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SQL Aggregate Functions: Min, Max, Avg and Sum

Welcome back, SQL nerds! We’re back in action on the journey of learning SQL, after a beginner PostgreSQL skills challenge.

We’re reaching the end of basic functions and queries with this article. Based on what we’ve learned so far, we can do basic counting, filtering, sorting and pattern matching against PostgreSQL databases.

If you’re just tuning in, here’s the page on how to learn SQL, and the previous SQL article on the LIKE Statement.

Okay, enough jabber. Let’s jump in. The aggregate functions of MIN, MAX, AVG and SUM are our turning point into more complex SQL queries that involve concepts such as GROUP BY, among others.

At the same time, the functions on their own aren’t super complicated. Because we’re ass-u-ming you’re familiar with the general concepts of minimum, maximum, etc., we’re going to forgo conceptual and syntax explanations for demos.

 

AVG Aggregate Function

As we level up in SQL, we’re going to do less and less explaining / handholding / screenshots. That said, we’re going to explore our DVD rental data set for a table with a nice numerical component that would make good use of the functions.

We did a SELECT * FROM film LIMIT 15; to get a peek at the columns. For the purposes of this exercise, the replacement_cost column will do nicely.

To get the AVG:

SELECT AVG(replacement_cost) FROM film;

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Using ROUND for Decimal Place Control

You’ll notice in the example above that we got 3 decimal places on what’s supposed to be a dollar amount. How do we fix that? Glad you asked. Meet the ROUND function.

We pass in the target value (average of replacement_cost) and mandate the number of decimal places we’d like returned. Below:

SELECT ROUND( AVG(replacement_cost), 2) FROM film;

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MIN Aggregate Function

To find the minimum value in a given column:

SELECT MIN(replacement_cost) FROM film;

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MAX Aggregate Function

To find the maximum value in a given column:

SELECT MAX(replacement_cost) FROM film;

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SUM Aggregate Function

To find the maximum value in a given column:

SELECT SUM(replacement_cost) FROM film;

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Wrap-Up

Alright, that was a relatively quick article! Hopefully this was a reprieve from more involved sections in the past. We should find that as we continue to strengthen our core PostgreSQL  capabilities, these articles and our SQL queries should be easier and easier. If you found this article interesting, you might enjoy a new section on how to get started in machine learning. Cheers.

 

 

 

DSC_0064 Zach Doty Unsupervised Machine Learning Intro Cover Photo

Unsupervised Learning Introduction: Machine Learning Essentials

Howdy, machine learning students! Today we’re going to introduce the concept of unsupervised machine learning algorithms.

Quick Recap: Supervised Learning

Before we jump in, let’s quickly recap our last article introducing supervised machine learning algorithms. This will give us the appropriate context for unsupervised learning.

In supervised machine learning problems, we supply pre-labeled data to the algorithm. By supplying data that’s already correctly labeled, we ask the algorithm to further predict (regression) or label (classification) new data.

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Unsupervised Machine Learning = Unlabeled Data

The most immediate and prominent difference  for unsupervised learning is the data. Above, we gave the algorithm “a boost” by supplying the intended “right” answers in the data. Below, in an unsupervised machine learning problem, there are no right answers…yet.

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We’ve supplied the algorithm with data in the problem, but it’s provided without labels or “answers”. We are mandating that the algorithm discover structure and infer patterns/labels on its own. We could also compare the above example to a clustering problem.

So in unsupervised learning, we supply a large amount of unlabeled data, without explicitly identified form or structure. We ask the algorithm to come up with ideas of structure and segmentation on its own.

Some additional applications of unsupervised learning could include:

  • Market segmentation of massive transaction data
  • Large scale social networking data
  • Astronomical data analysis
  • Large scale market data
  • Mass audio/voice analysis
  • Large scale gene clustering

 

Wrap Up

That was a bit of a quick one! The challenge with some these technical subject matter areas is sometimes we have limited room to run before going off into the technical weeds. This is one of those areas. Next, we’ll be covering some key concepts in the areas of machine learning model representation, cost function and parameter learning. Don’t worry too much about those yet, we’ll take it step by step. 🙂
As always, feel free to follow my other journeys of learning PostgreSQL, learning how to develop Amazon Alexa Skills, learning how to get started in algorithmic trading, JavaScript for beginners…and more to come soon! Cheers.

Supervised Learning & Its Types: Machine Learning Essentials

Welcome back, machine learning geeks! Let’s delve deeper into our journey of mastering machine learning. In the previous article, we looked at both informal and technical definitions of machine learning.

 

We also looked at the two major types of machine learning algorithms, A) supervised machine learning algorithms, and B) unsupervised machine learning algorithms. We also mentioned reinforcement learning and recommender systems, but won’t spend as much time there.

 

Let’s jump in!

 

Introduction to Supervised Learning

Supervised machine learning algorithms are used when you:

  1. Have a set of known, correctly labeled data
  2. Are looking to predict a continuous value output

 

Let’s visualize by looking at a digital marketing example.

 

Perhaps we are digital marketers looking to forecast or predict how much time and effort we’ll need to spend on outreach and content promotion for a particular webpage and target ranking.

