This plug-in is a secret weapon for sound design and drums

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It’s full of gun sounds. But because of a combination of a unique sample architecture and engine and a whole lot of unique assets, the Weaponiser plug-in becomes a weapon of a different kind. It helps you make drum sounds.

Call me a devoted pacifist, call me a wimp – really, either way. Guns actually make me uncomfortable, at least in real life. Of course, we have an entirely separate industry of violent fantasy. And to a sound designer for games or soundtracks, Weaponiser’s benefits should be obvious and dazzling.

But I wanted to take a different angle, and imagine this plug-in as a sort of swords into plowshares project. And it’s not a stretch of the imagination. What better way to create impacts and transients than … well, fire off a whole bunch of artillery at stuff and record the result? With that in mind, I delved deep into Weaponiser. And as a sound instrument, it’s something special.

Like all advanced sound libraries these days, Weaponiser is both an enormous library of sounds, and a powerful bespoke sound engine in which those sounds reside. The Edinburgh-based developers undertook an enormous engineering effort here both to capture field recordings and to build their own engine.

It’s not even all about weapons here, despite the name. There are sound elements unrelated to weapons – there’s even an electronic drum kit. And the underlying architecture combines synthesis components and a multi-effects engine, so it’s not limited to playing back the weapon sounds.

What pulls Weaponiser together, then, is an approach to weapon sounds as a modularized set of components. The top set of tabs is divided into ONSET, BODY, THUMP, and TAIL – which turns out to be a compelling way to conceptualize hard-hitting percussion, generally. We often use vaguely gunshot-related metaphors when talking about percussive sounds, but here, literally, that opens up some possibilities. You “fire” a drum sound, or choose “burst” mode (think automatic and semi-automatic weapons) with an adjustable rate.

This sample-based section is then routed into a mixer with multi-effects capabilities.

In music production, we’ve grown accustomed to repetitive samples – a Roland TR clap or rimshot that sounds the same every single time. In foley or game sound design, of course, that’s generally a no-no; our ears quickly detect that something is amiss, since real-world sound never repeats that way. So the Krotos engine is replete with variability, multi-sampling, and synthesis. Applied to musical applications, those same characteristics produce a more organic, natural sound, even if the subject has become entirely artificial.

Weaponiser architecture

Let’s have a look at those components in turn.

Gun sounds. This is still, of course, the main attraction. Krotos have field recordings of a range of weapons:

AK 47
Berretta 92
Dragunov
GPMG
SPAS 12
CZ75
GPMG
H&K 416
M 16
M4 (supressed)
MAC 10
FN MINIMI
H&K MP5
Winchester 1887

For those of you who don’t know gun details, that amounts to pistol, rifle, automatic, semiautomatic, and submachine gun (SMG). These are divided up into samples by the onset/body/thump/tail architecture I’ve already described, plus there are lots of details based on shooting scenario. There are bursts and single fires, sniper shots from a distance, and the like. But maybe most interesting actually are all the sounds around guns – cocking and reloading vintage mechanical weapons, or the sound of bullets impacting bricks or concrete. (Bricks sound different than concrete, in fact.) There are bullets whizzing by.

And that’s just the real weapons. There’s an entire bank devoted to science fiction weapons, and these are entirely speculative. (Try shooting someone with a laser; it … doesn’t really work the way it does in the movies and TV.) Those presets get interesting, too, because they’re rooted in reality. There’s a Berretta fired interdimensionally, for example, and the laser shotguns, while they defy present physics and engineering, still have reloading variants.

In short, these Scottish sound designers spent a lot of time at the shooting range, and then a whole lot more time chained to their desk working with the sampler.

Things that aren’t gun sounds. I didn’t expect to find so many sounds in the non-gun variety, however. There are twenty dedicated kits, which tend in a sort of IDM / electro crossover, just building drum sounds on this engine. There are a couple of gems in there, too – enough so that I could imagine Krotos following up this package with a selection of drum production tools built on the Weaponiser engine but having nothing to do with bullets or artillery.

