I was so bummed by the difficulties of the $399 smart speaker I received from Mycroft AI that I unplugged it and stuck it in the closet. Then I discovered that my Amazon Fire tablet can do everything I wanted the Mycroft to do and more.
If you put a Fire in "Show Mode," and enable Alexa, it becomes a smart speaker with a display screen, just like the Amazon Echo Show. When it's not displaying the weather and the time, it shows photos, Amazon's art collection or whatever you choose from a list. Every two minutes, it switches to a news headline with a video option, recipe suggestions, fun facts and more.
Recently, I enjoyed hearing about the "inspiring woman of the day," Mimi Aung, the lead engineer on the Mars Helicopter. I also tried a recipe for quinoa pizza crust. Since Alexa, the Amazon voice assistant inside the Fire, can step me through a recipe, I never have to touch the screen with wet hands. I'm also seeing a lot of things I'd never see otherwise, every time I walk by. My Fire's case keeps it upright, but you can buy a stand.
To start Show Mode on the Fire, swipe down slowly from the top and look for the words "Show Mode" in tiny print. To turn on Alexa, tap "Settings," then "Alexa," and toggle the switch to on.
Unlike an Echo Show, a Fire tablet will go dark within 15 seconds to 30 minutes, depending on your settings, even if it's plugged in. But you can tweak that. In "Settings," search for "Developer Options," then toggle the switch to "always on," and keep it plugged in. Alternatively, you can accomplish the same thing with a "Wireless Charging Dock for Fire HD," $40 on Amazon, if your Fire supports wireless charging.
Here are some useful commands: When you say "Alexa, Home Screen," you get back to the point where you can turn off Show Mode, and cut away from whatever is on the screen. When something pops up that you've already seen, tap the three vertical dots in the lower right and select "hide" so it doesn't repeat itself. Tap the three dots again, then tap "Settings," to eliminate categories you're not interested in. For me, that's sports.
Instead of using your Fire in Show Mode, you could buy an Echo Show Version 8, second generation for $27. The Echo Show 15 is $225. The Fire tablet, which I like better than my iPad, ranges from $70 to $190.
Nord VPN, a leader in Virtual Private Network services, sent me a premium subscription to their new "Nord Pass," a password manager. But on my phone, I'm sticking with Google's free version.
There's an aspect of Nord Pass I don't like. On my phone, to avoid re-entering my 468 passwords, Nord suggested I download them from Google's Password Manager, then export them. But when I tried it using their clear instructions, Google warned that my downloaded file was a security risk. There's a Chrome extension for Nord Pass that avoids that, but I couldn't get it to work on my Android phone. It works fine on my Windows machine. There's also a free version, but it doesn't check for sketchy passwords.
GETTING A LYFT
If you share a Lyft ride with a stranger, will the driver take you out of your way? I took a chance and saved 27%. But that turned out to be an anomaly.
The next time I tried it, my arrival was delayed by at least 20 minutes, though the app said I'd get there about the usual time. A veteran Lyft driver told me he turned off the "shared rides" feature. Otherwise, he said, it's a bummer to go way out of the way to pick up the second passenger.
POWER BANKS ON THE PLANE
A sharp reader responded to my remark that you should discharge batteries before shipping them. "Does that mean they're unsafe to take on a plane?" she wondered.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, portable chargers or power banks containing a lithium battery must be packed in carryon bags. That way, if they catch fire, there are fire extinguishers readily available.
Now I know why I was once asked to take my portable charger with me on the plane. It happened when the plane was full and my carryon had to be checked.
The biggest threat to lifeguards is getting pushed under water by the victim. Now there's a robot to the rescue.
"U-Safe," a self-propelled buoy from Noras Performance It can go about 9.3 mph and 3.2 nautical miles. You send it to the victim using a bluetooth remote control, like you would any drone. It consists of a pair of turbines that don't depend on which way the drone is facing. It weighs about 30 pounds. The Portuguese and Italian coast guards have been using it since 2017, but it is just now coming to the United States this year.
Bard.Google.com is the site for Google's version of ChatGPT. Go to the site to sign up for the waitlist.
"This Swimming Pool is Heated by a Data Center." According to ZMEScience, a British data center's computers are surrounded by oil, which captures the heat, which is pumped into a heat exchanger. The pool gets heated to 86 degrees, the perfect temperature.
Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.