Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #5: Fire (TV) 1!, hundreds of Skills

February 4, 2016

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #5: Fire (TV) 1!, hundreds of Skills

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 Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

Hundreds of Skills

To paraphrase Apple, “There’s a Skill for that.” ;)

There is no question that the success of the iPhone (and by extension, other SmartPhones) hasn’t come just from what Apple has produced itself, but by the apps produced by other people and available for the phone.

The

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

has an equivalent to those apps, called “Alexa Skills” (Alexa is the software, the Echo is the hardware).

These are developed by individuals and organizations (some very big organizations…Disney has one) that you can choose to enable or not by going to your Alexa app and doing

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Skills

While the Apple Appstore has more than a million apps (and Google Play more than that), it’s exciting to see that we can now officially say that there are hundreds of Alexa Skills!

Well, 213 at time of writing, but that is still hundreds. :)

Just like with apps, some of the Skills are pretty silly, but there are some practical ones as well…

A practical Alexa Skill:  MyMessages

One of the knocks I’ll see on the Echo/Alexa online is that it is just a toy, that it doesn’t really do anything useful.

You know, like when television was first introduced, or some of us had Commodore PET home computers. ;)

The MyMessages Alexa Skill from Rain Labs is an actual utility (in other words, it’s useful, not just entertaining).

It’s a pretty simple idea.

You speak a message to your Echo (or your Amazon Fire TV ((at AmazonSmile*)) or the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))…I’ve tested it with the AFTV and the Echo). It can then be played back later by you or by someone else.

This could be convenient: you suddenly have to go somewhere, so as you are tying your shoes, you say, “Alexa, open MyMessages and send message, ‘Had to go to the store'”. Someone else in your family walks in and says, “Alexa, ask MyMessages to play MyMessages,” and hears (in Alexa’s voice), “Had to go to the store”.

Another scenario: you see an episode of a late night talk show on Fire TV that you think someone else in your family would like. using your voice remote, you leave a message to “Check out Carpool Karaoke on the Late Late Show”). They play the messages and get your tip.

One more: “I fed the dogs.” As long as the dogs don’t figure out how to tell the Skill to delete the messages, you are good. ;)

This works…and it means not leaving notes on the refrigerator or a whiteboard. :)

Naturally, like most things, it could be improved.

One glitch I’ve found is that my Fire TV seems to often miss most of the message I’ve made. For example, “I’m going to finish watching American Idol over the weekend” became just, “I’m going to finish”.

It tends to explain how you do things…a lot. It would be nice if we could switch it to a “lower coaching” mode once you learn the relatively simple things to say.

It would also be nice if there was some indicator to tell you there was a new message. Since your Echo is always plugged into power, maybe the light ring could flash. I can understand why Amazon might not want Skills messing with the display, though.

The biggest upgrade to me would be to have this appear as a card in the Skill in the Alexa app, or ideally, send a text or an e-mail (although those abilities are undoubtedly coming in other Skills or as features). The card would work because my Significant Other could see my messages in the Alexa app on their phone. Which brings up another practical use we’ve found for the Echo recently…

Using the Shopping List with two or more people

The Shopping List is a feature of Alexa, rather than a Skill.

What’s the difference?

Features come from Amazon, Skills are from third parties.

You don’t have to activate features…everybody has them all the time.

I had been adding things to my Shopping List, but not very much and wasn’t using it very often…I can usually remember what I want to buy.

However, I was frequently texting with my Significant Other what (and how many) we needed of something when one or the other of us was going to the store.

Well, we then installed the Alexa app on my SO’s phone.

That works great!

Either one of us can add something by saying, “Alexa, add carrots to my Shopping List”, and the other one can see it.

It’s also something you can manage pretty well without using Alexa at all…which can be convenient!

Alexa app – Menu – Shopping List

You can enter items directly here, indicate they are done, delete them…and, importantly, recover ones you’ve previously said were completed.

The latter makes it easy to add your regular items.

You can also edit them each time (tap on the item, then tap on the pencil), which lets you change the quantities or indicate when you need it.

This is a very practical use.

Of course, just like with MyMessages, it could be improved. :)

I’d like to be able to check off or delete items using Alexa.

It would be a lot easier to have a separate field to indicate quantities.

If we could sort or search the items, that would make it much simpler to find items, especially when we were restoring them.

Oh, and a field to indicate (and group) where you buy it would multiply its usefulness.

This is something that we would use even without Alexa being involved at all…but we’d like it better if we could use Alexa with it from more places…

The expansion of Alexa

Alexa is becoming accessible from more and more places. That’s a good thing, since I now find myself wanting to ask “the air” questions all over the place…at work, in a store, at the dog park… ;)

Fortunately, we’ll soon have more options:

  • Alexa is coming to the first generation Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks (the latter is also getting Bluetooth access for headphones)
  • Ford is going to integrate Alexa into their in-car SYNC system…which should enable you to open the garage door and turn on the family room lights from the car…or perhaps start the car and get the heater going from your home. Obviously, being able to check the Shopping List would also be cool. No timeline yet
  • There are rumors of an “Echo, Jr.” or something like that which would be able to be battery operated. That would give us more home use flexibility

Spotify Premium coming to Alexa

In this

press release

Amazon announced that Alexa is going to work with Spotify Premium. This is yet another example of a major brand adopting Alexa…it is becoming part of the mainstream.

There are now three Alexa wake words

Alexa only starts paying attention to what you are saying when you address it (although some people suspect otherwise…).

Since the beginning, you’ve been able to address it as “Alexa” or “Amazon”, but they recently added the ability to call it, “Echo”.

I don’t think what they chose as the third word matters so much as the fact that there are three. For people with multiple Echos in their home, its easy for them to get confused. If you give each one a separate wake word, that really ameliorates that issue.

You can choose your wake word in the app

Home – Menu – Settings – Tap your device name

Alexa goes to the movies

This feature is something we are already using quite a bit.

You can ask Alexa what movies are playing, or what time a particular movie is playing.

You can also be more general: “Alexa, what science fiction movies are playing?”

