I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. For the most part we’re ‘cord cutters’. For me it wasn’t about cost, but about changing viewing habits. We found that of the cable offerings, all we were really using was the connection to sling tv so we could watch Indian serials and movies. Well, with roku, that’s just a single paid “channel”. Then came the Amazon Firestick, and all the video content that comes with Prime. Netflix rounds out the offerings that are most common, and with them creating new content of their own, the likes of HBO and Starz begin to pale into a distant memory.
So, what about DVDs? Well, most of the time, content available on DVD is available through one of our online subscriptions. But, not always. Netflix doesn’t have everything, and in particular, they don’t have some stuff that I would consider to be archival. Even if they do have something, they may not have it for very long.
I have a strategy around DVD purchasing. In general I’ll only purchase a DVD if it’s less than $10. I can justify this as it’s less than the price of a single admission to a movie theatre. Also, if the DVD is cheaper than the rental price on Amazon, I might buy it. I’ll buy those compilation DVDs that are like “Oceans 11, 12, 13, and Original”. That’s 4 movies in all, at least a couple of which I’ve seen a couple of times, and would watch again. The very first one from the 60s was interesting, because although they “got away with it”, they didn’t end up with anything. I’ll also purchase DVDs while in India, or on Amazon because they won’t show up necessarily in the US. Ra-One for example, or the Dhoom movies (although the latest did show up).
I have 118 DVDs now. I do two things. 1, I archive the .ISO file and store it on the Synology NAS. Then I use Handbrake to convert to a .mkv file, so that I can serve it up easily using a Plex client on the roku, or firestick, or any client in the home (iPad, phones, guest laptops). This is great. But, running a home NAS is an interesting business. The Synology is pretty good, and the one I have has been in almost constant operation for about 4 years now. I’ve added one disk, so it has roughly 5 terabytes of storage, with a couple of storage bays open. At some point within the next 4 years, I’ll be contemplating replacing that thing, at a cost of who knows what. In the meanwhile, I hope to gosh nothing catastrophic happens to it, because other than being RAID, I don’t have a backup, or who knows if it suffers a debilitating virus.
Which brings me to a secondary analysis. I could leverage OneDrive, or some other cloud storage mechanism to archive all this stuff, and just use the home NAS as a local cache. That would give me the quick access that I want, and the security of a cloud backed up thing to boot. That would be a great solution for what I travel. I can still have access to various files, without having to expose my home NAS to the wilds of the internet. The cost might be about the same as purchasing a new NAS in a few years, so that’s something to look into.
On top of putting my data into an easily accessible place, I can then use it as a dataset to do various experimentations. What is it about the types of movies that I collect. Run some cloud based analytics on the images, dialogs, years, actors, etc. Basically, I could run my own little Netflix scoring engine, and on my own decide what kinds of new movies might be of interest to me. And then, I wonder if I could sell this information to advertisers, or movie makers? Something to think about.
And so, I find myself continuing to archive my DVDs. It’s something I’ve gone into and out of doing over the past 15 years. Today, they’re so cheap that even though a lot of content can be found through streaming services, it’s worth the convenience to store them and make them available locally. We’ll see if using the cloud as backup, or as primary storage, makes sense.
So, I received an email a few weeks back which essentially said “would you consider a role working for the CTO as a Technical Advisor”. Well, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I actually talked to who was asking me the question, and I thought, “wait a minute, this could be a really cool thing”.
It’s like this. At Microsoft, we don’t always have a person in the role of CTO. Bill Gates was “Chief Scientist” at one point, and Craig Mundie I think had the CTO role, as did Ray Ozzie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a distraction.
The current CTO is Kevin Scott, and before I actually met him, the #1 comment everyone said about him was “he’s a really cool guy”. Well, after meeting him, I have the same sentiment. Kevin’s not an industry luminary from the birth days of the personal computing industry like Ray Ozzie was, he’s an engineer’s engineer with a pedigree that extends through Google, a startup adMob, and LinkedIn, where he continues to be responsible for their backend stuff.
I’ve been at Microsoft for 18 years, which means I’ve done a fair number of things, and I know a fair number of people. The first aspect of being a TA is getting around, meeting with people, and spreading the word that there’s actually a CTO.
