life with Alexa

We bought our first Amazon Echo in February of this year for the bedroom. We quickly followed with a second Echo for the dining room/kitchen. When I learned that my legacy internet radio was about to be obsoleted I bought an Echo Show for my office.

I had thought about buying a current-generation internet radio for my office, but I decided it made sense to have consistency throughout the house. And besides, with my Echo Show (since I subscribe to Amazon Music) I can say, “Alexa, play the Broadway cast recording of Rent” and Alexa will do just that. Can’t do that with an internet radio.

Echo Show with a photoOf course Alexa gets confused sometimes. In trying to get the movie soundtrack to Cabaret she insisted on playing the revival Broadway cast recording, which is a tad different. Alexa was having trouble understanding my instructions to play the Los Angeles classical music radio station KMZT and kept coming up with other stations. So I set up a routine on my iPhone Alexa app specifying the exact radio station along with its source (TuneIn Radio). The command is “Alexa, play Mount Wilson classical.” (This also to avoid confusion. Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters, Inc. owns KMZT.) However, unless I carefully pronounce “Mount” Alexa wants to play classic Matt Wilson songs from Amazon Music.

Sometimes Alexa responds differently to the same command. I have a routine that has Alexa turn on the light in the dining room and play the jazz radio station KCSM. The command is, “Alexa, it’s dinner time.” Usually Alexa handles this fine, but every so often she responds with the comment “Bon appétit!” in a proper Julia Child voice. That’s why I have an alternative routine with the command, “Alexa, we’re sitting down to dinner.”

My routine, “Alexa, good morning” used to give me an “on this day” trivia fact and the moon phase for the day, but I discovered that the moon phase was off by a day. So now I get the trivia fact and the day’s weather forecast. Sometimes, though, Alexa does some very odd things. When I ask my Echo Show, “Alexa, what is the moon phase?” Alexa responds, “There are no moon phases for this date.” Now that’s scary. (Did you ever read the Arthur C. Clarke short story, “The Nine Billion Names of God”?)

My fourth generation Echo in the bedroom and my Echo Dot in the kitchen/dining area just sit quietly when not in use. However, the Echo Show in my office always displays something if I am in the room and I am not listening to audio. It used to just display my photos, but now it displays all kinds of suggestions. It prompts me to ask Alexa to find the nearest Starbucks or wants me to have Alexa tell a joke. I get around town. I know where all the Starbucks are. And I don’t need Alexa telling me a joke. Fortunately, the remedy to that is to simply tell Alexa to display my photos.

And there is a lot that Alexa does well. We listen to KCSM in the evenings. On Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. a program comes on that we don’t especially like. Fridays at the same time longtime KCSM host Kathleen Lawton broadcasts her program “Crazy About the Blues.” Neither Terry nor I are crazy about the blues. It’s easy to say, “Alexa, play KSDS,” or “Alexa, play KKJZ” (the San Diego and Los Angeles jazz stations, respectively). That’s convenient.

Alexa has certainly integrated herself into our lives.

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