One nice piece of this is that a “card” with the answer will show up in your app.

At this point, it can’t search by an actor or director, but I’m sure that will come.

This is powered by IMDb, the most useful movie/TV website in my opinion…which is owned by Amazon.

There will be many more features in the future…

This is the dawning of the age of Alexa. ;)

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.

50 years ago: a golden time in geeky TV

January 17, 2016

50 years ago: a golden time in geeky TV

We are in a terrific time for geeky TV. From bright and light superheroes, to dark and dangerous ones, from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones, from Black Mirror to Orphan Black’s clones, with Emmy recognition, Golden Globes, and top rated shows, geeks rule the screens.

However, fifty years ago, in a world of three TV networks and no home recording, a magical year happened which still impacts the pop culture landscape today.

It is the year 1966 in America.

Certainly, geeky TV already existed…people were being called “Space Cadets” a decade earlier, Twilight Zone had its original run, and Lost in Space debuted the year before.

Still, we can start an era in 1966…let’s take a look at some of the series which debuted that year:

Star Trek (the original series) (September 8)

All fandom is compared to Star Trek fandom, and with good reason (it had the original “Save Our Show” campaign). It was recognized with 13 Primetime Emmy nominations…and Hugo nominations. It spawned conventions, canonical original novels, fanfic (fan fiction), bumper stickers (“Beam me up, Scotty”), catchphrases, parodies, a classic Saturday Night Live sketch (“Get a life!”)…and, of course, many follow-on media productions, including TV series (both live action and animated), movies, and internet series. There will be official US postage stamps this year. It would be hard to argue that any geeky TV series (or, possibly any TV series), has been more influential. Still alive? Yes, with a new movie coming out this year.

Batman (January 12)

Yes, Batman had been on the big screen, but this was something new which created a giant craze in the USA. Frank Gorshin’s manic portrayal of The Riddler in the first episode was nominated for an Emmy…and set the standard for batvillains throughout the series. Actors campaigned to be on the show. Pow! Bang! Holy headline news! Allan Sherman even mentioned it in a song…to show the importance of “The Rebel”, he sings, “They even took Batman off the TV screen!” It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have the Batman movies we do now if this series hadn’t been so successful (even if it did flame out, perhaps from overexposure). Based on that, still alive? Yes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will open huge this year.

Mission: Impossible (September 17)

We decided to accept the mission. While MI was very different in the first season (Peter Graves wasn’t the initial head of the Force), it was nominated for a Writers Guild Award in 1966…and would go on to Emmy and Golden Globe recognition. Still alive? Yes, with 2015’s Rogue Nation being one of the most successful movies in the series, and another in development.

Dark Shadows (June 27)

It was like a soap opera…with fangs. It had a broader appeal than some geeky series, and spawned a top 20 Billboard song (Quentin’s theme). The novels were also embraced by fans. Still alive? While some may think that the Tim Burton version was an unintentional stake to the heart, Barnabas is not dispatched easily. We’ll call this one undead.

The Monkees (September 12)

Is this a geek series? Yes! Not only did they encounter vampires and such, they became superheroes as the Monkee Men! Still alive? Well, it doesn’t see likely that we’ll see a new Monkees TV series or movie, but the Monkees still perform and fandom is still strong.

Here are some other geek series which debuted in 1966:

  • The Time Tunnel: it started out with some straight forward adventure with an historical bent…and pretty quickly got into Irwin Allen silliness with ghosts and silver-faced aliens. I re-recently rewatched the whole series
  • The Green Hornet: more serious than Batman, but with a crossover…a bit like the Arrow and the Flash now. Oh, and…Bruce Lee!
  • It’s About Time: a different kind of American 1960s time travel, which was an intentionally silly sitcom, including Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coco
  • Tarzan (with Ron Ely): an articulate version of Lord Greystoke
  • The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.: yes, she was a girl and they were men, but a female lead on an adventure show was unusual
  • Space Ghost: Spaaaaaaace Ghoooooost! (later a talk show host)
  • Marvel superhero cartoons (Captain America/Iron Man…): catchy theme songs, limited animation
  • Ultraman: I still love Ultraman! One of the most unusual superhero origins (and that’s saying a lot), he basically got run over by a powerful being coming to Earth who then shared its life with him…from roadkill to Kaiju fighter! I raise my beta capsule!
  • Adam Adamant Lives!: it seemed like the clear inspiration for Austin Powers to me, with an Edwardian “spy” dealing with the 1960s, instead of one from the 1960s dealing with the 1990s
  • Raumpatrouille Orion: trust me, if you were a geek in West Germany in 1966, you’d know it ;)
  • Mystery and Imagination: British anthology based on classic geek lit horror stories
  • New Adventures of Superman: animated, with Bud Collyer (the voice of Superman on the radio show)
  • King Kong: animated (“You know the name of…”)
  • Rocket Robin Hood
  • Go Go Gophers: animated
  • The Lone Ranger: animated
  • Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles: animated (a robot Frankenstein’s monster and superheroes disguise as a rock band…you know, the usual)
  • Camberwick Green: British animation
  • Cool McCool: animated James Bond parody
  • The Super 6: animated, and voices include both Paul Frees and Daws Butler
  • The Space Kidettes: animated
  • The Beagles: animated Beatles satire…with dogs

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.

2016 Oscar noms

January 14, 2016

2016 Oscar noms

This is very preliminary, almost live-blogging. :) I’ll call out the geeky nominees as I catch them, sometimes shortening the names. After the announcements, I’ll formalize it more and add some comments.

