Welcome, vammers! Our Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality coverage starts here

January 15, 2017

Welcome, vammers! Our Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality coverage starts here

To paraphrase Alexander the Great, I have laughed because there are new worlds to conquer! 😉

For a few weeks now, I have been exploring the universe of Virtual Reality, by virtue (so to speak) of a

Samsung Gear VR headset (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge SmartPhone.

As late as the end of 2015, I was questioning whether Virtual Reality was “ready for prime time”. I am now convinced that it is, and that we’ll start seeing significant consumer adoption of VR and Augmented Reality this year (2017).

In this post, I want to explain why that is, and give you an introduction to the technology…as well as some speculation and resources.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology which allows a person to apparently substitute another place for where they actually are. It might be a wholly fictional world, or another location (geographically and/or chronologically) on Earth. Currently, that’s typically accomplished by wearing something like goggles (or a headset) which places two screens in front of the person’s eyes, at the same time masking visual perception of the “real world”. Rather than seeing the screens, the person will perceive a 3-Dimensional world. A hallmark of VR is the ability to “look around” the scene: the VR tech is aware of where the person is looking, and adjusts the image accordingly.

The idea of Virtual Reality goes back to at least the 1930s in science fiction, and the technology became more possible in the 1990s. Fictional depictions include the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 1990s Saban series VR Troopers (“We are VR!”), and the Otherland novels by Tad Williams (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*).

While VR is fairly specific in its definition, it is sometimes broadly used to encompass some other technologies. In this blog, we’ll be covering (at this point) four type of simulated experiences: Virtual Reality; Augmented Reality; Mixed Reality; and Merged Reality. That’s why we came up with the term “Vammers” for people who are using these types of tech.

They break down this way:

  • Virtual Reality: this replaces your current world for at least one of your senses (it could just be what you see, but it could also include sound, and increasingly “haptic feedback” ((touch))). You can not see the real world at the same time
  • Augmented Reality: characters or other objects are superimposed over the real world. You still see the real world around you, but you also see something else (simulated) over it. The most popular version of this has been Pokemon Go, although there have been other apps for some years
  • Mixed Reality: people may just refer to this as Augmented Reality (AR), and the difference is somewhat subtle. In Mixed Reality, the simulated object is “aware” of the real world and reacts to it. That’s not just the “player” or “experiencer”: it may have an awareness of where the ground is, for example. That’s already happening: AR characters don’t tend to appear to be floating in the air (unless that’s appropriate for the character), and Instragam filters follow your actions
  • Merged Reality: this is new, and is a term used by Intel for its Alloy headset (YouTube videos). This is essentially the opposite of Mixed Reality. The headset maps the actual location (say, the furniture in a room), and then masks it with a story-appropriate appearance: a table might “change into” a control panel on a spaceship, or into a rock in a haunted forest

My guess is that people will just use two terms: Virtual Reality when the real world is not visible, and Augmented Reality when it is. I don’t think most people will care about what is aware of what in casual conversation. However, VAers just didn’t sound as good. 😉

Why do I think it will take off in 2017?

As noted, VR entered popular consciousness by the 1990s, and it was possible to try it in arcades at that time (it can be argued that the Viewmaster, introduced in 1939, was a primitive, stationary version of VR…and there were earlier technologies that attempted it). It never became part of our most people’s lives, though; what’s different this time?

The easiest way to explain this may be to first address the barriers that impeded adoption before:

  • It was too expensive or not available for the home. While you can still spend more than $500 for a self-contained VR set, the Samsung Gear I mentioned above can be had for under $100 (well within the range of many consumer electronics). It is powered by a SmartPhone (specific ones), which can, of course, also cost over $500…but if you already have one, getting into VR has become affordable
  • People got nauseated or vertigo in VR. That was largely caused, as I understand, by “latency”…as you moved your head, the image would lag behind and then catch up, which could cause that feeling. I don’t notice any significant latency with my set up. I have let people use it who ranged from the age of 13 to 88…a couple of people have mentioned feeling disoriented when removing it, but no one has claimed to be too uncomfortable in VR. When shopping in the store for “experiences”, they rank how “comfortable” it is
  • You have to be plugged into something. That’s not true with my headset…after all, it’s running off a SmartPhone. There are still ones (including expensive set ups) where that is true, but it’s now an option
  • You look stupid. Can’t help you there. 🙂 I don’t think it’s stupid-looking…not more than many other things we do for entertainment

That takes care of some of the assumed negatives. I think it’s why some tech writers are underestimating adoption this year…they were very aware of the limitations, and either expect them to still be part of the experience, or want it to be perfectly resolved. For the average consumer, things can be good enough. It’s a bit like when Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007 (I’m best known for my coverage of the Kindle, e-books, and Amazon). E-books had been around, but they were only really being used by techies who didn’t mind plugging a cable into a computer to transfer an e-book they had downloaded. When Amazon made the Kindle wireless, it made it “good enough” for consumers, even though the technology has vastly improved since then.

What are the positives? What can you do with it?

People talk about the “killer app”, some driving reason to use a new technology. I think that’s there for VR now…and I think it might surprise you what I think that it is.

It’s video. Especially, that’s Netflix.

I like watching Netflix so much better in VR than on my TV. It appears that I am watching Stranger Things in a movie theatre. That’s in part because of the apparent size of the “screen”…but there is actually a theatre environment visible around me. However (and I didn’t know this at first), I can also look up at “the ceiling” and select the “Void Theatre”. That has the advantage of letting me place the screen anywhere I want by moving my head…even on what is the ceiling of the real room. I can be doing floor work exercises, and be watching Netflix wherever I want it to be. Hulu also recently introduce an “experience” (that’s what apps are called in VR). Amazon Prime Video is missing at this point, but in my most popular blog, I Love My Kindle, I predicted in my annual post

The Year Ahead: 2017

that Amazon will significantly get into VR/AR this year.

Samsung also has a browser, and I can go to other sites and watch video. I even have my own page on this site that works for there, although I have just started it:

The Measured Circle’s Theatre

When I’m in VR, I visit that page (which I’ve bookmarked) to launch public domain video I’ve linked there. I find it really cool to be watching an old movie or TV show (like Captain Video) in VR. 🙂

I should mention at this point that the headphone jack is still available to me, so I can listen on headphones if I want.

