CLOSE
Original image
Amazon

What Happens When Someone Named Alexa Buys an Amazon Echo?

Original image
Amazon

Ever since Robby the Robot first popped onto the screen in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet—and likely well before—humans have preferred to personalize their artificial intelligence by naming it. Apple labeled its voice recognition software Siri; IBM’s supercomputer was dubbed Watson. More recently, Amazon has been peddling its Echo smart home device that responds to voice commands by using the name "Alexa." To tell it to order more laundry detergent or turn down the thermostat, users usually begin by addressing it by the company’s preprogrammed name.

But what happens when someone in your home is also named Alexa? Won’t things get confusing or annoying, and quickly?

Per The Wall Street Journal [PDF], the answer is a resounding yes. With Alexa being the 39th most popular girl’s name of 2006, households across the country have been scowling at their Echos in frustration. At the Sussman home in New York, the Journal reported, college-aged daughter Alexa is often confused for Amazon’s Alexa. When her father once asked his offspring for some water, Echo perked up and offered to order 24 bottles of Fiji.

The device also likes to chime in whenever it hears a name that bears a vague resemblance. If a television character or human blurts out “Alexa” or “Alex,” it might try to obey whatever follows.

Fortunately, the Echo has a little-known feature that can resolve the problem for affected households. With the Echo’s smartphone control panel app, the device’s “wake word”—the word it recognizes in order to begin paying attention to commands—can be changed to “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “computer.” If you don't like any of those, you could always just change your human’s name instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
BioLite
arrow
Live Smarter
This 'Smokeless' Fire Pit Promises a More Efficient Burn
Original image
BioLite

For thousands of years, people have gathered around open flames to cook food, find warmth, and share stories deep into the night. Campfires have been around since the dawn of humanity, but what if there was a way to use modern technology to make them even better? The people at BioLite believe they've found one.

The FirePit is the outdoor gadget startup's answer to the recreational, backyard fire. It offers the same benefits as a more conventional product: a space for building wood or charcoal fires, a removable grate for grilling, and metal screens on each side to protect onlookers from embers. But the yellow battery pack is what sets it apart from anything else on the market. With the press of a button, a fan inside the FirePit stokes a hotter, more efficient blaze without producing all of the smoke and soot people are used to.

Couple sitting by a firepit on the beach.
BioLite

"Air injection makes the fire burn more completely," Ryan Gist, one of the lead engineers on the project, told Mental Floss. "So you basically get all the energy out of your fuel." The result is a fire you can enjoy without worrying about your eyes and throat burning, moving your chair every five minutes to avoid a gust of smoke, or having your clothes stink for weeks.

It also makes for a fire capable of burning longer and brighter with less wood. Smoke is made of tiny fuel particles that haven't fully burned up. Using a fan, the FirePit can draw that runaway fuel back into the fire before it has a chance to escape. "It's like when you're stuck on the highway behind a truck and it's got black stuff coming out of the tailpipe," BioLite marketing director Erica Rosen told Mental Floss. "When you see black stuff coming out of a fire, it's the same thing. So what we've done is, we've given fire a tuneup."

FirePit's built-in fan makes the fire easy to control. If campfire gazers want to see big, roaring flames through the box's X-ray mesh, they can turn the air down low. The higher fan setting produces a smaller, more intense burn, which is perfect for chilly autumn nights. Adjusting the blaze can be done remotely with the BioLite Energy app or manually from the control panel on top of the battery pack.

People sitting by a fire.
BioLite

BioLite designed the FirePit for backyards, but its foldable legs make it convenient to carry to the beach, a campsite, or anywhere else where you might bring a cooler of the same size. Once it's cooled down after an evening of grilling hot dogs and toasting marshmallows, the pit fits neatly into its solar panel case, where it can recharge in time for the following night (the battery also features a USB plug for charging indoors).

The FirePit recently debuted on Kickstarter, where it's available along with its solar carrying case for a special deal of $169 (once the first 300 FirePits go, it will be sold for the regular price of $199). To help the campaign reach its $100,000 funding goal, you can reserve yours today with shipping estimated for May of next year.

Skewers cooking on a grill.
BioLite

All images courtesy of BioLite.

Original image
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
arrow
technology
ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
Original image
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios