Alexa adds celebrity friends Shaq, Melissa — for a price

Alexa has a new trick. You can change her voice to NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal or actress Melissa McCarthy for $5 per voice.

Both of them can tell a joke or a personal story, play music, give you the latest weather, and set a timer or alarm, among other things. When I said, “Hey Melissa tell me a story,” she told me about nearly knocking Michelle Obama over by accident. When I asked her to set an alarm for me, she said: “I’m sometimes alarming myself, but I get what you’re asking for.” Shaq recalled the time his father made him help a homeless man get an apartment and a job. They’re friends to this day.

Start by saying, “Alexa, introduce me to Shaq.” Or “Alexa, introduce me to Melissa.” There’s also Samuel L. Jackson. Find him by searching “Amazon Celebrity Voices.” He responds to more commands, such as: “Tell my kids to go to bed.” Of course, none of these celebrities do as much as Alexa does. But they’re fun. Especially exercising with Shaq.


Some people let their phones melt in a hot car until they are no longer phone-shaped. But even if they don’t melt, the batteries will degrade in the sun.

According to ZDnet, it’s not a good idea to leave a phone in a holder stuck to the windshield on a hot day. You might not notice the reduced battery life while the weather is warm, but come winter you will. If your phone feels hot, put it somewhere to cool off.


If Netflix isn’t making any good movie recommendations for you anymore, try this: Sign in to your Netflix account, then go to There you can click on a code in one of dozens of categories, such as “Military action and adventure,” “Quirky romance,” and “Movies based on children’s books,” among many others.

In most cases, you’ll get a dozen movie suggestions, but some categories may have few or none. It all depends on what Netflix thinks you’ll like, based on what you’ve watched before. It’s not a perfect system.


In my old apartment, spotty internet service was corrected when I complained to AT&T. Their tech guy delivered a new router, setting it up in a central location. Voila! No more spotty web. But if this doesn’t fix your problem, check out the detailed article from “How to set up a Wi-Fi Extender.” It goes into detail on how to choose the right one. I had previously tried a mesh system from Google. They have great tech support, so I thought the problem was fixed. But moving the router was the only thing that worked for me.


Peggle and Peggle Nights remain the most addictive games I’ve ever played on a computer. Now you can get a free Peggle app for iPhone or Android.

Peggle is a little like Pachinko, which is a little like pinball. When you release a ball and hit a green peg, a magical creature helps you knock down the other pegs. Of course, a phone app can’t compete with the computer version. But for a freebie, it’s great. When you win a level, you get a snatch of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

A friend of mine objected to the fact that you can cheat if you’re willing to pay $10 to get extra powers. But when that offer pops up, I just ignore it. If I don’t complete a level, I try, try again.


• “Pair your Echo or Echo Dot with a Bluetooth Speaker.” Search on that phrase to get instructions on how to use a speaker with your Alexa device. It can make a big difference in sound quality.

• Search on “Curtiss Electric Motorcycles, Innovation Nation” to see a short YouTube video about the Curtiss One, a 100% electric motorcycle designed in honor of Glenn Curtiss. Curtiss set a world record in 1907 by going 136 mph racing a motorcycle of his own design and construction. The YouTube video is based on a TV series, “Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation,” appearing Saturday mornings on CBS.


What if you could use Windows programs on a Chromebook, Mac or Linux machine without special software? Microsoft just announced a new version of Windows that runs in the cloud. Starting Monday, it will be available for one-person businesses on up, though it’s not for consumers yet. Of course, some Windows programs are already available in the cloud at


Here’s something I never thought of before: a portable monitor for your phone. If you want to extend your laptop screen or add some screen real estate to your phone, this is an easy way to do it. A refurbished Dell portable monitor is $48 from and a new one from ViewSonic costs $256. To me it seems simpler to use a tablet, but then you’d have to keep it updated with everything you want to show off on your phone.


My nephew sells insurance, so I was intrigued to learn how the industry is changing. Artificial intelligence and robotics can process more than 4,000 data points in minutes, analyzing 20 years’ worth of mortality, demographic, health and government trends, according to Traffk, a company that makes software for the insurance industry. It’s getting easier and easier to assess risk.

Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at

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