First, some comments before the announcements. This could be a breakthrough year with geek-friendly (gf) movies getting nominations…or not. ;)

  • Could we have four Best Picture nominees that are gf? That’s possible: The Martian; Mad Max: Fury Road; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; and Inside Out. Actually, Steve Jobs is also possible…so we could see half of the nominees gf. I think people may be disappointed in the lack of prestige noms for Mad Max, but pleased to see Star Wars nominated. Even more outside chances: Ex Machina; Macbeth…and I’m going to say it, Anomalisa
  • Acting noms for gf movies are rare, but there are a few possibilities here. Matt Damon for the Martian; Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs; Ian McKellan for Mr. Holmes are all possible for Best Actor…I don’t see a gf Best Actress nom as likely. However, I think that’s in part because of  the possibility of putting gf acting into Supporting acting noms: Charlize Theron for Mad Max (and people would complain that it was a lead role); Daisy Ridley for Star Wars (and even louder complaints…J.J. Abrams has called her the main character); Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina (I think this is unlikely…I think she’ll be nominated for Best for The Danish Girl, and not here); Marion Cotillard for Macbeth; Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs (which seems very likely); Harrison Ford for Star Wars (I would consider this Supporting…it would be interesting to see two 1970s leads, Ford and Stallone, competing as Supporting); Seth Rogen for Steve Jobs; there are a few other Star Wars possibilities: Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and John Boyega…it Boyega got nominated and Ridley didn’t, it would be a tweetstorm. Many actors with geek cred will be nominated, because nowadays, that’s pretty much everybody ;)
  • Screenplay sometimes widens the net…and I think there is an outside possibility of Ex Machina being nominated there. Steve Jobs for sure for adapted…and there may be some snarky suggestions that Star Wars: The Force Awakens should have been an adapted screenplay nom ;) ;  Inside Out may also get a nom
  • There will be some other gf noms…and the song category often gets us some otherwise headscratchers
  • Also worth noting: streaming services may get prestige noms…Netflix for Beasts of No Nation and Amazon for Chi-Raq

Getting close to the noms!

First thoughts after the announcements: I’ll complete the noms list below shortly…

  • Big love for Mad Max! Best Picture and Best Director!
  • People may be disappointed in the relative lack of Star Wars noms, although it did get a few
  • Ex Machina got some noms, including Original Screenplay
  • As I suggested above: acting in gf movies doesn’t tend to get noms
  • Nothing for the streamers. Update: Winter on Fire lists itself as being from Netflix, and was nominated for documentary feature
  • Steve Jobs didn’t get a screenplay nom
  • Snubbed: I’m surprised that these gf movies didn’t get any noms, not even technical or special effects
    • Jurassic World
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron
    • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (I really thought this could get a hair/makeup nom)
  • Beyond the geek: outside of Jennifer Lawrence (who gets awards and is our longest running Box Office MVP…one could argue that she may be the best person ever at making movies, in terms of combining respect and popular appeal), not much joy for Joy; the lack of diversity hashtags (for acting noms especially) will be flying! If you want to get a Best Actress nom, look for a movie with a one word title…one word and a number is also okay ;)

Best Original Song

  • 50 Shades of Grey | “Earned It” | The Weeknd, Belly, Stephan Moccio
  • Racing Extinction | “Manta Ray” | J. Ralph, Antony Hegarty
  • Youth | “Simple Song #3″| David Lang
  • The Hunting Ground | “Til It Happens to You” | Diane Warren, Lady Gaga
  • “Writing’s On The Wall” | Sam Smith, James Napier | Spectre (gf)

SFX (Special Effects)

  • Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett for Ex Machina gf
  • Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Steven Warner for The Martian gf
  • Richard McBride, Matt Shumway, Jason Smith, Cameron Waldbauer for The Revenant
  • Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Neal Scanlan, Chris Corbould for Star Wars: The Force Awakens gf

Doc Short

  • David Darg, Bryn Mooser for Body Team 12
  • Courtney Marsh, Jerry Franck for War Within the Walls
  • Adam Benzine for Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman for Last Day of Freedom

Doc Feature

  • Asif Kapadia, James Gay-Rees for Amy
  • Matthew Heineman, Tom Yellin for Cartel Land
  • Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen The Look of Silence
  • Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby, Justin Wilkes for What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Evgeny Afineevsky, Den Tolmor for Winter on Fire

Editing

  • Hank Corwin for The Big Short
  • Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Stephen Mirrione for The Revenant
  • Tom McArdle for Spotlight
  • Maryann Brandon for Star Wars: The Force Awakens gf

Sound Mixing

  • Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, Ben Osmo for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, Mac Ruth for The Martian gf
  • Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, Chris Duesterdiek for The Revenant
  • Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Drew Kunin for Bridge of Spies
  • Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, Stuart Wilson for Star Wars: The  Force Awakens gf

Sound Editing

  • Alan Robert Murray for Sicario
  • Mark A. Mangini, David White for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Martín Hernández, Lon Bender for The Revenant
  • Matthew Wood, David Acord for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Oliver Tarney for The Martian gf

Production Design

  • Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich for Bridge of Spies
  • Eve Stewart (?) for The Danish Girl
  • Colin Gibson, Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Arthur Max, Celia Bobak, Zoltán Horváth for The Martian gf
  • Jack Fisk, Hamish Purdy for The Revenant

Live Action Short

  • Basil Khalil, Eric Dupont for Ave Maria
  • Henry Hughes for Day One
  • Patrick Vollrath for Everything Will Be OK (Alles Wird Gut)
  • Jamie Donoughue for Shok
  • Benjamin Cleary, Serena Armitage for Stutterer

Animated Short

  • Gabriel Osorio Vargas, Pato Escala Pierart for Bear Story (Historia de un Oso) gf 
  • Konstantin Bronzit for We Can’t Live without Cosmos (Mi ne Mozhem zhit bez Kosmosa) gf
  • Richard Williams, Imogen Sutton for Prologue gf
  • Sanjay Patel, Nicole Paradis Grindle for Sanjay’s Super Team gf
  • Don Hertzfeldt for World of Tomorrow gf

Best Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa gf
  • Boy and the World (O Menino e o Mundo) gf
  • Inside Out gf
  • Shaun the Sheep gf
  • When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mânî) gf

 Supporting ActorYea

  • Christian Bale for The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy for The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight
  • Rachel McAdams for Spotlight
  • Rooney Mara for Carol
  • Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs gf