What does the CTO do? Well, the best description I can give is the CTO acts as the dev manager/architect for the company. The scope and responsibility of the CTO can be very broad. Part of it is about efficiency of our joint engineering objectives. Part of it is making sure we’re marching to the beat of a similar drummer. Can you imagine, Microsoft has a few multi-billion dollar businesses, led by business managers who are fairly autonomous, and have quite strong independent personalities, or they would not be in the positions they are in. And along comes the CTO to help unify them.
Really, the job is being fairly impartial where necessary, and just reminding people of their shared goals and objectives, and helping them to reinforce achieving them.
Being a TA to the CTO? Mostly it’s about going deep in areas. Kevin Scott is a fast learner, fully capable of digesting tons of info, and fabricating a well informed opinion on his own. The challenge is one of time. Microsoft is vast, and if you want to go beyond the surface level in many areas, you’d spend all your time in meetings, and not actually be able to synthesize anything. So, the TA role. We have those infinite number of meetings, going deep on multiple topics, synthesizing to a certain level, and surfacing interesting bits to Kevin where decisions and direction might be required.
The the surface description of the role and responsibility. The truth is, it’s not at all a well defined role. Eric Rudder was Bill Gate’s TA, for five years, and he was quite a force, doing more than just feeding Bill Gates opinions on what he heard in the company. We’ll see what our current office of the CTO is capable of, and what kinds of value we are going to impart on the company.
I am excited for this latest opportunity. I think it’s a fitting role for where I’m at in my career, and what value I can contribute to the company. So, here we go!
Just yesterday, I wrote Donald Trump is not a dumb guy. In that missive I was telling myself not to be fooled into the mass hypnosis that Donald Trump is currently performing on the world. But, alas, someone I actually respect posted a comment questioning my beliefs, and suggesting that I was ok with mass murder.
Well, I am by no means a trump supporter, nor a war monger. I’m a great many things, but probably none of the things that this person now believes about me. It’s worth being more direct, so here it is.
Thoughts on Donald Trump. First of all, it’s probably worth me describing myself in terms of nationality, ethnicity, political and religious leanings. I am a 52 year old black man born and raised in the United States of America. I grew up in the very conservative Orange County in California. Home of John Wayne, and the John Birch society, if you know what that is. I grew up in a time when my father, who repaired typewriters in schools, had to suffer the indignity of being called a nigger by children in the schools where he worked. In my home, we were born Christian and while my father was alive, we went to church regularly.
My neighborhood was just a bunch of working class Mexicans and some blacks. The barrio by any other name. A place rough enough for the police to only show up in twos if they knew what was good for them. Migrant workers (“wet backs”), just working people trying to raise their families.
My dad died when I was 7. At age 10, my mom decided we’d had enough of the Mexican upbringing, and we cast our eyes on a new housing development a couple miles down Orangethorpe. A new 2 story 4 bedroom house, surrounded by respectable white folks! Gee, we were moving on up. So, I went through middle and high school like that, still as Christian as ever, although we didn’t go to church after dad died. Mom was probably mad and disillusioned with god. At any rate, I made it through high school, went to Berkeley to study electrical engineering, and eventually started my first company, Adamation.
I did software that was off the beaten path. Yah, there was this Microsoft thing out there, but these were the days of Mac, NeXT, Taligent, BeOS, and that fledgling Linux thing.
I married a woman I met in college (she was from Goa India), we had a child, we eventually got divorced. I did not become a hindu during this time, but I was certainly immersed in a lot of hindu ritual and culture. I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and various other Hindu texts. They seemed quite alright, and offered up a more ancient view of how the world works from a religious perspective.
Roll forward some more years, and I made the move to Microsoft (1998). The heady days of the birth of XML (which I helped drive for 5 years), and the birth of the CLR and .net frameworks. And then, 9/11. I went to work to see panic in the halls. Colleagues with vague middle-eastern or southeast Asian ancestry or looks, scurrying into my office with reports of their friends being beat up in other parts of the country. My own fiduciary responsibility driving me to tell close friends that I would have to fire them if they continue to distribute incendiary emails imploring people to route out the terrorists and get rid of them.
Very challenging times.
Roll forward a few more years, 2005, I find myself moving to India to create the Engineering Excellence group in Hyderabad, a relatively new development center for Microsoft. Somehow, drawn to India again. This time around, I fall in love with a woman who is muslim. So, I read for the first time the Quran. What an eye opener for a Christian such as myself. Turns out, we (jews, Christians, muslims) are all praying to the same god. Go figure. Men have created the dogma around killing each other in the name of this god. And so, I wanted to marry this woman. And to do so, I needed to be a muslim man. Lucky for me, I was already circumcised…
And so, I’m now married to a muslim woman, I consider myself to be a muslim, and we have two beautiful children who are also muslim.
