What’s so funny, Alexa?

Whats so funny

Amazon has a fix for Alexa’s creepy laughs
As noted in media reports and a trending Twitter moment, Alexa seemed to start laughing without being prompted to wake. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which is certainly scary if you’re home alone. Many responded to the cackling sounds by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.

A little too convenient?


I’ve had Kindles for years and think they’re great. But you could say you don’t really own the books you’ve bought on your Kindle, you’re just leasing them for as long as Amazon lets you. (See You don’t own your Amazon Kindle eBooks and One more reminder that you don’t own the books on your Kindle.) But that’s ok, because buying and reading books on your Kindle is just so convenient, right?

Here’s a great article on another of Amazon’s really convenient products.

Amazon owns my Echo; I’m just feeding it
Obviously, Amazon’s comfort in 2018 in building and shipping a Trojan horse like this is all my fault. I should’ve protested more a decade ago when Apple decided it was the king of iPhone software. When it decided what apps are allowable, which retail activities in those apps are allowable, and how much of a cut it gets from every microtransaction. I feel complicit and guilty, too eager to have a phone that works well to protest Apple’s obvious infringement on my rights to self-determine how my technology works.

The App Store was a trade, some might say a fair trade: Apple controls what software can be on your phone, and you get some safety and quality. When Amazon started making consumer hardware, it chose the same path. After all, people don’t want choices, they want simplicity and ease of use. Amazon started off closed with the Kindle, and it never opened up from there.

How did we get here? Where did this continual search for the most convenient option come from? And how something that was supposed to liberate us end up restricting us?

The tyranny of convenience
Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.


So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.

I wonder what Alexa would say about that.

Why we may soon be living in Alexa’s world
This is not the best outcome for the future; it would be better for all of us if the next computing platform didn’t come from one of the current tech giants, and if start-ups didn’t have to rely on Amazon or Google for this key piece of tech. But that seems unlikely. If Alexa is headed for ubiquity, it’s good that Google may be, too.

Amazing Amazon Mr Men reviews


The Amazon Mr Men reviews
Hamilton Richardson (London) likes reviewing Mr Men books on Amazon – these are the highlights so far.

I remember as a kid reading these books and through them learning the phrase ‘for instance’. That was about my level. I certainly didn’t pick up any of these issues. For instance,

“For indeed, what does he come face-to-face with at the foot of these stairs but his own repressed sadness? This comes in the form of his miserable alter ego – physically identical, polar opposite in mood. It is only through this confrontation with the shadow that his unsuitable persona can find authentic resolution and true integration of the self can be achieved. These archetypes are quite literally brought to light as Mr Happy coaxes Mr Miserable up to the surface and into view of the conscious mind in a climax of now genuine peace and bliss.”

Books, future tense

Books future tense

Kindle v Glass, apps v text: the complicated future of books
It’s yet another way that our digital footprint is commercialised, marketed and analysed. Nothing is private anymore. Curling up on the couch with an e-book is not a solitary act but instead a way for corporations to learn about your habits and then sell you items you’ll think you need.


Despite it all, the book will survive and perhaps thrive, though our understanding of what a book can do and how it relates to the reader must change. Amazon remains a behemoth and yet a recent New Yorker feature on the company painted a picture of multinational disinterest in building a quality collection of books and literary culture (perhaps because they’re too busy selling garden tools, dildos and toys on their website).


The book man with bite

Andrew Wylie advises you “pick the plague!” over Amazon
It’s probably only an urban legend that if you work in publishing, and you die, an apparition of Andrew Wylie floats above you in your final moments of consciousness to judge your contributions to the literary canon. Imagine his face floating just above you in the dark, then his lips moving softly to say, “Nothing you published is worth reading.” Or, “Your list was no better than a third-rate hotel in Cincinnati.” Now imagine him saying it in German.