A refrigerator that sings


Unlike Talkie Toaster, the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator is a real product and it has some interesting features.  The product page lists features such as:

  • Food Management (knowing what you have)
  • Family Connection
  • Entertainment
  • Apps

It’s not until the “More features to love” section that there is any mention that this contraption can keep food cold.  Perhaps that ability was considered obvious, but it’s interesting that the main purpose of the device is the last thing listed even though it does have some innovative cooling functionality such as FlexZone(TM) which lets you use the bottom right section as either a freezer or a fridge and a “Triple Cooling System” (apparently there are three separate evaporators to better maintain temperature and humidity).

I’d take the Family Hub Refrigerator if someone gave it to me, but I’m not going to rush out and buy one for $6,000.  I think most people could have equal smart-fridge-satisfaction by purchasing a similarly sized high-end fridge for thousands less and then slapping a Triby on the door.  Still, I think it’s worth looking at the “smart” features.

So the fridge doesn’t really sing, but it can stream music from Pandora or TuneIn.  From how frequently the Amazon Echo is used to play music during chore time, I concur that it’s nice to be able to easily play music in the kitchen.  However, this is a problem already solved in multiple ways and I’m not seeing the benefit of shoving that capacity into a refrigerator.  I certainly know of no relationship between music and food cooling.  I suppose it is possible that the size of the fridge could be used to improve sound quality (a big woofer in the bottom or using the full width to separate speakers for a better surround sound), but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Something I see useful in some situations in a first world problem sort of way is screen mirroring–it can mirror your TV so that when you run in from the other room to grab a snack you don’t miss what’s going on in your show.

The Family Hub includes a clock, calendar, photo display, and notes–all features that are on BakBoard and are nice, but the only benefit I see putting it on the fridge is that it provides screen real estate in a convenient location.  The screen can show weather information and some of the pictures suggest displaying the “word of the day” and “on this day in history” factoids.  There’s a “Family Bulletin Board” display and a “Morning Brief” as well.

What’s more interesting are the food related features integrated with the Family Hub. Since a refrigerator is for food, I think making a smarter refrigerator should improve that relationship with food.

Putting cameras inside and letting you view the contents without opening the door (or even being in the vicinity if using the cell phone app) is a good attempt to make refrigerator a better refrigerator.  My refrigerator is always more densely packed than the pristine Family Hub examples, so I’m not sure if it really is practical, but I would prefer it if my kids could look at a screen on the door instead of standing with the door open staring inside for minutes while trying to decide what to eat.

I won’t go into detail about the ability to search recipes or order groceries–I think those are fine and at least related to food, but not exciting.  The obvious missing piece is that the Family Hub doesn’t really know what’s in it, so it can’t suggest recipes using ingredients you have, nor can it automatically order something when you are almost out of it.  One video I saw mentions the ability to track the age of items in the fridge, but only if you always put the items back in the same spot–there aren’t any smarts to track item movement.

I think the main problem with the Samsung Family Hub is that it’s trying to be the hub of things instead of a thing in the Internet of Things.  I want smart solutions for things like food management, but a picture of the inside where I don’t see any ketchup only tells me there is no ketchup in the fridge and doesn’t tell me whether there is any in the pantry or garage.  The refrigerator is not the central hub of my home, it is merely one of many things in my home and any truly smart fridge will know its place–no matter how well it can sing.

A toaster that sings

I don’t want a toaster that sings.  I don’t want a toaster that makes polite conversation and suggests assorted bread products.  I don’t want a toaster that comes with a custom app.  I don’t want a toaster that plays games or gives a weather forecast.  I want a toaster that can toast bread.

The whole IoT (Internet of Things) concept is a nifty idea, but I think sometimes it’s taken the wrong way.  It is cheap and easy to add features and so everything is being packed with features that may or may not be useful or necessary just so the device can be labeled “smart”.  It’s easy to pick on toasters (apparently many people do)–it’s something that’s been ubiquitous in kitchens for decades and has essentially one purpose; adding “smart” features doesn’t help it accomplish its purpose better and in some cases complicates and hinders.

Dangerous Field

Back in the magical decade known as the 90’s I got my first graphing calculator.  It was one of the Casio FX-7000 variants–I don’t recall which one exactly, but I do clearly remember that it had 422 bytes of memory to be used by programs.  While I wrote some programs to do mathy stuff, most programs were games.  I think the first game I wrote for the calculator was a number guessing game where the game would generate a random number and the player would enter guesses and be told it the actual number was higher or lower.  There were various other games along the same vein.  Then I started coding with a friend and things got “Dangerous”.

My friend Jed had a Casio graphing calculator too.  His was newer and fancier and had more memory, but it used the same programming language.  One day (I think during French class), he showed me his new game “Dangerous Field”.  It was a text adventure game in which the game play went something like this:

> N
> E
> N

Zork it was not.  In Dangerous Field you were in a field and could go North, South, East, or West.  After a random number of moves, you fell in a hole and died.  The “score” was the number of moves made.  There was no terrain or scenery apart from the field, there was no possible strategy, and there was no way to win.  But it was a start.