My journey back to the US was less than positive. My wife had a 10 year visa, but on one of our returns (2009), the border agents at the airport pulled us aside, and into the dreaded interrogation room. We’re not going to let you into the country until you have a green card, even though you have a valid visitors visa… Yep, we flew back to India the next morning. But why? This is my wife? “Sorry sir, we don’t know who this alien is, and once she enters the country, she may not leave”. So, even though we were married, in process of obtaining a green card, and all that, we could not enter the country.
Roll forward to 2016. Donald Trump, that figure from my past who had always been there, as an entertainer, but never any real significance in my life, is tearing up the Republican party. They are nothing but deer in the headlights of his red neck hick mobile fueled by bigotry, misogyny, racism, and all the other things that tear apart civil society. He is tearing back the curtain of political correctness, and essentially relieving the pressure that a set of Americans feel has kept them bottled up far too long. They made, and they’re somewhat active. His opponent, an ineffective democrat who did not have the pulse of the people in the way that President Obama did before her. All excuses aside, I’m not sure having Hillary in office would have been that effective with a house and senate controlled by republicans. But, I digress.
Donald trump using a series of tactics that are so obvious from an outside observers perspective that I’m always surprised (becoming less so) that they work. Like Penn and Teller (magicians), he tells you exactly how he’s deceiving you, how he’s using misdirection, how he’s manipulating your emotions, appearing to join your perspective, and then he pulls the wool over your eyes and you still can’t believe how he’s pulled that off. It’s just sickening.
His first few months in office have been typical for someone full of bluster, but little political experience. First he shocks the world by essentially saying “all bets are off. You can throw out all your past assumptions, there’s a new sheriff in town”. That’s a tactic. Now everyone is on pause. Is he as racist, isolationist, bigoted, misogynistic as his bluster portrays, or is he simply the best Democrat that could be elected at this time to deal with the Republic controlled house and senate.
And so, he bombs Syria. Now, it strikes me as a lifelong pacifist that bombing people is nothing to be proud of. Every time a building of “collateral damage” is destroyed, every time a truck plows into a crowd of people, every time a government chooses to gas its own, every time we shoot a petty dictactor in a hidey hole, my heart sinks. We should never be proud of our ability to hunt down and destroy human beings. It’s sad that we have people we believe horrible enough to have this done to them, and it’s sad that we’re horrible enough people to do this.
For ever cop that kills a black man, I’m scared for my safety. For every muslim identified terrorist that pulls off an atrocity, I’m scared for the safety of myself, and my family. For every executive order issued by my own government, I afraid I will be rounded up and placed in an internment camp or worse.
I live in a world now where I have a contingency plan for rapidly departing my own country as soon as the “muslim registry” rears its ugly head. Fleeing the country may be no solice, nor refuge though. Our next best stop is India, and they have a tolerance, but not love for muslims. Anywhere else is a dice role with an American passport, and a family with mixed heritage.
And so, to rephrase my previous post on the subject. Donald Trump is not dumb. He just blew up a Syrian air base in response to the Syrian government using chemical weapons on its own people. Using chemical weapons is an international crime easily deplored by all countries. The Syrian government should be held accountable for this action.
Donald Trump has gained enough political saavy to exploit this situation to his own gains. I doubt he cares much about the loss of life in Syria, but he does care about getting China to deal with North Korea. He will use his bombing of the Syrian air base to show that he’s got big guns and is not afraid to use them. He will say this in plain word’s to China’s president, as he has him sitting in his own private resort, sitting on his own patio, drinking from his own wine glasses. This is big dog diplomacy 101.
So, in short, to my colleagues who might question where I stand on subjects of Donald Trump, muslims, war, and the like. I would rather go to jail than go to war (never registered for the draft, got three threating letters from the government on the same). And for those who think I’m a hypocrite for such a stance, I guess I’m the worst kind of conservative. I will defend my family til the death, but for a country that would just as easily shoot me at a traffic stop, or stick me in an internment camp, or call me nigger and equate me to the lowest of animals, I say “fuck you”, I’m surviving as best I can, and I’m going to do right by mine, to survive and thrive, and raise my kids to build a better society that doesn’t suffer from all this nonsense.
