Monday, September 11, 2017

echo Dot Sound Quality

Update: The price has been $50 USD since long after the intro. In fact, I bought mine on Black Friday @ $40. My sole purpose for buying it was to jack it into my stereo and upgrade my music listening experience from the crappy distorted headache inducing sound of my Echo. I bought that one in 2015 primarily for control of my Insteon smart home system. However speaking as an audiophile, you get what you pay for: convenience over sound quality. The electronics in the Dot (Echo too)  are cheap,  (DAC, analog output amp chip, etc.) There's very limited dynamic range, it sounds dull. I wish it had an optical digital output in addition to the 3.5 mm, but that would probably drive up the price to double. On the audiophile forums, the Chromecast is reputed to be superior, due to the HDMI direct digital connection. My problem is that it excludes my Amazon Prime subscription. I'm not going to pay for another music subscription just to use my Chromecast. Oh, that only applies to the Audio Chromecast. I have the just the original. Bummer.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Echo Show: I want one BAD!!!

I would love to get this Day 1, but my extremely limited budget won't allow me at this time. Shortly after I bought my Echo Black Friday 2015 I got the $40 (sale price) Kindle for the primary purpose of having immediate visual feedback of each command/operation/song, etc.. I always thought the missing piece was a screen. The thing that hooked me into the cult of Alexa was my need to get rid of reliance on my phone to run my Insteon smart home system. What a pain that was to find/get my phone, unlock it, open app, THEN turn on a light or the AC. Sheesh! That all went away with the Echo, what a dream come true. But all the other stuff, a monitor for your front door video-intercom, security cameras, video calls, web browsing, etc, etc. WOW! So I drool over the Show... won't someone gift me one? 😍

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Microsoft Invoke/Cortana

Microsoft Gets Serious About the Smart-Speaker Game

A Simple Question: The Google Home vs The Echo/Alexa

Asked  a simple question:  What are the Saturday hours today for my local Post Office?

Alexa 1st  " Sorry, I don't know the answer to that question."

What are the hours today for my post office?  "sorry, I don't know how to help with that"

Google Home:  "Hey Google, What are the hours for the post office in My Town, My State?"

"US Post Office at 77 Engle Street is open from 9 AM to 4 PM"

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

News Flash! Echo Show is up for Preorder

Last week Amazon intro-ed the Look, an Echo with a camera. Now today they've put up for preorder the Echo Show. An Echo with a 7" touchscreen & big speakers. It does audio & videophone calls along with all the Alexa functionality but now like an always on home smartphone . Ships 6/28.


Link to the webpage:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Alexa Skills 10,000 and Growing but where's Google Home?

I just added my Fitbit. it took a little futzing around. Help page, Help page, Bluetooth pairing. Yada, Yada, Yada. But it still did it. It works Eureka!

 As a side note, I use PC/keyboard, not the handy dandy app. My tiny S4 phone, 8" tablet or 7' Kindle just doesn't cut it. Call me an old fart, I don't give a shit, sue me.

Don't get me wrong, I lurve, no love tech. Hell, I wouldn't be playing and using it otherwise. I'm writing about it to share my pleasure and experiences with you, dear readers.

Where's the Home? Why does Google make it so obscure to see or find their skills? I don't see a damned thing when I pull the app up. Why don't they have a browser version for PC? Just a store?  Yes, I don't own anything it controls, like my Insteon ecosystem of devices. No, my Amazon world of music and video & shopping will almost certainly never, never NEVER... EVER be put into it. So when will I be able to play with it?

There it sits, beeping at random places when the TV says something that sort of sounds like Google or a combo of "Okay Google" or "Hey Google". when I turn up the TV volume or have the AV speakers on. So it gives the weather just like Alexa. So it gives me a route in maps, well poorly. What rich content will they have to compare with Amazon?

All the tech media clamor and gushing over the Google Home's supposed superiority to Amazon's Alexa/family of devices? That's their usual me-too, monkey see monkey do chorus. How original.

Yes it has potential, but stop acting like it's already here. Where's the ease of use? Where's the beef?