 

Say we’ve gathered some data about website pages with:

  • Their rank for a given keyword
  • The amount of unique linking domains pointing to each page

 

Such a distribution of data might look like the below. It demonstrates a trend, but right now, we don’t have a single linear function that will “connect all the dots”.

 

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This is a great example for the first major subdivision of supervised machine learning algorithms:

 

Regression Learning Problem

Off the cuff, there are a couple of different ways in which we might try to solve this problem. Both solutions involve using the “labeled” data to predict a line of best fit, which, on the whole, minimizes the distance between the line and all the points. If we have a simple slope, predictions could be precarious at best, and misrepresentative on the other end of the spectrum.

 

We could also instruct our programs to fit a quadratic equation to the data (read: not a straight line.) In our slightly altered example here, the difference could be significant.

 

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At this point in time, we won’t focus on whether we should pick a linear or quadratic line for the regression output. However, it is worth noting that the two different methods could yield widely varying results.

 

Say we wanted to get a webpage ranking in position 5 for this given study, a linear example would have us preparing to secure links from ~180 unique domains. If we decided on the quadratic solution, we could be looking at significantly less effort, perhaps ~125 unique linking domains?

 

Classification Learning Problem

Insert smooth segue here and please forgive my lazy writing at this time. 🙂

 

The next major subdivision of supervised machine learning algorithms is known as a classification problem. Let’s use another example.

 

We are analyzing a large user study of an Amazon Alexa Skill in development. Perhaps we are classifying a particular interaction with the skill by success or failure (1 or 0), and plotted against the measured spoken word count for the given interaction.

 

Visualized, this data might look like the below.

 

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In this example with (shockingly 🙂 ) clean data, we might want to guide development efforts in providing the best sample phrases/interactions for the skill. Perhaps, we would want to measure the probability an interaction four (4) spoken words long will be successful. This is known as a classification learning problem.

 

Above, we examined only one factor in determining a probability. However, we aren’t limited to examining just one parameter.

 

Let’s consider the following, perhaps we are an e-commerce retailer or digital business. A frustration for many marketers is the “one and done” (self explanatory) customer that represents minimal customer lifetime value for the brand.

 

It would certainly behoove us to identify these customers and provide them with specialized messaging or a compelling promotion offer to keep them engaged and transacting with the brand.

 

Below, we could have a sample data set to which we fit a line, and thereby predict based on a certain age and AOV (average order value) profile whether a particular transaction is likely or not to be a “one and done” consumer.

 

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In practice, we could potentially use a number of inputs to help solve machine learning problems. There are even methods to use an “unlimited” number of inputs- support vector machines. But only a tease for now!

 

Wrap-Up

Our first major classification of machine learning algorithms is supervised learning! In supervised learning, we assist the program by supplying the correct answers in part, and then mandating the program supply correct values via regression or classification, the two major categories of supervised machine learning problems.

 

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Moving forward, we’ll dive deeper into one variable linear regression (dare we say the hello world of machine learning?) as well as fleshing other key concepts and methods. If you’re interested in this, you might also be interested in learning PostgreSQL, how to develop Alexa skills, or algorithmic trading. Take care.

DSC_0024 Zach Doty Cover Photo for What is Machine Learning

What is Machine Learning?

Hello there, fellow Machine Learning (ML) students! Welcome back to our crash course in starting machine learning from an absolute beginner’s perspective.

In our previous article, we covered an introduction to Machine Learning, answering several key questions:

  • Where is machine learning used in our lives?
  • Where did machine learning come from?
  • Where is machine learning headed?

Forging ahead in our learning journey, we’ll introduce some definitions of machine learning and look at the major types of machine learning applications.

 

Machine Learning (ML), A Casual Definition by Arthur Samuel

Our first definition, teased in the last article, follows:

Machine learning is the practice of giving computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed to do so.

 

More on Arthur Samuel & Why His Definition on ML Matters

If you’re like me, you might not have heard of Arthur Samuel. Who is he, and why does his opinion matter in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning?

Arthur Samuel was a pioneer in artificial intelligence and computer gaming fields. In 1959, he coined the term “machine learning” as a founding father in the field. That’s why he’s important! Let’s also look at a more formal / scientific definition.

 

A More Formal Machine Learning Definition

Tom Mitchell, of Carnegie Mellon, offers a definition with more structure.

  • A well defined learning problem follows
  • E * T = P
    • Note: His definition does not include mathematical operators. I’m taking a large liberty to insert them myself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Experience (E) placed against Task (T) is measured by Performance (P)

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Here’s a further example:

Example: playing Go.

E = the experience of playing many games of Go.

T = the task of playing and winning Go.

P = the probability that the program will win the next game.

 

Major Categories of Machine Learning Algorithms

If you judge by press coverage of ML as I have, it appears to be a nebulous field. (In all fairness, it may still be.) However, there is structure we can take in learning ML. There are two types of machine learning algorithms:

  • Supervised learning algorithms
  • Unsupervised learning algorithms

There are a couple of other prominent types of machine learning algorithms as well: reinforcement learning and recommender systems.

