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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)

2017-04-06-001-Machine-Learning-Definition-ETP-Framework

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.

DSC_0104 Zach Doty Cover Photo for Learning LIKE SQL Statement

The LIKE Statement: SQL Statement Fundamentals

Howdy folks! We are overdue for another installation of SQL learning. I’ve slept a few times since the past couple of articles on how to learn SQL. Previously, we talked about the IN Statement, BETWEEN statement, and ORDER BY clause.

In this article, we’ll learn how to execute the LIKE statement in SQL queries. Let’s jump in.

 

About the LIKE Statement & Why it’s Important

Have you ever worked with a data set that’s overwhelmingly large  or complex? Or overwhelmingly large and complex? Sometimes, you need to find data, but can’t recall the exact string or values for a lookup. Or, perhaps, you’re working with a messy data output from say, Google Keyword Planner that groups a range of close variants into one value?

Say you’re looking for values related to designer clothing and designer clothes. Without a better solution, the most probable solution for you is to do a bunch of sorting, filtering, classifying and other data sleuthing at great expense to time and sanity.

The LIKE statement exists to help with the debacle of only having / knowing  part of the lookup criteria you need, courtesy of pattern matching.

PostgreSQL and many other SQL engines/platforms support the LIKE statement, which functions a bit like the below. (Pun not intended.)

 

SELECT keyword, search volume

FROM table

WHERE keyword LIKE ‘cloth%’

 

The above tells pgAdmin / PostgreSQL to get the keyword and search volume columns from table, where the keyword values match values that begin with ‘cloth’ and are followed by anything else, the percent sign. The combination of calling out a text string with an operate is known as a pattern.

When you execute the LIKE statement in a SQL query, pgAdmin will begin reading through the table rows to see if the pattern you’ve specified returns any matches. For the season marketing technology folks, this functionality sure does resemble regex in some ways.

However, there are some differences.

  • Here, instead of the * character being wildcard, the % sign serves as a wildcard matching all characters.
  • If you want to match a single character, the underscore character is used.

 

LIKE Statement Syntax & Examples

Let’s try some examples. Below, we’ll call on the faithful DVD rental practice database, and run a query for customers that have first names like Jen. (Jennifer, Jenny, etc.) Our below code produces the following result.

SELECT first_name,last_name

FROM customer

WHERE first_name LIKE ‘Jen%’;

2017-03-30-001-LIKE-SQL-Statement-Example

 

That being considered, there are other ways we can use the like statement. Above, we used a wildcard to match any endings to a particular string.

Conversely, we could execute a SQL query that specifies a certain ending value, with the wildcard preceding. If we extend that example to such a query below, we should see the following result:

SELECT first_name,last_name

FROM customer

WHERE first_name LIKE ‘%y’;

2017-03-30-002-LIKE-SQL-Statement-Example

 

Above, we’ve flipped the tables so we capture every possible beginning condition under this pattern. Also important to note, the patterns aren’t limited beginnings or ends. You can use this wildcard in the middle, etc. Consider the following:

SELECT first_name,last_name

FROM customer

WHERE first_name LIKE ‘%er%’;

2017-03-30-003-LIKE-SQL-Statement-Example

 

Now, on top of all this awesomeness, realize we’ve been using it as a matching filter. We can also employ the NOT LIKE syntax to exclude values meeting the pattern we’ve specified.

Let’s mix things up a bit. We mentioned a second type of pattern matching character that we haven’t used yet: the underscore.

SELECT first_name,last_name

FROM customer

WHERE first_name LIKE ‘_her%’;

2017-03-30-004-LIKE-SQL-Statement-Example

 

Above, we’ve made a similar ask. However, instead of requesting all possible matches, we’ve mandated SQL only return the ‘er’ string that begins with ‘h’.

To throw you a quick curveball, it’s worth noting the LIKE statement is case sensitive in its matching. Could be bad, could be good, could be neither. However, there’s a way for you to force case insensitivy on the queries. The difference in your statement appears relatively minor. Instead of using a function that calls LIKE or NOT LIKE, you’ll use ILIKE.

