Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

Tag Archives: facebook

My Alexa skill is now live in the UK

Every month at my kung fu club, Chi Wai Kung Fu in Cheltenham UK, there’s a series of strikes of the month that are on rotation for extra attention. Also there’s a rotating black belt syllabus. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to remember all of these details, and whether or not you need to take a bo staff or set of escrima sticks to the club. So, I thought I’d write an Alexa skill to remind me 🙂

chiwai_alexa_out.png

If you’re into Alexa in the UK, then join my UK Facebook group, it’s got over 4,500 members:

echo_group_welcome

The basic skill is pretty simple, interrogating an array and returning the requested information. Getting it certified was a bit more fiddly because I wanted to use a single word invocation name “chiwai” which is against the rules normally, and because it’s a trademark infringement if it’s not official. Of course, in this case it was official as I developed it on behalf of the club. The Amazon skill dev support team were very helpful so now it’s live 🙂

Here’s a video of it in action:

To get it, if you’re in the UK, just say “Alexa, enable Chi Wai“.

You can also search for “ChiWai” in the Alexa app, or install direct from Amazon.co.uk.

You can then ask it questions like “what are the strikes of the month” or go a step further and say “what are the strikes of the month for October” or “what’s the black belt element in February”. Because of the way Alexa works, voice recognition on those second questions is greatly improved if you first start the skill by saying “Alexa, talk to Chi Wai” and then ask them. You can directly ask by saying “Alexa, ask Chi Wai for the …” but it’s not quite so accurate.

Also, try “Alexa, tell Chi Wai, Zoon Ching” 🙂

The code is on github here: https://github.com/macmike/chiwai-alexa-strikes

UNTHINK – first impressions and screenshot

I saw a video for UNTHINK a while ago that appealed to me. I like the idea of total control of my data, of separation between friends, acquaintances and brands/interests. Also I’m a pathological early adopter. I like new things, and the shinier and more buttons the better. Sometimes I get carried away with links too.

I had an early invite to UNTHINK when it opened to public beta, clearly along with many other early adopters. First problem there, the servers couldn’t handle the pressure, there were too many early adopters and without the power of Google behind UT (not the best acronym huh?) the public beta was essentially a fine example of  a DDOS attack.

Anyway, a couple of days later and here’s my first impressions, now I can access the site.

UNTHINK

First of all I find it be gloriously complex. G+ has catered for the simplistic market, but I like complicated things, and this suits me. The UI is reminiscent of the early Facebook and MySpace.  G+ allows me to separate people via circles but I have to set that up, UT has it from the start. It’s all private by default and they tell me I own my content (the unthink emancipation deed). UT prompts me from the very start to control the privacy options of my content, unlike Facebook which decides for me frequently. Finally, it reminds me of uplink for some reason, and that’s double or possibly even triple awesome

But… the social networking market is saturated. Facebook is the Daddy Mac, it’s where everyone is. Some of my techie friends still aren’t on G+ so that’s quiet. UT is positively empty. I keep coming back to Facebook because it’s where people are, many of my friends have no appetite for multiple networks and as with G+ I wish I could cross post with FB.

Whether it catches on or not, it’s existence is a good thing as it will apply pressure on widely adopted networks to provide better features. It wasn’t long after the exposure of G+ circles that Facebook created “Close friends” and “Acquaintances”.

Google+ review

G+ is a social network from Google to rival Facebook, twitter, tumblr etc. I’ve been trying it out and kinda like it. It’s intuitive, easy to use but also a bit surprising. The best feature by far is the circles (screenshot below) which allow you to segment your social graph, or more simply put your contacts into groups. Then when you share something like a post or photo you can choose who to share it with. That means you can have things like family, work, acquaintances or just people you follow all in one place.

The interface is nice and shiny with lots of drag and drop and nice little features and animations, but when you first load it up it can be a little disconcerting how much it already knows about you. If you’ve already got a gmail account, an android account, picasa etc. then all of that stuff is already there in front of you. When I first logged in it had my picture, suggested various people members I should connect with (based on my email) and once I linked in my blog account it put in my blog intro into my profile. Clever, but a little annoying as well.

I’ve read that hangouts (a kind of chat platform) are the killer app for g+ but I’ve not checked it out. If I want to video call I tend to use skype and even then I don’t really want to video call, I’d rather IM, text or phone than video call.

Overall, I really like it. The ease of use, the simplicity of controlling where content goes, the nice simple little andriod app and the shiny interface have me drooling like a geek with a new toy. If only it was 5 years earlier and there were more people on it. I can’t imagine it replacing Facebook and twitter in the short or medium term as the stable door has been open far too long and there’s an emotional investment that people have in those sites.

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