 

 Wrap-Up

Congratulations, we’ve cleared a very gentle introduction to machine learning, and it’s novice/high level definitions. I look forward to learning more with you, dear reader! Our next articles will cover a bit more detail about the two major ML algorithm types: supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. Until then, look after each other.

DSC_0013 Zach Doty Cover Photo for Introduction to Machine Learning

An Introduction to Machine Learning

Howdy! This is an abrupt interruption to our regularly scheduled programming of SQL lessons, Amazon Alexa Skill development and Algorithmic trading. For those readers who don’t personally know me, I’m on a quest/streak to level up as a technologist.

Getting around to the point, I’ve been taking self-paced courses in varying forms to learn, apply and share new skills. However, I’ve heard the Coursera Stanford class in Machine Learning taught by Andrew Ng recommended so widely, I’m just going to doggedly sprint a marathon. I’m starting almost a week behind, working a busy job, trying to have a social life, and many other things…but darnit, I’m going to give this class my best shot. Hopefully I finish. 🙂

Okay, over-sharing complete. Let’s jump into a brief introduction of Machine Learning.

Machine learning, according to Andrew Ng (Chief Scientist at Baidu), is the science of getting computers to learn without being explicitly programmed.

Where is machine learning used in our lives?

Machine learning is employed a large number of actors. Here are a few examples:

  • Search engines, such as Bing, use machine learning to process MASSIVE amounts of data to quickly rank web pages in order of relevance, with limited human intervention.
  • Social networks, such as Facebook, use machine learning to recognize your friend’s faces for auto-tagging capabilities.
  • Email providers such as Apple Mail may employ spam filters that continuously learn to protect your inbox, your computer, and most importantly, your sanity.
  • Tech companies such as Amazon use natural language processing (NLP) to create conversational experiences and transactions with skills and services.
  • Entertainment companies such as Netflix use self-learning algorithms to recommend compelling new films and TV shows for those of you who binge watch

Where did machine learning come from?

Machine learning originated from a computer science field known as artificial intelligence. Long seen as a pipe dream from Star Trek (crass and careless reference, I know), machine learning is a practical and attainable segue to artificial intelligence, or machines and programs that contain some degree of self awareness.

This capability is a relatively new, yet a rapidly exploding field that grows as mathematical, statistical, hardware and software capabilities continue to compound and improve.

What follows is a better question still.

Where is machine learning headed?

Machine Learning in the future could look like a few different things (but not limited to this list, obviously!):

  • Predictive and preventative applications in engineering, medicine, and security
  • “Load bearing” performance in complex tasks, such as architecting, coding and programming self-driving cars
  • Coordinate machines and programs that study our behavior at our request and perform tasks, such as performing spring cleaning
  • Assistants or programs that are intelligent – able to optimize and independently solve problems on our behalf

Wrap-Up on the Machine Learning Introduction

That wasn’t so bad was it? We’ll follow soon with a more formal definition of Machine Learning and its various tranches of study. Cheers all.

Building an Interactive Alexa Quiz Skill, Part 2

Disclaimer: this was typed late at night on a tired mind. Please excuse typos, convention errors, and generally poor writing. 🙂

Howdy, Alexa nerds! Welcome back to our journey in learning Amazon Alexa Skill Development. Quick funny aside, would you care to guess my most common use of the Echo? It’s to play looong Spotify playlists that are basically background noise to help our new dog when Hannah & go to the gym or meet friends. Anyway!

Let’s jump back in. The previous article covered setting up an AWS Lambda function for the Alexa Skill Service. Now, we’ll be working more with the Skill interface. See below for the conceptual overview, or an early article on building Alexa skill interfaces for a basic fact skill.

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Working in the Amazon Developer Console: Alexa Skills Kit

You probably know the drill now, log in to the Amazon Developer console. Once you’ve logged in, select the “Alexa” menu item from the home screen, then choose the “Alexa Skills Kit” Option.

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If you’ve previously published or started development of skills, you should see them listed on this screen. Now, click, “Add a New Skill”. We should be looking at a very familiar screen here. 🙂

Add/edit the following:

  • Language (assuming you’ll leave the English US default here)
  • Name of the Skill displayed in the Alexa app and store
  • Invocation name users will speak to start your skill

Click Save and Next to proceed.

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Working with the Interaction Model

Here comes the tough part, more copy and paste! Okay, sarcasm and humor doesn’t always translate well via text. We’re going to continue to lean fairly heavily on Amazon’s examples here to get ourselves familiarized with the more advanced concepts of intent schema and slot types.

That caveat aside, head back to the files we originally downloaded, but this time, we’re interested in the speechAssets folder and its contents:

  • json
  • Sample utterances (text document)

First, let’s open up the Intent Schema JSON file in our text editor of choice. Below, a look at what you should approximately be seeing. Copy and paste the entirety of the JSON file into the Intent Schema field of the Interaction Model tab.

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Audible: Our First Encounter with Custom Slot Types

Alright, no smooth segue here. We’re having the first encounter with what’s known as custom slot types.

If you were to try and save the skill progress so far, you’ll receive an error message from the developer console that says something like, “Error: There was a problem with your request: Unknown slot type ‘LIST_OF_ANSWERS’ for slot ‘Answer’. Why is that?