Until that happens, you can think of that as a teaser for what the engine can do if you spend time building your own presets. And to that end, you have some other tools:

Four engines, synthesis. Onset, Body, Thump, and Tail each have associated synthesis engines. Onset and Body are specialized FM synthesizers. Thump is essentially a bass synth. Tail is a convolution reverb – but even that is a bit deeper than it may sound. Tail provides both audio playback and spatialization controls. It might use a recorded tail, or it might trigger an impulse response.

Also, the way samples are played here is polyphonic. Add more samples to a particular engine, and you will trigger different variants, not simply keep re-triggering the same sounds over and over again. That’s the norm for more advanced percussion samplers, but lately electronic drum engines have tended to dumb that down. And – there’s a built-in timeline with adjustable micro-timings, which is something I’ve never seen in a percussion synth/sampler.

The synth bits have their own parameters, as well, and FM and Amplitude Modulation modes. You can customize carriers and modulators. And you can dive into sample settings, including making radical changes to start and end points, envelope, and speed.

Effects and mixing. Those four polyphonic engines are mixed together in a four-part mix engine, with multi-effects that can be routed in various ways. Then you can apply EQ, Compression, Limiting, Saturation, Ring Modulation, Flanging, Transient Shaping, and Noise Gating.

Oh, you can also use this entire effects engine to process sounds from your DAW, making this a multi-effects engine as well as an instrument.

Is your head spinning yet?

About the sounds

Depending on which edition you grab, from the limited selection of the free 10-day demo up to the “fully loaded” edition, you’ll get as many as 2228 assets, with 1596 edited weapon recordings. There are also 692 “sweeteners” – a grab bag of still more sounds, from synths to a black leopard (the furry feilne, really), and the sound recordists messing around with their recording rig, keys, Earth, a bicycle belt… you get the idea. There are also various impulse responses for the convolution reverb engine, allowing you to place your sound in different rooms, stairwells, and synthetic reverbs.

The recording chain itself is worth a look. There are the expected mid/side and stereo recordings, classic Neumann and Sennheiser mics, and a whole lot of use by the Danish maker DPA – including mics positioned directly on the guns in some recordings. But they’ve also included recordings made with the Sennheiser Ambeo VR Mic for 360-degree, virtual reality sound.

They’ve shared some behind-the-scenes shots with CDM, and there’s a short video explaining the process.

In use, for music

Some of the presets are realistic enough that it did really make me uncomfortable at first working with these sounds in a music project – but that was sort of my aim. What I found compelling is, because of this synth engine, I was quickly able to transform those sounds into new, organic, even unrecognizable variations.

There are a number of strategies here that make this really interesting.

You can mess with samples. Adjusting speed and other parameters, as with any samples, of course gives you organic, complex new sounds.

There’s the synthesis engine. Working with the synth options either to reprocess the sounds or on their own allows you to treat Weaponiser basically as a drum synth.

The variations make this sound like acoustic percussion. With subtle or major variations, you can produce sound that’s less repetitive than electronic drums would be.

Mix and match. And, of course, you have presets to warp and combine, the ability to meld synthetic sounds and gun sounds, to sweeten conventional percussion with those additions (synths and guns and leopard sounds)… the mind reels.

Routing, of course is vital, too; here’s their look at that:

In fact, there’s so much, that I could almost go on a separate tangent just working with this musically. I may yet do that, but here is a teaser at what’s possible – starting with the obvious:

But I’m still getting lost in the potential here, reversing sounds, trying the drum kits, working with the synth and effects engines.

The plug-in can get heavy on CPU with all of that going on, obviously, but it’s also possible to render out layers or whole sounds, useful both in production and foley/sound design. Really, my main complaint is the tiny, complex UI, which can mean it takes some time to get the hang of working with everything. But as a sound tool, it’s pretty extraordinary. And you don’t need to have firing shotguns in all your productions – you can add some subtle sweetening, or additional layers and punch to percussion without anyone knowing they’re hearing the Krotos team messing with bike chains and bullets hitting bricks and an imaginary space laser.

