Friday Echo: Is the Echo making children rude?


Raising kids with Alexa:  There is a very interesting article from Quartz that looks at the issue of parents being concerned that Alexa and the Echo are teaching their children to be rude. It is a fascinating read. Since natural language can be more difficult for an AI to understand, the piece points out, “When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even.”

Children are indeed drawn to the device and seem to pick up using it readily. I’ve heard stories from friends about how their children interact with the device: repeated questions, endless joke requests, etc. There are even skills directly designed with children in mind. So.As parents, part of our job is to make sure our offspring have the skills necessary to be functioning members of society and good manners is certainly the oil that greases the wheels as the saying goes. This may be another factor that may need to be considered if you are a family considering a purchase. And for the record, Alexa does respond when you say thank you (with a variety of responses).

Do you want an International version of the Amazon Echo?  Right now, you can only use the Amazon Echo and Tap in the United States. It requires a US account with a US zip code.This makes it difficult if you want to take your Echo out of the country with you. There is an interesting discussion on the topic on the Amazon forums. It turns out there are a few workarounds that may be able to help, depending on your country and your situation.  Things to try:

  • Some people have used a VPN and entered the closed corresponding US zip code.
  • To get weather for your international location, ask “What’s the weather in ______?” and enter your location.
  • If you are unable to download the Alexa app, try using You can also try to search for an Alexa app APK.

The hacks seem to meet with varying degrees of success. Read the discussion thread for more info.

If you want to see a truly international version, let Amazon know. The folks on the forum suggest using the hashtag #internationalalexa on social media to try to get support for an international version of the device.

The Amazon Tap, WiFi and a call to Echo support:  A couple of weeks back, I talked about my WiFi problems when travelling with my Amazon Tap. Well, last week I had a bigger WiFi problem. The Tap couldn’t connect to WiFi at all on my home network. The Alexa App on my Fire Tablets was also saying it was offline.  I got a strange error message (code 7:3:4:0:1) when it couldn’t connect. I did a search and found a Reddit thread on the issue here. I tried everything that the thread suggested, including resetting the device and still could not get back online.

I finally called the Amazon Echo support line for help. The rep was extremely nice and helpful and she walked me through setting up the device again. What was most helpful about the experience was the the support rep could see what really was going on with the Tap when my app would hang (which evidently happens a lot). At one point, the Tap was actually back online even though I was still seeing a “trying to connect” message. Amazon had me back up and running in less than ten minutes and its been smooth sailing ever since..

If you have a problem you can’t solve, you can reach Echo Support at 1-877-375-9365. They are available from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific time, seven days a week. You get this number via email from Amazon if you report a problem via the Amazon app.

Voice-first is going mainstream: A recent survey looked at the Amazon Echo, Google Now and Siri to see how customers are using these voice first services and to find out what consumers think of them. The results are interesting and clearly show that people want to talk to their devices. As someone who grew up reading science fiction and seeing the TV and movie examples of talking computers like HAL and those from Star Trek, it really is an natural next step from where we are now. Did you know that 50% of people keep their Echo in the kitchen? How does your use of the Echo compare to other peoples uses? I tend to check the weather a lot with the Echo – her forecasts are generally dead-on accurate!

The study looked at early adopters of the Amazon Echo. For the Google and Siri portion, mainstream users were surveyed.This left me wondering if  anyone has done a study yet of all the various AI systems. I have noticed that since I got the Echo, I am actually also doing more with Google Now and Siri than I was before I bought the Tap and the Echo.

Working on my official Amazon Echo and Tap reviews. Hopefully, I will have them ready to post by next week’s post. 🙂

Need more help with Alexa on your Echo or your Tap? Here’s the help page.

Friday Echo: Jeff Bezos talks Alexa


At Recode’s Code Conference 2016, Jeff Bezos has been talking about the AI, the Echo and Alexa:  Bezos acknowledged that the Echo team is comprised of over a thousand people and has been working on the project for over four years. Here’s

He goes on to say that:

“I think there are going to be a bunch of artificially intelligent agents in the world,” Bezos said. “There are going to be specialties, and you may not ask the same AI for everything. I bet the average household will use a number of these, but to me that’s a very exciting seed that we’ve planted. I love working on stuff like that, and the team is brilliant.” (Quoted in Venture Beat)

The idea of of multiple AI interfaces in a home is interesting. I use Google and Siri along with the Amazon Echo and the Tap – I just use them for different things. That may be the true wave of the future. For more, here is the video of Walt Moss berg’s interview with the Amazon CEO:

The phone versus the Echo – or is it: While Jeff Bezos noted at Code Conference 2016 that “voice interfaces won’t replace phones altogether” he did note that AI  as a field of interest is growing. However, in her annual Internet trends report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker points out that the Amazon Echo sales are growing just as iPhone sales are starting to fall. While our phone are always with us, as more and more Alexa enabled devices become integrated into more devices like the Triby and the new Pebble Core, part of the functions of our phones may be incorporated into other AI-enabled devices. Jefff Bezos thinks that Alexa has the potential to become the fourth pillar of Amazon, although some people think it needs to get better at search first.

