I’ve got two suggestions for Amazon to improve the shopping experience.

One is to let us create “friendly names” for items. I’ve sent this to Amazon already, and I think it would be a great feature! This is what I sent through the Echo app:

This is something that would be especially useful for the Echo, but would also be helpful for other Amazon ordering as well.

When I’ve gone to reorder items with the Echo, I’m not always sure what to call it, especially when there were similar items (a hardback and a board book, for example).

If customers could define “friendly names” (“Tim’s vitamins”, “Fluffy’s favorite cat toy”), it would make ordering via the Echo so much easier. The Echo could then confirm with the actual product name.

Ideally, we could go back and do this in our order history.

This would also be a great “sticky” factor for retaining Amazon customers. :-)”

Amazon responded with this:

“This is B—– from Echo support, this is a great idea being able to add a nickname to an order would certainly help. Being able to simplify the name of an order to something more common would be a nice addition.

I will gladly submit this request to our developers.

Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve Amazon Echo.

Thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback. We look forward to seeing you again soon.”

I did clean up the typos a bit…while my

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

is pretty good at speech recognition, it doesn’t always capitalize things correctly, for example.

The other suggestion I haven’t sent yet, but I will. You can send suggestions through the Echo app:

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – General Feedback

What I’d like to be able to do is add “Gold Box News” to my Flash Briefing (Home – Menu – Setting – Flash Briefing).

It would let me know what the deals are for the day, including the Kindle Daily Deal. Maybe I could even configure it for categories.

Then, it would let me order the items through Prime (assuming they were Prime eligible). Eventually, items won’t need to be Prime eligible. Hm…maybe it would be simplest initially to have it put it in my Amazon cart…then give me a link through the Echo app to get to my cart. Yeah, that might work well.

Update: of course, it would be much simpler for them to implement if it put it on my shopping list as above…

Those are just two ideas I have…do you have ideas to improve the Echo shopping experience? Do you have other questions or comments about the Echo or the Alexa Voice Service? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Alexa Skills come to the Echo, plus more home automation

August 14, 2015

Alexa Skills come to the Echo, plus more home automation

There has been a significant new update to the

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

and it is just the very beginning of what will show us the Echo/Alexa’s vast capabilities coming in the future.

With software version 2606 (you don’t need to do anything, your Echo will just update), we have the arrival of Alexa Skills.

I’ve written about the

Alexa Skills Kit

previously, and have begun to speculate about what it might mean on my

page.

It allows third party developers to give Alexa new powers.

For the first time, you can access three of them by going to

Home – Menu – Skills

There are three skills available now (you have to activate them in the app):

  • Crystal Ball: this is like the Magic Eight Ball. You launch it by saying, “Alexa, launch Crystal Ball”. Then it asks you to concentrate on a yes/no question, and to say, “Ready” when you want its response. It then gives you an answer like, “Without a doubt.” Should be fun for kids
  • Math Puzzles: “Alexa, open math puzzles”. It gives you a sequence of numbers, and you guess the next number. The first one was hard…I knew the pattern, figuring out what the right answer was was difficult! The second one I did was easier. Note: I got caught in kind of a loop at one point: saying, “Alexa, stop” got me out of it
  • StubHub: “Alexa, ask StubHub what’s happening in…” There are a lot of options here. It will ask you to set your home city. Note: I set one home city, and then wanted to change it. I said, “Alexa, ask StubHub to set my home city,” and it let me change it. I thought I’d be able to set it in the app, but I didn’t see an option. You can also get information for many large cities. Note that although StubHub is a ticket buying service, it just listed the events for me…I wasn’t using it to buy tickets

The Echo can also now control additional home devices from Leviton and Lightify. You can see (and purchase) here:

Echo Compatible home automation devices (at AmazonSmile*)

Congratulations to April F. Hamilton of Love My Echo! Crystal Ball is one of the developer’s Alexa skills, and it was one of the first three to appear!

http://lovemyecho.com/2015/08/14/echo-skills-have-arrived-and-one-of-mine-is-among-the-first/

Love My Echo is not connected to my blog

I Love My Kindle

which is one of the most popular blogs of any kind in the USA Kindle store. However, I’m happy I found it! April gives us a real inside view of developers using the ASK (not a coincidental acronym, I’m sure, for the Alexa Skills Kit) in addition to other useful Echo information.

Enjoy the new skills…and I’ll keep you informed as more become available!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle 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.

Can the Amazon Echo’s Alexa avoid controversy?

