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Let’s go Alexa!

Posted by on Jun 28, 2016 in Alarm, Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Skills, Timer | 0 comments

Let’s go Alexa!

Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes, please.

One of the things I loathe as a parent is nagging our child. “Please clean up your toys.” “Please put your clothes away.” “We have to go now… let’s go!”

It’s no fun for anyone.

Enter: Amazon Echo and “Alexa set a timer for x minutes.” The Amazon Echo Timer skill has made our lives better.

Let's Skeedaddle!

Let’s Skeedaddle!

Our 7 year old son ADORES the Amazon Echo. I think it has something to do with him having power or being dominant over something in the house. (We’ll get a puppy soon… no, really.) He loves telling it to play his favorite “Minecraft Jams” on Spotify or asking the day/time. And, of course, the farting. “Alexa, ask for a fart!” skill is the greatest thing in the world to him.

Alexa, please make it not be morning… please.

Since he isn’t the most focused in the morning, I’ve started setting timers for when we have to leave to school. That way, I’m not the bad guy. Since I’m one of those parents who thinks it’s important to have the child involved in decisions that involve him, we agree on an amount of time and, I’ll usually have him set the timer.

“How long do you think it will take you to be ready to walk out of the door?”
“Fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. Would you have Alexa set two timers: One for ten minutes and one for fifteen minutes?”

The ten minutes is the warning and the fifteen is when I’m outside, holding the door. Which, I must tell you, has only happened once in the last two weeks. Something about the “robot” telling him to hurry up makes it less stressful for everyone. It’s as if Alexa is his ally.

And away we go…

The timer is also great for me as a writer. I’ve found that knowing I have limited time to write, forces me to get to writing instead of checking to see how many people are wrong on Facebook.

When I’m writing on this blog, if I haven’t finished by


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IF THIS THEN THAT – IFTTT

Posted by on Apr 8, 2016 in Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo How To, Amazon Echo Skills, Amazon Tap, Cool Stuff, Fun Stuff, IFTTT, Innovation | 0 comments

IF THIS THEN THAT – IFTTT

The Model T

When I got online back in the stone age (1994), before cool things like IFTTT, the internet was text-based and one had to use Unix commands to do simple things like check email and search. When the World Wide Web began (different than “The Internet”) I had to get someone to help me hook up this thing I BOUGHT called a “NETSCAPE NAVIGATOR” to my Netcom account. I gave a stranger access to my account and within two days, he’d hooked up this thing called “TIA” which stood for “The Internet Adapter” and I could look at “web pages” and use the Yahoo directory to find and download pictures of naked ladies on my 2400baud modem at the rate of 1 photo every 2 minutes or so.

Fancy!

This is all to say that it is important to remember that we are only in the 2nd decade of web ubiquity. We’re using the Model T’s of phones. I try to be mindful of this when I’m wondering why my phone autocorrects “Hi Honey” to “Grapes for breakfast.”

IFTTT

The Amazon Echo is an even newer technology built, for all intents and porpoises, by Amazon. The Alexa interface is fairly smooth, though sometimes trying to listen to my son’s music playlist: “Alexa, play Duncan Faves on Spotify” returns “Duncan phelps on spotify.”

It seems like it’s happening less… maybe Alexa is learning? Maybe not. Who knows?

Using Spotify (so happy they added it!) and getting an Uber is one thing. However, the Amazon Echo doesn’t interact with every smart device out there.. yet. So what do you do if you have a connected thermostat or lights that Echo doesn’t play with?

Various smart people with the time to do such things have taken the time and written recipes in IFTTT to get the Echo to interface with other 3rd party solutions: GE Appliances, LIFX, D-Link and others are just a few. Amazon just added Lutron functionality.

ALEXA: LIGHT UP MY LIFE

Head to https://ifttt.com/recipes/search?q=amazon+echo and browse all the cool things others have done. You can create your own recipe, as well. It’s not that difficult. Set a “mood” or other color (assuming your light has color options) with a recipe you create on IFTTT. Instead of just an sound, you could also instruct your smart lighting to flash the lights as a way to wake yourself up.

