Appliance Science: How Alexa Learns All About You

In my second column on Amazon’s Alexa service, I dig into how Alexa learns to understand and obey you.

MachineLearningWEB (1)In my last column, I looked at how Amazon’s Echo device and the Alexa voice service allows you to control things with your voice. You speak, it understands and obeys. Alexa is just part of a new wave of services that allow you to control things with your voice, from cell phones to intercoms and thermostats. You can even do things now likeask her to start your car. So, how do these listening devices transform your mellifluous voice into computer commands? The answer lies in two new fields of computer science, called machine learning and natural language programming.

Appliance Science: Alexa, How Does Alexa Work?

In my latest Appliance Science column, I look into how Amazon’s Alexa service captures your voice and translates this into commands.

ECHO_cropThere are plenty of things in my house that I yell at. Some of them answer back these days, though, and even do what I ask. My dog is still a work in progress as far as that goes, but my Amazon Echo has just about nailed it. The Echo is a device that uses speech recognition to perform an ever-growing range of tasks on command. Amazon calls the built-in brains of this device “Alexa,” and she* is the thing that makes it work.

Toms Guide Review: Extreme Fliers Micro Drone

I reviewed the Extreme Fliers Micro Drone for Toms Guide, a promising but  troubled small drone.

Microdrone1Crowdfunding sites have been the home of ideas that range from sublime to stupid. Fortunately, the Extreme Fliers Micro Drone 3.0 is a success story, because the result of this $3 million Indiegogo campaign is a simple drone that has some neat features and is fun to fly. It isn’t cheap, though: We looked at the $229 combo pack, which includes the drone, controller, Wi-Fi HD camera and a Google Cardboard FPV viewer. However, a few design issues dampen our enthusiasm.

 

 

Appliance Science: How Smoke Alarms Alert You To Fires

Just published on CNET, Appliance Science looks at the science of smoke detectors.

IONIZINGSmokeAlarm 3Smoke detectors save lives. By warning the occupants of a house when a fire starts, they give them more time to either deal with the fire or evacuate. But there is an increasing debate about how they are best used, and what type of smoke alarm is the best type to use. Let’s look at the science behind these early warning devices, and what this means for you.

Toms Guide: Review of Pocket Drone

Just published on Toms Guide, a review of the Pocket Drone, a cute little drone that is part quadcopter, part transformer.

drone1It might look like a black box the size of an iPhone, but there’s more than meets the eye in the Odyssey Toys Pocket Drone. This neat little quadcopter folds down into a small rectangle that easily slides into a pocket. With the companion controller, which is similarly sized, you can deploy your drone anywhere the urge grabs you, and capture video at the same time.

Hacking Hacks on Hackaday

Another new client for me is Hack A Day, a web site dedicated to making technology do things it wasn’t designed to. I’ll be contributing regular posts about, well, hacking things. Here are a few of the first ones I have written…

 

I’ll be contributing many more on a regular basis.

CNET Appliance Science Posts on Spherification

I am quite proud of these two columns on the odd phenomenon of Spherification, where you can make edible spheres of liquids using simple chemicals. The first is about the science of Spherification, while the second is a how-to on making your own spheres.

title1I just drank a cup of water. Nothing unusual there, but this was without a cup or other container. Instead, the water was held in a clear, edible membrane that I popped into my mouth and bit down on. It tasted, well, just like water, because this clear sphere was made just from water and two tasteless chemicals.

I made this strange sphere myself, using a process called spherification. Using the reaction of these two chemicals, I created a tough membrane on the outside of the water that held it in place. In effect, the water became its own water bottle.

 

First Post on How We Got To Here

Very pleased to announce a new client: I will be writing regular posts for the web site How We Got To Here, which accompanies the TV Series and book of the same name. My first post there is a history of Gopher, an Internet protocol that almost beat the Web.

titleGopher, one of the early rivals of Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web for storing and indexing data, was once a legitimate competitor in the struggle toward establishing a de facto standard for using the Internet. But we don’t talk about “digging in Gopherspace” anymore — instead, we “browse the web”.

So, what happened to Gopher? How did this promising protocol become all but obsolete?

 

Appliance Science: Ice Makers

For my CNet column Appliance Science, I take a look at the physics of ice makers.

icemakerYou might think that making ice is a simple business: just throw water into the freezer and it turns to ice. Simple, right? That’s true if you just want to make a single tray of ice, but most of us prefer to have ice available on demand. That’s why we have ice makers, devices that can make ice consistently for the many years that you will own your fridge. That takes a bit more engineering than a simple ice tray. Let’s take a closer look at how the humble ice maker creates the ice to keep your summer drinks cool.

New 3D Printer Review: The Orion Delta

Hot off the press is a review of an interesting 3D printer: the SeeMeCNC Orion, a delta 3D Printer.

print-anim3There’s a lot to like about the SeeMeCNC Orion Delta: It offers a large print volume for the cost and size, and it usually produces fine-quality prints, especially with smooth, clean curves. This will make the Orion especially appealing to people who want to produce tall objects like statues or vases. The Orion struggled with fine details, though, and objects with very sharp edges didn’t come out as well. This would not be a printer for engineering models or small, detailed prints. For those objects, you would do better the similarly priced LulzBot Mini.

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