April 01, 2019

Alexa - Why Aren't You Doing What I Ask?

If you missed any of the previous articles about Alexa and Google Home speakers, you will find links to them at the end of this article.

Lately I've noticed that Alexa doesn't seem to understand what I ask it. It either does something totally different, or it doesn't respond and I have to ask again.

As noted in a prior article, I stereo-paired two Echo Dot speakers. For the purposes of this article, I will use the default "wake word" of "Alexa." I actually had to change that on my devices -- because frequently, when someone would say Alexa on the TV, it would wake my devices and Alexa would try to respond.


Here are a few situations I have encountered recently:

Scenario 1:
Me: Alexa. Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
Alexa: Playing Symphony Hall on Sirius XM.
In addition to not playing the station I requested, the music is only coming out of one speaker.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa thinks about this for a bit, sort-of stops, then continues playing.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa finally stops.

There are several issues in the above scenario. First, Alexa did not follow my instructions and played the wrong station. Second, the music only came out of one speaker. Third, Alexa did not stop as directed.

Scenario 2:
Me: Alexa. Play Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
Alexa: Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
The correct station plays, and in stereo.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
This time, Alexa stops.

I have no explanation for the first and third item in Scenario 1, but if you look closely at my first command, there is a slight difference between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2. In Scenario 2, I included the word "Play", which seemed to make all the difference.

Here is another issue I've encountered:

Scenario 3:
Me: Alexa. 1010 WINS Radio. (I am expecting to hear the news station 1010 WINS via Radio.com).
Alexa: Playing Family Values Radio from iHeartRadio. (Alexa plays what is apparently a Christian broadcast station.)
Me. Alexa Stop. (Alexa does not stop). I repeat "Alexa stop" multiple times, without success. Finally, I open the app on my phone and press the pause button. Eventually Alexa stops. One time, when I repeated this exercise as described in the note below, even that didn't work. My only recourse was to pull the plug on the speaker.

    Note: I have been able to repeat this bizarre scenario multiple times. I also tried adding the word "Play" as in Scenario 2, and I even tried adding "on Radio.com". None of these changes in command made a difference. The results were the same.
In order for this to work, I stumbled upon the following solution:

Scenario 4:
Me: Alexa. Open Radio.com
Alexa: What would you like to listen to?
Me: 1010 WINS
Alexa: Playing 1010 WINS. (1010 WINS radio starts playing.)

Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa stops.

 
Scenario 4 got me what I wanted, but I didn't used to have to do that.

There have also been multiple occasions when I would ask Alexa a question, or ask Alexa to do something, and it would dutifully beep or flash lights showing it heard me, but then not respond. It has been very frustrating.

By comparison, once in a while one of my Google Home devices might not respond, but this issue has been far more prevalent with the Alexa devices in my experience.


In the event you missed previous articles about Google Home and Amazon Echo, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/01/google-home-adds-feels-like-temperature.html



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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

February 04, 2019

The Importance of Usability Testing

By Richard L. Kuper

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This is an article about an experience with an InstaPot -- probably not something you expected to see in The Kuper Report. However, it speaks to a larger issue - the importance of usability testing.

Over the holidays there was a great sale on an InstaPot, a combination pressure cooker and slow cooker for those who may not know what it is. I’d always wanted a pressure cooker, because when I was growing up my mom made really delicious food in her pressure cooker, including the best chicken soup on the planet. My mom passed many years ago, and unfortunately I never captured any of her recipes, which I don’t recall ever being written down. Back then, pressure cookers were stove-top devices and extremely dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing. Today’s electric ones are supposed to be much safer. But I digress.

So I bought the InstaPot and, eventually, I got around to reading the instructions on how to use it. I did the “test” run to make sure it worked -- and it did. I then attempted to follow instructions I found online to prepare Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley that my wife had purchased and seen someone else prepare in an InstaPot. It didn’t quite come out right, but we managed to salvage it.

On another occasion I found instructions to prepare oatmeal, and somehow I managed to get this right.

Then, after not using the InstaPot for a few weeks, I went and tried to make the Brown Rice Medley again. This time something went wrong. It was taking way to long and making all kinds of noises and eventually displayed “burn”. I was, of course, not a happy camper. The rice was hard and not cooked. I had no idea what went wrong. We did, however, eventually manage to salvage the rice with lots of water and microwaving a lot. At this point, I had no idea what went wrong.

Then, the next day, I attempted to make oatmeal again. I did everything the same (or at least I thought I did) as the last time I made oatmeal. Again, something went wrong. It was taking way too long and eventually displayed “burn”. Once again I was not a happy camper. I thought the InstaPot might be broken. 

I scoured the internet for clues as to what the problem might be. I eventually figured out what the problem was. On the lid of the InstaPot is a valve. The valve is supposed to be set to “Steaming” when using it as a pressure cooker. I thought I’d set it properly, but apparently I had not. So, user error, right? Well, yes and no. As you will see by the picture, on which I’ve added a couple of white arrows to help explain, the words “Steaming” and “Venting” are the same color as the background, and therefore extremely difficult to read. It is therefore very easy to assume you are making the right choice when you are not. In my opinion, this is a serious design flaw, and, just maybe, it never went through a proper User Acceptance Test. 



The point here is that usability testing is important. If I had been the usability tester for this product, I would have failed its valve design. I would have recommended that the lettering should be white on the black background so that it could more easily be read. I would also have recommended additional text. Under "Steaming" I would recommend adding something like: "Turn here for Pressure Cooking". Under "Venting" I would recommend adding something like: "Use extreme caution and pot holder glove when turning valve to release pressure, and stand away from valve" (because you don't want to burn your face or other body part when the hot steam comes rushing out).

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

January 18, 2019

Google Home Adds "Feels Like" Temperature To Weather Report

By Richard L. Kuper
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In the event you missed the previous articles comparing Google Home and Amazon Echo, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

In the first article, I reported that neither the Google Home nor the Amazon Echo provided, nor were either able to provide information on what the temperature really felt like outside. I am happy to report that Google Home has started to provide that information in the weather report, when it is appropriate. For example, as I was writing this on a Thursday evening, I asked Google what the weather was. In addition to telling me that snow showers were coming, it told me it was 31 degrees. Then it went on to say: "Due to current wind conditions, it feels like it's 23." That, of course, is very helpful information. Please note, however, that when I simply asked what the current temperature was, Google told me what the temperature was and did not include the "feels like" information. So be sure to say something like: "Hey Google. What's the weather?" in order to get the "feels like" information when that is a factor. 

As of this writing, Amazon Echo does not provide "feels like" weather information.
 

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

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