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”

Moving my blog to AWS Lightsail

In a span of a few hours, I successfully migrated my Wordpress blog from an EC2 instance to Amazon Lightsail.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-8-34-34-am-930x5811Of all the new releases announced at AWS re:Invent, I was most excited about Amazon Lightsail. I love AWS, but sometimes it’s too complicated. If someone wants to run a blog, then they shouldn’t have to learn about VPCs, subnets, etc…. they should, in a few clicks, be up and running.

So, I spent a few hour this weekend migrating this blog from the t2.small EC2 instance I’ve been running (with RDS and Memcache) to a new, smaller Lightsail instance.

The migration was straight forward (instructions here: https://docs.bitnami.com/aws/how-to/migrate-wordpress)- the biggest challenge was re-installing my WordPress plugins (they did not migrate over).

Will this be better than running my own VPC and EC2 instance? I’m not sure. I still have my old instances available if I need to switch back. I’m hoping that it does; I was spending about $20 a month running my t2.small (I know, I know.. I should have been running on an RI to reduce cost). The small instance of Lightsail is on $5/month.

Going from Skinny Fat to Fit: No go to Yoga

Swallowing my pride and starting Yoga was one of the best fitness decisions I’ve ever made.

Five years ago, I would have laughed out loud if someone asked me to attend a yoga class. I could not imagine any sane man willingly subjecting himself to something as BORING and MUNDANE as yoga. Fast forward to today: practicing yoga is one of the highlights of my fitness routine. I love my weekly class; I always leave feeling exhausted, energized, and excited for the next opportunity to practice again.

When I started my fitness journey, I was primarily focused on building strength and stamina. The progress was slow and steady. I gained strength and felt healthier – plus, moving big, heavy things was a great stress reliever. Unfortunately, my flexibility began to suffer; my upper back and neck always felt tight. So, on the recommendation of my trainer, I started going to a yoga class. Continue reading “Going from Skinny Fat to Fit: No go to Yoga”

Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: The Roadmap

I’ve got an awesome smart device in the Amazon Echo. Now I need to use it.

Me with my Amazon Echo (and trophy from Hackster)
Me with my Amazon Echo (and trophy from Hackster)

Two weeks ago, I received an Amazon Echo as part of the prize for Hackster’s Internet of Voice challenge (2nd Place1). I checked the mail every day for its arrival, thinking of all the cool things I could and would do with it.

Fast forward to today, and I’m using the Echo daily… but not at its full potential. I use it for timers, connecting my phone via Bluetooth to play music, and to play Jeopardy. That’s not a diss: with four kids, timers are a necessity. Plus, I love Jeopardy. Still, with a device this powerful, I could be doing more. So, I’m putting together a plan to better use the device as a smart home assistant. Here, at a high level, is my roadmap. Continue reading “Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: The Roadmap”

Building a Magic Mirror using Alexa, AWS, and a Raspberry Pi

Mystic_Miror_Logo_NewSome people spend their vacations traveling, or relaxing, or visiting family. I spent my two weeks off building an Alexa enabled, Raspberry Pi device for Hackster’s Internet of Voice challenge.

But, to paraphrase Madonna: “Don’t Cry for Me, Internet.” I really enjoyed those two plus weeks of coding. I learned a ton about AWS IoT and MQTT (and re-enforced some “non-sexy” skills – like security and IAM).

And the device that I decided to build…. a magic mirror. Why a magic mirror? Well, I am the guy that:

  • Never checks for delays in his work commute until he is stuck in a four-lane accident
  • Forgets his umbrella when the forecast calls for afternoon showers
  • Doesn’t find out about a major news event unless the story breaks on ESPN
  • Always forgets to pull my trash bins to the curb on garbage pick-up day

In short, my morning routine is a mess (#firstworldproblems). An Amazon Echo (or a phone, for that matter) would resolve most of those problems. Unfortunately, I never seem to have my phone with me as I’m getting ready in the morning (it’s usually charging). And I’m usually not asking Alexa for these details (I don’t have an Alexa device in my bathroom).

60% of my morning routine is centered in and around the bathroom or bedroom, so I decided to build an Alexa skill and Alexa Voice Service-enabled magic mirror – which I’ve titled the Mystic Mirror.

Continue reading “Building a Magic Mirror using Alexa, AWS, and a Raspberry Pi”