back to article Solder and Lego required: The Register builds glorious Project Alias gizmo to deafen Alexa

Readers, we asked you what materials we should use to construct homebrew gadget Project Alias – which deafens smart speakers – and a whopping 40 per cent of you demanded Lego. When we first looked at Project Alias at the beginning of February, we liked it – though we did question why someone would buy a smart speaker if …

  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Waste of a good pi.

    A 2lb lump hammer would do the job far more effectively,

    Or gumtree it.

    1. Woza
      Joke

      Re: Waste of a good pi.

      2lb lump hammer? That explains why it was down in the garbage bin in 3,000 separate pieces.

      No accident, just 1st degree toastercide.

      1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

        Re: Waste of a good pi.

        Are we aiding and abetting this toastercide?

      2. myithingwontcharge

        Re: Waste of a good pi.

        Silicon heaven is too good for it. :-)

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: Waste of a good pi.

          Ah, you’re a waffle man!

  2. Korev Silver badge
    Facepalm

    No Playmobil :(

    1. STOP_FORTH
      FAIL

      Agreed, this is an absolute disgrace. Is there no sense of tradition at The Reg?

  3. Joefish
    Happy

    Spaceship!

    SPACESHIP!!

    S P A C E S H I P ! ! !

  4. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    Just a pity the noise fed to Alexa and sent to Amazon servers for "analysis"...

    ... is not a real Shuttle taking off at max power....

  5. Khaptain Silver badge

    Optional extra

    When the Shuttle takes of it would be cool to hear "The Doors - This is the end" as the accompanying soundtrack..

  6. DJV Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    "Something about a certain billionaire CEO being fond of self-pleasure."

    You owe me a new keyboard --->

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Xkcd beats this by miles

    Sorry to pour cold water, but xkcd really does beat all this by miles.

    https://xkcd.com/1807/

  8. Baldrickk Silver badge

    If I was to have one

    It would only be acquired after I was convinced it wouldn't be trying to listen on me... and I found a use-case that I really need it for.

    My heating system is designed to maintain constant temperature, so no turning it on or off, my lights have switches in useful places so I can toggle them as I walk into / out of rooms, and I even have an extra switch by the bed, avoiding the issues of avoiding debris getting to/from the bed in the dark.

    I could get it to play music, but I have a good sound system linked up to a computer that can do all that, controlled either by a controller or a wireless keyboard with it's own trackpad for easy remote access.

    As much as I'm a bit of a geek and like cool tech, I'm also practical about it. And really, something that avoids my needing to get off my rear every once in a while is something that I probably don't need.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: If I was to have one

      This 100%.

      We had some friends over at the weekend who were selling the virtues of Nest heating controllers and to say I remain unconvinced is an understatement. Utterly pointless vs the cost and risk, but hey ho each to their own. Fifty quid for remote LEDs for the light fittings. Eh?

      Although as the link posted further up, I did have fun over Christmas dropping all sorts of things into conversation to see what their targeted ads Alexa would start to show. Eventually she insisted I stopped but couldn't explain why, even though she was adamant it does not listen, as the panic and worry started to build.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If I was to have one

        As a caregiver google home is great. It takes a lot stress off of me when I am gone. It connects to the Nest thermostat so if my sister is having a bad day she can change the temperature in the house from her bedroom. I can also check the smoke and carbon monoxide sensors from my phone. Next is the doorbell camera so she can see who the dogs are barking at.

        If I didn't need it to take care of my sister it wouldn't be in my house.

        1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

          @AC ... Re: If I was to have one

          You could DYI some kit to do this without going thru Google or Amazon...

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: @AC ... If I was to have one

            Even without DIY, there were and there are commercial home automation and remote control systems which aren't made by Amazon or Google and don't slurp your life.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @AC ... If I was to have one @ Ian Michael Gumby

            I guess you don't understand the concept of caregiver. I don't have time to do it myself, and I don't have the time to research other options.

            1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: @AC ... If I was to have one @ Ian Michael Gumby

              It also generally works out cheaper in the long run to buy a system like this rather than building your own, running in the necessary cables, tweaking it when it doesn't quite work properly and eventually giving up and buying the commercial version anyway.

          3. Timmy B Silver badge

            Re: @AC ... If I was to have one

            "You could DYI some kit to do this without going thru Google or Amazon..."

            But none of it is as easy to use for the end user. I've had a good look and nothing replaces the ease and simplicity of adding stuff to the Alexa setup we have at home. We can check all sorts of things now: has the morning carer left the shower and heater on? Have they left any lights on? What's the temp in the important rooms? All sorts.

            That's only the bits for us - our relative can do many things she simply couldn't do before. She can turn on a light switch - but the switch on the wall doesn't to table lamps - she prefers these. Alexa does the table lamps. She can tell them to turn on. It's things like this that help you feel human.

