Amazon Echo: 7 missing features

We have an Amazon Echo. It’s been a lot of fun and a bit frustrating and a bit creepy.

  • My youngest loves walking into the room and saying “Alexa, play Alvin and the Chipmunks”.
  • I like saying “Alexa, set a 10 minute timer.”
  • And we use it for news updates and music playing.

7 features it’s missing:

  1. “Alexa, answer my phone.” The Echo can hear me across the room. When my phone rings, I’d love to be able to answer it and just talk from where ever I am.
  2. “Alexa, tell me about the State of the Union Address last night.” I asked a dozen different ways and finally gave up and said “Alexa, play iHeartRadio Eric Church.” (I also tried to use it to cheat at Trivia Crack. It didn’t get any of the five questions I asked it right.)
  3. Integration with more services. We use Pandora, not iHeartRadio. We can switch. Or not. But ultimately the more services that Echo can integrate with, the better for its usefulness. It should search my email, Evernote, recipes, …
  4. Search. Not just the State of the Union, but pretty much any search I’ve tried has failed. “Alexa, when is the post office open today?” It just added the post office to my to do list. Or questions that any 2 year old can answer, “Alexa, what sound does a dog make?” It does do math for my eight year old. “Alexa, what’s 10,000 times 1 billion.” and she spits it out to his delight. He’s going to be a billionaire.
  5. More lists. Right now you can add items to your shopping list, your todo list and your music play lists. That doesn’t work well for a multi-person household. Each of us want multiple lists.
  6. Do stuff. I’d love to say “Alexa, reply to that email from Frank and say …” Or “Alexa, buy the top rated kitchen glove on Amazon.” or “Alexa, when will my package arrive?”
  7. Actually cook dinner. Or maybe just order it. 🙂

What do you want your Amazon Echo to do?

Giving feedback on Firefox Mobile

I love my Nexus One smartphone. I’m not sure what I ever did without it. (And I did not feel that way about any of my previous Palms, PocketPCs or Blackberries.) However, I really think the thing should have come with a big thick manual. I seem to discover cool features by accident. And it makes me wonder what else I’m missing … This problem is not unique to the Nexus One but seems to be a problem in the mobile space in general.

One thing I want to do is give feedback on cool applications that are in beta (and so particularly open to feedback.) While every application is going to be different, here’s how you do it for Firefox on your phone:

Swipe to the left > tap on browser tools button (the little cog wheel at the bottom) > tap on Beta button (top right button) and submit your feedback. It also asks you if you want to attach the URL of last page visted.

Thanks to Caitlin Looney for the directions.

Zuca, a suitcase designed for travel

I got a Zuca Pro for Christmas and I love it. I think Zuca should be paying me sales commissions because every where I go, I get asked about it. At a recent conference, one colleague, after hearing me explain at least 10 times what my suitcase was, suggested that I just ask for the stage to give a 10 minute demo to everyone! (And I got emails afterwards asking where to buy one!)

You should get a Zuca if:

  • You love having a suitcase with just the right place or pocket for everything.
  • You like having a conversation piece.

The Zuca was designed for travel. It comes with:

  • 5 color coded pack-its in different sizes,
  • a clear bag for cosmetics for Zuca-insidegoing through airport security
  • lots of pockets, including one waterproof one big enough for several swimsuits or workout clothes and outside ones that can hold keys or laptops.
  • a built-in seat for airport waits
  • very stable wheels and handle
  • the right size to roll down the airplane aisle without hitting everyone
  • handles on the top and bottom for easy picking up
  • an extra long towing handle

Pros, the things I like about my Zuca:

  • Organization. The built-in packets make it easy to pack and to find whatever you are looking for. With 5 packits, there’s enough for all my clothes. The extra pockets are also very convenient. I use the waterproof one for workout clothes, the outside one for my laptop, the mesh one for my shoes, …
  • Seat. I thought the seat on top was kind of funny but I’ve used it quite a bit. When there’s a wait at my airport gate, I just wheel my suitcase over to the wall and sit down and lean against the wall.
  • Stable. It rolls much better than my old Dakota suitcase.
  • Capacity. It looks smaller than my Dakota – it is smaller – but it holds all the same stuff!

