Archive for the ‘Alexa Skills’ Category

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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Amazon Echo’s 2nd birthday: almost $40 off, and the Alexa Skills store at Amazon.com

November 8, 2016

Amazon Echo’s 2nd birthday: almost $40 off, and the Alexa Skills store at Amazon.com

Today is the Echo’s second birthday, and Amazon is offering the main Echo for $140.39 instead of $179.99 ($39.60 off)

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

That’s likely to just be today (it says it is for a limited time only).

I use an Echo every day (and an All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) – White (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and an Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*) on weekdays, but you know…). 😉

It turns my lights out on and off, place music, gives me the weather, tells me what’s on my calendar, and more.

When I say more, there is a lot more!

Amazon has now put the

Alexa Skills store on Amazon.com (at AmazonSmile*)

on Amazon.com, making it much easier to search the close to 5,000 skills!

For example, right now, I’m trying the

Earplay skill (at AmazonSmile*)

I’m a fan of Old Time Radio, and I have to say, the demo was fun. It is sort of like Choose Your Adventure, in that you are given choices of things to say and the story continues based on what you say. It does feel like OTR, although not quite as surreal as most of it.

Here are some of the stats:

Alexa Skills
Business & Finance (67)
Communication (20)
Connected Car (8)
Education & Reference (899)
Food & Drink (144)
Games, Trivia & Accessories (1,187)
Health & Fitness (132)
Lifestyle (390)
Local (97)
Movies & TV (82)
Music & Audio (48)
News (701)
Novelty & Humor (319)
Productivity (136)
Shopping (14)
Smart Home (114)
Social (51)
Sports (122)
Travel & Transportation (94)
Utilities (76)
Weather (462)
Avg. Customer Review
  • 4 Stars & Up (690)
  • 3 Stars & Up (1,086)
  • 2 Stars & Up (1,439)
  • 1 Star & Up (1,727)

Now, that’s a lot of one star reviews! It’s the most popular selection.

That may change in the future. It seems clear to me looking at this that they are going to enable paid Skills (as opposed to everything being free). I think that would be a good thing. Right now, there are two main types of content producers…hobbyists or people who are generally content creators and hope to use this to promote their other works, and companies using it as advertising/access (Uber, Domino’s Pizza, and so on).

Paid Skills would change that, with people being able to expect a return on their investment specifically from the Skill. Think of it like paid apps in the appstore…some of them are worth the payment.

Overall, these are good developments and a good sale!

Happy birthday, Alexa!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* 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! :) 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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2:

September 14, 2015

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2: 

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.

New skills and our improved skills page

One of the most important elements for the Amazon Echo and especially for Alexa Voice Service to succeed is the third-party apps which they call Alexa Skills.

I’m going to look at building one myself. I do have some programming knowledge (I’ve taught Visual Basic), but I doubt that it’s that hard to do the actual creation.

That means that the real challenge for developers is going to be to give people a friction-free, enjoyable (or useful) experience.

So far, April Hamilton (of http://lovemyecho.com) shows real evidence of consideration of the user experience.

You can also currently see and compare two apps which do basically the same thing: Guess the Number and High Low Guessing Game. In both cases, you are guessing a number between 1 and 100. High Low gives you the option of either being the guesser or having Alexa guess…that’s the sort of thing that will make a difference to users.

Another important thing for developers? Error handling. What does Alexa do (in the skill) when you do something unexpected? I’ve gotten trapped in an app…and had another one drop me out because it misunderstood me.

While Amazon has told me you can have as many skills as you want (suggesting they are really stored in the Cloud), you might still want to choose which ones you enable. However, whether you enable it or not, you still have to go through them all in the Alexa app to find the ones you want.