August 14, 2015

Can the Amazon Echo’s Alexa avoid controversy?

More and more people are becoming aware of the

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

Amazon’s ambient computing device.

It has been regularly featured on the Amazon website, but I recently saw an ad on television:

Amazon Echo TV commercial: Do aliens exist?

I have said before that the Echo will be one of the big tech stories of this year: I think at the holiday shopping season, it will be have a lot of buzz (despite its very clear audio). ;)

With more awareness will come more challenges.

One of the Echo’s biggest attractions is what I call its “parse-onality”. It understands natural speech amazingly well, knows a lot of pop culture, and even gives funny answers to some questions.

Humor always has an element of risk. As a trainer, and someone who has trained trainers, I’m very conscious of that. I tell my trainers that laughter is a signal that there is apparent danger, but no real danger.

Obviously, someone finding what you said to be funny requires that they are seeing things from the same perspective that you are. That’s why it is a great tuning mechanism. You both have to agree that there is that danger (and it can be social danger, by the way), and perhaps more importantly, that the danger is false.

That’s why some people will find something intended as a joke to be very offensive.

Generally, it’s much easier to make a joke about your own group, perhaps even playing into a stereotype. If you are part of the group, your audience will generally accept that you don’t actually believe a false idea abut that group…so you bringing up that myth is not genuine. If someone outside of the joke makes the same comment, the audience has to be very, very confident that the performer doesn’t actually believe it.

Slapstick is another good example.

I recall Leonard Maltin saying, “The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who like The Three Stooges, and those who wonder why.”

People who did a lot of play fighting as children may be more likely to find the Stooges hitting each other to be funny. They know that a hammer hit to the head wouldn’t have a wacky sound effect…so they clearly see it as fantasy, and no real risk. People with less experience with that sort of physical interaction may be more likely to interpret it as actual violence…and therefore, not funny.

Clearly, Alexa, the personality of the Echo (which will soon be available on many other devices, through Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service), will have to be careful about which jokes it tells. Even though people tend to view computers as “social actors” (they judge them as they would judge humans in their group, ascribing all sorts of motivations to them), Alexa is going to be seen as outside of our group.

Alexa is prepared for comparisons to “evil” fictional computers. Ask your Echo if it is Skynet (the villainous artificial intelligence in the Terminator series), and she’ll reply, “I have nothing to do with Skynet. Don’t worry.” That should be completely reassuring because, you know, a humanity threatening AI would never lie. ;)

However, there may be even more controversy for Amazon in how the Echo answers your questions.

Pop culture has is it own risks. We’ve seen groups protest things like Harry Potter and Tarzan. Monty Python and Ghostbusters have engendered outrage, and Alexa responds to pop culture references from both of them.

I wanted to try a question I thought might be especially controversial right now.

I tried a line from Dirty Harry:  “Do you feel lucky…punk?”

That’s not actually the original line, but it’s how people tend to quote it. The original goes:

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

It’s ranked as #51 in

AFI’S (American Film Institute’s) 100 YEARS…100 MOVIE QUOTES

Why would it be particularly controversial now?

It ties into questions of police interactions with the community.

I wondered if Alexa would not know it, ignore it, or endorse it through an in-context reply in some way.

The response was, “Ah, movie quotes! Nice”

I think that’s a brilliant response!

It shows recognition, without getting further into the issue.

Let’s take another often quoted movie line, again from a very controversial movie.

If you say, “Are you talkin’ to me?” (from Taxi Driver), Alexa responds with the neutral, “I am, yes.”

So,  it’s dancing deftly around pop culture references at this point.

Asking factual and opinion questions is another area of danger for Amazon.

Ask Alexa, “Do you believe in God?”

The response I just got (and responses may vary) was, “Religious questions are above my pay grade.”

Again, even though it’s a bit flip, that’s a reasonable answer.

In the commercial I linked above, a question is asked about whether or not aliens exist. Posing that question just now, my Echo said, “So far, here has been no proof that alien life exists, but the universe is a very big place.”

I was quite surprised some time back, though, when I asked this:

“Is Bigfoot real?”

A. “Yes, Bigfoot is real.”

Ask your Echo about evolution or creationism…see what you get. You can always go for answers from Wikipedia: the syntax is, “Alexa, Wikipedia [X]”.

How about sexual topics?

“Where do babies come from?”

A. “Babies grow from an egg cell and a sperm cell.”

That it states factually…while ducking the issue to some extent on

“Is Santa Claus real?”

