Technology

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

So you treated yourself to an Amazon Echo or Dot. After checking the weather, news, traffic updates, sports headlines, and the numerous easter eggs to amuse your friends, most of you reading this will quickly want to make practical use of the new digital assistant sitting patiently in your home.

The beauty of podcasts is you can listen and learn about subjects you are curious about in almost any location. But did you know you can ask Alexa to play your favorite show with one voice request?

Amazon has partnered with the free podcast and internet radio service provider TuneIn which features over 100,000 radio stations and 5.7 million podcasts. The best part about this function is you don’t need to worry about an account signup, login, or any configuration to add the ability to your Amazon Echo.

Thankfully, you are free to request any of these by simply asking Alexa. For example, to listen to my show, you would simply say:
“Alexa, play the Tech Blog Writer Podcast.” And it will play the latest episode of my show.

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

Assuming you know the name of your favorite radio station or podcast, all you need to do is ask Alexa, and you can carry on doing your chores or cooking a nice meal while listening to your favorite show.

How Do I Skip An Episode Of A Podcast On Amazon Echo?

The only downside of listening to podcast episodes on Amazon Echo is that it will automatically play the most recent episode. If you are a few shows behind then you can merely say “Skip” or “Next” to go to the next episode.

Unfortunately, you can’t use an episode’s name to locate a particular episode at the moment. Here is a list of the commands that you can use while an episode is currently playing on your Amazon Echo:

  • “Back” to go to the previous episode
  • “Pause”
  • “Continue”
  • “Stop”

However, there’s no way to skip forwards or backwards within an episode which can be frustrating when listening to a show littered with sponsored ads.

That’s all you need to start listening to podcasts or radio stations from all over the world on an Amazon Echo or Dot device in the comfort of your home. It can be quite handy when you have your handsful to say “Alexa Play the…” and has enabled me to catch up with the growing number of podcasts that I love.

I would love to hear how you are getting on with using voice control to listen to podcasts. What shows do you like? Do you find the feature useful? And do you have any additional tips?

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or tweet me @neilchughes.

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YouTube Gaming Aims Sights At Twitch

Last year Amazon raised more than a few eyebrows in beating Google to purchase Twitch for a cool $1 billion. As the gaming community continues its phenomenal growth, we shouldn’t be too surprised at the recent announcement of the unimaginatively titled ‘YouTube Gaming.’

A post on YouTube’s blog yesterday revealed that YouTube Gaming is built to be all about your favorite games and gamers, with more videos than anywhere else. From “Asteroids” to “Zelda,” more than 25,000 games will each have their page, a single place for all the best videos and live streams about that title. You’ll also find channels from a wide array of game publishers and YouTube creators.

And when you want something specific, you can search with confidence, knowing that typing “call” will show you “Call of Duty” and not “Call Me Maybe.”

More details will be revealed at E3 next week in Los Angeles where the world’s press will be soaking up a plethora of announcements. We can be sure that there will be a wealth of information that will dominate our newsfeeds along with tales of million dollar game releases and virtual reality with Oculus Rift.   (more…)

Really Getting to Know My Quantified Self

It seems that every news feed I look at has a story advising how we all spend far too much time sitting down, whilst a combination of our lack of motivation and sedentary lifestyle will quite literally be the death of us all.

However, we don’t need to worry because there is an antidote to this lazy behaviour and technology has the power to get everyone back on their feet again, if we all invest in the latest tech wearable that promises to kick start everyone with a healthy dose of motivation, at a cost of course.

Many combine the use of tech wearable’s with another set of buzzwords known as lifelogging, self-hacking, body hacking or the quantified self where people are increasingly using technology to track measure and analyse data from your daily life.

Quantified-self facilitates the tracking of diet, sleep, heart rate, activity, exercise, and moods and allows individuals to gain better insights on physiological parameters that were never examined earlier, advised Sumit Kumar Pa

Although I am usually quite cynical about this sort of thing and confess that I am happiest when sat down looking at a myriad of tech devices or playing on a games console, but equally aware that if you need a website to be successful you need to closely monitor google analytics to examine data and improve performance, so pondered if this same school of thinking could be applied our own life?

After reading that the smartphone you already own can perform that exact same tasks only more accurately, I decided to embark on an experiment for once week where I track every aspect of my life to see if it reveals anything different about me using only my smartphone to see if there really is a need for slight changes to my lifestyle.