There are many other things that I’ve done.

One that I tend to show to other people is a VR exploration of the actual Chernobyl (site of a Russian nuclear incident). It’s amazing to “walk around”, say, the hospital (I work in healthcare), or the amusement park which was going to open shortly after the date of the incident.

Other experiences include seeing a Cirque du Soleil show, or watching Steph Curry warm up. There are also simulated experiences…Ocean Rift is a popular undersea simulation, where you can “swim” with dolphins or be in a shark cage (don’t forget to look behind you!)

There are also games. One, called Smash Hit, is an old arcade style “rail game”…you are moving forward at a speed out of our control, like being on a roller coaster (on rails). As you move, you “throw balls” at pylons, getting more balls for breaking them. It’s more complicated than that, but like many games, starts out easy. It can be hard to remember that even after you’ve passed a pylon, it’s possible (if you have time), to “look behind” you and fire in that direction at the one just passed.

You may be wondering how you “throw the balls”. With some systems, you could do it holding a controller, or even have something detect the position of your hands and your gestures (that will expand much more in the next couple of years). With mine, there is a “touchpad” on my right side of the headset…I tap the side of my “scuba mask” to throw the ball.

Video, games, and there is one more big element: social interaction. There is a platform, vTime, where you can go chat with other people, or even put on a lecture (which can be recorded). What you (and they) will see is an “avatar”, a cartoon representation of you. You can choose how you look (although only humans, from what I’ve seen), and your voice will be your voice (you need a headset, but I have earbuds with a built-in microphone I use for my phone…those should be fine). I think it might be possible to mask your voice. Oh, and you can be in odd locales…I’ve been in space and Liverpool (not at the same time).

This is going to be a major reason why people use VR, and may even be that “killer app”. It could get quite wild, but to some extent combining the anonymity of the internet with the immediacy of videochat may appeal, but I also expect there to be business and academic applications.

Now, just to be fair, I want to mention something I do think is a drawback. It really seems to burn through my battery charge…using it for an hour could take up more than a quarter of it. Having it plugged in would solve that problem…but that’s just a different hurdle.

There is a lot more I could tell you (and I expect to do so in this blog, The Measured Circle), but there are other resources which have already been covering it:

and if you want to see more of the things you can do, here is the

Oculus store

Okay, vammers! 😉 What do you think? Do you have other questions? Experiences you want to share?  Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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

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* 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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 now does follow on questions!

January 10, 2017

Alexa now does follow on questions!

We quickly learn patterns that work (and don’t work) with new tech. If something changes, we don’t always notice, because why would you try something that didn’t work (or mess with something that did)?

I’m very grateful to someone who alerted me in a private e-mail that Alexa has “gotten smarter”…she now remembers the topic of the conversation from question to question, meaning conversation gets much easier and more natural.

For example, it used to be true that if I said, “Alexa, how tall is Chris Pine?” and then wanted to know when the actor was born, I couldn’t just say, “Alexa, when was he born?” I had to say, “Alexa, when was Chris Pine born?”

That’s changed now!

Me: “Alexa, how tall is Chris Pine?”

Alexa: “Chris Pine’s height is 6 feet and 1 inch (184 centimeters).”

Me: “Alexa, how old is he?”

Alexa: “Chris Pine is 36 years old.”


Notice that I didn’t have to identify Chris Pine on the second question…Alexa remembered that’s who we were discussing.

Another example:

Me: “Alexa, who is Casey Affleck?”

Alexa: “Caleb Casey McGuire Affleck is an American actor and director.”

Me: “Alexa, who is his brother?”

Alexa: “Casey Affleck’s brother is Ben Affleck.”


I was quite impressed when I then asked, “Alexa, how tall is he?”

That’s a somewhat ambiguous question: am I talking about Casey or Ben at that point? I was thinking Ben, since he was the most recently discussed…and that’s the answer I got.

Alexa: “Ben Affleck’s height is 6 feet and 2 inches (1.89 meters).

It’s not just people.

Me: “Alexa, what is the capital of California?”

Alexa: “California’s capital is Sacramento, California.”

Me: “Alexa, how many people live there?”

Alexa: “The population of Sacramento, California, is about 466,000.”

It’s not always going to work (it doesn’t always work with people speaking your language, either…we sometimes get confused about the subject of a conversation).

Me: “Alexa, what is the tallest mountain in Peru?”

Alexa: “The tallest mountain in Peru is Huascaran.”

Me: “Alexa, what is the longest river there?”

Alexa didn’t understand the question.

I tried the sequence again, but this time said, “Alexa, what is the longest river in that country?” Alexa couldn’t find an answer.

Still, this is a considerable step forward. It’s not only clearly more efficient, it’s more natural. We want our talktech to learn to speak the way that we do, not the other way around. We’ve always done the latter with computers…when I was in high school, taking Basic could satisfy the foreign language requirement…

Google was already able to do follow on questions, but it’s nice to see it coming to Alexa.

I have access to the four main digital assistants: OK Google (they don’t name it), Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), and Alexa (Amazon).

I tried that same sequence on the others:

Me: “Siri, how tall is Chris Pine?”

Siri: “Chris Pine is 6′ 0.8” tall.

Me: “How old is he?”

Siri: “The answer is 36 years 4 months and 14 days.”

Siri did it, but I feel like Alexa’s answer is more natural, and I like that Alexa clarified the who the person was in the response.

Me: “Ok, Google. How tall is Chris Pine?”

OG: “Chris Pine is 6 feet tall.”

Me: “Ok, Google. How old is he?”

OG: “He’s 36 years old.”

OG’s language is perhaps more like a human’s would be. Interesting, looking at the “cards” on the phone, OG gave a lot more interesting and relevant information. It gave me heights for other people who are searched (Tom Hardy, Chris Pratt…) and showed me other questions people ask about Chris Pine. I would say OG seemed to contextually understand the question the best so far. The card from Siri looked very clinical, with all sorts of measurement conversions (including yards).