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If you take a closer look at the Intent Schema JSON file, you’ll notice that  most of the intents are built-in Amazon intents. E.g., “intent”: “AMAZON.RepeatIntent”. The “AnswerIntent” looks nothing like the built-in Amazon intents. Instead, we see a name, “Answer” and type, “LIST_OF_ANSWERS” that was so delicately referenced in the error message.

So how do we remedy this situation? We use the information presented to us in the error message and the JSON file to work our way over this issue. You’ll likely note under the custom slot types mentions “Enter Type”.

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Match that information up with our error message and the JSON code, and we’ll enter, “LIST_OF_ANSWERS”. In the values section, we’ll enter on separate lines: 1, 2, 3, and 4. I’ll note here for clarity, that this essentially corresponds to the A/B/C/D multiple choice functionality of the quiz. We’ll see this in greater detail in a bit.

Okay, click “Add” as highlighted above, then click “Save”. Next, return to your files and open up the Sample Utterances text file. You should see something like the below.

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You’ll note it’s quite a bit different than the previous, simple, fact-dispensing Skill we previously built. Take note of the {Answer} sample utterance. These are the pieces of dynamic input and interaction coming together into an Alexa Skill. We’ve defined a custom interaction outside of Amazon’s standard functions, and specified a range of acceptable answers the user can give us. That whole structure meets the user experience here, called in by the {Answer} slot name and custom slot type.

Enough conceptual babble. Copy and paste the sample utterances text into the developer console! Click Save beneath the sample utterances, and click Next.

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Continuing the Skill Interface Build-out

Alright, so far, we’ve accomplished the following:

  • Provided basic skill information about our new skill
  • Specified details about the interaction model, including;
    • Intent Schema
    • Custom Slot Type
    • Acceptable/specified values for the custom slot type
    • Sample utterances

Next, we need to fill in some simple but crucial configuration details. Remember the ARN we generated by setting up the AWS Lambda function in the previous article? You need it here. Below you can see:

  1. I’ve selected the recommended endpoint type of AWS Lambda ARN
  2. Selected my geographic region of North America and,
  3. Pasted in the full ARN

I’m not going to work with account linking yet, because honestly, it looks really darn complicated and its well past midnight as I type this. Soon. 🙂 Click next and proceed to the testing tab!

In the testing tab, you should first see that the skill is enabled for testing on your account. You can:

  • play back responses from Alexa in the voice simulator to test pronunciation, etc
  • More importantly, use the service simulator to run a sample utterance, and see if your skill actually works.

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Above, we can see the response to our sample utterance asking SEO Quiz returns as expected. Woohoo! Also, did you know the Alexa voice simulator automatically bleeps out most curse words? Did you know you can kind of work around that by putting extra vowels in the word? I digress. (It’s almost 1 am writing this now, productivity on the rise!) When you’re satisfied, click Next.

We’re getting close! Time to enter some publishing information. I’ll leave the first few sections to you: Category, Sub-Category, Testing Instructions, Country/Region availability, Short and Full skill descriptions.

Now, in the example phrases, I provided some updates to the sample utterances, namely to the starting Intent. Below, see the example phrases of “Alexa open SEO Quiz” and so forth. The “gotcha” here that set me back on my first skill is that the example phrases must be derived from your sample utterances.

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Upload your 108×108 and 512×512 pixel icon images, click Next and submit the requisite privacy & compliance information. Done!

 

Wrap-Up

So, we’re mostly done, not completely done. The part for usto do now is customizing the template code in your AWS index.js file. Ideally, I would prefer a more eloquent closing, but it’s late, will have to wait for another time. Look after each other.

 

DSC_0002 Zach Doty Cover Photo for Interactive Alexa Quiz Skill Development

Building an Interactive Quiz Alexa Skill, Part 1

Hello Alexa geeks! Welcome back to our journey of learning how to develop Amazon Alexa Skills for the Echo and more. Last time, we completed the build process for our first simple “fact-dispensing” Alexa Skill.

In this article, we’ll start the process for a skill that accepts user input in the form of a quiz, fun! If you recall from our first skill, there are two parts to skill development:

  1. The Skill service development, in AWS (Lambda)
  2. The Alexa Skill interface details through the Amazon / Alexa Developer Console

 

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Getting Started in AWS Lambda

You’ll notice as we progress from our early articles, there will be less detail paid to more basic instructions, such as our first! First, log in to the Amazon AWS portal.

Navigate to the Lambda service. If you’re the casual developer just working in this course, odds are the Lambda link will be near the top of screen under “Recently Visited Services”. Once you’ve clicked through, click, “Create a Lambda Function”.

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On the next screen, you should see something like “Select blueprint” (Note: at the rate of change Amazon has been pursuing, this screen could change, even in a matter of weeks!) Click the “Blank Function” option, we’re starting this one from scratch!

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The next screen should be, “Configure triggers”. Click inside the gray dash-outlined box, and select, “Alexa Skills Kit” from the dropdown menu. Click next!

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AWS Lambda Function Configuration for Alexa

Now we should be able to configure the basics of our function. Enter the following:

  • Function name
  • Description

The default runtime environment should be Node.js 4.3. If not, change it to Node.js 4.3.

