Why does Alexa speak to me in German?


Screenshot which says "1 new notification from Amazon shopping: ‘Ein Autor, dem Sie auf Amazon folgen, Mary Robinette Kowal, hat ein neues Buch mit dem Namen Die Berechnung der Sterne: Roman veröffentlicht.’"

I speak English. My Amazon account is set to English. My Alexa listens to my English commands and replies in English. Except for new book notifications. I saw a pulsing yellow light on the dot. I've memorised all of the various signs and portents the accurs'd device can summon up, so I asked it (in…

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Alexa Standard English


A reel-to-reel tape recorder.

"Alexa… timer for fifteen minutes." The problem with the English language is that it is full of homophones, or semi-homophones. 15 and 50 sound basically the same. Humans have a hard time distinguishing them. So there's no wonder that voice assistants also have difficulty. Recently, I've noticed that my wife and I have adopted a…

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Alexa leaks your private wishlists


People who access your list will see your recipient name. If you have an Alexa-enabled device, Alexa may alert you when there is a deal for items in your list. Notification Preferences.

This morning, my wife noticed that Alexa was insistently flashing its little blue lights. "Alexa... Notifications?" "You have one notification. An item on your wishlist has dropped in price. The … is now only £…" And that's how my wife found out what I planned to get her for her birthday! What happened to cause…

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Book Review: The Computer’s Voice - From Star Trek to Siri by Liz W. Faber


A circuit board embossed with a vocal wave form.

A deconstruction of gender through the voices of Siri, HAL 9000, and other computers that talk Considering Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, and more, Liz W. Faber explores contentious questions around gender: its fundamental constructedness, the rigidity of the gender binary, and culturally situated attitudes on male and female embodiment. Going beyond current…

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"Alexa? Which bins do I need to take out?" - Reverse engineering the Bexley Council bin collection API


A row of recycling bins.

A few years ago I wrote an Alexa skill to see what bin day it was. The skill only worked with my local council - Oxford. I've since moved house and wanted to recreate the service for my new council - Bexley. Demo Brilliant, eh? The API Bexley Council don't publish an API. I initially…

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Quick and Dirty Self-Hosted Alexa Skills (2019)


I hate creating Alexa skills. What should be a 3-click process inevitably ends up requiring trips to multiple websites, to set up weird parameters, and reading outdated tutorials for obsolete libraries. So this is how to create a self-hosted Skill, using PHP. It runs on your own server and doesn't require any interaction. The Skill…

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Alexa Skills - get custom slot names using Flask-Ask


Alexa Skills Page.

Amazon encourages developers to use Flask-Ask - the handy Python library for working with Alexa. Sadly, the project has been abandoned. They no longer take pull requests, you can't raise bugs against it, and the documentation is incomplete. So this is how I solved an annoying problem - how to get the name of a…

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Building an Alexa-Powered Electric Blanket


One evening, my wife turned to me in bed and said, "Winter is coming..." Well, what she actually said was "Get your frozen feet away from me, you cold-blooded monster!" The only way to save our marriage? HOOK OUR BED UP TO THE INTERNET! I couldn't find an electric blanket with IoT connectivity - so…

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Knowledge Illusions


Screenshot of the Alexa app. She thinks Tim Roth played Doctor Who.

Optical Illusions trick your brain into seeing something that isn't there. Whether it is spirals which don't exist, movements which don't occur, or faces in curved lines - our optic centres are trivially easy to fool. Humans are not alone in this cognitive deficiency. Other animals are also conned into believing something which isn't true.…

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Solar Battery and Alexa - in 30 lines of code


A list of phrases used to activate the device

Amazon Alexa is a fun little bit of kit. But it can be tricky getting it to work with all your smart devices. Not every company has an Alexa skill - just like not every company has an app. Using Flask-Ask it is possible to bring Alexa smarts to a range of previously mute devices.…

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