Cons, things I don’t like so much:

  • Overhead bin. It doesn’t fit handle out in the overhead bin of all airplanes. However, it still looks small and compact and I haven’t had anyone complain about it.
  • Overstuffed. While it hold all the same stuff as my Dakota, it is not as easy to get to everything. Zuca-stuff-outside The door that the packits go in through is narrower than a stuffed packit. You have to pull the top one out before you can get to the others. If you are using all the packits, you can’t just open up your suitcase and shove your coat in on top, you have to organize and arrange. (Note that on short two day trips I don’t use all the packits and my coat fits fine.) At the hotel, you aren’t going to want to leave all the packits in the suitcase, you’ll need to put them in a drawer or spread them out so you can get to them easily.

The Zuca makes it really easy to organize and pack. It’s also very comfortable to roll through the airport. And it’s a conversation starter where ever you go! I’m very glad I have one.

(This suitcase is the Zuca Pro which is not the same as the Zuca Sport which is more of a bookbag.)

12 great gifts for traveling geeks. Please help with the list!

People often complain that it’s impossible to buy me a cool, geeky gift because I buy them for myself. (Actually, I only buy a few after much, much thought and deliberation.) I’m sure your family and friends have the same problem, so let’s prove them wrong with this post.

This isn’t my Christmas wishlist. (I have some of these and not others.) It’s just a list of cool gifts to drool over. I think a real list of geeky gifts was needed as I’ve seen several geeky gift lists lately that are terrible. Really useless gadgets. You’ve probably gotten one or two of those.

Here are some I’ve thought of. Please add any others you think of!

  1. A new phone. Like the Nokia N900 or Motorola Droid. Now you may say that they just got a new phone, but every geek wants the latest phone. And it doesn’t hurt to have two or three different ones to try out. (You should make sure the phone works with the cellular network they have. You can always buy an unlocked phone that will work with all networks. While it’s more expensive, it’s much more useful and therefore cooler. 🙂
  2. Digital book reader. If your geek travels a lot – or even if they don’t, they’ll enjoy a digital reader. If they already have one, you can upgrade them to the newest. (I like the ones like the Kindle
    and Nook that can download books wirelessly.) If they already have one, you can buy them things like a new cover or an attachable light. (The thing that most surprises people is that the Kindle is not backlit.)
  3. A smaller laptop. Note that not everyone wants to work on a smaller computer all the time, but they still appreciate having one for situations like conferences and travel. So buy them the latest netbook. Note that size isn’t everything. Battery life and weight are also important. (If your geek is a free software fan, make sure you buy one that works well with Linux. Some come with Linux preinstalled. Most will run Linux or Moblin.)
  4. A bigger monitor. While your laptop can never be too small, your monitor can never be too big. Not many people have a 30 inch monitor! (Note that as one of the commentors pointed out, resolution is also important – this one has a very high resolution of 2560×1600 which might be more than you need.) 
  5. A really cool suitcase. I think the Zuca Pro sounds really cool. (And I don’t have one. 🙂 [Update: I got one for Christmas! It is awesome – here’s my review.]
  6. Cool travel gadgets that are useful but not just extra stuff to carry. Like Eagle Creek Pack-Its. On the rare occasion that Frank and I travel at the same time, we fight over them. The one to fold suits works awesome.
  7. New types of computers on the market. Like Litl’s webbook.
  8. Kind of cool, not very common gadgets. Like this memory card for your camera that automatically uploads pictures when you come within range of a wireless network. I don’t think it’s the perfect gadget but it’s a cool idea. (You can buy them on Amazon too.)
  9. Eagle Creek inflatable neck pillow. This may not count as a geeky gift but if you know someone that travels internationally in coach, you should buy them one.
  10. External hard drives. You can never have too much space for backing stuff up. Or backing it up and taking it with you.
  11. All-in-one power adapter. This is probably the least expensive, most useful gift on the list.
  12. Moving alarm clock. Judging by the popularity of my 2005 post, Clocky, the moving alarm clock, is a very popular gift.
  13. Power strip. Hotel rooms and conferences venues are always short on power outlets. This compact Outlets To Go Power Strip even includes slots for USB chargers. The downside is it has three prong plugs. They often don’t fit well, so if you don’t need them I wouldn’t go with that option.
  14. Robot vacuum cleaner. I know several people that have the Roomba and are very happy with it. I know many others that would like one. (I’ve always wondered how it’d do with toys on the floor …)

And I probably should divide the list into <$50 and more than $50 as geeky toys tend to get expensive … and maybe into travel stuff and nontravel stuff …

What else? What gadgets, toys, electronics do you want?

