About two years back, I bought a Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2 TB external 2.5 inch harddrive. I love it! So much so, that I tried buying a second one a couple of months ago. From the get go, that second copy behaved weirdly, The disk was slow and seemed to operate in intermittent sprints only. I finally got out a benchmarking tool and the the tests bore out that something was wrong, when compared with my original (older) copy. The original one is displayed to the left, the new one to the right.
As a first step, I had installed remote controlled (Z-Wave) thermostats for my radiators. In addition, I installed Devolo’s Control Center and registered on its website for access to the control center. I had thought, from a prior email exchange with Devolo’s support, that it would not be necessary to use their web service. However, I was not able to identify (or find documentation) about a web server or some other management UI on the control center, so I decided to go through their website. I resent this, as I didn’t necessarily want them to have data on my home configuration, but it was the fastest way to a working set-up.
The first step was still a hardware installation step. I needed to plug-in the control center box and connect it to the Internet. My current solution below utilizes a Fritz! product, Ethernet over power-line. The Devolo Control Center comes with its own built-in Ethernet over power-line support and is supposed to be plug compatible with the Fritz solution, alas, this did not work out of the box. It is the one remaining problem to solve for me, later.
As my first (rather small) home automation project I decided to install remote controlled radiator thermostats. (This is also known as a central thermostat and comes with most modern apartments, but then my new Berlin apartment is rather old and charming. It has no central thermostat, making me run around the apartment every morning to manually adjust the seven radiators.)
I chose Devolo’s “Home Control” thermostats and control center. This is an affordable entry-level product into the space of home automation, though the total of seven thermostats and one (proprietary) control center set me back about EUR 600.
So the Echo Dot seems like a good addition to a larger apartment or house. In addition, Amazon promises you can order it through your existing Alexa device. So I tried:
Me: “Alexa, order an Echo Dot.”
Echo: “I can only order product for Prime members. So I added Echo Dot to your shopping list. Please get a membership.”
Me: “Alexa, f#$%^@ you.”
Echo: “That’s not very nice to say.”
Me: “OK, how about that: Alexa, scr#$%# you.”
Echo: “Well, thanks for the feedback.”
I may be in the subscription business myself, but I generally try to avoid to be on the receiving end…
I was watching an old TV show rerun with a character in it called Alexa. My Amazon Echo (trigger word is Alexa) was also listening:
TV set: “Alexa, stop doing that!”
Echo: “Sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying.”
TV set (raised voice): “Alexa, don’t talk to me like that!”
Echo: “Sorry, I still don’t understand what you are saying.”
Despite a few more “Alexa, …” it fell quiet.
I’m amused. Ever since I have wondered what a mischievous screen writer could do given that the Echo can control a garden variety of devices in your house. Or order stuff. How about:
Mischievous character in TV show: “Alexa, open the blinds. Alexa, switch on the lights” (probably most effective a 1am or 5am)
Domino avatar on TV show: “Alexa, order 17 frutti di mare pizzas”
The possibilities seem endless.
There is a (by now oldish) saying, attributed to Bjarne Stroustrup:
I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.
I used to riff on this with the following variant:
For the sake of my parents, I want their computer to be as easy to use as my rice cooker.
This is my first-generation OnePlus. I dropped it and now it is broken. You may notice that I marked it up as China only, which means that I would use it in Mainland China only.
A while back I gushed about how great the Amazon Echo is. True Star Trek feeling for those who remember. I even bought an Amazon Fire tablet to go with it.
With a couple of months more using the devices, I need to point out their weaknesses.
In a nutshell, if you don’t want to be confined to a closed Amazon software ecosystem, don’t bother buying.
The devices shines with an Amazon Prime subscription, but everything beyond that is just tiresome.
For one, I own a media streamer that is not a big brand one and that does not have a microphone and does not call home to some service. I can’t get Kore, the default remote for the Kodi media streamer I’m using, from the Amazon store. I can side-load it, but why do I have to?
I’ve been using my Amazon Echo for a couple of months now and I’m still in awe. The speech recognition, without any training, is great. “Alexa, play KQED” is reacted to promptly and will actually play KQED. It is also intuitive. I did not need a manual to try “Alexa, set volume to 3.” It worked right away. Take this from someone who, according to one former boss, still has a strong German accent.
The Echo is still U.S. focused. When asked to play Deutschlandfunk (German public radio), Alexa asked back: “Do you want to play dog sled funk?” As much as I would like to unleash some dog sled funk in my living room, this is not what I what I was asking for. So I got an Amazon Fire tablet and the Alexa app and got DLF to play. Ever paranoid, I intend to eventually switch off voice recognition and/or ban the Echo to my kitchen, as I dislike the thought of having my voice print stored on U.S. American servers.