Coping: Life with the Amazon Echo

imageI promised a little more discussion of the Amazon Echo when I had some time – so this is that time.

Why is there a fork leaning on the Echo?

That’s to give you an idea about how big it is.  It’s a little taller than a large dinner fork and about 3-inches in diameter.  That wire coming out of its base is the power.

Used to be product pictures were taken with a dollar bill or a pack of ciggies, but since the Treasury isn’t happy with money pictures and since ciggies are out of favor, my scaling weapon of choice these days is a fork.

This is really a computer and internet voice-interface machine.

It is a wireless device:  You need to have a home (of office) wireless network to enable it.

Interface:  You talk to it, it talks to back.  Kind of like marriage.

Setup:  You log into the Echo through a control panel on the web.  The control panel is used for setup (like to link your iHeart Radio account to the Echo, so it can stream content.  

You also use the online control panel to print out your shopping and to-do lists.

What it is:  It’s a computer and online audio media tool.   Think of it as a cross between a kitchen time, shopping and to-do list manager,  and a kitchen radio – at least that’s the slot it fills in our toy box.

Command Words:  The standard “name” you address the device as (in other words, to tell it “I’m talking to you” is “Alexa


The number of features will be growing over time.  Here at the ones we presently use:

    • Alexa:  Tell me a joke.   (she will)
    • Alexa:  What time is it?  (she tells)
    • Alexa: Tell me a joke  (“Why did the banker quit his job?  He lost interest.”
    • Alexa:  Tell me a joke (“What’s the difference between a well-dressed guy on a bicylce and a scruffy guy on a tricycle?  Attire!”)
    • …the jokes go on endlessly…
    • Alexa:  Set a time for Xx minutes.  (“x minute timer set).
    • When the timer goes off “Alexa, stop.”
    • Or, if you don’t like the timer you set and don’t want it to go off anymore:  “Alexa, cancel x minute timer…”
    • And, when you’re doing steaks on the grill outside “Alexa, time remaining”  “A bout xx seconds [or whatever the remaining time is]
    • The system supports multiple timers.  We aren’t that complicated most of the time, though.
    • The Echo will also also read Wikipedia entries.  “Alexa, wiki Civil War”  “The American Civil war was….blah blah blah…”  Basically, it reads the first Wikipedia paragraph and ends with “For the full article, look at the Alexa App “ (which is the online control panel)
    • “Alexa:  Prime Music Jazz:”
    • “Alexa:  iHeart Radio WBAP”  or whatever else is on iHeart Radio, and you can set up lots of account links from various sources.
    • There is a voice calculator, too:  “Alexa: what is 137 divided by 12?”  “137 divided by 12 is 11.4166666667”    For my back pocket approximation of Pi, “Alexa, what is 22 divided by 7?”  Her answer goes plenty of decimal places.
    • She does just the basic four, doesn’t know what imaginary numbers are (except as a Wikipedia paragraph) and don’t ask her for second derivatives or standard deviations.  Yet.

    The only things to keep in mind are it is an evolving art and just like using any speech program  it will take time to figure out what you’re saying, especially if your Engrish is tainted, accented, regionalized heavily and what-not.

    For radio it is “Alexa, [source] [item detail]”  *(like Prime Music is the source, then item detail is jazz playlist).  You’re talking to the replacement civilization and they’re not really understanding us, but then again, present human leaders don’t either.

    Since we live out in the outback, radio reception here sucks but since wed have plenty of bandwidth (which I am convinced is the “new personal wealth item” we find it a spendy but grand fun replacement for a kitchen radio, timer, voice driven Wiki thing, calculator, and it does fine at the shopping and to-do lists.

    imageThe control panel is a bit stupid at the moment.

    I mean like the List editor.

    I could not find a “delete checked” at the top of the page so once something is on your list, it is there for Eternity unless you go in and use the control panel.

    Although it may seem simple enough to add a voice command like “Alexa, delete shopping list” and respond “You want me to delete your shopping list, is that right?”  (yes/no) that’s the kind of thing that they are still working on (presumably),

    I think I mentioned that since you have to know your network settings with the app, you should be able to specify a wireless printer so you could have things like “Alexa, print to-do list” which – along with delete function – would make it a very useful tool.