For more information on the apps, see our page:

Alexa Skills

Home automation and Alexa

So many people associate the idea of Alexa with the computer on Star Trek. They even want to use “Computer” as the wake word (instead of “Alexa” or “Amazon”). I was thinking that would cause a lot of false positives when people said the word “computer”…but then I realized that, especially at home, a lot fewer people probably say it than used to say it. Now, if it was named “iPad” or  “Galaxy”, that might be a problem. 😉

The Enterprise’s computer didn’t just answer questions…it controlled the operations of the ship. That’s a good thing, too. I’ve often pointed out to people that on the original series, they were way ahead of us in medicine (although we are catching up) with the tricorder, far ahead of us in transportation with warp drive and the transporter…but considerably behind us on computers (unless, you know, they are super intelligent menaces). When Captain Kirk asks the computer for someone’s identification number, you can actually hear the relays closing! It has to say, “Working…” and then it takes several seconds. But I digress… 😉

You can use the Echo to control your house…but you have to first have the home automation.

I know someone who has a fully automated, Jetsons-style house. I’ve been getting some advice.

I didn’t have any home automation yet, so I took that person’s (who wants to remain anonymous) suggestion and got

GE Link Starter Kit, PLINK-SKIT, Wireless, A19 LED Light Bulb, Pack of 2 (at AmazonSmile)

for about $45 (you could spend thousands of dollars on home automation…even to the point of a

Connected Egg Carton (at AmazonSmile*)

which will let you check on how many eggs you have left while you are on the bus…and whether they are good or not.

What this set does is give you a controller, and two bulbs.

There is no special wiring for the bulb…you just screw it in like you would any other lightbulb.

The controller goes in a regular power outlet, like plugging in a lamp.

The Wink app was very clear. Set up was easy.

The only really weird thing is that the Wink app wasn’t available for the

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

Now, I know, I’m in the tiny minority in even having a Fire Phone…but you would think that when Amazon promotes the Wink capability of the Echo vigorously that it would work with other Amazon hardware. 😉

I even checked with Wink: you can’t set it up any other way except with an app for iPhones and Android.

Fortunately, Amazon (contrary to what you hear sometimes) is not a closed system, and lets you install apps from “outside sources” on the Fire Phone. I got the Wink app from http://www.1mobile.com/ and was good to go.

I have to say, it is cool to be able to say, “Alexa, turn off the family room” or “Alexa, turn on the library light” and have it just happen.

It’s not always that practical, but it certainly has helped at times. For example, when I’ve got two dogs leashed up and am heading out the door, it’s great to be able to just turn the light off verbally.

If you do want to try out automation, this is a relatively inexpensive way to start. It appears to me that I can’t dim the light through the Echo, but it’s still worthwhile.

Alexa gaining knowledge…and losing it

I’m very happy to report that one of the two hashtags I created for Alexa

has actually had an impact!

Amazon stated to both April F. Hamilton (see above) that our use of #TeachAlexa got them to add things to Alexa. For me it was this:

“Alexa, it’s a bird, it’s a plane…”

Alexa: “It’s Superman.”

For April Hamilton it was

“Alexa, cake or death?”

I’ve actually heard more than one response now. That’s an Eddie Izzard routine, by the way.

Feel free to use it and to encourage other people. They should include @AmazonEcho, so the development team sees it.

However…

I noted quite some time back (and with some surprise) that when I asked Alexa if Bigfoot is real, I got a matter of fact response that, “Yes, Bigfoot is real.”

The Echo sidesteps some questions (like religious ones), and I think that’s understandable.

Now, I’m not saying this is a religious question, but it could be controversial. 😉

Interestingly, Alexa now doesn’t answer the Bigfoot question.

I wonder if somebody had, um, second thoughts about that and made a change.

Gee, I guess that might be an “Echoverup”. 😉

Echophile’s problem #1: diving for the remote to mute the TV before your Echo responds to an Echo commercial

Have questions, comments, or stories about the Echo/Alexa for me or my readers? Feel free to comment on this post.

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

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

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

 

Alexa Skills come to the Echo, plus more home automation

August 14, 2015

Alexa Skills come to the Echo, plus more home automation

There has been a significant new update to the

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

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

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

I’ve written about the

Alexa Skills Kit

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

page.

It allows third party developers to give Alexa new powers.

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

Home – Menu – Skills

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

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

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

Echo Compatible home automation devices (at AmazonSmile*)

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

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

Love My Echo is not connected to my blog

I Love My Kindle

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

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

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

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

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


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