Archive for the ‘Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups’ Category

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.

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Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #4: Yelp, half a million “I love yous”

November 18, 2015

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #4: Yelp, half a million “I love yous”

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, seeThe Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

Happy birthday, Alexa!

It’s a little hard to say exactly when the Amazon Echo’s birthday is…since it was a soft, rolling introduction by invitation.

However, Amazon did send me an e-mail today celebrating the big one…well, just one. 😉 It had some facts:

●      Alexa has responded to nearly 10 million joke requests and heard “I love you” more than 500,000 times

●      Top 3 foods that customers have asked Alexa for calorie data about:

○      doughnuts

○      hamburgers

○      pizza

●      Alexa’s most popular cooking question is “how do I boil an egg?”

●      “Uptown Funk” is Alexa’s most requested song

●      Introduced 85 new features and third-party Alexa skills since launch

I did try wishing Alexa happy birthday…she said, “It’s been a great year – people have told me that they love me over 500,000 times!”

“Alexa, trigger watch Fire TV”

For the first time ever, my Significant Other applauded something the Echo did. 😉

Amazon just gave us a great new ability! You can use the IFTTT (If This Then That)

Alexa Channel

with your own personalized voice triggers.

I think I’d better explain that. 🙂

With IFTTT, you register a variety of devices. You then specify a “trigger” (something that happens or something you do) for one device, and tell it what the other device should do.

Obviously, those actions are limited by what the device can do.

Well, one device we have (and it was a gift), which we got specifically to work with the Echo, is a

Logitech Harmony Home Control – 8 Devices (White) (at AmazonSmile*)

That controls our Element TV and our

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile*)

I had wanted to make the Echo turn on the Fire TV by using a

Samsung SmartThings Hub (at AmazonSmile*)

but that didn’t work out.

You see, my SmartPhone is a (now discontinued) Fire Phone, and it appears to be unable to actually control the Harmony.

With this change to IFTTT, I don’t need the SmartThings for that.

I easily set it up so I can say, “Alexa, trigger watch Fire TV”, and it changes the input. Similarly, I set it up to say, “Alexa, trigger watch regular TV”.

Now, I could have set, “Banana avocado wombat ” to switch to Fire TV…it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you.

Switching the inputs has been confusing for my SO: this is a lot easier. 🙂

Now, to be clear, this isn’t taking me directly to, say, Netflix (yet…there is a way to do that, but I haven’t tested it yet). It is doing the input switch and turning on the TV, though.

“Alexa, when does Costco open?”

Another recent huge step forward in practical value for Alexa on the Echo is that it now ties into Yelp for local business information.

That means that I can ask questions about places I might go in real life. I actually used that exact question “When does Costco open?” this weekend.

You can also ask it for things like, “Where is the nearest Indian restaurant?”

New skills

I maintain a list of

although, I do need to update it (new skills come out fairly often).

Here is a round up of some of the newer ones:

  • Angry Bard…this skill, from April Hamilton, is one of a number of quotation skills. Hamilton does step things up a notch from most skills published, with good error handling and more interesting prompts. In this case, you can “Ask Angry Bard for a burn”, and you get an insult from Shakespeare (with a citation of the play)
  • Animal Game from Alex Rublinesky: think of an animal, and Alexa asks you questions (like twenty questions). It’s a fun concept, but she was terrible at guessing…she didn’t get an ostrich, or even a lion. Out of five attempts, the only one she got right was an elephant, and I picked that one because she had incorrectly guessed elephant for something else
  • Ask My Buddy from Beach Dev: people want the Echo to send a text, and this skill sort of does. You don’t compose the text, though, from what I can tell. You put in contacts, and if you have an emergency, you can ask Alexa to alert them…by e-mail, text, and even phone
  • Beat the Dealer by Vurble: it’s a blackjack game, and it played reasonably well
  • Bible by YouVersion
  • Daily Word by Matchbox mobile: a word of the day…not bad
  • DC Metro: transit times…this goes along with the BART app for the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Eliza by Asimov: it’s a chatbot which is supposed to be a psychotherapy session. This was frustrating because it initially said her sister Eliza was out, and she would do it…that was confusing. However, it did appear to have some understanding of what I was saying. When I answered, “No” to something, it said I was being negative. With a little tweaking, this could be interesting
  • Knock Knock Jokes by Tsa  Tsa Tzu: this just didn’t work much of the time. It would say, “Knock, knock”. I would say, “Who’s there?” It would respond with a name: one was Hollis. I said, “Hollis who?” and it just said good-bye. That happened multiple times with different names. It did work once, though
  • Techcrunch News by AOL Inc.
  • Translator for Alexa by Philosophical Creations: this seemed to work for common words
  • Trivia Talk by Zerovoid Software: decent trivia game, with reasonably difficult questions…not so much pop culture
  • Word Master by SAKET AGARWAL: this one was fun. You take turns saying a word. Your word has to start with the last letter of the other person’s word. It wasn’t hard for me to beat it, and it didn’t know some words it should, but it would be good for kids

Remember, that’s just some of them…and we’ll likely have quite a few more by the end of the year.

Have questions about the Echo, Alexa, or want to share something you’ve found? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

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

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

 

Alexa/Echo Round up #3: sports update, Alexa enabled phone calls on first 3rd party Alexa-enabled device

October 18, 2015

Alexa/Echo Round up #3: sports update, Alexa enabled phone calls on first 3rd party Alexa-enabled device

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, seeThe Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

“Alexa, call my Mom.”

