The Risks of Traveling to North Korea

It would appear as a surprise to many that until now, America has not imposed a travel ban to North Korea. The reclusive country is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and yet Americans who are willing to take the risk can visit the country as they please. Of course, it is expected that not many Americans spend their holidays in a country that is hostile towards the US. However, there are plenty of thrill-seekers out there that want to see what the fuss is all about. Though the US government has not banned visits to North Korea, people must realize how crazy dangerous it is.

Today, there are many travel tours that offer Americans such opportunities to visit North Korea. In fact, many would be surprised to find out how easy it is to get in the socialist state. Curious travelers can just type in “North Korea tours” on their web search, and a long list of travel companies are displayed on the web page. A few clicks and a payment transaction later, people can already find themselves on a plane headed towards the land where Kim Jong-un is revered.

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This is exactly what college student, Otto Warmbier did last year when he decided to take a trip arranged by Young Pioneer Tours. The 21-year old’s trip took a drastic turn when North Korean officials caught him at the airport, stealing a propaganda poster. Officials immediately arrested the American, and detained him, eventually giving him a 15-year hard labor sentence for his crime. Seventeen months later, North Korea released Warmbier, however, not in the same condition as he was arrested. To the surprise of his family, Warmbier was in a coma due to unknown reasons. His medical condition remains to be a mystery despite North Korea’s claims that he suffered from Botulism the day after his arrest. American doctors that attended to him say that there is no trace of Botulism in his system. Weeks after his return, Warmbier’s death was announced.

Many have been angered by this, accusing North Korea of murdering Warmbier. News about Donald Trump calling Kim Jong-un’s leadership a “brutal regime” have also been reported. Clearly, the US must take action as a warning to North Korea that they cannot get away with what they did. Lawmakers have even gone as far as proposing to finally impose a travel ban to North Korea.

Following Warmbier’s death, Young Pioneer Tours stopped offering their services to Americans. However, the man behind the company has denied responsibility for the incident. It was reported that British businessman Gareth Johnson fled North Korea just days after Warmbier’s arrest. Weeks after the arrest, he also left his Chinese wife and kid and went to the Philippines where he started a new business called Gross Negligence Tours, catering to all-male customers looking for a “fun time” in the country’s red light district.

Although Young Pioneer Tours has revoked their services to US citizens, this has not stopped other travel agencies from doing so. Several agencies such as Secret Compass, Koryo Tours, and Lupine Travel still believe that there are still Americans who want to visit North Korea in spite of recent news. The State Department has made it clear, however, that Americans are strongly discouraged from traveling to the country. Also, being in a group tour will not stop authorities from arresting tourists who break the country’s laws.

North Korea’s unstable regime and undeniable hostility towards American citizens will always prevail in spite of assurances from travel agencies that their tours are safe. North Korea may be beautiful as attested by those who have visited that country, but are you really willing to risk your safety for it?

Clen Dosage for the Female Explained

Weight loss related issues are quite common in females. They would like to have solutions for the issue that are available to everyone and are easy to use. The use of Clenbuterol to promote the weight loss in women is a quite known method. This is due to the activation of the beta-2 adrenergic receptors in your body that weight reduction takes place. Usually, the doctors prescribe Clen for the treatment of asthma, high blood pressure, migraines, and cardiovascular shock. For other bodyweight related uses, there are people who prefer it for cutting cycle and diet for weight loss.

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Dosage for women

Women using Clen for weight loss would like to ensure they are taking only the prescribed amount of the drug. Combien de Clenbuterol pour une femme? This question can be only answered by a good physician or trainer working with an individual. The thing is normally the dosage for a female would range lower to that of a male. Around 2-4 capsule would be prescribed to females depending on the requirement and dosage of Clen in it. There are multiple combinations available in the form of tablets wherein the content of Clenbuterol varies in mcg. The half-life or amount of time it stays in the body is defined to be around 34 hours.

Benefits of Clenbuterol

Unlike the infamous drugs around the globe, Clenbuterol is misunderstood as it’s a sympathomimetic rather than anything else. It will work with one of the subsets of beta receptors while relieving arterial obstructions. The effectiveness of the medicine as a bronchodilator has been proven beyond doubt. There are definitely no side effects or consumer complaints about the medication when taken according to need. Buying it online can be really easy and productive way for the users. This is a really fantastic substance for the athletes as it can turn the fat cells into free fatty acids.