I have to make a note to myself as a way to mark various events that are occurring, while I can still remember. A little time capsule if you will.
I did not vote for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, but I am certainly an observer of human behavior. I recently read an interview with Scott Adams in which he explained his views and observations of trump as essentially a mass hypnotist. I tend to agree with this view. That and the fact that Mr Trump is decently good at quite a few things, but probably not a master of anything. His combined skills on those several things have kept him in an elevated position his entire life.
But, what do I observe today, Friday April 7 2017? A couple weeks back, North Korea doing saber rattling as usual. US and Japan doing military exercises near them. Syrian government allegedly using chemical weapons on their own people, and the Chinese president Xi Jinping doing a world tour, stopping by the US colony to check on things.
So, what happens? The US drops a bunch of munitions (roughly 50 tomahawk cruise missiles) on a Syrian airbase that was supposedly a part of the use of the chemical weapons. And, the next day, president Xi comes to visit…
Now, while the various pundits are wondering what this little show of aggression leads to in terms of the US involvement in Syria, I tend to think it has nothing to do with Syria at all. It’s a calculated way for Mr Trump to show his lack of fear, and ability to act unilaterally. He probably could not care less about Syria. What he does care about is showing China that he’s not afraid to go after North Korea. He’s trying to show the rest of the world that although his rhetoric is America first protectionist, it is in fact “American interests first”, which is subtly different, and means everything in the world. Mr Trump is telling the world, he will use American military to advance and protect American interests around the world.
This gives teeth to the “China better do something about North Korea, or I will”. Mr trump is going after the Vladimir Putin “strong man” leadership style. He doesn’t care about his popularity, as he knows there’s nothing like a little world skirmishing in the name of American interests to boost that. He’s playing the world, and the world is probably a step or two behind. This will be interesting to see the interaction with China, because although Mr Trump might be playing the world, China plans 50 – 100 years ahead.
Grab your popcorn.
Kickstarter is a great adventure in the democratization of business finance. Not everything on Kickstarter succeeds, to say the least. I’ve backed a couple of projects over the years, and actually received my rewards. There’s one project I was watching over the last year, that I did not invest in, the Tiko 3D printer.
It was fun watching this story unfold. They ended up being a year late with their delivery, went through many trials and tribulations, and essentially failed to deliver in the end.
Looking at this picture now, in retrospect, we can assume that it was a complete fabrication. Having printed such an engine block on my very commercially available printer, I know that they could not have possibly generated those pieces given the state their printer was in. Without a cooling fan, they would not have been able to generate the intricate detail, and with their components overheating, they would not have lasted through a print.
But, that’s retrospective. When you’re watching the train wreck happening, you’re rooting for them, giving them the benefit, and hoping they’re actually doing as well as their arrogance would lead you to believe.
For those few thousand who received their units, I’m betting it will turn out to be their MakerBot Cupcake. A first printer, not many good prints out of it, then they’ll move on to a real printer, and this becomes salvage in a couple of years.
The saving grace is it was only around $200, so from that perspective, anyone who backed the project was only out a fairly small investment. That amount of money is probably easily spent on getting coffee every morning for half a year.
They did show that you can come out with stylish looking things. I’m sure someone else will attempt something similar, having benefitted from Tiko’s mistakes. They’ll come up with a better solution for cooling the internals, they’ll add a door, they’ll put the filament outside the box, they’ll make it bigger, they’ll add a parts cooling fan, and it will come from AliExpress still for $200. It will support Simplify3D, Cura, and Slic3r instead of their custom slicer, and the world will move on.
Tiko as a company has not thrown in the towel and said “we’re out of business”, but they have essentially put everything on hold as they’ve run out of money.
And so it goes.
Another project I’ve been following is the GlowForge 3D laser “printer”. That machine is similarly way overdue, and they have a similar vibe of secrecy about them. This time I am holding out hope that they do in fact deliver. You can actually cancel your order up to the last moment before it’s delivered, but again, while you’re watching the train wreck, you’re hopeful that they’ll pull it out in the end and everything will be alright.
So, come on GlowForge! I’m rooting for you.
It’s kind of like watching the Truman Show.
This was the first 3D printer I ever had
This picture shows the machine after its last Frankenstein operation circa 2011. I purchased it as a kit in the first place so that I could ultimately create some simple objects like this: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:11255 to connect drinking straws so that my daughter and I could construct objects like geodesic domes.
