Amazon Echo
Can Do
Marvelous Things
Today's world is full of gadgets. Everything from a wireless mouse to self driving cars. While gadgets are desired to make our life easier or more pleasurable, they also demand something from us. The wireless mouse only works if we install it correctly and keep it charged or replace the batteries when used up and the self driving car can be a death trap if misunderstood or misused.

One of my favorite gadgets is the Amazon Echo. As with most new gadgets, they get better over time as the manufacturer makes improvements. This has certainly happened with the Echo as it now can be purchased for less than half the original cost and works even better than the original units. You may have one already or are considering one but the question is what can I do with this device. If you don't have wireless broadband Internet, this device is useless but if you do, the sky is the limit. Read on.

If you have one and all you are using it for is entertainment like playing music or asking it stupid questions, let me share some of the possibilities that I have explored. I have two Echos and seven Echo Dots. The Dot is limited when it comes to playing music because of its small speaker but it incorporates two ways to overcome this. It has both blue-tooth and auxiliary outputs to send the audio to high quality blue-tooth speakers or your expensive stereo system giving this $40 device the ability to far surpass the Echo's audio quality. Other than the audio limitation, the Dot can do everything the Echo can do for half the price.

It does, hoever, require a good deal of setup. You have to download and install the Alexa application on a cell phone or computer, create an account and activate the device by connecting it to your wireless Internet. If you have Prime, music is available from there or other streaming sites that work with Alexa. Setup can be daunting enough for the non-technical person that they give up and the Echo ends up in a closet like so many of the early PCs did. Fortunately the setup is a one time endeavor and there are lots of helps out there on the Internet for the persistent person. If you have at least one device setup, GOOD - FOR - YOU. Now the fun begins.

If you have gotten this far, you have encountered the term "Smart Home" or maybe already have some smart home devices. This is where the Amazon Echo devices really become useful. With the right hardware you can control almost anything in your home and even use monitoring devices to alert you of potential problems. I would stay away from door locks because of the security risk but lighting, fans, thermostats and entertainment systems are a good match. One thing I have stressed when it comes to computers is that they excel in remembering and repetition. When I see someone turn on their computer every morning and go through the same steps over and over I know they really don't appreciate the computer's ability. Don't work for the tool, make the tool work for you. This is at the heart of the "Smart Home". It can be programmed to do for you, the repetitive things you normally do and with Alexa it can be done simply by speech control.

You get home late and it is dark. You went shopping and have your hands full. The yard light comes on so you can see to get into the front door but it is dark inside. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just say, "Alexa, Turn on all lights" and the entrance hall, living room and kitchen lights would all come on? Easily done with Smart Home light controllers and Amazon Echo. There are even controllers that use IR, an invisible light like remote controls that allow us to voice control our TVs, Stereos, Fans or any IR controlled device On or Off. I even use one of my Dots in the bathroom to control the shower, an IR fan, get the news or weather or even play me a song through my blue-tooth speakers while I'm in there.

My shower has no handles. The water is premixed for the correct temperature. I walk in the bathroom and say, "Computer, Turn on shower". The shower comes on and is at the perfect temperature within 5 seconds and the exhaust fan also is activated to control the humidity. The same command is spoken except with Off instead of On and the shower cuts off but the exhaust fan continues to run for a preset amount of time and then shuts off. Knowing that things could false trigger I built an override into the shower so that if it happened to be triggered accidentally it would automatically cut off after 10 minutes. If this should happen it can't be restarted without going through a reset. When in the living room I say, "Computer, Turn On Movies" and the living room TV comes on, it is changed to Amazon Prime and the stereo receiver is turned on and set to Aux 1 for the TV sound. All I have to do is pick what I want to watch. I only need the TV remote and I don't need to remember all those settings to get the sound routed correctly and neither does anyone else in the household. Everyone appreciates that. I can even adjust or mute the volume with speech. While something like this is convenient for anyone, it can be very helpful for a handicapped person.

Bottom line. I fix things that don't work and make things that work, work better. If you are interested in having a "Smart Home" that implements any of the things I have discussed please contact me. For a reasonable fee I can perform some or all of the setup and lead you in the right direction. Answering an email question is free.