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IFTTT makes the possibilities practically endless for what you can do with an Amazon Echo running Alexa. IFTTT provides workflows that connect Alexa to many of the most popular cloud services on the Internet. For example, Alexa can make a spreadsheet of all the songs you listen to using your Prime account, Email you a shopping list, sync To-Dos to Evernote, find your phone, set reminders on your phone, extend Alexa to manage your TV using Harmony, run Wink shortcuts, print files, manage a Wemo bulb (Belkin), control otherwise unsupported thermostats, control items within apps (e.g. make all your Hue lights a given color), time things (e.g. turn on the air conditioning for an hour), lock a door using an otherwise unsupported lock (e.g. with a Smarthings), do random things (e.g. assign a random color to a Hue light), interface with Google Calendar, and so much more.

Basically, if a service can interact with IFTTT using an API, then your Alexa can be made to talk to it. But first, let’s connect your Amazon Echo to IFTTT. To get started, first go to the Alexa channel on IFTTT at Amazon Alexa Channel on IFTTT.

When the page loads, click Connect.

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You’ll then be prompted to sign into IFTTT using your Amazon account. Enter your username and password and then click “Sign in using our secure server”.

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You’ll then be prompted to trust IFTTT from Amazon. Click Okay.

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Then you’ll be able to setup recipes. Let’s say you’d like to put your shopping list on a Slack channel so you can be judged even more harshly than you already are…

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Enjoy.

May 30th, 2016

Posted In: Alexa, Home Automation

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One of those fun things that Alexa can do is set alarms for you. I usually sleep around 4 or 5 hours a night, so no amount of alarms is enough to roust me out of bed. Therefore, adding Alexa on my Amazon Echo to the extensive list of alarms I have around my house is welcome. Let’s look at some things you can tell Alexa to do for ya’, when it comes to alarms. First, let’s set an alarm for noon:

“Alexa, set an alarm for noon tomorrow.”

Alexa will then repeat back the alarm she just configured. Now, let’s setup a repeating alarm for every Tuesday morning at 6am:

“Alexa, set an alarm for every Tuesday at 6am.”

Now, let’s check a list of all the alarms running on your Amazon Echo account:

“Alexa, list my alarms.”

If an alarm for tomorrow is at 11am, we can then delete it using:

“Alexa, delete the 11am alarm for tomorrow”

To snooze an alarm, just say:

“Snooze”

You can also ask about what alarms you have for a given day. So that alarm we set for Tuesday…

“What alarms do I have for Tuesday?”

Or to ask about which ones that repeat:

“What repeating alarms do I have?”

Alexa then lists your repeating alarms.

To delete an alarm, change the sound, or set the volume, use either the Alexa app or use http://alexa.amazon.com and click on Timers & Alarms. Then click on “Manage alarm volume and default sound”.

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Let’s say we wanted to explore alarms. click on Alarm and then (as seen) click on the alarm you’d like to hear a sample.

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You can also configure timers. So if you’re cooking some salmon, you might say:

“Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes”

You can also use the web interface or app to pause, cancel, or stop timers.

 

May 29th, 2016

Posted In: Alexa, Home Automation

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The Amazon Echo is a great device for accessing content using a Prime membership. But the Echo is also useful for media that isn’t sourced from Prime. One of these is Audible, which makes sense, given that Audible is owned by Amazon. I found that my Audible account was around before it was linked to an Amazon account with Prime. In order to link the account, I needed to open the Alexa website and link my Audible account. To do so, open http://alexa.amazon.com. Then click on Music & Books in the sidebar.

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Then click on Audible and either you will see your Audible books, or you will be able to provide an Audible username and password. Once authenticated, you’ll see a list of books from your Audible account.

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Now, it’s as easy as telling Alexa to start playing the book. In this example, e’ll say “Alexa, play Startup CEO from Audible.” Viola, the book begins. Enjoy.

May 28th, 2016

Posted In: Alexa, Home Automation

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Last night, I went to setup a new Nest Protect in my home, and while I was futzing with the app (yes, futzing is the technical term) I missed the question that was asked on the device about what language to use while waiting at this screen.

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And so my Nest Protect was speaking Spanish. Which is fine with me; but notsofine for my daughter. So, I needed to change the language. And after hunting for the setting for awhile, I thought: self, you should document this.