Users testify

Most of the female users of the drug would testify to the various benefits they have experienced using Clen. It has changed the life of many people by providing them desired fat reduction from the body. Those who are aiming to reduce fat without burning out the muscle mass can safely opt for Clenbuterol. Users have found the compound to provide fast results without hampering the muscles in the body. Even if some initial jitters might happen to a few it will go away once the body adapts to the use of Clen.

Correct use definite results

Incorrect use can lead to unwanted side effects which should be avoided at all costs. Then there is the need to understand the thermogenic effect of the drug as it can raise the body temperature up to half a degree. Combien de Clenbuterol pour une femme? Hope this question has been answered adequately for the interested females. This is the most important thing that one should always remember before starting the intake. Proper dosage with care can result in achieving the wanted effect of reducing fat from the body without any problem.

Interactive fiction and the origins of the conversational interface

It’s 2017, and conversational interfaces (people talking with machines the same way they talk to other people) are everywhere. Siri has become a household name. Taco Bell lets you order tacos over Slack. A chatbot lawyer can help you get out of your parking tickets. MasterCard is allowing people to manage their credit cards via Facebook Messenger.

It feels like we may spend more time talking to computers than to one another in just a few short years.

How did we get to this point? Where did the conversational interface originate?

Like most things in computer science, everything old has become new again. The predecessor of the modern conversational interface, “interactive fiction,” has been with us for more than 40 years. By taking a look at interactive fiction, we can better understand what makes conversational interfaces effective, as well as the lessons that interactive fiction developers have learned.

Humble beginnings

The first true conversational interface arguably dates to 1975, when Will Crowther, an engineer who worked on router code for the ARPANET, combined into a computer game for his daughters his two favorite hobbies — exploring Mammoth Cave National Park and playing Dungeons & Dragons. The result, Colossal Cave Adventure (“Adventure”), spawned a new genre of computer game.

In Adventure, the computer presents the player with a text description of where their character is standing, followed by a prompt. The player responds with a one- or two-word phrase of what they want their character to do — get lamp, go north, etc. The computer parses the player’s input and presents a new piece of text to tell the player what has changed.

A skilled player could, by typing the correct series of phrases, guide their character through an elaborate cave network, collect five treasures and return them to the house above ground. At the end, the player’s commands, combined with the program’s output, would form a full transcript of the “adventure” that could be read as a story.

The game spread through college campuses via the ARPANET, and was incredibly popular. By one estimate, the time spent on the game “set the entire computer industry back two weeks.”

The culture around Adventure, groups of people meeting late at night in campus computer labs, even inspired the first doctoral dissertation about a video game, “Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame Adventure” by Mary Ann Buckles. This work is part programming deep-dive, part literary analysis and part anthropological study. Adventure became a touchstone of computer culture and for many years defined what “video games” were.

Interactive fiction exploded in the 1980s, fueled by the success of Infocom, a company best known for the Zork series of games. Infocom was able to develop for a wide variety of systems by building one of the first commercial virtual machines for home computers (“Z-Machine”).

In an environment where each year’s new graphics technology was leaps and bounds beyond that of the year before, text adventures were comparatively ageless, which extended their sales even further. Once the computer industry consolidated to the graphically rich PC and Mac, though, Infocom went bankrupt, and interactive fiction as a commercial enterprise died soon after.

New directions

Devoted fans of the genre were not ready to let go. Enthusiasts built their own interactive fiction development platforms. The two primary development environments, TADS (“Text Adventure Development System”) and Inform, formed the core of an interactive fiction renaissance. The interactive fiction community grew again around newsletters like SPAG and competitions like IFComp, existing just under the radar of the wider video game community.

Text enables experiences that traditional graphical user interfaces cannot provide.

These new tools allowed anyone with a basic understanding of programming to make their own interactive fiction games, including games significantly more complex than Adventure. The parsers built into TADS and Inform can understand multi-word phrases with words of any length, opening up a number of conversational possibilities. Where an Adventure player might be limited to fight a troll, a more peace-loving player of TADS or Inform could ask a troll about his mother, give fresh-baked bread to a troll or even just say hello to a troll.