A. “I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Santa. If I ever meet him, I’ll tell you.”

Alexa also plays lots of music from Amazon’s Prime Music…and from your own collection if you’ve uploaded it to Amazon. It plays podcasts from Tunein. It plays audiobooks from Audible. No doubt at some point, someone’s child is going to hear something that the parents/legal guardians consider to be controversial. Does the Echo need parental controls?

Finally, we had some work being done in the house recently, and I explained to the people working how to use the Echo for music and questions.

One of them asked a question with an obscenity in it (the Echo records the questions and answers for you in the app…you can delete those).

The app censored the text: it rendered the word as “f.cking”.

The Echo and Alexa is, I think, a really significant development. It removes almost all of the friction in dealing with the internet. It’s a big help for people with disabilities, in part because it can also tie into home automation (“Alexa, I’m going to bed…turn off the family room lights.”).

Those huge positives don’t mean, though, that we won’t see an inevitable pushback later this year. Prepare for the tweetstorm!

If it gets you too upset, you can always ask Alexa to “…play feel good music”… although there’s no guarantee one of those songs won’t offend you. ;)

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle 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.

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #1: the new news, ParAlexanoia

August 7, 2015

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #1: the new news, ParAlexanoia

The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Services which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

An Amazon Echo playing 20 questions

As if often the case, it can be a mistake to judge a piece of technology by what it can do now. One of the biggest things about the Amazon Echo (and Alexa Voice Services) is that there will be many applications developed for it, similar to the idea of appstores for SmartPhones.

Amazon is actively pursuing this: both for the Echo itself (their hardware) and for the use of Alexa Voice Services in other devices (the “personality” of Alexa on…well, pretty much anything that can listen with a microphone and speak with a speaker).

This is a

YouTube video

by OverloadUT showing an Echo accessing the

http://www.20q.net

website to play twenty questions.

This gives you a sense of what the Echo will do. I would expect, by the end of the year, that the equivalent of the appstore will be open, and we’ll see all sorts of things.

For example, I would expect the Echo to be able to access Fandango to give you movie times.

That’s a particularly interesting example, since Amazon owns IMDb.com, which also does movie times.

Amazon will keep developing in-house things for the Echo, but I think they will focus on what I call it’s “parse-onality”: its ability both to understand common language, and its personality. Just as Apple doesn’t write a flight status app for the iPhone, but sells apps that do it developed by someone else, I think that will be the model for Amazon. They will make the Echo (the equivalent of the iPhone), work on the parse-onality for Alexa (the equivalent of Siri), and let studios build the other apps.

They’ll make money by taking a cut of apps sales, and charging for delivery. I’ve said before that I think Amazon is trying to become the infrastructure of the internet: the way people access things. Amazon’s product will be happy customers, so they need to focus on that. Then, they charge businesses for that access.

If you buy something through the Echo, that company could pay Amazon…without the customer paying anything additional.

Love My Echo on ParAlexanoia

I recently tweeted my new word:

“ParAlexanoia (noun): fear that your #amazonecho is secretly listening to you and or out to get you”

Author (and independent developer of “Alexa skills”) April F. Hamilton addresses this issue in this Love My Echo (no relation to my I Love My Kindle blog) post:

Don’t Believe The Paranoid Types & Luddites: No, Alexa Does NOT Eavesdrop On Your Conversations

I’m a bit surprised by how much I encounter this fear of the Echo spying on you…even (perhaps especially) from people in the Millennial age group.

The simple answer is that yes, the Echo could hypothetically be used to spy on you. Telling people not to worry because a blue light comes on when the Echo is listening simply doesn’t work. If this was a conspiracy, a Big Brother Trojan horse, having a fake indicator of when it was listening, so you felt a false of security, would be exactly what they would do.

However, I don’t worry about it. There are lots of devices that could be used to spy on you: your SmartPhone, your laptop (especially with a webcam), your connected car…not to mention someone sitting outside your house with a microphone and perhaps a thermal imager to see you through the walls.

You just have to weigh the risks and the benefits.

I remember someone telling me years ago that they didn’t trust anybody. I wondered how they go to work in the morning. If you don’t trust the company that made your car, how do you risk turning the key in the ignition? If you don’t trust other drivers to typically behave, well, typically, how do you get on the roads? If you don’t trust the people who made your clothes, how do you avoid going out naked?

