How to make your Amazon Alexa more Human

I bought a secondhand Amazon Echo on a whim some time last year. I live on my own so thought it might be a good idea to make the days pass a little quicker. I use her, sorry…”It” mostly to play music and maybe let me know what time and day it is…month even sometimes. We’ve become quite attached over the year but something was missing in our friendship. It’s hard to get over the disconnect of  talking to something as if they were human when they look like a small piece of electronic equipment. Just recently an amazing thought floated into my head from somewhere…what if I could make Alexa more human like?

My first idea was to get my daughter’s makeup doll head and put Alexa inside that but they seemed a little reluctant to let Gracie (not her real name) go or be tampered with in any way. Then, while browsing on Amazon.co.uk for another doll’s head, I came across some very cheap polystyrene mannequin heads and decided to buy one. I could cut out holes for Alexa to sit in a lot easier and decorate her to my own “taste”.

The head arrived and I spent the best part of one Friday afternoon cutting out a crevice for Alexa to sit in with space for the power and audio leads, painting her and as the icing on the cake, put some fibre optic strands in her eyes to gather the ambient background light from my monitor stand. Her eyes really shine with a warm, friendly glow at night now.

Below is a photo gallery of the whole process:

Video: Talking to my new look Alexa!

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FREE WiFi in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim from Magnet Networks

I attended the launch of the new Magnet Networks provided FREE WiFi service in Carrick-on-Shannon town centre this morning, June 20th. The CEO Mark Kellett and other Magnet representatives were on hand to introduce and explain the new service and it’s benefits and to outline other services that Magnet can provide. Carrick-on-Shannon is the first town in the country to roll out free, no limits public WiFi.

Here’s how it works.

Areas covered:

  • Main Street,
  • Bridge Street,
  • Marina/Boardwalk area,
  • Town Park (Behind Victoria Hall/Beside the Rowing Club).

Access & Speeds:

  • One time free sign up with either Email or Facebook details,
  • Around 6MB up and down,
  • No time limits,
  • No bandwidth limits,
  • Content filtered (Family safe).

Benefits:

  • Local businesses can benefit from Advertising opportunities and usage analytics,
  • The public including town visitors can benefit from fast, free internet,
  • Children and teenagers can remain in touch with parents.

Sponsors

Access Points were kindly supported by the following local businesses:

  • Spice India
  • Leitrim County Council
  • The Bush Hotel
  • Buffalo Boy
  • Carrick-on-Shannon Chamber of Commerce
  • McMahon Opticians
  • Brady Insurance

Photo Gallery:

For more information on Magnet’s services, visit their website – MagnetNetworks.com

Photoshop CC Essential Basics Online Course

I’ve created a 9 Lesson online course in Photoshop CC basics for Photoshop beginners who would like to know how to do basic image editing. It’s suitable for:

  • Photographers,
  • Business Owners,
  • Marketing People,
  • Graphic Designers,
  • Web Designers,
  • Photoshop Hobbyists.

Requirements:

  • Basic computing ability,
  • A decent, modern Desktop or Laptop computer,
  • A cloud subscription to Photoshop CC (or the free months trial).

Topics Covered include:

  1. Where and how to get Photoshop,
  2. Photoshop Configuration,
  3. The Photoshop Interface,
  4. How to Open images,
  5. How to Crop images,
  6. How to Resize images,
  7. How to Add Text to an image,
  8. How to Save an image,
  9. How to Save Optimised images for the Web.

There’s also a Quiz at the end to test your new found knowledge!

The course is a total of 40 mins long and only €79 + VAT.

TAKE THE COURSE

Photographing The Moon with a DSLR

Disclaimer: I’m a newbie at shooting the moon and an amateur photographer at best. This blog post just details my experience and learning curve on my first ever proper moon shoot recently.

I seen something online about the next full moon and since I’d just purchased a second hand telephoto lens for my Canon EOS 500D, I though I’d mark the date in my diary and try get some decent moon shots for once.

Step 1 – Find out when and where the next full moon is

I’d found out the date of the next full moon no problem but I’d gone as far as setting up my tripod and camera on the balcony out the back of my apartment before I realised that I didn’t know what time exactly the moon would appear and in what exact position. I remembered roughly having seen the moon out the back before so I knew it was in that general direction after dark but because I had a small viewing angle with trees and stuff, I needed to know precisely where the moon would be at a particular time. I used this website below to give me all the details I needed on moon positions for my location:

MoonCalc.org

I also used the handy “Sky Map” android app to show me the moon position and any other interesting objects close by in real time/augmented reality:

Sky Map App

Step 2 – Equipment and Setup

I’d found out that the moon was going to be in just the right position to shoot at about 1:45am so I setup everything I needed before I went to bed that night and set an alarm. Here’s what I used:

  • Canon EOS 500D (A camera is handy!)
  • 75 – 300mm Telephoto Lens (Not quite powerful enough for Pro moon shots but way better than a normal lens)
  • Tripod (Impossible without)
  • Wireless Hot Shoe Remote control set (You can’t be shaky at high zooms! The camera’s timer or a remote phone app will do here too though..)
  • Candles (As little light as possible in the immediate vicinity)
  • A Smartphone (To shine on your camera buttons and google “moon camera settings”!)