WHERE THE SAM HILL IS MY PHONE?!?!!

Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t have their phone with them every second of every moment of every day of their life… I don’t understand you, but maybe that’s you.

What do you do now if you misplace your phone in your house? Now you can use one of the alerts or customize your own to find your phone. Mine is “ALEXA, TRIGGER WHERE THE SAM HILL IS MY PHONE?!” and boom, my phone rings and now I don’t have to get all the neighbors over to the house to help me and my family find my phone.

I’m an Apple disciple, so if the phone is on vibrate, it’s not as effective. The smart people who use Android can get IFTTT to turn on the ringer and then even set the volume to super-duper.

https://ifttt.com/recipes/387761-my-phone-is-lost-and-amazon-echo-will-make-it-ring-for-me-just-say-alexa-trigger-my-phone

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS:

The appointments and reminders I set on the Echo don’t go to my google calendar. Well, they didn’t. Now my lists and and to-dos can be set in IFTTT.
https://ifttt.com/recipes/276623-when-i-add-something-to-my-amazon-echo-shopping-list-add-it-to-my-ios-reminders-as-well

https://ifttt.com/recipes/290998-add-amazon-echo-to-do-to-google-calendar

THAT IS ONE SMART HOUSE!

If you’re interested in educating your house… er… making your residence “smart”, check the Amazon Smart Home Store.

It’s easy to manager your smart home devices with Amazon Echo & IFTTT. Locate the app for whichever service you have and then find that hardware for the app. There are
Mr. Coffee coffee makers that are compatible with Amazon Echo. Create a recipe “Alexa, it’s Joe time!!”

If you want to control the kitchen from another room (with an Amazon Echo, Dot or Amazon Tap, obviously) try the Smart Slow Cooker from WeMo! Take an extra long shower and heat up some stew! It could also notify you by dimming the lights.

With all of the smart devices, from garage door openers to security cameras, the only thing limiting you from controlling everything with your voice besides your imagination is money. And, since we are in the stone ages of smart devices, the prices are not low. This too shall pass, but you wouldn’t have an Echo if you weren’t an innovator, would you?

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Amazon Echo Celebrity Alarm Voices & Repeating Alarms

Posted by on Apr 3, 2016 in Alarm, Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo How To, Amazon Echo Skills, Amazon Tap, Cool Stuff, Guide, Set Alarm Voice, Stupid Alexa Tricks, Stupid Echo Tricks, Video | 7 comments

Amazon Echo Celebrity Alarm Voices & Repeating Alarms

It’s Alarming!

Instead of setting a new alarm every day, you can now set one to repeat on your Amazon Echo and then pick from some celebrity voices and have an “Amazon Echo Celebrity Alarm!”

Alec (thanks for the correction!!) Baldwin, Missy Elliot, Jason Schwartzman and Dan Marino were all kind enough to donate their time and record wake up messages for free. (hahaha yeah, right… free… hahahah)

Okay, so maybe they didn’t record them for free (or maybe they did?), but, once you own an Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap or Amazon Dot, you can get a nice wake up message from one of these fine folks.

Set an Amazon Echo Alarm

It’s fairly easy. Say “Alexa, set a repeating alarm for weekdays at 8:30am.” You can also check if you’ve done it correctly by saying “Alexa, what alarms do I have set?”

Change The Amazon Echo Alarm Voice

Once that love-fest is over, open up the Alexa App and tap the menu icon. You’ll see a list of options like this:
1-amazon-echo-celeb-voices

If you have more than one alarm set, tap on it to reveal the options. You can also change the time here. AM to PM – minutes, hours, etc. You get the idea. Clicking on Manage Alarm Volume And Default Sound will open the settings.
2-amazon-echo-celeb-voices

To the right of Alarm Default Sound is the name of the alarm sound and a “greater than” symbol. Click on that.

