Tag Archives: feature

DECEMBER “BOOK NOOK” WITH ABBY PINARD: MANHATTAN BEACH

MANHATTAN BEACH

By Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s previous novel, the Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, was a dazzling, post-modern high-wire act. What would she do next? Too smart to try to outdo herself, she did research — lots and lots of research — mostly revolving around the mysteries of the deep. At every turn, there is water and the people who make their living and support a war on and in it: longshoremen, divers, merchant marine, sailors, the women who do the jobs left by the men who’ve gone to war, the men who stoke the boiler, and the men who know where the bodies are buried.

At heart, Manhattan Beach is a book about a girl and her father, 11-year-old Anna and Eddie Kerrigan, trying to keep his head above water and his family afloat on the fringes of the New York underworld in the 1930s. Ten years later, the country is at war, Eddie has disappeared, and Anna works in the Brooklyn Naval Yard and yearns to be the first woman to be a diver, doing underwater repairs to the great ships that she sees in the newsreels.

This is a coming-of-age novel, a crime novel, a war novel, a New York novel, and that all-too-rare phenomenon, a literary page-turner. Jennifer Egan doesn’t let her research overwhelm her literary skills and doesn’t let her story overwhelm her characters. Highly recommended.

“Book Nook” writer Abby Pinard

A lifelong book nut, Abby retired from a forty-year computer software career and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore.  A native New Yorker, she moved to Boston to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

DECEMBER “CHEF’S CORNER” WITH JOHN RUDY: CHICKEN FRICASSEE

CHICKEN  FRICASSEE

This recipe came from Americas Test Kitchen Season 12 Episode 1.

Ingredients

2  lbs  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or a combination

1 tsp salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper

1 tbs    unsalted butter

1 tbs    olive oil

1 lb    mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1      medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)

¼ cup        dry white wine

1 tbs         unbleached all-purpose flour

1        medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tsp)

1½ cups     low-sodium chicken broth

⅓ cup        sour cream

1                egg yolk

2 tsp          juice from 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, place chicken in skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes.  Flip chicken and continue to cook until browned on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate.
  2. Add mushrooms, onion, and wine to the now-empty skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.  Add broth and bring mixture to boil, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits.  Add chicken and any accumulated juices to skillet.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until instant-read thermometer registers 160° in breasts and 175° thighs, 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer chicken to clean platter and tent loosely with foil. Whisk sour cream and egg yolk in medium bowl.  Whisking constantly, stir ½ cup sauce into the sour cream mixture.  Stirring constantly, pour sour cream mixture into simmering sauce. Stir in lemon juice; return to simmer.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.
“Chef’s Corner” writer John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERIES “OLDIES”: THE INCREDIBLE SCHLOCK HOMES

THE INCREDIBLE SCHLOCK HOMES

by Robert L. Fish

(Marilyn Reviewed on April 15th, 2017)

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python would say.  In this book, the late Robert L. Fish created the most clever and enjoyable pastiche I’ve ever read.

The Incredible Schlock Homes deconstructs and “destroys” twelve of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved stories featuring Sherlock Homes.  In the process the reader, or at least this reader, is completely captivated by Fish’s word play, his twisted logic, and his obvious devotion to the most famous detective in fiction.

Do the stories’ titles–“The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” and the “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle”–give you a clue about Fish’s style?  In “The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” Homes arranges a fake funeral for himself because his disappearance is essential to solve a crime.  When his colleague Watney questions the amazing disguise Homes needs to wear while presumably dead and yet be able to investigate, Homes explains.  The body in the casket?  “An excellent example of Madam Tussand’s art.”  The “corpse’s” extra weight?  “One of Mrs. Essex’s pillows.”  His present stature, at least a foot shorter than Homes’ actual height?  “Special shoes,” responds the detective.  Are you beginning to get the idea?

True to the style of Sir Arthur, Fish begins each story with the year it takes place and a brief history of other cases the celebrated detective solved.  In the intro to “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” Watney describes the mystery of a gang of Parisian cabbies as “The Adventure of the Taxi Drivers’ Métier.”  Honestly, I was laughing and rolling my eyes at the same time.

