Alexa, turn on the lights. Alexa?

We’ve all seen the ads on TV and the web showing happy people asking their Amazon Echo for something. “Alexa, call Susan.”  “Alexa, play The Black Keys.” “Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Alexa, give me a foot rub.” (Note: Alexa does not do foot rubs.)

A money-eating waste of time, technology, and hours of my life.

This, I thought to myself as I ordered one, is The Future™ at last!

It is not.

I spent the weekend trying to learn Alexa’s language. If you phrase your request even slightly wrong, it will either say it doesn’t know how to do it or just do nothing.

“Alexa, turn on the lights,” I say, enunciating clearly.

After a moment of lights spining and flashing: “I don’t know how to do that.” Grumble, grumble. I try again.

“Alexa, turn on ‘My Lights’,” I say, since that’s the name I gave to my lights.

Flashing, spinning. “Okay,” she says agreeably. Great, I think. Now we’ll see some—

Nothing happens.

Similar conversations went on all weekend. At it’s worst, I was listening to CBC Radio and Alexa thought it heard the command to turn off the lights. I was plunged into darkness. As I told CBC’s Stephen Quinn,

I’m not an expert in usability (actually, I am a bit), but I think there might be a bit of a weakness in Echo’s voice interface. It usually takes two or more tries to get a command right, if it works at all, but it will interpret random conversation as commands.

And then, to top it off, last night it decided that it couldn’t connect to the Internet. All of my other devices were fine, but my Echo couldn’t figure it out. I actually had to use light switches! Barbaric.

I need to unwind. Alexa, play some classical music.

“I’m sorry. I can’t find anything called ‘classical’. Would you like to listen to ‘William Shatner – The Transformed Man’?”

No! Alexa, you’re useless. And turn on the lights. Fine I’ll do it myself.

Cubey’s 2017 new year’s eve roundup

Note: This blog post contains the F word. Close the page now if you’re a dumbass who’s offended by the existence of certain words.

Here we go again. We’re wrapping up another year and heading into a fresh one. In reality, the date means nothing — it’s a completely arbitrary point in an annual orbit around the sun. One day flows into the next in the planet’s endless rotation as it hurtles around the solar system at 30 kilometers per second on gravity’s tether.

Dick Clark: Immortal god of the New Year.

But human beings need to break time down into easily-comprehended compartments. 20th century, 21st century. Nineties, two-thousands. 2016, 2017. December,  January. Gen-X, Millennials. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Morning, afternoon, oh crap, I missed an important one o’clock meeting.

Each unit is assigned an identity and set of characteristics that our monkey brains can understand, like mapping out the geography of time with fleeting landmarks. It’s not real, but at least we can understand it. Or we think we do.

Continue reading “Cubey’s 2017 new year’s eve roundup”

What’s half an Atom? An amazing deal, that’s what!

Have you always wanted Cubey Terra’s best plane, but couldn’t dig up the Linden dollars? Now’s your chance to add it to your aircraft hangar with all the bragging rights that go with it.

For a limited time, the Cubey Terra signature sport plane, Terra Atom, is on sale.

Get the Terra Atom for 50% off the regular price (for a limited time).

Get your Terra Atom before the sale ends. Visit Terra Aeronautics on the Second Life Market place.

Terra Atom is an agile and powerful single-seat plane designed with a mid-century feel. It’s flowing lines are inspired by the Supermarine S.6B, P-51 Mustang, and Bugatti 100p. Even parked on the tarmac, it looks fast.

Here’s what’s under the hood:

  • Mesh design with a paint menu that lets you choose from several paint schemes.
  • The instrument panel in the cockpit shows real flight data if you fly in first-person (“mouselook”) view.
  • The HUD attachment includes speed indicator, altimeter, artificial horizon, compass, vertical speed indicator, fuel and temperature indicators, and several switches and buttons to control your plane.
  • Optional hovertext info display on the tail.
  • Optional collision damage: prop strike, wing strike, tail strike, water landing.
  • Optional overspeed wing shear.
  • Optional engine damage and fuel use (uses free Terra Aircraft Fuel).
  • Terra Atom’s handling can be modified to your preferences: adjust roll, pitch, and thrust.
  • Flip a switch for a smoke trail.
  • The product updater gets the latest available version.

Setting up for room-scale virtual reality

I’m extremely unhappy with my Oculus Rift. It’s mind-blowing. Even months after adopting a Rift, I’m simply astounded by how it feels to slip on the VR goggles and be transported to other places and other lives. Or to make something in Blender, and then pick it up and turn it over in my hands at it as if it were a real object. Or to teleport to a campfire and chat with people from around the world.

Yes, I’m really very unhappy with my Rift, because right now it’s packed in a moving box where it’s going to stay for at least a week until it makes its debut in a new home. Is VR withdrawal a thing? I feel like it’s a thing.

But as the great Julius Henry Marx once said, “Time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana.” Before I know it, I’ll be setting up my first fully room-scale virtual reality space in the new apartment. Room-scale VR for the Rift means finding the optimal placement for two or three Rift sensors — the camera-cum-positioning sensors — so that your Rift and controllers are visible to at least two sensors no matter which way you turn. When sensor placement is sub-optimal, your virtual hands may freeze up, for example.

So why would you need to cover an entire room with sensors? Because of the robots, of course. Action games like Robo Recall and Echo Arena need space for you to throw, punch, dodge, reach, and more. Honestly, if you don’t give yourself enough space, you and your furniture will regret it.

What is the optimal placement?

Room-scale, overlapping Rift sensor placement [source: Oculus.com]
Room-scale, overlapping Rift sensor placement [source: Oculus.com]
This blog post by the Oculus Rift team explains how to cover a room efficiently. If you’re considering picking up a Rift bundle, which is now selling for only $400 US in most places, you’ll want to consult this post.

Oculus Rift blog: https://www.oculus.com/blog/oculus-roomscale-tips-for-setting-up-a-killer-vr-room/