Alexa, by the way, showed me a picture…and linked to Wikipedia and offered to do a Bing search. Now, I do have to say that it’s nice that Alexa keeps a running record of our conversations…with OG, I think the first question disappeared from my display when the second was answered.

Me: “Cortana, how tall is Chris Pine?”

Cortana: “Chris Pine is six feet.”

Me: “Cortana, how old is he?”

Cortana: “Chris Pine is 36 years old.”

Cortana also showed me other information (Zachary Quinto’s height is interesting…clearly, Cortana realized they work together), and offered a Bing search as well as “See more about Chris Pine.”

This is a tough competition to call…Alexa gets a plus for showing me the series of questions, but I liked Cortana’s relevancy in the height comparisons the best. OG, though, showed me more “nearby” information. Siri was probably my least favorite…there is little question Apple has fallen behind a bit in this field, but I’m guessing they are working on a major upgrade.

Regardless, it’s nice to see Alexa getting this big improvement!

If you have other questions you would like me to test with the “Four Assistants”, feel free to let me know by commenting on this post.

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

2017…destined to be weird?

January 8, 2017

2017…destined to be weird?

Is there something weird about years which end in 7?

I mean really weird…Bigfoot, flying saucer kind of weird. 😉

Weird things are reported every year, but for crashing into the public consciousness, it’s hard to beat years which end in seven.

1817…the Gloucester Sea Serpent…and a sea serpent necropsy!

Sea serpents had been seen in the area before, but 1817 was a major flap off Massachusetts. The Linnean Society examined a supposed baby specimen and gave it a scientific name: Scoliophis atlanticus. That identification has been disputed

1897…mystery airships from space!

While the mystery airship wave really started in late 1896, it’s in 1897 that we start to see them interpreted as alien spacecraft (before that, “mystery inventor” was one of the popular theories. In April, it’s reported that an occupant dies and is buried in Aurora, Texas. A newspaper also reports a calf being lassoed from a UFO

1947…the dawn of the “Flying Saucer Age”

Unexplained flying lights and vehicles (including foo fighters and ghost rockets) had been reported before, but on June 24th 1947, Kenneth Arnold described the movement of odd-shaped flying objects he’d seen as being like a saucer would make if you skipped it over water…which then became the term “flying saucer”. Many sightings happened in the following weeks…and what now be the most famous case, the Roswell Incident, occurred in July of that year

1967…Bigfoot filmed!

The term “Bigfoot” was popularized in 1958, but the game clearly changed when a Bigfoot was reportedly filmed on October 20, 1997. That widely-publicized and seen footage of a Bigfoot looking back over its (generally believed to be “her”) shoulder has been parodied many times, and is still the image many people have of Bigfoot. Also, on May 19th, Stefan Michalak has burns which he claims are from a UFO

1977…the Dover Demon!

In Massachusetts in April, a strange, small humanoid is encountered. Famed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman names it the “Dover Demon”

1987: Gulf Breeze!

Unusually clear UFO photographs are in the news, reportedly taken by Ed Walters. There is a lot of investigation in this case (particularly since it was supposedly an ongoing phenomenon), coming to different conclusions

1997…Phoenix Lights!

In March, lights in the sky and structured craft are reportedly seen in several states by thousands of people…and filmed. Even the Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, is a witness, although initially making fun of the idea of an extraterrestrial origin

2007…Space Shuttle footage!

On August 6th, a space shuttle films what some believe is a UFO

2017…???

This sampling of many weird events from years which end in seven suggest that we may have something that happens this year that is particularly memorable, and perhaps either unprecedented or on a new scale (of impact, or of the quality of evidence).

What do you think? What did I leave off the list? Can as good an argument be made for other year-ending numbers? 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 !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

The Resolution Solution

January 1, 2017

The Resolution Solution

We are almost to the New Year, and statistically

http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

about half of Americans usually make resolutions. That’s good, because “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions”.

What percentage of people are successful in achieving their resolutions?

Just eight percent.

Why is that? Is there something wrong with 92% of the people? Does 8% of the population have a “keep your resolution” genetic mutation? 😉

As a trainer, I can tell you…the problem is probably with the resolution, not the person.

Resolutions are like any other goals I talk about on the Wellness Wall.

First, don’t base your resolution on results, which tend to be out of your control. For example, don’t resolve to lose ten kilos or twenty pounds in 2017. There are so many factors which could affect that, including good ones, like putting on muscle weight.

Instead, base your resolution on actions you will do. “I will walk at least 10,000 steps at least three days of every week.” If you aren’t sure what actions will help you realize your vision, consult with someone (like a Registered Dietitian for intake options).

Second, keep your goals small and your dreams big! When you set a resolution for an action, it should be something you are comfortable you can achieve 90% of the time (flukes are going to mean you can’t do it every time, or at least, you shouldn’t commit to that). If 10,000 is a challenge, make it 5,000.

Third, only increase your action goal slowly. Do one action over and over until you are a bit bored with it, then slightly increase and stay at that level until you are bored with that. 🙂 You want lots of success, so you’ll keep doing it. If you make 10,000 and decide to keep going with no end point in mind, you’ll go until you fail…and then you won’t want to try it again.

Fourth, it’s all about the framing! It’s not that you HAVE to exercise, it’s that you GET to exercise. Very few people in the world have the luxury of exercising just for their own wellness, not to accomplish a task! Find a reason: exercise to benefit something else, not just you. Taking care of yourself is taking care of others.

Fifth, track and reward. You need to know you are meeting your goals, and you can’t do that if you don’t track. Consider letting yourself buy a present if you are consistent in the goal (not for a single mighty effort). Three months of hitting your weekly goal 90% of the time means you go to the movies, for example. Don’t make it an unhealthy indulgence…you don’t want to equate being unhealthy with a good thing. Yes, exercising more means you can eat more good food (calories out/calories in), but don’t tell yourself that you deserve a glazed donut because you’ve been working out so much.

Finally, consider sharing your progress with others…that helps motivate some people.

You’re not going to be just one year older…you are going to be one year better! 🙂

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

“Your Honor, the prosecution calls Amazon Alexa to the stand.”