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, Damian Martin for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Love Larson, Eva Von Bahr for The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)
  • Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, Robert A. Pandini for The Revenant

Costume

  • Sandy Powell for Carol
  • Sandy Powell for Cinderella gf
  • Paco Delgado The Danish Girl
  • Jenny Deavan for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Jacqueline West for The Revenant

Cinematography

  • Edward Lachman for Carol
  • Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight
  • John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant
  • Roger Deakins for Sicario

Adapted Screenplay

  • Charles Randoph, Adam McKay for The Big Short
  • Nick Hornby for Brooklyn
  • Phyllis Nagy for Carol
  • Drew Goddard for The Martian gf
  • Emma Donoghue for Room

Original Screenplay

  • Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for Bridge of Spies
  • Alex Garland for Ex Machina gf
  • Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie Del Carmen for Inside Out gf
  • Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
  • Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus for Straight Outta Compton

Original Score

  • Thomas Newman for Bridge of Spies
  • Carter Burwell for Carol
  • Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
  • Sicario
  • John Williams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens gf

Foreign Language

  • Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent
  • France: Mustang
  • Hungary: Son of Saul
  • Jordan: Theeb
  • Denmark: A War (Krigen)

Directing

  • Adam McKay for The Big Short
  • George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson for Room
  • Tom McCarthy for Spotlight

Lead Actress

  • Kate Blanchett for Carol
  • Brie Larson for Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn

Lead Actor

  • Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
  • Matt Damon for The Martian gf
  • Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs gf
  • Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl

Best Picture

  • Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner for The Big Short
  • Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, Kristie Macosko Krieger for Bridge of Spies
  • Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey for Brooklyn
  • Doug Mitchell, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road gf
  • Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Mark Huffam for The Martian gf
  • Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon for Revenant
  • Ed Guiney for Room
  • Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Blye Pagon Faust for Spotlight

Where can you legally stream any of these Oscar nominees without paying additional money (subscriptions required)?

Amazon Prime:

  • Ex Machina
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Hulu:

  • The Youth

Netflix:

  • Winter on Fire

2016 Oscar nominations video:

Complete list of nominees from the Academy website:

http://oscar.go.com/nominees

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.

David Bowie has reportedly died

January 11, 2016

David Bowie has reportedly died

The Man Who Fell to Earth has fallen.

There will never be another David Bowie.

He was a unique artist…arguably, he was several of them.

He was an outsider, he was an intellectual, he wasn’t like the vast majority of people (maybe not much like any other person)…and he was a superstar.

In short, he was a geek the mainstreamers loved.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of David Bowie in gaining acceptance (even respect)  for “weirdos”.

Is it fair to claim Bowie as a geek?

Absolutely.

His first big hit, “Space Oddity”, was straight up geekiness (“Ground Control to Major Tom”). Its pop culture impact meant it would show up in other works, including Chandler speak-singing the song on Friends.

One of his early identities was “Ziggy Stardust”, who was featured on the album with the geeky title, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”.

Bowie’s geek-friendly works extended beyond music and music videos.

He was perfectly cast as Thomas Jerome Newton in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, based on the Walter Tevis novel.

He starred with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in Tony Scott’s stylish vampire movie, The Hunger…and would return to the world as the host of the TV series.

For some people, their first thought of David Bowie may be as Jareth, the Goblin King, in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.

In recent years, he played Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and did voices for Arthur and Invisibles and SpongeBob SquarePants.

There was always, for me, an echoing sadness in David Bowie’s work. Even a song that had people on the dance floor, like “Let’s  Dance”, still had a melancholy to it.

Today, that sadness rises in me…but it brings with it a proud acceptance of my own peculiarities.

The loss of David Bowie is a hole which will never be filled…and a recognition that absence has a place in our lives, too.

Good-bye, Davie Bowie…the world is less unique 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.

New to Alexa/the Echo: movie times and making phone calls…and text-to-speech!

January 9, 2016

New to Alexa/the Echo: movie times and making phone calls!

The Echo keeps getting better, and two new feature s(provided by Amazon) and a new Skill (made by a third-party…you can think of it as an app) bring three abilities people have really wanted.

First, there is text-to-speech…and I’m ecstatic!

Text-to-speech is software that reads your books aloud. I typically listen to it for hours a week on commutes. You may hear it referred to as synthesized speech, or computer generated, but it is actually derived from a real person. You can read an interview with September Day, the voice artist who recorded the elements or the voice I usually use, from my blog I Love My Kindle here:

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

This is different from an audiobook, which is a recording of a performance, typically by an actor or the author. I prefer text-to-speech unless I’ve already read the book, because I don’t like the narrator interpreting the characters for me. TTS is more like sight-reading for me. However, most people prefer audiobooks…and Alexa now does both!

I’m going to use this a lot…

It’s easy: just say, “Alexa read…” whatever book you want. Whispersync works with this, meaning it will pick up from where you left off. I’ll be able to sight read a book, listen to it in the house while I’m getting ready in the morning, listen in the car on the way to work, sight-read on a break, and so on.

You would think publishers would love this…I’ll get through books a lot more quickly. :) However, they don’t all love it: some of them choose to block text-to-speech access on some books…likely because they think that will encourage you to pay (often a substantial amount of money) for an audiobook. It doesn’t work that way in my case.

Your Alexa app can tell you which books you have where the TTS access has not been blocked:

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Kindle Books

You can tell it to pause, skip ahead, go back, and so on.

By the way, they’ve also given you more control over audiobooks…you can now tell it to go to the next or previous chapter, and even to a specific chapter. That last one could be very helpful in non-fiction books.

Thanks, Amazon!

The next feature is something I’ve been waiting to use…Alexa can tell you movie times. I like the implementation of this. There are a lot of choices:

  • Alexa, what movies are playing?
  • Alexa, what time is Star Wars playing in San Francisco?
  • Alexa, what movies are playing tomorrow?
  • What time is Joy playing tomorrow?

It will give you a few answers, than ask you if you want more.

This is another thing I’ll use!

As to the new Ooma skill…one of my readers, Harold Delk, alerted me to this, and said it worked: it could make phone calls.