(Note: Amazon just introduced support for Node.js 6.10, so that may be the preferred format going forward!) Will try to provide an article update, should that be the case.

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Onward! Now, we need to upload some code to this burgeoning success. Throwback time, do you remember the files we downloaded in one of the first articles? Time to go back to them again. In your folder of numbered skill templates, go to “2-reindeerGames”, “src” folder and safely open the index.js file in your text editor of choice.

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Copy and paste (replacing all previous code) into the code window that should appear.  This assumes you’ve selected the Code entry type of “Edit code inline” for the Lambda function code. As we work on more increasingly more advanced skills, we will likely use the zip upload feature to accommodate additional code resources. The astute will note we’ve merely copied and pasted code here. Yes, we’ll go back and customize soon. 🙂

Beneath the code window, leave the index.handler intact, select an existing role option in the Role dropdown menu, and use the role we previously created. Leave the other settings as-is, click the “Next” button to review details, and click, “Create Function”!

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Be sure you take note / record the ARN in the upper right-hand corner, as we’ll need that in our forthcoming Skill Interface development section.

Wrap-Up

That’s the first part! I don’t know about you, but this is getting easier as I go. We’ll next cover the skill interface and customization to make it your own skill. If this is your first article, be sure to check out the running stable of articles on how to learn Amazon Alexa skill development. Also, there’s a growing body of work on how to learn PostgreSQL, and some fledgling articles on learning algorithmic trading, for good measure.

Share your experience, thoughts and feedback in the comments below. Don’t be a stranger, help your friends along in Alexa Skill development and share with them. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Build Your First Amazon Alexa Skill, Pt. 2: Skill Interface

Welcome back, Alexa geeks! In the last article, we laid the groundwork for making our first Amazon Alexa skill. We covered the concepts and frameworks in Alexa skill development. We also did some work in AWS Lambda to prepare for voice requests  being made to our service.

 

Quick Recap on The Alexa Skill Service / AWS

We’ve slept a few times since covering the concepts and AWS framework, so let’s quickly recap.

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Whenever we use an Alexa skill , our voice data is processed through the hardware device, through the skill interface (what we’re looking at today) for language processing, then converted into text for a program to execute against, and back again. Simple enough, right?

In the last article, we looked at the “last” leg of this process, the skill service and AWS Lambda. Now, we’ll be working with that and the skill interface portion.

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Setting Up the Basic Skill Information

Alright, log into the Amazon Developer Portal and Select the Alexa menu option. Once there, you should have a choice between the Alexa Skills Kit or the Alexa Voice Service. Click on the Alexa Skills Kit link to continue. You’ll want to click, “Add a New Skill”. Because I’ve already developed a skill, Silly Marketing Strategies is already there. However,  most of y’all will probably not have anything else on screen.

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To start, you’ll want to select Custom Interaction Model, leave the default language to US (unless you’re developing in Espanol?). Type out the name and invocation name for your skill. The name isn’t necessarily important this moment. However, the invocation name will be extremely important!! This will be how users will call your Skill into service.

Note: the astute will notice I’ve deviated from the Space Geek example of the last article. More on that later. 🙂

When you’re ready, click next to proceed, and we’ll tackle the interaction model.

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Setting up the Skill’s Interaction Model

Alright, time for some important things here. For the purposes of the factoid-based game, we’ll only be looking at the Intent Schema and Sample Utterances fields.

First, we need to look at the Intent Schema. Remember the files you downloaded in the first article? You’ll need to go into the SpaceGeek folder, Speech Assets sub folder and open the IntentSchema.json file. I’ve opened it up in Sublime Text 2 briefly, so we can take a quick look at the file. So this is JSON, with intent pairs. Below, we’ve got a pretty simple set, intents for retrieving a fact from the skill, getting help, stopping and cancelling a function. It’s easy right? Ha.

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Quick note: because these intents are proceeded by Amazon – it means they’re built in for Amazon. Enough babbling, copy and paste the contents of this file into the Intent Schema section of Amazon Developer Console.

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Above, we’ve pasted in the Intent Schema. Next, we need to provide some sample utterances. Sample utterances are what you think users might say to engage your Alexa Skill. Below, we’ve provided such examples as, “Tell me a Weimaraner fact”.

Next, we need to hook up the Alexa Skill interface we’ve put together with some computing power. Specifically, we need to hook it up to AWS Lambda! (Remember the first article where we did a bunch of Lambda setup?)

If you recall, there was an Amazon Resource Name (ARN) string that we copied and saved to a text file. Retrieve it now and paste into the “Configuration” screen of the Skill interface setup.

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Providing the ARN you’ve provided is valid, you should be able to proceed to the next step. Note: we are ignoring the account linking functionality for now. This functionality allows you, for example, to integrate Twitter sharing functionality into your skill by sharing a Tweet.