It’s now easier than ever to do what everyone else is doing

When it comes to making choices, people often default to "safety in numbers", i.e. what everyone else is doing. While the internet is widely applauded for bringing lots of information and reviews about products, it also allows you to judge what's most popular. For example, on Flickr you can see what cameras people are using:

Amusingly, I felt somehow good that I had bought the most popular camera without even knowing it was the most popular or "best" by popular choice. (Although I'm sure if I'd bought one of the others, I'd now be telling myself I did good not buying the camera everyone else bought!)

The internet is providing us more and more interesting data whether we use it for personal decision making, product decisions, political motives, convincing others, …

Sharing books & Amazon’s Kindle

Dale Dougherty argues that Amazon needs to allow Kindle users to share their books with friends and family.  I disagree.  I think the model of sharing a physical book is changing to a model of recommending books and rating them. 

  • Amazon’s rating model has drastically changed the way users buy books.  I won’t buy a book without first checking the Amazon rating!
  • We are already familiar with the idea of sharing recommendations instead of the object itself.  Most of us recommend movies to our friends but don’t actually have the DVD to pass out.
  • Most of the friends and family I would share books with are not local.  I’d rather buy a cheaper book, not pay shipping and then buy them an Amazon gift certificate.  They can then either buy the books I recommend or another book that they’d rather read.
  • Most of us want instantaneous access to the book or movie we want to see.  If I could download it immediately from Amazon’s library and read it this weekend (if the price was right) or wait a week for my friend to mail it to me, more often than not I would just buy it.  This is why I end up buying new books from Amazon instead of used ones.  I subscribe to Prime shipping and I know I’ll get the book in two days instead of a week or two!

So while it would be nice to be able to share or resell Kindle books, I think as long as the price is right (to reflect the fact that you can’t resell or share them), I think the model will work.

Amazon Kindle is a success!

People predicted that the Amazon Kindle, their electronic book reader, was too expensive to be successful.  Turns out they were wrong.  Amazon is sold out until after Christmas so new Kindles are going for $1000/each on eBay!!  (The Kindle retails for about $400.)

I really wanted to play with one.  I should have bought one, played with it and then sold it on eBay.  I’d then have $600 to buy Christmas presents with!  Or more electronic toys.

Digital pens

Frank bought me an io2 digital pen a while back and I love it.  I take notes at home and at work and then I upload them all to my computer – you can search them then.  So I have:

  • a backup of my notes (I was always really afraid I’d lose my notebook) and
  • I have copies of old notebooks without carrying them around and
  • I can search them!

My one complaint would be that you have to use their notebooks and they don’t have any graph paper – it’s all line ruled.  On the other hand, the memory and battery life have been outstanding.  I really miss my Miquelrius leather like journals but not enough to give up the benefits of an io2!

Leapfrog – the company that makes the computer like books – also makes a digital pen for kids.  It works like the io2 but does more – it actually reads back what you write and has programs to help you with writing, foreign languages and math!

Computerless email

Share pictures and emails with your loved ones that don’t have a computer with a Presto.

As many of you know, I’m a big of sharing digital photos and emails with family members that don’t use computers. For my grandma, we use a Ceiva, a digital picture frame that all your friends and family can load pictures into from the web – a perfect gift for someone without web access who wants to see all your digital pictures. My grandma’s biggest complaint is that she can’t print out the pictures.

Now they’ve got another device which sounds like it would solve the problem. This new HP device, Presto, is a standalone printer. People can send email or pictures to it and it automatically prints it out. I would send my grandma a lot more letters if I could just email them to her!

The HP Presto connects to a phone line and uses standard HP ink cartidges so you can send email and pictures to people without a computer.


The reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. It sounds like most people buy it for a family member that doesn’t have a computer, like my grandma.