It doesn’t work for me, and I checked with Amazon…I’m not the only one. The response I got included:

“I actually tried this on my personal Echo and received the same reply on my end. Although this is bad new for the present time, this is actually good news for the future! I am personally filing this information over to our Amazon Echo Development team for improvements to Alexa’s knowledge base. Typically, when we report gaps in Alexa’s knowledge they are added relatively quickly.”

This is one of the reasons it is very helpful to send the Echo Support team feedback through the app!

It was easy to set up (pretty much, you enter your phone number and an e-mail address, and it will send you a confirmation code). When it does work (and my guess is they’ll fix it quickly…I sent them what I think may be the problem, in that it is hearing me say “uma” rather than “Ooma”), I’ll use it from time to time. You can give a phone number a nickname after you’ve used it “Call Pat”. I can see using it while I’m exercising or cooking.

If you have the

Ooma Telo Free Home Phone Service with Wireless and Bluetooth Adapter (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

it can do more things, including playing your voicemails, notifying you of new messages, and doing international calls.

To enable this or any Skill:

Home – Menu – Skills

There are now close to 150 Skills, with many more to come.

I did test these on our

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*))

and they didn’t work…yet. My guess is that it will update fairly soon and then be able to do it. That would mean I could use my Fire TV to read TTS and listen on a Bluetooth headset…

Enjoy!

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! :) 

For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

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 Year Ahead in Movies: 2016

January 7, 2016

The Year Ahead in Movies: 2016

There is a lot to happen yet for movies released in 2015.

Some movies will still make significant money…there are some which will make more than half of their box office in 2016. That’s why we keep tracking them in

at least until no 2015 release is in the top 10…which last year was months into 2015. This year, it wouldn’t surprise me if The Force Awakens is still a domestic box office force (so to speak) into the summer blockbuster release period. Daddy’s Home and Sisters are strong rolling into the new year, and the Revenant and The Hateful Eight have just gotten started.

Oscar nominations (and to a lesser degree, other awards) can also affect it.

With the first releases coming this Friday, though, it’s a good time to look ahead.

2015 was the biggest USA box office year to date…and it’s quite likely it will be bested in 2016.

That’s not to say that any movie will have the excitement and cultural impact of The Force Awakens…I don’t see that happening.

However, when they figure the box office for the year, it’s not based on movies just released that year…it’s movies in the theatre that year.

Last year, American Sniper, released in 2014, contributed significantly to the 2015 box office.

This year, the same thing will happen with The Force Awakens…but even more so.

I expect The Force Awakens to make more than half of its domestic box office in 2016…which would make it one of the biggest movies of both years. One reason for that? I think Disney will keep it in theatres, and even “re-release” it maybe twice (it will really be resurges). I could see them running it as a midnight show all year. Then, resurging it (maybe with the first Star Wars movie from 1977) on May 4th (Star Wars Day “May the 4th be with you”) and as a boost for Rogue One, the first Star Wars “anthology” movie in December. Rogue One is very important to Disney’s strategy of releasing a main story movie in odd numbered years, and an anthology movie in even numbered years. If R1 flopped (it won’t) that would be a strategic challenge.

I’m confident that January 2016 will be a record January, and I think that winning streak will likely extend into February.

What about other movies?

One interesting lesson from 2015 was that delayed sequels can work very well…better, arguably, than reboots or immediate sequels (although some of the latter were very profitable). With a delayed sequel, you can still respect the movies people remember, while introducing new elements. The Force Awakens did that very well, but so did 2015’s second most profitable movie, Jurassic World

2015 The Measured Circle’s Most Profitable Movies

Based on that, we might expect big things out of delayed sequels, notably Independence Day: Resurgent and Finding Dory (the sequel to Finding Nemo).

However, I think there may be more to it than simply being a delayed sequel. I suspect that having less-well received sequels (or prequels) may also be part of it…a good delayed sequel can be seen as a redemption. I’m guessing people might be looking at a sequel to Jaws…

What about the new Ghostbusters? Well, it’s not really clear yet if that is a reboot, or a delayed sequel…some of the original stars are credited for the new one, but we don’t know how significant their roles will be (the original Star Wars cast was very featured in the Force Awakens, and B.D.  Wong significantly returned to the role of Dr. Henry Wu in Jurassic World).

Let’s quickly define some terms the way we use them, then take a look at a selection of other movies which will be released in the USA in 2016. Oh, and let me first explain why we are looking at the USA.

Certainly, the rest of the world is important to the movie box office…in a typical week, the top ten box office  movies worldwide include some which are not having an impact in the USA, and may not even have been released into theatres there.

Some American movies do better around  the world than others. Typically, less dialog is a good thing: action movies do better globally than comedies do. Humor, in particular, can be culture dependent, since it tends to refer to shared pop culture and experiences.

It’s simply that it is easier to focus on one country, and I can give you a more complete picture. I am in the USA, and even though it is definitely not the whole of what happens in the world with moviegoers, it does tend to have the biggest slice of the top movies.

Looking at the top ten right now, based on the

Rentrak numbers

seven of the top ten worldwide releases right now are American movies.

So, if you have to cover one country, the USA is the most representative.

Okay, those quick definitions:

  • Sequel: continues a story chronologically
  • Prequel: part of the same story, but happens prior to what we’ve seen before
  • Sidequel: in the same “universe” as what we know, but focusing on different characters or events…not part of the same through story
  • Delayed sequel: a sequel released after a significant gap of time (let’s call it at least five years)…this is a new definition for us this year
  • Remake: retelling a story, using the same characters and basic plot
  • Reboot: new actors, and may not follow the same rules as the previous work
  • Pedigeeked originals: original stories with filmmakers who have significant geek-friendly credits, or based on geek-friendly works (books, TV shows, toys, and so on)

Here we go!

Happy New Fear!

January has been a good month in recent years for one horror movie to make our list with at least $40m dogro…so that suggests that The Forest should do fairly well…although it could be The Boy later this month (or both).