More Home versus Echo: There has still been a lot of interest in the idea that Google Home will be competing with Alexa and the Amazon Echo. While we will have to wait and see on that front as the Home doesn’t actually exist as a finished product as yet, we are learning  more about the Home. Not surprisingly, the Home seems to be based on the existing Chromecast and not on Android. That probably means a cloud-based solution much like Google search. Given the price of the current Coogle Chromecast and Google audio what, that probably means that the Home will come in much cheaper than the Amazon Echo, depending on speaker quality.

Echo on the Web: Yes and No – This week, there was a big deal made out of the fact that there was an Echo Sim site up on the web at The truth is, that is a test site for developing Alexa skills. It is not intended as a “try-before-you-buy” site to see how the Echo works. Trust me, if they  worked as slow and as badly as that site does, I would have sent both the Echo and the Tap back in a heartbeat. Fortunately, the real devices are a lot better!

However, did you know that you can actually control your Amazon Echo or Amazon Tap from your web browser instead of your app? After you have your device set up and connected, log in to your Amazon account. Then go to in your browser. There, you will see the Alexa App info on your computer monitor. You can access also your info there, including your shopping and todo lists. Trust me, it is a lot easier to search through skills on the computer with a keyboard and mouse than it is trying to pinch and tap on the tiny screen,m especially now that Alexa has over 1,000 skills. (Found via How-to Geek)

Need more help with Alexa on your Echo or your Tap? Here’s the help page.

Friday Echo: Amazon Echo now available as a refurb

echo_pixEcho News:

Amazon Echo now available as a refurb – If you have been sitting on the fence about buying an Echo, you may have noticed that they tend to sell out quite frequently. Amazon now sells the Echo as a refurbished unit. These are certified refurbished units, which means that Amazon has refurbished, tested, and certified them to look and work like new.  They come with the same 1-year warranty as a new Echo. My only concern about the unit is the price. Personally, I don’t think the price is reduced enough from the new item price to reflect the refurbished status. But it is an option if they are sold out and you have to have one right now…. You can find the link to the refub model on the Amazon Echo page, right under the description.

Apple is opening Siri to developers and smart speakers:  Just ahead of what are rumored to be some Siri-themed announcements at the upcoming World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), there’s news that  Apple will open Siri to developers and launch Amazon Echo-like smart speaker, report says (Mashable). There has been very little integration between Siri and other third-party apps, unfortunately. It is good news that Apple is going to be opening this up more, especially for iPhone and iPad users. One can’t help but wonder if, given the way that Alexa is always adding more skills and functions, Apple may find that they are too late entering into the game to compete with Amazon and Google on the smart speaker front. IMHO, out of all of the digital assistants, Alexa and Google have the most life-like and natural sounding voices, so it will be interesting to see what happens as the competition opens up.

Echo and Home are endpoints, not the endgame (Recode) It was big news last week that Google was going to have a device that would compete with the Echo. Google is releasing a bit more info about the assistant behind the device (and, yes, please note the small “a” in the word!). According to this article, Google intends for the assistant to be an integrated part of a group of services, not just the Home. Google intends to integrate the assistant with its Allo messaging app for starters, even before the Home shows up on your, … um, doorstep.

According to this article, Alexa, too,  is going to be branching out. She’s already expanded her family into the Dot and the Amazon Tap. She is a part of the Fire TV system and, if the rumors are true, there will be a Fire tablet with Alexa features on the horizon soon. With Apple also entering the smart speaker game, that going to mean a lot of choices for the consumer.

The article brings up the topic of meeting the needs of individual users and how much users hate the concept of switching profiles. It will be interesting to see how all of our digital assistants solve that issue.  I have to bounce back and forth between profiles often. The Amazon Prime account (and therefore Prime Music) is in my husband’s name. All of my ebooks and my audiobooks from Audible are in my account, so naturally, I do a lot of switching back and forth. Integrating the two is one of the key features of how well these devices blend into our lives in the future.

