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Echo & Alexa

I bought the Amazon Echo earlier this week on a bit of a whim. Amazon had reduced the price from £149.99 to £99.99, but that's still expensive of course. I thought that this was a permanent reduction, but checking the Amazon site today it has reverted to the higher price.

Set up was fairly painless using the app on iOS. Reviews of the said app weren't great, but this perhaps relates more to accessing content than the set up process. Having signed in with your Amazon details you first need to connect to the Echo's WiFi network, which appears in the available WiFi connections in iOS Settings. This done you need to connect to your own WiFi. At this point I did have a problem in that Echo failed to connect to my BT Hub, which was literally right next to it. The Amazon help information recommended that I switch Echo off, and then power up again. After this going through the process worked.

Amazon Echo with Alexa

Having spoken to Alexa and tried a few simple commands, next I set up the two 'Skills' needed to communicate with my recently installed HIVE system. This was painless, and I've tried asking Alexa to increase the temperature. This worked, although while the new temperature was shown on my iOS HIVE app, it didn't alter the target temperature on the physical thermostat. Time will tell how this will perform in practice, but not while the weather is still warm enough to not need the central heating.

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The Man in the High Castle

We watched the final episode of Series 2 of The Man in the High Castle last night and while perhaps a bit wiser as to what was going on, we still struggled.

At the end of Series 1 we were utterly confused as Nobusuke Tagomi (the Trade Minister of the Pacific States of America) emerged from meditation into an alternative world, the world that we all recognise, as distinct from the dystopian world in which the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States have prevailed.

Series 2 expands on this parallelism between what actually happened after World War II and the alternative history presented by the story, with some people seeming to be able to move between the two, much to their own confusion as well as to the confusion of some of us who are trying to follow the plot. It turns out that Juliana Crain is pivotal in deciding the future of the world as she has been identified by the Man in the High Castle as being a consistent and predictable presence in both 'worlds', while Nobusuke Tagomi is equally important in bringing evidence from 'our' world into the Nazi/Japanese alternative, evidence that prevents mass nuclear annihilation at the hands of the deranged Reichsminister Martin Heusmann. The plot is, of course, far more complicated than this brief analysis suggests.

The Man in the High Castle has been a superb production that rivals any high-grossing movie while benefiting from the extra length that is possible with TV series. The fact that it makes you think only adds to its appeal. A lot of loose ends were tied up by Series 2 but I felt that there was still room for plot development and the rumours suggest that Series 3 has been commissioned.

The Man in the High Castle meltdown!

At some point Amazon obviously decided to abandon local delivery companies and take the delivery function in house. No doubt to save money and increase profits. The result has been a much less reliable delivery experience, with a different driver seeming to arrive on each occasion, or not arrive as the case may be.

Now I admit that our house can be tricky to find, but this was never a problem with the local companies. One such company even emailed the morning of the delivery to give a one-hour delivery slot, which it always met. Under the present system deliveries can appear up until late evening. Gone is the card through the door if you miss the delivery. Gone is the second attempt. If you're not there nowadays the parcel gets left somewhere outside. The other day after a knock on the door, I opened it to see the parcel on the doorstep with the driver disappearing up the yard. Absolutely no attempt to see if anybody was in.

Now I realise that these drivers have a thankless task. Paid peanuts with a ridiculous number of parcels to deliver each day, one can understand why their dedication to making a professional delivery is lacking. The fault lies with Amazon, which is trying to push down costs by using agency drivers who are part of the gig economy. The last few days have pushed me to the limit and I'm seriously considering my future with Amazon.

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