By expanding the scope of player inputs, TADS and Inform expanded the very definition of what an interactive game could be. Providing sophisticated characters for players to interact with in a more human-like fashion than ever before enabled interactive fiction to serve as a platform for role-play.

Full circle

TADS and Inform have continued to evolve. While interactive fiction has expanded to the internet, most developers of conversational interfaces are implementing systems that are a poor fit for the interactive fiction model. They are often one-off interactions (ordering tacos) as opposed to persistent world simulations (collecting treasures underground over several play sessions).

Yet it would be a mistake to write off interactive fiction entirely. We can learn from its history, both the techniques that led to success and the stumbles along the way. Here are a few of those lessons to use in your next project:

 Portability is powerful

Infocom’s success rested in large part on its ability to produce games for every system available. Infocom games were entirely presented as text, and text is readable by any kind of computer system. As Graydon Hoare said, always bet on text, because “the breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything.”

For conversational interfaces, text enables experiences that traditional graphical user interfaces cannot provide. Users gain the ability to save transcripts of their interactions; to share them easily with friends; to translate them, annotate them or search them. Creators, meanwhile, gain powerful debugging and analysis tools because computers can sift through text much more easily than videos of user interaction. If you are debating whether or not to develop a conversational interface for your product, focus on these areas of strength as you make your decision.

Beware the ELIZA effect

In 1966, a computer program named ELIZA made a splash in computing circles. Predating Adventure by nine years, it instructed the user to tell it their troubles, and responded as a therapist of sorts. Internally, the program was unsophisticated, latching on to key words in the user’s input and reformulating them into questions, or asking generic open-ended questions as a default. ELIZA had no memory of anything the user had previously typed, and most of the interaction could be re-created by rolling dice and consulting a list of phrases.

As a developer, go out of your way to make your conversational interface a joy to use.

Users, however, were entranced. Many believed ELIZA was a real person, if not a particularly skilled therapist. This became known as “the ELIZA effect” — a quirk of human nature that makes us think a human (or human-like intelligence) is behind the scenes whenever we encounter signs of “humanity” in a computer interface. Even something as simple as an automated phone system playing a recording that says “thank you” can trigger it. We are momentarily moved by the machine’s expression of gratitude.

For a conversational interface, this is a double-edged sword. Your users have an automatic, if basic, suspension of disbelief if your program presents itself as human. At the same time, a conversational interface can evoke strong feelings in your users that a traditional GUI cannot. You may become annoyed when Photoshop crashes, but you’re much more likely to take personally the failure of something that talks to you like a human, even when you know it’s just an automated system.

Surprises can delight

As a corollary to the ELIZA effect, when we give a computer an input that we believe it cannot comprehend, we find responses that handle our input with panache both surprising and delightful. When we ask Siri to read us a haiku, we don’t expect to actually receive one in return, let alone a haiku that asks us to charge Siri’s battery. Even Adventure was aware of this effect. A user who thought a simple use of abracadabra might solve all their problems would be greeted with the response “Good try, but that is an old worn-out magic word.”

Try to predict a few of these edge cases, and program in responses that will make your users smile. Better yet, use your ability to collect transcripts of user sessions to identify these moments when they actually happen. Each time you add a witty response to your conversational interface it will become a little more magical.

Deliver joy to your users

Conversational interfaces are a radical departure from the graphical interfaces with which your users are likely familiar. While a conversational interface can offer new types of experiences, remember they also can frustrate users in new ways. As a developer, go out of your way to make your conversational interface a joy to use. This is, after all, the reason they were invented in the first place.

Will Crowther said his goal with Adventure was to make “a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people,” and that he knew he had succeeded because his daughters “thought it was a lot of fun.” Mary Ann Buckles was motivated to write her dissertation on Adventure not because of its technical sophistication, but because she saw a group of people “going crazy… just sitting there, completely involved, having such a good time.”

If your product is fun to use, users will overlook the occasional shortcoming, and they’ll recommend it to their friends just for the experience.

Where do we go from here?