Next, we’ll move on to the Test tab. Three things (below) to take note of:

  1. Ensure you’ve completed the Interaction Model tab, so you can complete the testing in this tab.
  2. Try / type out key phrases in your skill to hear how they’ll be pronounced, via the Voice Simulator.
  3. Enter some utterances into the Service Simulator to A) make sure your skill is functioning as intended and B) Get a feel for how the end user experience will happen

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Once you’ve tested your Skill, proceed to Publishing Information. Here, you’ll need to include the following:

  • Category of your Alexa SKill
  • The relevant Sub Category
  • Optional: testing instructions if your skill requires credentials or other unusual needs. You probably don’t need to include anything for this example
  • Country & Region targeting
  • Short Skill Description
  • Full Skill Description
  • Example Phrases, drawn from your sample utterances, and preceded by the Alexa wake word and skill invocation name
  • Optional: keywords that will help Alexa users find your skill in search
  • Images in 108 and 512 pixel squared dimensions

Below are a couple of screenshots for how I’ve filled out these fields.

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2017-03-18-008-Alexa-Skill-Interface-Develpoment-Publishing-Information

Alright, we’re so close! The last field is Privacy & Compliance. For this example, you should be checking “No” to all the radio buttons:

  • No, skill doesn’t allow users to make purchases or spend real money
  • No, skill does not collect personal information from users
  • No, skill does not target children under the age of 13

However, do note that some of these things (except for child targeting) may change as we progress in our Alexa Skill development capabilities.

If desired (or later required by more advanced capabilities) you may specify privacy policy and terms of use URLs.

If you’ve completed the above, you should be good to Save & Submit for Certification!

 

Wrap Up

This is a deceivingly involved process. You will note that neither in the previous article, nor this article, have we changed the original source code for the SpaceGeek / Weimaraner Facts Skill. We’ll cover this in more detail in the next article. Until next time, check out my journey in learning NoSQL and keep an eye out for more content soon!

 

How to Build Your First Amazon Alexa Skill, Part 1 – The Skill Service

Introductory Disclaimer: AWS is changing, and changing fast! Between developing my first skill in mid-January 2017 and now going back to learn more / teach, quite a lot has changed in the AWS developer areas. All that to say is that I’ve already had to cobble screen shots together to make this article work, and the details could quickly become outdated. I don’t really intend to update this frequently, once I’ve completed my learnings. Apologies!

Welcome back, Amazon Alexa geeks! First, thanks for both your patience and kind feedback on the process of building your own Alexa and testing your DIY Alexa. Honestly, that was one of the hardest challenges I’ve had since first learning HTML / CSS coding back in college. (Thanks Raspian / Linux command line…)

Today, we’re getting back into actual Alexa skill development. We’ll be building your first (my second) Amazon Alexa skill for use on Echo and other devices.

Side note: I have previously developed an unremarkable skill, Silly Marketing Strategies, but I want to start fresh to:

  1. A) do it better, and,
  2. B) take a first stab at incorporating analytics capabilities into Alexa skills.

Without further ado, let’s get started with a conceptual overview to how Alexa skills work, and where developers (us!) play.

Quick Concept Introduction

First, let’s look at a simplified process of you using an Alexa skill:

2017-03-01-002-Alexa-Skill-Process-Framework

  • You’ll say something like, “Alexa, play Road Trip Country Playlist on Spotify”
  • The Echo, Fire TV, Raspberry Pi or other hardware takes in the audio and routes it into software/programs
  • The Alexa Skills Kit Interface employs speech recognition and natural language processing/understanding to convert your speech into text strings, then to code
  • The Skill service, facilitated by AWS Lambda processes the text strings against it’s suite of skills and programs, and outputs code,
  • Which is fed back through the programs to hardware and to a lovely voice response, something like, “Resuming your queue…”

That’s the front end experience. As a developer, we’ll hone in toward the “last” two parts of user experience. In that frame of reference, we start at the logic of our program, working “backwards” to handling user input, and the desired result.

2017-03-01-001-Alexa-Skill-Develpoment-Framework

Setting up AWS Lambda

Are we there yet? Okay, for real this time, let’s hop into code…by pulling up 2 URLs and logging in:

  1. https://aws.amazon.com
  2. https://developer.amazon.com/public/solutions/alexa

In the AWS console, you should see a screen like the below. First, update your region (top right) to US East, N. Virgnia. Why, you might ask? It’s the only region (currently, Mar. 2017) that supports Alexa.

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Next you need to select Lambda from the list of AWS services. It should be readily available on your screen. Mine will likely look a bit different from having used it already. 🙂

If you’re a first-time Lambda user, you’ll likely see a welcome/splash screen that resembles the following:

You’ll have the option to select a blueprint (optional). You should be able to click next, or, there should be an Alexa skills kit SDK fact skill option you can select.

Moving along, when you launch Lambda for the first time, you’ll need to configure triggers. Below, you’ll want to select the Amazon Skills kit, and click, “Next”. Why are we configuring triggers for functions? Because our Alexa Skill is event-based, and only triggers when an event pertaining to it occurs.

2017-03-01-005-Alexa-Skill-AWS-Triggers

You should now land on a Configure Function screen. These are the baby steps to making a skill! Give the skill a name and description. We’ve used SpaceGeek as values below, since we’ll be using the SpaceGeek template at first. Also, always select Node.js 4.3 for Alexa Skill Development.