Superhero round-up

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can’t help but open big on March 26th…but I have to say, the trailers have not convinced me. Is this a $200m dogro movie? Sure. Is it a $500m movie? I wouldn’t bet on it.

The other big DC movie is Suicide Squad. While we can say this is a supervillain rather than a superhero movie, it feels a lot buzzier and original to me…this could be one of the top ten movies this year.

Over on the Marvel side, there are five (!) based on the comic books pictures:

  • Captain America: Civil War…expensive to make and an all-star movie, as well as introducing Black Panther. This is going to dogro a lot of money (as well as succeeding internationally)…but may not be the most profitable movie (Age of Ultron was number four on our 2015 The Measured Circle’s Most Profitable Movies, behind The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and Minions)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: directed by series auteur Bryan Singer, starring Jennifer Lawrence and The Force Awakens Oscar Isaac, this may do better than some might guess
  • Gambit: Channing Tatum
  • Doctor Strange: not your typical Marvel superhero, and with a different tone, this one does star Benedict Cumberbatch. Guardians of the Galaxy were less well-known, but that movie did very well. It’s not as big a question mark as…
  • Deadpool: an R-rated movie, starring someone whose last superhero movie did not win the hearts and dollars of the public, this one is clearly a risk. It’s unlikely that anyone else has promoted a movie as much as Ryan Reynolds has promoted this one, and it is going to have some X-Men crossover…but we just have to hope it doesn’t do to Marvel movies what Abbott & Costello did to the Universal Horror movies. I think that’s unlikely, but I could see this ending up with under $120m dogro

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are neither Marvel nor DC, but are comic book superheroes. This sequel to 2014’s reboot should break $100m, even if it doesn’t match the $190m of its predecessor.

Sequels

  • Star Trek Beyond: to quote the classic “other”, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I want it to do well, I really do, but I’m unconvinced by the trailers or by the choice of someone perceived as an action movie director (Justin Lin of several Fast & Furious movies, but not the emotional most recent one). Star Trek has action, but is not an action franchise
  • Kung Fu Panda 3: it will clearly be popular
  • Ice Age: Collision Course
  • Now You See Me 2: is this going to capture the success of the first one? That would be pulling a rabbit out of a hat…part of the success of the first movie was due to the novelty and surprise, and that’s hard to replicate
  • The Divergent Series: Allegiant…YA adaptations have entered that awkward stage, but this series has done acceptably well
  • The Huntsman Winter’s War: an odd duck sequel without its top-billed star, but with a geek-friendly cast…this one risks being an underachiever in the USA, but should do well internationally and in secondary distribution (especially streaming services)
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass: Johnny Depp got respect for Black Mass in 2015, but has been a risk at the box office in the past few years (see Will Into the Woods reverse the Depp Dip? for details,  including a graph). Again, this can rely on international box office and streaming, but could be between $100m and $200m in dogro
  • Finding Dory: the sequel to Finding Nemo isn’t a guaranteed superhit, but should do quite well, especially with the promotional push from Ellen DeGeneres. This may look like a rebound from The Good Dinosaur, which still did fine. $300m? Yes, quite possible. $500m? Feels unlikely
  • Ride Along 2: this isn’t going for a homerun, and should hit its goals
  • Inferno: this fits our definition of a delayed sequel…it’s been five years since Angels & Demons, the last time Ron Howard directed Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon. Angels & Demons was not as well received as The Da Vinci Code…hm, I don’t feel the buzz, but this may outperform expectation
  • Matt Damon as Jason Bourne: it doesn’t have a title at time of writing, but does have Damon working with director Paul Greengrass again…it’s only been four years since The Bourne Legacy, but feels like a delayed sequel
  • Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: it should meet its expectations…not beating its ancestor, but making a profit
  • Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Don’t look at dogro on this, look at worldwide
  • Other sequels include: The Conjuring 2; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; Barbershop: the Next Cut; The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun; The Purge 3; God’s Not Dead 2; Underworld 5; Bad Santa 2; Zoolander 2; My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Perhaps more to come in a part 2. I want to at least address January releases before they hit the theatres, and this is long enough for now. :)

January wide releases:

  • The Forest: January horror, maybe $40m to $80m
  • The Revenant released in 2015, should get boosted by Oscar noms and other awards…likely to go over $100m dogro
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: directed by Michael Bay, no box office stars (but not unknowns), tied up in politics, rated R…I could see this not doing well
  • Norm of the North: the first kids’ animated movie of the year, should do respectably, but I don’t expect a big hit
  • Ride Along 2: will hit its goals
  • The 5th Wave: YA adaptation…I think Chloe Grace Moretz is terrific, but I have my doubts on this one
  • The Boy: January horror, I like the commercials…maybe $80m to $100m?
  • Dirty Grandpa: Robert DeNiro and Zac Efron in an R-rated comedy…I’m iffy on this. Efron hasn’t been box office gold, and DeNiro is everything…great box office, and lesser performers (but that doesn’t mean lesser performances as an actor). I think this may be more of a secondary market movie
  • Fifty Shades of Black: parody comedy with Marlon Wayons…this one is very likely to be golden (dogro three time production budget)
  • The Finest Hours…feels like a serious movie for a January about an historical rescue. I’m thinking it’s not getting to my $80m slot, and could maybe get to the $40m
  • Jane Got a Gun: Natalie Portman is a star and producer of this Weinstein Company Western…I’d put it the dogro around $60m, although it could go considerably higher or lower
  • Kung Fu Panda 3: should be solid…I’d see it as $150m plus, but not $300m

I don’t usually make specific predictions like this, and it will be interesting to see how I do. :)

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.

3 steps to make the change you want in yourself in 2016

January 2, 2016

3 steps to make the change you want in yourself in 2016

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet?

Did you make them last year? If so, did you keep them?

In my “day job”, I’m a trainer…my job is to modify people’s behavior. Sometimes, all you have to do is tell them what they need to know in order to do something a different way, and they do.

That’s education, though…not training. Education is important, but I like to say that you haven’t trained a dog to sit if they just know what it means. ;)

I think I can safely say that I’m reasonably successful at what I do.