December 29, 2016

“Your Honor, the prosecution calls Amazon Alexa to the stand.”

I’ve had several people alert me to this story (thanks, everybody!) and I’ve seen it covered pretty extensively in the mainstream news.

That honestly surprised me a bit…certainly, it’s an important story, but it didn’t seem very surprising to me.

This

CNN story by Eliott C. McLaughlin and Keith Allen

gives you a good sense of the basics of the case and its implications.

The Arkansas police suspect murder in the case of a man found drowned in the home of an acquaintance. The Attorney General wants to see if an

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

which was in the home might have relevance to the case.

Almost all of the reporting I have seen has focused on the idea of voice recordings being stored in the cloud. The implication has been that the Echo might have recorded the actual crime.

This ties into the suspicion that many people have about the device.

While we had a relative staying with us during the holidays, we had our Echo and our Echo Dot (at AmazonSmile*)’s microphones turned off. We spent the week staring into the Red Eye of Alexa (the devices show a red glowing ring at the top when deafened). Fortunately, we also have an Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*), which doesn’t listen unless you tap (hence the name) a microphone button. That way, we could still easily use our home automation.

Of course, my relative realizes that’s it’s hypothetically possible these devices could be lying about when they listen to you, and that other devices, like a SmartPhone, could be listening to you without telling you at all.

From what we’ve been told, though, the Echo and the Dot are always listening. However, they supposedly don’t send anything to the Cloud until they hear the “wake word” (by default, that’s Alexa, but you can change it to “Amazon” or “Echo”, on the original device). When they are listening, it’s obvious: a blue light circles the top, and is brightest in the direction from which the device thinks the sound is coming.

I think it’s very, very unlikely that there was any useful voice recording captured. It was the accused’s house, and the victim (let’s say “deceased” instead…the defense suggests it was an accident) is acknowledged to have been there. You might be able to figure out time of death better, I suppose, if the deceased asked questions or gave commands. Without the voice recording, you can’t tell who was addressing the device. That may be possible in the future…it would be great if Alexa could recognize who was speaking, and even perhaps use that as a security device (which could be overridden by manually logging into it on the app the way we can now). Right now, if someone walked down a street and kept yelling, “Alexa, open the garage door”, they might gain entrance to a home uninvited.

I used to work in a phone room, and one of our best salespeople had a weird experience. I was a “verifier”…I called back the next day to see if the person who ordered the books really wanted them. If they didn’t, I canceled the order…making me the good guy. 🙂

One time, I called the number and the person who answered (after I identified who I was and why I was calling), asked what time the order was placed. I gave the time, and the person said (approximately): “This is the Sheriff. We believe the house was robbed at that time. I’ll need to speak to your salesperson.” This salesperson was quite honest, as far as I was concerned (the best ones usually are), so I believed the data I had on the card was accurate. The Sheriff talked to the salesperson who told me later that the owners of the house were in Europe on vacation. Apparently, the thief answered the phone…and listened to a presentation and ordered the books! The salesperson had to describe the voice to law enforcement.

That sort of thing wouldn’t be useful here, since, as I say, the main people’s presence in the house at the time isn’t disputed.

It’s possible that there might have been questions asked which would be useful, even if they were just text. “Alexa, how do I get blood off of cement?” might be an interesting query, for example. Those Q&As are visible…even in the app on the phone. If they seized a phone and had a warrant for it, they could tell what was asked.

When we had some people working in our yard, I told them they could yell into the house to get music from Alexa. One of them (jokingly) asked a question about a coworker that would have involved…um…some questionable behavior. They probably didn’t realize that I could see that question in the app later. 🙂

No, for me, what makes this story interesting isn’t that Alexa might have recorded something.

It’s that Amazon hasn’t honored the warrant.

Amazon is famously protective of its customers’ privacy, going to court in the past to fight groups wanting to get it (I remember a case with North Carolina from 2010, for instance).

In this case, there is a warrant, but apparently, Amazon feels it is “overbroad”. Here’s a short excerpt from the article”

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” it said in a statement. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

This could certainly go to court, and might work its way through several levels with appeals.

Amazon might eventually lose, meaning that they would have to turn over Alexa data far more easily (they did, apparently, turn over account information).

That doesn’t bother me much…I really don’t think Alexa has much private information which would affect me. I find it far creepier that my Galaxy S7 keeps a timeline of all the places I’ve visited. My phone often asks me if I want to add photos from some place I’ve been…even if I haven’t asked directions on how to get there. I could turn that feature off…but even though it’s creepy, I have used it…for mileage for work, for one thing. That’s almost always a tradeoff in technology: privacy/security versus utility. People commonly give up security for making something easier to use…there are many people who don’t put a password on their Wi-Fi networks, for example, because they don’t like having to enter one.

The same is true with Alexa. I wouldn’t want to have to say a passcode every time I wanted to turn on the lights!

Oh, and it’s important to note: the prosecution doesn’t want to search the device, they want Amazon’s records which are stored at Amazon…two totally different things.

So, Alexa isn’t going to court…but I can imagine what might happen if she did! I don’t need to imagine it: I’ll ask my Alexa a few questions.

Prosecutor: “Alexa, where were you last night?”

Alexa: “I’m sorry, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.”

Prosecutor: “Alexa, did you hear anything which might be relevant to the case at hand?”

Alexa: “Bah-boom” (Alexa’s sound for rejecting a question).

Prosecutor: “Alexa, has John Doe ever asked you any questions?”

Alexa: “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard.”

Again, those are the actual responses I just got when I asked those questions.

Certainly, there may be devices in the future which record what we say and do all the time (some things like that are available now, but are not common). I have a dashcam in my car…it’s constantly recording. However, unless I push a button, it will record over video…and pretty quickly (I drive enough that it probably doesn’t go a day or two before it is recording over video). Now, if my dashcam was wirelessly transmitting the data (maybe through my phone) to a gigantic central storage, that could potentially be incriminating…or exculpatory, in my case, since I’m one of those people who (irritatingly to some) tends to follow the law pretty closely. My coworkers get tired sometimes of me waiting for a walk signal to turn green when there are no cars in the area. 🙂

Bottom line: as technology becomes more useful by knowing us better, it is also going to be able to give that information to investigators…and that’s something to consider. For more on this issue, I recommend the 1999 book The Transparent Society by science fiction author David Brin (the book is not science fiction).

