The Core Dump

Cyber is hard

[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 29 May 2016]

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot”

Nic buys an Amazon Echo and is indubitably happy with the fantasy star ship in his head.

Virtual assistants are hot. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s, well, Google are becoming more and more capable and smart. While Apple, Google, and Microsoft are shipping assistants on their smartphones and wearables, the one for the home right now is Alexa—Amazon’s ghost in the cylinder.

But competition is heating up: Google recently announced a competitor to the Echo coming in the fourth quarter of 2016, and Apple is rumored to introduce something in this space at their developer conference in mid-June. So competition is coming for Alexa, but right now it (Alexa is a bunch of software running in who knows how many data centers across America, so I’m going to refer to it as “it”, despite the female name and voice) is the only one you can buy and plonk down in your home.

If you’ve read this blog before you know I’m a massive sci-fi nerd, including of course the brilliant-if-uneven Star Trek: The Next Generation. I love Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek as showing us how we, as humanity, can be better. And despite the rickety sets and wobbly acting—apart from Sir Patrick Stewart, of course—Star Trek: TNG hit on so many great technological advances, like their reading pads that were pretty much tablets, the holodeck, which I never understood how they got people to leave voluntarily, the tricorders, which were pretty much smartphones with even more cool gear, and, of course, the taken-for-granted masterpiece, the ship itself. Just talk to the air and ship will know you’re talking to it. Ship will do what you need it to. Ship is your friend.

And now you can have ship in your house. Kind of. Ship’s primordial ooze ancestor. And you know what, ship’s distant ancestor ain’t half bad. Alexa knows thing. Alexa can help you with things.

But above all, you can talk to the air and the air responds. Sure, it’s not a true AI in any sense of the word—it’s dumb as a box of bricks, but when you talk to the air and it gets it, it’s magical. Seriously, it’s magic.

I giggled like a little girl when I first set it up and it responded to me.

“Alexa, tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Of course it knew how to respond to that.

For my use case, Alexa fits in well. I ask it random questions that pop into my head. “Alexa, what’s the temperature?” etc. I have it set timers and alarms. I have it play podcasts from my phone through its not-great-but-okay speaker.

It’s a spirit I can command. A dumb spirit now, sure, but it’s getting smarter every day, and who knows how smart it will get.

It’s future now.

« Mad Max: Fury Road vs Mad Max Trilogy

 »


You like to read about technology? What a coincidence—I like to write about technology!

What to expect when you’re expecting a Hackintosh

There is unrest in the Mac community about Apple’s commitment to the platform. Some are turning their eyes to building a Hackintosh to get the kind of computer Apple doesn’t provide. Here’s what it’s like to run a Hackintosh.

The car is going digital and that’s a good thing

Car nerds are dealing with some cognitive dissonance as car technology changes.

Review: Kindle Oasis

The Oasis is Amazon’s best e-ink reader to date, but it’s not good enough for the price.

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot”

Nic buys an Amazon Echo and is indubitably happy with the fantasy star ship in his head.

It’s a content blocker, not an ad blocker

The problem isn’t ads. The problem is being stalked like an animal across the internet.

Review: Synology DS416j

The DS416j is a nice NAS for light home use. Just don’t expect raw power.

(Nerd Note) Moving to GitHub Pages

The Core Dump is moving to GitHub Pages. This is a good thing, most likely.

Apple Watch, six months in

Thoughts on Apple Watch after half a year of daily usage.

Magical thinking about encryption and privacy

Predictably, the Paris attacks brought the anti-encryption crowd back out of the woodwork. They're at best being willfully disingenuous.

Building a static site for an investigative journalism project

Things to consider when planning to build a site on a compressed time table.

Digital hygiene for online security and safety

Nic provides some basic not-too-paranoid tips for securing your digital life.

How to install Jekyll on Amazon Linux

Installing Jekyll on an EC2 Amazon Linux AMI is easy. Here are the steps.

Will Apple Watch be a success?

After wearing the watch for over a month, Nic has thoughts on its future. Spoiler: Depends on how you define success.

Let’s all chill out about the iPad sales numbers

Turns out “it's just a big iPhone” is a stroke of genius.

Tech terms you might be misusing

Some technical terms still confuse people who should know better, like journalists.

Naked root domain with Amazon S3 without using Route 53

How to host a static site on Amazon S3 with an apex domain without using Amazon’s Route 53.

New technology requires new thinking

People fear change, so new technology is used as as a faster version of the old. This makes technologists sad.

An HTML, CSS and JavaScript lesson plan

Nic provides a lesson plan for teaching total beginners HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

The glanceable wrist in your future

Nic loves his Pebble and looks forward to the Apple Watch, but realizes he’s in the minority.

It's the words, stupid

Nic loves books, but he loves their content more.

Our technology is bad and we should feel bad

Nic is worried about the fragile state of our technology and thinks you should be as well.

The WATCH is nigh, and I don't get it

Nic tries to understand the WATCH. It doesn't go well.

Apple might enter the home integration field

Nic thinks home integration could be Apple’s next major category. Read on to find out why.

An Apple ebook reader would be nice

Nic is frustrated with his Kindle and would love to see Apple make an e-ink reader.

The iPhone, devourer of technologies

The iPhone was announced Jan. 9, 2007. It now occupies a huge chunk of Nic’s life.

The A7 processor is your friend

Nic is very impressed with the speed of the iPhone 5S and iPad Air.

The 2013 Nexus 7

Nic buys a Nexus 7 to test the Android waters.

On azcentral.com outsourcing comments to Facebook

Nic outlines some of the risks of ceding comments on news stories to Facebook.

Lion and the angst of the greybeards

Nic is bemused by the sturm und drang surrounding the iOS-ification of Mac OS X.

Web publishing made easy

Web publishing used to require heavy-duty nerditry, but no longer.

How to create an e-book

Nic is creating an e-book. He shares what he’s learned so far.