For that reason, I thought I could share some things with you that may help you get to where you want to be this year.

1. Have a vision

You can’t make any progress if you don’t know where you are going.

You can go somewhere, but how are you going to know if you succeeded if you don’t know what success looks like?

So, step 1 is definitely to figure out what you want to change.

This can be a broad idea: “I want to be healthier”, “I want to have more money”, and so on. It does, though, need an end state…something you can recognize.

2. Make small goals that you are sure you can achieve 90% of the time

Once you have a vision, you need to find out what you can do to realize that vision. For example, let’s say you see yourself getting into shape. You can clearly picture what you would look like at that point.

You talk to your medical professional, who recommends you do more exercise…at least 10,000 steps a day.

The first day you measure your steps, you get 5,000…and you are tired.

You know you want to get to 10,000 steps a day, because that will help you get fit.

It’s important to make accomplishable goals

Let’s say you decided right off the bat to get those 10,0o00 steps.

The first day, you try and try, and get 7,000 steps…but you are wiped out.

Are you going to want to try for 10,000 the next day? Probably not.

On the other hand, you got to 5,000 pretty easily…just a bit more than your normal routine.

If that was the case, set your goal at 5,000 steps a day. You want to be confident you can hit your goal 90% of the time (hey, sometimes things interfere…that’s okay).

Keep it there until you are both confident and bored. :)

Then, move it up…but not by much. Maybe 5,500 steps a day.

Keep it there until you hit that confident and bored level again.

It’s okay if that is weeks…you are moving in the right direction.

Interestingly, your body prepares itself for more than the current challenge. If your body “thinks” you are likely to do 5,000 steps a day, it will get itself ready for that 5,500.

Eventually, by stepping up slowly (so to speak), you’ll get to where you want to be.

This next part is crucial: don’t keep going when you make your goal! If you said your goal was 5,000 and you hit and you feel like you could keep going towards that 10,000, stop anyway.

Otherwise, you’ll just keep going until you fail…and then you won’t want to try again the next time.

If you did great, you can increase to the next level sooner or take a bigger step up when you do go to the next level.

I had someone who was helping with basketball years ago who had a great line: “Never leave on a missed shot.” This coach (I was a kid) said that if I was trying to do something new, let’s say a hook shot, and I missed it five times and it was time to leave, do an easy lay-up first.

3.  Accept imperfection

Up above, I said your goal should be something you confidently think you can do 90% of the time.

Not 100%.

You might have a cold, you might have a family crisis which interferes…it might be your Significant Other’s birthday.

One step backwards doesn’t undo 100 steps forward…unless you don’t turn around and get going forward again.

If you do 100 steps forward, one step back, 50 steps forward, one step back, you are still making progress.

Can’t do your half an hour workout? Do ten minutes…that’s better than nothing.

Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you should do nothing.

To sum up: your vision can be something you want to be…your goal (and your resolutions) should be something you want to do.

Give yourself a lot of success by setting small achievable goals in 2016…that will help you realize your vision.

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.

Get the most of your Amazon Echo (and Alexa on your Fire TV/Stick)

December 27, 2015

Get the most of your Amazon Echo (and Alexa on your Fire TV/Stick)

Did you just get an

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

or the

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)) or the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))

?

Congratulations…and say “Hello” to Alexa!

Alexa is the software that talk to you..and more importantly, listens to you, which comes on those devices.

It’s probably unlike anything you’ve had in your home, if we ignore mobile gadgets like SmartPhones and tablets.

Using the latter, you are probably familiar with Siri, or Google Now, or Microsoft’s Cortana.

Yes, Alexa (technically, the Alexa Voice Service) is similar to those…but it also has its own “parse-onality” as I call it…how it understands what you say, and how it replies to you.

The Echo has the advantage of being just about frictionless when you want to talk to it: it’s always listening for the “wake word” (currently, “Alexa” or “Amazon”, although I would guess it’s a tiny minority of people who use “Amazon”…too likely to have it wake up when you are talking about other things, and referring to the company, or the river, for that matter). I tell people I can just “ask the air” what time it is, for example. :)

Like a lot of technology, though, most people are very unlikely to be using it to its full potential…even to its full potential for their personal needs. Sure, it can do a lot of things you don’t need it to do…controlling devices you don’t own, for one thing. This post, though, is to help you get the most out of it for your purposes.

I’m not really going to differentiate here between the Echo and the Fire TV devices. With the FTV, you pick up a remote (or, importantly, use an app on your SmartPhone…you don’t need a voice remote to use Alexa) and talk to Alexa, rather than just “asking the air”. Outside of that, they are similar enough functionally, that it won’t be worth separating them.

Here, then, are some things you can do to get the most out of Alexa:

Get the app

You can work with Alexa using your computer and going to

http://alexa.amazon.com/

but you’ll lose some important functionality. Alexa often sends you “cards” to the app, which lets you carry around your information when you leave the house. Currently, Alexa is a “home body” (without a body) ;) . I expect that to change at some point, with your car and your phone allowing you to actively interact with Alexa. Right now, Alexa can send information to your phone, but doesn’t receive your verbal communications that way. That will make a big difference when I can talk to Alexa through my phone.

You might ask why I would want to do that when I do have a digital assistant (Siri/Google Now/Cortana) on my phone…why don’t I just use that?

Alexa knows things about me, and I want access to that (see Settings and Skills below).

I also just like Alexa better…I find her more…I’m going to say “charming”. :)

Let’s take the example of having Alexa put something on your shopping list. “Alexa, add triple A batteries to my shopping list.” It doesn’t do me much good if I get to the store, and I don’t have that list with me.

If you get the free Alexa App

you’ll have a much richer and more mobile experience.

I’m going to write the rest of this as though you are using the app, but the same options are available through the website. It will just make this post easier to read.

Settings

You can tell Alexa things about yourself that she can use in helping you, and you can tell her the way you want some things done (I do temperatures in Celsius, for one thing, and I have Alexa set to give me my weather with that scale).