Well, this machine never printed more than one or two objects in it wacky storied life until it was replaced with the original Up! machine, which just worked out of the box.
Those were heady days in the 3D printing industry. RepRap, and the notion of printers printing parts for themselves was still an ideal, and the likes of Ultimaker, Zortrax, and even Prusa, were just glimmers in their creators eyes.
The hotend for this thing (that mass of acrylic and steel sitting on the 5″x5″ platform in the middle there, probably weighed nearly a pound, consumed 3mm plastic, and just didn’t really work.
All those nuts and bolts, tons of acrylic, funky resistors, an even a piece of delrin. It was all well intentioned, and all very experiemental, and it all just didn’t quite work for me. Compared to a new modern extruder/hotend combo, this might seem relatively stone age, but it did have all the basics that we take for granite today.
I’m happy we built this machine. It was a great bonding experience, and it was then that my daughter and I cemented ourselves as ‘makers’. We went to a MakerFaire, played with electronics, sewed leds into a dress, and generally carried ourselves into the modern age of making.
I have since purchased an original Up!, an early prusa mendel, original ultimaker. Then I jumped into another realm with a ZCorp 650, ZCorp 660, then back down to earth with an Afinia Up Box, and lately Type A Machines Hub, and Prusa i3 MK2. That’s a lot of plastic, powder, glue and frustration right there in all that madness.
I purchased the first kit to make a little something for me and the daughter to play with. I’ve since explored the various ways in which these devices may or may not be utilized in the real of custom on-demand manufacturing. That journey continues.
This cupcake was both fun and frustrating as all heck. I’m a bit nostalgic to see it go, but now that it’s real value is in the various M3 screws and nuts, I’m happy to have let this particular nightmare in our printing history go.
RIP cupcake. You served us well.
With a New Year’s resolution to replace all incandescent bulbs in the house with LEDs, I actually started the process back in December. I purchased a ton of these:
These bulbs were already cheap at the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store. But, for Christmas, they were $2.20 each! Well, I only needed 7 more to finish up the job I started, in terms of flood light replacement, so I got them. At this rate, they’re cheaper than incandescents, by a long shot, so why not?
For my particular house, the vast majority of bulbs in common areas, are these floods, so replacing them all will make us feel good about the environment.
In most cases, these bulbs are in sets of at least three or more, so there’s a question of the light switch that goes with them. In two cases, the family room and kitchen, there are mechanical dimmer switches. Those are older Lutron dimmers, which were good for the older floods, but not tuned to the all new LED floods just installed. They work, but in a kind of clunky way. When you dim really low, the lights might start to flicker, becoming unbearable to be under. So, some new dimmers are required.
There’s a whole story on dimmers waiting to be written, but there are basically two ways to go. Either stick with another simple mechanical dimmer, with no automation capability, but at least LED savvy, or go with an automation capable dimmer.
This is as much a cost concern as anything. I went with both depending.
This is a typical mechanical dimmer. I chose Lutron models that are pretty much the same as the old ones, except they handle CFLs and LEDs much better. This is a good choice when you’re not going to do any automation in the area, you just want to slap that switch on or off when you enter and exit the room, simple and sweet. So, in my kitchen nook, which has 3 lights, I put this one in. I also put it in for the 9 lights in the kitchen, but after some thought, I decided I want to do some automation for the kitchen, so I need an automatable switch instead.
In this case, it’s a dimmer that works with the Lutron Caseta automation system. There are myriad automation systems from all sorts of companies. I went with Lutron because that’s what was already in the house previously, and I’ve known the name for at least 40 years, and the reviews on them seem to be fairly decent, and they work with the Alexa thing.
These are great because they work with the LEDs, they’re automatable, and you can still just use them locally by pushing the buttons for brighter, dimmer, on, off.
So, that covers most of the lights. But what about all those others, like the bathrooms, bedrooms, entry way, porch, etc?
Well, in most cases, you can just replace a typical 60 watt bulb with the equivalent 9-11w LED equivalent. Choosing a color temperature (2700 – 3000K probably the best). These can still work with standard light switches, so nothing more to be done. Probably not worth installing a $50 automated dimmer on each one of these lights, but you could if you wanted to.
