Category Archives: Technology

Amazon Give Alexa Follow Up Mode… Finally!

There are a few irksome things about Amazon’s Alexa which are a bit rubbish, the fact you don’t have an “Owner Mode” and a “Guest Mode” and the fact you can’t set which search engine to pull results from and the fact 90 times out of a hundred it tells you “Sorry I don’t know that”, which brings us to follow up questions which the AI doesn’t get at all. 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Lets say you want to find out where your nearest Sainsburys store is and the opening hours, then you want the phone number, it currently goes like… 
Me: Alexa Where is my nearest Sainsburys store?
Alexa: I found a Sainsburys store nearby, its approx 5 km away on London Road. 
Me: Alexa What time is my nearest Sainsburys Store open ?
Alexa: Your nearest Sainsburys Store on London road is open from now until 4pm.
Me: Alexa What is the phone number for my nearest Sainsburys store?
Alexa: The phone number for your nearest Sainsburys store on London Road is 0161…

Which is clunky as hell, that’s on the assumption Alexa doesn’t have a tantrum and tell you “I don’t know that but I’m working on adding more local businesses”. However this “Follow Up Mode” in theory means it should work like…

Me: Alexa where is my nearest Sainsburys store ?
Alexa: I found a Sainsburys nearby, its 6km away London Road.
Me: What time is it open ? 
Alexa: Its open from now until 10pm.
Me: Whats the phone number  ?
Alexa: The phone number is….

How It Works!

Amazon Echo Follow-Up Toggle in Alexa App

Amazon Echo Follow-Up Toggle

This new “Follow-Up Mode” is disabled by default and needs to be enabled using the Alexa Mobile Phone app, otherwise it won’t work, its as simple as flicking a toggle switch. You need to go to the Alexa App, then select Settings then choose the device you wish to enable it on, and scroll down to “Follow Up Mode” and flick the toggle. 

All Amazon Echo Devices will give users approx 5 seconds after their first query to ask a follow up question, during this time frame the blue ring on your device will be lit to make you aware Alexa is still listening. The Follow-Up mode is smart enough determine what is general chatter in the room verse what is a follow up question. Its not clear if it recognises the original enquirers voice or just recognises a question but its said to work. 

Its worth noting that if music is playing or an audiobook or similar it won’t remain active as its a fair assumption you won’t be asking follow up questions. Also if you wait too long and the blue ring stops flashing, you’ll need to use your chosen wake word, which is “Alexa” by default. 

Saying “Alexa”, “Stop”, “Cancel”, “Thank You”, or “Go To Sleep”, will end your session so you need to start from scratch should you do this. Its also worth noting if your query ends with these it can end your query too. 

Owner and Guest Mode

I really want Alexa to have an Owner Mode and Guest Mode, by Owner Mode, I mean so Alexa recognises the owners voice much like “OK, Google” google can be set to recognise the owners voice pattern but it can be set to accept anyones voice. Owner Mode would be great for general commands, but Guest Mode for when your having a party and you want guests able to adjust the music or change the playlist or control the lights stuff like that. 

This would also open up the option of Alexa recognising multiple people, so “Turn my light on” could turn your light on, and when the missus says it, it turns her light on, and the same for any other command, playlists being a key one, adding to your diary and such.  

This is available in the USA only for now, but I would expect it to drop in the UK soon, the updates usually roll out quite quickly. 

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Internally Trackable Medicines Approved by FDA

The FDA (US version of the MHRA) have approved a trackable medicine, by trackable medicine I mean a drug which has a tiny little transmitter in it, which uses stomach acid as a catalyst to power a little bluetooth type transmitter which sends out a signal which a patch the patient wears which then sends the data to a mobile phone app.

Trackable Medicine Pills

Trackable Medicine Pills

The potential for this technology is amazing, so many possible applications. The potential I see for a few select groups will be life changing, for example older people, senile, dementia, your caregiver or family could be notified if you miss your medication and it would give early warning about a potential slide in your behaviour.  The mentally ill such as bipolar or schitzophrenic it would be able to notify your health care team and doctors that you are skipping your medication or not taking it. What about those with eating disorders, it could be placed in food and used to determine if the food has made it to the stomach to be digested. There are also those like myself who are forgetful as hell, and need reminding to take daily medication, and sometimes may have taken it twice. The applications are endless, but these are the top one I’ve thought of over the last few days since I read about this technology.  

