One of my favorite features of Amazon’s voice controlled speakers, the Echo and Echo Dot, is the Alexa News Flash skill. Out of the box, it plays you a quick news briefing from standard news sources. What you probably didn’t know however was that you can customize your Alexa Flash Briefing with literally thousands of skills, tailored perfectly to the news you want. Here’s how it all works and how to set it up.
Some Alexa Skills connect to smart devices, bringing voice control to a smart home from smart lights to locks, smart thermostats to televisions and more. Alexa becomes a home's second in command: users tell Alexa to tell other devices what to do. There are Alexa Skills for almost any kind of smart home device. These Alexa Smart Home articles can get users started immediately, quick start guides for using Alexa: 8 Alexa skills for your professionally installed and monitored security systems, 5 Alexa skills for security you install yourself, but have professionally monitored, and Alexa Skills that help lock down the security of your smart home.

One of my favorite features of Amazon’s voice controlled speakers, the Echo and Echo Dot, is the Alexa News Flash skill. Out of the box, it plays you a quick news briefing from standard news sources. What you probably didn’t know however was that you can customize your Alexa Flash Briefing with literally thousands of skills, tailored perfectly to the news you want. Here’s how it all works and how to set it up.

How does Alexa work? Once you buy an Amazon Alexa device — Amazon Tap or an Echo Dot — the device connects through WiFi or Bluetooth to the internet and then to other devices. With the most common devices, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, people merely say "Alexa," which wakes up the device, and then ask for what they want. Alexa Skills radically expands the bots repertoire, allowing users to perform more actions with voice-activated control through Alexa.


For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you record your food intake using your voice, or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."
If you think you’d like a briefing in the future, but not now, just toggle it off. If you want to permanently disable a Flash Briefing skill, you’ll need to head over to the Skills section in the app and then tap Your Skills.  Find the skill you want to disable and then tap Disable Skill. You don’t delete the skill, which makes sense since nothing installs on your Alexa device.

Because Amazon opened up the development of Alexa Skills to anyone with the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) in 2015, anyone can create an Alexa Skill. As Alexa uses Natural Language Programing (NLP), those looking to build a skill don't need to worry about complex speech recognition. The ASK tools also makes it easier for novices to work with sophisticated NLP ideas.
Alexa Skills themselves are quite helpful. However, even with an updated Skills section in the Alexa app and the ability to add skills using only your voice, discovering new and useful skills is a less than desirable experience. So much so that Amazon actually created a skill called Skill Finder which, you guessed it, helps you discover new skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."
This shouldn't scare you away, however. Alexa-enabled devices are great to have in your home and, with a little tweaking, can prove to be very good companions. I’ve hand-picked some of the most useful and unique Alexa skills from the thousands that are out there. Many of these skills will not be enabled by default, so you may need to follow the proper activation steps before using each one for the first time. 
Because Amazon opened up the development of Alexa Skills to anyone with the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) in 2015, anyone can create an Alexa Skill. As Alexa uses Natural Language Programing (NLP), those looking to build a skill don't need to worry about complex speech recognition. The ASK tools also makes it easier for novices to work with sophisticated NLP ideas.
As of this writing, Amazon has thousands of sources for flash briefings.  The sources they include can be hyper-local like your local news station. Amazon also has specific topics like tech or business, or general info.  Many of these sources, like NPR, are podcasts provided by Tune-In.  These briefings are audio files Alexa plays for you.  Other sources like the AP news stories are read in Alexa’s voice.  I wish Amazon told you which ones were audio files because her voice drones on after a while.  I hope I get to change her voice like I can with Siri.  Right now, you can just change the language to the English (UK) or German.
The Capital One skill allows you to check your credit card balance or make a payment when one is due. This is secure: The skill performs security checks and requires you sign in using your username and password. Then, when you open the skill, you must provide a four-digit code to confirm your identity. Just be wary of who is around when using the skill -- anyone who overhears you say your personal key can access your banking or credit card info just by asking Alexa.

As of this writing, Amazon has thousands of sources for flash briefings.  The sources they include can be hyper-local like your local news station. Amazon also has specific topics like tech or business, or general info.  Many of these sources, like NPR, are podcasts provided by Tune-In.  These briefings are audio files Alexa plays for you.  Other sources like the AP news stories are read in Alexa’s voice.  I wish Amazon told you which ones were audio files because her voice drones on after a while.  I hope I get to change her voice like I can with Siri.  Right now, you can just change the language to the English (UK) or German.


After your kids are asleep, Alexa can help you doze off with the Ambient Noise skill and its companion skills. There are several different sounds to choose from, all of which come with their own skill. You can fall asleep to the sounds of a thunderstorm, rain, ocean, wind chimes, babbling brook, rain on a tent, city sounds and much more. For all available sounds, just say, "Alexa, ask Ambient Noise for a list."
Many Alexa Skills are tailored for news and information. Alexa's Flash Briefing, a quick update of top headlines, can be pulled from a preferred media source: Fox News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Show are just a few options. Users can also check train or bus schedules, check for someplace to eat through Restaurant Finder, check the traffic, or find a select store's hours.
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