home theater

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, aka "Computer" in our theater room.

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, aka “Computer”, responding to my voice command in our theater room.

Among its many talents and skills, the Amazon Echo Dot device allows you to voice-control a number of smart home systems, notably, Philips Hue.

But we already have X10 home automation devices, which are not supported by the Echo. (See the X10 section of the TTM aStore.)

There is a way to get Alexa (Amazon’s virtual personal assistant, who inhabits the Echo Dot) to accept X10 voice commands to turn lights, fans, and coffee makers on and off. I’ve done it.

See the 35-second video at bottom of page; read more below.


HA-Bridge is free software that emulates the Philips Hue light system.

When HA-Bridge is installed on a computer, it tricks Alexa into thinking she is “seeing” and controlling a Philips Hue light that is actually a different brand of device, such as X10.

The computer also needs a CM15A USB Transceiver Module (or the like) to communicate with X10 devices. (I already had a CM15A plugged into a Windows 10 PC so we could use the X10 Commander app on our smartphones.)

I could have installed HA-Bridge on one of my Linux-based Raspberry Pi computers (see Corey’s Write for a procedure), but I preferred not to disturb the existing arrangement on our Win 10 computer.

Luck was with me. Just last month, Tuicemen wrote a Windows-based program, Alex10, that uses HA-Bridge (included) to talk with Alexa. It is also more user-friendly than HA-Bridge. So Alex10 was the way to go. (Tuicemen deserves a PayPal tip for his good work if you use it.)

I won’t go into further technical detail about how to do it, but here are the resources I used:

Tuicemen’s Alex10 page

Tuicemen’s Alex10 Forum

Tuicemen’s Alex10 thread on the X10 CommunityForums


Yesterday was our first sci-fi Saturday with voice-controlled lights.

When I say “Computer: turn on Movie Time”, our assorted decorative and house lights come on. (I selected the name “Movie Time” and the lights to be activated in the Alexa Android app.)

Then, when I say “Computer: turn off theater lights,” the house lights go down, and the show can begin.

When I say “Computer: make it so” in my best Jean-Luc Picard voice, Alexa (renamed “Computer” last week) is pre-programmed to respond “Aye, aye, Captain.”

See it in action in our house:

New Year's Eve in New York

New Year’s Eve in New York

(This post isn’t directly about cord-cutting or home theater per se, but about a side benefit of Plex, which itself is a very good cord-cutting/home theater move.)

New Year’s Day, I signed up at Planet Fitness in south Tulsa.

At home, we have a Diamondback 860Rb stationary recumbent bike, and a Schwinn Bowflex Comp machine. Both my wife and I have used them regularly.

The bike was originally for her, but I liked it as an rainy-day alternative to running, and have used it much more often in recent years. I can get a pretty good workout from the Bowflex, so much so that I let my All American Fitness membership lapse years ago.

But after using the Life Fitness brand machines on the ship during our cruise last month, I thought I might like to be in a gym again for all the muscle-specific machines that demand constant force throughout the range of motion with inertial resistance. It would also be an impetus to get out of the house more often.

Planet Fitness has Life Fitness machines, plus a nice setup in their huge aerobic area with 18 TV screens, set on 9 different cable channels. You plug your own headphones into the machine’s console, then select the sound for the screen you want to watch.

The 2 shows I missed while cruising.

On my smartphone.

Arnold on my smartphone.

PF also has free wifi, so while exercising, I can stream any of our Plex content (e.g., my recordings of KWGS’ “All This Jazz” radio show, or any movie, TV show or music album from our Plex library) from home to my wifi smartphone in the gym. (Also see this summer’s post Poolside fun with Plex remote access)

Of course, I can use any of the other phone apps, such as Netflix, YouTube, TuneIn Radio, etc.

Plex has another feature which would be useful if there were poor or no wifi. You can sync any movie, TV show, or album to a specific device (like my phone), then watch or listen when not connected to a network.

This has always been possible, but used to be a huge hassle, due to the need to convert to a device-friendly size and format, then load the media to a phone or tablet.

But with Plex handling the transcoding and downloading, it’s easy.

Most of the movies in our Plex library are ripped from standard DVD (480p resolution, 1.5 Mbps bandwidth). When selecting for download in Plex, I typically cut the bandwidth in half (to 720 Kbps), since it makes little difference on a small screen, and creates a smaller, faster processing and loading media file.

I just added a 64 GB microSD card to my phone, so I imagine I could get most of our video library on it if I so desired.

Right now, I have two of my favorite movies (“The Terminator” and “Dr. Strangelove”) and two “All This Jazz” shows downloaded to the phone.

The other day at the gym, I tried streaming “Diamonds Are Forever” from one of our home Plex servers. During the 30 minutes I pedaled, there were a couple of momentary freezes, but they weren’t a significant viewing problem. If I didn’t care for that, or if wifi bandwidth were a problem, I could have just downloaded the movie before heading out the door.

Which I need to do in about 15 minutes.

Happy Plexing and Flexing New Year!

OSMC 15.2

The free Open Source Media Center software installing on my $35 Raspberry Pi in the theater room.