The two men live at 221-B Bagel Street (truly) on the second floor of Mrs. Essex’s boarding house.  While trying to get to the location of the house featured in “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle,” Homes and Watney need to decide what train to take.  “There is a train that runs on even days that fall on odd dates,” Watney complains.  “Besides, it has the notation M-W-F listed above, which I frankly do not understand.”  “Milk, Wine, Food,” replied Homes curtly.  “It has a combination restaurant car and bar, is all.”

“But that one is annotated T-T-S,” Watney continues.  “What can that mean, Homes?”  “Most probably, Tewksbury Temperance Society, indicating that on that train the bar is closed,” is Homes’ thoughtful explanation.  Who wouldn’t come to that same conclusion?

With the brilliant introduction by Anthony Boucher, for whom the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention is named, the reader is swept away into the nineteenth-century world of telegrams, hansom cabs, and veiled women.  Boucher is quick to point out Fish’s other, more serious achievements–winning the 1962 Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for the best first novel of the year (The Fugitive), penning police procedural short stories and novels, and his completion of Jack London’s unfinished The Assassination Bureau, Ltd., in which Boucher contends it’s impossible to detect any difference between the writings of London and Fish.

In his closing paragraph, Boucher writes, “Robert L. Fish, I am by now pretty thoroughly convinced, can do anything….but I shall never forgive him if his unpredictably assorted output does not continue to include, from time to time, a fresh triumph/fiasco of Schlock Homes.”

I will leave you with this from Robert L. Fish:  “Author’s note:  The characters in this book are all real, and any similarity to fictional characters is strictly coincidental.”  Want to have a feel-good hour or two?  Start reading The Adventures of Schlock Homes asap.

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with “Nancy Drew” (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful, and, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!

 

My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at:   www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

DECEMBER TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: SOME INTERESTING WEBSITES

Some Interesting Websites

I always enjoy being educated and amused.  Here are a few websites that you should be aware of due to their huge amount of interesting data.  My favorite is Netflix, but that costs about $10/month, and I’ll only discuss free items here.

  1. Stumble Upon https://www.stumbleupon.com/

When you first go to this site, it asks if you want to become a member and then gives you a wide variety of subject areas to choose that represent your interests.  It asks for 10, but you can provide fewer, and the list of options is enormous.  Don’t worry about picking them perfectly; they are easy to change.  Once you provide some other information, like your name, you are ready to go.  A few times a week, you’ll receive email with links to about four articles that are chosen because StumbleUpon thinks you will find them interesting.  There are thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons on each article, and if you click on one, you are telling the system that, in fact, you enjoyed (or did not enjoy) what it provided.  This will further identify your interests.  I find that about 50% of what it now sends me is very interesting.  Articles are short, usually about 2 pages.

2.  IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. These two sites provide insight into movies and TV. Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/ aggregate reviews, categorizes them as positive or negative, and then averages them.  They provide two scores: one based on general viewers, and the other bsed on professional reviewers.  I have learned that my preferences frequently do not align well with the professionals.  The site also allows you to purchase tickets.

IMDB is similar though it has a lot more information on the movie and links to all the directors, cast, etc.  I always check both when considering whether to watch a movie on TV. http://www.imdb.com/  IMDb also provides, if available, show times and the ability to purchase tickets.

  1. Youtube is one of my favorite sites and I use it all the time. I decided to see if he movie Gladiator was available there for free.  Frequently movies are noyt, but in this case it was https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwEWOro5o7Y.   Last year I considered buying tickets for a concert and there was a piece of modern music on the program.  I suspected that I wouldn’t like it and worried that it was going to be long.  So I did a YouTube search, found it was 7 minutes, listened to it and enjoyed it, and bought the tickets’

I love the old tap dancing movies of Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, etc.  When you search for something on youtube, it then provides a set of links to similar material so that I can watch this for hours.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T45iRSvxaVM .

Then if you follow the links, you can find The Nicholas Brothers who I suspect most of you are not familiar with.  Here is a spectacular number of theirs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNKRm6H-qOU&index=2&list=RDEBqSBVxUKM4 .