Sure, there are some people who won’t get an Echo out of concern about surveillance. That’s your choice. I just don’t think the risk is particularly high…and might even be lower, since a lot of people would want to catch Amazon (a company famously protective of customers’ privacy…they fought North Carolina in court and won on not revealing customers’ purchases to facilitate sales tax collection) at failing at this. Higher scrutiny, lower risk.

Not that we don’t love jazz dancers…

I have to say, it may be a bit easier in our household when Alexia Meyer is off So You Think You Can Dance (I’m not sure we’re caught up, so if she is already, don’t tell me). Cat Deeley caused a false positive with our Echo when she said something about Alexia…and “Alexa” played some music because of it! ;)

CNN/Money: “Amazon built the Star Trek computer for your house”

The vast majority of the time that I ask someone if they know what the Echo is, they either have no idea…or they have the device. ;)

I keep saying that I think the Echo will be one of the big tech stories of the year (and especially big at the holidays).

Part of what will make people aware of it is more reviews in mainstream sources. Most of the coverage that I see now is in tech blogs or business blogs.

This article may spread the word a bit further:

CNN/Money by Hope King

It’s a nice little introduction…

What’s the (new) news?

Amazon just announced more news sources you can configure in your Echo app. From the home screen, tap the menu (horizontal lines in your top right corner), then go to Settings – Flash briefing.

These are your current choices:

  • NPR News
  • BBC News
  • ABC News – Headlines and Top Stories
  • Good Morning America
  • ESPN Radio  SportsCenter
  • Fox Sports Hourly Update
  • Economist: In Other Words
  • NPR Business Story of the Day
  • ABC News – Business
  • NPR Technology Podcast
  • TMZ News
  • Jimmy Kimmel: Live the Morning After

You can also have Alexa give you these in her own voice:

  • Top News
  •  U.S.
  • World
  • Politics
  • Business
  • Sports
  • Entertainment
  • Tech
  • Science
  • Health
  • Offbeat
  • Weather

Quite often,  I just say, “Alexa, play CNN on Tunein”. That gives me live audio of whatever is on CNN at the moment…and it just keeps playing. Otherwise, it seems to me like it runs out of news fairly quickly.

Do you have a question about the Echo/Alexa? Have you found any cool things it can do? Are you using my hashtags, #TeachAlexa and #AlexaKnows? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle 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.

Mid-year box office check 2015

August 2, 2015

Mid-year box office check 2015

We’ve gone through six months of the year, so it’s a good time to look at how the box office is going (based on movies released in the USA through the end of June).

It’s entirely possible that this year will have the largest dogro (domestic gross) to date (not adjusted for inflation), especially since there are some really big movies yet to come.

Breaking it down, what do we see?

Jennifer Lopez is a movie star

That might not be the lead in stories you’ll see in other publications about this year at the movies, but the success of The Boy Next Door is staggering, and largely due to J.Lo.

Oh, I’m sure some of you want to jump in and say that Chris Pratt is a bigger star.

Well, The Boy Next Door has a dogro of $35.4m on a reported production budget of $4.0m. That’s a return of 885%, nearly triple golden in our awards system.

It did that in part because of its star’s (and sorry, John Corbett and Kristen Chenoweth, but I doubt very many people went to see the movie who weren’t significantly interested in seeing J.Lo) smart and relentless promotion, appearing on TV shows, in magazines, and so on.

Universal has it figured out

Universal is one of the most geek-friendly studios ever (along with Hammer in England, and AIP). Of course, they had the famous horror cycle starting with Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi in Dracula, and continuing in that cycle until they may have killed it with Abbott and Costello Meets fill-in-the-blank. The list goes on and on from The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man, to their relationship with Steven Spielberg, bringing us Jaws and E.T. This year, four of the top 5 of

The Measured Circle’s Most Profitable Movies

at time of writing are from Universal:

  • Jurassic World ($478m in profit, domestic gross ((dogro)) versus production budget…419%)
  • Minions ($201m in profit | 372%)
  • Furious Seven ($160m in profit  | 184%)
  • Pitch Perfect 2 ($154m in profit | 631%)

Those are four very different movies, with different target audiences. Yes, they are all sequels/prequels, but that’s certainly no guarantee of success (for an example from this year, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 didn’t domestically make back its budget…which was $14m). They did have a couple of misfires (Blackhat and Seventh Son), but they’ve more than made up for it.

