How to build your own Alexa voice activated IoT smart lamp for less than $35

Spending $200 on a smart lamp is not very smart when you can build one yourself with a simple and cost effective DIY project

A major manufacturer recently announced a smart lamp that will setup you back about $200. While GE’s lamp is cool, neither my budget (nor my wife) supports a purchase of that size — so I set out to design and build a “smarter lamp” for the more budget conscious consumers.

In order to compete with GE, the design of my smart lamp needed to include voice activation by Alexa. Since my wife wanted the ability to control the lamp using a standard switch, the design also needed to be practical and functional.
To meet my needs, the smart lamp had account for state — regardless of whether a voice or a physical switch was used for power.

Read more on Medium

Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: Smart Lights

Smart lighting technologies – like the Lutron Caseta – make it easy to use Alexa for smart home functionality.

Over the last 3 months, I’ve received four new Amazon Alexa devices – one Echo Dot (from re:Invent) 1 and an Echo, a Dot, and a Tap from Amazon and Hackster for my winning entry in their API contest. That, plus the Echo I already owned, my wife’s fire tablet, my two Amazon Fire TVs, and my custom Mystic Mirror give me a total of 9 Alexa-enable devices in my home!!!

Three of my Amazon Alexa devices courtesy of Hackster and Amazon (with some of my favorite books)

With all those devices, it was natural for me to accelerate my adoption of the Alexa in the house, with a focus on smart lights.

I spent a few weeks researching options. In short: there are a lot of products out there. I knew that I wanted to control 3 “bays” of lights:

  1. Family room recessed lights (6) – BR40
  2. Kitchen recessed lights (4) – BR40
  3. Outside porch/front door lights (2) – standard A19

Given the number of lights, I felt that the most cost-effective solution was to go with smart switches. [Note: the added benefit of smart switches was that I wanted to control the lights by voice and wall switch, which a smart bulb would not let me do].

From there, I narrowed my choices to Z-wave switches (partnered with a Samsung SmartHub or Wink) or Lutron Caseta system. I liked the flexibility of Wink or SmartHub (it can support multiple technologies), but I ultimately went with the Caseta. I read multiple reviews about how great the Caseta system worked… and with a smart home skeptic in the house, I wanted to make sure that I implemented something that would be responsive and easy to use.

The Lutron Caseta dimmer (controlling the kitchen lights and the pico dimmer (for two-way control of the family room lights)

I’ve only had the system in two days, but so far, I’m beyond elated about my choice. Other systems might be slightly less expensive…. but this just WORKS. Plus, there are some added benefits:

  • I’ve added dimming functionality (which is a big deal at 2AM in the morning).
  • I’ve scheduled my porch lights to turn on at sunset and off at 11pm – so, even less work for me there.
  • I’m starting to win my wife over (in regards to using voice commands to control our home).

Fitness Gear Review: Rhone’s Silvertech No-Show Socks

Rhone’s no-show no-slip socks are worth every penny.

Rowing machine. Check

Deadlifts. Check

Sprints. Check

Burpees. Check

Pushing a sled. Double check

Simply put: these socks work. THEY. DO. NOT. SLIP.

I knew these were awesome within the first five minutes of working out in them. One of my usual warm-ups is a 3-4 minutes on the rowing machine. Without fail, my old no-show socks always slip off my heel. It’s an annoyance… which becomes a major hindrance when I’m putting in work on the weighted sleigh.

I went through my entire workout before realizing that I never had to stop to readjust my socks. They never slipped. Rhone has placed a small rubber (or maybe its silicone) band right above the heel that stops the socks from slipping.

On top of that, the socks are comfortable. They have some cushion (which helps on runs), but not so much bounce that my lifts are impacted. The socks also have silver woven into the threads – which supposedly help with smells.

In short, $14 may seem like a lot, but it’s totally worth it. I have four pairs, and plan to add more when their next sale comes around (where sometimes you can get 10-20% off, or a free sock with another purchase).

Building an Automated Cat Feeder with Amazon Alexa

In my second IoT project, I tackle feeding my cats by voice commands.

cat-feeder_title-pageMy family owns three cats; for the most part, they are well behaved – unless they are hungry. When it’s time for them to eat, they get a little crazy – constantly meowing and running under/between our legs, or waking us up at night.

We used to keep extra food in their dishes, but they would just overeat – resulting in cat throw-up (which, without fail, I seemed to step in every morning on my way to the kitchen).

We’ve been living in this “claw-ful” situation for a few years, and never really considered resolving the problem. My oldest daughter suggested that we (and by we, she really meant me) build an automated cat feeder. I told her that I didn’t have the time to build one… but then, I figured, why not give it a try.

Full instructions are on the write up at Hackster – https://www.hackster.io/darian-johnson/alexa-powered-automated-cat-feeder-9416d4

Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: Using TuneIn Radio

Telling Alexa to “Play The Big DM on TuneIn” has been the highlight of my Alexa experience to date

before1Before I talk about technology, a quick segue: I grew up in the age of radio and cassettes. The hiss of a cassette tape is a callback to simpler times – when most albums were constricted as complete pieces (and not as a string of singles); when the order of an album was important (no easy skipping)… when building a mixtape was more art than science.

I feel the same way about radio. There’s nothing like the excitement of not knowing what great song is coming next, or the magic of slowing flowing from one song to another. Before there was music video1, there was radio – where I discovered Incognito, and Angela Bofill, and Teena Marie…. Continue reading “Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: Using TuneIn Radio”