Archive for November, 2015

New! Fire TV/Stick both control home automation…starting at $24.99

November 29, 2015

New! Fire TV/Stick both control home automation…starting at $24.99

This is big!

A recent e-mail from Amazon headlined the new TV Shows app, which lets you ask Alexa when the next episode of a TV show will be on TV, and sure, that’s a good thing. I mentioned it recently on the

page.

Down towards the end, though, was a bigger announcement as far as I’m concerned.

The

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)) and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))…and it’s worth noting that you don’t need the voice remote, you can use the free Alexa app on your iOS (Apple) device (iPhone, for example) or Android device.

now can control your home automation through your voice!

I use that a lot on our

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

It’s not only how we turn some of our lights on and off, it’s also how we switch what we are watching on TV.

Now, we can do that on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick as well!

The Fire TV Stick is on a Black Friday sale right now for $24.99 without the voice remote…$15 off.

That means you can “Star Trek” your house  (at least in a minor way) for under $25!

There is a lot more coming in the future from the Alexa Voice Service!

Update: further testing shows that the Fire TV family can now do the Alexa Skills (I didn’t find one that didn’t work), read me what’s on my calendar, and add things to my Shopping List! It may be fully functional now, compared to the Echo.

One more big thing:

“Starting today, listen to Prime Music on your Echo (or any device) to be automatically entered for a chance to win $25,000 in Amazon.com Gift Cards! Each day you listen, from November 28 to December 5, gives you an additional entry.”

Good luck! If you win, let me know. 🙂

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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How to use the Amazon Echo and a Logitech Harmony to put on your TV shows

November 25, 2015

How to use the Amazon Echo and a Logitech Harmony to put on your TV shows

Many people would like the

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

to be able to put a TV show or movie on for them with a verbal request.

Well, I’m able to do part of that…but it is a multi-step set up. Not a terribly complicated set up, but there are several parts to it.

Here’s the effect I have:

I can say, “Alexa, trigger watch Fire TV”, and it will turn on the TV if necessary, and switch the input to put me on my

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile*)

Similarly, I can say, “Alexa trigger watch regular TV” or “Alexa, trigger turn off the TV”.

I could set it up to go to a specific channel on a verbal request (“Alexa, trigger watch channel  3”) and, with a lot more complication, get it to go to a particular app or even TV show on Hulu on the Fire TV. That’s ambitious,  though…I haven’t set it up myself yet, but other people have and I’ll link to how.

Here’s how it works.

  1. I make a verbal request to the Echo
  2. The Echo sends the request to IFTTT (If This Then That)
  3. IFTTT sends an instruction to our Logitech Harmony Home Control – 8 Devices (White) (at AmazonSmile*)
  4. The Harmony sends instructions to our devices…the TV, the Fire TV, whatever is necessary

It can take a few seconds to execute it…fewer than ten, I’d  say. It would probably take me that long to get the necessary remotes and do it myself.

However, it does take set up for the Harmony and IFTTT.

The first thing is to set up the Harmony.

At the time of writing, the

Logitech Harmony Home Control – 8 Devices (White) (at AmazonSmile*)

is $107.53 at the time of writing in the USA.

It has two pieces.

One is a hub…the brains of the operation.

The second is a universal remote.

Even without involving the verbal commands through the Echo, this was good for us. The one remote literally replaced four other remotes for us.

You are going to set it up with a SmartPhone app (so, obviously, you’ll need a SmartPhone).

You need the app from Logitech:

Harmony app at Google Play for Android devices
Harmony app at iTunes for iPhones and iPads

Now, note that although the (now discontinued) Fire Phone (which is the SmartPhone I use) is an Amazon device, and we are going to use another Amazon device (the Echo) in this sequence, the Amazon Appstore doesn’t have the Harmony app. I got it at

http://www.1mobile.com/harmony-815488.html

Amazon allows us to install apps from outside sources…naturally, we take responsibility for the app when we do that, since Amazon hasn’t vetted it. I’m careful about which ones I choose, but I felt okay with this one and it has been working for me.

After you have the Harmony app connected to your network, you are going to set up your devices. Then (and I didn’t understand this at first), you also set up activities to work with your devices.

There was a bit of a learning curve to this.

