Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Amazon Alexa, Meet Shakespeare Geek

Show of hands, how many of you have an Amazon Echo device, lovingly referred to as Alexa?  If you've got one, I've got a treat for you.  If you don't, let me explain what it is.

You know Siri, right?  Take your phone out of your pocket, his whatever button it is to invoke her (I can never remember if it's hit-twice or press-and-hold), ask your question slowly and carefully.  Then ask it again because she didn't understand you.

Imagine if a Siri-like assistant what just kind of there, in your house, all the time.  Amazon Echo is a device that sits on your kitchen counter (for example) with it's excellent microphone and speakers, waiting for you to talk to it.  "Alexa?" you ask - from the next room.  She bongs to let you know she's awake.  Then you ask your question - "What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?"  "How did the Red Sox do?" "When is Tom Hanks' birthday?" and she happily responds, to all of those.  Oh and there's also "Alexa, put eggs on the shopping list" (which will sync to your mobile phone for when you're at the store), "Alexa, what's on the calendar today?" (syncs to Google calendar) and all kinds of other personal productivity tricks.  My kids use it to help with their homework, from checking their math and state capitals to setting timers for reading.  It's also a streaming music player.

It's really quite cool.  Everybody knows "that guy" who never lets a question go unanswered, always grabbing for his phone and asking it right in the middle of the conversation so that everybody knows the answer (heck, I am that guy).  Now you can still do that, only it's as if Alexa is another person in the conversation.

And now she's connected to Shakespeare Geek.

It's always been easy to get facts about Shakespeare - just go to Wikipedia, which Alexa can do.  And it's always been easy to get quotes (if somebody hasn't made an Alexa app for quotes yet I'm sure somebody will), but I find quote databases boring.  Too many to choose from, without any kind of context.

Well, Shakespeare Geek is different.  I've loaded it up with "trivia" about Shakespeare, rather than plain old Wikipedia entries, to keep it interesting.  I've also coded up as many of our original jokes as I could shove in there.  There's also a bit of a quote database, but I tried to do it more in "fortune cookie" style, where you're supposed to treat Alexa like a magic 8-ball, getting her to answer a question for you.  "Alexa, ask Shakespeare Geek his opinion."  / "Talkers are no good doers."  That kind of thing.

Hopefully I can grow it over time!  I really want to add something like a "Shakespeare in the news" feature that can be linked to something dynamic that's different every morning.  And of course the trivia/jokes/quotes databases can always grow.  What I'd really like to see is a bunch of downloads and hopefully some good reviews so I know that the effort will be worth it.  My kids know all this trivia and all these jokes, so other than as a neat demonstration it's not really something I'm building for myself.  It will be much more fun to know I'm keeping it updated for 500 people, than for 5.

Have fun!

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