The Seven Days of Technology
Christmas Day 2017 was upon us and after a leisurely breakfast, the family retired to the living room for some serious gift opening.
Somewhere around midmorning, I was handed a small box wrapped in sleek, embossed red paper. The card let me know it was from my wife, who is fully aware of my technology weaknesses. Inside I found a squat, black cylinder with four buttons on the top and a separate power chord. The Amazon Echo Dot had touched down in our household.
The day after Christmas I downloaded the Alexa app, plugged the Dot into one of the kitchen outlets and proceed to ask Alexa a series of questions.
"Alexa, how old is the universe?"
"Alexa, what is the diameter of the universe?"
"Alexa, what is 91 billion 400 million light years in parsecs?"
"Alexa, what will the weather be tomorrow?"
I was impressed with the correct answers, but as I left the kitchen and headed to the living room I became conscious of a pending dilemma. How could I talk to Alexa from the living room when she was in the kitchen? I tried shouting but my family was not impressed.
Three more Echo Dots and a Google Assistant entered into my home on Day 3. My $29 gift had just expanded its retail footprint by 400 percent. That evening, as I nursed a beer during happy hour, I grilled "Bar" Alexa with more questions. Her performance was not as impressive as on Day 2 and some wide gaps in her knowledge base were exposed.
All was not lost, however, because during the interrogation process I became aware that Alexa could do more than just talk to me. She could turn on lights, play music, set thermostats, and more. She was my voice activated gateway to the "IoT" (Internet of Things). This filled me with a warm glow that only new technological possibilities can create. More research was called for.
A trip to Best Buy provided me with four Wemo WiFi Smart Plugs. These little jewels plugged into light sockets and made a wireless connection with my home network. I used three of them to connect up my living room lights.
"Alexa, turn on the living room lights" — and there was light!
Of course, my original Echo Dot's retail footprint had now expanded by about 800 percent. I was also in the grips of doubt about my Wemo strategy. While in the Best Buy store I had been attracted by the soothing display of Phillips Hue smart light bulbs. No switches, just a smart bulb turning on and off when I ask it to.
I was greeted by name when I returned to Best Buy. I made a beeline for the Hue lighting section and spent the next 30 minutes reading the backs of boxes and chatting with the sales assistant. It turns out that the Hue bulb is smart, but you still need a piece of equipment called a "Bridge" to talk to it.
That afternoon I installed the four bulbs and the bridge from my Phillips starter smart-lights kit.
"Alexa, turn on the office lights."
No more stumbling around in the dark trying to find the office light switch. My shins were happy. Now, on my way upstairs to the office, I could casually mention to Alexa that I wanted the office lights on, and my office would be eagerly anticipating my arrival.
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I had visions of hackers surrounding my house and attacking these rapidly multiplying devices, each a separate entryway into my home network.
I had to venture further afield to Fry's Electronics on Day 6. Routers were on my mind. I returned home and cascaded a wired TP-Link router to my primary Linksys router. The new router served as an added layer of protection separating the "IoT" battlefield from my MacBook.
I also realized the added benefit of separating my computer from the uncontained internet surfing of my teenage daughters. As head of home cyber security, I was pretty proud of my work.
The retail footprint of my original "gift" had now expanded by 1,400 percent. I was also left pondering whether the current smart bulbs I had were sufficient. Sure, white-light is generally useful but what about colors? I had seen at Best Buy that my world could contain color. It was true that the full color-spectrum bulbs were about three times the price of a standard white bulb, but that seemed a small price to pay for the calming ambiance of reds, greens yellows, and blues.
"Alexa, turn on the bar lights."
The soft, warm, glowing colors that engulfed the bar made me realize what a great bargain the colored Phillips Hue bulbs had been. I pondered how nice it would be to ask Alexa to adjust the temperature in the room.
As I basked in the visual glory of the bar lights, I did a small calculation. The retail footprint of the original Echo Dot had now expanded by 1,800 percent or about 250 percent per day. At this rate, I would spend $27,375 over the next year servicing my $29.99 Echo Dot. Perhaps I should invest in a technology fund as opposed to my home "IoT" network.