    It’s not there yet.

    But did we spring for one?  Yes.

    You can order one at this link:

    We also ordered the remote control (which includes a remote microphone instead of the 7-mic array built it.  So far, we haven’t used it.

    As I write the column this morning, I’m 22-feet from the machine in quiet home, so with a noise floor of –135 db, it works well at that range.

    It’s an interesting tool and why is it I have a funny feeling that Amazon is leveraging the development of this product to eventually roll a Siri like capability into a future Kindle product?

    Hell of a kitchen radio/timer/.paperwork laying around eliminator.  Now if they’d just implement my network printer default setup I suggested…

    I did swear at Alexa once (to test)  “That’s not very nice” was her answer.    Who?  Moi?.

    If you say :”Alexa, thank you” she will replay “You’re welcome.”  You don’t need to thank machines, at least not yet.

    Around the Ranch:  Computers out to Get Humans?


    Yeah…talking about being the first on our block (which is 12 miles to drive around, but that’s what rural life is about, right?) to start talking to our replacements….reminded me of this adventure.

    Panama’s significant is finishing up her degree with the local state universitrap.  T’other day, she did a long and involved business course – and test – and all the results disappeared.

    Worse, when she logged in, she was shown another student’s work and a different instructor.

    So she called to talk to the instructor:  Yes it was a problem caused by a duplicate account.

    So he promptly deleted THE WRONG ACCOUNT..

    After a couple of days of seething about it, more emails and messaging, she logged back in and all of her work has mysteriously reappeared, complete with her 3.7-something GPA.

    So all’s well that ends well, except I suggested the two of them consider asking for a student loan discount for the hassle-factor.  They’re not that kind of people.

    I am.

    Friday Life Overload

    With guests due to arrive at about 4 PM, things have been humming around the ranch.

    The planned installation of the magnetos was slowed yesterday due to a parts failure.

    The good news is I picked out two ties for the cruise at the local clothing emporium which passed muster with Elaine.

    Since she is too busy to read the column, the truth is I had them picked out by the local store clerk.  Theory is that if you see a well-dress clerk in retail that is the person you ask.

    This morning, all I have to do is vacuum my office, drive up to the bank in Tyler, pick up steaks and seafood there, get a new stapler (OfficeMax stop), a liquor refreshments store stop, recover the websites if anything goes wrong with the SQL updates.  After that, a leisurely interview, shower, pack, documents ready…and by that time, it will be time to go lead Robin and Judy in.

    This is because in this part of Texas, there’s virtually no what to find our place.  Even the Post Office gets here unreliably at times.

    That’s because the road we live on has been variously named Anderson County Road 4416, AN.. County Rd. 4416, ACR 4416, Anderson County Road 441, ACR 441, etc, and Anderson County Road 441-B.

    And as if that’s not enough, the nav system in Robin’s Expedition thinks it’s probably County Road 441-B, which is hasn’t been since Jurassic times.

    IRS wants us to use one address – because it synchs with the Port Office address confirmation computer, but UPS is sometimes stumped with that one.

    Far as I can figure it, whatever this land is is nothing more or less than a space-time anomaly that no one wants to admit to.  So they periodically rename it, far more often than the Land Marker in Chief does.  People in the shadow of McNali DeKinley have it easier than they know.

    Panama and his S.O. can’t wait for us to leave.  Zeus the Cat doesn’t want us to.  Elaine’s a soft touch when comes to food.  Panama, whose SF and Ranger background taught him the fine art of eating Dog Bones is a little less free with the treats.

    And for the Truly Paranoid

    There was a note about the TCAS and ADS-B aircraft systems being unreliable starting a couple of days back.

    There’s an article here that explains it.

    But as one reader noted:

    “Just wanted to tell you the last time the TCAS was down we had 9/11”

    Conspiracy?  Or:  September and October are the light travel and tourism months.

    REMINDER:  We have a SQL Update today, so this site may be flakier than the guy who write it, for a change.  This is for both Peoplenomics and Urbansurvival if I read the email from the server team, right.

    If you’re a first time visitor, be sure to check out the historical (old) posts and check some of the comments.  Nice people around here, with one exception who’s at the keyboard presently.

