The “Amazon Echo Dot” is a small $50 box with a genie named Alexa. You ask her to play music, and she plays music. You ask about the weather, she tells you the weather. She even tells you what’s playing at the Bijou, or wherever.
It is absolutely the future, though it’s sometimes like dealing with a drunken monkey. “Google Home,” a similar device just arrived. But the future is still struggling toward digital Nirvana.
Alexa responds to voice commands. We ask her to play Bach, she plays Bach. Though oddly enough, there is a popular French album of cool jazz, called “Play Bach,” which Amazon actually sells, and we actually bought. But Alexa ignores that and plays Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” which is the most perfect ever Halloween music. But for reasons known only to the mind of a digital assistant, part way through, it switches to playing Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn.” Nice, but not Bach.
Nothing ventured, nothing heard. “Alexa! Play Beethoven.” The ever obedient if somewhat addled Alexa responds with Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet. Well, she’s very young and probably just listens to Rock.
What we got here is something that looks very much like a thick hockey puck. Inside is a personal assistant that’s like “Siri” for the iPhone or “Google Now” for Android, but more, and more fun too. We plugged in a couple of good quality Altec-Lansing speakers we got for $20 on the web. Sound is great.
Once Alexa is set up, she’s always on. She connects through Wi-Fi and does your bidding, more or less. She can even play games with you, like word games, Jeopardy and Twenty Questions. She’s terrible at them, so you’re likely to win all the time. Joy likes her seven-minute workout. She even took her to a friend’s place, along with a portable speaker. Worked fine.
Back to music: You can say “skip,” “pause” and “resume,” and she’s always ready to play. In her million-song library, she didn’t have “Diamonds are Forever,” the theme from an old James Bond movies, but for an extra $4 a month we could expand our choices to 30 million songs, so we said “sure.” We moved on to old folk songs, like “John Henry Was a Steel Driving Man,” and “You Load Sixteen Tons and What Do you Get?” Alexa can read you a book, or a children’s book for the kids. She can order a ride from Uber or Lyft. You can also ask her to “Find my phone,” and she will if it’s on.
Bob’s imagination took off. Think of the protection possibilities, he mused. Some bad guys break into your house — or your business, and you say “If you don’t leave immediately, I’ll call the police.”
“Sure, sure. they would say. Just stay where you are and tell us where you keep the dough.” But it’s too late. The call will already have taken place, triggered by your voice saying “call the police.” Because, of course, the digital assistant is always on. Future versions need only add the ability to make phone calls, just like your cell phone. In fact, such a phone already exists. It’s called “Ooma,” and is a competitor to “Vonage” and “Magic Jack.” You can say, “Alexa, use Ooma to call Mom.” A little web searching will tell you all about it.
You can connect the all-knowing hockey puck with a security system like “Scout” from ScoutAlarm.com, but it doesn’t yet do everything we’d like it to. Still, Alexa is learning new skills every day, and it won’t be long before Alexa can order photos of the bad guys sent to the police, and everybody on Facebook for that matter, including the time and date stamp. The only escape for them will be moving to the Hindu Kush.
The Amazon Dot, second version, with Alexa inside, is less than a third the cost of their original product, the $160 “Amazon Echo.” Plug your own speaker into the Dot. We have seen the future, and it looks like a hockey puck.
- A frequent correspondent sent us a link to Wimp.com/brassband. It has a video of the laziest brass band in the known universe. Very amusing.
- “Girl Speaks 20 Languages.” Search on that term to see an amazing video on YouTube. The 20 languages include lesser known ones like Sami, spoken only in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. She speaks fast, like a native, whether she’s speaking German or Tamil, the official language of Sri Lanka.
- “33 Roald Dahl quotes.” Search on that phrase to find thoughts that will “inspire you to live like a kid again.” (Dahl is the author of many children’s stories, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) It’s one of the many pages in ThoughtCatalog.com.
Private Web Searches
If you use StartPage.com, all web searches will be private. Click on the word “proxy” next to any search result to have the website address encrypted. Your results still come from Google, but you’re not tracked. DuckDuckGo.com is similar, and a favorite of many of our readers.
Alternatively, you could use Google Chrome’s “incognito” mode. Hold down the “ctrl” key in Windows (“cmd” on the Mac), and tap the shift key and the letter “n.” Not only are you un-trackable, but your searches won’t show up in a history of where you’ve been. Of course, incognito mode has limits. Some sites require you to have “cookies” turned on. They won’t operate if they can’t collect information about you in incognito mode.