Alexa’s Most Useful Skills

By Tracey Dowdy

Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa streams your music, controls your smart gadgets, and can order items from Amazon. It will even integrate with IFTTT (a website that allows devices that don’t automatically communicate to connect with one another) so you can ask Alexa to start your Roomba, brew a cup of coffee with your WeMo coffee maker, or lock your doors at night, and she’ll turn off your Hue lights, make sure your Garageio closes your garage door, and mute your Android phone.

These are some of Alexa’s handiest, but sometimes overlooked skills.

  • Alexa’s most convenient skill is that she can find the skills for you. Simply say, “Alexa, open Skill Finder,” or “Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day.” She can also tell you about the newest skills and the top skills in Alexa’s catalog.
  • You can place an order at one of the last ten Starbucks locations you’ve visited in person through the Starbucks Reorder  Once enabled, you’ll need to link your account and have previously placed a mobile order with the Starbucks app on your Android or iOS device. The skill allows you to check your account balance and switch between your last five mobile orders.
  • If the “feels like” temperature is more important to you than the actual temperature, try Feels Like to hear the wind chill any time the temperature is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and heat index whenever it’s over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Did you know you can order pizza through Alexa? You can place your Domino’s Easy Order by enabling the skill and saying, “Alexa, open Domino’s and place my Easy Order.” Or, if Pizza Hut is more up your alley, enable the skill and say “Alexa, tell Pizza Hut to place an order.” You can browse and order from a select menu, saved favorite or repeat a past order.
  • Automatica connected car adapter that plugs into your vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port and pairs with your phone over Bluetooth – will sync your vehicle with your Amazon Echo to monitor gas mileage, maintenance issues, and access the vehicle’s GPS location. For instance, say, “Alexa — ask Automatic what’s my fuel level?” to check your gas gauge.
  • Connect your Logitech Harmony hub-based remote to start and stop Harmony, change the channel, control volume, or start/pause/stop streaming content. For example, say “Alexa, turn on the TV” to power on your TV, AV receiver and cable box and set them all to the correct input.
  • One of my personal favorites is the Uber Say, “Alexa, ask Uberto get me a car” or “Alexa, ask Uber for a ride” and an UberX will be there in minutes. If you need a different car type, say things like “Alexa, ask Uber to order an Uber Black.”
  • The Lyft skill goes one step further by allowing you to ask for pricing. Say, “Alexa, ask Lyft how much a Lyft Plus from home to work costs.”
  • If you’ve managed to stick to your New Year’s resolutions and you’re watching your food intake, use the Track by Nutritionix skill, to record your meals snacks, or drinks, or ask for your food’s calorie count. Say, “Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log four ounces of peanuts” or “Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in a half cup of tuna salad.”

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

I’ve Tidied Up with Marie Kondo – Now What?

By Tracey Dowdy

 If you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt heard of tidying expert Marie Kondo, best-selling author and founder of KonMari Media, Inc. She’s also the star of Netflix’s wildly popular  show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

Inspired by her New York Times best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo’s show has sent millions of Americans into their closets, attics, and basements to purge the accumulated detritus of a lifetime. Instead of attacking the project room by room, Kondo suggests tidying by category – start with your clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, those sentimental items you’ve been hanging onto out of obligation or guilt. You keep only those things that hold meaning for you, and you dispose of or donate everything else. Say “thank you for your service” – then let them go.

Kondo’s minimalist approach has struck a chord, and as a result, charity shops are overrun with donations from clothing to jewelry, small appliances, and furniture. There are a number of organizations that will accept new, gently used, and (in select cases) damaged items. Of course, it can be very confusing deciding who and where to donate.

Before donating to any organization, I recommend starting with Charity Navigator, a site that provides objective ratings allowing you to find charities you can trust and know your donation is going to a noble organization that shares your values. Another great resource is a list created by Forbes of America’s Top Charities for last year.

Once you’ve found the charity you wish to support, use this general guide to what GoodwillSalvation Army, and other smaller charities and organizations will and won’t accept as donations. One final tip – it’s always best to contact the local donation center if you’re unsure.