I await with bated breath the good stuff. I hope I didn't waste $100 + tax on a glorified faux oversized air freshener that plays music somewhat better than the Echo.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Alexa to Insteon Service Outage

Today, February 28, 2017

Starting this morning, I noticed when looking on Amazon, I couldn't look up order details on a Kindle book I had bought some time ago. Then I discovered that none of my orders' details on anything could be looked up. All I got was this:

"There's a problem displaying some of your orders right now."

"If you don't see the order you're looking for, try refreshing this page, or click "View order details" for that order."

I didn't know what was going on, I tried it several times to no avail. Rats! Still, it was a minor annoyance. I thought it'll be fixed soon. It wasn't. I have never, ever experienced glitches on in 16 years of shopping/reading, music & video streaming with them.

Then I caught wind of it on another site. It was a financial news site that covers stock news & analysis, not a tech or general news site. The story told of Amazon's web service S3 being down.

Amazon's AWS isn't the first to be affected by an outage. Remember the Dyn DNS DDoS fiasco? They provide DNS servers (Domain Name System) that translate a website address into the actual IP address and other critical functions. If that doesn't work, a website can't be accessed or won't function properly. That was the biggest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) by hackers in history. It affected so many major sites like Twitter, The New York Times, even Amazon itself.

This is what I experienced in the Dyn attack:

My home automation system was still working at that point. To recap the configuration of my system: the foundation is an Insteon by Smartlabs Hub, with Insteon plug-in dimmer, and on/off modules as well as dimmer wall switches. I control it primarily with the Echo and Dot, using Alexa voice commands. I also use Insteon's web-based cloud setup page and their Android app for my phone and tablet. I also use and prefer the Homeboy for Insteon app. I also have both apps on my Kindle as well.
(Good to have redundancy).

After a couple of hours, I asked "Alexa, dim Ceiling"
When I told it to dim my bedroom lights, there was a long pause, then it answered with:

"Hmm...Insteon isn't responding."

From a personal perspective, it affected me in my home automation system. I use an Insteon Hub/control modules for my lighting and on/off of some devices. My main control is through the Echo & Dot (Amazon devices, ironically) using Alexa voice control.

It stopped working about Noon EST. I tried resetting my Hub without success. Then tried linking & unlinking Insteon to the Alexa app. Nogo, umgats nein, nada. But Alexa responded to all other requests for weather, news, even streaming music. I used my Android apps, both the official & Homeboy for Insteon apps. Both worked. That isolated the problem to the interface/ middleware API between Insteon's cloud service and Alexa. Obviously part of the functionality depended on something critical hosted on AWS.

As of now, 7:30 EST, we don't know what's caused it.

Update, March 2, 2017: Here's what caused it:

From Recode:

[Amazon today blamed human error for the the big AWS outage that took down a bunch of large internet sites for several hours on Tuesday afternoon.

In a blog post, the company said that one of its employees was debugging an issue with the billing system and accidentally took more servers offline than intended. That error started a domino effect that took down two other server subsystems and so on and so on.

“Removing a significant portion of the capacity caused each of these systems to require a full restart,” the post read. “While these subsystems were being restarted, S3 was unable to service requests. Other AWS services in the US-EAST-1 Region that rely on S3 for storage, including the S3 console, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) new instance launches, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes (when data was needed from a S3 snapshot), and AWS Lambda were also impacted while the S3 APIs were unavailable.”

In response, the company said it is making some changes to ensure that a similar human error wouldn’t have as large an impact. One is that the tool employees use to remove server capacity will no longer allow them to remove as much as quickly as they previously could.

Amazon also said it is making changes to prevent the AWS Service Health Dashboard — the webpage that shows which AWS services are operating normally and not — from stopping working in the event of a similar occurrence.

AWS, which leases out computing power and data storage to companies big and small, is on pace to be a $14 billion business over the next year. It also drives a large portion of Amazon’s operating income.]

The takeaway from this major incident? Cloud services aren't 100% reliable, always have some form of local control or redundancy for your devices/system(s). I recommend that you keep some devices and lighting NOT be connected or "smart", just in case. The Internet of Things can and will fail, it can and will be hacked. There are multiple ways it can fail and some of these devices have what are called a "single point of failure." That means there's a fatal flaw that's been overlooked, there's no redundancy. Just like what happened in the Amazon incident.