    Normalcy should return shortly, so dew drop in… and write when you break-even…


    16 thoughts on “Coping: Life with the Amazon Echo”

    1. > Normalcy should return shortly,
      “We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.”
      – Douglas Adams, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

    2. Dear George,
      No , 1994 wasn’t a stock market crash
      Just an epic bond market crash.
      1987 was a stock market crash.
      1980 was the time frame that the treasury had to briefly issue bonds in swiss francs because the dollar was plunging.
      I really hope all of them are wrong.
      But even by your calculations this economy and really this society is a “dead man walking ” until late 2016-early 2017 , when you are expecting the casino to go belly up , just like Atlantic City

    3. On a lighter note,
      What would you call Nixon in a dress?
      Why, Hillary Rottenham Clinton , of course !

    4. George
      Some web programmers use the space bar for check/uncheck.
      Try using the [TAB] key to get to the checked item and then press the [SPACE-BAR].
      Might work

    5. I found your recent Coping topic, the Amazon Echo pretty interesting. Especially when you occasionally speak about machines and their rise. If you and the misses are into movies and you haven’t yet checked it out, you need to watch the movie, Ex_Machina. It’s a very intense and gripping story of how a young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence, evaluating the human qualities of a female A.I. I’ve included the official trailer.

    6. Hello George and the lovely Elaine,

      When I read your post last Friday, I was horrified. I attempted to reply on Sat, but to no avail…I’m old you know. It would be a very long shot in the dark, but I hope you can ID those bastards…I know what will happen next!

      Have a great time on your cruise and give our best to Robin, it would be good to meet him sometime.

      Hope your steaks and seafood turn out to perfection. We speak often of our dinner together on the deck, what a wonderful and unexpected time.

      Happy trails!
      Your friends, Robert and Ellen.

    7. I bought Evil Ed an Amazon Echo. He played with it for a full 30 minutes before he shipped it back. Lol. We love Amazon Prime.


      • Not too much – think they use a code to txt voice synth chip on the board so high compression that way

    8. I wrong direction with Eliza. The trend is toward chip consolidation, not device proliferation. All those features have been built into the iPhone for almost 4 years.

      The future is to carry a device which you use to (voice) control your environment, whether your entertainment system, car, your home or virtually anywhere. The next step after device (chip) reduction is switch elimination. And BTW, printing off a shopping list is so 20th century. The key to all this is a way for your electronics to identify who you are, that why you will carry something on you, or if more adventurous, a chip. It’s like the luxury cars without keys. Proximity to your identifier unlocks the doors and you push a start button, or simply tell the car what you want to do.

      You see, apple creates products that you don’t even know you need until you see it, but they know what you will be doing three years into the future. I am just waiting for the price of the technology to go down to handle the security for my building. No more keys, and a picture of who is at the door shows up on my iPhone anywhere I am in the world.

      I predict your Alexa will be in the dustbin in less than two years. Google and Apple are way ahead of Amazon in technology. Amazon has a history of failed electronic devices. They just cherry picked through the easiest to reproduce Siri features for Alexa. Voice recognition is built into most smartphones already.

      To get people to your place you should just text them a map with driving directions. Ups should have the coordinates of your place in their database. They track their trucks with gps 24/7. They also have computerized the routing for the truck by what packages get loaded into the truck.

    9. Ahh, I need to wade in on the Shemitah thing.
      1.There is no where in Torah where seven year slap from God occur. In fact he waited 490 until Israel was punished.
      2. The year of Jubilee is only for the nation of Israel, not America.
      3. The book is a cherry pick of data without references, used to profit off of the masses.

      Someone should start a class action suit to get everyone’s money back when these false prophecies fail to materialize.

    10. I would really love to have your dilemma of nobody being able to find me at El Rancho De Chaos. Just headed out for the weekend and called the caretaker (Mom) to check in before going comms silent. She proceeded to list everyone of the neighbors who are already down at their places and how many of their broods are with them. Almost turned back around to the house. It will be less crowded here in town. At least it’s a mile to the closest ones.

      Let me know when Alexa can bring me a beer. I may be interested by then.

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