3-amazon-echo-celeb-voices

Emails from the project manager

Kapow! It’s a list of celebrity names and then sound names that I’m sure were the subject of many many many meetings and emails:
“Hey gang, please look over the list of 300 sound names and narrow them down to your favorite 20. We’ll go over each one next week with Lauren and Dax. Thanks!”
“Hey gang, it looks like we’re gonna go ahead and change “Gong” to “Adrift” after all. Thanks for a lively meeting. Jimmy, your Will Ferrell impression was fab! But seriously, everyone – I know that Jeff Bezos is personally interested in these sound names. Also, who is in charge of sending Alec Baldwin his Echo? Swing by my office if you are, his people have made me aware of some special instructions… Thanks!”

4-amazon-echo-celeb-voices

Back to your Amazon Echo How-To

Where was I?

Right…

Select Alec Baldwin and his dulcet tones will stir you from your slumber or whatever event you are alarming yourself for.

Amazon hasn’t said if they’re adding more celeb voices, but I’m betting they will.

Do try this at home!

If you’ve added one, let me know in the comments what’s it like waking up to Missy Elliot telling you to be a superstar every day?

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The Gassy Amazon Echo in action

Posted by on Mar 25, 2016 in Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Skills, Amazon Tap, Ask for a fart, Cool Stuff, Fun Stuff, Stupid Alexa Tricks, Stupid Echo Tricks, Video, Weird Stuff | 0 comments

The Gassy Amazon Echo in action

Before the fun – Seriousness!

When I encounter silly tech things, I always think of a friend of mine who was instrumental in making the internet ubiquitous. He pointed out the irony of the amount of work he and others did as programmers so we could watch videos of people getting kicked in the nuts and cats falling off tables. He wasn’t upset about it. Not at all. He thought it was a cool thing… Pointing out how the people who build technology can never be certain how things will be used and how forcing a certain use of a product can hamper its enjoyment. Sure, the Amazon Echo makes our life better by keeping track of lists and playing music and more, but it can also do truly stupid and pointless things.

Alexa, ask for a fart!

For example, our Echo seems to enjoy a healthy diet of beans. The boy loves to stand in front of ourEcho and say “Alexa, ask for a fart.” So much so that I am sometimes tempted to just have him watch television for 10 hours straight instead.

If you do this enough, you’ll be saying “Alexa, light a match!”

But seriously…

If you’ve ever wondered what the Echo (or Amazon Dot or Amazon Tap) sounds like breaking wind, here are a few examples. I’ve edited out the boy saying “Alexa, ask for a fart.” as I figured I’d spare you the tedium of listening to a 6.5 year old kid talking to an object.

Amazon Echo Skills

If you’re interested in learning how to activate skills on your Echo, take a look here or here.

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Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot & Amazon Tap Decoded

Posted by on Mar 21, 2016 in Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap, Cost, Guide | 0 comments

Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot & Amazon Tap Decoded

Confused about the Amazon Tap, Amazon Dot & Amazon Echo

The addition of the Amazon Tap & Amazon Echo Dot (or Amazon Dot) to join the Amazon Echo can be confusing to those of us who are confused by things like that. I’m going to try to make it all make sense, though you can take a gander at these articles: What’s an Amazon Dot?, What’s an Amazon Echo? or What’s an Amazon Tap? for more details.

The Basics

The Echo, the Tap and the Echo Dot are voice assistants from Amazon, running “Alexa” (Siri done by Amazon is the best way to describe it… I think.) You ask a question “Alexa, how far is the sun from the earth?” and the device answers “The sun is 93 Million miles away from earth.”

In addition to doing about a bazillion other things…

Price

First things first. What are the prices?
The Echo runs $180, the Tap runs $130 and the Dot costs $90.