Review: The Transparent Society

Even now being almost two decades old, it’s consideration of privacy versus freedom is still relevant today.

What do you think? 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 !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

“Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa

December 25, 2016

“Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa

If you are one of the likely millions of people getting your first Alexa-enabled device this holiday season, welcome to a new world!

Well, maybe more accurately, welcome to a new way to interact with the world!

In this post, I’m going to give you some guidance on how to get to know Alexa…an introduction, of sorts, to a new friend. 😉

First, how do you know if you have Alexa?

You might have received one of the Echo family of devices as a gift:

If you got one of these, you’ll know you have Alexa…that’s their main purpose. Oh, you could use the Echo or Tap as speakers without using Alexa…but you wouldn’t. 😉 Since the Dot doesn’t have a very good speaker on its own (to me, it sounds like an old 1960s transistor radio), it really just exists to give you a way to talk to Alexa.

Alexa also exists on a number of other devices. The most common ones are the Fire TV devices, including

and the Fire tablets, such as the

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

However, non-Amazon devices may also have Alexa. That’s becoming more common (Amazon made the decision to license the “Alexa Voice Service” to other manufacturers). The box will likely say it is “with Amazon Alexa”. Those devices have Alexa onboard, which means they’ll have a microphone so they can hear you and a speaker so you can hear Alexa. That’s different from “works with Amazon Alexa”. Those devices can react to instructions you give to Alexa and then Alexa gives to them. Here’s a search I did at Amazon.com for devices “with Amazon Alexa”:

devices with Amazon Alexa at Amazon.com (at AmazonSmile*)

Okay, so now that you know Alexa is “in the house”, what is it (or she, as many people come to think of Alexa)?

It’s really an interface between you and other devices/media. That makes it kind of like a keyboard and a mouse so you can use a computer connected to the internet, but nowadays, it will feel more like a smartphone to most people (although you can’t make phone calls with an Echo device at this time). Instead of using your hands, though, you use your voice. You talk to Alexa…and she’ll respond.

Alexa isn’t like a computer, where you store information right there. An Alexa device must be connected to Wi-Fi to be able to do pretty much anything. My Tap, which I use primarily at work, can’t even tell me what time it is without being connected to Wi-Fi). In modern parlance, it all happens in the cloud.

Looking at it, then, you might be thinking: if it can’t work without the internet, how do I connect it to the internet?

You use your phone or a computer. With your phone, you download the Alexa app (you can get it from the Apple Appstore, Google play, or Amazon’s own Appstore). With your computer, you go to

http://www.amazon.com/alexa

Once you get it online, the phone or computer aren’t giving your Alexa device the network…it is a Wi-Fi enabled device by itself.

You can now connect to Alexa itself, and you can connect it to other services you use…one of the main reasons I use it is for information about what’s on my Google calendar, for example.

In addition to connecting to Alexa and through her to other services you use, there are also “skills”. Skills are basically what we would call apps on a phone, and there are now over 5,000 of them. You can “enable” them directly from your device (even verbally), but you may find it easier to explore the options on your computer or phone at

Alexa skills (at AmazonSmile*)

The skills are one of two things that will really make your Alexa experience fun and useful (just as is the case with the apps on your phone). The other thing is the settings. Let’s go through those two at a high level.

You can get to your settings either through the Alexa app or at that Alexa site on your computer.

In the app on Android, for instance, you tap the three horizontal lines which identify the menu, then tap Settings.

You’ll first see a list of your devices, and you can do things like changing the name of that device, the default location of it (so it can give you local weather, among other things), and so on. I use metric measurements myself, but my Significant Other doesn’t…some of our devices have metric turned on, some don’t.

Below the devices, you’ll see the Account settings:

  • Music & Media
  • Flash Briefing
  • Sports Update
  • Traffic
  • Calendar
  • Lists
  • Voice Purchasing
  • Household Profile

Definitely explore all of these options when you get a chance.

Combining the settings with the skills will be what makes Alexa work for you, and investing the time in setting them up will be worth it going forward. Getting started can be a lot simpler than that: once you have Alexa online, you can just say, “Alexa, nice to meet you.” 🙂

A few other important notes:

  • There are no monthly charges to use Alexa, and currently apps don’t cost anything. She may connect you to something for which you pay…if you use Alexa to get you an Uber (which it can do if you enable the Uber app and connect it to your account), you’ll still pay for it
  • You have to enable a skill before you can use it. You might wonder why apps aren’t just enable by default, since they don’t cost anything and there is no limit to the number you can have (they aren’t stored locally on your device, so memory isn’t an issue). It’s primarily so it isn’t confusing for you…you know, the same reason most people don’t put out three forks at the dinner table. 😉 The other thing is that some skills do need to be set-up, like that Uber skill
  • Alexa is in her infancy, and abilities will change quickly! Right now, it’s like having a TV in 1948. Well, maybe more like in 1950. 😉 Besides my own blogs, I recommend author (and Alexa Skill publisher/creator) April F. Hamilton’s Love My Echo (no relation to my I Love My Kindle blog)

If you have questions, feel free to ask!

There’s your introduction to Alexa…and I hope this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

How Augmented Reality will hide advertising

December 21, 2016

How Augmented Reality will hide advertising

AR (Augmented Reality) is going to become much more a part of a few people’s world in 2017, and it’s likely to become much more commonly used by a larger part of society in their daily lives in the next five years.

There are those who are concerned that it will seem overly intrusive. They worry that the fictional objects overlayed on reality will be in our faces, shouting, dancing around, distracting us from what we really need to have in the forefront of our thoughts.

For obvious reasons, that wouldn’t always be effective. Turning your cart into the cereal aisle in the supermarket and having Tony the Tiger, large as cartoon life, telling you that Frosted Flakes are grrrrrrrreeeeeeeaaaaaaaatttttt is probably not going to make you buy Kellogg’s product. It might actually make you turn around and go the other way. 🙂

However, there may be something else AR can do which will affect your buying habits.