One of the most important things was for me to tell it that some devices, like the Fire TV, should never be powered off. Otherwise, it wanted to turn off the Tivo, for example, when I was done watching it…meaning it couldn’t record programs.

When you add a device, you’ll get to choose from a number of options, including an Entertainment Device (which is what we are using in this process).

You put in the manufacturer name and the model number.

These are the basic steps for creating an activity:

  1. New activity from the activities screen
  2. Enter a name and. choose an icon
  3. Select the device(s) involved. That’s why you need to set up the devices first. For example, you might be picking your Fire TV and your TV set
  4. You have it turn on the proper devices, and set the right input (for example, our Fire TV is on HDMI 3 for us)
  5. If you want to do more than that, you are going to edit the activity. Tap the Edit activities on the activities screen, then click the menu on that activity (three lines)
  6. You can choose to add steps, you are going to EDIT ENTERTAINMENT DEVICES
  7. That’s where you can add a step
  8. You will then select a device, followed by selecting COMMAND
  9. The command might be a command on the remote (like DirectionDown or Exit) or it might be a channel, depending on your device. My TV has a channel option, but my Fire TV doesn’t (it doesn’t have channels…it has apps)
  10. In order to get to, say, Netflix, you would use the commands to use Search to find Netflix. You can’t just use the directions to get to the Netflix app, because it moves around depending on what you’ve used recently. Here is a post where someone worked it out: https://forums.logitech.com/t5/Harmony-Hub-Based-Remotes/Hamony-Smart-Control-and-Fire-TV-Any-direct-Netflix-workaround/td-p/1381318. Hypothetically, you could do the same kind of search to locate a specific show after opening Hulu or Netflix…you’d have to arrow to search, then arrow in the right show. Clearly, this would be a lot of work

Once you have the activities set up and working on your Harmony, it gets easier. 🙂

You need to go to

IFTTT (If This Then That)

and set up a free account.

You have to register both your Echo and your Harmony.

Next, you’ll create a recipe, but this is easy.

You’ll go to My Recipes, and Create a Recipe.

Click the underlined THIS.

Your trigger channel is Amazon Alexa. You’ll be saying something to the Echo (which has Alexa on it) to make something happen.

Choose a Trigger = “Say a specific phrase”.

You don’t need to put in “Alexa,” and it needs to be all in lower case (no capital letters).

Click the underlined THAT (the “THIS” has changed to an Alexa symbol).

The channel you want is “Harmony”…you may find it easier to type that into the search box at the top, since there are so many channels!

You can then choose to start an activity, and pick from the list. Note: my “Turn off the TV” uses the choice to “end an activity” rather than to start one.

Then you are going to click to create the recipe.

Now we are ready!

When you want to use it, you’ll say to the Echo, “Alexa, trigger [whatever phrase you created].”

I do find it very convenient to be able to tell it to turn off the TV when I’m going out, or to turn on the TV and put it to a 24-hour news channel I’ve chosen when I come home.

I will say, it isn’t perfect.

First, this set up does take a lot of effort…and that might include trial and error.

Second, it seems to have a hard time waking up in the morning…that’s the Harmony hub, not the Echo (which works very well). I may have to give it a specific command a few times before it works.

Third, if someone uses a different remote or a button on the TV (for example), it gets out of sync. It’s not that hard to fix, but it’s a bit bothersome.

Like most home automation, it’s imperfect…but still cool. 🙂

One other note: I fully expect that the Echo will eventually be connected to the Fire TV in such a way as to let us just tell it to put on Netflix and it will…but I don’t know when that might be.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

 

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #4: Yelp, half a million “I love yous”

November 18, 2015

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #4: Yelp, half a million “I love yous”

The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, seeThe Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

Happy birthday, Alexa!

It’s a little hard to say exactly when the Amazon Echo’s birthday is…since it was a soft, rolling introduction by invitation.

However, Amazon did send me an e-mail today celebrating the big one…well, just one. 😉 It had some facts:

●      Alexa has responded to nearly 10 million joke requests and heard “I love you” more than 500,000 times

●      Top 3 foods that customers have asked Alexa for calorie data about:

○      doughnuts

○      hamburgers

○      pizza

●      Alexa’s most popular cooking question is “how do I boil an egg?”

●      “Uptown Funk” is Alexa’s most requested song

●      Introduced 85 new features and third-party Alexa skills since launch

I did try wishing Alexa happy birthday…she said, “It’s been a great year – people have told me that they love me over 500,000 times!”