 

Wrap-Up

Hope you found this useful! Stay tuned for more SQL learnings and application. If you’re new here, visit the page on how to learn SQL. If you’re interested in more educational material, check out our ongoing series of how to develop Amazon Alexa voice search skills, and getting started with algorithmic trading. Cheers!

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.

2017-03-07-001-Alexa-Skill-Interface-Develpoment-Framework

 

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.

2017-03-27-B-001-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Interface-Start

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.

2017-03-27-B-002-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Information

 

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.

2017-03-27-B-003-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Intent-Schema-JSON

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?

2017-03-27-B-004-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Custom-Slot

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”.

2017-03-27-B-005-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Custom-Slot-Values

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.

2017-03-27-B-006-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Sample-Utterances

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.

2017-03-27-B-007-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Create-Alexa-Skill-Sample-Utterances-List

 

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.

2017-03-27-B-008-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Testing-Alexa-Skill

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.

2017-03-27-B-009-Alexa-Quiz-Skill-Testing-Alexa-Skill

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.

 

The IN Statement: SQL Fundamentals

Howdy, budding SQL masters! It’s been a minute since the last SQL post! I’ve taken some time to devote to Alexa Skills, some other personal housekeeping, and adopting a dog with my wife!!

Last time we talked SQL, we learned the BETWEEN statement to hone in on the exact values we wanted for a SQL query. Prior to that, we looked at the LIMIT statement to get a small return data sample and also working with ORDER BY to take sorting and filtering into our own hands.

Today we’ll be working with the IN statement.

About the IN Statement

The IN SQL operator is a companion to the WHERE clause to see if a value matches any value in a list of values. Sounds something kind of like VLOOKUP’s, yeah? The syntax of an IN statement might look like:

value IN (value1, value2)

The expression in your SQL query will return true if the value(s) you’ve specified in the query match any value in the list you’re referencing.

Sub-queries: Using the IN Statement with SELECT

The list of values is not limited to a static number or list of strings. That is, you can be a bit more dynamic and free-flowing with your query by getting the value via a SELECT statement.

This is also known as a sub-query. To illustrate, the syntax might look like:

value IN (SELECT value FROM table)

NOT IN: Not Making Fetch Happen

The IN statement has a similar corollary as the BETWEEN statement- a NOT modifier. So, we can take the inverse of a statement. (Drawing on some experience in data analysis, this can just as, if not more useful than the original statement!)

value NOT IN (SELECT value FROM table)

 

Sample SQL Queries for the NOT IN Statement

Alright, let’s run some sample queries using the IN statement! Here’s our first go, working again with the ever-present dvdrental sample database. Below, we are selecting rental information for customers matching only a certain ID cohort (think perhaps loyalty group?), with a few columns and sorting by descending order for the return date:

SELECT customer_id,rental_id,return_date

FROM rental

WHERE customer_id IN (1,2)

ORDER BY return_date DESC;

Below, we see our results returned as intended!

2017-03-13-001-IN-SQL-Statement-Example 

How about our corollary? If we want to add the NOT IN modifier, it’s as straightforward as you would imagine.

FROM rental

WHERE customer_id NOT IN (1,2)

ORDER BY return_date DESC;

2017-03-13-002-IN-SQL-Statement-Example-2

Above, we again receive the desired result. I believe we also get a lesson in the importance of clean data here, as blank values are presented first. Let’s try one more sample query, just for kicks. We’ll switch it up ever so slightly, now working with the payment table.

SELECT city_id,city,last_update

FROM city

WHERE country_id IN (44,82,60)

ORDER BY city ASC;

2017-03-13-002-NOT-IN-SQL-Statement-Example

Above, we’ve demonstrated that we don’t necessarily need to display a column we use in the query (country_id) and have sorted by city name in ascending order.

 

Wrap Up

So why the IN statement? At face value, it seems rather simplistic among SQL clauses we’ve explored thus far. Let’s consider the following.