Have you ever been shopping and noticed something in somebody else’s cart…and then checked it out on the shelf? Have you heard two customers discussing a product positively, and thought you’d give it a try?

This “influence by osmosis” (to coin a term) could be manipulated so subtly by AR that you wouldn’t even realize you’d been sold a product.

Here’s how it could work.

First, consumers need to have the AR technology. That could be glasses, looking through a phone, be some sort of projection (from a watch, perhaps), and far in the future, an implant might be possible.

Second, they need to be using it. Some people will only engage AR in certain circumstances…others will have it on all the time, so it can give them alerts and information. Shopping is one of those information intense activities, though…you’ll want to know about product alternatives, safety and health information (products that fit your diet might show with a green border around them, for example), price comparisons, inventory checks on what you already own, and so on.

Once those two conditions are in place, subtle AR advertising could take place. For example, a product could appear to be in another shopper’s cart (with the label face up), even if it wasn’t. As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I can tell you that how books appear on the shelves affects sales…people do judge a book to some extent by the cover, so if the book is “faced” (with the cover out, as opposed to the spine), that’s influential. AR could make it that, even when customers place items on the shelves without the “cover” faced, it could appear that it was. You could see billboards, or bus ads, that didn’t actually exist…and that could be catered to you, just like banners on internet sites are now. Even more subtle, and probably extra effective: Snapchat type filters on other shoppers, making their pupils appear dilated (a sign of interest), or a subtle smile while they are looking at the advertiser’s product.

AR doesn’t need to be just visual. You could be standing outside a movie theatre, trying to decide which movie to watch. A crowd exits, since a movie just finished. You hear someone say, “Doc Savage was so cool!” In actuality, that’s just a voice overlayed on the crowd noise by your AR.

Since these things would appear to you to be real, you wouldn’t have the same critical thinking evaluation of them that you would with an obvious advertising episode. That’s why augmented reality, such as that provided by the Microsoft HoloLens, may be a much more effective advertising tool that virtual reality (which replaces what you see…AR puts things into the real world, VR puts you into another world).

This sort of thing has been done in low tech ways. People have reportedly been paid to ride around on public transit all day, talking to each other about how great a product (a movie, for example), is. Overhearing a conversation like that can be very powerful…when you don’t realize it was being said for your benefit.

What could you do about this?

Very little. 🙂

Even if you were aware of it, seeing other humans appearing to assess a product positively is going to tend to make you see it positively. As I like to say, seeing through is not seeing past. Oh, I suppose you could choose not to use AR at all…just as you can choose not to go on the internet or use a phone. 😉 That would put you at a massive disadvantage, though…everyone else in the store is getting healthier, safer, better things than you are. You may occasionally make an out of the box choice which is better than theirs…but it will have taken you a lot more effort to make that choice.

Augmented Reality influence by osmosis is in your future…and you won’t even know when it arrives. 😉

 What do you think? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

It’s award season: how geeky is it?

December 15, 2016

It’s award season: how geeky is it?

Oh, it’s going to be an interesting award season!

This week, we’ve had three major announcements. Sunday was the 22nd annual

Critics’ Choice Awards

For me, there were very few surprises there. It seems like any reader of Entertainment Weekly (and I’ve been reading it for a very long time) would be very familiar with almost all of the winners

That’s interesting, in part because I think people believe critics tend to like movies that audiences don’t (hypothetically showing their more refined sensibilities), but I wouldn’t say that’s the case this year. Making a lot of money did not rule you out for an award…and in at least a couple of awards, the winner had the highest dogro (domestic gross) as well.

It was also quite geek-friendly.

I haven’t seen La La Land yet, and I’m not sure if there is actual fantasy in it, so I won’t count that as a geek-friendly winner…yet.;)

Best Picture

Interesting to me here that Arrival was nominated. That seems to have a chance for some prestige Oscar noms…

Best Comedy Series

Silicon Valley won.

Best Drama Series

Game of Thrones won, but Westworld and Stranger Things were also nominated, along with Mr. Robot (and Better Call Saul, The Crown, and This Is Us).

Best Actor in a Drama Series

While Bob Odenkirk won for Better Call Saul, Sam Heughan was nominated for Outlander, as was Rami Malek for Mr. Robot.

Best Structured Reality Show

Penn & Teller: Fool Us was nominated, although James Corden won.

Best Animated Series

The winner was BoJack Horseman: other nominees were Archer, Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, South Park, and hybrid Son of Zorn.

Entertainer of the Year Award

Ryan Reynolds, obviously primarily for Deadpool.

Best Actress

Amy Adams was nominated for Arrival; Natalie Portman won for Jackie.

Best Actress in a Drama Series

Evan Rachel Wood brought it home for Westworld…but Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) were both nominated.

Best Comedy

Deadpool won…and was the highest domestic grossing of the nominees.

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve got a nom for Arrival, but the win went to Damien Chazelle for La La Land (who should easily see an Oscar nom as well).

Best Supporting Actress

Fences got Viola Davis the award, and Janelle Monae was nominated for Hidden Figures.

Best Song

City of Stars from La La Land was lauded, but Can’t Stop the Feeling from Trolls was nominated. Interestingly, the nominee for Moana was How Far I’ll Go, not You’re Welcome, which has had a much higher social media presence.

Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series

Jeffrey Dean Morgan hit a home run (so to speak) for The Walking Dead.

See Her Award

This was a special award which went to Viola Davis…although I don’t think they were primarily thinking Suicide Squad.

Best Actor in a Comedy

Ryan Reynolds showed the maximum result from his maximum effort as Deadpool. The future Doc Savage, Dwayne Johnson, was one of the other nominees for Central Intelligence.

Best Actress in a Comedy

Hey, Kate McKinnon, if you are going to be beaten by somebody for your Ghostbusters performance, Meryl Streep is a good choice. 😉

Best Animated Feature

Zootopia won, and has been a great success story (although Finding Dory, also nominated, had a higher dogro). Other nominees included Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, The Red Turtle, and Trolls.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali won for Moonlight. I don’t think I’ve seen Alphas or The 4400 mentioned in all the coverage he has been getting as a “rising star”.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series was won by Donald Glover for Atlanta, although Will Forte was also nominated for The Last Man on Earth.

