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.

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SL aircraft makers, let’s get back to basics

Warning: What follows is purely for a Second Life audience. All others, flee now while you still can.

I have an idea, but I’d like to introduce it by rewinding back to the start, where virtual flight began in Second Life.

When I first logged into Second Life in 2003, aircraft were rare things in the virtual sky. There was one airport on the grid — Gray Airfield — and it was populated with flight enthusiasts who struggled to create airplanes that flew at all realistically. Borrowing the words of Douglas Adams, they were almost, but not quite entirely, unlike planes.

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I do understand why you won’t offer your bus seat

Warning: This post is a rant in response to this article: “Give up seats to expectant moms: Translink“.

I get it. You like to sit down on the bus. Yo know what? So does the person who has difficulty standing up — more difficulty than you. Even so, when a woman who’s obviously pregnant boards the bus, you look steadfastly at your phone to make it look like you haven’t noticed.

Now you’re sitting and texting while the woman is clearly uncomfortable with standing and having trouble hanging on during the starts and stops, and all you have to do to make their ride a hell of a lot easier is stand up. But you don’t. Why?

Because you lack emphathy. You think only of yourself and your immediate comfort. There’s no rule to make you be nice, so forget her. You sit, she stands.

And wobbles. And frowns at the pain in her feet and knees and back.

You know what this makes you? A douchebag. You’re a douchebag who needs a specific rule to force you to be decent. Unless somebody forces you to stand, you look out for yourself and only yourself. You are the very definition of a scum-sucking douchebag.

I wanted to end this rant saying, “so go to hell, douchebag”, but I won’t. Here’s why. For one thing, it would impolite. For another thing, the 24 Hours article in question was popular because it touched a nerve among transit riders. There are a lot of people on transit who are good people — well, at least good enough to know when to offer their seat. There are lots people who offer their seat to others without a second thought because they have an innate sense of decency and empathy. And, douchebag,… each an every one of them is better than you. So go to hell, douchebag.

Oh, crap, I said it anyway. Couldn’t help it.

Beep beep beep beep beep beep

Geek culture has a new teen idol. Like most Internet fads (remember the “All Your Base…” phenomenon?), this one doesn’t seem to have any reason. I personally don’t get these fads. The “Hatt Baby” site was fun for a while, and if you think way back you’ll remember the Hamster Dance (“Doo do-doot doo doo do-doo…” etc.). And there may have been dozens of others that I missed — or ignored.

Ellen Feiss, student, groggy teen-geek idolNow it’s Ellen’s turn. Apple has release a series of TV ads they call “Switch”, in which real people talk about switching from PC to Mac. (As an aside, does that ever happen? Personally, I think that once you’ve been possessed by the Microsoft demon, you’re doomed to serve the evil master of Redmond forever. I digress.)

A controversial ad in the Switch series features a teenage girl named Ellen Feiss, who appears to be, shall we say, a little… er… groggy. Some even conjecture that she’s sampled a bit of the happy herb. I’ve seen the ad on, and I’m not sold on the drug theory. She just seems like a typical, sullen, red-eyed teen. Yet somehow, based only on one 30-second ad, this groggy girl has gained a loyal following amongst teenage geeks. Websites about Ellen Feiss have sprung up all over. Here are only a few:

Am I missing something? I mean, sure that “beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep” bit is kind of endearing, but how do you go from that to selling Ellen Feiss t-shirts and coffee mugs? To steal a line from Mr. Shatner (as I am wont to do)…


That’s all I really have to say. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch a taped episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.