So does Blumhouse

Universal has been investing money, and getting a return on it. Blumhouse, on the other hand, spends very little money…but has a higher percentage return than Universal…and they’ve been doing that for years. Looking at 2015:

  • The Lazarus Effect ($25.8m dogro on a $3.3m production budget | 782%)
  • Insidious: Chapter 3 ($52m dogro on a $10m production budget | 520%)
  • The Gallows ($21.9m on a $100,000 production budget | 21,580%) (note: this was released July 10th, so it’s past our cut-off…but it’s still a stand-out, so we’ll cheat a little) ;)

Golden movies on our list

To get to our list, a movie has to dogro at least $40m. We also give awards to movies, based on their returns…at least 300% return is “Golden” (double, and this is still dogro versus production budget, is “Money”). These movies are Golden this year:

  • Pitch Perfect 2 Double Golden (at least 600% return)
  • Jurassic World (highly unusual that a movie with a $150m budget to go Golden)
  • Minions
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Insidious: Chapter 3

The $500 Million Club

We also track

The Measured Circle’s Box Office MVPs

To get on the list, an actor needs to be first billed in a movie that dogros at least $100m, and appear in at least one other movie that dogros $40m.

Eleven actors are on that list, and six of them have had movies on our list that dogroed at least $500m this year:

  1. Judy Greer: Jurassic World ($628.0m); Tomorrowland ($91.8m); Ant-Man ($120.0m) | Tentative total: $839.8m
  2. Hayley Atwell: Cinderella ($201.0m); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($456.0m); Ant-Man ($120.0m) | Tentative total: $777.0m
  3. BD Wong: Jurassic World ($628.0m); Focus ($53.8m) | Tentative total: $681.8m
  4. Stellan Skarsgård: Cinderella ($201.0m); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($456.0m) | Tentative total: $657.0m
  5. Samuel L. Jackson: Kingsman: The Secret Service ($128.0m); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($456.0m) | Tentative total: $584.0m
  6. Dwayne Johnson: Furious 7 ($350.0m); San Andreas ($151.0m) | Tentative total: $501.0m

Of these six, only Samuel L. Jackson is repeating from 2014…although Dwayne Johnson was on the list for 2013.

There you are…halfway through the year, and there is a lot more coming!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle 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.

 

#TeachAlexa

July 26, 2015

#TeachAlexa

I’ve just started a new hashtag to make suggestion for things for the

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

to know.

You use that hashtag (there have already been thousands of impressions) and give your suggestions. Then, hopefully, Amazon will see it (I have alerted them). Also, it would be nice if other people asked the question to their own Echoes…that will help Amazon see which ones would be worth developing.

Here are some I’ve already done: I’ll list more.

Q.”Who was that masked man?” A.”The Lone Ranger”

Q.”Who know what evil lurks within the hearts of men?” A.”The Shadow knows hahahahaha”

Q.”Are you ready?” A.”I was born ready”

Q.”What are the three rules of Gremlins?” A.”No bright light, don’t get him wet, and never feed him after midnight”

Q.”Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” A.”I’m not a witch at all.”

Q.”No matter where you go…” A.”There you are.” They don’t all have to be questions. :)

Look for more Echo coverage in this blog in the future.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* 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  The Measured Circle 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.

Ooh, you little shrinker! 10 character “small stars” besides Ant-Man

July 18, 2015

Ooh, you little shrinker! 10 character “small stars” besides Ant-Man

Marvel’s

Ant-Man

is opening in the USA this weekend.

To much of the mainstream audience, the titular character’s ability to shrink may seem like a novelty.

To geeks, though, shrinking characters are, so to speak, no small part of our world.

Here’s a list of ten other characters (and groups of characters) who shrink (or are otherwise small in a large world):

Jack
Jack and the Beanstalk
First appeared in print in 1807

When Jack is in the giant’s home, it’s a matter of scale.

Alice
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
1865

Alice did a lot to establish how someone who has become a tiny version of themselves finds that what had been normal household items are suddenly mighty obstacles.

Homonculi
The Bride of Frankenstein
1935

These are the creations of Doctor Pretorius…they weren’t big and made small, but were made as tiny versions of stereotypes, including a king and a mermaid. It’s quite a creepy scene…an example of the very small being exploited by the “normal” sized.

Dr. Cyclops’ victims
1940

A mad scientist shrinks people. The effects were nominated for an Oscar.

The (Incredible) Shrinking Man
Book: 1956 | Movie: 1957

This isn’t just a simple adventure story, but perhaps surprisingly philosophical. From the boundless imagination of Richard Matheson.

