“Hey Alexa…Score me some weed….”

I have an echo dot.

I didn’t buy it. I would never think of buying it. It was a gift.

IMG_0653Amazon Echo is basically an interface into Amazon, to put it simply. It’s a voice activated web appliance. I’m certain the goal of this thing is to simply hook Amazon into your life, mostly to buy crap, and add a few other features. They are always finding inventive ways for you to buy stuff. The worst I’ve seen is the pushbutton that you mash to reorder stuff. So instead of mashing a button device, like a rat pressing a bar for another pellet, to have your chocolate covered pork rinds sent, you can say “Alexa, order more chocolate pork rinds…”

You can also have it run your Amazon TV, play your Amazon music, run your Internet-of-Things (IoT). It’s basically an appliance that you use like Siri on an iPhone. But since it’s inhabiting your space, you don’t have to find it to use it. Simply holler out.

What’s good about it?

Not much. It has a great speaker, so it plays radio and music well. And it is convenient. I mostly use it to listen to talk radio in the mornings, and light lights. I’m to lazy to learn how to tell it do do anything else.

Here’s the deal, I work with voice processing software all day  long. Our software will read your emails to you, it’ll tell you appointments, which you can also create via voice. I still find it easier to use my iPhone for those things, as well as to turn my lights off and one, and order shit from Amazon.

The one time I had our system read me emails was when I drove 20 miles to a partner, totally forgotten who I was there to meet, reached down to discover I left my blackberry (at the time) back home. I could call in on the courtesy phone and say “Get read emails..” And so it was with Alexa. Through an unfortunate series of events (I tried to fix my screen) my iPhone was destroyed. So I could say “Alexa, Turn off the office lights”. That said, I simply could have manually turned them off.

What’s bad?

All those devices you want to turn off and on? You need connector software and devices. I picked Phillips HUE lightbulbs, since they are ubiquitous at the local Home Depot. To get them to work, you need a HUE bridge, and app. Phillips doesn’t sell smart plugs, so I had to get another device, and another app. Just because it says “Works with Alexa” doesn’t mean it does so natively. You need to tie the apps (and their logins) to Amazon. You still need the apps on your phone, which are often faster. I’ve had a few times when I’ve said “Alexa, turn off the porch light”, she says “OK” and nothing happens.

No matter what it is, and where you send your creds, I”m not a huge fan of a third party having ties to other parts of my digital world. But that’s me.

Here’s another – Not everyone is into the IoT scene. Alexa, more often than not, ignores my wife. Who then simply turns the light off manually, which makes the whole thing useless. Especially when you’ve programmed lights to come on and off while away.

Can’t do that if the missus has turned them off.

Do I think Amazon is spying on me?

No. Not any more than they are already.

What a waste that would be. I’m certain they track purchases and which are ordered via Alexa. But snooping? No. The product I work with day in and day out records as well. It records words it doesn’t understand. If it says “I didn’t understand…” it has recorded a wav file so if a tech needs to analyze what happened they can hear it for themselves.

Which is what I’m certain Alexa is doing. Voice Recognition Technology can be emotionally challenging. Ever catch yourself yelling at the call center’s system when you’ve called in? You don’t want that to happen when people are buying stuff. Ever. Besides, consider scale. Consider the infrastructure to store all that data, all that voice, and the amount of dough it would cost to mine it.

Safe bet it isn’t happening.

So I’ll stand by my opening. It’s useful to some extent. Still doubt I’d have bought it.

Apple Watch, Series 1

I’m not an early adopter.

It’s not because I’m some sort of Luddite. I’ve seen my early adopter friends pay too much for new tech, only to have better and cheaper show up in a year or two. I had a friend that bought a Cd player when they first came out. Manual feed, one dist, slow rate, and he blew $600 if memory serves. A few years later, I picked up a JVC 6 CD changer for like $150. Nowhere is the ass ache worse than with personal electronics.

It started with the electronic address books. They were an absolute pain in the balls. Entering all that data, only to have a new one come out and have no way to import the data to the new device. Enter the Palm Pilot. I’ve had many, So I can say with some authority that, other than giving you something to do while waiting, they were useless. Every time I’ve needed them badly for a number or email address, they somehow became stupid, and usually when I didn’t bring a cable to resync. When smartphones showed up, I didn’t need to screw with them any longer. Starting with Blackberry, I’ve had them all, luckily provided by my employer, for the most part. I have two iPhones now.

Enter the Apple watch.

When they first came out, like most apple devices, I had to wonder who in the world would want such a thing? They were pretty pricey too. I had a fitbit my wife gave me, so I’ve learned that I don’t give two shits about tracking my activity. So  in addition to having one or two friends express some buyers remorse, having spend a few Benjamins on a cool apple watch only to wonder later why, I had a jaundiced eye for Apple watch.

But, then the price came down and I leaped.

First thing is they tie seamlessly into my iPhone 6s. There’s a lot of customization you can do. And, since they’ve been out awhile, you have a vast array of bands you can buy on the cheap. In my case, I bought a black series 1, with the dopey rubber sports band. Then, hit Amazon for a cool metal band for like $12. I think I paid $250 or so , only to be told by my daughter that they were at WalMart for $150. Whatever. I scoped some on Ebay for that price. I think the real deal from apple is probably worth the dough. Who knows? Damn $150 watch could be a clone.

What I like:  There are some apps that are really handy.

  • I like the timer app, especially when I’m steeping tea in the morning.
  • I like the stopwatch to do my neck exercises,
  • While driving, It’s bad ass to see a text, and reply with a response you can craft on your phone.
  • While in a meeting, It’s nice to get a text or call that you can handle. It’s still more socially acceptable to look at the watch vs. the phone.
  • Ditto for emails and calendar appointments.
  • I hooked up a Bluetooth interface for a wave radio on my patio to listen to tunes. When I’m streaming tunes from my phone, I can control them with my watch. Cool.
  • The alerts, or “tap taps” on my wrist when I get a call. For the most part, my phones sit on stands on my desk. I may be screwing with a server in another room, or taking a spell with the dog on the patio and won’t hear the call ring. It’s nice to see who it is calling and decide whether it’s worth picking up.

What I don’t like:

  • The activity reminders, of which I don’t give two shits. “Hey! Time to stand!”. Fuck you. I’m working. Just like the stupid “Sleep” reminders in iPhone- I’m an adult, thank you. (I know, I can turn them off. But busybody is apple’s default).
  • The battery lasts like a day and 2/3 rds or something inconvenient. I find when I have to lam out to an appointment the damn thing is dying. My bulova has a lifetime battery.
  • Big F-ing brother. It popped up today with a reminder that I’m 4 mins from the Church I attend on Sunday. Yet, I went last night. Why did it tell me that? It’s tracking my habits, that’s why. Who are they sharing that data with? This is why I didn’t buy the series 3. Most assuredly, if shit ever hits the fan, I’ll attach it to my dog.

So there it is. The positives far outweigh the negatives for at least the series one. Cheaper than a really good watch. And the bad is easily handled by some configuration, if not on the device, by you network. Buy the cheap one, get a cool band.