The lessons I’ve put together here only scratch the surface of how interactive fiction can inform our design processes around conversational interfaces. I recommend trying out a few works for yourself (the IFComp website is a good place to start), and if you’d like to try making your own interactive fiction, download Inform7 or TADS3. Both tools can export a web-playable game, making them a great way to prototype new conversational systems.

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman joins Microsoft’s board

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman announced today that he’s joined the board of directors at Microsoft.

This follows Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year. When the deal closed, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said the company’s day-to-day operations would “essentially remain unchanged,” but he also noted a number of areas (like integrating LinkedIn into Microsoft Outlook and Office products) where the two organizations would work together.

In a LinkedIn post, Hoffman said his primary job is still as a partner at Greylock, but he’s “maintained an office next to Jeff Weiner’s at LinkedIn for the last nine years” — so he’s remained very involved. (Officially, he was chairman of the LinkedIn board.)

As a Microsoft board member, Hoffman said his focus will remain on LinkedIn itself, while also working to help Microsoft build more connections in Silicon Valley.

 “And following the combination with Microsoft, LinkedIn now has new resources and technology assets to deploy as it moves forward,” he wrote. “Imagine a Cortana-like intelligent assistant helping you determine which third-degree connections make the most sense for you to pursue. Or LinkedIn Learning courseware that incorporates Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality technology for more immersive learning experiences.”

Microsoft also named LinkedIn’s Kevin Scott as its chief technology officer earlier this year.

Most Effective Diet Pills That Work

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Gboard for Android Now Suggests GIFs and Emojis as You Type; Translate Support Added

There are hardly any keyboard apps better than Gboard app on Android and seems like the app has further improved with the latest update, as it now suggests relevant GIF images and emojis to users as they type their messages. Moreover, the search giant has added more keyboard themes, improved voice-typing, search features support for languages written from right-to-left, and access to Google Translate feature on Gboard for Android.

With the update, when you start typing with Gboard inside messaging apps, you will see GIF image searches in the suggestion box. However, the support for this feature is not available across all messaging apps as of now. As of now, this suggestion feature supports Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Hangouts, and Allo messaging platforms. Notably, the app already had this suggestion feature on iOS.

Gboard for Android Now Suggests GIFs and Emojis as You Type; Translate Support Added

The search giant says that it has made voice typing easier and an update to the user interface enables users to switch back to regular typing with ease. Google has added more keyboard themes to the app that can be accessed either through Gboard settings or by a press on the Theme icon in the quick features menu in the suggestion strip.

Gboard app for Android, with the latest update, supports Google Translate and users can choose to translate messages within the app by accessing the feature from quick feature menu. As you type sentences, the translation tool will get into action and provide you with the translated messages in realtime.

Interestingly, Google has added support for languages written from right-to-left (like Arabic, Hebrew, and Farsi) for search and share features within its Gboard app. The latest version of the app is already available and can be downloaded from Google Play.

It is very convenient to buy Fastin XR diet pills at Walmart and other retail stores

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ISRO Rockets Can Take 400 Satellites to Space at a Time, Says Former Chairman

Noted space scientist G Madhavan Nair on Wednesday said ISRO’s feat of launch of 104 satellites in one go was achieved by proven technology, and the rocket has the capability to launch even 400 nano spacecraft.

ISRO Rockets Can Take 400 Satellites to Space at a Time, Says Former Chairman

“This is no new technology. We (Indian Space Research Organisation) started with ten satellites (on board a single rocket), then went to 18 or something; then it’s 35. Now it’s 100. If you make 3 or 4kg satellite, it (PSLV) can take 300 to 400 satellites at a time,” the former ISRO Chairman told PTI.

India today successfully launched a record 104 satellites – all but three of them foreign – from Sriharikota and put them into orbit in a single mission onboard its most dependable Polar rocket.

The PSLV Wednesday first launched the 714kg Cartosat-2 Series satellite for earth observation and then injected 103 co-passenger satellites, together weighing about 664 kg at lift-off.

“This number (104 satellites) has not demonstrated any new technology; it’s a proven technology which is being used,” said Nair, apparently refusing to share the euphoria over the launch.

