New Year's 2017
Someone new moved into our house last year. She spends most of her time in the kitchen, and helps out with homework, answering questions, setting timers, and letting me know when I should bring an umbrella. When I say good night, she wishes me sweet dreams. She also sings “The Final Countdown” a lot and loves to tell silly jokes.
I’m talking about our Amazon Echo, a tall black cylinder that listens for her “wake word” (Alexa) and does her best to assist with our requests. She’s become a part of the family, participating in trivia questions during dinner, and singing happy birthday over the phone with rest of us to my dad.
She doesn’t always have the answers. When I asked her what my husband’s name is, she said “I’m a little concerned you don’t know that.”
You may have seen in the news the story of the little girl who “accidentally” ordered an expensive dollhouse and a 4-lb tin of cookies via the family’s Amazon Echo. You may have also heard the follow-up story, where a local news station reported on it, and anyone who had an Amazon Echo and had the TV tuned to that channel ALSO ordered a dollhouse and giant tin of cookies. We’re not far from Skynet, I tell you.
So far the only thing we’ve ordered via our Echo are cat-related products, so obviously ordering things we didn’t really want is not a problem in our house—except…wait a minute…where did all these catnip mice come from?!
In addition to our new housemate, we’ve had a few other highlights this year. In July, we visited Yellowstone, where we got in a 9PM traffic jam with some bison crossing the road. We also visited the Grand Tetons, and although I did not spot Harrison Ford while in Jackson Hole, we did have a good time hiking, and floating on a raft down the Snake River.
In August Chris’s parents visited, and we took them to their first baseball game, a minor league one where they were highly amused by the antics between innings of people on the field smashing up a van for prizes, and having sunflower seed packets thrown at them.
I’m still working for the startup Sensely, helping people manage their health with our virtual nurse avatar. Chris just completed a year at Facebook, and has now decided to take a little time off before his next venture. I think one of these ventures includes replacing the light above our kitchen table, which has 12 separate light bulbs, two of which are usually working at any given time. He’s also been coaching Jack’s soccer teams and puttering about in the garden.
Jack is in third grade and still enjoys reading and soccer. He’s been on a big Egypt mythology kick. He tried to get Chris to read more by enrolling him in “Daddy’s Reader Workshop” and the first book assignment was “My Mum’s Going to Explode!” I don’t think Chris has finished the full curriculum yet but I look forward to the book report.
I also spent a lot of my evenings this year writing a book (Designing Voice User Interfaces). I have wanted to write a book since I was a kid. In second grade I wrote a book about how to make a mold of a fossil you might chance to dig up. I believe most of it was plagiarized from one of my dinosaur books; it’s lucky I did not try to publish it. Then in 4th grade, we had a school project to write a couple of books. My first one was called “Super Dino” and featured a lot of Ed Emberley-style drawings of a T-Rex, frogs, and an alligator. I showed it to Jack recently and he quickly picked up on the fact it was a derivative of the Wizard of Oz. My second book was much darker, about a band of cats fleeing their human oppressors. Neither, alas, were published.
You can also interact with my New Year's letter by talking to my Cathy Chatbot. (click here, then click on 'Send Message' on the upper right) It works in Facebook Messenger, so you must have a Facebook account to access it (you can also sign up just with your phone number, on the mobile app, if you want to try it but don't want to sign up).
A happy 2017 to you and yours!