Now, there are some spots where you actually want to do a little something with color. In my house, perhaps on the balcony (3 lights), or a play room, or prayer nook. In these cases, you can install something like the Philips Hue.
This is a bulb that is individually addressable. It requires yet another Hub device, this time from Philips. What you get though is the ability to set the color to a wide range of colors, as well as the general dimness. You can set scenes, and if you want to write a little code, you can even hook up a Raspberry Pi to change the color to match the natural daylight.
At $50 a bulb, this is a very spendy option ranking up there with the choice between mechanical and automation ready dimmer switches. In this case, you get the automation without having to install an automation dimmer, but you pay the automation cost for every single light you buy. So, for my balcony, it would cost $150 for three lights, or I could go the standard LED and dimmer route for more like $60, assuming I already have the appropriate hub in either case. What you lose with the standard bulb/dimmer approach is the ability to change the color. For my balcony, I don’t need to change the color.
So, these automated colored lights make more sense for something like a bathroom, or an office space, or somewhere else where you spend time and care about what the lighting color is doing.
And there you have it. No matter what you choose, they MUST be LEDs. At least that’s the mantra of this day. then you are free to choose a mix of automated dimmers/switches, and automated color changing lights. In the future, for new homes, all the lighting will be LED at least, because it’s becoming the cheaper choice for builders. For higher end homes, I’d expect there to be hubs, with automated dimmers and colored lights as a standard set of choices the homeowner can choose, just like carpet, paint color, and cabinetry.
Before escaping the dreariness of a Seattle winter for a few days, I ordered some holiday presents, so we’d have something to play with on our return. Having just watched the first Iron Man recently, I was curious as to the state of the ‘Jarvis’ form of personal computing. Then I read the article by Mark Zuckerberg and I thought, well, alright then, I’ve got to give this a go.
Full disclaimer as usual; I’m a Microsoft employee and have been for 18 years, but I’m not company apologist.
So, I placed the order and off we went. Upon arriving home, there was a package (not stolen from the porch oddly enough), and I thought, “what might that be?”. It was tiny. I opened it up, and sure enough, it was the Amazon Echo Dot.
I purchased it on a sale of $40. It’s since gone up by $10. I was really surprised how small it is. It fits in the palm of my hand roughly. At this price point, it’s almost an impulse buy for a tech enthusiast. Roughly the same price as a functional Raspberry Pi, even cheaper considering the Pi need a power supply, uSD card, monitor, keyboard and mouse.
Setup was a relative breeze, with the help of an app, which required the iPad, or other non-Windows tablet, to setup. Press and hold a button for about 5 seconds, tell it your home network’s wifi password, and you’re all set.
Then you start talking. Right out of the box, the easiest things to test are playing of music and asking about the weather: Alexa, what’s the weather like? Of course, we just came in from outside, so we already know, but it was fun.
My wife got into it by asking to play some Hindi songs: Alexa, play hindi songs.
Alexa obliged, and started playing from some random play list of hindi songs. Then we tried to get specific: Alexa, play Chammak Challo…
That one took awhile with several miscues, and offering up things we’d never heard of. It did finally figure it out, but I don’t know if we’ll have to go through a whole series of phrases to get it to play again.
After doing the whole: Alexa, play… for a while, our 3 year old figured out what was going on. He’s starts shouting “Alexa, play…”. For some reason, Alexa doesn’t respond to his implorings. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or bad design. I’m sure there’s a way to train it to recognize his voice. I’ll wait and see if I want to give it that particular skill.
The echo system comes with things called ‘skills’. These are various phrases tied to various actions. There’s a whole marketplace of free skills. So, you can do something like “Alexa, tell Uber to order me a car”, or whatever the phraseology is. You ‘tell’ another skill to do something on your behalf, as if each skill was it’s own AI. Meh.
What I like about it is the ease with which you can quickly integrate this into your home life. We stuck it in the kitchen, which is central to our daily activities. I also purchased a couple of wifi controllable lights, so that we’d have those to play with. I have the intention of installing them in one of the rooms, perhaps downstairs, just so we can say things like “Alexa, set some action lighting in the play room”. That and some other home automation might be interesting.
Sitting around the kitchen, saying “Alexa” all the time is really annoying. I not a natural flow of conversation to say a thing’s name every time you want to address it. Try this at home, every time you want to say something to someone, say their name first, even if they’re standing right next to you and you’ve been talking to them for the past hour. It’s really annoying.
