Archive for March, 2016

On the Circumference #6: AlphaGo, wake me up Echo

March 21, 2016

On the Circumference #6: AlphaGo, wake me up Echo

The On the Circumference posts contain short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Retrofitting TMCGTT

Our

The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip

went live at The History Project on February 29th (figuring that would be an easy date to remember), but I haven’t done much promotion of it yet (outside of my own blogs).

The History Project has mentioned it, as did Len Edgerly of

The Kindle Chronicles

also tweeted about it.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on it. Part of it is adding new things (you can see what I’ve been adding by following the special Twitter account I set up for it, @TMCGTT). However, the biggest work lately has been “retrofitting” earlier entries.

I started out just copying in a bunch of events from

The Measured Circle Pop Culture Timeline

However, I later decided I wanted the entries to be interactive: I want you, when I can, legally, to be able to jump from an entry to being able to read a book/magazine/comic, watch a movie/TV show, listen to a radio show, and so on.

If that’s not the case, I want you to be able to use it as a portal, to jump to news (Google news search, Twitter search…).

Where I can find public domain pictures, I’ve been adding at least one of those as well.

So, I’ve been going back to existing entries…it takes a while.

I could probably improve entries forever, so I set myself a date for when I’ll start promoting it a bit outside my circle (so to speak).

That will be April 2nd.

I may compose an announcement, but I will at least follow some Twitter accounts (The Mary Sue, Entertainment Weekly…)

Go, Go Gadget AI!

When I work with people on their use of technology, I like to explain what they should expect the computer to do best and what the human should do best.

What computers do better than we do is the same thing over and over again. People are terrible at that.

What humans do better than computers, hypothetically, is make decisions.

So, if you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again, or if there are specific rules that govern what should be done, let the computer do it. If a decision has to be made, you should do it.

However, as I like to point out, computers are getting better at making decisions…and arguably, we are getting worse at doing the same thing over and over again. 😉

That’s why they are catching up to us. 🙂

We saw that recently when Google’s Deep Mind AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, a human champion, in Go:

Nature post by Mark Zastrow

Yes, Lee did win one of the best of five match…there has been a lot of analysis of what happened there, but maybe AlphaGo just didn’t want to appear to be too powerful. 😉

I used to manage a gamestore, and Go players were serious and sure that their game was more difficult than chess. One argument they would make: you can be a chess prodigy in your teens, but you a Go prodigy in your 50s. 🙂

Indiana Jones 5

After great success in the Force Awakens, Harrison Ford will star in

Indiana Jones 5

which is scheduled to be released on July 19, 2019. Ford will have just turned 77.

There have been a lot of jokes about Harrison Ford’s age…because, you know, that wouldn’t get you reprimanded by HR at work. 😉

Look, I like that a character like Indiana Jones can age. Why cut off all those possible stories at a certain age? You can always go back and do younger stories again if you want.

In the world of Alexa…

Some short points about the  Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and the Alexa Voice Service:

  • “I’m okay, you’re da-DING”: I’ve seen a lot of complaints about this, and I certainly preferred it the old way. When I now ask our Echo to use our home automation to turn a light on or off (for example), instead of a charming “Okay”, it makes a two-beat sound. They should at least give us the option…I like that my Echo talks to me; that’s one of the main points. I don’t think there’s any technical reason for it, because she still verbally responds to my requests which go to IFTTT (If This Then That)
  • You can now set recurring alarms! That’s great for me…I’m sometimes exercising when my alarm goes off on my tablet, and I have to break my routine to stop it. Now, I can just do it verbally
  • There are now 40 (!) pages of skills! You can also choose to just look at the skills you’ve enabled, if you like
  • 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 

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

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

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  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.

 

Advertisements

Echo, Dot, Tap, or Fire TV? Which Amazon Alexa device is right for you?

March 4, 2016

Echo, Dot, Tap, or Fire TV? Which Amazon Alexa device is right for you?

Earlier today, I wrote about Amazon’s announcement of two new devices which will have it’s AVS (Alexa Voice Service):

The Alexa family grows! Two NEW devices from Amazon

I’ve gotten questions about it already, so I thought it was a good idea to do another post comparing the Amazon AVS devices, to help people choose between them.

Overview

There are now five devices from Amazon that have Alexa (from least to most expensive):

There are significant differences between them, both in hardware and in what Alexa can do.

What is Alexa?

You talk to it and it talks back. 🙂

On all of these, you can ask questions and get answers. They might be trivia questions, or the weather, or the news…an increasing number of possibilities.

They can all do that.

The most limited devices, in terms of Alexa, are the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick (they are, I believe, the same in terms of Alexa). They do** home automation, which is one of the main thing I do with our Echo. They can all turn my lights on and off with verbal commands, and through our Harmony remote, control our Fire TV (for some things…see How to use the Amazon Echo and a Logitech Harmony to put on your TV shows). All five also interact with commands through IFTTT (If This Then That) (see Get the most of your Amazon Echo (and Alexa on your Fire TV/Stick))
The Fire TVs obviously show you video, which the other devices don’t do.

Another big piece of the Echo’s attraction is the always on microphone. I can just “talk to the air” whenever I want something to happen. That hardware is available on the Echo and the Dot…but not on the Tap or the Fire TV devices. For the Fire TVs, you use a voice remote (or your SmartPhone with the Fire TV app). On the Tap, you hit a button.

