Sunday, November 23, 2014


Thanksgiving, which is probably my favorite holiday, is coming up this week. One of the reasons that I appreciate it is because as a secular holiday, it can be a shared experience for so many Americans. I realize that the origin story of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a feast may be romanticized (and may not have happened at all), but that doesn’t matter much to me. A holiday dedicated to coming together with friends and family and remembering our reasons to be thankful is a wonderful thing in my book.

I hope you have the chance to enjoy your Thanksgiving! What follows is a “re-run” of a blog I wrote on Thanksgiving back in 2011.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Happy Thanksgiving

In the US, this coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. It's a favorite holiday of mine for a number of reasons – family, football and feast topping the list.

For me, Thanksgivings are either drivingholidays or cooking holidays. Since I don't have local family, a Thanksgiving at the house of other family members involves a multi-hour drive (each way). Given that, I much prefer a cooking Thanksgiving. Family comes our way and we cook the feast, and we arrange the annual kids versus adults "Turkey Bowl" football game.

FamilyWe'll host as many members of my wife's family as will come our way. We'll have a great visit, with football and feasts playing a big role, but we'll go to the movies, play some music together, maybe play a few board games, and sit around and visit.

FootballWe'll watch some football on TV, but one of our best traditions is that we play a real football game. We mark out a good-sized football field and play older generation against younger generation. Many years ago, the adults would work hard to keep the game close and then engineer a tie at the end so that the kids could feel good about their efforts. About four years ago the "kids" started winning outright. They are now teens and young adults, and we are, well, "older adults." They are fast and athletic and we are slow (and athletic!). But the game is always fun, always exciting, and there are always hot chocolates, beers and glasses of wine after.

FeastOurs is an all-traditional American Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, root veggies, dinner rolls, red and white wine. A main table and a kids table. Many hours to cook, an hour or more to clean up, and 30 minutes at most in between prep and cleanup to actually eat the feast. Once around the table(s) for everyone to say a few words on what makes them thankful this year. Bliss.

Facebook friends can expect to see a few photos of the feast and the football game later this week.

I'm guessing that my Thanksgiving sounds a lot like yours. But I might be wrong about that. Whether it does or it doesn't, please share your plans/hopes, or if it's after the fact when you read this, please share your experience.

How will you spend your long Thanksgiving weekend? Do you have some wonderful Thanksgiving traditions? Post a comment here and share it with us all.

Most of all, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it below, share it on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, or suggest it to your friends .  More readers will drive more discussion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Amazon Echo: Cool, Creepy or Confusing?

(photo credit
Have you used Apple Siri or Google Now? How about Microsoft Cortana? These "intelligent assistants" are software that allow for interaction with a smartphone using natural language. They rely on an Internet connection, with the majority of the complexity pushed to the cloud. Your words are transmitted and interpreted in the cloud, and actions on them are taken, whether looking up information on the web or initiating functions on your smart phone such as playing music.

Last week Amazon Echo, a new product in this category, was announced. The device is called the Echo, but users address the intelligent assistant as “Alexa.” Unlike the earlier products in this category, Echo is not a smartphone function, it’s a standalone object – a speaker with a microphone and an Internet connection that’s intended to be placed as a stationary object in a room. While Siri travels with you and is generally used only by you, Echo is placed in a room and is used by anyone in that space.

What are the new capabilities offered by a stationary intelligent assistant? Imagine a set of Echo-like devices spread around your house. Could I “ask Alexa” where my son is or when he left today? Could I ask whether the doorbell rang while I was away? These are events that the Echo could conceivably tell me about. You and your family members might start to access the Internet from anywhere using natural language, searching for information, making dinner reservations or buying concert tickets, and calling for music or movies to be played. With a few Echoes in your home working in a coordinated fashion, your entire house becomes a powerful user interface.

Of course, all devices from Amazon help you to shop. There’s every reason to expect that the Echo will do that as well. How? Ask out loud for things to be added to your Amazon cart or even to be fully purchased (1-click? Think zero clicks). Given that the device is always listening in order to respond when you call for "Alexa," it could be listening for clues to better target advertising. “Mom! My pants are ripped!” could cause boys clothing ads to start showing up in your browser. That suggests a fun game to play at your friends house: What will happen if we repeatedly sprinkle an unlikely product name into conversation when visiting a friend? “You know what you need Bob? Cod liver oil! I swear by cod liver oil. Cod liver oil promotes good health. Cod liver oil was good enough for our grandparents, and by golly cod liver oil should be good enough for us. Where do you think we can buy you some cod liver oil?” Let’s see what magically shows up in Bob’s web browser ads!

A more serious question might be whether you would want an always-listening device in your home - perhaps (eventually) in almost every room. Does this kind of device imply voluntary, full-time surveillance everywhere? Is there a risk of compromise and eavesdropping by hackers, or abuse by law enforcement? Are those risks acceptable given the many positives?

Which brings us back to today's question: is Amazon Echo Cool, Creepy or just Confusing?

Please leave a comment and share what you think.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.