DONATE:

  • Clothes – should be laundered, odor-free as well as free of stains, rips, and have emptied pockets.
  • Linens – Like clothing, towels and bed linens like sheets, comforters, and blankets should be laundered, free of stains, rips, and odors.
  • Tools – kitchen, lawn, and garden tools, as well as hand and small power tools can be donated as long they’re in good working order, free of rust and fraying cords.
  • Small appliances – Toasters, blenders, food processors and other small appliances can be donated as long as they’re in good working condition. Include accessories and attachments if possible.
  • Books – both new and gently used books are acceptable, but books that are heavily worn, have missing pages, torn covers, water damaged, or promote hate speech are not likely to be accepted.
  • Electronics – Some organizations like Goodwill accept electronics whether they’re working or not, so it’s best to check before you donate. Also, be sure to wipe the hard drive to delete any personal information.
  • Vehicles – If your garage clean out includes a vehicle, there are several charities that will accept donations regardless of condition. Check this guide from Charity Watch for tips for donating a car to charity.

RECYCLE OR DUMP:

  • Baby equipment – Most places do not accept donations of baby products like high chairs, car seats, cribs, high chairs, and toys unless you can prove they meet current CPSC safety standards, and even then, they may not accept the item. Your best bet is to contact The Good Plus Foundation or The Pregnancy Centre for a list of products and equipment they will accept.
  • Mattresses are breeding grounds for mites, mold, mildew, and are practically impossible to clean Instead, you should just recycle NOTE: sleeper sofas fall under the same category and cannot be donated.
  • Televisions – CRT TVs (any TVs that isn’t a flat screen) cannot be donated. Moreover, it’s illegal to dispose of CRT TVs in the trash, so you’ll need to find a recycling center that accepts them. This is a category that’s best to call ahead and check the donation guidelines – for example, Goodwill won’t take TVs that are more than five years old.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Facebook, Google and Twitter Doing Better at Removing Hate Speech 

By Tracey Dowdy

The European Commission, the European Union‘s executive arm, recently released data from research done as part of its “code of conduct” for social media platforms. The EC’s launched an initiative back in 2016 aimed at removing hate speech including racist and xenophobic content from online platforms. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft were among the tech companies that signed on, committing to searching out and eliminating offensive content.

“Today, after two and a half years, we can say that we found the right approach and established a standard throughout Europe on how to tackle this serious issue, while fully protecting freedom of speech,” said Vera Jourova, a European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, in a press release.

The European Commission defines “hate speech” as “the public incitement to violence or hatred directed to groups or individuals on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, color, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin.”

According to the report, Facebook removed 82% of objectionable content in 2018 – up from a mere 28% back in 2016. That’s good news for the social media giant that’s been under scrutiny and attack for the volume of fake news disseminated on the platform, particularly during the last federal election.  Just last week Facebook announced it had removed nearly 800 fake pages and accounts with ties to Iran.

Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ also showed significant improvement, though Twitter removed a mere 43% of illegal hate speech posted to the platform. That’s down from 45% for the same time frame in December 2017. Twitter’s director of public policy for Europe, Karen White, told CNBC that they’re reviewing 88% of all notifications received within 24 hours. “We’ve also enhanced our safety policies, tightened our reporting systems, increased transparency with users, and introduced over 70 changes to improve conversational health,” she said. “We’re doing this with a sense of urgency and commitment, and look forward to continued collaboration with the European Commission, Governments, civil society and industry.”

“Let me be very clear, the good results of this monitoring exercise don’t mean the companies are off the hook,” Vera Jorouva, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality warned in a press conference. “We will continue to monitor this very closely, and we can always consider additional measures if efforts slow down. It is time to balance the power and the responsibility of the platforms and social media giants.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Facebook Rolls Out Un-send Option for Messenger

By Tracey Dowdy

Ever send a message and feel almost instant regret? Maybe it’s an angry response, perhaps you’ve shared sensitive information with the wrong people, or you simply don’t want to open a conversation. Of course you have – it happens to the best of us.

Well, have I got good news for you. The Facebook gods have heard our cries of despair, and starting today – February 5, 2019 – they’ve announced that you now have a whopping ten minutes to take it all back.

The new “Remove For Everyone” option allows users to un-send messages from both individual conversations and group chats. Once the message is removed, a message appears letting everyone know the message was deleted.

To take advantage of Remove for Everyone on your phone, press and hold on the message – again, it needs to be within that ten-minute window. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and select Remove. A prompt will then appear asking if you want to Remove for everyone or Remove for You.

If you choose Remove for You, the message will be deleted from your view – everyone else will still have access to it. If you choose Remove for Everyone, the message will be deleted for the entire group. In its place, Messenger will display text saying the sender has deleted the original message.

If you’re accessing Messenger through Facebook’s website, however, instead of pressing and holding a sent message, users will need to click on the three-dot icon beside the message, then choose Remove. Next, a prompt will appear onscreen asking if you want to remove from your view or delete the message from the group.

As always, you can report conversations that violate Facebook’s Community Standards 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.