Weaponiser runs on a Mac or PC, 64-bit only VST AU AAX. You’ll need about five and a half gigs of space free. Basic, which is already pretty vast, runs $399 / £259/ €337. Full loaded is over twice that size, and costs $599 / £379 / €494.

https://www.krotosaudio.com/weaponiser/

The post This plug-in is a secret weapon for sound design and drums appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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The Tiny, Essential Google Tricks for Way Better Search Results

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Are you using Google effectively as possible? If you’re just entering words into the search field without using these totally basic but totally essential tricks to improve your results, you’re missing out. We like to think of ourselves as Google ninjas at Lifehacker, but even we need a reminder of these crucial shortcuts now and then.

Dashes

If you want to exclude a word from your search results, put a dash in front of it.

Example:

Watch West Wing online -Netflix

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks to search an exact set of words, such as song lyrics.

Example:

“You must remember this” song

Asterisk

Speaking of exact words, what if you can’t remember them all? No problem—just use an asterisk in place of the unknown word/s. Again, this is great for song lyrics or quotes that you may have only half heard. Alternatively, ones that are often misquoted, like below.

Example:

“Play * Sam”

Tilde

Use a tilde before a word to include all of its synonyms.

Example:

Star Wars ~Presents

As you can see, it has scraped ‘gifts’ as well:

Double Period

Use a double period between two numbers to convey ranges. This is handy for pricing, dates and measurements.

Example:

HP Spectre buy $1000..$2000

Site: Query

You can search for something within a specific website by using ‘site:’.

Example:

How I Work site:lifehacker.com

Link: Query

You can find sites that have linked to a specific URL through ‘link:’

Example: We wanted to find sites that linked to this Lifehacker post about teens and juuling.

Related: Query

If you’re looking for websites that are related to a specific site, you can use ‘related:’

Example:

related:boardgamegeek.com

Reverse Image Search

This is incredibly handy if you want to find the origin of a photo you have randomly stumbled across on the web. For example, a plate of delicious looking food that you would love to know the recipe for.

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Reverse image searching is also great for tracking down original photographers, identifying things (celebrities, flora and fauna, unlabelled clothes or products you want to buy), discovering where your own work may be getting used, and debunking fake social media posts and profiles.

You can do a reverse image search by going into the ‘images’ tab on Google and clicking on the camera icon in the search bar. You can then either upload an image or insert an image address (right click on an image and hit ‘copy image address). Google will then deliver its best guess on the image.

Example:

I went to Pinterest, searched ‘Ramen’ and chose this image:

I then reverse image searched it on Google to find the recipe.

If you’ve got search tips that everyone should know about, tell us in the comments.

This post originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia.

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Here’s Why Astrophotography in Creepy Abandoned Spots Can Be Worth It

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That abandoned gas station or crumbling old house way out of town could be one of the best spots for astrophotography if you want to get some cool star trail or Milky Way snaps.

So, you’ve finally decided to do some astrophotography and nail one of those gorgeous star trail and Milky Way photos. If you did your homework, you already know that one crucial element in this kind of photography: location, location, location. You’ll need a spot that’s far enough from the city so there’s no light pollution that could cloud your long exposure. Somewhere with an interesting foreground would also be great. For photographer Brendan van Son, it was a creepy ghost town. The results, however, was worth the scare!

“I should have been sleeping. But, instead, I went on a star photography mission near Flagstaff at a location called Two Guns ghost town. And, the shoot didn’t last long as I heard some ghost sounds, freaked myself out and ran away,” Brendan said in the description of his video below. So he drove out, filmed how the shoot went down, and shared his results.

You may want to skip to around 6:58 to the part where Brendan brings up the photos from that creepy night shoot. Here, he shows us his quick edit on Lightroom. His main issue was that the foreground was too bright and was somewhat distracting the viewer from the star of his snap, so to speak. Because he wanted the abandoned gas station to still be visible in this long exposure, he decided to light it up with his car’s headlights.

To bring that bright part down a little, he used the Graduated Filter to lower the exposure down to a full stop and drop the highlights a bit as well. This allowed him to edit the rest of the photo and bring out the stars and the colors of the gas station’s graffiti without that lit foreground being distractingly bright.  The second shot wasn’t so bad either after the edit despite the slightly out of focus and off-center area.

Brendan might have gotten a more perfect shot if he wasn’t spooked and in a hurry to get out of the area. But yes, the moral of the story? Brave that spooky spot you’ve been avoiding and it might just get you some cool snaps!

Screenshot from the video by Brendan van Son



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Three baby planets hanging around a star discovered by astronomers

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Three baby planets hanging around a star discovered by astronomers

A pretty star, HD 163296, in the constellation of Sagittarius, has some young planets orbiting it.
A pretty star, HD 163296, in the constellation of Sagittarius, has some young planets orbiting it.

Image: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 Ackno

Finding young planets in our galaxy is still very much at the forefront of science.

But with the help of the world’s most expensive ground-based telescope, two teams of astronomers are convinced they’ve found not one, but three baby planets.

The young planets orbit a star called HD 163296, which is located about 330 million light years away from us in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer).

It’s the first time the $1.4 billion Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope has discovered new planets, thanks to a special technique to help hunt them down.

Both teams of astronomers looked to unusual patterns in the flow of gas within a planet-forming disc around a young star. 

They studied the spread of carbon monoxide within the disc, observing the wavelengths of light emitted from molecules of the gas, which revealed how it was moving about. Any strange movements in the flow of the gas were a sign that it was in contact with a massive object.

“We looked at the localised, small-scale motion of gas in the star’s protoplanetary disc,” Richard Teague, an astronomer from the University of Michigan and author of one of the two papers on the discovery, explained in a statement online.

“This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images from ALMA.” 

Image: ESO, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); Pinte

A team led by Teague found two planets located 12 billion and 21 billion kilometres from the star. While another team, led by Christophe Pinte of Australia’s Monash University, identified a planet situated 39 billion kilometres from the star.

“Measuring the flow of gas within a protoplanetary disc gives us much more certainty that planets are present around a young star,” Pinte added. 

“This technique offers a promising new direction to understand how planetary systems form.”

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Samsung launches new fund for early-stage AI investments

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Samsung is diving deeper into artificial intelligence after it announced a new fund focused on AI technologies and startups.

The Korean firm’s ‘Samsung NEXT Q Fund’ is targeted at seed and Series A deals for startups that are “solving AI problems, as well as those using AI to solve computer science problems.” In particular, the announcement revealing the new fund mentioned areas that include learning in simulation, scene understanding, problem learning programs and human computer interaction.

The fund itself doesn’t have a dedicated kitty, it instead invests from Samsung’s $150 million U.S. Next Fund, which was announced last year and is focused on early-stage companies in emerging tech verticals.

The Q fund has already cut checks, though. To date it has backed a number of companies, one of which is Covariant.AI — a startup that teaches skills to robots.

“For the past ten years, we’ve watched software eat the world. Now, it’s AI’s turn to eat software. We’re launching Q Fund to support the next generation of AI startups who look to scratch beyond the surface of what we know today,” said Samsung NEXT Ventures’ Vincent Tang in a statement.

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16 of the best Alexa skills that we’re obsessed with right now

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Amazon Alexa is the retail giant’s “personal assistant” that lives inside of every Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV Stick device. The smart digital assistant helps you with virtually any task, such as giving you weather updates or playing music, prompted simply by the sound of your voice. 

Just ask “Hey, Alexa!” and the device will wait for your command. While Alexa is pretty useful around the house, the assistant also has a playful side that can sometimes be downright weird. (Like remember that time Alexa started laughing for no reason? Yeah. Creepy.) 

And while Alexa can be useful — like with setting timers or telling you the headlines — it’s the more weird and wacky Alexa skills that we just can’t get enough of.

Here are 16 of our favorite Alexa skills, from the super cool to the downright weird and everything in between:

You can order a pizza with Alexa via the Domino’s app. After you set up a profile, which includes your name, address, preferred payment, and easy order, with the pizza chain and connect it with the Amazon Assistant, you can quickly order a pizza by saying “Alexa, order me a pizza from Domino’s.” Alexa will then confirm your order and let you know when it will arrive at your front door. 

The assistant will either reorder your last order with Domino’s, or use your easy order preferences, which is the menu items you pre-selected as your favorite. This can be something like a large pepperoni with cheesy bread and a two-liter of Sprite, for example. Amazon Alexa works with Pizza Hut too. 

Enable the Domino’s skill here and the Pizza Hut skill here.

If you’re an eharmony member, you can connect your online dating account to Amazon Alexa. Once connected, just ask “Hey Alexa, open eharmony” to activate. Now you can use the voice assistant to ask about all of your profile’s activities, such as “Hey Alexa, ask eharmony about my matches,” or “Alexa, ask eharmony who viewed my profile.” 

You can now think of Alexa as your “wingwoman” through the ups and downs of online dating.  

Enable the eharmony skill here.

Did you know that you can start a rap battle with Alexa? Because you can and it’s awesome. Alexa will start you off, and then it’s up to you to finish the prompts.

Alexa’s skills go further than just dropping a tight flow though. The Amazon digital assistant can also beatbox on command. Just ask “Alexa, can you beatbox?” However, sometimes she’s shy. Alexa will give up halfway through and say “I don’t think I’m cut out for beatboxing.”

Enable the rap battle skill here and the beatboxing skill here.

What sounded like an April Fools’ joke, Skyrim for Amazon Alexa is completely for real. You can play a voice-enabled version of the very popular home console role playing video game. To enable, just say, “Hey Alexa, open Skyrim” to get started. 

Alexa will unfold the game for you and you simply react with your voice. Think of it as an old text-based RPG from the 1980s, only with Alexa’s voice instead. The game comes with a list of voice commands, such as cast a spell, swing a sword, or simply explore the world of Skyrim, as “you take your rightful place as the Dragonborn of legend.”

Learn more about how to play the role playing game here.

Although Alexa is good at playing podcasts, the service a bit limited because you can only ask for a show. If you want to maintain a subscription, or play a specific episode, Alexa can’t handle those capabilities alone. Enter: AnyPod. Connecting AnyPod with Alexa could be a great asset for the podcast obsessive. 

Just say “Alexa, ask AnyPod to play Slashfilmcast,” or “Alexa, ask AnyPod to subscribe to This American Life.” AnyPod treats Amazon Alexa like any podcast catcher app on your smartphone, so you can listen to the latest and greatest podcast episodes throughout your home.

Enable the AnyPod skill here.

Alexa, use the Force

Apparently, Alexa is a big Star Wars fan, but she’s no Jedi. The assistant has a number of skills for other Star Wars fans from trivia, quotes, and history about “a galaxy far, far away.” Trivia questions range in difficulty from “I’ve watched the movies a few times” to “I’ve read the Star Wars encyclopedia more times than I can count,” so it’s a fun skill for every type of Star Wars fan out there. Just ask “Alexa, play Trivia Game for Star Wars” to get the party started.

Alexa even has a “Tell Lord Vader” skill that quotes The Empire Strikes Back with you, if you don’t have a friend to help you out. In addition, if you command “Alexa, use the Force,” she’ll respond with “I’m sorry, but my Midichlorian count is too low.” (This skill comes pre-installed with Alexa.) Obviously, Alexa is also a big fan of The Phantom Menace because she has a skill for just Episode 1 facts too.

Enable the Star Wars trivia skill here.

Apparently, Alexa is a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and David Fincher, so if you ask “Alexa, what’s the first rule of Fight Club?,” the digital assistant will respond, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” In fact, Alexa knows all eight rules of Fight Club.

Enable the skill here.

Image: “Uncertainty”/Nicu Buculei / FLICKR

In today’s cashless world, it’s sometimes hard to come by a coin to flip for tough decision making or to settle a bet. Alexa can do that for you, but just virtually. Simply ask Alexa to “Flip a coin” and the Amazon Assistant will give you a random “heads” or “tails” answer.  

Enable the skill here.

It seems that Alexa is a fan of Saturday Night Live because if you ask for “more cowbell,” the digital assistant will respond with “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell.” Alexa might also answer with “Explore the studio space” or “Never question the Bruce Dickinson,” the character Christopher Walken played in the iconic SNL skit about Blue Oyster Cult and the making of “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”

Enable the “more cowbell” skill here.