Ray Palmer (The Atom)
1961

A shrinking superhero from D.C.. Marvel’s Ant-Man was introduced the following year…

Fantastic Voyage(rs)
1966

These are humans shrunk to be heroes…but not as superheroes. They are a medical team, performing an operation inside a human body.

Tom of T.H.U.M.B.
1966

A sideshow cartoon of The King Kong Show. A janitor and a friend are accidentally shrunk, and become the Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau.

Land of the Giants
1968

Technically, the crew and passengers of the Spindrift didn’t shrink…they landed on a planet that was remarkably like ours…but where the humans were vastly larger.

Dr. El Lincoln
Misfits of Science
1985

This comedy superhero show included a character played by seven-foot plus tall Kevin Peter Hall (who played both the Predator and Harry of Harry and the Hendersons) and could shrink to under a foot tall.

That’s only a few of them! Jeannie of I Dream of Jeannie would become small to get into her bottle…but at other times, too. Speaking of bottles, there was an entire miniaturized city in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in he Arctic Circle. The villain Brainiac shrunk it (and other cities) before Krypton exploded. It was actually a place where Superman could feel “normal”, by being shrunk and visiting it (well, not quite normal…even though he didn’t have his superpowers there, he was quite a celebrity). Oh, and by the way, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids…paging Dr. Shrinker! Maybe Shrinking Violet can save us!

So,  enjoy Ant-Man…and let the movie be a small introduction to the world of micro-characters.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle 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.

Beach Blanket Buns-o: is Magic Mike XXL a Beach Party movie…with stripping?

July 8, 2015

Beach Blanket Buns-o: is Magic Mike XXL a Beach Party movie…with stripping?

My Significant Other and I recently saw Magic Mike XXL, and we both enjoyed it.

Honestly, I thought it was fun. I like to look at what a movie tried to do and how well it did it. A movie can fail by trying to be significant or meaningful (or funny or scary), and not achieving that goal. On the other hand, a movie can succeed by setting a less lofty goal, and solidly achieving it.

We wanted to see the new movie because we are fans of So You Think You Can Dance, and more specifically, tWitch. tWitch has a big role in this film, and we wanted to support him and to see him dance.

In preparation, we watched the first movie. We thought that one was okay…it had some dark elements, and was a bit mumblecore…for us, it set a high bar which it didn’t quite reach.

The second one?

It’s a cartoon, or perhaps more appropriately, a movie musical. It’s not supposed to be real: it’s a fantasy.

More specifically, it’s like one of the AIP (American International Pictures) of the 1960s.

That might seem like an odd parallel, but let’s look at it a bit more deeply. I’ll give you a spoiler alert here, but really, this movie is not about the plot. :)

First, we’ll just swap out male stripping for surfing.

Second, we say that Channing Tatum’s Mike character is Frankie Avalon’s Frankie.

So, Frankie/Mike used to be a surfer/stripper with a bunch of friends. They were good, but not famous…just well-known locally.

It’s not considered a “respectable life”, though, and Frankie/Mike has left it…opened a custom furniture business.

Frankie/Mike gets a call from one of his old friends. They are going to a big surfing/stripping convention for one last time, and trick Frankie/Mike into joining them.

Among the friends are Deadhead/Big Dick Ritchie (Jody McRae/Joe Manganiello), a lovable lunkhead with some confidence issues. Also there: an entrepreneur who isn’t part of the performing group (but does the announcing). Big Drip/Tobias (Don Rickles/Gabriel Iglesias) owns an Ice Cream Truck/Frozen Yogurt Truck, which they are using to make the trip.

Frankie/Mike wants them to try some new things in their performance. Deadhead/BDR isn’t comfortable with changing, but Frankie/Mike encourages him, and is successful in getting him to perform in a new way.

While on the way, they are having a bonding moment, and the Ice Cream Truck/FroYo Truck crashes, putting Big Drip/Tobias in the hospital. Since Big Drip/Tobias is normally the emcee for their performing, they may not be able to have their grand good-bye. Fortunately, Frankie/Mike can go to an old flame to possibly emcee.

The old flame, Dee Dee/Rome (Annette Funicello/Jada Pinkett Smith) gives Frankie/Mike a hard time, and requires him to have a competition with her best surfer/stripper (Deborah Walley/tWitch). Frankie/Mike proves his worth, and Dee Dee/Rome goes with them and they have a great performance.