Or see the Clark Brothers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNVDBH_z8VA&index=5&list=RDEBqSBVxUKM4

And I’ll leave this section with my favorite Triplets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjW_yvrC0cE .  This looks impossible but how did they do it? By balancing on artificial legs strapped to their knees, Fabray reports; they fell dozens of times before getting it right and relied on pain-killers.

  1. Find the best price for something. PriceGrabber http://www.pricegrabber.com/ and Google Shopping https://www.google.com/shopping .  Both sites look at hundreds of places to purchase a particular item and tell you the best on-line or brick-and-mortar location.  Obviously do this when you have decided what you want.  Using Price Grabber I did a search for a ream of copy paper and got back a pretty good deal.

Let me finish with something a bit creepy.   https://www.deadmansswitch.net/.   You write emails and store them.  Periodically the system will send you an email asking if you are alive.  If you do not respond then the system will send the emails.  Batter be careful if you change your email address, though!

“Tech Talk” writer John Rud

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

GETTING THE BOLLI WORD OUT!

Road Scholar is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to inspire adults to learn, discover and travel.   The program served as a sponsor of our “Adventures in Creative Retirement” Conference this past September.   After becoming acquainted with BOLLI, they have chosen to partner with us on a lecture series in the Winter, and the editor of the program’s publication asked BOLLI Director Avi Bernstein for an interview which they have published in their most recent online newsletter.

Click here to read that interview.

 

NOVEMBER’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: WHAT DO WE BECOME?

WHAT DO WE BECOME?

by Liz David

I have been “downsizing” my closets and dresser drawers–giving away coats, scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters.  I’ve been trying things on and then attempting to decide whether or not I will continue wearing that skirt, top, pant, sock, jacket, or shoe.  I have a medium-sized box stationed against the wall for objects that were on the bathroom window sill and around the Jacuzzi.  I’m eying things in our bedroom but haven’t made decisions yet.

Believe me, that doesn’t even touch the downsizing challenge.  The house is full of stuff that we’ve collected over the 45+ years we’ve lived here.  I’ve been told one has to be brutal about this process, and I’m trying.

Gradually, I’ve started cleaning kitchen cabinets, starting with the one under the sink and the rotating one next to it.  Eventually, I’ll get to the drawers.  The silverware drawer and the one that holds the “wraps” and “plastic bags” are okay, but don’t ask about the 3 junk drawers!   And now, I’m procrastinating about cleaning the oven.  Even with a self-cleaning model, the door has to be done manually.  Why bother? It just gets dirty again.  The carpets need cleaning, except for the one in the family room which should just be replaced.  The inside walls need painting.  Door knobs need scrubbing.  The dishwasher works but only runs the regular and heavy cycles.  Who needs light and china cycles anyway?  The clothes washer and dryer are fine, but don’t forget to turn the water faucet off when not in use.  I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oops!  I forgot to mention my precious books, Native American artifacts, and jewelry.

The exterior of the house is well maintained, thanks to the love of my life. It’s a “stately” looking house, gray with black shutters and a warm barn-red door which welcomes family, friends, pets, trick or treaters, and the occasional door-to-door salesperson. The lawn is a challenge. Some of the abundant trees have been cut down so they won’t fall onto the house in a hurricane or high wind storm.  Sad. I mourn when a tree is fallen.  Our back yard is bordered by acres of conservation land. I call it my emerald forest in Summer; glorious multi-colors in Autumn; newly fallen snow, fresh and clean, in Winter; Spring, well you know Spring buds–the world is born anew.

So, what does all this mean?  What do our possessions, our well-tended homes, and lawns become?  When we downsize, pare things down to a minimum, our abundance becomes the stuff of memory. When we move to a townhouse, condo, or lifelong living community, are we diminished?  What do we become?   What else is there to give away before we take up our final residence in a coffin or urn?

Ourselves!

We give generously of our wisdom, thoughts, feelings; we mentor the younger generation and our contemporaries. We argue, offer opinions, and listen attentively.  We volunteer.  We march for just causes. We meditate and pray.  We cry for and with our friends. We accompany them until they are no more. We love, and love, and love some more.