The IN statement allows us to avoid a messy swath of values courtesy of BETWEEN (if we’re working with a proper large data set), or daisy chain list of a bunch of equals OR statements. Here’s another plus, it’s thought by some that pgAdmin / PostgreSQL will execute the IN query faster than the list of OR statements.

Alright, that’s it for today’s article. If you’re like me and need a quick refresh, revisit our page on Learning SQL that contains all the topics we’ve covered so far.

 

The BETWEEN Statement: SQL Statement Fundamentals

Hey there, folks! Welcome back to our journey in learning SQL. Our last few of posts covered the ORDER BY clause, LIMIT statement and the COUNT function. (See full list of SQL tutorials here.)

Today, we’re going to cover the BETWEEN statement. This is the start of some deeper material. In addition to the BETWEEN statement, we’ll also soon be covering IN and LIKE statements.

 

About the BETWEEN Statement

The BETWEEN statement (rather, operator) is used to match a value against a specified range of values. Maybe we want to get transactions between a certain dollar amount.

For example, value BETWEEN low AND high;

More about the BETWEEN statement. If the value is greater than or equal to the low value and  less than or equal to the high value, the expression returns true, or vice versa. Also, the BETWEEN operator can be rewritten by using the greater than or equal to ( >=) or less than or equal to ( <=) operators as the following statement.

value >= low and value <= high;

One other way to think about the BETWEEN statement is that takes two WHERE statements and lumps them into one. Think back to the WHERE statement, as we would say first:

SELECT column1 FROM table WHERE column1 >= 2 AND column1 <= 7;

 

To BETWEEN or NOT BETWEEN

Conversely, you can extend the usage of the original BETWEEN operator to NOT BETWEEN. This is similar in concept, except working toward exclusion, instead of inclusion. So, if we want to check if a given value is outside of a range, we can use the NOT BETWEEN operator as below.

value NOT BETWEEN low AND high;

Again, similarly to the double WHERE statements, NOT BETWEEN simplifies the burden into a single statement. For sanity, we’ll skip the SELECT WHERE example.

 

Using BETWEEN in pgAdmin / PostgreSQL

Below, we’ve taken the BETWEEN statement for a road test on our address table.

SELECT address_id,address FROM address

WHERE address_id BETWEEN 10 AND 20;

2017-02-18-001-BETWEEN-SQL-Statement-Example

How sweet was that? Syonara, comparison operators. Conversely, if we convert the above query into a NOT BETWEEN operator, we should see the below statement return the following results.

SELECT address_id,address FROM address

WHERE address_id NOT BETWEEN 10 AND 20;

2017-02-18-002-NOT-BETWEEN-SQL-Statement-Example

Okay, that was cool. Let’s hold up for a quick second. What about non-integer columns, such as data? Caveat: there’s a lot more to data types than our humble example below. For the purposes of this article, we can take a YYYY-MM-DD date and place the values into strings.

SELECT rental_id,rental_date,inventory_id FROM rental

WHERE rental_date BETWEEN ‘2005-05-24’ AND ‘2005-05-27’;

2017-02-18-003-BETWEEN-Non-Integer-SQL-Statement-Example

Voila!

Wrap-Up

Alright, for those of you reading this later, it’s 2 a.m. on a Friday night / Saturday morning, and I’m about ready to call it a night. Sorry I’m not providing a better conclusion for you today. I’m excited to delve further into more complex SQL queries. Keep track of my shared journey of a beginner learning SQL. Cheers!

 

 

DSC_0163 Zach Doty Cover Photo for ORDER BY SQL Clause

ORDER BY Clause: SQL Statement Fundamentals

Welcome back to our SQL learning journey! It’s been a week and a half since my last post on using LIMIT. Work got crazy and I got the flu! 🙁 But we’re back in action. Today, we’ll delving deeper into SQL statements in PostgreSQL: ORDER BY.

Let’s jump in. Why would you need a statement that orders data? Whenever you query data from a table, PostgreSQL will by default return the rows in the order they were inserted into the table. (Read: not the order you want.)