“Cartosat is the real thing, the country needs it; it’s the main passenger and the spare capacity (of PSLV) was used to carry this many (the remaining 103) satellites. That’s all,” said the former Secretary in the Department of Space and ex-Chairman of Space Commission.

“Certainly, it (the launch of 104 satellites on board a single rocket) is a very significant milestone as far as ISRO is concerned. Of course, the technology we have proven earlier. About 30 satellites have been launched (at one go) earlier also. It’s an extension of that. But when you count it in numbers, it’s huge,” he said.

But the usefulness of the satellites that were launched is the most important, according to him.

“One worry is that these (103 satellites) are tiny satellites which at the best can have a life of one or two years; after that it really become space debris. Since they are small in size, they may not be amenable for tracking and finding out their positions and things like that. They become passive. To that extent, that worry is there,” he said.

Huawei Catches Up With Samsung, Apple in Smartphone Market: Gartner

Chinese smartphone maker Huawei managed to gain ground on Samsung and Apple in terms of market share last year, following the problems encountered by the two sector giants, the Gartner consultancy group said on Wednesday.

Huawei Catches Up With Samsung, Apple in Smartphone Market: Gartner

Over the year as a whole, the Chinese maker saw its sales leap by 26.7 percent, while the South Korean and US rivals both saw their sales decline by 4.3 percent, Gartner said in a study.

As result, Huawei was able to increase its share of the smartphone sector to 8.9 percent in 2016 from 7.3 percent a year earlier, while Samsung saw its market share shrink by two full percentage points to 20.5 percent and Apple’s contracted to 14.4 percent from 15.9 percent.

“Chinese makers succeeded in winning market share over last year and Huawei now seems to be the main rival to the two giants, even if the gap remains large,” Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann told AFP.

Among the other Chinese smartphone makers are Oppo, BBK Communication Equipment (with its OnePlus and Vivo brands), ZTE, Xiaomi and Lenovo.

“We’re seeing a very real progression compared with earlier years, when the number three maker and the others had struggled to hold on to a market share of more than four percent,” Zimmermann said.

“Huawei looks likely to strengthen its position again this year,” she added.

In the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, the launch of the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s difficulties with its Galaxy Note 7 model enabled Apple to take top slot in the market with a share of 17.9 percent or 77 million units sold.

Samsung sold 76.8 million smartphones in the October-December period, giving it a market share of 17.8 percent, while Huawei sold 40.8 million phones or a market share of 9.5 percent.

“Preliminary data for the current quarter suggest that Samsung will overtake Apple again. But it’s remarkable that Apple can hold on to that sort of share of the market with a closed eco-system,” the analyst said.

With regard to the different operating systems, Android, which is used by the large majority of smartphone makers, commands a market share of 81.7 percent, while Apple’s iOS operating system of its iPhones and iPads accounts for 17.9 percent of the market.

How AI Could End Stupid Thanksgiving Arguments

I’m writing this before Thanksgiving, which I used to hate and now don’t — largely because I no longer spend the day arguing with family. I’ve been listening to a lot of friends and relatives dread this year’s event because of political discussions that are likely to occur, and the equally annoying comments and critiques from those who supported both candidates.

I have no doubt that both sides will use fake news, quotes taken out of context, and false facts to make their points to the annoyance of those of us who just want to have a nice big meal and then drop into a food coma for a few happy hours afterward.

Perhaps my own most memorable Thanksgiving was going over to my then steady girlfriend’s house, having her compare herself to a Playboy playmate, and making the unfortunate comment “you wish,” to the glee of her brothers, and effectively ending the relationship. My defense of “trying to fit it,” I’m afraid, fell on deaf ears.

The week before Thanksgiving, Intel presented a fix that could be applied to this problem — an artificial intelligence tool that could prevent you from saying or tweeting something stupid. Hell, it likely could make more than a few politicians look a lot smarter than they currently do.

I’ll explain, and end with my product of the week — well, book of the week — which is an ex-Amazon employee’s take on how Amazon is going to take over the retail world. A lot of us catch up on our reading over the holidays, if only to avoid some of our more outspoken relatives and friends.


Your Personal AI Guardian Angel

In a column this summer, I referenced the two models that car makers like Toyota were using to define the future of autonomous cars. One — which drivers hate — takes the steering wheel out of the car and makes you a passenger, but the other, called “guardian angel,” just keeps you from doing stupid things.