Main Differences

The Amazon Echo was the first device released last year (2015) in time for Christmas, which is when I received mine from my most excellent mother-in-law. It’s mean to stay in one place and has a very nice stereo speaker system inside.

Though it does have a speaker mainly for Alexa to answer, the Amazon Dot is meant to be hooked up to your existing audio system via either bluetooth or hardwired. It’s less expensive so some people (me) are buying multiple Dots to put in different rooms of the house. Though, you must be an Amazon Prime member and as of this writing, the Amazon Dot can only be ordered through the Amazon Echo.

The Amazon Tap is portable, relying on its 9 hour battery life and there is no voice activation. You tap the button and then ask questions, make commands, demands, pleas, etc.

Who is this “Alexa” person thing?

Like Apple’s “Siri”, Alexa is a voice assistant with a soothing female voice.

Alexa can do the following, in addition to a slew of other things:

  • Orders pizza through Dominos.
  • Calls an Uber to pick you up.
  • Streams music from your phone or other mobile device.
  • Connects to hubs that control thermostats, lighting, device control, etc.
  • Plays Amazon Prime music, Pandora, iHeartRadio and the recently added Spotify (yay!)
  • Returns sports scores.
  • Weather reports
  • Traffic Information
  • Create todo lists
  • Create shopping lists
  • Order (previously ordered) items from Amazon
  • Reads Audible books
  • Reads (some) from your kindle library
  • Returns search results from Wikipedia
  • Answers questions
  • Does math!
  • Votes for you
  • I’m kidding about the voting thing… just checking to see if you’re still reading

There aren’t any “access fees” or upsells. Once you shell out the cash or get someone to buy you one of the devices (or all of them), it’s yours to use as much or as little as you like.

The Amazon Dot

The Dot

  • Useful if you want to expand your Alexa Empire into other rooms of your abode.
  • Good if you have speakers in the room to connect to.
  • Looks like a hockey puck.

The Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo

  • Great 360 Degree audio
  • Bluetooth and/or wifi connections
  • Stationary – meant to be a fixture in the room.

tap-article2

The Amazon Tap

  • Portable.
  • Fun colors
  • Long battery life
  • Good for vacations
  • Smaller but still powerful and great sounding speakers
  • Lighter and smaller than the Amazon Echo
  • Larger than the Amazon Dot
  • Great for picnics/barbecues/insurrections
  • No voice activation – must tap to issue commands
  • Charging cradle included

Howsabout That?

Here’s hoping that you understand a bit more about the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot & Amazon Tap.

Feel free to add your own observations or correct mine in the comments. Remember: I’m a human being, okay? It’s the internet, but we can still be nice to each other, right?

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Make your Echo pass gas

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 in Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Skills, Amazon Tap, Ask for a fart, Fun Stuff, Stupid Alexa Tricks, Stupid Echo Tricks | 0 comments

Make your Echo pass gas

Make your Amazon Echo fart

“Alexa, ask for a fart!” is my son’s favorite thing to say to the Amazon Echo.

Of course, it involves having the skill switched on and, come on… why wouldn’t you want to have the farting skill turned on. Channel your inner 13 year old boy. (Or, in my case, your inner 6 year old boy.)

If you’ve forgotten how to turn on skills for your Amazon Echo, here’s the instructions from Amazon:

To turn on a skill:

  1. Open the Alexa app.
  2. Open the left navigation panel, and then select Skills.
  3. Scroll through the list of available skills. When you want to go to a different page, select Next orPrevious at the bottom of the list.
    Tip: You can use the Search bar to find a specific skill, or select Refine to sort or filter skills.
  4. When you see a skill you want to use, select Enable.

After you turn on a skill, you can ask Alexa to open and use it. For example, say, “Alexa, open [skill name].” There may be different or additional instructions for using the skill. You can refer to the skill’s detail page in the app to learn more, or say, “Alexa, [skill name] help.” When you no longer want to use a skill, select Disable.

Have fun. There seems to be at least 10 different kinds. Which should, according to my calculations, give you at least 4 hours of non-stop fun.

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What’s an Amazon Tap?

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 in Amazon Tap, Featured | 0 comments

What’s an Amazon Tap?

What is an Amazon Tap?

After Amazon hit the great idea jackpot with the
Amazon Echo, they realized that it was too good of a thing to keep at home, so the
Amazon Tap was born.

The Amazon Tap is much more than a bluetooth speaker – The Tap (i’m hip like that, yo) is lighter,
battery powered version of the Amazon Echo, with a few exceptions, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Thanks to the 9 hour battery life, you can take the Amazon Tap with you and use its Alexa operating system to:

  • Get music from Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn
  • Read news, get weather, and even order a pizza
  • Stream music from your phone or tablet via Bluetooth

Other Features
The Amazon Tap dual stereo Dolby (Dobly anyone?) speakers provide 360º omni-directional audio with up to 9 hours of audio playback. Like the Amazon Echo & Amazon Dot, the Amazon Tap is continually updated it “gets smarter” as new features and skills are added. The charging cradle is included, as well.

Thanks for that, Amazon!

Cool People Love It
If we’re to believe Amazon, hipsters love the Amazon Tap. The Amazon page has the pierced & tattooed generation enjoying the Amazon Tap on the beach, while riding bikes, having rooftop drinking parties or just hanging around in a hammock.


I’m Not Hip
Believe it or not, I’m not a hipster (though I’ve played one in a movie) but I think the Tap is pretty cool. The speaker provides that big sound from a tiny place that is always amazing to old folks like me. “How do these kids make that magic happen, Irene?”

You can pick out carrying cases of colors ranging from uninteresting black (my choice, thankyouverymuch) to “Look At Me Purple” (an actual color, I’m told.) Of course, some enterprising people have created custom cases for the Amazon Tap because you need that sort of thing.

You Know You Want One
Go for it.
The Amazon Tap is a mere $129.99 and stacks up against other bluetooth speakers quite well. The battery life alone is impressive.

Probably Not

To be honest, the Amazon Tap never made sense to me. Why lug that around when you have a phone with all the world’s music and any other information, right? They seem to not be promoting the Amazon Tap so much anymore… they’re mostly available used from “third party sellers.” Okay.

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What’s an Amazon Dot

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 in Amazon Dot, Featured | 0 comments

What’s an Amazon Dot

What is an Amazon Echo Dot?

“Can I plug my Amazon Echo into my beyotchin’ stereo system?”
“No.”
“Why do you hate me, Amazon?”

So that conversation happened a million times (I’m prone to hyperbole) and BA-BOOM: The Amazon Dot was born unto mankind. Or something.

The Amazon Dot is an Amazon Echo without the speaker. You plug the Dot directly into another speaker or connect to the speakers via Bluetooth to play music and such. Unlike the Amazon Tap, the Amazon Dot has to be plugged into a power outlet.

Removal of the Benjamin
Getting rid of the speaker saves you about $100. The Amazon Dot retails for $49.99 (previously $89.99) where the Amazon Echo runs at $179.99.

The idea is to make the Amazon Dot affordable enough so one could purchase several and have them placed strategically throughout the home, office or tent city. (Assuming the tent city has power and good wi-fi.)

It’s an important point that the designers decided that the Echos & Dots do *not* communicate with each other. Doing that would create a rabbit hole that we don’t need. Having them as autonomous units makes sense – set a dot up in each room to control lights, get weather info, play music, etc. Having a “base station” is unnecessary. Good thinking, Amazon. I bet those meetings were, um, lively.


Amazon Echo Owners Only, please
As of this writing – March, 2016 – only Amazon Prime members who own a Fire TV or Amazon Echo can purchase an Amazon Dot. At some point, Amazon will offer up the Dot to the great unwashed, but who knows when that is going to happen. (An executive at Amazon, that’s who. Duh.)