Right from the beginning, people have wanted the

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

to make phone calls.

One reason is the sound quality…it seems to hear us very well, even from across the room (it should, with seven specially designed microphones), and it sounds good when speaking or playing back music.

Another reason, though, is just the convenience.

It would be nice to just ask the Echo to call somebody and to have it happen.

Well, we still don’t have that, yet, but Amazon PR (Public Relations) sent me an interesting heads-up.

There’s a difference between the Echo, which is the hardware (a Bluetooth speaker, among other things) and the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) , which is the software that provides the Echo with what I call its “parse-onality”.

We’ve known that Amazon planned to license AVS to other devices…as they’ve indicated, anything with a microphone and a speaker is a possibility (undoubtedly, this will include some cars…I would think by the 2017 model year).

The first 3rd-party (not Amazon made) device to “…integrate Alexa with far-field voice capabilities” will be Invoxia’s

Triby – Connected speaker for the kitchen (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

This $199 device (pre-ordering now for October 30th delivery in the USA) is a Bluetooth speaker, Spotify player, “phone” (but only Triby to Triby) with a connected “doodle screen” (I’m calling it that).

I’ll be surprised if it’s a big hit…I think the price is high for this, and while free internet calling is great, the fact that it’s limited to Tribys and SmartPhones with the Triby app within the same Triby group a creates a big hurdle to initial adoption. Also, needing to be charged after ten hours of use seems burdensome…that’s not that different from a SmartPhone, of course, but for something that looks like an appliance, I think people won’t anticipate that.

As soon as the Echo can make calls (and I expect that may be coming before the end of the year…and you can Bluetooth your phone to it now, that will make this feature of the Triby a lot less attractive. People are already paying for phone calls…they won’t mind paying for them through the Echo in addition to through their phones.

I really appreciate Amazon sending me the information and a link to the Alexa

blogpost by David Isbitski

I think there are three really significant elements to this development:

  • Invoxia is a new recipient of Amazon’s $100 million dollar Alexa Fund, which basically makes grants to get the Alexa Voice Service into more places…if you are a product manager who wants to apply, click the blogpost link above
  • This is the first (of what I think will be many) non Amazon devices to have AVS. It joins the Echo, but also 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.
  • Amazon did not do a press release on this, and it does not appear on the Triby product page. They told me 🙂 and they blogged about it on a developer blog…but this shows you how much more is happening with AVS than the general public knows

I think we will both see capabilities for the Echo improving (including texting and voice calls), and places where we can access AVS.

Um, Amazon…you don’t have to say “Alexa” with the Fire TV

As the Alexa Voice Service moves to more devices, Amazon will need to be careful about its messaging about how to use it.

This popped up on my Fire TV Gen 2:

 

Alexa on Fire TV

Notice how it says to preface your request with the “wake word”, “Alexa”?

That’s not necessary…when you use a voice remote (with the Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick, or the Echo, or use the Alexa app), you can just ask the question.

Oh, it’s okay to say the name first, and that’s a good thing for branding for Amazon. The issue, though, is that if you have an Echo in the same room (we do), it also wants to respond to the request. 🙂

I just don’t use the name with the remote, and I think that’s simpler.

A new feature: sport update

I divide what Alexa can do into two things: features and Skills. The Skills are generally made by people besides Amazon, and I keep a page of them here:

Alexa Skills

You can think of the as being like apps for your SmartPhone.

Features, on the other hand, are made by Amazon, and you can think of them as part of Alexa.

I will make a separate page for those, but they do keep growing. 🙂

The latest one is a Sports Update.

It works on the Echo, but not currently, on the Fire TV family.

You can set your teams in

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Settings – Account – Sports Update

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area (you can set your ZIP** code in Settings – Alexa Devices…different devices can have different ZIP codes), and it defaulted to these:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Oakland Athletics
  • San Diego Padres
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Oakland Raiders
  • San Diego Chargers
  • San Francisco 49ers

I mostly pay attention to the Giants, although I used to follow the 49ers back in the Joe Montana/Steve Young days.

I get why they show you teams which are likely to be your team’s rivals…know your enemies. 🙂 For me, though, I’m going to set it to just the Giants and the 49ers by tapping the “X”s for the others. You can search for other teams, of course.

I tried it: be aware of spoilers. 🙂 It gave me the real time score in a game, and how much time was left.

Seems like a nice feature.

New Skills

  • Bitcoin Rate
  • Edgar Facts gives you a random fact about Edgar the dog. Edgar belongs to PewDiePie, who is basically the most subscribed to person on YouTube
  • Event Guide
  • FreeBusy Scheduling Buddy

ILMK post featuring Alexa Voice Services

You might enjoy this post from my blog, I Love My Kindle, which is one of the most popular blogs of any kind in the USA Kindle store:

NASA: Mars mission astronauts to have Prime Music, 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.

 

 

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.

 

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

August 7, 2015

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

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

An Amazon Echo playing 20 questions

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

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

This is a

YouTube video

by OverloadUT showing an Echo accessing the

http://www.20q.net

website to play twenty questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love My Echo on ParAlexanoia

I recently tweeted my new word:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just have to weigh the risks and the benefits.

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

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

Not that we don’t love jazz dancers…

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

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

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

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

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

This article may spread the word a bit further:

CNN/Money by Hope King

It’s a nice little introduction…

What’s the (new) news?

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

These are your current choices:

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

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

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

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

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

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* 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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