To sort the result set from your SQL query, you can use the ORDER BY clause in the SELECT statement and specify a certain ascending or descending order.

Sample ORDER BY Clause Syntax

Here’s an example of the ORDER BY clause would look like within a SELECT statement.

SELECT column_1, column_2

FROM table_name

ORDER BY column_1 ASC / DESC;

Some important notes for the ORDER BY clause:

  • Specify the column you want to sort by with the ORDER BY clause
    • If you sort the results by multiple columns, use a comma to separate between the two columns
  • Use ASC to sort the results in ascending order
  • Use DESC to sort the results in descending order
  • Should you leave the ORDER BY clause blank, it will use ASC (ascending) by default

ORDER BY Clause Examples in SQL Statements

Alright, first up. We’ll do a basic SELECT statement, adding both ORDER BY and LIMIT clauses. Code and screen shot below. The query should select the first and last name columns from the customer table, ordered by last name ascending (A > Z), returning only the first 10 rows.

SELECT first_name,last_name  FROM customer

ORDER BY last_name ASC

LIMIT 10;

2017-02-16-001-ORDER-BY-SQL-Statement-Example

 

Let’s try another example. What if we want to do an advanced / multiple sort? Let’s try it out, and change it up ever so slightly from the first sample query.

SELECT first_name,last_name

FROM customer

ORDER BY first_name ASC,

last_name DESC;

2017-02-16-002-ORDER-BY-SQL-Statement-Example-Multiple

If we scroll down to the first set of duplicate first names, we’ll see the last name has been presented in descending order (Z > A).

More Details About the ORDER BY Clause

Did you know? In PostgreSQL, you can ORDER BY columns that aren’t explicitly selected within the SELECT statement? E.g. We could only select first and last name, but order by their address_id value. Interesting, yes? Important caveat, other SQL programs, such as MySQL, may not let you do this.

Below:

SELECT first_name FROM customer

ORDER BY last_name ASC;

2017-02-16-003-ORDER-BY-SQL-Statement-Example-Other-Sort

Wrap-Up

Thanks for joining me and hopefully you’ve learned the essentials for the ORDER BY clause. Feel free to check out the entire journey on how to learn SQL, thanks!

The Absolute Beginning for Amazon Alexa Voice Skill Development

An Introduction to this Alexa Learning Journey

So if you’ve visited my site at all in the past, you’ll notice this is the most blogging I’ve done in…ever? Put another way, a significant confluence of factors has dialed up my motivation to doggedly pursue learning and growth. So, here we are at learning Alexa skills!

A few weeks ago, I was suckered by the cheap promise of a free hoodie from Amazon, in exchange for building and publishing my first Amazon skill. You can experience the equally cheap output of that effort by saying, “Alexa, start silly marketing strategies” (again and again.)

Is it a good skill? No! Nor am I going to pull a Dollar Shave Club here either. It’s a bad skill! It’s not interactive. You just have to keep asking it over and over for some dumb buzzword-laden sentences. I promise I only account for 75% of the utterances. 🙂

2017-01-25-001-Silly-Marketing-Strategies

Honestly, I’m thrilled to have published an Alexa skill. But there’s so much more out there! Thus, I’m embarking on yet another educational journey, this one into Amazon Alexa Voice Skill Development.

Getting Set Up with Resources You Need for Alexa Skill Development

The instructions below are for PC only. Apologies, Mac users!