The first approved drug is called Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole) which is an antipsychotic, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the tracking system is centred around a tiny ingestible sensor about the size of a grain of sand, which is called an Ingestible Event Marker (IEM), and is made from human-safe levels of copper, magnesium and silicon. The IEM is activated by during digestion when it comes in contact with stomach acids, and relays information a patch which the patient wears on their chest. The patch then transmits the data to the patients smart phone, where they can check it along with approved medical personal, family or even friends. 

There is currently no research to show it helps with patient compliance alone, but I would imagine the speed at which family, medical staff and friends can respond to missed doses will help get those on track lots quicker before there is an episode / breakdown (not sure if that is the right word), so it can’t be bad.

There are some concerns about giving it to mentally unstable people, who may already suffer from delusions and paranoia, and suggestions that schizophrenics may not have been the best place to starts but its the first area (mental health) I thought about, but maybe those with parkinsons/dementia or similar illnesses which are at stages medicine can treat them would have been a better trial. 

There is loads more information in this Science Alert Article, I have only read a few articles in the BBC, Mail and some others, so the science one is quite in-depth and well worth a read. 

 
Blurred Pills with Wifi and Bluetooth Logos by Julie Viken and Modified by Steven UK

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Amazon’s Alexa coming to Android Devices

Starting this week Amazon will be rolling out Alexa to Android users who have the Amazon Shopping App installed. It has been available on Apple devices for sometime (apparently). I have been waiting for this, but I thought Google maybe be digging in its heels and would never allow it.

While I’m happy this sort of automation control is coming, I’m equally somewhat disappointed. I was hoping Alexa would come to Amazon Music. Instead it seems its a limited version of the Echo’s Alexa, you can get sports results, weather, ask questions about people and places, get information about your flash briefing and appointments etc.

It would also appear you can install “Amazon Skills” which extend functionality, which means your mobile phone or android device will become a sort of “Echo Phone”. A few places have suggested you will gain some degree of control over your IoT/Smart Home devices so you can use your phone to turn off Echo compatible devices.

Music and Video Control

I haven’t found any mention of Amazon Music or Prime Video controls which would be excellent. I primarily listen to music and watch prime video whilst I’m in the gym. The ability simply say “Alexa, Play my Lifting Heavy playlist” or “Alexa, Play my CardiNO playlist” or skip that slow track when you’re half way through a sprint or run would be amazing. 

Equally being able control volume, and change tracks without having to physically touch your phone means you won’t miss a beat while working out. The implications for personal trainers who use bluetooth speakers are huge, they could tell Alexa to load the certain Circuits or change to a faster track, to start and stop timers an more. 

Even though I can’t find evidence of music and video control, that doesn’t mean its not there, and if it isn’t I’ll be the first to rave at Amazon to get it sorted, fitness is a huge market and an excellent penetration point. If they haven’t gone there, then frankly heads needs to roll. 

Its one of the major functions I miss of having a Samsung, the Air Gestures, so you can wave your hand left and right to change music track and up and down to alter the volume. Given the number of phones which have Proximity Sensors it amazing how few companies actually use them. Alexa could be a massive overhaul and improvement to this, lets hope its coming.

I also anticipate that Amazon may produce their own version of an Android Laucher, like N Launcher or Nova Launcher so they can convert nearly any phone into an Echo Compatible device, that seems to be where I think they are going. 

Given that Alexa can work out which speaker you are nearest too and deliver information to that speaker, its aware of where you are, moving this feature into your phone could be interesting. My friend regularly uses an Echo Dot at house parties and tells me he uses the Alexa Remote to control the device since it often can’t detect his voice over the noise, so having your phone able to fill this role would be cool. 

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Microsoft and Google Got Phished for £77 Million

The title reminds me of the slightly twisted Freddy Got Fingered movie, and this tale is almost as bizarre. Two of the worlds biggest technology giants Microsoft and Google were taken by a sophisticated phishing scam to the tune of $100,000,000, yes ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS!, or £77,000,000 of the Queens own British Pounds. 