As soon as you start doing something stupid, it disconnects you from the car and keeps you safe. For instance, a drunk driver would be no different than a child in a child seat with a fake steering wheel. Drunk drivers might think they were in control, but the car would be getting them home safely instead.

Consider this same concept applied to all of your correspondence — whether comments in email or over social media. The tool could operate in one of two modes: in one, it would insert a pause when you hit send, and ask if you really want others to view your remarks, listing the implications. Another option would be for it to reword your message or post, taking out all of the bigotry, inappropriate language and false information.

Now imagine this same capability in a Siri-like application on your phone, tied to a wireless headset. It would be listening to the same thing you were hearing, and it could do one of several things:

  • It could warn you that you were likely to say something you’d regret, because its sensors would read a change in your biometrics indicating you were both angry and intoxicated.
  • It could suggest an appropriate response to defuse rather than escalate a dispute — for instance, “that’s interesting, did you notice there is a bug in your potatoes?”
  • Depending on the setting, it actually could provide that zinger that you otherwise wouldn’t think up until hours — if not weeks — had passed, along with the suggestion you step back to avoid being slapped or slugged.

Regarding this last possibility, and by way of personal experience, when I was around 11, my then-stepmother wanted me to go to bed at 10 on a Friday, and I wanted to stay up and watch Star Trek (yes, I’m that old). She told me that “all smart people went to bed at 10 o’clock,” to which I responded “oh yes, what time are you going to bed?” Had I stepped back, my jaw would work a lot better today. I still smile about this, granted a tad lopsided.

Wrapping Up: AI as Enhancement Rather Than Replacement

Many of today’s concerns surround the idea of AI as a human replacement. In a lengthy GAO report, and a far more concise paper from my old friend and futurist Brian David Johnson, these concerns are brought forward, and they are real.

We really aren’t ready for the sudden unemployment of millions — but what if, rather than replacing people, we instead focused AI on making people better? Kind of like the old Six Million Dollar Man, we have the technology. We can make all of us smarter and better people. Granted, it might mean the end of politics as we know it — but frankly, after the last several months, I’d say good riddance to that.

AIs could provide advice that will help us avoid mistakes, respond to difficult situations in both more timely and more appropriate ways, and either help us safely avoid nasty arguments — or if we choose, help us win them. In all cases, they could help us be better people.

That is likely a far better focus than creating AIs that will put most of us out of work, which is where the industry is mostly headed. Thankfully, Intel folks like Brian David Johnson and Intel’s resident ethnologist Genevieve Bell are working to make the right things happen. Let’s pray they are successful.

If nothing else, it could keep you from avoiding Thanksgiving family events like I do. Happy holidays from an undisclosed location in the Northwest.

I get a lot of inquiries on IoT and why it is disappointing. I’ve been working in this space since the 1970s and certainly long before Cisco termed IoT, or “Internet of Things,” as a concept. Generally speaking, it continues to be defined more by security problems, interoperability issues, and just horrid user experiences than by successes.

One firm that at least does seem to get the concept right is Amazon. I was thinking it would be great if someone wrote a book, and someone did. It is by John Rossman, who as an executive at the company, launched the Amazon Marketplace. He has a unique insight into why products like the Amazon Echo are so good. (By the way, the Amazon Dot, my favorite Echo product, is down to US$49 and makes a great Christmas gift.)

In the book, The Amazon Way on IoT: 10 Principles for Every Leader from the World’s Leading Internet of Things Strategies, Rossman speaks to the fact that Amazon’s goals are much closer to what the user experience should be, and less about just connecting stuff and leaving the user to figure out the mess. (Samsung should be the poster child for that.)

Rossman explains how Amazon uses the analytics that IoT products generate both to build better versions and to provide better services to its customers, which is the true benefit of IoT done right, and how to create a product like the Echo with little initial risk and huge potential upsides.

If you’ve ever wondered why the Amazon Echo is so great, how to build a successful IoT product, or just wanted something interesting to talk or read about over the holidays, The Amazon Way on IoT is the book for you, and it is a very reasonable $9.99 on your Kindle (and yes I still love my Kindles).