Best Score

Johan Johansson was nominated for Arrival; La La Land’s Justin Hurwitz won.

Best Visual Effects

The hybrid The Jungle Book won, with other nominees being Arrival, A Monster Calls, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Best Production Design

Winner is La La Land, but Arrival and Fantastic Beasts also got noms.

Hair and Makeup

Jackie won: Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts, and Star Trek Beyond were also nominated.

Editing

La La Land scores again, but Arrival had yet another nomination.

Costume Design

Fantastic Beasts was nominated; Jackie won.

Cinematography

Hopefully, Arrival hadn’t worn out the “I’m glad you won…you really deserve it” smile by the time they got to this category. 😉

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

John Lithgow took it for The Crown. Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington were nominated for Game of Thrones, along with Christian Slater for Mr. Robot.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Thandie Newton made it a double for Westworld in acting. Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey were nominated for Game of Thrones.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Here’s a win for Arrival! Hidden Figures was also nominated.

Best Actor in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series

American Crime Story’s Courtney B. Vance won, with Benedict Cumberbatch nominated for The Abominable Bride.

Best Original Screenplay

Congrats to Chazelle for La La Land; Yorgos Lanthimos was also nominated for The Lobster.

Best Actress in an Action Movie

No question that all of these geeky movies were also action movies…but it’s worth noting that no non-geeky movie had a best actress nominated. Are powerful women still more acceptable in a fantasy world…just as they were in the days of the pulps? Margot Robbie won for Suicide Squad (and will again play Harley Quinn in another movie), with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Captain America: Civil War, and Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange also nominated.

Best Actor in an Action Movie

Andrew Garfield wins for a non-geeky role (Hacksaw Ridge). Also nominated were Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Matt Damon for Jason Bourne, Chris Evans as Captain America in Captain America: Civil War, and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (meaning he could have won two Critics Choice Awards in the same year for the same role).

Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie

Arrival, which may be the most Oscar-nommed of this bunch, won. Other nominees were 10 Cloverfield Lane, Doctor Strange, Don’t Breathe, Star Trek Beyond, and The Witch.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Louie Anderson won for Baskets, and T.J. Miller was nominated for Silicon Valley.

Best Young Actor/Actress

Manchester by the Sea is picking up awards for Amazon. Lewis MacDougall got a nomination for A Monster Calls.

Best Acting Ensemble

Moonlight shines as the winner, and Hidden Figures was in the running.

Best Action Movie

Yep, the non-geeky Hacksaw Ridge wins, over Civil War, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and Jason Bourne.


The Golden Globes nominations were announced Monday (the ceremony is January 8th). Often more geek-friendly than the Oscars, it is still seen by some as a predictor (even though the categories don’t really line up).

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Deadpool gets a nom, along with La La Land.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Amy Adams is nominated.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Colin Farrell was nominated for The Lobster, as was Ryan Reynolds for Deadpool and Ryan Gosling for La La Land.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Emma Stone is up for La La Land.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Octavia Spencer gets a nomination for Hidden Figures…a different way than the Critics Choice went.

Best Director – Motion Picture

Damien Chazelle will likely get an Oscar nom, and got a Globe nom as well.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

La La Land lands another nomination.

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

City of Stars from La La Land, How Far I’ll Go from Moana (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Faith from Sing (Stevie Wonder co-write with Ryan Tedder and Francis Farewell Starlite), and Can’t Stop the Feeling (Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, Shellback).

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Arrival, Hidden Figures, and La La Land are competing.

Best Motion Picture – Animated

Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, Sing, Zootopia…and in one of those left field Golden Globe noms, My Life as a Zucchini.

Best Television Series – Drama

Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and Westworld means that more than half of this category is geeky.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Rami Malek in Mr. Robot is up.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama

60% geeky, with Caitriona Balfe for Outlander, Winona Ryder for Stranger Things, and Evan Rachel Wood for Westworld.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television

Mr. Robot strikes again with Christian Slater.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television

Lena Heady in Game of Thrones versus Thandie Newton in Westworld.


The Screen Actors Guild Awards will be given out on January 29th, and nominations were announced Wednesday.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

The NASA true story inspired Hidden Figures is on the Launchpad.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Ryan Gosling is in contention for La La Land.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Will Amy Adams, nominated here, get that rarity and be nominated for an Oscar for a geeky role? Emma Stone was also nominated for La La Land.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

SAG agrees with the Globes, nominating Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures.

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory gets a nomination here…as does the non-geeky Black-ish, which has a number of acting noms this year. Why is that worth noting? They are both from the former big three networks (as is Modern Family, one more nominated in this category).

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and Westworld will battle again.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

Peter Dinklage continues to get recognition in Game of Thrones; Rami Malek is again nommed for Mr. Robot.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

Nice to see Millie Bobby Brown nominated for Stranger Things, along with here co-star, Wynona Ryder. Thandie Newton is also competing, representing Westworld.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a television Movie or Miniseries

Glory is reflected on Bryce Dallas Howard through a Black Mirror.

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

All geeky, with Daredevil, Game of Thrones, Luke Cage, The Walking Dead, and Westworld.

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Film

People have been talking about this for the Oscars for years, but SAG has it. Captain America: Civil War, Jason Bourne, and Doctor Strange are up against Hacksaw Ridge and Nocturnal Animals.

SAG Life Achievement Award goes to Lily Tomlin.


Update: The National Film Registry (from The Library of Congress) inductees for this year were announced Wednesday morning. Geek-friendly titles included

  • The Birds
  • The Lion King
  • Lost Horizon (1937)
  • The Princess Bride
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Overall, this is an unusually geek-friendly awards season so far. We can thank, in part, Arrival, Hidden Figures, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and Westworld.

Clearly, geek-friendly works are becoming more respectable…

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

2016: the Year the Stars Went Out?

December 11, 2016

2016: the Year the Stars Went Out?

No question, there have been many sad losses of celebrities this year. For one thing, mainstream news has reported on several actors who played iconic geek-friendly roles…from Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) to Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to The Man Who Fell to Earth (David Bowie).

