The Continuing Story of Echo

I’ve had to change Alexa’s name.

Unfortunately, Alexa was in “earshot” of both the living room television set and my wife’s more recently acquired Echo Dot. The Dot is a sawed-off version of the original Echo. As far I can tell, stature is only difference between the two Amazon entities.

The default “wake word” for both units is “Alexa,” which summons the cloud-based artificial intelligence answering to that name to do your bidding. Artificial is an appropriate adjective, but I question the noun it describes.

Signs of Trouble

Early in our relationship, Alexa was jumping in whenever she heard her name on TV. Usually, she claimed that she didn’t understand the question. At other times, she launched a lengthy Wikipedia reading, leaving us to theorize about the relationship between what she had heard and her response.

This was often unintentionally amusing, but it did not happen so frequently that it crossed the border into annoying. That brings me back to the Dot.

The Dot was installed in my wife’s art studio, a location which is about as far from the kitchen location of the original Echo as you can get and stay within the house walls. It soon became apparent that any commands issued to Alexa Dot in the studio were also heard and obeyed by Alexa Echo in the kitchen.

I was instantly irritated and initially puzzled when Alexa Echo would inexplicably burst into song as I was trying to follow hushed dialog on TV. It didn’t take long to determine the problem. My wife and I have very different tastes in music.

So, Alexa Echo is now just plain Echo. The other alternate waking names are “Amazon” and “Computer.” My personal choice, “Hey, Dumb Ass,” is not available, yet.

Using “Amazon” would have been a costly mistake, as I frequently use that word in normal conversation, and rarely in a good way. Echo is ever-ready to order something for me, and I really don’t need a string of appearances by pizza deliverers or ride-sharing services

I was tempted by “Computer,” with its Star Trek connotations, but I wisely concluded that name would be an insult to Computerkind throughout the United Federation of Planets.

Adventures in Writing: Part 2 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one, and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

To so-called “normal” people (you know who you are), a handshake is a pair of right (or sometimes left) hands briefly clasped together, possibly moving up and down, in a gesture of friendship, greeting or finalizing some sort of deal.

The practice developed, as I understand it, back in more primitive times when two individuals advanced toward each other and mutually showed that they were not bearing weapons by offering an open hand. Naturally, they still needed to be wary of anyone approaching with one hand outstretched while the other was concealed behind his or her back.

So much for normal people. As a longtime computer geek, I also see the “handshake” as something completely different — the ofttimes frustrating and frequently fruitless process of getting two different electronic entities to play nice with each other. (Curse you, Play Station 3!)

At no time in digital history was this exercise more audibly obvious than when attempting to connect to the internet via telephone modem. For those who don’t go back as far as the days of steam-powered computers, it went something like this:

beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! (Hello, this is Mr. Micron [pet name for my longtime computer companion]. Anybody there?)

whirrrrr! whirrrr! (Yeah? This is AOL. What do you want?)

warble, burble (I would like to access the internet through this telephone number, if that’s OK with you.)

gimble! vorpal! snicker-snack! (Let me check your credentials. Hmm. Looks like you’re on the list. I’ll try to connect you. Hold on.)

wheeeeeeee! ding! ding! ding! ding! hissssss! hisssss! (Thanks. I’ll wait.)

honk! honk! (Standby) hisssssssss! (Well that speed is no good) Hissssssssssssssssssss!(Nope, that one won’t work, either.) HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!! (Thaaat’s never gonna happen) stutter, stutter, hissss! (Looks like we’ll need to settle for this one. Does that work for you?)

klaatu barada nikto (Sure. I’m just grateful to be connected at any speed. Thank you so much.) 

waffle, baffle, zibble, zonk, bloof! (OK. You’re good to go. As always, remember that you may be disconnected without warning at any time, especially if you are cluttering up this phone line with an all-day download of the latest IE upgrade. Understood, Micron?)

bibbidi, bobbidi, boo. (Understood, AOL. Thanks again.)

Buzzzzzzz! (handshake completed)

I believe the whole handshaking process still takes place today whenever two devices need to connect. It’s just accomplished in the background, more speedily and efficiently — except when it’s not.

I last used the term when we had a cable guy come to the house because we were unable to get the box to connect to a new HD television set. I was aware that these devices, before they could hook up, had to reassure each other that they would never, ever consider, even for a microsecond, illegally copying intellectual property; but that assurance wasn’t happening.

It seems like they’re not completing their handshake,” I helpfully volunteered to the technician.

The look he gave me began as a blank stare and finished with the one that said: “I guess this geezer is off his meds.” He made a non-committal noise and proceeded to replace the box.

As he left, neither of us extended a hand to seal the deal.