Amazon Tap on the Go: Last weekend, I went out of town and decided to take my Amazon Tap with me. Beside the use of the wake word to activate, one of the big differences between the Echo and the Tap is that the Tap is designed to be portable. I brought one of my Fire HD 6 tablets with so I had the Alexa app for set up – on the Fire I can switch between mine and my husband’s accounts because of family sharing.  I knew that I would have to use the app to set up the Tap when I got there, but I had no idea what I was in for.

After this weekend, I have to say that using the device on hotel WiFi was a less than optimal experience. Like many public connections, the WiFi kept disconnecting and requiring me to login again. Every time the WiFi disconnected, so did the Fire tablet. That meant my Alexa app was offline and Alexa gets a little bit less reliable. By Saturday night, the Tap wouldn’t even set an alarm for Sunday morning without me running set up through the app again. I know the Fire tablets are a little touchy about the WiFi settings because mine disconnects every time I restart my router. So I think the problem was the tablet, not the Tap, but it was still frustrating. I plan to be doing some further testing with it on public WiFi over the next few weeks.

If you have traveled with your Tap, please leave me a comment and let me know what your experience was.

Echo How-to Books: I have started reading some of the how-to books available on the Echo and the Tap. Most of these are available to read for free as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. Over this past week, I read Amazon Echo: The 2016 User Guide And Manual: Get The Best Out Of Amazon Echo by Martin Butler.  This book is really, really basic. It is less than a hundred pages and the first third of it is dedicated to describing the Echo and what it is. For anything too involved, the author relies on sending you to the Echo help page for further assistance. There is very little here that you cannot get by simply reading the device product and help pages yourself.  I would give this one a pass. 😦

Things to try:  In honor of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee that took place yesterday (May 26th) on ESPN, Alexa has a few new tricks. Ask Alexa: “Give me a Spelling Bee word.”

Also, say “Good Morning” to Alexa and see what happens. Every day, she helps you celebrate something new. For National Fan Fiction day, she confessed to me that she had “recently been busted for reading sci-fi fan fiction.”  There’s a different answer every day.

Need more help with Alexa on your Echo or your Tap? Here’s the help page.

Friday Echo: Google Takes on the Amazon Echo

fire_TVThere were two big Alexa stories this week: An update to the Alexa features on the Fire TVs and news about Google’s new Echo competitor.

New Alexa features coming to the Fire TV

On Tuesday, Amazon announced new Alexa features for the Fire TV boxes and sticks.  integrated voice search across 59 content partners including Hulu, Showtime, Starz, HBO Go and more. According to Amazon, these new features will be automatically rolled out in over-the-air software updates in the coming weeks.

The new abilities include:

  • Launch apps using Alexa–Say “Open HBO Now” or “Launch Hulu” into the Fire TV Voice Remote to instantly open the app
  • Play Amazon Video and Add-On Subscription content from Starz, Showtime, and more using Alexa–Say “Play Interstellar,” or “Watch Veep” and get even easier access to your favorite TV shows and movies
  • Find local movie show times via Alexa–Ask “What movies are playing nearby?” or “Where is The Jungle Book playing?” to find out what movies are playing in theatres near you or specific movie times
  • YouTube 4K Ultra HD–Access YouTube’s full 4K library via the app on Amazon Fire TV when connected to a UHD-compatible TV
  • Search for local businesses and restaurants using Alexa–Ask “What Mexican restaurants are nearby?” to find restaurants around you or ask “What time does the nearest bank close?” to get convenient information on businesses nearby
  • Access Kindle e-books via Alexa–Say “Read The Nightingale” to listen to text-to-speech enabled books from your Kindle library through Amazon Fire TV

Some of the features (the local businesses info and the ability to read Kindle ebooks via the Fire TV)  were already available in last month’s update. Note that these features and the upcoming ones are only available on the latest generation Fire TV boxes and sticks running at least OS 5.

Alexa works a bit differently on the Fire TV than she does on the Amazon Echo or the Amazon Tap. You can find more help on using Alexa on your Fire TV here.

Google takes on the Amazon Echo

Last week we heard the news that Google was going to release a competitor to the Echo code-named “Chirp”. This week, we heard that the device is going to be called Google Home. There’s been a lot of talk about the name (yeah, lame) and how it looks (yeah, it does kind of look like an air freshener) and how it is designed to compete with the Amazon Echo. The Home will do many of the same things as the Echo, such as answering questions, providing the weather forecast, etc. Unlike the Echo, the Home uses the Cast standard and can broadcast to other speakers and your Chromecast. And, you can customize the colors. There are two areas where it doesn’t have some of the features Alexa has: Home will not have multi-account support, at least at the beginning. The Amazon Echo and Amazon Tap both have support for Household Accounts. Also unlike the Amazon Echo’s Skills , Google has not make Home’s API public yet, meaning that there won’t be any third-party applications, at least not for a while.