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Beneath the basic naming and settings is a Lambda function code section. Choose the “Upload a .ZIP file” option. Remember all the files we downloaded in our first article? You’ll need to go the SpaceGeek folder, src subfolder and zip the contents (shown below) and upload accordingly.

2017-03-01-007-Alexa-Skill-AWS-Lambda-Alexa-Skill-Sample-Files

(You can download the sample files again if needed from here.

Note: It’s March 2017, I started in Jan. 2017 and the original tree /Github URL has already been deprecated. Zoinks, it’s moving fast!)

After you’ve uploaded the file, you need to create a new role from templates (beneath the file upload you just completed.) Feel free to name the role whatever you like, but the important detail here is that you select the S3 object read-only permission option under the policy templates dropdown selection.

2017-03-01-008-Alexa-Skill-AWS-Lambda-Settings

Finally! You should be able to click, “Next” and clear this screen. You should see a review screen confirming the selections you’ve made. Click, “Create Function” and proceed! You should land within the Function itself. Since my new experience was already spent, here’s what the equivalent screen looks like, for Silly Marketing Strategies.

2017-03-01-009-Alexa-Skill-AWS-Lambda-SMS-Function

Last thing you’ll want to do is copy the ARN into a text file, word document, etc. for safekeeping down the line. You’ll need it soon.

Wrap Up

Alright, we made a ton of progress in today’s article! I was hoping to make more progress, but the process of organizing, documenting, processing and writing is quite time consuming. It’s now 1 a.m. local time for me, and I need sleep for a long day at work tomorrow! We’ll be back very soon on how to work on the Skills Interface (utterances, logic, etc.) in more detail to publish your first skill! If you’re new or need a refresh, here’s our running list of articles on how to learn Amazon Alexa Skill development.

DSC_0005 Cover Photo by Zach Doty for Build Your Own Amazon Alexa x Echo from Raspberry Pi

How to Build Your Own Amazon Alexa with a Raspberry Pi

Howdy, it’s been a minute since my last post on Alexa Skill Development. I left us hanging, as I mentioned in one of my previous SQL posts, work craziness, sickness, and general life stuff happening imposed a brief, involuntary hiatus on writing.

Enough self talk to make future self feel better. Let’s build our own Amazon Alexa with a Raspberry Pi! What a step up from our previous articles. 🙂

But first! A couple of notes: This is NOT necessary for you to do in learning Alexa Skill Development. You can use a regular Echo instead of this expedition into Computer Homebrew 102. Also, I developed my first Alexa skill without an Echo or comparable device at all. One more thing, this is a long post that is both deep and wide ranging. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1. The Materials List

To get started, you’ll need a few things:

  1. Raspberry Pi, version 2 or later
  2. Power source
  3. Micro SD card (Recommended at least 8 gb in storage size)
  4. Speaker with a line-in 3.5mm cable (or headphones of similar line-in spec)
  5. USB microphone
  6. Keyboard and Mouse
  7. HDMI cable to connect to a monitor or TV
    1. Obviously, you need a monitor or TV. 🙂

 

A few notes on the Raspberry Pi: I recommend you get a pre-assembled kit, for time and convenience, if nothing else. I previously purchased from CanaKit on Amazon, and have been pleased with it. If, for some reason, you are building your own or need to reformat, the two articles below from RaspberryPi.org are simple, fast instructions to get you up to speed.

 

Formatting a MicroSD card 32 GB or less:

https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/installation/noobs.md

Downloading New Out of Box Software (NOOBS) for Raspberry Pi, in preparation of your first boot.

https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/noobs/

 

Okay, we’re going to proceed assuming that you’ve taken care of the above, and have successfully booted your Pi, connected all requisite hardware, connected to the internet, and so on. Below is where I’m at.

2017-02-20-001-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Successful-Boot

2. Installing Other Utilities

Another note here, it is possible to SSH (read: a bit like Microsoft’s RDP remote desktop application, but command line style) your way into the Raspberry Pi. I will not be doing that. This may sound a bit silly, but I don’t have a multi-screen dock for my laptop (capped at 2), and I’m happy for the Pi and other monitor to be a standalone computer. (Perks of a wide desk.) Also, the Wi-Fi USB card I’m using is very slow at the moment. Also, an edit after I’ve written this post offline: Linux-esque command line work is a royal pain in the you-know-what. Remarkable computing has advanced to where it is today. More on Raspberry Pi intricacies later.

Enough of my discourse, let’s continue setting up our Raspberry Pi / DIY Alexa to-be. Task time.

Navigate to your Pi’s command line module.

  1. We’re going to update the GET. Type:
    1. sudo apt-get update (Pro tip: don’t misspell sudo as I’ve laughingly done on the first try.)
    2. In the new line created by default, type: clear and hit enter. This will clear your command line.

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3. Registering Your Raspberry Pi as an Alexa Voice Service Device Type

Alright, head to the Amazon Developer Portal and log in with your credentials.. (If you’ve followed along with previous posts, you have a login! If not, see this article on setting up an AWS account.)

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Once you’ve logged in, click on the Alexa navigation item, then click “Get Started”. You should land on a page that has a “Register Product Type” drop-down. Select Device and continue.

