How this Google Home app helped my father after his stroke

About a year ago my father had a stroke. After 70 years of work as a salesman, 6 days-a-week for 12 hours-a-day, this deficiency forced him into retirement. Hoping to get back to work, he received speech therapy but never fully recovered.

Now in retirement, his typical quiet demeanor at home has kept him from exercising his neural network to reroute his audio connections. He is not tech savvy, so my attempts to get him using games on Luminosity have been unsuccessful.  

This Thanksgiving, during my visit to my parents house, I decided to see how he would fair with a Google Home. So far it has been great! Even practicing the wake word “Hey, Google” was a challenge at first, but he is improving dramatically.

Excited, I went through all the games I could find. I quickly realized just how unintuitive and disorganized the App side of Google Home still is. Some apps worked, and some didn’t. Either an app was “Not Found” or “Not Responding” when I tried to activate it. Sometimes an app would unexpectedly quit mid use. Even more frustrating were the multiple steps needed to try the above search for a working app over and over again after hitting a dead end. For example:

Me: “Hey Google” (Google Lights up)

Me: “Talk to X Game” (Wait)

Google: “Sorry, I could not find X Game” (wait for light to go off)

….Start over with another game name”

Navigation through the voice-UI was frustrating as well, and for my Dad it was impossible. To work around the issue, I went through all the games I could find online, and wrote down the ones that worked from the ones that did not. Then, I wrote our an old-school paper cheat-sheet that listed each game and its commands.

“Hey Google, – Let’s play a game”

“Hey Google, – Play 1-2-3 game”


What made it more complicated was that some trigger words required the user to say “Play” while others required the words “Talk to”. There is no reasoning I could find as to why there was a differences. What I realized is that these nuances were terrible difficult to retain for my non-tech savvy Dad. So, listing them out distinctly, on paper, and placing the paper next to the Google Home Device, was the best way I could provide the info to him.

One thing my Dad has retained since coming to the US is his keen memory of the US Presidents. I imagine he studied american history proudly and tirelessly when he moved here and sought his citizenship. Unfortunately, the Presidents Quiz, which I found listed in Google Home’s marketplace, and one I was sure he would like, was one of the games that was “Not Responding”.

At first I was disappointed, but then realized this was the perfect opportunity to try and build a Home App! I set out to create a US Presidents Quiz on Google Home for my Dad. 🙂

There are many ways to build a Google Home app. The two I explored were DialogFlow ( – formerly and the “Actions” console ( Dialog Flow had a great UI that made it seems like it would be simple to set up an interaction, but the concept of Intents, Events, Entities, Training Phrases and Responses was complex. What fed into what, and where I was suppose to handle requests from users and deliver responses did not come easily.

Google Actions is amazingly simple and perfect for those looking to build a game or quiz. WhileDialogFlow has many samples ( and plenty of docs, I decided Actions made the most sense, and I would leave DioalogFlow for another project; by using Actions, I could spin up an entire game in a single night. Interested in creating your own? Just follow this extremly simpley one-pager: No code required!

The more labor intensive part of this project was listing out the hundreds of questions, correct answers, and purposefully wrong answers for multiple choice, I needed to seed the game.

You can check it our yourself, by saying:

“Hey Google, Talk to US Presidents Quiz”
Or by opening it in the directory here.


Here is a print out for commands if you have a similar situation.

What do you and Sonic the Hedgehog have in common?

Sonic and his rings
Sonic and his rings

Have you ever played Sonic the hedgehog? Man, what a classic! The objective: Get your hedgehog, named Sonic, to jump, run and even roll through a stage, avoiding the array of animal-ish enemies, only to reach a guarded exit, protected by your arch nemesis, Dr. Evil. Beat him and the entrance to the next level is opened. Keep this up, level after level, enemy after enemy, and you will win the game. — But wait there’s more! If you are attacked without a collection of magical “rings” in your possession, you will die. With one or more rings you can narrowly avoid death by attack.

So which was more important, getting to the next level, or acquiring the rings? Well, any kid would tell you: Duh, both! Obvi. If you only collect the rings you may never get to the end of the level. Alternatively, if you only try to get to the end of the level, rendering yourself ringless, you dramatically decrease your chances of survival.

Of course, one could play the perfect game, dodging all would be attackers, and avoiding falling off cliffs to a spikey-floored doom. By doing so you would indeed win the game, just as anyone else. But who could make it through all those levels without one misstep, one slipped finger, or distracted moment when your Mom calls you down for dinner? I’m going to take a stab at it and say — not a single person. So, thanks to those gracious creators at Sega, you were given those wonderfully magic rings, giving you a fighting chance. You and everyone else jumped at the opportunity, capturing as many rings as you could. You mitigated risk, balanced your options, and grabbed on to what ever you could, outside of the clearly laid goal of completing the level, to of course do just that, complete the level and win the game; achieve success.

That is not a theme reserved for just hedgehogs named Sonic, or any game for that matter. Success is a goal some of us can see, and once we see it, we direct our focus directly at achieving it. But it is often that deterministic direction that creates a far more subtle misdirection.

Nine out of ten startups fail, right? I bet most of them are hard workers and/or have great ideas and/or have a focus and/or goals. A major hurdle to overcome, one that is far less obvious then the cliche advice to work harder/smarter, and the basis for why so many startup fall victim to those one-in-ten odds, is that it is the very focus on the goal that can cause the unbalance in your business, and ironically dooms your chances in achieving it.

Success may live on a straight-line, but the line seen is not necessarily the path to take. The best path is almost always one that dances around the line formed. Looking away, towards an entirely different direction, can reveal a path with far less hurdles when the focus is returned to the goals directive. You must let something go in order to truly have it — a cliché theme that works in almost any environment, and often takes a lifetime to master. Simply put, our “rings” come in the form of friendships, support systems, a passion for what you do, mistakes that need to be made, failures to learn from, vacations to escape to, and random ideas that inspire. When we remember to grab onto those rings when the opportunity to do so arises, or even sometimes when it doesn’t seem like it can, we will be far more able to last the “attacks” the startup game will inevitably throw our way.

So my fellow hedgehogs, should you grab at all the rings you can, even if at times by doing so you are unable to race towards the goal? Most definitely! Any kid who had a sega will tell you: you have to do both. Duh! Obvi.