So to change the language on a Nest protect, open the Nest app and then tap on the icon for Protect (which will appear once you’ve associated the first Nest Protect to your account. Then tap on the Settings gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen, which allows you to configure all your Nest Protects at once. Then tap on the Protect you want to change the language on and there’s a magical setting for Spoken Language there. Tap that and select the language you wish to use. Out of the box, the device only supports English and Spanish. But once setup, you can change the language to French or Dutch. So this is also the method to unlock French and Dutch language support on the device.

Once changed, you can replicate the change to other devices by cycling through them. I also noticed the setting didn’t appear on my iPhone. I had to use an Android device to access my Protect and make the change. The setting doesn’t seem to be a part of the iOS code. But YMMV.

March 29th, 2016

Posted In: Apps, Home Automation

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I recently purchased a new TV (actually won, but that’s aside from the point). I put the DirecTV receiver on there and it worked like a charm. Then I put the Apple TV on and it appeared to work like a charm. But when the screensaver kicked in, the colors inverted. Sometimes I’d see lines across the screen and other times the Apple TV would get weird and just be blurry. I knew immediately that I was sending it too much. Turns out the new TV couldn’t do less than 1080p and the old Apple TV couldn’t do anything higher than 720p. To confirm, I looked up the serial number. All Apple TVs have Wi-Fi (up to 802.11n), 10/100 Ethernet, optical audio and an Infrared receiver for the remote control. So, here’s some information on model-specific connectivity to your other equipment:

Apple_TV_2nd_Generation_back

  • Early 2012 Model: Model A1427 or A1469, with HDMI that supports 720p or 1080p
  • Late 2010 Model: Model A1378, with HDMI supporting 720P
  • Early 2007 Mode (Silver): Model A1218, with HDMI supporting 480p and 720p as well as RCA and a built-in 40 or 160GB hard drive

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April 27th, 2014

Posted In: Home Automation, iPhone, Mac OS X

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My daughter is always finding features I’d never heard of. I’m sitting there, watching the Katy Perry movie with her. She hits some random buttons on the Apple TV remote and a screen comes up and then disappears as quickly as it appeared. A screen I’ve never noticed…

Flash forward to later in the day and suddenly the subtitles for Lillyhammer are in Spanish. Now, my Spanish just isn’t as good as it used to be. So here I’m wanting to switch it to English. But, where’s the setting? I finally found it by browsing to Settings, then Audio & Video. Then browse to Closed Captioning and switch it to English, or just Off if you’re only looking to see captions when something is in another language.
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This caused me to start trying every possible key combination (with only 6 keys it didn’t really take that long) until I held down the Play button for a few seconds while inside Netflix and streaming a movie to my Apple TV. This brought up a menu allowing me to select the Closed Captioning language.

Fun stuff. Good luck!

January 26th, 2014

Posted In: Home Automation

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Part II. In Part I we setup those little WeMo units you just got. Now, we’re gonna’  connect our WeMo devices to IFTTT. Short for If This Then That, IFTTT allows you to connect lots of different services to other services so that you can trigger events between services. For example, you can connect WeMo to Facebook so when you come home from work the motion sensor posts to Facebook. I don’t recommend that, but it’s an example. A better example is to trigger a change in the weather from your thermostat. Wait, I mean, change the thermostat based on the weather… Anyway, the more things you connect to IFTTT the more ideas you’ll get of cool things that can save you a little time here and there. In this case, we’re just going to connect WeMo devices to IFTTT. To get started, open the WeMo app and tap on the More button along the bottom of the screen. At the bottom, there’s a button for Connect to IFTTT. Tap it.

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At the next screen, you’ll be provided with a Temporary WeMo PIN.

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Log into your IFTTT account and then click on Channels. At the Channels interface, click on the WeMo Insight Switch icon.

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At the WeMo Motion Channel screen, click on Activate.

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At the Activate WeMo Switch screen, provide the PIN provided earlier and then click on the Activate button.

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If you ever change your mind, just use the Deactivate button to turn off your WeMo channel.

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Once done, you can configure a Recipe linking your WeMo Switch to trigger other events. To do so, click on Recipes in the top nav bar and then at the Recipes screen, click on Create a Recipe. In this example, the Recipe uses a Tweet that contains a hashtag of #off to

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Once done, trigger the event and see if it does what you’re after. If so, you’re all done!