We yell at Alexa. Not quite knowing what volume is best, we shout “Alexa” all the time.
We want a different wake word. I don’t think this is possible, maybe you have a couple of choices. But, I’d much rather say “dufus” than alexa. And of course I’d like to get the cool Jarvis voice, or Majel Roddenberry, or a selection of voice actors to interact with.
So far, the major annoyance is the constant talking, and the inability to do simple things like ‘save this song to my favorites’. The latter doesn’t necessarily work unless you have Amazon Music, or whatever. Some cryptic message, and lack of instructions on what to do right away to save the song I’m listening to is just annoying. I just wanted to say “Alexa, I like this”, as the instructions said, but couldn’t quite make it happen.
Of course this is an Amazon product, so there is purchasing involved. It’s tied to my Amazon account, and I can order a $20 loaf of bread easily enough. I’m sure this particular feature (shopping) is well tuned, but I haven’t tried it out yet.
The other aspect that’s interesting is the license. I actually bothered to read it to see just what kind of shenanigans they were up to. Of course, saving your utterances is in the mix. Saving your orders, music choices, preferences, all of that stuff. And passing it along to the appropriate partners at the appropriate times is fully available to Amazon. What strikes me is how easily I’m willing to give away my personal space to a company. Not only am I dropping a bugging device into a central location in my home (besides the cell phone I carry with me at all times), I’m giving them the right to save everything I say and use it against me in targeted advertising. At least I turned off the notifications portion of the app, so hopefully Alexa won’t be whispering subliminal advertisement as I eat my morning cereal.
The other aspect is how easily I give up control of my home. I’m willing to let a cloud attached device sit on my home network (what an effective spy tool), and talk to my lights, security system, garage door, HVAC… I’m setup, even better than the nest, to get my home hacked from abroad with ease. I can imagine the scenario. Alexa knows when everyone’s out of the house for extended periods of time, either through observation, or because I’m actually using the calendar function. Alexa/Amazon knows everything I’ve purchased in the last year. Alexa controls the electronic locks on my doors as well as garage opener. The hacker sitting in a non-US expeditable jurisdiction hacks the echo dot, passes information along to a local actor, and opens up the doors at the appropriate time for my home to be swept clean.
This scenario will surely play out with the appropriate apologies from Amazon, or whomever first gets hacked in this scenario.
Why I’m not worried. Although I have a security system, I won’t be hooking it up to Alexa, or any other cloud attached thing that I don’t control. I won’t give Alexa access to the garage, and I prefer good old fashioned lock and key. But, this brings up another point, and kind of the crux of the state of personal computing.
Who’s data is it anyway?
In this modern cloud rage fueled economy, the likes of Google and Amazon have claimed our personal data for themselves and their own purposes.
The Echo Dot is simply the ultimate in personal data collection devices. Never before has a company (besides Nielsen) had a device in your home collecting so much, and possibly controlling it as well. This is where the personal computing thing breaks down right now. If it’s going to be personal, I think I need to be in control of the data. I can believe this whole voice activated thing needs to be cloud based for the moment, because you can leverage the collective phrases of the entire planet to figure out what’s being uttered, and what action to be taken. But, come one, give the hardware another couple of years and you’ve got to believe that the device itself will be strong enough to do that all on it’s own. I’ve got a few terabytes of storage, and more MIPS sitting idle that an entire data center of a small company. Surely I’ve got enough capability to figure out “dufus, play ‘what is love'”.
So, a single Echo Dot has made its way into our home. It performs about as well as I expected. The audio coming out of the device itself is actually better than I expected from the reviews. It’s not Jarvis level personal computing, but I can certainly see the makings.
Microsoft has a ton of voice recognition, and Cortana, and ‘skills’ bot stuff as well. Microsoft does not have a $40 piece of hardware to pull it all together. After looking at the drool worthy Surface Studio announcement a couple months back, I’m hopeful that my company can come up with a simple device to pull all our tech craft together and play in this space. It’s going to be huuugee, and I don’t want to miss it.
My data is my own, and the first company that fully embraces that perspective gets my money, and respect, big time!
This is what home computing should look like…
Reminiscent of a Memorex commercial (for those who can remember that iconic commercial with the fellow sitting in his lounger and being blown away).