Goodbye Raspbmc and XBMC, hello OSMC and Kodi!

I’d held off on the free software upgrade due to not wanting to lose my PleXBMC installation on Raspbmc “Gotham”, the last version of that software before it was superseded by OSMC this year. But some SD card/USB stick corruption issues suggested to me that the time was right to overcome my laziness.

The transition went smoothly yesterday. I again have access to all my DVR’d shows on a Windows Media Center computer by reinstalling the free ServerWMC add-on software. I also have a nice Plex client again on the Pi with a more recent version of the free PleXBMC add-on. (See previous post Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi.)

By now, I have other well-functioning Plex clients on Roku boxes and Chromecast, as well as on smartphone and tablet. So it wouldn’t have been a crisis not to have Plex on the Pi; I just like the slick Raspbmc/OSMC interface that brings together TV, movies, music, internet radio, photos, and even a news crawl and Yahoo local weather.

Valuable and unique free TV content available through OSMC includes ESPN3 in HD, and CBSN, CBS’ new 24/7 online HD news channel. (Later note: the latter is also available on Roku, I discovered.)


Raspbmc was an adaptation of the Xbox Media Center (XBMC) software for the little Raspberry Pi computer. It was done by Sam Nazarko, then an 18-year-old student in the UK.

From http://kodi.wiki/view/OSMC:

“OSMC (short for Open Source Media Center) is a Linux distribution based on Debian that brings Kodi to a variety of devices. It is the successor to Raspbmc and Crystalbuntu.

“OSMC is an embedded, minimal, self updating Linux distributing which ships a Kodi front-end for a variety of devices. The project was founded by Sam Nazarko in 2014 and is maintained by a group of volunteers in their spare time.”

(For my own future reference, my Raspberry Pi 1 Model B is now on OSMC 2015.09-3 running Kodi 15.2, kernel: Linux 3.2.3-3-osmc Linux 4.2.3-3-osmc; PleXBMC 3.6.1, PleXBMC Helper 3.4.2, and ServerWMC 0.5.8.)


Sam Nazarko

Sam Nazarko

Back in July, I commented on TTM@Facebook: “Sam resembles Dr. Sheldon Cooper in appearance, but both Sam and OSMC are a lot more stable.”

Sam replied: “That.. made me laugh so much. Unfortunately you’re not the first person to suggest the similar appearance either…”

Congratulations, well done, Sam and company!

(Added 10/22/2015: See my new comment on previous post The missing context button for a new and easier way to restore that function to your remote.)

Atari 800 XL simulation on hacked Wii. Controller eembedded in flight yoke, wireless keyboard as control console.

Atari 800 emulator on my hacked Wii. The new BIC America F-12 subwoofer is on the floor. Final subspace radio message: “Star Fleet to Star Cruiser 7: Mission Complete. New rank is: Pilot Class 1. Congratulations”.

In a previous post, Sci-fi Saturday fun in the theater room, I showed our home theater setting for viewing MeTV’s “Sci-fi Saturday”.

But who doesn’t want to get in on the sci-fi action him/herself?

Star Raiders is a 1979 game cartridge for the Atari 400/800 home computer. Gameplay combines elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, and even Battlestar Galactica.

Very well-done simulation, even more impressive when you consider that the machine code took up less than 8K bytes. Subsequent higher-tech updates to the game were not as playable.

I discussed some of the details of how to get access to The Homebrew Channel on the Wii in last year’s post, Raspberry Pi computer leads to Atari on Wii, but I thought I would show it in this post, having just acquired a much better keyboard for the purpose, the Logitech Wireless Combo MK270.

This keyboard comes with a tiny USB dongle, described as “advanced 2.4 GHz wireless connection with 10-meter range”, more than adequate for my purpose. The dongle inserts into the powered USB hub I attached to the Wii. It was recognized immediately on bootup.

I found a free digital copy of the Star Raiders cartridge online, and FTP’d the file over to a folder on the Wii, with the help of a Homebrew channel, WiiXplorer. Then I plugged the cartridge in (virtually), within the WiiXL emulator, another Homebrew channel.

Of course, if you still have an Atari 400 or 800 and the Star Raiders cartridge, just plug into VIDEO1 and go!

WiiXL simulator, from the Homebrew Channel

WiiXL emulator channel from The Homebrew Channel. Other HB channels: WiiXplorer (file handling, FTP server), USB Loader GX (run games ripped from discs to external hard drive), Wii Earth, Wii Media Center

WiiXL simulator splash screen

WiiXL emulator splash screen

The familiar Atari initial screen

The familiar Atari initialization screen. Select, Start and Reset are F3, F4, and F5 on the new keyboard.

Set course to starbase or enemy-occupied sectors

Set course for a starbase to effect post-battle repairs, or for an enemy-occupied sector

Steering In hyperdrive

Steering In hyperdrive, shields up.

Direct hit, but a Zylon basestar lurks to the lower left of the crosshairs. Sounds good on the subwoofer.

Direct hit, but a Zylon basestar lurks to the lower left. The explosion sounds good on the subwoofer.

A 1979 game in a 2015 home theater. Still fun!

StarRaiders_i