December 9th, 2013

Posted In: Home Automation

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OK, if you’ve been following this site for awhile you probably know that I’m a huge z-wave nerd. But I’m open minded and I like to experiment with new systems. So I bought some Belkin WeMo stuff. I am mostly pretty happy with it. To start, it came in a cute little box. You can just get the light switch, but I splurged the extra $5 and got the little motion sensor, which is well worth $5. I got mine at Best Buy who has a couple of WeMo products in stock at the stores around my house.

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First up, install the WeMo app on your iOS device from the app store.

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By now, you might have noticed that your two WeMo devices have each setup their own wireless network (similar to the setup of a FitBit Aria). Once you install the WeMo app, open it to be prompted to select a wireless network. Tap on one of the two listed WeMo networks.

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The iOS app pairs to the selected WeMo device and then prompts for the SSID of your main network that you want the app to configure the device to connect to.

IMG_7384Assuming the wireless network requires a WEP or WPA key, you’ll then be prompted for what the app will send to the WeMo device as the key. Enter it and tap Join.

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You’re then prompted for whether you want to receive Push Notifications. I like to do so, so I just tap OK here.

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The next screen informs you that the app is gonna’ do all the networking in the background so there’s no ports or other weirdness to open to be able to control your awesome Christmas tree remotely. Tap OK.

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At the Setup Successful screen, you’ll see the information for the device you just entered. Give it a name, make sure the icon is correct and provide an email address, then tap Done.

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Now the annoying part. You need to say yes to this Firmware dialog. The firmware file only takes a couple of minutes to transfer from your iOS device to the WeMo device. Just tap yes…

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And then tap Update Now.

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Now, you get to do the next device. Yay. Tap add and then select the other wifi network created.

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Then complete the wizard again, updating firmware when prompted.

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Next, tap on Rules and configure a New Time Rule. I’ll do an article on this soon. First, I want to do one of IFTTT integration so that this flows. I guess that makes this a series. Swanky.

December 8th, 2013

Posted In: Home Automation

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Wait, did I say control, I meant query… Sorry to disappoint!

I am a home automation nerd. Recently I’ve noticed that as it gets closer to warmer or cooler extremes that it takes longer for my hvac system to bring my house to the temperature I want. I’ve also noticed that NEST claims to automatically learn these factors. Not to be outdone by the Griswolds, I decided to look at building this into my system.

I had been experimenting with using the weather.com site to pull this data but then someone pointed out that NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) actually publishes this information on their site. I was able to access a simple-to-parse dump of information for the Minneapolis airport, which is pretty close to my house. The URLs are based on ICAO codes. You can find the code for your airport on the ICAO code wikipedia page. The URL to look at for information is http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/.TXT or http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KMSP.TXT for Minneapolis (or http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KANE.TXT for Blaine which is actually closer to me). You can actually just curl this straight with nothing special to view the text file:

curl http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KMSP.TXT

The output is basically as follows:

MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL INTERNATIONAL , MN, United States (KMSP) 44-52N 93-13W 265M
Oct 01, 2013 - 10:53 AM EDT / 2013.10.01 1453 UTC
Wind: from the WNW (290 degrees) at 13 MPH (11 KT) gusting to 24 MPH (21 KT):0
Visibility: 10 mile(s):0
Sky conditions: mostly clear
Temperature: 68.0 F (20.0 C)
Dew Point: 48.9 F (9.4 C)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Pressure (altimeter): 29.82 in. Hg (1009 hPa)
Pressure tendency: 0.14 inches (4.6 hPa) higher than three hours ago
ob: KMSP 011453Z 29011G21KT 10SM FEW150 20/09 A2982 RMK AO2 SLP094 T02000094 51046
cycle: 15

I subtracted or added the difference in temperature to my desired temperature and am experimenting with how much more quickly I need to fire things up based on that (for my hvac system seems to be about a minute per 10 degrees of delta), but there are definitely plenty of ways to go about such number nerdery. Either way, I can now control the temperature based on the weather using curl, which is basically controlling the weather in my house, so not as untrue a title as with most front-page newspaper articles…

Finally, there’s also a REST API, available from NOAA at http://graphical.weather.gov/xml/rest.php.