We give of ourselves to others and allow others to give of themselves  to us as we age, decline, and eventually melt back into the Universe from where we came.

Safe travels.

“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? GOLF, OF COURSE

A recent Writers Guild prompt brought this bit of memoir from Steve Goldfinger–for the inveterate duffers in out midst.

Breaking the Ice:  Aye, There’s the Rib!

by Steve Goldfinger

After my early days of hacking around scrubby Dyker Beach, Brooklyn’s only public golf course, I found myself playing The Country Club in Brookline from time to time. Yes THE Country Club, sanctuary of Boston Brahmans plus a handful of their chosen. Its name said it all.

My friend Tom, a fellow academic and ardent golfer, was one of their chosen. A few times a year, he would ask me to join him for 18 holes at this preserve available to but three hundred or so, a far cry from Dyker Beach’s availability to three million.

This time, it was for only nine holes. It was mid-January and the temperature had warmed up to 35 degrees, toasty enough for golf freaks who hadn’t teed up a ball for two months. The Country Club contained an extra nine holes that were kept open year round for such freaks.

Tom brought along his son Jeff, now 15, who was getting interested in the game. I had played with Jeff before, liked him, and was glad he was with us.

The air was brisk and the round uneventful, until we reached the seventh hole. Jeff’s drive put him about 150 yards from the green. I saw him pull a 4 iron out of his bag for his second shot.

“Use 6 iron,” I said. “You’ve grown a lot, and a 4 iron is much too much club.”

But 15 year-olds often have minds of their own.  He stuck with the 4 iron, hit it cleanly, and watched it soar well over the green.

“Now, drop another ball,” I said, “and try a 6 iron.”

He did and hit the ball the perfect distance….but it veered off to the left and rolled onto a frozen pond. When we arrived at the pond’s edge, we saw the ball sitting there, ten feet away. Just sitting atop the glistening ice, waiting to be fetched.  And feeling guilty that it was I who had consigned this $1.25 ball to such a fate, it was I who decided that I should be the fetcher.

I had gone two steps onto the ice when the inevitable crack came, and I crashed, sideways.   I managed to stand up, the water above my waist.  So cold I couldn’t utter a word.  Tom and Jeff ran over to fish me out by extending an 8 iron for me to pull on.  I noticed bleeding from my wrist where it had been scraped by ice as I fell through. Even then, I could barely say a word.

I was the shivering wretch of the three, though, insisting we go to the next tee to complete the round. I had just read The Right Stuff, and this was going to be my John Glenn moment. Tom and Jeff were still laughing as I teed up my ball.  Then, when I tried to swing my driver, I was nearly felled by a horrifically painful crunch in my left rib cage. The technical name is crepitus, and it denoted a rib fracture. I tried to swing again but could use only my wrists to wave at the ball.

They escorted me back to the club house, bleeding wrist, broken rib, freezing torso, numb legs, sunken spirit.

I later asked Tom to petition the club’s Governing Council to post a sign alongside the pond on the seventh hole, to read:  “Here Goldfinger couldn’t walk on water.”

BOLLI Matters contributing writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI about two years ago, Steve has been writing.  He’s taken  memoir courses with Marjorie Roemer and worked on fiction with Betsy Campbell.  In addition, he’s stretched his creative muscles into the world of acting as an intrepid CAST player.

NOVEMBER CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: THE TURKEY!

ROAST TURKEY

by John Rudy

This recipe, with some adjustments, came from Sally and Jimmy Weiner ~1985.  I believe it came to them from  WBZ daytime personality Dave Maynard.  The teaching lesson here is that, if any meat is cooked at too high a temperature, all the juices evaporate and the meat dries out.  (The same is true, by the way, for Prime Rib which I cook at 250° until the last 20 minutes.)

Use an 18-20# Turkey for ~ 12 hungry people which, depending on the amount of appetizers, may end up about half eaten.  I have very successfully used frozen turkey, and the closer to the holiday, the lower the price.  It takes about 5 days to thaw and might be more of the refrigerator is particularly cold.  They can be kept a few days in the refrigerator in the vacuum wrapping, so leaving more days for thawing is best.  I prefer to cook the stuffing outside the turkey though others like the turkey juice to infiltrate the stuffing.  The decision affects the cooking time.

