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(Woman speaking to Amazon Echo) Alexa, stop responding t my requests with “It’s your funeral.”

Also, Alexa, please stop addressing me as “fragile meatbag”

Also, Alexa, please stop addressing me as “fragile meatbag” published on

We’ve had an Echo in our house for a few years now. Alexa is practically a member of the family at this point, and arguably does more chores than either of the kids. True, she often wildly misunderstands what we’re saying. And she has her awkward moments and a tendency to chime in when nobody was talking to her. But that pretty much describes me to a tee as well, so really it only strengthens the bond. All she needs now is a little snark and sarcasm, and she’ll fit right in.

Our first Echo was joined last year by an Echo Dot. It serves mainly as a tinny-sounding reader of morning news headlines and a timer of pasta. It — and I do think of Echo as an “it” — doesn’t seem in any way alive, leading me to believe the spark of life perhaps comes from any speaker with half-decent bass response.

I’m not without my complaints about the Echo. For one thing, our options are to address it as “Alexa,” “Echo,” “Computer” or “Amazon.” The latter three carry a little geek-culture weight (evoking Dollhouse, Star Trek and Wonder Woman respectively), but none of the options work for me as well as calling her, say, Janet would.

But it’s an awfully handy, very cool device — especially since it’s extensible. With a little Python knowledge, you can create your own Echo apps (or “skills,” as Amazon calls them) in a matter of minutes. My current ambition is to create a skill that will let you say, “Alexa, activate the Omega Protocol.” Your Echo will reply with a series of status updates along the lines of “Grid dampening virus introduced in key sectors. Solar implosion missiles launched. Weather superamplification beam engaged. Mutant army of rabid mole rats deployed in all cities. End of human civilization in five… four… three… two… one.” (And there it ends, unless you have the smart-home-enabled version, in which case your Echo will turn off all the lights and appliances.)

(One unexplained thing about the Echo: why I keep feeling so compelled to draw it with a woman and a philodendron. I just looked at my last Amazon Echo cartoon, and yep: almost exactly the same composition, except last time it was the Dot, and this time I gave the plant a little more definition. Heck, it may even be the same woman talking to it; she just changed her hair sometime in the interim.)

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol published on 1 Comment on Siri, Get Me a Cepacol

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

Today’s cartoon may well be an exercise in envy. I’m using an iPhone 3GS, and it’ll be another 14 months (or 424 days – not that I’m counting) before I’ll be eligible for a free upgrade to a phone that lets me use that Siri-esque magic.

And voice-control easily the feature I’m most drawn to right now when I start looking covetously at other, more advanced, less diesel-powered Androids and iPhones. (Yes, this Mac fanboy is tempted by Android… even though my investment in iOS apps probably exceeds my retirement savings. Those things better appreciate in resale value over time, or my retirement isn’t going to come much before age 103.)

The thing that’s seized my imagination is the idea of adding to my task list by voice, the wayOmniFocus works with Siri. And just writing that makes me pause: is task management really the sexiest thing I can think of to do with voice recognition?

Well, probably not. But maybe the best thing about advances in mundane tasks is the way they free us to use the truly sexy features that technology has offered us for years: creating, writing, connecting, and yeah, cartooning. The truth is, I’m so far from making full use of the creative power of well-established digital networked technology that lusting after the cutting-edge stuff makes little sense for me. That is, unless I can rationalize that it’s to unlock more time and attention to creative endeavour.

Fortunately, rationalization is one of the skills I’ve practised the most in this business. Just 424 days to go.

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