It has now been a month since Alexa moved into my kitchen. A few weeks ago I asked
“Alexa, what gender are you?”
and the response was
“I’m female in character.”
and so this post will refer to ‘her’ and ‘she’ rather than it. I’m still uncomfortable with these gender politics, but she identifies as female, and so I’m going with it. Uncomfortably. (I have some articles saved to Instapaper on this subject so there may be more on this at a later stage)
We mainly seem to be using her as a kitchen assistant. We use her mostly as a timer - and the fact she can have multiple timers going at the same time is convenient.
The most common mishearings we’ve encountered are between “teen” and “ty” at the end of numbers
“Alexa, set a timer for 50 minutes.”
often results in
“Timer set for 15 minutes.”
or vice versa.
We have done some experimentation with language use - finding out how long is left on the timer is a good example. After a bit of trial and error, we’ve found
“Alexa, timer update.”
to be the most successful. I’ve had to stop being polite to her because if I ask
“Alexa, timer for ten minutes please.”
she often responds with
“That’s so polite! I’ll do my best to help, just ask whatever you’d like me to do.”
and doesn’t set a timer. I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea that I’m issuing a command rather than requesting politely. Back to the thing about gender/status politics I guess.
We also use her to hold our shopping list. We’ve both got the app on our phones and so whichever of us is doing the shopping has an up to date list of what we need. Before this, we’d had a piece of paper in the kitchen with items scrawled on it. It worked, but only if we planned to go the supermarket. I find it a bit annoying that every time I want to add an item I have to start with “Alexa, add” so when adding a string of items it becomes
“Alexa, add sausages to the list.”
“Alexa, add fresh oregano to the list.”
which is pretty verbose. When we tried
“Alexa, add oranges, and apples to the list.”
we got a list which included “oranges and apples” on it as one item. Not good enough really.
This morning I had the most comedic mishearing so far. I asked her
“Alexa, add conchigliette pasta to my list.”
now admittedly I have no idea how to pronounce that, and I knew I was pushing my luck, but I hadn’t expected her to start a todo list and add “call big black the pastor” to it!
And No, Alexa didn’t hear me correctly! I have reported a few of the worst mishearings through the app, this one included.
The Alexa app lists the questions we’ve asked, and the tasks we’ve requested. I’ve just scanned through our list and got a bit confused by the presence of this
On closer inspection, it turns out that she heard
“Alexa, what’s happening at the winter olympics?”
“Alexa what is a parrot winter olympics”
Little wonder she didn’t know the answer!
The majority of the items in the activity list relate to either timer or shopping list activity. So how I think we’re using it seems to tally with what the app can tell me about how we’re actually using it. The other tasks that do get a mention in that list are listening to Radio 4, or to some artist/genre of music.
We tried listening to podcasts, but the support for this seemed quite limited. There didn’t seem to be a way to pause and resume. If anyone has any suggestions for something to try for this, I’d love to know more.