  1. Season the turkey, inside and out, 24 hours in advance, and keep it in the refrigerator. I use salt, pepper and Lawry’s Season Salt.  Put 8-10 stalks of celery into the turkey cavity to provide extra moisture.  These will be discarded at the end of the cooking.
  2. Take out the neck, gizzard, liver and heart (and anything else they stuff in) and add another 2# package of gizzards. Boil them with salt and a chicken cube or two for at least 2 hours to make chicken stock. Remove the meat and boil it down by 50%.  This will be added to the pan stickings to make the gravy.  It is even better if you have left-over (frozen) gravy from a previous chicken or two. Put aside the liver for making paté. Pull the meat from the neck and cut the grizzle from the gizzard.  Chop everything finely and it can be added both to the stuffing and the gravy.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450°. Turn to 325° when you put the bird into the oven.  If you have a new oven it will cool down too slowly so you might have to help by opening the oven door for a minute.
  4. Put cold butter slices inside the skin of the breast, if you can. Don’t cut the skin.  VERY IMPORTANT: cook breast side down for about 1.5 hours.  This is best done on a small cooking rack to keep the breast skin off of the bottom of the tray.
  5. Turn the turkey over. The easiest way to do this is by wearing rubber gloves.  Put aluminum foil over wings and drumsticks so that they don’t dry.
  6. Baste regularly (every ~20 mins) by ladling pan drippings onto the cheesecloth. It takes ~15 minutes /per pound to cook.  Remove the cheesecloth for the last 30 minutes to crisp the skin.
  7. Turkey is best if left to its final cooking with the oven turned off. Can be put back in for 20 minutes just before slicing, if it has been removed from the oven to bake other things.
  8. These times below are based on placing the whole turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, and into a preheated 325 degree
 Weight of Bird  Roasting Time (Unstuffed)  Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10 to 18 pounds 3 to 3-1/2 hours 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours
18 to 22 pounds 3-1/2 to 4 hours 4-1/2 to 5 hours
22 to 24 pounds 4 to 4-1/2 hours 5 to 5-1/2 hours
24 to 29 pounds  4-1/2 to 5 hours 5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours

Stuffing

  • I prefer a combination of regular and cornbread stuffing. I use 1 bag (Pepperidge Farm) of each.  It requires about 30% more water than called for.  Make at very last minute so that it doesn’t have to be heated.  If absolutely necessary to heat, use the microwave so that the pan doesn’t burn!
  • Add pan-fried onions, pieces of celery (10-15 stalks chopped), and fresh mushrooms. The pieces of giblet (grizzle removed) and neck meat can be put through the grinder or can be chopped up and added to the stuffing.
  • I sometimes make oyster stuffing with about 1/3rd of the stuffing, by cutting up 4 to 8 oz of oysters and gently, VERY quickly pan-frying them in butter before adding them to the stuffing.

Gravy

  • Thicken the soup that was made with the giblets with roué. Roué: Take ¾ stick of butter and melt it and add ½ cup of flour while whisking.  Continue whisking for 2-3 minutes until the mixture starts turning a light brown.  Then whisk the gravy into the roue.  Whisk continuously and bring to a boil.
  • Add the pan droppings after removing all of the fat. Add water to the pan, if necessary, to remove any pan stickings that are burned into the pan.
  • Bring mixture to a boil to thicken the gravy. Adjust the flour to the quantity of gravy.  I sometimes supplement the gravy with gravy from Boston Market or Neillios (Lexington), the only decent commercial gravies I have found.  I also save gravy from roast chickens (and freeze) for a month.