We made new versions of Dangerous Field adding various features such as a map stored as an array defining a path the player could potentially follow to escape the field.  Other games were added to the Dangerous series including “Dangerous House” and “Dangerous Cave”.  Combat was added as well as rudimentary graphics–all within 422 bytes.

In the years since then, I’ve written a lot of code in various programming languages, but never have I been so concise.  My next calculator was an HP48G (which I still regularly use and is currently sitting on my disheveled desk) with 32KB of RAM so I had enough room to write whatever I needed.  A full computer obviously has tons more space, and even the toy apps I’ve written for a space-constrained smart phone have been measured in megabytes.  So now, whenever I think about the constraints surrounding coding, I remember Dangerous Field and all that was crammed into 422 bytes.

Le Petit Prince–read it more than once

Some books are worth reading more than once.  One book with a lot of reread value is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and there are five copies in my home.  Although all are the same story, each book is different and makes me remember different things.

Little PrinceThe first book is a 45 year old Le Petit Prince in the original French.  I believe I stole it from my parents’ home and it most likely was previously claimed by my mother or sister.  I remember as a kid reading an English translation (which my parents probably still have along with another French copy) and enjoying the story while marveling that my parents and sister could read it.  Later when I was studying French I read portions of the text and experienced the story in new ways because I was forced to slow down (and often read it aloud).

小王子 was purchased for me by a good friend on a trip to China that I didn’t get to take.  My Chinese is lousy and I can only pick out words here and there, but since it has English on the left page and Chinese on right, I can read the English and appear like I’m capable in Chinese.  This book reminds me of what I gave up and what I gained by not going on the trip.

The English copy of The Little Prince was a gift from my sister-in-law and it was accompanied by doll in the picture above.  It’s a different translation from the one I grew up on (suggesting another book for my library) and so provides the opportunity to see the familiar tale in another way.  Because of the doll, the book was often packed separately from other books as we moved several times.  Being separate, I remember various times pausing from my packing or unpacking and reading various snippets.

In general, I don’t like shopping in stores, but I do like bookstores and also enjoy Japanese stores so browsing in Japanese bookstores is particularly fun.  I purchased 星の王子さま on a trip to Tokyo with the family in 2008.  When I peek at the book, I remember that trip, my other times in Japan, and the many hours I spent reading Japanese novels and stories in grad school.

Finally there is Il Piccolo Principe which I purchased as a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife this year.  It doesn’t remind me of any trip to Italy, but rather makes me think about my wife.  It makes me think about what she gave up and what she gained in joining me on an adventure.  Along with the book, I also gave her a wooden card with a favorite quote (in the English translation I knew as a child) laser engraved on it.


If you haven’t read The Little Prince, I recommend it.  If you have read it, it doesn’t take long to read it again and it usually seems better than you remembered it.  You definitely want to read it more than once.

What’s a Triby?

tribblesWhen I saw the word “Triby”, my mind jumped to a classic Star Trek episode and I imaged Captain Kirk and a bunch of fuzzy things.  A quick search revealed that those are “Tribbles” and that the Triby is very different, but the similarity in name grabbed my attention enough that I put forth to answer the question, “What’s a Triby?”

Last month I commented (perhaps bemoaned?) that all the fancy gadgets aren’t very family friendly.  Apparently Triby is a new product which is all about “Connecting you with the music and people you love”.  I find it interesting that music is listed before people, but it does seem to be a step in the right direction.

The core of Triby is the Alexa Voice Service.  This means that it is a lot like the Alexa on the Amazon Echo.  However, it doesn’t seem to support everything Alexa has to offer such as some music services (Spotify and Pandora) and home automation solutions (WeMo and Phillips Hue).  Even without those, the core Alexa functionality and numerous skills available (such as Nanny State) provide many features useful to a family.

There is also some “internet calling” capability in Triby.  This allows for hands-free calling.  It appears as though it is configured so that calls can only be made to/from specified contacts–this suggests that a kid could easily call Grandma but there wouldn’t be concern of telemarketers calling.

Triby goes beyond voice communication with a small display and a few buttons.  By default, the screen appears to have a clock, the day/date, weather information.  Some pictures show the Triby displaying information about what music is playing, or displaying virtual sticky notes sent from the phone app.  The buttons are shortcuts to call people or play specific stations and do other tasks like answer a call (but presumably those things can be done with voice as well).

tribyTo me the Triby looks like a toy radio for children.  It has a magnet on the back so that it can be attached to a fridge.  The buttons are also have a toy-ish appearance.  The screen is a small e-ink display–probably to reduce power consumption (the battery lasts about two days on a charge).  The neatest physical aspect of the Triby is the mechanical flag that pops out of the side when a new message is received.

I’d love to have a chance to play with a Triby, but I don’t see myself forking at $200 for one (or even the current $169 sale price on Amazon).  I think Triby has good intentions, but I’m not seeing a WOW! factor.  I wouldn’t be surprised if soon there is a new and improved Triby available that is flashier.  For now my family will continue using our BakBoard and Echo combination, but I’m glad that companies are starting to produce family-friendly tech products.