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Alexa as a part of the family: We got Skills

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Since we added the Amazon Echo to the household last year, it’s been fascinating to see how my children (now 7 and 10) have adapted to “her” presence. The youngest delighted in asking Alexa to tell him corny jokes and, more practically, used the device to time himself when doing his homework. The oldest learned quickly how one needed to ask her questions to yield useful answers. Digital natives, to be sure.

Since then, Alexa has become an integral part of our lives. I use her to entertain me and answer questions while my hands are occupied with cooking or washing dishes. She’s set to remind us of when we should be headed out the door every school day, and we’ve set up a Friday playlist on Spotify — which, of course, include two versions of Rebecca Black’s classic — to cheer us and get us moving on the last day of the work/school-week. I even replaced my bedside alarm clock with a Dot.

So when I started to investigate the idea of Alexa Skills, it was natural that I involved my kids — well, one kid in particular who happens to love trains.

[click to continue…]

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X-Post from my other personal site, Free-Range.org

garden-irrigation-planThough this site mostly chronicles my adventures in the natural domain, astute readers may have guessed what a tech dork I actually am. If you haven’t, you’ll be certain after this post.

In my work life, I’m online all the time and I’ve seen software developers make great strides recently toward automating formerly mundane tasks. For example, when someone fills out a form online, I used to be emailed the output and that’s all. Now I can have it auto-imported into a contact management database and sent to a spreadsheet at the same time, so I can sort it, update it and refer to it super easily. Previously, this would have required me to do data entry in a variety of different places — and each time there was the potential for me to make an error.

Of course, I’m eager to apply these time-saving shortcuts in my non-work life, as well. Hence, the project I’ll outline here. [click to continue…]

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On Apple: “Branding” Is More Than Just Marketing

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Apple iPhone 6

The Apple phone unlocking issue hit the Republican debate last night, with candidate Marco Rubio accusing the technology company of putting branding before patriotism.

“They think it hurts their brand,” Rubio said. “Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the United States of America.”

It seems the presidential candidates have a mistaken idea of what a brand really is. Branding isn’t just marketing — advertising, email marketing, etc. Branding is about everything that your company and product are about.

You express your brand through all of your formal communications, yes. But the design of your store, the demeanor of the person at the call center, the expertise of the kid behind the counter — not to mention what your top executives say in unguarded moments — all combine to make up your brand. If there is dissonance between elements, people notice, and it affects your business.

So Apple standing up to the U.S. government isn’t about a trifling attempt to protect its “image.” It’s really about Apple doing what it, as a company, believes to be the right thing. The right thing for its business, yes. But also the right thing for the country and its people.

Others may disagree, but I hate the idea of people diminishing the importance of Apple’s stance by dismissing it as mere branding. If you want to put it in those terms, one might say that the U.S. is hurting its own brand by chipping away at the personal freedoms that it purports to be protecting.

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