Step 3 – Shoot, Shoot, Shoot..

I ended up with 35 RAW images of the moon but deleted many more directly from the camera after checking the results in the camera LCD. The trick is to take a pile of shots, starting out with the generally accepted camera settings for photographing the moon, then varying things like Shutter Speed and Aperture to get different results. You really have to go full manual too as letting the camera try decide on the best settings for something that far away just doesn’t work.

In the end, the following settings seemed to work best for me:

  • Full Manual Mode
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125
  • Aperture: f/11
  • ISO: 100

Step 4 – Review

Getting the photos onto the computer and reviewing them is the fun bit. Sorting through to find that one photo (hopefully!) that stands out above the rest. Shooting in RAW allows some good control over editing your best images to enhance the results a little too.

Here’s my gallery of the shoot with the best shot I achieved:

 

 

Mohill Railway Station Leitrim Then and Now

I have Google alerts set to alert me whenever Mohill or Leitrim is in the news and one came in last week for old photos of Mohill Railway station for sale on eBay by an Australian seller of all things! The auctions were fairly high quality old photos from about 1950 looking from both ends of Mohill at the old railway station. All photos were from about the 1950s.

I loaded them on my phone and went out one fine day (it’s only around the corner from where I live) to take some modern day photos from as close to the old photo angles as possible.

I went back to the office and loaded each set of then and now photos in Photoshop and aligned them best I could before masking out certain sections to merge then and now versions in some meaningful way. Finally I added some adjustment layers above everything to improve levels, colour and contrast..

The Old Photos:

The New Photos:

The Results:

Equitopia Center Upgrade

I was asked by Equitopia in California, USA to survey their existing site and make suggestions on how to improve it both functionally and aesthetically and help it bring in more business. Requirements and sugegstions included adding an Online Learning Management system, Forum, MailChimp Newsletter integration, Private Members section with monthly subscription payment and Online Shop.

Live April 2018 – www.EquitopiaCenter.com

GDPR & Websites

The General Data Protection Regulation or “GDPR” deadline day of 25th May 2018 is getting closer and we’re all going to die. The Data Apocalypse is nigh.. You may have seen one or two or 10,000 news articles about it recently? Anyway, I’ve done some research and attended workshops in an effort to try make sense of it all for mine and my own companies’s benefit and I’m happy to share the basics I’ve learned here with you, hopefully in a simplified and jargon free way.

What’s it all about?

Basically on the 25th May 2018, new legislation is being introduced across Europe to protect private individual’s data a lot more. If companies don’t comply they may be liable for hefty fines.

What do you have to do as a company?

You need to do some research firstly, ideally a local workshop or a solicitor if you have one to get familiar with the guidelines and how they relate to your own business specifically. Here are several things to look at in your business and consider:

  • What Data do you currently have and collect on your clients?
  • Why do you collect that Data?
  • Do you really need to collect all or any of it?
  • How do you collect Data?
  • How do you store the Data? Is it stored securely?
  • Who has access to the Data exactly?
  • Where do you store Data? Is it stored/transferred abroad, outside Europe?
  • Do you share Data with 3rd parties?
  • Do 3rd party companies store your data? ?If so, who and where exactly and are they compliant themselves?
  • Do you have the facilities to process Data requests from clients?
  • Can you securely delete or update Data you hold?
  • Do you have a Data breach plan?
  • Does everyone in your organisation know the rules around Data?

What do you have to do with your website?

Websites are the front line for many companies and range from basic sites that ask for and accept no data or cookies from visitors up to large, data heavy E-commerce sites with Online Payments, Member Sections, Logins, Newsletter Subscriptions etc..

Here are some of the things you should really do on your website BEFORE the 25th:

  • Add a Privacy Policy page or update your current one
  • Add a Privacy popup that requires explicit, recorded consent.. Or
  • Add a required Privacy/Terms tick box on any forms that submit data to you such as Contact Forms, Newsletter signups etc..
  • Make sure any Newsletter subscription processes require the users explicit, recorded consent and is double opt in
  • Make sure data transfer to and from your website is encrypted by installing an SSL certificate
  • Make sure the software that powers your website, if any, is kept up to date and secure.

Despite the hype, there’s no need to panic. If you do the basic, common sense things around your clients data and remain Transparent, Secure and Accountable if things go wrong, you’ll be fine. “FINE” not “Fined…

Leon

More information for Companies and Organisations:

GDPRAndYou.ie/Organisations/

More information for Private Individuals:

GDPRAndYou.ie/Individuals/

General Data Protection Information:

www.DataProtection.ie