I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Amazon Alexa Echo Wall Clock Review

Alexa Echo Wall Clock

It has one job and it's not great at it.

I've been itching to replace my kitchen clock. I stupidly bought a self-setting atomic clock and the instructions said (this was a few years ago so I'm paraphrasing) 'Install as high up as possible on a southern facing exterior wall - ignoring these instructions may interfere with reception of the time signal.' Of course when used in my kitchen it has no idea what the time is. Due to the fancy mechanism it's extremely painful to set the time manually - you push a tiny button and try to stay awake while the hands move round and ultimately overshoot. Repeat.

It really should be illegal to sell things that tell you the time without some self-setting mechanism that works. Would it be hard to encode this in the electricity mains supply for instance? Or acquire via wifi or bluetooth? Every time I get in my car it connects to my phone but the car clock is clearly some cheap crystal that drifts daily and has no idea about daylight savings.

So the Echo Wall Clock is appealing because it should keep the right time without effort in addition to it's main role - visualizing Alexa timers. It's a stripped down implementation of the smart Glance clock but $170 cheaper at $30. It looks like most of those savings went to finding the cheapest possible plastic body. The Echo Clock also skips a face plate, which is a risk as if you touch the hands it will die.

Pairing is easy (via bluetooth) and it does manage to keep the right time. It's a decent if unattractive clock.

The timer function has taken the easy way out. If you set a five minute timer it lights up the minute marks from 12 up and then counts down. On a clock that knows what the current time is. This means that if you want to figure out when something is ready you're going to have to think. You need to look at the lit segments to see how long is left on the timer, and then add this on to the current position of the minute hand. I don't think anyone is buying a $30 timer visualizer to do minute-math. It would be a much better device if it just added the timer onto the current location of the minute hand, which is so obvious that this is what I expected to happen the first time I used it.

Overall it's cheap, cheap looking and flawed. But still a huge improvement on my kitchen's atomic age.

Nonfiction

Kindle New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers including Stephen King and Margaret Atword

The Kindle nonfiction list has become a bit alarming recently.

Securing the Internet of Things

Updated on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Securing the Internet of Things

We can’t trust manufactures to build secure connected devices and so routers need to be updated to solve this problem once per network.

The distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on Friday, October 21 was apparently caused by dodgy webcams. But next time it will be Nest or Alexa or Hue - not picking on Google, Amazon or Philips specifically here, those just happen to be the IOT devices currently plugged into my home network. My washing machine and drier would be as well but fortunately LG’s dismal app has saved me from myself by not working for toffee. Oh, I have some DropCams too. And my car is connected. The next attack will probably just come from me.

My fix: update routers to sandbox these devices. A Nest thermostat can only talk to nest.com. If it wants to DDOS Reddit too bad, no connection allowed no matter how badly the device is compromised.

When a new device is connected the router looks it up (MAC address registry?) and then puts it in the appropriate sandbox.

If Nest needs to connect to weather.gov to check the forecast then Google would need to proxy this via nest.com. If the device goes bad it’s only got one domain to attack (so there’s a pretty good incentive for the manufacturer to make sure it doesn’t).

The only downside is new routers or new router firmware. Given the current state of IOT I’d buy one.

As usual if any of my billionaire investor readers are interested get in touch.

Chromecast won't connect to wifi - finally found the fix

Updated on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Chromecast won't connect to wifi - finally found the fix

I've struggled for a while with Chromecast. The idea is great. I love using my phone rather than a remote. I like the idea of being able to cast any screen or browser tab in principle (in practice I think I've only done this once). I like the nice curated background pictures and that I could get round to using my own photos one day.

But here is how it works in practice. Fire up app. Select Chromecast icon and watch it go through the motions of connecting. Nothing streams. Reboot Chromecast, phone and router. Hard reset Chromecast and configure from scratch again. Reboot everything some more. Disconnect house from grid for ten minutes and switch off gas mains as well to be on the safe side. Finally, streaming! Repeat.

It's miserable. With both a Chromecast and a Chromecast 2 (which I really hoped might fix the problem). I've been through two different routers and I've tried a bunch of different settings but nothing seems to make the thing work. I even renamed the device to remove spaces.

For a while I considered buying an OnHub. Maybe Google's router would work with Chromecast? But it can't be bothered with Ethernet ports for some reason and so I'd need a new switch and then I'd probably need another power port and how important is John Oliver right now anyway (very)?

As much as I want Chromecast to work I've binned the wretched thing and bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick. Same basic principle but with apps on the device rather than your phone and a remote control.

I'd rather not have another remote, but it works instantly and without risking an aneurysm. It's also available with voice control which lets you both search for programs and trigger Alexa (my typical morning is asking Alexa for a flash briefing and then sobbing quietly when a daughter yells 'Alexa, stop... Alexa, play Gangnam Style').

My only gripe so far is that the voice search doesn't search inside non-Amazon apps (Netflix, HBO, etc).