First impressions of Amazon's Echo Dot

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I didn't think an IoT voice assistant was for me, but at $50 I couldn't resist the Amazon Echo Dot. I'm finding Alexa to be handy for lots of little things.

Amazon's hockey puck like Echo Dot gives you all the utility of their personal assistant Alexa at pretty low price. I felt it wouldn't be too much of a disaster if the thing never got used. Thus far it is proving to be pretty handy.

Echo Dot pairs with bluetooth speakers pretty well, and I enjoy being able to voice control my radio. Switching between news, music and podcasts is easy. I've found that this alone makes Echo Dot useful to me. Being able to occasionally stop the sound and ask Alexa for time time, weather in San Francisco or other simple, frequent searches one may perform is strangely satisfying, and temporarily provides an 'I live in the future' feeling.

Next up will be syncing it with my Fitbit, tho I'm not sure what that is really going to do for me.

Echo Dot (2nd Generation) - Black via Amazon Read the rest

"Incentivized" shill reviews now banned on Amazon

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Following complaints and a scathing exposé by Review Meta (previously) Amazon announced it will now ban incentivized reviews, a form of shill review written in exchange for free or reduced-cost products. Read the rest

Inside a multimillion dollar fake Kindle book scam

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Vancouver-based engineer-turned-"entrepreneur" Valeriy Shershnyov published thousands of titles in the Kindle store, "books" of typo-riddled nonsense that he upranked with a system of bots that gamed Amazon's fraud-detection systems, allowing him to sell more than $3M worth of garbage to unsuspecting Amazon customers. Read the rest

High bias found in Amazon reviews of low-cost or free samples

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Review Meta has published an in-depth analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews and found that "incentivized reviews," those with a disclaimer that the reviewer got the product free or discounted, skew substantially higher than non-incentivized reviews. Read the rest

UK gives OK to Amazon for drone delivery exploration

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Amazon.com says it has entered into a partnership with the British government to get the nation's aviation authority approval for deliveries via small drones.

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Cinesift is a handy way to find great movies by platform

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Whenever I think I've exhausted the possibilities of Netflix or Amazon Prime, I jump on Cinesift and use their handy filters for a deep dive into the vaults.

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Elon Musk Says Humans Will Go To Mars by 2024

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In my weekly segment on KCRW's “Press Play” news program with host Madeleine Brand, we listen to Elon Musk wax poetic about artificial intelligence and whether life might be a dream--and his plans to send humans to Mars by 2025.

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Amazon is suing its own retailers over fake reviews

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If you're an Amazon seller and you pay people to review your products on Amazon, the company may sue you. The online commerce giant sued three sellers today for using sockpuppet accounts to post glowing but phony product reviews.

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What Amazon's Jeff Bezos thinks about Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker

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In this video from the Recode conference, an interesting reveal of what Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos thinks of the legal battle between Peter Thiel and Gawker, with Hulk Hogan as a most unfortunate proxy. Bezos is full of surprising insights here, and offers Thiel some tough love.

The only effective defense public figures like Thiel have against their critics, says Bezos: “Develop a thick skin.”

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Report: Google to introduce Amazon Echo competitor device called 'Google Home'

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Anonymous sources quoted in the New York Times and elsewhere today said Google will introduce a competitor to Amazon's Echo on Wednesday. Its long-anticipated entry into the voice-activated home device market is said to be named Google Home.

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Peace in Our Time: how publishers, libraries and writers could work together

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Publishing is in a weird place: ebook sales are stagnating; publishing has shrunk to five major publishers; libraries and publishers are at each others' throats over ebook pricing; and major writers' groups are up in arms over ebook royalties, and, of course, we only have one major book retailer left -- what is to be done? Read the rest

Amazon is liable for in-app charges racked up by pesky children, federal judge rules

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A federal judge ruled that Amazon is responsible for billing parents unauthorized charges that kids made within apps, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

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Kindle Unlimited is being flooded with 3,000-page garbage books that suck money out of the system

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Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service allows subscribers to download as many books as they want, and then pays writers based on the number of their pages that readers have read. Read the rest

As Apple fights the FBI tooth and nail, Amazon drops Kindle encryption

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Amazon's Kindle devices run a custom version of Android that, until today, supported full-disk encryption. Now they don't. Read the rest

Howto social-engineer someone's address and other sensitive info from Amazon

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Eric Springer is a former Amazon engineer and a heavy AWS user. He's posted a long, terrifying explanation of how identity thieves have been able to repeatedly extract his personal info from Amazon's customer service reps by following a simple script. Read the rest

Amazon's serious about drones: Prime Air UAVs will carry 5-lb. packages 10 miles in 30 minutes

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Amazon is advancing its drone program with great speed. This is not a joke. Say goodbye to the brown trucks.

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Amazon is suing more than 1000 people for posting shill reviews

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Fiverr.com is a website where people will do all sorts of things for as little as $5. People will draw illustrations, fix problems with website code, promote things on their blog, or compose a podcast jingles. Some people offer to write a 5-star review for any book or product on Amazon for $5. It is against Amazon's rules to write shill reviews, and now more than 1000 alleged shill reviewers are getting sued. Amazon has sued websites that offer shill reviews in the past, but this is the first time the company has gone after individuals.

From CNN:

Court documents say Amazon conducted an "extensive investigation" into the Fiverr users. It claims some tried to dodge Amazon.com's review controls by posting from different accounts and IP addresses.

"In at least one instance, the seller of a 'Verified Review' was willing to receive an empty envelop, not the product itself, simply to create a shipping record," the court filing says.

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