Amazon Echo/Alexa Notes
Why I Decided To Buy A Smart Speaker
Three recent realizations occurred to me:
1) How many things my partner and I do that a smart speaker helps with.
2) The modest, yet real utility to servicing a need by just asking for it rather than reaching for a device and navigating to a resource, and typing the request.
3) That this dynamic (speaking to the ambient ‘computer’ in the room) is going to be the norm in the near, not distant future.
The last part, in particular, won me over. There’s good reason to think that the future we’ve seen presented in Start Trek, with the omnipresent assistant, always ready to respond to “Computer: …”, will quickly become a major norm. In 5-8 years, we’ll all be accustomed to this user interface, just as smartphones have become so thoroughly a part of our lives over the past decade. It’s worth thinking through what a smart speaker can do for you, but it’s also worth becoming acquainted with an up-and-coming technology ahead of the time, to better know and understand it (more on this).
Commands I use with my smart speaker
These are some examples of commands I find useful so far:
- Alexa, what’s the date?
- Alexa, when is [holiday] this year?
- Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow?
- Alexa, when is my next event?
- Alexa, add an event to my calendar.
- Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?
- Alexa, play the news.
- Alexa, play npr.
- Alexa, play [Morning Edition].
- Alexa, play [All Things Considered].
- Alexa, play [WAMU].
- Alexa, play [Call Your Girlfriend].
- Alexa, next.
- Alexa, fast forward 3 minutes.
- Alexa, what’s the weather?
- Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?
- Alexa, will it snow Thursday?
- Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like this weekend?
- Alexa, [how tall is the Empire State Building]?
- Alexa, wikipedia [Abraham Lincoln].
- Alexa, how is traffic?
- Alexa, how is my commute looking?
- Alexa, what time is it?
- Alexa, set an alarm for 7am.
- Alexa, when is the next alarm?
- Alexa, set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Alexa, set a second timer for 5 minutes.
- Alexa, how much time is left on my timer?
- Alexa, set a repeating alarm for weekdays at 7 a.m.
- Alexa, turn on/off the lamp.
- Alexa, turn on/off the TV.
- Alexa, turn on/off the living room (a set group of lights).
- Alexa, what time is it in [Colorado]?
- Alexa, where is the  area code?
- Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.
- Alexa, what’s on my shopping list?
- Alexa, add [garbage bags] to my cart.
- Alexa, add ‘go to the grocery store’ to my to-do list
- Alexa, what’s on my to do list?
- Alexa, what’s [56 times 33]?
- Alexa, how many [ounces] are in [gallon]?
- Alexa, what’s the conversion rate between dollars and pesos?
- Alexa, what’s the definition of [sublime]?
- Alexa, how do you spell [kaleidoscope]?
- Alexa, how do you say [dog] in [German]?
- Alexa, ask Lyft for a ride.
- Alexa, ask Lyft how much a Lyft Plus from home to work costs?
- Alexa, tell Lyft to rate my driver five stars.
- Alexa, ask Lyft how long getting a line to work will take.
- Alexa, ask Lyft to call a line to work for 2 people.
- Alexa, ask Lyft where my ride is.
- Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride.
- Alexa, ask Uber to request an UberX.
- Alexa, ask Uber to call me an Uber SUV from work.
- Alexa, ask Uber to change my default pickup location.
- Alexa, play some relaxing music.
- Alexa, play [Radiohead].
- Alexa, play [Adele’s album 25].
- Alexa, play some music.
- Alexa, play some jazz.
- Alexa, pair.
- Alexa, volume [eight].
- Alexa, louder.
- Alexa, turn [up/down] the volume.
- Alexa, flip a coin.
- Alexa, ask Twitter what is happening?
- Alexa, ask Twitter for Trends.
- Alexa, ask Twitter for Trends in the United States.
- Alexa, ask Twitter for Trends in [Washington, DC].
- Alexa, what’s the score in the Auburn University football game?
Tasks I hope to soon use with my smart speaker
Many of these already exist and I just haven’t documented the correct query yet, but what’s great is that even if they aren’t yet available, they will be soon.
- Control my Roku.
- Control my Chromecast.
- Which of my Facebook friends have birthdays today/this week.
- Find my phone.
- How much battery does my phone have left?
- Text someone.
- Read my most recent text.
- Turn on the coffee maker.
- Look up questions and answers from Quora.
- Remind me to do something at a certain time.
- Make telephone calls
- Speakerphone for my telephone
- Integrate with Google Music
- NPR One
- Deeper Integratation with NPR
- Integrate with Remember the Milk
- Tell me when the next bus is coming (to a bus stop I preset)
- Tell me when the next subway is coming (to a metro stop I preset)
- Tell me how many bikes are available (at a bike corral I preset)
- Flight info (How long is my flight? When does [flight number] arrive?)
- Repeating reminders
- Call 911 (or send an alert to a contact that I’m at home and in trouble)
- Internet speedtest
- Share plans with housemates (anytime earlier, someone could say what their plans are and then the other person could ask ‘what is X up to tonight?’)
- Read op-eds from major papers
- Read headlines from foreign news
- Read full wikipedia entries
- House party games
- Play housewide
- Switch to another Echo dot.
- Look up quotations
- Voice Notes
- House Notes (like the notepad on the fridge).
- Custom notes for common items I have to look up (e.g. When is trash day? When is recycling? Directions for using the TV)
- Contact info that might not be in my contacts, e.g. Poison Control.
- Wifi login
- What is Congress doing today?
- What is the Supreme Court doing today?
- What is the President doing today?
- Recent Executive Branch activity.
Who are my [senators member of congress state legislators city councilmember]? What is their phone number?
- Recent DC alerts.
- Recent tweets from a specific account (or twitter list).
- Local police scanner.
- Create and link free iheartradio and tunein accounts. They unlock a significant amount of material.
- If you like the NPR hourly update, put it first in your flashbriefing to make it easier to ask for (just say, ‘Alexa, play the news’.
- Some good places to follow new or most popular skills at the Alexa skills section on Amazon.com and alexaskillstore.com.
- Some good ways to subscribe to hear about new skills is with the Amazon newsletter and the (Alexa Skill Store newsletter).
- Searching online will return any number of larger lists of commands to help you find more commands. Some are here.
Which Devices Are Out There?
Why not to use a smart speaker…
- Note potential security concerns, for instance, 5 Awesome Illegal Uses for Alexa.