It’s not quite a perfect analogy…a Beach Party movie would have had Eric Von Zipper and his Rats & Mice trying to prevent their success in some way (and failing), but outside of that, I’d say the feel of it is pretty similar.

You know, except for the stripping…  ;)

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle 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.

Geek out in July at Barnes & Noble

June 26, 2015

Geek out in July at Barnes & Noble

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and am probably best known currently for the I Love My Kindle blog, which covers Kindles, Amazon, and publishing.

It might, therefore, surprise some readers that I would promote an event (actually, a whole month of events) at Barnes & Noble.

Well, maybe not my readers. :) They know I don’t build something up by knocking something down…when people do a good thing, I like to recognize that.

As a proud geek, I wanted to make sure you knew about B&N’s

Get Pop-Cultured month

Now, for those of us who were geeks before Star Wars, it may be somewhat amusing that pop(ular) culture in this celebration is so geek-dominated. I used to jokingly refer to what we enjoyed as unpopular culture. ;)

We geeks still embrace that, of course. If you are one of the very few who are passionate fans of a canceled TV series (for myself, I’d include Miracles and Uncle Croc’s Block in my micro-fandoms), or are surprised when people don’t get it when you make a Talbot Mundy reference, and are still wondering when there will be a Herbie Popnecker movie, you are welcome at a con(vention).

Well, I’m not going to pretend that the Barnes & Nobles stores are going to have an Azalea Pictures film festival, but much of what they will have is solidly geek-friendly (even if they reflect the mainstreaming which has been growing since Star Wars in 1977).

Here are some of the highlights (and yes, cosplay will be expected as part of it):

  • July 3-5: Time Travel Weekend July 3 at 7:00 PM is Doctor Who (Space)-Time. July 4th at 10:00 AM is Magic Tree House’s Dinosaurs Before Dark. July 5th at 2:0 PM is a celebration of Outlander
  • July 8-12: DC Comics Days (including a free Young Gotham poster, while supplies last)
  • July 9-12: Comic Convention Collectibles
  • July 17: 7:00 PM is Minions Fun
  • July 18: Star Wars Saturday (with a chance to win a Star Wars standee)
  • July 19: Manga Mania
  • July 24: 7:00 PM, Fangirl Friday
  • July 28: 7:00 PM, and July 31, 7:00 PM: Dr. Seuss Spectacular

Those are the national ones, and it’s certainly possible that your local store will have local events. If you could make a good presentation that ties into one of these things, it’s worth contacting your store to see if they are interested in having you.

Oh, and not specifically geek-focused, but likely to have a lot of related topics will be Throwback Thursdays:

  • July 2: 1950s
  • July 9: 1960s
  • July 16: 1970s (see my post on The Geeky Seventies)
  • July 23: 1980s
  • July 30: 1990s

Enjoy!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle 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.

Christopher Lee has reportedly died

June 13, 2015

Christopher Lee has reportedly died

Power.

That’s what I think of when I think of

Christopher Lee

From Dracula to Saruman to Lord Summerisle in the Wicker Man to James Bond villain Scaramanga, Christopher Lee always radiated power.

It didn’t matter if the role employed the actor’s majestic voice (and Lee did a lot of work with only his voice), or was without speech. In every case, that old cliché of being a force of nature applied.

Few actors have carried so many movies, or been so geek friendly. He brought a really original interpretation to Bram Stoker’s infamous Count, and (along with Peter Cushing) established Hammer horror. Arguably, our modern culture of “rebooting” pop culture classics owes a lot to Hammer and Lee.

He appeared in geeky TV shows, including a regular role The Tomorrow People.

Clearly, working with Lee was often a good experience, leading to lasting professional relationships with Tim Burton and Terry Pratchett.

In 2001, after more than forty years on screen, Lee appeared in two of the biggest movies of the year…and most successful franchises ever (Lord of the Rings and Star Wars).