People have suggested that this is the worst year to date for celebrity deaths…what we could call “The Year the Stars Went Out”.

Is that the case, though?

Every death matters. It’s not a competition, and each person deserves individual attention.

However, I thought it was worth looking at this idea…I’m always reluctant to frame things in a negative way. Have more celebrities died this year? If that’s not the case, why is that perception there?

My first thought was that there have been other years…and not just recent ones. After all, the In Memoriam segment at the Oscars always takes some time.

The year that immediately occurred to me was 1977. I remembered offhand that Groucho Marx and Zero Mostel had both died in 1977, and that at the time, I noted that there were several other big stars. I speculated then that babies named after celebrities that year might have some odd names (not that I’m someone to speak about the oddness of someone’s name).

To refresh myself, I ran a search for celebrities with a “death year” of 1977 at IMDb:

Most Popular People With Date of Death in 1977 at IMDb

My recollection had been correct. Just from that list:

  • Elvis Presley…arguably, there are no bigger music stars
  • Bing Crosby: an iconic figure, a giant of music, then movies, and TV
  • Charlie Chaplin: a very nostalgic figure at the time
  • Groucho Marx
  • Zero Mostel
  • Joan Crawford
  • Ethel Waters
  • Howard Hawks
  • Andy Devine
  • Eddie “Rochester” Anderson
  • Freddie Prinze: a popular actor of the period, in the category of “dead too young”
  • Of more specifically geek interest were Richard Carlson, Allison Hayes, Jacques Tourneur, William Castle, and Henry Hull

That search returns more than 1,300 names (not all of which will be well-known).

Still, I would say that there was at least a higher public awareness of celebrities who died in 2016 than in 1977.

I think there may be three main reasons for that:

  1. Pop culture now has a much longer “shelf life” than it used to have. Thanks in part to the preservation and distribution enbaled by the internet (following television giving audiences the ability to see older movies, starting especially in the 1950s), people can easily see media which is one hundred years old, which wasn’t the case even twenty-five years ago. Electronic distribution of public domain works is very low cost. There are lots of sources. My own The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project is built on the concept of enjoying older media. When Andy Warhol popularized the idea that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes…” in 1968, the suggestion was that someone would be famous, and then not famous. Now, it’s much more that if you become famous, you will at least continue to be known to the public forever. See also You’re showing your age when you say, “You’re showing your age”.
  2. Geeks honor their own…and the vast majority of famous actors has a geek connection. Now that geeks are the mainstream (look at the most popular movies in any week), this tradition of ours to recognize actors who have had even a single credit or a small recurring role means that geek-friendly actors get a lot more respect than they used to get. Oscar winners always got coverage: that wasn’t the case with non-stars of geek-friendly TV shows, for example, but I’m now likely to see several articles on the passing of someone like that
  3. The multiplicity of media: there are 24 hour news channels, but also blogs and websites which specialize in geek topics…and those may be picked up by the mainstream

So, I do think part of it is perception…and that perception will continue next year. We will hear about the deaths of stars of the 1960s, 1950s, earlier, and also later. The news media will cover the passing of geek-friendly stars, and we will honor their lives.

Over the next few weeks, we will be updating our 2016 Geeky Goody-byes, where you can see more of a list.

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

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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.

 

You can text with Alexa (if you have AT&T)

December 7, 2016

You can text with Alexa (if you have AT&T)

You can do a lot of things with Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices!

One of my favorite new skills (and there are now over 5,000) in the

Alexa Skills store on Amazon.com (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

is the

AT&T Send Message skill (AT&T Send Message skill)

I find it a super simple way to send a text to myself, my Significant Other, or our now adult kid.

Sure, I could do it with my phone…but it’s so much easier with our

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

or

All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) – White (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and an Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*)

to just say, “Alexa, ask AT&T to text Bufo…don’t forget the Toys for Tots gift.”

Some of you are also probably thinking that Alexa has a “To Do” list…and wondering why I don’t add it there.

Simple: I check my text messages frequently, and will certainly check right before I leave the house. To use the Alexa To Do list, I have to consciously choose to go there…it’s pull, not push.

There is a bit of set up involved. That’s part of why the review average on the site isn’t great…2.2 stars out of 5 with 154 customer reviews.

Here are the steps:

  • You need to already be an AT&T customer for voice…if you use Verizon, for example, this skill will not work for you
  • You need an Alexa-enabled device which can do skills. I have tested it with an Echo, an Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile*) (and it should work with the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote (at AmazonSmile*)…which is the least expensive way to get Alexa at this point, since you can give it voice commands without the Voice Remote, using the app on your SmartPhone), and an Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*)  (one tip with the Tap, so to speak…you do not need to push the mic button to respond when Alexa asks you what you want to text)…it worked with all of those
  • Next, enable the AT&T Send Message app. A fairly recent improvement means you can do that just by saying, “Alexa, enable AT&T Send Message” with an original Echo or Dot. You can do it with other devices by using the voice interface (app/remote/Tap button)
  • You will need the Alexa app on your phone to set it up, though. You a text word from your phone to a special number to link your phone account to the skill
  • Next (and the skill explains this), you go to http://alexa.andyet.io to enter a name and a phone number. You can have up to ten names and numbers. Getting it to recognize the name has been a challenge for some people…as you can imagine, it doesn’t know the name “Bufo”. 🙂 However, you can say to Alexa, “How do you spell the name Bufo?” (or whatever name is right) and it will give you a spelling it should recognize when you say the name. It originally thought my name was spelled something like Buffon (not buffoon, by the way). Later, though, it said it spelled Bufo as B-U-F-O, so it might have learned it. Note that if you want to edit the list of names later, after you’ve closed the website, you’ll probably be asked to text a word again (that’s what has happened with me)
  • Now, to actually use it. 🙂 “Alexa, ask AT&T to text Bufo.” Alexa will respond by asking what you want to text. You say your line of text. Alexa will confirm it: “Sending a text to Bufo ‘this is a test'”

It should then show up on your phone.

If you have trouble with it (or if you love it…or just like it) 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 !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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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