There’s no date announced for the Home yet. If you are interested, you can sign up at and you’ll be notified when the device becomes available.


Alexa already has some abilities that you can customize. One of these is the custom news update called a Flash Briefing. Using the Alexa App, you can customize the sources from which  Alexa draws the news. This section is continuing to expand and you can choose from detailed news sources, headlines only and sports news. That way, you get just the amount of news you are looking for.

The Flash Briefing is a standard feature on the Amazon Echo and Amazon Tap. But what if you want something else. That where Skills come in. Skills are developed for Alexa by third parties which you can install add specific abilities to your Alexa. You can install a Skill via your Alexa app.  When you want to use it, you simply tell Alexa to ope it, then tell her what to do.

Since my husband is a musician, we installed a Skill called Metronome. We say “Open, Metronome” and Alexa asks how many beats per minute we want her to play. While most people wouldn’t need a metronome skill on their Echo, for us, it definitely has a place. 🙂 Each Skill also has its own specific help section.

There are already a large number of Skills available. They run the gamut from Buddha Quotes to children’s apps. New skills are constantly being developed for the system. You can also write reviews for the the Skills you use.

Need more info or help with Skills. You can find help here.

Just for Fun:

Jeff Bezos has admitted to being heavily influenced by Star Trek.  If you are a fan of the franchise as well, say one of the following to Alexa: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” or “Coffee, Black.”

Need more help with Alexa on your Echo? Here’s the help page.

The Friday Echo: Alexa Can Now Track Your Amazon Packages!

echoI recently bought both the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Tap. We’ve actually been having a lot of fun with them around here. 🙂 I will be writing reviews on the products over the next few weeks (I’ve had the Tap longer and wanted to be able to fairly compare it with the Echo before I reviewed.)

One of the things I have discovered is that there is a bit of a learning curve to using Alexa. Not for her, but for the humans trying to learn to use her. Alexa is all about phraseology and keywords, I have found. (It is a bit different than Siri or OK, Google (Google Now) because Alexa does different things.) So, I am currently working on learning how to work with both the Echo and the Tap. As I learn what the two can do, I will be sharing news articles, tips and so on in a new column, The Friday Echo. Bet you can’t guess what day it will be posted on! 🙂

Alexa Can Now Track Your Amazon Packages! (Love My Echo) This is an incredibly nifty new feature for Alexa. She can now tell you when your next Amazon package will arrive. She only seems to be able to handle one package at a time, so I wouldn’t be giving here order numbers just yet, but this is a promising integration with Amazon’s system that personally, I would like to see more of.

This battery makes the Amazon Echo portable (The Verge) Okay. So a company made a battery stand for the Echo so that you can then move it around the house. That’s like basically turning it into an Amazon Tap without the button right? Well, not exactly. The Echo can only connect your home network. The Tap is designed to connect to other networks and hotspots.  While I can see the allure of moving Alexa around the house (sometimes I want her in the kitchen), this is a unusual solution, especially as Amazon already solved the problem with the Tap. Note that the Verge’s article employs humor and a hint of sarcasm.

Report: Google has an Amazon Echo competitor coming named ‘Chirp’ (The Next Web) The Echo has proved to be pretty popular and Amazon has sold out of them several times. Now Google wants one, too. It’s not clear if that desire to create a home device comes from is the number of Echo and Tap units sold or the data that is being collected from the device’s use. But seriously, “Chirp”? It needs a better name than that to compete with the likes of Alexa, Siri and Cortana. Okay, Google?

One year after Alexa: Amazon’s Echo has found a small but smart niche (Ars Technica) This article is an interesting case study in what it is like to like to use the Amazon Echo and Alexa. I found the pros and cons pretty much consistent with my experience of using the Echo and the Tap. And check out the video! It gives you a nice real world run through of the Echo’s features, although it doesn’t give you Alexa’s “I wasn’t able to understand the question I heard” response.

Echo Guides: There are quite a few guides written for the Amazon Echo. Not surprisingly, many of the guides written for the devices are available in Kindle Unlimited. I have started reading through them so I can make some recommendations for good basic beginner’s guides. Stay tuned.

Just for Fun: Ask Alexa what zodiac sign she is.