For my experiment, I began by downloading the app called “Moves” that claims to be the activity diary of your life by simply counting how many steps you take each day. (more…)

The Quantified Self: Can Technology Really Measure Your Life?

Over the next few weeks, we will be bombarded with news about the latest smart watches with the Moto 360 and highly anticipated iWatch about to be unleashed on our world that is quickly filled with wearable tech.

I have already talked about the Internet of Things (IoT) but the introduction of more smart watches will also see an increase in the use of more buzzwords such as the ‘quantified self’ which may leave you scratching your heads feeling a little confused and not wanting to speak up through fear of sounding like a technophobe, but equally becoming increasingly curious on what everyone is talking about it.

The Quantified Self (QS) in simple terms is using technology to track measure and analyse data from your daily life. We are already seeing an increase of this activity through apps that manage how many calories we intake, exercises we perform and even how many hours sleep we get each night using wearable sensors.

QS Is also known as self-tracking, auto-analytics, body hacking and life logging as more and more realise they are victims of their self-imposed bad habits or routines and can use their own daily data to motivate themselves to hit the road to self-improvement.

99 Percent of the thoughts, actions and emotions you have everyday are the same as the ones you had yesterday – Eben Page

The range of apps now at our disposal sometimes drifts in the realms of what we would have called sci-fi a few years ago as sites such as 23 and me can now provide a full DNA report that could reveal your ancestry or what diseases you could be predisposed of which is a fantastic concept, but the movie buff inside me is paranoid about the questions surrounding genetic discrimination that were raised in the 1997 film Gattaca. (more…)

4 Ways To Remain Employable After The Rise Of The Robots

Once upon a time, life was much simpler and as soon as you were armed with an education, you were unleashed into the world and free to choose from a profession of your choice, you could stay in the same role for 30 years and then take a nice early retirement package, or so the fairy-tale goes.

However life now is very different and even if you have just reached your 40 birthday, the reality is that you will probably have to work at least another 30 years without the security blanket of a “Job for life” but in many ways this will make you a much more rounded individual with a toolbox full of unique skillsets that will ensure you tackle any situation.

Unemployment is never a nice topic to discuss but job seekers could be facing their toughest challenge yet in the near future with the predicted rise of the robots.

Before you scoff and shout at the screen that this is nothing but a bunch of sci-fi nonsense, take a look at the Oxford Martin School study that suggests nearly half of US jobs could be at risk of computerisation in the future.

However to be honest, we have all seen this coming as the not so glamourous and time consuming tasks are already becoming automated in our own work places and we probably all know someone that has been affected by these changes.

A quick look at hotel called Yotel in New York not only has a self-check-in kiosk’s but also features world’s first hotel robotic luggage handler.

Whatever your views on the controversial subject, we can all agree that if your reality is spending the next 50 years in the workplace, you need to invest in yourself and ensure you adapt and change to the world around you, so let’s take a look how you can help yourself prepare for the future dominated by robots and automation.

1. Embrace Technology

The cold hard truth is the grumpy technophobe has a rocky road ahead of them, unless they change their ways and embrace the technology that surrounds us all, make no mistake life will become increasingly more difficult.

Although we don’t all like to admit it, we are ruled by technology as we become increasingly reliant on our internet connection, even your humble kitchen appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and even vacuum cleaners are now coming with Wi-Fi options, whilst your infant child knows their way around an iPad perfectly so it’s time to raise your game. (more…)

The Digital Subscription vs. Ownership Debate

The big success story sweeping the digital landscape is the infamous Netflix business model, which has unwittingly created a long line of copycats who are desperate to imitate their rapid ascent to success in the modern world.

Recently the videogame publisher EA announced plans to offer their own subscription service called ‘EA Access’ in a collaborative effort with Microsoft and the Xbox One console. With many games retailing at $70 each, the allure of having access to a vault full of EA games for $29.99 a year sounds like a very tempting offer on the surface, but could also prompt other publishers such as Ubisoft to follow suit.

However the announcement was received by mixed reactions as many people are coming to the realisation that the average person on the street, no longer owns anything at all in the digital world that continues to move forward, whilst physical media is dying at an accelerated speed.

