When Alexa Met Ikea, the Lights Turned On!

What would we do without Alexa?  She is so handy to have around the house, and doesn’t demand too much.  Just a little electricity to keep her “turned on.”  Now she can do even more.  She may not be the only little device that can do all these tricks using voice commands to control light switches, thermostats and other smart home appliances, but she seems to be the most popular.  And no new app is required in the case of turning the lights on and off, if you already have Alexa in your home.

Alexa and Ikea are now a couple and to work together all they really need are some voice-enabled light bulbs (you buy them).  It’s almost like having a live-in pair who can answer questions for you, play music, and now, turn the lights on and off.  The “marriage” of  Alexa and Ikea is also a marketing boon for the smart home business.  Amazon has said there have been “tens of millions of Alexa devices” sold, including various devices in Amazon’s Echo family of products and those from independent device makers as well.  Smart home usage of various devices is growing rapidly.

Smart homes for smart people?  It still might be fun to do these things ourselves.  Maybe we will start having device-free days just to reminisce about the way life used to be.

Ray Myers

Johnson’s “Great Society” – Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. What Are We Talking About?

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said. “The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talent.  It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness

Technological improvements can certainly be critical to industries’ growth and productivity (e.g., the car industry in Detroit).   But “Government intervention to enhance greatness will not be a simple matter.   There is a risk that well-meaning change may make matters worse.   Protectionist policies and penalties for exporters of jobs may not increase long-term opportunities for Americans who have been left behind.  Large-scale reductions of environmental or social regulations or in health care benefits, or in American involvement in the wider world may increase our consumption, yet leave us with a sense of a deeper loss.  

We have to go beyond Trump’s slogans for true economic greatness.  What are the real goals?   How do we measure their achievement?   In the quotations above from Yale economist Robert J. Schiller and inthe one to follow, we are given a more accurate assessment of what this greatness should be. “Greatness reflects not only prosperity, but it is also linked with an atmosphere a social environment that makes life meaningful.  In President Johnson’s words, greatness requires meeting not just ‘the needs of the body and demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.'”  (Martin Luther King helped us see that too, remember him today).

Ray Myers

Tech-free Friday – Breaking the Vatican’s Glass Ceiling

No, I am not talking about the Sistine Chapel here.  It’s all about announcing the appointment of the first female Director for the Vatican Museums in Rome. Pope Francis has chosen Barbara Jatta as the first woman to direct the Museums.  Dr. Jatta, 54, will take over on January 1, becoming the highest ranking female administrator in the Vatican. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, Dr. Jatta.  

She is no stranger to the Vatican bureaucracy. Dr. Jatta has been at the Vatican since 1996 as the curator of graphics in the prints department and head of the Cabinet of Prints in the Apostolic Library.  I don’t know that if, in her new role as Director of the Museums, she is planning to digitize all these documents.   Maybe that is why they put a woman in charge.  Someone with a fresh set of “eyes” and a twenty-first century outlook?

Congratulations again, Dr. Jatta. You have just joined a very exclusive men’s club.

Ray Myers


Happy Holidays, everyone. I will be celebrating the holidays over the next week with friends and family.  The TechtoExpress blog will resume on Monday, January 2

Tech-free Friday – Secret Santas, Living in Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Two different Secret Santas have been paying off tens of thousands of dollars of layaway accounts at discount stores in Pennsylvania.  A man who goes by the name ‘Santa B’ has been paying off layaways at central Pennsylvania Walmarts for at least three years. This year, he paid off 239 accounts worth a total of $166,000 at stores in Harrisburg, Everett and Lebanon.   A different anonymous Santa paid off some accounts at Kmart’s Holmes store, near Philadelphia. Employees say he’s done that every Christmas for several years and specifically asks to pay off those with toys and other Christmas presents. 

It’s unclear how much the Secret Santa paid off at the Kmart, but a British paper, the Dailymail.co.uk, has reached out to the company to get the total figure. This has been the last week at many discount stores for customers to pay away their layaway balances on their Christmas items.  Many discount stores offer the option to put items on layaway and pay off the balance in increments. If a customer cannot pay the total, the items are returned to store shelves. 

Monday was the last day for Walmart customers to pay off their layaway accounts, so many of the stores were busy this weekend with customers settling their accounts.  Ryan Kennedy, the manager of the Everett store, said he received a call last Wednesday from a man wanting to pay off all 194 remaining layaway accounts at the store.

The following day, a woman came in and delivered a check on his behalf for more than $46,000 dollars.   ‘It was complete disbelief,’ Kennedy told CNN.  ‘It was definitely a great gesture. I was completely shocked.’  Kennedy says that some customers were moved to tears when they learned that their bills had been paid by the Secret Santa.  The same Secret Santa paid off $46,000 worth of layaway accounts at the Lebanon location and $74,000 at the Harrisburg location. 