  1. You need to create a folder directory in which we’ll be housing our various materials and code.
  2. Visit the Alexa Skills Kit JS Git Hub page and download all materials as a ZIP.
    1. 2017-01-25-002-Alexa-Skills-Kit-JS-Git-Hub
  3. Once you’ve downloaded the ZIP file, move it from your default Downloads directory, and into the folder you created in Step 1.
  4. Extract the ZIP file. The unzipped folder should be named, by default, “alexa-skills-kit-js-master”. Within the unzipped folder is yet another folder of the same name.
  5. Take the all the contents within the two folders described above, and move them into the “Alexa” directory, higher up.
    1. Move the contents from the “samples” folder into the main “Alexa” directory, so the skill folders (spaceGeek, reindeerGames, etc.) are in the umbrella directory.
  6. When you’ve completed Step 5, you should be left with A) Three text files, and a bunch of skill folders, B) an empty “samples” folder [A&B you moved up two directories into the “Alexa” umbrella folder], C) an empty “alexa-skills-kit-js-master” folder and D) the original zip file.
  7. Delete items B, C, and D from step 6.
  8. Download and install a code/text editor. I personally prefer Sublime Text 2, but a lot of folks prefer Notepad++ as well.
    1. A dedicated code/text editor is highly preferable here, as much of the code for the Alexa skills in JS – Node.JS in particular, I believe.
  9. After you’ve muddled your way through this folder architecture, go into the README file and not the order of Skills. Number the skill folders accordingly in the umbrella directory, excluding helloWorld. (You should have skills 1-9, starting with spaceGeek and ending with ChemistryFlashCards.)

2017-01-25-003-Alexa-Folder-Structure

Alright, that’s it for now! Next, we’ll look at setting up access to Amazon Developer and Amazon Web Services.

DSC_0034 Zach Doty Cover Photo How to Learn SEO in Five Minutes

How to Explain SEO in 5 Minutes

Today, you’re going to learn how to explain SEO to anyone in five minutes! Is it a comprehensive, end-all, be-all example? No. Will it help someone quickly understand the basics of a complex practice? Yes. Let’s jump in. This is, after all, a five minute guide!

Starting Point: SEO is not a black box.

For context, I often hear that SEO is a “black box” and it’s anyone’s guess as to how you rank in search engines. I’m always happy to hear that! It means we have a chance to explain what SEO is really about. Google isn’t a black box. Rather, its algorithms and search engines are so complex at a large scale, it’s difficult to comprehend on a daily basis.
With introductions out of the way, here’s how you do it:
A Job Application
Consider SEO like a job application. You have a resume, references, you deal with a recruiter and a hiring manager. And you want a great career!
In SEO, you have a website, backlinks, the search engine and the user. You want to be found and loved!

Your Resume
Your resume is your website. You control the content and tailor the experience to each opportunity. You balance who you are and what you do.
Your website balances your brand story and products or services. You target keywords to pages of your site, just like your jobs are targeted to certain functions and skill sets.
Which resume would you choose to interview for a Marketing Director?

A. “I’m Leroy, I’m awesome. I’m really cool, I enjoy long walks on the beach and like Ethiopian food.”

B. “Kevin is a seasoned marketing professional who has managed and implemented effective marketing promgrams.”

By the same token, which website would you do business with? One with “high quality products and synergistic solutions”? Or a site that speaks in plain, compelling English?
Your References
Your references are your backlinks, or 3rd party websites linking to your own. You can influence these endorsements and relationships, but not necessarily control them. On both sides of this comparison, quality trumps quantity.

Which of the following references holds the most weight for a candidate?

A. “Little Michael is my favorite nephew, he eats a lot at Thanksgiving, you should hire him.”

B. “Jake paid me some money to recommend him. I guess he’s cool.”

C. “Ryan took our marketing department to the next level with smart strategy. He works well with the team implementing our campaigns.”

Ryan is the best choice. A bunch of low quality or fake recommendations will do a job seeker little good if not harm. By the same token, it’s better to have a few excellent backlinks than a bunch of spammy or fake endorsements.
The ultimate goal
When you’re a job seeker, interviews are great. But you really want the career! Likewise, it’s great to rank well in the search engines, but you want new, loyal customers that convert on your website.

Above all else, optimize your website for your users. The search engine results will follow.

Where to next?

That’s how to explain and understand SEO in five minutes! Obviously, there’s much, much more to learn. However, this will get you on the right path. Dive deeper into SEO with a fantastic Beginner’s Guide from Moz.