In your Alexa app, you’ll see a menu (three horizontal lines in your top left corner of your phone/tablet). Tap that, then tap “Settings” (you may need to scroll down to see it).

Which settings are available may change pretty quickly…they keep adding features to Alexa!

The basic technique here is to tap one of the categories, and then make your selections.

Right now, these are the first categories under “Account”:

  • Music & Media (connect to your Amazon Music account, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and/or Tune/In…you may be able to use the service without connecting, but it won’t have your personal preferences)
  • Flash Briefing (when you ask Alexa for the news, this determines which sources she’ll use)
  • Sports Update (set your teams)
  • Traffic (pick one default start and one default stop address)
  • Calendar (connect to your Google calendar((s)))
  • Connected Home (link to your home automation devices)

Skills

Settings affect things provided by Amazon. Skills are third party abilities for Alexa…you can think of them as apps.

Start at the menu as above, then tap “Skills”.

Skills are being frequently added, so again, I’m not going to try to be comprehensive here, just give you the techniques to work with any skill.

Tap a skill, and you will find out a lot more about it…which may include an opportunity to set things up for that app. A public transit schedule app might have you enter your home station/address. You may also be able to do that verbally, or the app description may direct you to a website to set up an account.

Just as apps are what can really make a SmartPhone fun and helpful, that’s what is going to happen with Alexa Skills. We have barely scratched the surface of what’s coming.

IFTTT

Alexa can interact with a wide variety of apps (Twitter, FitBit, Box…) through

IFTTT (If This Then That)

which lets a “trigger” in one app case something to happen in another app. We can do that with custom voice commands through Alexa. I can say, “Alexa, trigger turn off the TV” on the way out of the house, and my TV shuts off (and if I’m watching Fire TV, it goes to Home first). I do that by having Alexa talk to IFTTT and IFTTT talk to our Harmony remote (see How to use the Amazon Echo and a Logitech Harmony to put on your TV shows).

You do need to set up a free account at IFTTT, but I think you’ll find it well worth it.

Additional Devices

I only got into home automation because I got an Echo.

Before Alexa can turn on your lights, you need lights with that capability. Here’s a page to get you started:

Home Automation devices for the Echo (at AmazonSmile*)

Having the

Voice Remote for Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile*)

isn’t necessary, it is definitely an enhancement. I can use the voice remote from another room. When our Echo is playing loudly in the family room, so I can hear it in another room, it’s hard for Alexa to hear me shouting a command. The voice remote means I can speak normally (and I don’t even need to say, “Alexa…”).

Speaking of being in another room, more than one Echo can also make sense. :)

Stay Informed

I write about the Echo/Alexa in this blog, but I’d recommend two other sources.

You can sign up for Amazon’s own free Echo e-mail newsletters at

Amazon’s Browse E-mail Subscriptions (at AmazonSmile*)

The other one I would strongly recommend is April Hamilton’s free

Love My Echo

blog (which is not connected to my blog, I Love My Kindle…we just happened to choose similar names).

April is both an author and a developer of Alexa Skills, so she is able to write informatively and entertainingly from an insider’s perspective.

April’s blog is absolutely part of a strategy to get the most out of Alexa.

To be clear, I’m not associated with that blog except as a reader of it, although we have had some correspondence.

Alexa is the future…make sure yours is as bright as it can be. :)

Feel free to share other things you’ve found that have helped you optimize Alexa, or to ask more question of me and my readers, by commenting on this post.

For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

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.

Sassy Persona brings “Conversation Mode” to Alexa

December 1, 2015

Sassy Persona brings “Conversation Mode” to Alexa

 

Before I switched the coverage of Alexa/The Amazon Echo to this blog from my I Love My Kindle blog, I wrote back in May about my suggestion to Amazon that we be able to put Alexa into a “conversation mode”. I quoted feedback I had sent to Amazon:

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

Well, a new Alexa Skill (basically, a third-party app…you can individually enable them in Home – Menu – Skills) does that!

To quote myself again (and it does feel a bit weird to do that), this time from the

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

Sassy Persona is a snarkarator: if you ask it for the weather, it may ask you to look outside. However, the interesting new thing here is that you can ask it to “stick around”. It will then stay in Sassy mode (and the light ring will stay on) for several inquiries. This is what I’ve called “conversation mode”…you don’t even need to use the wake word for subsequent inquiries. It exited on its own, or I could exit.

Clearly, this shows that Conversation Mode can be done…which opens some interesting possibilities for 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.

 

 

New! Fire TV/Stick both control home automation…starting at $24.99

November 29, 2015

New! Fire TV/Stick both control home automation…starting at $24.99

This is big!

A recent e-mail from Amazon headlined the new TV Shows app, which lets you ask Alexa when the next episode of a TV show will be on TV, and sure, that’s a good thing. I mentioned it recently on the

page.

Down towards the end, though, was a bigger announcement as far as I’m concerned.

The

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)) and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))…and it’s worth noting that you don’t need the voice remote, you can use the free Alexa app on your iOS (Apple) device (iPhone, for example) or Android device.

now can control your home automation through your voice!

I use that a lot on our

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

It’s not only how we turn some of our lights on and off, it’s also how we switch what we are watching on TV.

Now, we can do that on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick as well!

The Fire TV Stick is on a Black Friday sale right now for $24.99 without the voice remote…$15 off.

That means you can “Star Trek” your house  (at least in a minor way) for under $25!

There is a lot more coming in the future from the Alexa Voice Service!

Update: further testing shows that the Fire TV family can now do the Alexa Skills (I didn’t find one that didn’t work), read me what’s on my calendar, and add things to my Shopping List! It may be fully functional now, compared to the Echo.

One more big thing:

“Starting today, listen to Prime Music on your Echo (or any device) to be automatically entered for a chance to win $25,000 in Amazon.com Gift Cards! Each day you listen, from November 28 to December 5, gives you an additional entry.”

Good luck! If you win, let me know. :)

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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 389 other followers

%d bloggers like this: