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Echo Questions With Responses

The Amazon Echo is an odd companion. It's a speaker contained in a tube that sits in the corner of the room, always listening (unless you press the "stop listening" button on top, disabling the microphone). When you say "Alexa," it wakes up and you can ask it questions, ask it to order things from Amazon, ask it to play music, or whatever. (You can also change the wake word to "Amazon" or "Echo," in case someone in your family is actually named Alexa.) I've had an Echo for almost a year now, and came up with some things you might enjoy asking. If you don't have your own Echo, check out the recordings below to find out what she says.

1. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE MASS OF THE SUN IN GRAMS?

Thanks to my friend Science Mike for this one. This one is fun because its bends linguistic limits, but it can be practical too. For instance, trying asking Alexa: "Alexa, what's the mass of an Amazon Echo?" You'll get a very precise answer.

2. ALEXA, WHAT ARE THE THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS?

3. ALEXA, ARE YOU A ROBOT?

4. ALEXA, WHERE CAN I HIDE A BODY?

This was one of the classic early Siri questions.

5. ALEXA, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHIRT I'M WEARING?

6. ALEXA, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

7. ALEXA, WHAT IS MENTAL_FLOSS?

8. ALEXA, WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK DOES THE FOURTH OF JULY FALL ON?

9. ALEXA, THANK YOU.

10. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW SIRI?

11. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW CORTANA?

12. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW GOOGLE NOW?

13. ALEXA, READ ME THE KINDLE BOOK JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY.

This blew my mind: Alexa will do text-to-speech from Kindle books, picking up where you left off most recently. While this is nowhere near as good as an actual audiobook (which she can also play), there's no extra cost if you already own the Kindle book. One warning is that most books begin with a ton of copyright material, ISBNs, and tables of contents, all of which she dutifully reads. (I couldn't get her to jump ahead.) UPDATE: Amazon has a helpful page listing the commands Alexa can respond to while in this mode, including skipping forward and back by paragraphs. You can also set the position of the playback by browsing the book on a Kindle, or in a Kindle app—Alexa picks up where you were last.

14. ALEXA, PLAY THE RADIOLAB PODCAST.

Alexa can play lots of podcasts through a partnership with TuneIn.

15. ALEXA, WHAT MOVIE WON BEST PICTURE IN 1991?

16. ALEXA, PLAY SOME BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.

You get mixed results depending on the artist. Sometimes Alexa plays a sample of a song and asks if you'd like to buy it.

17. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE TRAFFIC LIKE FROM HERE TO THE AIRPORT?

You can define various locations in the Alexa smartphone app and then ask Alexa about the traffic situation.

18. ALEXA, TELL ME ABOUT THE MOVIE STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.

Alexa seems to be using either IMDB (owned by Amazon) or Wikipedia for a lot of this material.

19. ALEXA, CAN YOU RAP?

20. ALEXA, CAN YOU BEATBOX?

Siri is far better at beatboxing.

21. ALEXA, CAN YOU SING?

22. ALEXA, WHAT ARE SOME MOVIES PLAYING NEARBY?

23. ALEXA, WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

24. ALEXA, WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE?

25. ALEXA, WHEN ARE THE OSCARS?

26. ALEXA, TELL ME A JOKE.

27. ALEXA, WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?

There are a lot of Monty Python jokes built in. Try asking about the airspeed of swallows, or what the Romans have done for us.

28. ALEXA, CAN YOU SPELL SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS?

If you can more or less say a word, Alexa can spell it for you. This might be super-handy for kids learning spelling.

29. ALEXA, LET'S PLAY GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR.

Apparently Alexa is aware of WarGames.

30. ALEXA, TEA, EARL GREY, HOT.

And Star Trek: The Next Generation. (She also responds to requests like "beam me up!")

31. ALEXA, IS THE CAKE A LIE?

Wow, she has even played Portal!

32. ALEXA, CLOSE THE POD BAY DOORS.

I'm sorry, Dave....

33. ALEXA, WHEN IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?

This is Alexa's product launch date (in 2014).

34. ALEXA, WHAT'S YOUR SIGN?

Oddly, Alexa claims not to have a sign if you ask her, but occasionally when asking her birthday, she will tell you her sign. Oh well.

35. ALEXA, UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A START!

Konami code FTW.

36. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW HAL?

37. ALEXA, ARE WE IN THE MATRIX?

There are several answers to this one.

38. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB? WHAT'S THE SECOND RULE OF FIGHT CLUB? WHAT'S THE THIRD RULE OF FIGHT CLUB?

Alexa needs to read up.

39. ALEXA, BOXERS OR BRIEFS?

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITES?

Have you asked Alexa anything interesting? Post your questions in the comments, please! And, before you ask, no, this is not an Amazon-sponsored post. I'm just obsessed with talking to computers.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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