This goes to show not even biggest more resourceful in the tech sector are immune to cyber attacks and internet fraudsters. Exact details, are not clear, but it would smell of insider information to me. It was reported a 48 yr old Lithuanian Man called Evaldas Rimasauskas tricked both Google and Microsoft into sending him more than $100,000,000 via Wire Transfers to settle bogus invoices. 

The details are a little light, on the hows, but he basically impersonated Quanta Computer, which is a Taiwanese Electronics manufacturer, which has most of the tech world as clients including Apple, Google, Facebook and many more. The questions I’m curious about are how did he know exactly what the invoices look like, how was he able to deliver it in the same way as usual and are wire transfers the usual method, lots of questions which won’t be answered.

Purely speculation on my part but my guess is he had some sort of inside information thus he knew what the invoice looks like and what sort of things to include, how big to make the dollar value and more. 

The end result is Mr Rimasauskas was charged with Wire Fraud, Aggravated Identity Theft and Money Laundering. The latter offence is interesting given the statements from both tech giants. 

Crime May Pay

Given he was charged with Money Laundering, and there is a wedge of cash missing it shows Rimasauskas may have hidden some away. Facebook said “We recovered the bulk of the funds.”, when dealing with many millions, bulk makes it sound like a significant chunk were missing.  Googles statement on the other hand says “We recouped the funds and we’re pleased this matter is resolved.”, seems they got it all back.

Exactly how much is Bulk, breaking it down to smaller numbers. If someone steals 1,000 from me, and I get 975 back, I would say I got it back. If I got 900 back, I’d say I got most of it back, if I got 800 back, I’d say I got the bulk of it back. Extrapolate this to $50,000,000, and many millions could be missing from facebooks slice. 

Premium Domain

This is an instance where one of the sites I helped build were subject to a similar scam on the Quanta side. Their clients had been told many many times that only emails from their domain name were official, anything else they should ignore, this was even in the boiler plate and header of the email. Along with details of the account holders name, the account handlers name, and other information included in every email. 

At some point in 2014 I think, someone was sending fake invoices to clients, mostly for small amounts £30-100 as I recall. Not a single one paid up because the emails didn’t match templates, and the domain they used were were wrong. The company had educated their clients to spot an email/invoice which didn’t add up. 

This maybe a good lesson and opportunity to strengthen your own security… maybe buy a new premium domain which can’t be spoofed, and include a footer/boilerplate with all your emails to help clients. However when even Facebook and Google, who are market leaders in technology, and even make products which are meant to help protect against online scammers, get tricked, it paints a grim picture for your average user.

There is a more in depth story about this on Fortune, well worth a read. Google Laptop image by Caio.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Ironman is British

Ironman Flight Suit

Ironman Flight Suit

A British Inventor called Richard Browning may end up being the real life Tony Stark after presenting a working Ironman suit. Every since he posted a video of his maiden flight in the UK, he’s had huge interest in his suit, but he maintains the project is just “a bit of fun”, and not intended to be a mainstream form of transport. 

Much like Tony Stark, Richard and his son have a flare for extravagant names, this iteration of the suit was named by his 8 yr old, as Daedalus, who is the father of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and burned. Hopefully that’s not an omen for things to come.

Richard says he was inspired by his Aeronautical engineer and inventor father, who sadly committed suicide when he was a teen. Both he and his father had always enjoyed a challenge, when asked about making the Ironman suit he told the BBC “I did this entirely for the same reason that you might look at a mountain and decide to climb it – for the journey and the challenge.

Wiltshire Ironman Flight Suit

Wiltshire Ironman Flight Suit

My approach to flight was why not augment the human mind and body, because they are amazing machines, so I just bolted on what was missing – thrust.” The suit is controlled with his arms which control the direction and speed of the flight, apparently its capable of flying at 200 mph with an altitude of a few thousand feet, but currently only has fuel for about 10 minutes flight.

I’d guess 10 minutes at maximum speed, and fairly low altitude, allowing for landing and take off, acceleration and deceleration should give him about 15-20 miles range, once perfected. A mile a minute in a suit is impressive, once the kinks are worked out and such speed is safe.

