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I'll Ask Ya Once, Then Alexa Again

(What's that in the sky? A bird? A plane? One of those newfangled pizza-delivering robo-drones?

No. It's science. Specifically, Secondhand SCIENCE. And uber-specifically, this week's post all about the Faraday cage. Check it out -- the details may shock you.

Or they won't. Because that's the whole point of Faraday cages. Just go see, would ya?)

I have a new lady in my life.

Well, technically it's not a lady, I suppose. It's a small cylinder made of plastic and metal. But I think of it as a lady.

I should probably start over, before this gets weird.

How about this: I have an Echo.

If you've never heard of the Echo, it's a gadgety sort of thing from Amazon that sits in your house and plays music and answers questions in a gentle, sweet, probably totally not even condescending tone, even when you ask something any idiot would know.

This is nice, because that's not a thing people do. When I ask actual people my questions, they're generally less patient:

"How many ounces of butter in a stick? Look it up yourself, dairyboy."

Echo -- or, as she prefers to be addressed, Alexa -- doesn't do that. Not out loud, anyway. Maybe she's cursing me under her transistors, but it's not in an audio range humans can hear. So that's nice.

The Echo has been out for a few months now, but Amazon has a waiting list to get one and I don't know any important people -- none who don't curse me audibly under their breath, anyway -- so it took me a while to get my grubby voice activations on one.

But now I do. Alexa arrived this week, and I put her in the kitchen.

No, not because she's a lady. Gah.

Actually, it's because... well, let's face it. There are some rooms in my condo I understand a lot better than others. Like the living room -- most of the time I'm in the living room, I have a pretty good handle on what's happening. At least, since Lost went off the air a few years ago. Also, Game of Thrones gets pretty confusing.

(And while we're at it, who can follow Blue's Clues? You think it's, like, some gritty CSI show with all the clues, then suddenly the guy goes and sits in a "thinking chair". What is that? Horatio Caine never needed a thinking chair. When Morpheus was on there solving crimes, he didn't have any cogitating furniture.

And don't even get me started on this "baby paprika" character. Again.)

Okay, so I have a lot of living room questions, actually. But they mostly involve TV shows I'm not paying close enough attention to, and if I asked Alexa every two minutes "hey, who's that guy?" or "wasn't she just with the bad guys?", I'm certain she'd bludgeon me to death before the first commercial break.

Probably with herself. That Echo hardware is heavy.

"Alexa can't help me in the office. No one can help me in the office."

The same goes for the rest of my living space. The dining room confuses me, so I just don't go in there. The office brings up all sorts of questions, but they're mostly existential:

"What the hell am I doing in here on a Saturday?"

"Why haven't I given up banging on this keyboard already?"

"If there's any meaning in the universe, why have I spent the last ninety minutes fighting with goddamned Microsoft Office?"

These are valid questions. But unanswerable. Alexa can't help me in the office. No one can help me in the office.

The bathroom is pretty question-free, at least. Mostly. And any questions I have there, I'm not going to ask some tender-voiced lady-sounding person, anyway. That's what Ask Jeeves is for. Because screw that guy.

So the only real options for placing Alexa were the kitchen and the bedroom. And I figured if I still have bedroom questions forty-plus years into this thing, then that's between me and natural selection and possibly a very well-compensated psychiatrist. So Alexa's in the kitchen, where I can -- more or less safely -- ask kitchen questions.

Which is good. I have a lot of kitchen questions.

So far, Alexa's doing a pretty good job of sorting me out. Now I have answers at my fingertips -- or really, at my tongue-tip -- when I run into some ingredient I don't understand. Like "garam masala" or "Brussels sprouts" or "non-fat". What is a "non-fat", and why would you grow one? Does it sprout on a fat-free tree? Who would even eat such a thing? And are the fat-frees free-range?

These are the questions I have. Alexa answers them all, without so much as a disapproving click.

Of course, she's not perfect. Alexa can't -- can't, or won't, lady? -- tell me which spatula would make the best back scratcher. And when I asked her to sniff the milk and tell me if it was bad, she just sat there on the counter. I don't think she smelled it at all, frankly. That's a little rude.

But overall, an Alexa in the kitchen is pretty cool. I'm learning a lot, and the voice activated interactions are very entertaining.

Now I just need her to explain what the hell is happening on The Americans. Seriously, this season is one big ball of "what?" It's like that Powerpuff Girls movie all over again.

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