            When you are a carer, live upstairs and are heading to your 50s then going up and down stairs dozens of times a day is a drag.

            Sometimes you want ease, cheapness and simplicity - Alexa gives us all 3. I couldn't care less if Amazon knows when I turn the lights on!

        2. PM from Hell
          Flame

          Re: If I was to have one

          You obviously have no idea how exhausting caring for someone you love who is struggling can be. I had a small taste of this when my wife was wheelchair bound for 9 weeks after a car crash, re-arranging the house so she could come home from hospital was exhausting enough. We were extremely fortunate that we got 3 carers visits per day while I was at work but, I was still having to get up at dawn, get to work later (so leave later in the evening) then come home pick up the housework and additional care for the evening and then get her to bed. Fitting in shopping for food doing the washing etc and making sure we got out of the house for at least a short trip each weekend pretty much filled my waking hours. An off the shelf solution which just works like nest is a godsend for some carers and getting involved in petty criticism is not helpful. I'm sure the original contributer weighed up the privacy concerns but in this situation I would do exactly the same. If I ad 2 --3 hours spare I would rather have spent it ensuring my wife had a little fun rather than fiddling with tech bits. I do have privacy concerns about this tech and don't use Google Assistant, Cortana or Siri and do not have smart speakers but do use google audio and video Chromecasts as they are extending the life of several thousand pounds worth of hifi and TV equipment.

          1. Timmy B Silver badge

            Re: If I was to have one

            @PM from hell

            "You obviously have no idea how exhausting caring for someone you love who is struggling can be."

            You have my sympathies - people just don't know and can't imagine. We are in our... wait for this... 13th YEAR of looking after elderly relatives. I'll take any help I can get and Alexa devices have made a lot so much easier.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If I was to have one

            Oh for goodness sake get of your high horse.

            I've been caring for someone since before any of this stuff was available. There are loads of practical solutions available. An occupational therapist or social worker or whoever they send these days can advise you and may even organise getting it fitted if our political lords and masters haven't decided that pay rises for MPs are more imprtant than this kind of thing.

            1. Timmy B Silver badge

              Re: If I was to have one

              I call BS on your claim of caring for anyone - certainly not recently. If you had any level of current care for anyone you wouldn't mention asking social services for help. They have less than no budget nowadays and are therefore less than useless.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: If I was to have one

                Call BS all you like, it's still the truth. Soical Services have always been crap but we did get some ideas from them. Most things we had to pay for ourselves but there was a little help for some items.

                As the years went by I also came to realise that filling the forms out in the "right" way made a big difference. There were often certain thresholds which triggered help. The forms often don't recognise that health conditions fluctuate so 50 steps one day may not be possible the next day or might lead to the next two days in bed recovering.

                It's a horrible process, demeaning, depressing... it makes the person effected have to repeat over and over again all the things they can't do which isn't good for their psychology. Any hint of being positive means you won't get the help you need.

        3. Mandoscottie

          Re: If I was to have one

          A valid use.

          good to know. :)

          still wouldnt have one personally.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If I was to have one

          A system like that was recently installed at the home of an elderly person. It cost less in rental over 3 years that the nest kit.

          Plus they have humans available 24x7 who can call for the fire brigade or an ambulance...plus it has a pendant or wrist strap with a button the can push for help.

          It's just the local council's carline service.

      2. Snake

        Re: Nest controllers

        If anyone had told your friends, or they themselves had done some homework, they would have discovered that Nest devices only work when it has internet access - once their internet is down, you have no manual control of the system, even manually from the device itself. It is locked into the last setting until it gets internet again.

        In Amerika we have the Honeywell controllers, which are autonomous with internet control added, rather than internet devices with manual convenience controls.

        So, as usual, the most-known, popular device is the worst choice for an individual's continued independence.

        1. Dabooka Silver badge

          Re: Nest controllers

          I did not know this, but I doubt I'll share it with them; I'd hate to come over as ridiculing their decisions anymore than I already have.

          I am somewhat amazed at this though. Clearly I appreciate if the net goes down the connection is lost for remote access, but I would have assumed access via the internal wifi network would still be granted. Evidently that is not the case.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If I was to have one

      I have a Pebble watch. The backlight is süfficient for nocturnal visits to the loo without stubbing a toe, and not so bright as to waken MrsAC

  9. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Second photo

    Given your choice of trigger phrase, is it deliberate that the second photo looks like a tech'd-up version of a diagram from female anatomy class?

    1. Dabooka Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Second photo

      That wasn't just me then?!

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Second photo

        Nope, but I probably wouldn't take too much comfort from having a mind similar to mine ;-)

  10. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Of course there's a way cooler thing do do

    Write some little speech synthesis software which can "morph" in between different sentences. Then you start off by making it say some un common phrase like "Alexa, buy a pine". When it answers correctly you change it slightly towards something more usual like "Alexa, what's the time". When it answers incorrectly you go back a bit.

    Done with a bit more finesse and ideally more devices, it should be possible to train it to miss-hear more and more phrases, probably even for other users, as it'll try to track the change in pronounciation.

    1. Mandoscottie
      Angel

      Re: Of course there's a way cooler thing do do

      I find my thick north east accent Scots is enough without any lines of code :D

      bit too south for mine but....you get the idea

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU

  11. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Pint

    Why bother?

    Why spend money on an Alexa and then have to figure out how to stop it? Save the money and time on something important.... see Icon.

    1. Mandoscottie
      Joke

      Re: Why bother?

      cos rev 2 could be portable and you can shut your friends "smart" speakers up when visiting? (cos you can? :P)

  12. Garymrrsn

    Rube Goldberg would be proud.

  13. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I'm curious...

    Why not put in a packet filter that cuts out all traffic back to Amazon unless you utter the magic phrase.

    I mean its wireless but it has to go to your wi-fi router which then goes to your network where you can do real time packet filtering.

    And instead of just dropping them... see what they contain. ;-)

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: I'm curious...

      It's all encrypted, isn't it ?

      Allegedly because, obviously, they'd encrypt your requests.

      But really, so you can't see what they're sending.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: I'm curious...

        You're the 'man in the middle' so you should be able to break the handshake...

        But really, that was just me going a step to far. The point was that you'd drop the packets from Alexa until your device said it was ok not to filter them.

        1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: I'm curious...

          Breaking the handshake would only stop the communication; it wouldn't enable you to see what they were sending. Unless you can install your own root CA / private key on the device, but if you can do that then you probably wouldn't bother with a network-based MITM

      2. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: I'm curious...

        >Allegedly because, obviously, they'd encrypt your requests.

        All web traffic is encrypted these days.

  14. Lee D Silver badge

    "As for the "Did it work?" part: yes, it did. Kind of. Our assembly may have lacked elegance but it did the trick. Sadly the key phrase wasn't always recognised, and the thing was easily flummoxed by background noise, but the makers acknowledge that more training is needed to bring the machine learning models up to speed, and they hope the community will get involved."

    Sounds like every single "voice recognition" tool I've ever used in my entire life.

    But I can't see why you'd go to the effort of baffling Alexa with lots of other gadgets when you could just use the thing you have that recognises voice commands (as well as anything else) and make your own smart assistant. I'm sure there must be a project somewhere already, if not a dozen of them. And with something like OpenHAB, you could easily make it control anything you liked. Even Alexa/Home-compatible devices.

    1. matthewdjb

      Duh. You go to the effort because its there.

  15. Milton Silver badge

    Full marks for pointlessness

    I like the fun of a somewhat superfluous gadget as much as anyone I guess, but you're right: I completely fail to see the point of paying for a spy device to install in your home (purchased, presumably, because you are actually too lazy even to walk a few paces and press a button) only to spend even more money hobbling it because you (quite rightly) don't trust the hardware, the software or the vendor.

    Bonkers, much?

  16. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Dear el-reg

    Can we have a new version please

    while impressed with your skills at building the thing in the first place, can I suggest you build a portable one that can be discreetly worn so that if we get invited around to a friend's house and they have one of those annoying alexa listening bugs, we can throughly stuff it up....

    1. bpfh Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Dear el-reg

      Would not whispering directly into Alexa somthng along the lines of ordering sex toys or a 55 gallon drum of anal lube when the host was out fixing drinks not give them the message that an always on listening device linked into the online tat bazaar is not a good idea? You can always protest that the think must have been mis-listening to your conversation...

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Dear el-reg

        "Alexa, set a 3am alarm call with horror noises at full volume".

  17. graeme leggett

    As an alternative

    What about a device that just pushes the mute button on the top?

    1. arctic_haze Silver badge

      Re: As an alternative

      Cutting off its Internet connection could be a better solution.

  18. martinusher Silver badge

    We're technical sorts, not Luddites

    I don't understand this 'bash the kit' mindset. If you don't like the things don't buy them. If you do have one or more then there are plenty of ways to neuter them if you want, anything from using their 'mute' button to just unplugging them. (The mute button, which I notice nobody has mentioned, switches off the microphones. The interface shows an angry red ring -- my wife says that ladies don't like being ignored.) They represent a huge advance in computer peripherals, something that makes a generic sci-fi movie from a year or so back look really dated. As technical people we should be delving into the technology, understanding its capabilities and limitations and learning how to work with it....not necessarily the Amazon flavor but as a generic technology.

    Oh yes, while we're on the subject of Big, Bad, Corporations I notice a lot of articles about cloud computing, containers and the like. Doesn't everyone know where this stuff is really running? Amazon, for example, might like to sell us everything in the world but where they really make money is AWS.

  19. Crisp Silver badge
    Boffin

    Needs moar struts

    And moar boosters

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