The Echo is also a nice speaker…I like the sound of the music on it. The Echo is, actually, mostly speaker, when you look at the hardware.

What would you get if you took away the speaker?

You’d get the Dot. 🙂

Oh, the Dot will have a speaker…but only of “voice quality”, so it can speak to you. It’s not going to have the same quality of sound for music. However, you can plug it into other speakers, or pair with a Bluetooth speaker for better sound (all sold separately).

The one that is bringing a new ability is the Tap. That ability? Portability. It has a battery (good for 9 hours of playback…and you get a charging cradle for free). It not only connects via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it will connect to a mobile hotspot (your phone can probably do that, but you might have to pay for a plan). Many Bluetooth speakers don’t have that capability. It’s also quite a bit smaller than the Echo: about six inches (about 150 mm) tall. The Echo is about half again as tall (about nine inches, 225 mm…those are just approximate numbers). A soda can, by comparison is about 5 inches tall).

So, what’s the appeal of each model?

The Fire TV Stick is tiny and the least expensive. To use it with Alexa, you either need the Voice remote…or your phone with the Fire TV app. It’s more for TV, but you can use Alexa for information, and for home automation.

The Fire TV is a much more powerful version of the Fire TV Stick. I have one of each.

The Dot is going to give you home automation and information at a lower cost than the Echo or the Tap. It does need to be plugged in. If you want to hear nice sounding music, you’ll need to connect it to other speakers. For me, this will go into the bedroom to control our home automation (the Echo is in our family room). It does have the same far field microphones as the Echo.

The Tap is like the Echo…and is mobile, but doesn’t have the far field microphones. You can carry it with you for music, information, and home automation (as long as you have Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot). You’ll have to push a button to interact with it. This one will be great for some people with disabilities, although they do need the ability to push the button.

Summing up:

  • You want TV, get the Fire TV or the Fire TV stick…and you get Alexa functionality with it
  • You want portability, get the Tap
  • You want information and home automation, get the Dot
  • You want information, home automation, and a nice speaker, get the Echo

I’ve seen some people pointing out that the Dot doesn’t come with a remote…neither does the Echo at this point (you buy it separately).

More information will come out, although the product pages do have quite a bit.

Note that you can only get the Dot right now by ordering it through an Echo…you can’t order it through the Amazon website at this point.

My guess is that the Dot is going to be a huge hit. You’ll be able to get that Star Trek computer experience in a small, relatively inexpensive device. If you are an audiophile, you already own a great Bluetooth or wired speaker, and the Dot will work with both of those. As home automation becomes more common, the voice control of the Dot will be more attractive. By the way, Wink enabled Nest thermostats now work directly with Alexa. The Dot may seem like almost a necessity, and people will want them in hotels and to have more than one in the house.

The Tap is more of a gadget, a fun thing to have with you. A SmartPhone can already do some of the things the Tap can do. I expect the Dot to be the bestseller (over the Echo as well) out of the three. The Fire TV Stick sells really well, but that’s apple and oranges.

I hope that helps. If you have more questions or insights, feel 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!

* 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! :) 

** It used to be that the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick didn’t do the home automation, and I wrote the post at first reflecting that. However, there had been an update, and when I tested it this morning, it did work…I have updated the post to reflect that

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 Alexa family grows! Two NEW devices from Amazon

March 3, 2016

The Alexa family grows! Two NEW devices from Amazon

I just got an e-mail from Amazon with an exciting announcement!

In addition to the

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

there will be two more Amazon devices for the Alexa Voice Service.

Of course, that’s in addition to the Fire TV family…both generations and both models (Fire TV and Fire TV Stick) now do Alexa through the Voice Remote:

One is the Echo Dot, currently available only to Prime members in limited quantities, and only by using Alexa Voice Shopping. I’m at work and don’t have an Echo here, so I’ll have to wait until I’m home to try saying, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot”. They are $89.99, with a limit of two per customer (you’d have to place the order twice, since you can’t specify quantities when you order).

For more information, see

Echo Dot (at AmazonSmile*)

It’s like an Echo…but without the big speaker part. You can still use it to control home automation, ask it questions, and so on. You can also connect it to a speaker system using an audio cable or Bluetooth.

Cheaper and smaller, but BYOS (Bring Your Own Speakers). Could be a hit, especially for people wanting to multiply their Echoes to more parts of the house.

The other one you can order right now, for March 31st delivery (and I wouldn’t wait).

This one is the Amazon Tap…it’s $129.99, and it’s like the Echo without the always on microphones (you tap a button to interact with it…hence the name). However, and importantly, it doesn’t need to be plugged in to work! You can take it with you…Alexa on the road!

People have wanted this flexibility…as long as it can connect to wi-fi, you could play your music and use the other Alexa functionality.

They also have a silicone protective carrying sleeve, which comes in six colors, for $19.99.

It’s number one right now in

Hot New Releases in Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile*)

Of course, it’s the only one in that sales category. 😉 Presumably, the Dot isn’t considered to be on general sale yet.

I’ll directly link to the Tap later, but you can get it to through the link I just gave for the category (I’m repeating it for my readers using screen readers): Hot New Releases in Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile*))

Exciting stuff! Alexa everywhere! 🙂

As always, feel free to let me and my readers know what you think 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!

* 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.


%d bloggers like this: