Sometimes, it's the ones we love that can hurt us the most.

—Some Person (probably)

After mostly working from home for over 3 years, I’ve learned that I actually… kind of miss commuting? It’s weird I know, but I’ve realized that a (reasonable) commute provides time in the morning to let my mind wander and mentally prepare for the day and time after work to decompress. See also: podcasts. Working from home, I don’t have that built-in excuse to take some mental “me” time, and I miss that. Intentional meditation helps a lot, but I’m not great at remembering to carve out the time for it.

Today, I had a couple of excuses to head into and work from DC for the day, so I did. And the drive in was wonderful: mostly back roads, light traffic, and pouring rain for most of it. The rain on the car’s roof reminded me of wonderful nights out camping in a tent during the rain. On the drive home, I found my mind wandering to business ideas. Nothing new there: I’ve got a whole list of them that I’ve been building for years, like a lot of other software/product nerds, I’m sure. One thing I’ve learned about these ideas, though, is that if I don’t capture them immediately they often disappear forever.

Good thing I had Android Auto with its Google Voice (i.e. “Ok Google”) integration in our fancy new car! I’ll just use that to record all of these!

Ok Google, note to self: business idea: uh… (It stops listening and tells me how to save a note.)

Ok Google, note to self: business idea for a podcast that focuses… (It stops listening and tells me how to save a note.)

Ok Google, note to self: just had a business idea f… (It stops listening and tells me how to save a note.)

Ok Google, make a note. (Wait for it to ask me what the note is. It doesn’t.)

Ok Google, Hangouts chat with Karl… (It stops listening and tells me how I can ask for directions.)

Ok Google, email to (Wait for it to ask me what the email is. It doesn’t.)

Ok Google, what the fuck can you do? (It doesn’t understand the question.)

This went on. And on. And on. For 24 times! Gah! By the end, I was angry enough that I was trying to get it to save a note to track down the devs responsible for this mess and rant at them.

Did you know that Google provides a page where you can listen to (and, it turns out, count) all of your attempts to get Google Voice to listen to you? Check out Google - My Activity - Audio. It’s super useful for reminding you just how angry you were.

It’s now an hour and a half later. I’m home. But I’m still super upset about this. The thing that’s really killing me is that I use this feature all the time, to great success. I use Google Voice constantly at home to set reminders, to set timers, and to add things to our shopping list. And I’ve used it while driving, too. Looking back, I now realize that I’ve always had more luck at home than in the car, but it’s never been this bad before. What happened?

And why can’t it provide better feedback? Every time it failed, it’d tell me how to save a note… using the exact same phrasing I’d just tried. Could it not hear me over the road noise? I don’t think so, because the transcripts provided in the dashboard they provide look mostly correct. So what was the problem? I have no clue.

Having problems with this feature while driving is particularly galling because I’m trapped: I don’t have any other alternatives. I mean, I suppose I could call my wife and ask her to write things down for me, but that’s not really fair to her — she was happily sitting at home, playing the new Zelda.

Thinking about this, I realized that this ties in a bit to a hot topic in the dev community: ChatOps. Personally, I don’t see the appeal of the concept. IRC is great when I have a specific question, but I don’t have the time to just hang out there. Same with Slack: it’s a very slick app, but I avoid it like the plague because I already have way too much trouble just staying on top of my email. But in a way, the promise of Google Voice/Alexa/Siri/whatever is that they provide all of us with a ChatOps system for our lives. A conversational interface that we can use to get things done when our hands are busy.

But they only deliver on that promise when they work.