There’s no point in building out a kick ass liquid cooled blinky light PC if you’re not going to show off your work. So, I got to thinking about the piece of furniture that was going to showcase the build, and I came up with this design. It’s built out of 2×4 lumber and MDF, because that’s the stock I had in the garage, and I needed to get rid of it to make room for more…
My design goal was a workbench like thing whose sole purpose would be to act as a computer work table/cabinet thing. I don’t need a ton of drawers, I can simply stack plastic bins in there, or outside, if I feel I really need them. I wanted an ample keyboard/mouse surface, because sometimes I need to place another laptop on the surface, or write stuff, and it’s nice to have the room to just push the keyboard back and use the worktop as a worktop.
I started out with a fairly standard looking garage workbench carcass.
I put that power strip in there because it’s totally hidden when the workbench top is on, and it provides enough outlets, spaced far enough apart, that I can plug in the computer, 2 or three monitors, extra lights, speakers, and other stuff that might so happen to be sitting on the work top.
The thing is roughly 36″ on a side, with the worktop being 36″x33″ if memory serves correctly.
This is in my ‘home office’ room, so there is carpet. I had the dilemma of how to cart the thing around, because fully loaded, it’s quite heavy, and unwieldy. I had a package of those furniture moving pads in a drawer, so I whipped those out, and they work a treat! Each pad has a vinyl plate bottom, with a rubber top. The 2×4 lumber sits nicely in the rubber, and I can easily move this thing all over my office all by myself.
With the demands of family, this took roughly two days to assemble. Now that it all works, I can think about actually finishing it. The things I want to do are to make it more like furniture, and less like something you’d find in the garage. That means, doing some sanding, mahogany staining, varnish, and the like. I’ll top the 3/4″ MDF top with an 1/8″ piece of hard board, and put some trim around the edge, to act as a buffer, and to hide the seam between the hardboard and MDF. This makes for a nice durable surface that I can tape paper to every once in a while if I so happen to do any gluing or other craft work.
I’ve added the speaker system to the workbench, but right now it’s just kind of there, with the wires hanging all over. I’ll have to drill a couple of circular holes for wire pass through. To further make it kid proof, I’ll add some plexiglass siding, to keep their delicate little fingers out of the silently whirring fans.
Putting the computer in the corner as it is, is a pretty good thing. It’s not taking up main floor space like the desk I was using. That gives me a ton of space to do other stuff, like setup a mini 3D printer farm. There’s a corner over by the window ready for exactly that.
In a fit of inspiration, I also removed the couch and chairs, which more often than not were collection places for junk. Now I have an entirely open wall, ready for yet another workbench something or other. Oddly enough, the wall on that side of the room is totally bare, and would be a perfect place to receive a 150″ micro projected image, as a large book case is on the opposite wall. Perhaps that would be good for video conferencing in the large?
At any rate, the killer PC is getting a custom built piece of furniture. I’m getting a new perspective on my home work space, and life is grand.
The tower PC has found itself sidled up next to the desk in my office. It’s not actually the best placement of the beast as you can’t really admire the innards from that position. It’s really cool though because it’s fairly silent, causing a faint rumbling in the floor from the cooling reservoir. You don’t really notice it until you turn it off.
As this thing is fairly quiet, even the occasional click click noise of the disk actual spinning rust disk drive becomes noticeable, and slightly annoying. So, I decided to make my first mod to this beast. I took out the Western digital 2TB drive, and put in a Samsung SSD 850 EVO 1TB. There are a couple reasons for this replacement. SSD drives are great for speed and silent, and low energy usage. All good things. They’re still a bit spendy though. The 2TB version would have been twice as much, and then some. So, 1TB is fine for now, as this machine is not intended to be a storage power house, just enough to handle local stuff fairly fast.
It may not seem like much of a change, but how has it worked out? Well, when I had the spinning rust in there, I put all my repos on the D: drive, so downloading things from GitHub had a noticeable lag. So too, compiling stuff with Visual Studio felt a bit sluggish. My thinking was, why on earth would my laptop (all SSD all the time) be much faster at fairly simple compilation tasks, when this desktop beast is so much more powerful. We’ll, I’ve just done a totally subjective test of compilation after installing the SSD and putting my repos on it. Conclusion: The snappiness level now meets my expectations. I conclude that SSDs truly are a beneficial thing.
Now that I’ve got the snappy beast humming along, I’ll need to reconfigure my home office, build some new worktops, so that I can better display it, and have a much better work surface than my currently crowded desk. One thing leads to another…