One Walmart shopper, Sandy Terry, told CNBC that the ‘Santa B’ paid off the $75 she still owed for an Xbox she bought her grandson. She said she was exceptionally grateful to the Secret Santa because she’s been forced out of her job due to health issues this year, and wasn’t sure how she was going to cover the cost of the present.  A Walmart spokesman said that the good deed is commended by the company. 

‘When customers quietly pay off others’ layaway items, we’re reminded how good people can be,’ Leslee Wright, Walmart’s senior manager for communications, said in a statement. ‘The joy that comes from these transactions extends well beyond dollars and cents. We’re honored to be a small part of these random acts of kindness.’  The Secret Santa who paid of the Kmart store’s layaway accounts also wishes to remain anonymous. 

Local woman Vanessa Dimento says she went into the store recently to pay off her $300 dollar balance and found that it had been paid off by the Secret Santa.  ‘I just never thought anybody would do something like this for me, a total stranger that doesn’t even know me,’ Dimento told WPVI.  Dimento said she passed a woman on the way into the store who had her $1,000 layaway bill paid off.  

And I always thought that Santa lived at the North Pole.  Pennsylvania?

Ray Myers

Tech-Free Friday – Some Advice for the Donald

As a public service for the President-elect, and maybe for the rest of us as well, I would like to offer the following for our collective consideration.  This is excerpted from the United States Office of Government Ethics’ website and presents some information on how executive branch employees must avoid conflicts of interest in the execution of their governmental duties, so as not to be disqualified from working on such matters.

Financial Conflicts of Interest
The public may lose confidence in the integrity of Government if it perceives that an employee’s Government work is influenced by personal interests or by payments from an outside source.  An executive branch employee’s Government work may have the potential to benefit the employee personally, affect the financial interests of the employee’s family, or involve individuals or organizations with which the employee has some past, present, or future connection away from the employee’s Government job.  Separately, an employee might be offered a payment from a non-Federal source, such as a former employer, either before or after entering Government.  Accordingly:

An employee may be disqualified from working on a particular Government matter.

An employee may be prohibited from holding specified property.

An employee may be prohibited from accepting a payment from a non-Federal source.

Employees Entering Government

Individuals who join the executive branch may be required to take actions, either before becoming an employee or shortly thereafter, in order to comply with ethics laws and regulations concerning conflicting financial interests and impartiality. 

Current Government Employees

Executive branch employees have a continuing obligation to take the actions necessary to comply with ethics laws and regulations concerning conflicting financial interests and impartiality.

I know that the Donald will probably seek out and receive more profe$$ional advice on how to deal with this matter, but I offer this information freely.

Ray Myers

Tech-Free Friday – in the Holiday Spirit!

So let’s try something different for the holiday season (at least for the Fridays in December).   Just found this story about a beaver who broke into a local Dollar Store, and started trashing artificial Christmas trees and other seasonal displays.  I really don’t think he is an anti-Christmas curmudgeon like Scrooge, but I will let you be the judge.

The local Sheriff’s office was called and their report states that the “suspect attempted to flee the area,” but was apprehended by animal control and released to an animal rehabilitator – not just to be released into the wild, but also, it is hoped, to be taught basic shopping etiquette.  In a related tweet, the beaver was reported to have been rescued by animal control and released to wildlife rehabilitation.  What is wildlife rehabilitation?

Whatever it is, I hope that the beaver’s rehabilitation goes well, and that he/she can once again became a productive member of his local beaver community.

Ray Myers

Labor Day Fun Fact

The first Labor Day parade occurred Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The workers’ unions chose the first Monday in September because it was halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea spread across the country, and some states designated Labor Day as a holiday before the federal holiday was created.

Happy Labor Day!

Ray Myers


Last month a new book was published on Amazon as well as other online book publishing formats.   I authored one of the essays in this book: “Changed During the Sixties.” The book’s title is “Turning Points: Discovering Meaning and Passion in Turbulent Times.” I hope you will enjoy reading these essays about personal and professional transitions made during this time.


I will resume my weekly postings on a regular M-W-F basis next week,  on September 12.

Blizzard 2016 Snow Day!

Sorry, but I will not be posting a blog today.  I was so intent on doing one as the snow began to fall here on Saturday that I inadvertently put it online when I finished.  I was trying to back everything up in case there would be a loss of power or wi-if went down, etc.?   Overreaction I guess, but we did get a little over two feet here in northern Virginia.

The sun came out on Sunday, and we are all involved in a clean-up process, but I don’t think we will be going anywhere soon.  Look for the blog again on Wednesday.

Thanks for following.

Ray Myers