October 2nd, 2013

Posted In: Home Automation, Mac OS X, Minneapolis, sites

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There is no Lights Out Management for a Mac mini Server (btw, am I the only one that noticed that these are now called Mac mini with Lion Server, where mini isn’t capitalized). While the Mac mini Server doesn’t have the Lights Out Management (LOM)/IPMI chips in it, there are a few things that we can control anyway. Convention would say that we’d get a NetBotz card for that spiffy APC we’ve got, which can do minor automation and even a little environmental monitoring. And there are a few other systems out there that can do similar tasks.

But I’m a home automation nerd these days. So I decided to look into whether my Vera can manage my mini Server botnet and what I might be getting or sacrificing. First, let’s define what we did with LOM. The first and most important is, when the system crashed, we rebooted the server. The second aspect was to maybe wake the thing up, with the 3rd to monitor the components of the system. Let’s look at the first, most important thing, rebooting.

I’m going to start with a Vera. The setup process for Vera is similar to that of a LinkSys, where you give the device an IP and then go a step further by signing up for the MiOS portal, used to remotely control the Vera through a secure tunnel. Then I’m going to add an appliance module to the system. Notably, I want a ground, so I’m going to add the Wayne-Dalton HA-04WD HomeSettings Outdoor Appliance Module. The device can be added to Vera pretty easily. To do so, open Vera and click on DEVICES and then on Add Devices in the subnav bar. From here, click on Add in the first row.

Then scroll down a little and click on Option 1.

The system will then scan for a device. At this point, you’ll see a screen telling you to manage the device. At this point, I just press the button on the device to pair it to the Z-wave network.

Once the device is seen by the Vera, we can go ahead and click on the Next button (by default they’re seen as light switches).

At the next screen, you’ll see a screen with a field you can type in. Here, provide a name for the device and give it a room that the device is in (if you’re using rooms). Click on Close and then Save (big red button after you click Close).

Click on the Continue button to commit the save and you should see your new device listed in All Devices.

At this point, click on the On and Off switches to turn systems on and off. From System Preferences, go to Energy Saver and then check the box for Restart automatically

We’ve now achieved the first goal, having a way to physically turn on and off a Mac mini with Lion Server. Better than LOM, we can do so using a web interface or an iOS app. While the lack of so many moving parts has reduced the need for environmental monitoring, we want to monitor the environment outside the box, the environment inside the box and whether the box has developed any human emotions. To monitor the environment outside the box, I’m using one of the many Z-wave thermostats available. I plan on replacing it with a Temperature and Humidity Sensor, so I can put a sensor right by the machine instead of just monitoring the temperature of the room. I also like the idea of seeing moisture levels, but that’s aside from the point.

Monitoring the inside of the system is really easy, since Apple has built snmp into Mac OS X and a quick snmpwalk will show me most everything I need to know about a box. For that, let’s just remove the default snmpd.conf file:

rm /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf

And then run snmpconf -i to create a new snmpd.conf file. This is interactive, so use option 1 and then choose the settings that work best for whatever monitoring software you’re using. With the loss of Lithium, I am a big fan of Nagios and Dartware’s Intermapper, but there are a number of other solutions that I would look at as well. Either way, this can be a very cumbersome aspect if you let it. Once you’ve configured snmpd.conf, restart it (assuming it’s running):

launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist
launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist

Next, to wake up the server, we can use Wake on LAN (note that wake for network access is in the Energy Saver System Preference pane). We can also monitor the server’s IP address (ping/ICMP) and even activate a camera in the event that a motion sensor is tripped. I’ll look at these in a future automation article, where we’ll reboot the server automatically in the event that it goes offline and maybe even control an IR blaster to turn on the TV when status bars are running on the server (we might also hook up a coffee pot so we can stay awake while waiting for Lion to download during some upgrades). But for now, suffice it to say that at this point, we have some of what we had with LOM on an Xserve. It’s not everything and it’s not really pretty. But it works and would cost about the same as a module for that APC you’ve got sitting around, while also laying the groundwork for much more home and small office/small data center automation – and at about $25 per additional device, it’s priced pretty well all things considered.

Finally, if that snmp-based monitoring system happens to need to restart the devices, there’s also an API for Vera, documented at http://wiki.micasaverde.com/index.php/Luup_Requests. Being able to script an snmp-generated event that kicks off some kind of triggered response with a grid of devices is pretty cool, and while I hope to cover it eventually, I’m not sure exactly when I’ll end up with time, so might be awhile…

May 8th, 2012

Posted In: Home Automation, Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server, Mac Security, Mass Deployment, Xsan

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