If all this is too much effort, and if you are the only one for Thanksgiving, an alternative is to make an origami turkey.  Here, thanks to MIT, is the method:

https://slice.mit.edu/2016/11/23/turkey/

Chef’s Corner feature writer John Rudy

 

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

NOVEMBER TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

by John Rudy

Artificial Intelligence has been around for 50 years and describes the environment where computers are able to do things that one normally associates with humans.  Years ago, there were computer programs that could easily beat most folks at backgammon, checkers and chess.  More recently the chess programs have become so good that they can routinely beat even the best players, and just this year, a Go master repeatedly lost to a computer.  But these are games.  Where does this technology apply to us?  And should we be worried?  There are many examples of how artificial intelligence can be beneficial to us.  Here are just four that can help to better understand the field.

  1. Language translation. A number of companies provide language translation, but the consensus is that the free Google software has recently become excellent.  https://translate.google.com/   I know this is a little hard to read, but on the left you can specify a language (there are about 100 available) or even let Google guess the language from the vocabulary.  On the right, you specify the language you want it translated into.  In addition to providing text as input, you can provide a URL (a web page) and it will translate that.  Try it out, you’ll be amazed.  Note that if your computer is set to receive voice input, you can do it that way too.  The translations are not perfect, but they are pretty good.

  1. Smart phone translation. There are many programs available on smart phones to provide instantaneous translation into other spoken languages.  So, you can go to a restaurant in Albania and talk onto your phone and it will speak to the waiter in Albanian.  This is truly amazing!  I’ve seen these products work but do not own this capability.  Here are some ratings of available products.

For iphones see:  http://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/iphone/best-translation-apps-for-iphone-2017-3599462/

For Android phones see:  http://thedroidguy.com/2017/03/5-best-android-translation-app-for-your-next-foreign-business-or-vacation-travel-1067355

  1. Robot companions. The last few years have seen the emergence of “robots” that can be your companions, scan peak to you, answer questions, and perform tasks.  Once again, this has its plusses and minuses as revealed when one of these units placed online orders for a child and charged the costs to the adult-provided credit card.  The Amazon Echo starts as low as $50 though there are higher priced, more functional versions. Check which of these functionalities below are available on the unit you are investigating.  Google and others have competitive products, but Amazon currently has 70% of the market.
  • Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc as requested by your voice
  • Ask Alexa to call or message anyone with an Echo, Echo Dot, or the Alexa App.
  • It can hear you from across a room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
  • Answers questions, reads the news, reports traffic and weather, reads audiobooks from Audible, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, controls Amazon Video on Fire TV, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
  • Controls lights, fans, TVs, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Sony, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, and others
  • And whatever it doesn’t do now–just wait a year or two.
  1. Pattern Recognition. For many years, it was assumed that humans were particularly adept at pattern recognition.  Recently, though, it has been shown that this is not the case.  Let’s take the example of mammograms.  Computers were taught (“machine learning”) by being given thousands of x-rays and told which ones had tumors.  When the computer made a mistake on a new picture, the correct answer was provided which further refined the database.  https://www.sciencealert.com/ai-analyses-mammograms-30-times-faster-and-20-more-accurately-than-doctors  The machines are getting better and better.  There are many objectives: to catch more real tumors, avoid false positives (with attendant biopsies), read them faster and for less cost.
  2. Many companies are using AI to refine their marketing and help consumers. Here is one I like.  Netflix asks me to rate, on a 1-5 scale, how I like a movie.  Further, it asks how frequently I view movies of that genre (I might have loved Still Alice, but hate movies of that type).  Subsequently, it gives me a Rudy-score when I consider another movie.  This is much better than IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes which knows nothing about my personal likes and dislikes.  Other companies, like Amazon, provide a similar ability to rate what I get.

To conclude, let’s briefly discuss the Singularity.  This is the point at which computers become smarter than humans and are able to take advantage of it.  Think The Terminator.  Some very smart people like Steven Hawking and Elon Musk are worried.  See http://time.com/3614349/artificial-intelligence-singularity-stephen-hawking-elon-musk/  Musk recently called for the establishment of national or international regulations on the development of AI.  In some ways, this is like the limitations placed on cloning, yet the Chinese and others are violating those rules.  I don’t expect that advances in AI will slow down, and the implications are as great as those resulting from the Industrial Revolution.

In this blog, I’ve provided links to a number of articles on elated subjects.  Let me know if this is useful.

BOLLI Matters blogger on all things tech-related and food-centered, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, please provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .