Alexa, a friend for every household

We were having a nostalgic chat about Cape Town in her London home, when this expat asked if I’d like to meet Alexa. 
“Sure,” I responded expecting a visitor, instead of which my friend called out sharply, “Alexa, won’t you play me a song about the moon?”

“Certainly,” responded a small box-like object on the mantelpiece, and, after a short pause, “Fly Me to the Moon… or Moon River?”

“Moon River, please, Alexa”. Soon the familiar strains of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s song were filling the dining room. I could not have been more surprised had Audrey Hepburn, who made the song famous in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1961, appeared in the dining room.

Alexa is a marvel of our technological age. She is a virtual assistant developed by Amazon, and because she is capable of voice interaction, she’s as easy to use as asking a question.

She can play music, set alarms, tell a joke, remind you what’s on your calendar, make to-do lists, stream podcasts, play audiobooks and provide news, weather, traffic, sports and other real-time information. Currently she is available in four languages.

New skills to her capabilities are being added all the time. Now, according to Google, Alexa can order a pizza, request a ride from Uber, track your fitness with Fitbit and order flowers.

How she does it beats me, but it is dependent on acquiring Alexa Apps to make your life easier “by letting your voice-control your world”.

She is also getting smarter and the more you talk to her, the more she adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.

Is she expensive? In November 2017 Jefferson Graham in USA Today estimated the cost of purchasing the required devices, trying to install them and then giving up and paying someone else for the installation, was roughly over $2 000 (R30 720) to get started with smart lighting, doorbell, lock, thermostat and security.

If she were any cheaper marriage might become out of date. Nobody would need a wife if they had an obedient “better half” like Alexa.

Farewell George

Attending the UCT Opera School’s double bill Opera Kaleidoscope last Thursday in the Baxter Concert Hall was tinged with sadness.

The energetic figure of George Stevens bustling around in the foyer saying hello to friends and his students at the College of Music was absent.

As everybody knows George died on August 11 under surgery for a blood clot that caused an infection. He was only 52.

More than a thousand people attended his funeral in the New Apostolic Church, and each one had at least five George stories.

His name still appeared on the opera’s programme as the producer of Cimaros’s comic opera Il Matrimonial Segreto but with a symbolic cross next to it.

George would have been very proud of the director Xolane Merman and the way his students threw themselves heart, soul and voice into the exuberant antics of the impossibly complicated love tangles caused by the secret marriage of Carolina (Nombulelo Yende), one of the two daughters of a wealthy, but deaf, Bolognese merchant 
(Haydn Henning).

The marriage hopes of her sister Elisetta, Aunt Fidalma and the wealthy count who loves the wrong sister, are the cause of confusion and hilarity until all is happily resolved.

The singing and acting would have made George proud and he would also have had warm praise for pianist Samantha Riedel for her spirited but sympathetic accompaniment to the operatic high jinks.

Tattoo tactics

When so many youngsters in London are covered from head to foot with tattoos, it’s a tad difficult to believe that in the UK there’s an age restriction of 18.

I learnt this while staying with a family in Kent, where their beautiful and precocious daughter had returned from a holiday in France (where tattoos are permissible at 16), with a tiny one on her ankle.

She hoped her parents would not see it and that her younger brother would… and be impressed by her bravery at defying her parents who had forbidden her ever to have a tattoo. Their daughter had, in the past, got away with blatantly flouting their authority, but this time they were determined to stick to the punishment that she would not be allowed to attend a famous weekend music festival for which she had booked her place last October. As expected, she put on a magnificent performance of sorrow, anger and repentance, but, for once, her parents stuck to their guns… egged on by their son that “they should not weaken”.

To add insult to her injury, they said if he could sell the R6 000 ticket, he could keep half of the proceeds. That tattoo was dearly bought.

Hello home

It was great to be home from my travels and catch a sunny day to be at Langebaan to walk among the spring flowers still looking wonderful.

For the first time, we neither hoofed it up to the Zeeberg hut nor drove round to Postberg but chose the lazy route of driving to the top of the Black Mamba road – so called by runners who face this steep hill at the end of their half marathons – where there is a flower walk.

It was like looking through a kaleidoscope as every few metersmetres, the colours and patterns changed. The only blot on the landscape was not knowing if the land belonged to Langebaan or to the owner of the hotly contentious housing development known as Shark Bay.

If so, in a few years’ time, we could be singing “Where have all the flowers gone?”

Gone girls

Gone are the days when girls used to cook like their mothers. Now they drink like their fathers.

fionachisholm@iafrica.com