Sometimes it seems that the developers at Amazon have too much time on their hands. If you ask Alexa to sneeze, she’ll say “You’re in luck! I can sneeze on command. Aaa-choooo!” 

You can also ask “Alexa, what is Pi?” and she’ll answer with “3.141592653589793238462…” She’ll also quit in the middle of reciting the number with a “Aaa-choo! Apparently, I’m allergic to numbers this large.”

And if you sneeze, just let Alexa know and you’ll get a reply saying, “Bless you.”

Enable the sneeze skill here.

Did you know Amazon also owned IMDb? You can ask Alexa about any TV show or movie listed on the website, like “Hey Alexa, what is the IMDb rating for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2?,” or Hey, Alexa, who starred in The Godfather Part II?” You can also use it for TV recommendations based on IMDb’s trending data each day.

Enable the IMDb TV skill here.

Believe it or not, Alexa can also help you sleep better. The key to a restful night’s sleep is a good bedtime routine. Your body has to wind down and prepare itself for sleep and Alexa can help.

Alexa has a number of commands for sleep, like creating playlists for bedtime, or playing a sleep machine of white noise that includes sounds of a calming rainstorm or the sounds of a tropical ocean. The Amazon Assistant can also guide you through relaxing meditation to help you chill out before bed. Just say “Alexa, nature sounds for sleep” and the assistant will do the rest (no pun intended). 

The assistant can also make bedtime distraction-free and allow you to stop looking at your smartphone, which can disrupt melatonin production that helps you naturally fall asleep. You can now charge your device in another room because Alexa could be your alarm clock with weather updates and schedule reader features built-in.

If you have kids, Alexa can create a good bedtime routine with charming lullabies and bedtime stories that can help the little ones fall asleep. 

Enable the bedtime skill here, the sleep and relaxation skill here, and the lullabies here.

If you’re a gamer, you’ll appreciate this weird Alexa command and super nerdy Easter egg. If you ask, “Alexa, is the cake a lie?,” she’ll respond with “The cake is not a lie. It is delicious and moist. You can have some when you finish asking me questions.”

This is a reference to the game Portal. The robot in control — GLADoS — entices you to finish exploring the test chambers of Aperture Science with the promise of cake at the end. However, when you come across an escaped scientist, he’ll inform you that “the cake is a lie.” There is no cake at the end of Aperture Science. Apparently, Alexa and GLADoS are good friends. 

While the cake skill comes pre-enabled, you should snag Portal here to really enjoy it.

Alexa has an unhealthy obsession with Chuck Norris, so if you ask “Where is Chuck Norris?,” Alexa will answer with “If Chuck Norris wants you to know where he is, he’ll find you. If he doesn’t, you won’t know until it’s too late.”

Alexa also has a number of Chuck Norris “facts,” like “If Jesus could walk on water, Chuck Norris could swim through land,” “If you work in an office with Chuck Norris, don’t ask him for his three-hole punch,” and much, much more

Enable the Chuck Norris jokes here.

Play a game with Alexa

Alexa features a number of fun games for just one person or an entire group, including choose-your-own adventures, mystery, trivia, and kid-friendly games. Alexa has simple games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Bingo, while there are also more complex games like Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit on hand. Alexa also has role-playing games like Dungeon Adventure

In addition, Alexa even has the ability to roll two dice at once, or a set of 15 20-sided dice, if you’re playing D&D and forgot your dice.

Enable the Jeopardy! skill here and the Trivial Pursuit skill here.

Did you know Amazon owned the audiobook company Audible? If you have an Audible account, you can command Alexa to play an audiobook from beginning to end. It can even pick up from where it left off, if you were listening on the go on a mobile device. Simply ask “Alexa, read my audible book” and the Amazon Assistant will promptly fetch it for you.

You can even have Alexa read a Kindle Book, or anything you saved in your Kindle Library (like an article from Wikipedia) aloud. Just ask “Alexa, read my Kindle Book.” This is a particularly great skill for people who are visually impaired, the elderly, or anyone in the mood for a bedtime story.

Learn more about using the skill here.

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