Alexa on Fire

The letter AHere are my impressions of the Kindle Fire’s Alexa implementation. It has some features that a smart speaker can’t provide.

It shows what it understands. When you ask a question, the service displays the text of your query. It also shows the text that it speaks back to you.

I was surprised that the Fire also shows a graphic relevant to your question. A question about cheese shows a graphic of cheese on a cutting board. I asked for the name of the mayor of Auburn, Indiana and it displayed the Auburn city logo. My search for the mayor of Indianapolis retrieved a photo of him.

I didn’t explore the quirky questions that you can ask. I also haven’t used it enough for the software to dial in on recognizing my voice, so I was frustrated with some errors when I tried to use it as a calculator.

It isn’t clear how much curation of the answers is done by a human analyst.  My search for the mayor of Auburn, Indiana returned with the wrong name. The display shows that the name came from Wikipedia and I just corrected the Wikipedia page. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Alexa’s data repository to reflect that. Will someone need to check the citations first?

I am interested in where the information came from. I’ve seen the results explain that  information came from Reuters, reference.com, Getty or Wikipedia. Sometimes the attribution is spoken in the answer. At other times, it is in a small note on the display.

Unfortunately, the results can attribute information to Wikipedia that is not available there. For example, the sodium content of Velveeta cheese is not available on Wikipedia, even though the answer claims it is.

Alexa on the Fire is useful. I’ve been hesitant to get a smart speaker and this is a demo of some of what I could have. The most consistently useful feature I found so far is the weather.

Lock the switch

I was at a doctor’s office today and found this on the wall as I was leaving:

A light switch lock mounted on a toggle switch

This toggle switch lock is useful for many situations


It’s a lock to hold a light switch on (or off).

The locks are not easy to find at a good price. I found some on ebay and Amazon, but not in local hardware stores. For a small piece of plastic, they are expensive, but they are probably a low-volume item and don’t benefit from an economy of scale.

There’s a second style that has a hole for the toggle. This alternate style has the advantage that it can’t be knocked out of place. From the photographs, it appears that installations benefit from a longer-than-normal screw to hold it securely.

A church I visit has a switch they want to keep on. Right now it is just held in place with packing tape. I’ll have to see if they’d like me to donate one of these. They look much more professional and don’t need an obligatory “please leave this switch on” message taped to the wall.

The reviews report another use for them: to protect switches that are part of a smart home system such as SmartThings, Wink, Google Home or Echo and Alexa. Reviewers also suggest using them with the switches for garage lights, outdoor lights and sump pump systems.