My Amazon Dot won’t arrive until JUNE, but I’m fine. No, really. I’ll wait, Amazon. I’ll wait. I understand. You need time. I get it. I’m fine. Really.

Call me?

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What’s an Amazon Echo?

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Amazon Echo, Featured | 0 comments

What’s an Amazon Echo?

What is an Amazon Echo?

That’s a fantastic question. The quick answer is that the Amazon Echo is the device that Tim Cook wishes Apple came up with.

When Amazon tried to compete with Apple & Google in the smartphone market, it was a sad and terrible bloodbath. The Amazon Fire Phone didn’t light anyone’s fire (I’m a great writer!) even though some say it’s a superior product. (Okay, no one said the Amazon Fire smartphone is superior to the iPhone… it just seemed like the provocative thing to write. Deal with it.)

To me the question “What is it?” is a sign that a product is something brilliant or completely insane and useless. It means that it’s designed to fill a need that you may not have ever realized you needed.

Remember: It wasn’t too long ago that people would ask “Why in the sam hill would I want a computer in my home?”

So…
What is an Amazon Echo?
Cut to: The Amazon Echo. A virtual assistant that uses something named “Alexa” to answer questions, control the lights in your home, take orders, create schedules, call you an Uber (YOU’RE AN UBER! HAHAHA!) and other fun and cool things like make fart noises.

Amazon has a winner. My family loves it. So much so, that I’ve started this blog/site about the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot & Amazon Tap to hip other people to it and (full disclosure) maybe make a buck or two in the process.

The Amazon Echo sold out at first but they are now well-stocked and even adding variations, the Amazon Dot & the Amazon Tap. You can learn more about the Amazon Dot here and the Amazon Tap here.

What does an Amazon Echo cost?
The Amazon Echo is $180, the Amazon Dot runs about a Benjamin less at $89.99, but it’s only available for Amazon Prime members and can only be ordered through an Amazon Echo!

Robot killer? Yes!

I’m sure this method of ordering the Amazon Dot will change, but it’s sorta cool now. The Amazon Tap, basically a very cool Bluetooth speaker, is $129 and will ship beginning March 31. The Amazon Dot’s availability is sporadic. They said mine will arrive this JUNE!!!

How does it work?
One interacts with the Amazon Echo by speaking to it. But instead of saying “Hey, Siri, open Waze… I said OPEN WAZE! COME ON SIRI!!! HELLO?!” or something, you preface your commands, nay, DEMANDS, with “Alexa…”

Example: “Alexa, play Rockingham by Nerf Herder.”

As of this writing, (March, 2016) in addition to Prime Music, the Amazon Echo (and Echo only) connects to music services:

  • Spotify Premium
  • Pandora
  • TuneIn
  • iHeartRadio
  • Audible

Audible? Did you say Audible?
Why yes… yes I did. Your Amazon Echo will read your digital books from Audible.com to you. Sure, it’s a little HAL-9000, but who doesn’t like being read to?

In addition to Audible, the Amazon Echo will read books to you from your Kindle library.

Not only that, but Amazon has decided to let programmers and other noodling types, create “Skills” which enhance the functionality of the Amazon Echo with voice-driven capabilities. Like what? Well, you can play math games, learn about concerts in your area or even get your device to cut the cheese.

Home Automation
I’ve saved the thing I know least about, Home Automation, for last. I’m cool like that.

With the The Amazon Echo, you can link & control devices exactly like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch, Belkin WeMo Outlet & Philips Hue Light Bulbs. “Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Alexa, dim the bedroom.” “Alexa, clean my room. Right now!”

Okay, the Amazon Echo can’t clean your room. Yet. Give it some time and I’m betting you it will at least control an iRobot Roomba or some other Robotic Vacuum.

Right?

Right.

Keep checking back in the Articles section to see new and cool things the Amazon Echo can do for you.



A video from Amazon

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