For safety reasons he says he keeps the speed and altitude low, but SHHHH!, I’ve seen the movie and I guess he hasn’t solved the ice / freezing problems yet 😉

Richard Browning Fueling Up

Richard Browning Borrowing Fuel

The Royal Marine Reserve created his fantastical flying machine using half a dozen miniature jet engines along with a specially designed and manufactured exoskeleton. This exoskeleton much like Tony Starks Ironman suit had a sophisticated Heads-Up-Display (HUD) which keeps him informed about fuel usage, temperatures and other statistics. Sadly there isn’t a Jarvis or Friday A.I. just yet…  

Mr Browning has founded a start-up called Gravity which is working on new technology to further the Daedalus Suit which will make the current prototype look “like child’s play”.

If you look at the original suit images from the maiden flight in Wiltshire, UK, you can see how much the suit as progressed and can only imagine how far it will come with all the funding, especially now the UK military is investing amongst others. 

 One of the more interesting images shared online shows, issues importing the particular fuel his Daedalus Suit uses in to Canada, he had to borrow fuel from air planes in the Vancouver Harbour. Looking at the size of his fuel “tank”, you could imagine a sort of metal backpack fuel tank, like the 1990s film the Rocketeer, could double or triple his fuel supply and things would get interesting.  

Images Copyright of Richard Browning. 

 

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Android O Joins Ransomware Battlefield

Android O by Symantec

Android O by Symantec

I read an interesting article about Android O and its joining the battlefield against Ransomware but first I’m addressing the big issue, well not really THE big one but still a sticking point. Lots of people are second guessing Android O’s name I’m still banking on Android Oreo with an Android KitKat style tie in deal. Lots of others are saying it will be Oatmeal Cookie because Orea is a trade mark, but that didn’t stop them with Kitkat. My second guess would be Opal Fruit but that’s also another tie in. I don’t know if Opal is global or not, and in lots of parts of the world Opal is a car company, so less than ideal. 

Back on the topic of Ransomware, Google has decided certain vendors are cretins and not heeding their security warnings and utilising protective features so staring with Android 8.0 (Oreo :P), they are going deprecate (remove) certain things and give us another some beastly weapons. Android 8.0 is due to be released early in the last quarter of 2017. Google will be killing the following Window Types: TYPE_SYSTEM ALERT, TYPE_SYSTEM_ERROR and TYPE_SYSTEM_OVERLAY. 

These are basically urgent or critical windows which appear on top of any other running window, think of Windows modal pop ups where you MUST click to close it, or something like a Blue Screen of Death message that sort of thing. These are the window types which Ransomware often use to lock users out of their devices. 

Permission Classifications

Previously there were only two classifications for permissions, which were Normal Permissions and Dangerous Permissions. Normal permissions were simple things like access the phones IR Sensor, Alter the Time Zone, Set A Wallpaper. Dangerous Permissions are like Access the Camera, Use the Microphone or get phones GPS Location etc. 

Google introduced a third class which they called “Above Dangerous“, really should have been called “Toxic Waste” or “Radioactive” to drive home the danger. As it happens it wouldn’t have made a huge difference since many OEMs decided not to move the toxic permissions into the Above Dangerous category. OEMs are people like Samsung with Touchwhiz and HTC with Sense and the various others who modify Android to their own front end. 

Normal Permissions the Android OS could grant with no interaction from the user, Dangerous Permissions you get the pop up at install time or when needed and had to OK it. Above Dangerous permission requests needed 100% human interaction, apps which required it had to do so by providing instructions where you had to physically go into android settings and carry out the action yourself. Some OEM’s decided this were a hassle to users, and users would prefer paying Ransom in Bitcoins (BTC) to criminals instead.

Google Nuclear Weaponry

Google has been introducing a series of weaponry against Ransonware, in the previous release Android Nougat (7.0) google disabled applications from being able to programmatically change a phones PIN, Security Codes and Passwords. They have now introduced another bunker busting nuke, in case anything does manage to get through and try to lock your screen. The notification bar will always be accessible along with a button which will kill any application trying to hold the screen.

The evidence shows that Ransomware Criminals don’t bother trying to circumvent Googles moves to block them, instead the criminals choose to target older versions. Worst hit are versions Lollipop (5.0) and below, the older the version of android the more targeting it. Jellybean, Ice Cream Sandwich and KitKat are the hardest hit. This would show Google is slowly nailing all the hatches shut.

 

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.