Shelves that used to contain video cassettes of movies, were replaced with DVD’s, followed by Blu-Ray discs before finally being replaced by all you can eat subscription services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The music industry has also changed dramatically, and despite hard-core music fans keeping vinyl alive, the reality is more and more people are turning away from purchasing or even downloading illegal music in favour of services such as Spotify where you can think of an artist or song at any moment depending on your mood at the time and listen within a few seconds.

Books are safe though right? Step forward the Kindle Unlimited that not only removes the physical book from our lives but Amazon’s latest Netflix style venture intends to remove ownership of a book too and lets you have access to an entire library at your disposal for $9.99 a month. (more…)

Amazon Unveils Fire TV and Mocks Google, Apple and Microsoft In The Process

The last few weeks has seen increased speculation that Amazon will be joining the battle for the living room and this afternoon our suspicions were confirmed when Amazon announced that the Amazon Fire TV streaming box is officially a reality.

Quite simply described as a tiny box that plugs into your HDTV for easy and instant access to Netflix, Prime Instant Video and also offers the chance to play games which can be played with a separately sold controller, which looks remarkably similar to something Microsoft might produce.

Interestingly Peter Larsen came straight out swinging haymakers, by describing games consoles as too expensive and Apple TV’s mirroring efforts as laughable and even continued with an uppercut to their competition by criticising the lag on Apple TV, Microsoft’s Xbox Live and the Roku box.

A quick look under the hood reveals that Fire TV sports a quad-core processor with a dedicated GPU, 2GB of RAM (2X to 4X more than competing devices) and state-of-the-art MIMO Wi-Fi for “screaming” wireless performance.

In Layman’s terms despite being much thinner it offers three times the performance of Apple TV with the additional gimmick of being able to search for content with your voice, which should make their competitors stand up and take notice.

Amazon has worked with game developers like EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV. Games available starting on release include customer favourites like Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, and more

With Fire TV we thought of games right from the beginning – fun immersive games at affordable prices.” Amazon proudly announces.

AmazonFireGameController-Front

In a rapidly saturated market the big questions are probably going to be, can Amazon survive in the modern battleground arena known as the living room? Or will this box end up gathering dust under the TV? (more…)

Popcorn Time – Netflix for Pirates, Torrents For Dummies…

We all know that the traditional method of watching TV is dying; busy lifestyles determine what we want to watch and when we want to watch it. This change in attitude from viewers has seen services such as Netflix flourish and maybe even see the downloading of content via torrents slightly decline.

Do you really want the hassle of downloading illegally and the cumbersome process of transferring your dodgy files by plugging your device via a USB cable, when for only £5.99 a month you can view as much as you want  and not be labelled a thief in the online community by your fellow digital natives.

The only downside is that it can take a while for up-to-date content to make it across to whatever service you subscribe to. However, Popcorn Time has arrived on the scene and this new open source BitTorrent-powered movie streaming app for downloading and watching movies, can probably be best described as Netflix for Pirates or even Torrents for Dummies. (more…)

New App Spritz App Will Help You Read 1000 Words a Minute

Make no mistake, keeping up to speed in the modern world can be tough, everyday we consume thousands of words via email, Web pages, books and text messages. Step forward Spritz who have been working for nearly 3 years in “Stealth Mode” to perfect our reading methodology. They claim to have discovered that when reading, only around 20% of your time is spent processing content. The remaining 80% is spent physically moving your eyes from word to word and scanning for the next Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP.

The unique aspect of Spritz is that it identifies the ORP of each word, makes that letter red and presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words, and we can therefore process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.

According to the official Spritz site, “spritzing,” is the new form of reading that enables users to read up to 1,000 words a minute. Not only can the reader read faster, but Spritz says they are also able to retain much of what they read.  So let’s take a look at how it works…

250

This is 250 words per minute. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone is 76,944 words long according to . At this rate you could read the whole book in just over 5 hours.

350

350 words per minute doesn’t seem that much faster. 3 hours and 40 minutes to finish Potter (did you read that in the voice of Alan Rickman?).

I cannot think of anyone that would want to read a novel in this way and to even suggest this would be quite offensive to most readers because the beauty of reading is not like binge viewing your favourite TV show but to be transferred to another universe and escape reality to soak up the language and let your imagination create the world inside the book. You may even stop for a few minutes and ponder what you have just read and for these reasons, this innovation would dumb down the last sacred intelligent past time of reading.

