Echo, if you recall, is the 9" high black cylindrical 2001 Monolith slash HAL9000 device that doesn't come close to running your house, but always on, lurking in the background, waits for its keyword "Alexa" to do a few things which are helpful.
-- Alexa, what time is it? It's 3:38.
-- Alexa, what's the temperature? Currently in Allendale it's 24°F with lots of clouds...
-- Alexa, what's the temperature in Helsinki? In Helsinki Finland it's 34°F with showers. Tonight you can look for snowy, rainy weather with a low of 31°F.
-- Alexa, what's tomorrow's forecast for Helsinki? Right now in Allendale...
Oh well -- its algorithms and voice recognition systems are not perfect. If you are using the Echo app on a Kindle or computer, you can click and get more information. And tell the mothership at Amazon if Echo heard you correctly. If you put in a short pause after the trigger word, you can give Echo a chance to lower the sound level so it can pick your commands out of the air easier, and you don't have to shout.
I have a better time of getting Echo to recognize me, over Mrs. Dr. Phil. It may be the years of lecturing and putting micro pauses between words so people can write notes down, I dunno. Or maybe Alexa is a misogynist jealous bitch.
Many of the local radio stations are available through Tune-In
-- Alexa, play 88.5. WGVU-FM, from Tune-In.
Mrs. Dr. Phil has been experimenting with doing podcasts over Echo, as she does from her Kindle. Here, it is not very successful to do it directly. But if you are running the Echo app, you can call up a podcast and command Echo to play that from the app. Same with music.
Right now the problem with both the radio and the podcast functions is that if the stream is interrupted, you can lose some of the program, and it's hard to cue up if you aren't starting at the beginning.
For me working at home right now, it is the music function which is excellent. Echo doesn't likely have much onboard storage -- sufficient for firmware and buffering -- instead drawing stuff from certain sources on the Internet or on its own Amazon Cloud storage. I've started acquiring stuff through Amazon's music store, and naturally it'll play that. I could upload my non-Amazon music library and it would play that, too.
-- Alexa, play Pirates. Pirates, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. From Philip's music library.
Amazon Prime has added some of my previous Amazon CD purchases to the library, some 300 songs. All told, I have taken 87 songs as of today and put them in what I call the HAPPY Songs playlist. 84 of those are in the YPPAH Songs playlist, which is the same list in reverse order. I usually play one during the day and the other during the late night sessions -- otherwise one tends to hear the same music in the same order all the time. Which isn't a problem in writing, but you'd never hear all the music unless you played for nearly 7 hours.
-- Alexa, play HAPPY Songs playlist. HAPPY Songs. From Philip's music library.
Perfect. But for the other playlist, since it doesn't start with a normal word, Echo stumbles 95% of the time:
-- Alexa, play YPPAH Songs playlist. What playlist would you like?
-- YPPAH Songs. YPPAH Songs. From Philip's music library.
Still, in the beginning it wouldn't even do that well. (grin) So it is learning.
But here's the best thing about the Amazon Echo -- the sound. The speaker system is deep and rich, covering ten volume levels. (-- Alexa, volume 3. -- Alexa, louder. -- Alexa, stop. -- Alexa, resume.) We typically use 2-3 in the kitchen and living room. So nice we have an ultra quiet dishwasher now. I use 4-5 in the bathroom and 6-10 if I am way back in the bedroom. The Bluetooth remote is in the bedroom, which means I don't have to bellow over volume 10 to try to get myself heard. Also I can reset Echo down to normal levels for the next morning, so the radio doesn't blare on phasor level Kill.
I am sure that a proper audio study would find fault, but from where I am, playing what I'm playing, there is good range of tone and detail at all settings, and I'm not hearing any distortion or clipping even at volume 10. Pretty darn good for the home user.
Upcoming adventure. The last Echo update email said that they were coming out with a SDK -- Software Developer's Kit -- and was I interested in doing a late Beta on that? Sure. What programming languages would you like? Oh, geesh. I don't write apps and crap. And the list doesn't include "real" languages like FORTRAN. (geeky-grin) But of the list there, let's skip Java. And Ruby for now. So let's put down Python. It looks as if I had a couple of sample programs I can follow the syntax of Python.
We still both want to tell Alexa "thank you" from time to time. And the commands don't work with the car stereo. And at the moment, there's no connection to either the TV or phone -- or other functions such as lights. Yet. I am sure that Amazon Echo will morph into a full-featured device to run your home at some point. Maybe they'll have different models and features. Couple it with a home security system. Handle dictation. Read your files or your emails to you.
Whatever, I think that Amazon was pretty smart by starting on these core activities. They've shown that with the Kindles and Kindle Fires, they can make consumer products that can be handled. Provided it endures, both physically and financially, having an Amazon Echo around the house is already pretty useful, despite its limitations.
We've got Echo on a single-outlet surge protector. Bought it from Amazon Prime. (prime-grin)
One month in, we're pretty happy with the unit. It sits up high on top of a bookshelf between living room, dining room/kitchen. It's out of the way. I can see the blue/white ring light when it responds to commands -- and can tell when it's confused and whether it's changed the volume level even if nothing is playing at the moment.
-- Alexa, roll the dice. I rolled a die and got 3.
Yeah, I could see D&D players having a great time with Alexa...
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