C-2017-02-23-002-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

You’ll be taken to a new screen / process to create a new device type. Choose and type your  device type ID and display name. For ease of process here, I’ve used the same value for device type ID and display name.

C-2017-02-23-003-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

Once you’ve selected your ID and name of choice, click next. Now we need to create a new security profile. Click the dropdown menu that reads, “Select Security Profile” and click, “Create New Profile”. If you’ve filled out all the fields properly, you should have the option to submit this device / product. Hooray! Below is what I see after I submit the new device.

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Create a Security Profile Name and Description of your choosing and click “Next”.

C-2017-02-23-005-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

You’ll now see a new screen with your created security profile. Below, you should see some tabs such as, “General”, “Web Settings”, “Android/Kindle Settings”, and so forth. Click on “Web Settings” and then click “Edit”.

C-2017-02-23-006-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

You should now be able to edit the “Allowed Origins” and “Allowed Return URLs” fields. Enter the following values into each of the fields, respectively:

1) https://localhost:3000

2) https://localhost:3000authresponse

Once you’ve entered the above values, click “Next”.

C-2017-02-23-007-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

Now we need to add some additional detail about our device type.

  • Upload an image (I used this one, they’re picky about sizing)
  • Choose a category (I selected “Other”)
  • Provide a short description to your pleasing
  • Select “No” for plans on making product available to general public
  • Select “No” for product directed to children

C-2017-02-23-008-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Registration

Click “Next” to proceed. The next screen asks about applying for access to Amazon Music. I’m selecting “No” for the purposes of this exercise.

4. Enable Login With Amazon for your new Device / Product

Sweet! After you click, “Submit”, you should see the below. Now head over to the “Apps & Services” section, and select the “Login with Amazon” item, once the Apps & Services screen has loaded.

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From the drop-down menu of existing security profiles, select the profile we just created. You’ll need to enter a consent privacy notice URL and a consent logo image. Because we’re doing anything public facing, you can enter any URL you’d like here. For the image, I used the same image from the device creation process. Click “Save” and let’s keep moving.

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Upon a successful save, you should see a table with a column labeled “Oauth2 Credentials”. Click, “Show Client ID and Client Secret”, copy and save the information somewhere safe. Next stop, Raspberry Pi.

5. Install the Application on Your Raspberry Pi

Flip back over to your Raspberry Pi and type the following two bullet point texts as unique lines into command line.

  • cd Desktop
  • git clone https://github.com/alexa/alexa-avs-sample-app.git

It should take a minute or two to process, and you should see the below.

C-2017-02-23-012-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Sample-App-Setup

Next, type the below point texts as unique lines into command line:

  • cd alexa-avs-sample-app/
  • nano automated_install.sh

After returning the two above lines, you should see something like the below. Remember what we entered in the Developer Console a few steps ago? You’ll need this information here. (Highlighted boxes.) Update from 2/25/2017: I actually had quite a bit of trouble with this step. Linux command line / text emulator is not my friend yet. The trouble I had here was making and saving my changes to the below. However, the program is surprisingly helpful! It will prompt you to verify credentials before install proceeds.

C-2017-02-23-014-Alexa-Raspberry-Pi-Sample-App-Setup

After you’ve made the appropriate changes, command line language of CTRL + X should help you save the changes. Close out the command line window and re-open. Type the following bullet texts:

  • cd Desktop
  • cd alexa-avs-sample-app
  • . automated_install.sh

When prompted for the AVS + Raspberry Pi License and Agreement, obviously answer and/or “y” to proceed, and answer yes and appropriate and desired throughout the setup process. E.g., you’ll be asked about language preference, audio input settings, enabling wake word detection, and so forth. (It takes anywhere from 30 min to 1 hour.)

Once the install runs, it’s time to start the Alexa service!

6. Running the Alexa Service / Finishing Touches

To test and run the Alexa service, we need 3 command line terminals open. The command paths for these are at the end of the install. (As I type this, the latest install on my Pi is approaching 45 minutes, so I’ll have to give you the bare bones for now based on past tests and some generous documentation.

The first terminal will set Alexa up to be listening on port 3000 (remember the local host URLs from earlier?) The second window deals with setting up a Java client and logging into Amazon with the Security profile we set up. Logging in and confirming will enable you to initiate the connection to Alexa, paving the way for the third terminal, which enables the wake word detection and actual running of the Alexa service. Woohoo! I’ll update with examples later.

Update — 2/25/2017:

So, the whole process took a looooong time. At about 3 am of the night I wrote / finished this post, the Pi finally finished unpacking and installing everything. Below is our success confirmation! I’ll be testing this evening…

Wrap-Up

Goodness, what a ride, if you stuck it through the whole article. You could do this, or just get a darn Echo. After all this, I recommend you buy an Echo. 🙂

Other miscellaneous updates from 2/25/2107: By the time I got to the wrap up, it was 3:30 in the morning, yikes! I wasn’t feeling very descriptive, nor was I yesterday either. This was an incredibly long process that took several days from start to finish. Was it worth it? Yes. I’m still going to test the capabilities tonight and hopefully have some follow up’s in the coming days. Will I be primarily using an Echo moving forward? Yes.