However, nobody is suggesting we all read this way and this is simply a very useful learning tool which will enable students for example to read and digest information quickly which  would be incredibly useful to anyone who needs to wade through text books the size of War and Peace.

Anyone who has ever had to wade through a large text book or technical manual seldom  retrieve any joy from the experience but a tool like this could make our lives just a little easier and may even free up some of your time so that you can relax in your garden reading the entire works of Hemingway the traditional way but the important thing to remember here is you have different ways to access and absorb different types of information.

Nothing that we see or read is black and white any more; this is a very old-fashioned way of pigeon holing things for convenience and help people make sense of things. The truth is that we are all quite unique and the best analogy I can think of is that we all carry a toolbox around with us, and will select a tool from that for whatever situation that we find ourselves in or for any particular job/role and to be successful we just need to ensure that toolbox contains what we need.

The days of “we have done it this way for 20 years, but we get by” are disappearing, if you can use something like this to help make learning a little easier and but still be able relax and emerge yourself in another world for a few hours in the more traditional sense, would make you a more rounded and multitasking individual, but that’s just my opinion.

What is your opinion on apps like this, do they have a place in the modern world? Or is it simply a step to far?

Do Online Quizzes Fuel Narcissism or Just Harmless Fun?

The average Facebook timeline is not a place for the cynical or easily frustrated and even the most patient will tire of being bombarded with bridezillas, drinkers, wannabe politicians, constant game invites, baby bores, fitness freaks or even people practicing the relatively new art humblebragging where an individual delivers hidden claims on status by presenting them as an innocuous or humble personal anecdote.

In our constant quest to show the world something about who we really are, we have almost become our very own PR manager in this digital age. Whilst attempting to illustrate our uniqueness we have given birth to the ubiquitous online Facebook quiz.

The increasingly familiar quizzes all begin with “What (insert generic TV character here) are you?” or something like “What city should you live in?”

BuzzfeedQuiz

Zimbio and Buzzfeed seem to have captured the mood of the moment with their countless quizzes for all to express their individual personality. With millions of people across the global community falling over themselves to share their results, its of no surprise that the infamous “What City Should You Live In?” has amassed more than 20 million unique visitors and this kind of data is incredibly lucrative if marketed correctly.

BuzzFeed have recently begun working with clients to make the quizzes, which currently include “Which David Bowie Are You?” from Spotify. The “Which Barbie doll are you?” quiz from “featured partner” Mattel has around 152,000 Facebook shares since it launched on Feb. 21, a spokesperson for the site told Mashable

These types of quizzes are not a new idea and families have been filling out very similar in magazines and newspapers for years but the difference now is you can instantly share your results to everyone you know within a quick click and after all it’s just a giggle isn’t it?

han

Breaking it down, it’s very often, just a bunch of friends who all love the same TV show, entering a quick quiz to see which character they most resemble before sharing the results together and this cleverly taps into the oldest aspect of the social human condition which is to find a common connection with each other.

The more cynical amongst us, would suggest that we have all become infected with a heavy dose of narcissism and we should actually ask ourselves what our behaviour says about ourselves?

Spending your spare time searching through endless online quizzes, for the soul purpose of expressing to the world what kind of person you really are, is not a healthy pastime.

Maybe the antidote to our modern narcissism can be found in the 1985 Brat Pack movie, The Breakfast Club and the poetic closing scene where the cast learn that although they all come from different social groups and have stereotypes about each other. Ultimately they realised that they all had universal problems in common and learned new things about each other that actually made them more the same than different.

“We think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…athlete……and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.  Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?… Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club”

Ironically though, I have probably just unintentionally (honest) just given birth to a “Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?” online quiz and between me and you, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

**Update** 24th March 2014.

What was that ruckus?

What was that ruckus?

Several weeks after this post, can you guess what appeared on Buzzfeed?

Correct, the “Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?” arrived for all to answer and share, but as much as I would like to think that I inspired this latest quiz, I believe the true inspiration is because it was unbelievably 30 years since the day of the most infamous school detention in movie history.

Saturday March 24th, 1984, Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois.” So said Anthony Michael Hall in the opening voice over and if that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.