“Alexa, trigger watch Fire TV”

For the first time ever, my Significant Other applauded something the Echo did. 😉

Amazon just gave us a great new ability! You can use the IFTTT (If This Then That)

Alexa Channel

with your own personalized voice triggers.

I think I’d better explain that. 🙂

With IFTTT, you register a variety of devices. You then specify a “trigger” (something that happens or something you do) for one device, and tell it what the other device should do.

Obviously, those actions are limited by what the device can do.

Well, one device we have (and it was a gift), which we got specifically to work with the Echo, is a

Logitech Harmony Home Control – 8 Devices (White) (at AmazonSmile*)

That controls our Element TV and our

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile*)

I had wanted to make the Echo turn on the Fire TV by using a

Samsung SmartThings Hub (at AmazonSmile*)

but that didn’t work out.

You see, my SmartPhone is a (now discontinued) Fire Phone, and it appears to be unable to actually control the Harmony.

With this change to IFTTT, I don’t need the SmartThings for that.

I easily set it up so I can say, “Alexa, trigger watch Fire TV”, and it changes the input. Similarly, I set it up to say, “Alexa, trigger watch regular TV”.

Now, I could have set, “Banana avocado wombat ” to switch to Fire TV…it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you.

Switching the inputs has been confusing for my SO: this is a lot easier. 🙂

Now, to be clear, this isn’t taking me directly to, say, Netflix (yet…there is a way to do that, but I haven’t tested it yet). It is doing the input switch and turning on the TV, though.

“Alexa, when does Costco open?”

Another recent huge step forward in practical value for Alexa on the Echo is that it now ties into Yelp for local business information.

That means that I can ask questions about places I might go in real life. I actually used that exact question “When does Costco open?” this weekend.

You can also ask it for things like, “Where is the nearest Indian restaurant?”

New skills

I maintain a list of

although, I do need to update it (new skills come out fairly often).

Here is a round up of some of the newer ones:

  • Angry Bard…this skill, from April Hamilton, is one of a number of quotation skills. Hamilton does step things up a notch from most skills published, with good error handling and more interesting prompts. In this case, you can “Ask Angry Bard for a burn”, and you get an insult from Shakespeare (with a citation of the play)
  • Animal Game from Alex Rublinesky: think of an animal, and Alexa asks you questions (like twenty questions). It’s a fun concept, but she was terrible at guessing…she didn’t get an ostrich, or even a lion. Out of five attempts, the only one she got right was an elephant, and I picked that one because she had incorrectly guessed elephant for something else
  • Ask My Buddy from Beach Dev: people want the Echo to send a text, and this skill sort of does. You don’t compose the text, though, from what I can tell. You put in contacts, and if you have an emergency, you can ask Alexa to alert them…by e-mail, text, and even phone
  • Beat the Dealer by Vurble: it’s a blackjack game, and it played reasonably well
  • Bible by YouVersion
  • Daily Word by Matchbox mobile: a word of the day…not bad
  • DC Metro: transit times…this goes along with the BART app for the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Eliza by Asimov: it’s a chatbot which is supposed to be a psychotherapy session. This was frustrating because it initially said her sister Eliza was out, and she would do it…that was confusing. However, it did appear to have some understanding of what I was saying. When I answered, “No” to something, it said I was being negative. With a little tweaking, this could be interesting
  • Knock Knock Jokes by Tsa  Tsa Tzu: this just didn’t work much of the time. It would say, “Knock, knock”. I would say, “Who’s there?” It would respond with a name: one was Hollis. I said, “Hollis who?” and it just said good-bye. That happened multiple times with different names. It did work once, though
  • Techcrunch News by AOL Inc.
  • Translator for Alexa by Philosophical Creations: this seemed to work for common words
  • Trivia Talk by Zerovoid Software: decent trivia game, with reasonably difficult questions…not so much pop culture
  • Word Master by SAKET AGARWAL: this one was fun. You take turns saying a word. Your word has to start with the last letter of the other person’s word. It wasn’t hard for me to beat it, and it didn’t know some words it should, but it would be good for kids

Remember, that’s just some of them…and we’ll likely have quite a few more by the end of the year.

Have questions about the Echo, Alexa, or want to share something you’ve found? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 


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