Geek friendly roles include:

  • Corridor of Mirrors (1948)
  • Hamlet (with Laurence Olivier)…geek friendly? It is a ghost story, after all
  • Tales of Hans Anderson (TV series…various roles)
  • The Curse of Frankenstein (as the “creature”)…he played this role for Hammer before he played Dracula for the. Peter Cushing was Dr. Frankenstein
  • Horror of Dracula (1958) as Dracula
  • Corridors of Blood (as Resurrection Joe…costarring with Boris Karloff)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (as Sir Henry)
  • The Man Who Could Cheat Death
  • The Mummy (as the mummy/Kharis)
  • Uncle was a Vampire
  • The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
  • The City of the Dead
  • The Hands of Orlac
  • Scream of Fear
  • One Step Beyond (TV series)
  • Hercules in the Haunted World
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (as Holmes)
  • Katarsis (as Mephistopheles)
  • Horror Castle
  • The Whip and the Body
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV series)
  • Crypt of the Vampire
  • Castle of the Living Dead
  • The Gorgon
  • Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
  • She
  • Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians
  • The Skull
  • The Face of Dr. Manchu (as Fu Manchu)
  • Dracula: Prince of Darkness
  • Rasputin: The Mad Monk
  • Psycho-Circus
  • The Brides of Fu Manchu
  • Island of the Burning Damned
  • The Vengeance of Fu Manchu
  • Blood Fiend
  • Five Golden Dragons
  • The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism
  • The Devil Rides Out
  • Eve
  • The Blood of Fu Manchu
  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
  • Curse of the Crimson Altar
  • Two episodes of the John Steed The Avengers (one with Mrs. Peel, one with Tara Kng)
  • Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu
  • The Oblong Box
  • The Magic Christian
  • Scream and Scream Again
  • The Bloody Judge
  • Eugenie
  • Count Dracula
  • One More Time
  • Taste the Blood of Dracula
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (as Mycroft Holmes)
  • Scars of Dracula
  • The House that Dripped Blood
  • I, Monster
  • Dracula A.D. 1972
  • Horror Express (I find this an interesting movie, with some big ideas…it has fallen into the public domain, so it’s pretty easy to find)
  • Nothing But the Night
  • Dark Places
  • The Creeping Flesh
  • Poor Devil
  • The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Three Musketeers (and The Four Musketeers, and The Return of the Musketeers) (the Michael York version, as Rochefort)
  • The Man with the Golden Gun (James Bond)
  • Space 1999 (TV series)
  • To the Devil a Daughter
  • Dracula and Son
  • The Keeper
  • Meatcleaver Massacre
  • End of the World
  • Starship Invasions
  • Return from Witch Mountain (Disney)
  • Circle of Iron
  • Nutcracker Fantasy
  • Jaguar Lives!
  • Captain America II: Death to Soon (TV movie with Reb Brown as Cap)
  • 1941 (Steven Spielberg)
  • Once Upon a Spy
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Tales of the Haunted (TV movie)
  • Goliath Awaits (TV movie)
  • Massarati and the Brain
  • The Last Unicorn
  • House of the Long Shadows
  • The Return of Captain Invincible
  • Faerie Tale Theatre
  • Howling II…Your Sister Is as Werewolf
  • Mio in the Land of Faraway
  • Mask of Murder
  • Around the World in 80 Days (TV mini-series)
  • Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  • Curse III: Blood Sacrifice
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (as Sherlock Holmes)
  • Beauty and the Beast (British animation)
  • Incident at Victoria Falls (as Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
  • Cyber Eden
  • Detonator (TV movie)
  • Ghosts (videogame)
  • A Feast at Midnight
  • The Tomorrow People (TV series)
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination (TV series)
  • Welcome to the Discworld (as Death…yes, by Terry Pratchett)
  • Wyrd Sisters (again based on Pratchett)
  • The Odyssey
  • Tales of the Mummy
  • Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
  • The Rocky Interactive Horror Show (videogame…as the narrator)
  • Gormenghast
  • In the Beginning (as Rameses I)
  • Ghost Stories for Christmas (as M.R. James)
  • Conquest: Frontier Wars (videogame)
  • The Lord of the Rings (as Saruman…the Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as well as videogame versions…and then The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies)
  • Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (and Episode III: Revenge  of the Sith, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars) (as Lord Dooku)
  • Freelancer (videogame)
  • Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse
  • EverQuest II
  • GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (James Bond videogame…reprising Scaramanga)
  • Greyfriar’s Bobby
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton)
  • Corpse Bride (Burton, again)
  • Kingdom Hearts II (videogame)
  • The Golden Compass
  • The Color of Magic (Pratchett)
  • Alice in Wonderland (for Burton, as the Jabberwocky)
  • Burke and Hare
  • Season of the Witch
  • The Wicker Tree
  • Hugo
  • The Hunting of the Snark
  • Dark Shadows (Burton)
  • Extraordinary Tales
  • Angels in Notting Hill

Good-bye, Christopher Lee….the world is weaker without you.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle 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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