Amazon

All posts tagged Amazon


The official demo includes a tour of Plex’ “intergalactic headquarters”.
(No, Edward Snowden hasn’t gone to work there.)


The Echo Dot/Alexa, Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled device, recently acquired a new skill: Plex.

(Plex is a great, free way to make your own music/video content available on your smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, etc.)

I have worked with this skill quite a bit, but it doesn’t seem highly usable for me. Why?

  • You must already have a Plex app up and available for Alexa to control. If I have just used my Logitech Harmony remote to set up our Roku’s Plex channel, then the remote is a more straightforward way to make selections.
  • Even when the Plex channel is up on our Roku 3, Alexa occasionally seems to be blind to its availability. A reboot of the Roku 3 is needed to get Alexa to “see” it. (It may be more a problem with this model of Roku than with Alexa.)
  • If you have more than one Plex Media Server (we do), it’s time-consuming to get Alexa to switch servers. You must listen to a numbered list of available servers before you can respond.
  • Voice control generally works OK for movies. For TV shows, I rarely would remember the specific season and episode number. With a physical remote, you don’t need to recall anything; it’s browsable up there on the screen.
  • Asking Alexa for suggestions, or to shuffle music by an artist, or to play something new works fairly well. But it frequently takes me more than one try to get Alexa to play a specific album. Often, only one song is played from the album (maybe an Alexa bug).

The Alexa Plex skill will likely improve; this is the initial roll-out.

Note: when Alexa is controlling Plex, the music or movie sound issues from the device running the Plex app (e.g., smart TV, Roku), rather than from the Echo Dot. That’s fine if your Echo Dot is located close enough to you.

Alexa plugged into our sound system

But if your Echo Dot is plugged into a sound system playing non-Alexa sound, the Dot may be too close to the speakers for Alexa to understand without you yelling the entire command. (When Alexa herself is playing internet radio, merely the word “Alexa” gets her to mute the sound so she can hear the command.)

Then, you probably would need to use the sound-switching tactic I described in a previous post, Amazon Echo Dot as a stereo component. Or use a long cord to get the Echo Dot away from the speakers and closer to your voice.

Or, get another Echo Dot to sit within arm’s length, and change its wake word to “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Computer”. They only cost $50.

However, two talking devices in the same room might give you app-o-Plex-y 🙂 .

“A-Plex-a” is cool and fun, though impractical for my everyday use.

If you are a Plex and Alexa user, do go ahead and try it; the price is right: $0.

Alexa Voice Commands for Plex

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, “thinking” in our theater room.

The Amazon Echo Dot with Alexa does many fun and useful voice-controlled things, including playing Jeopardy! and Seinfeld trivia, or giving you the local weather. You can place one anywhere you have an AC outlet, and you can have them in different rooms.

But instead of using it as a standalone device, I plugged one into our theater room sound system (with a 3.5mm plug to RCA stereo cable).

Our receiver must be on and set to the proper input to hear Alexa speak or play. I leave it on most of the time so I can call out any Pandora station or Tunein radio station (“Alexa, play Jazz 89.5 on Tunein”), or put on an environmental sound (“Alexa, play thunderstorm/rain/ocean sounds”).

(Most local stations are available via Tunein, including my favorites, KWGS 89.5 HD1-Public Radio/HD2-Jazz.)

You can also tell Alexa to set a sleep timer to turn off your sounds in an hour, or whatever time period you want.

I like this so much, it is now my primary way to listen to radio in our theater room. The data usage is negligible even on our second-from-the-bottom tier of Cox internet service (“Essential”: 1024 GB/month data usage, 15 Mbps max download speed).

I don’t need the receiver to be on to voice-control our home automation, though I prefer to hear her feedback, in case there is a miscommunication.

These features alone have made the Echo Dot well worth the price for me.

One hitch: if we are listening to non-Alexa music or TV sound at a decent volume, we would have to yell to get a command through to Alexa, due to her proximity to the speakers. (When Alexa herself is the sound source, she quiets it down once she hears the word “Alexa” spoken.)

To avoid yelling, mute the receiver (though you wouldn’t hear Alexa’s response), or temporarily switch the receiver to Alexa’s input.

Since I use a Logitech Harmony remote, I built soft buttons into every “Activity” so I can easily switch to Alexa’s sound briefly, then switch back to the sound input we are currently using (e.g., “InputTv” for Activity “Roku”).

Harmony remote “Activities” screen / Roku “Activity” detail: custom receiver sound input buttons

Amazon Dash Button, repurposed.

If you are an avid Public Radio Tulsa 89.5 listener like I am, you probably have had a “driveway moment”:

You just arrived back home with a riveting story in progress, but there is something urgent you need to be doing besides sitting and listening to the radio in your car.

So you dash indoors, turn on the radio, and try to continue listening while you do whatever is so all-fired important.

But wait, here’s the Public Radio Tulsa “Driveway Moment” Button!

From your driveway or garage, push the button on your key ring, and instantly start recording on your indoors Windows PC. Listen to the rest of the story when you have time.

Yes, in only one fast, easy stroke of your index finger!


This is a short how-to, since the hard work is in two previous posts.

  1. Do the hack described in detail in this post: Amazon Dash Button Hack: X10 wireless doorbell.
  2. Instead of creating the doorbell.bat file, create a KWGSrecord.bat file as described in this post: DIY online radio recorder (KWGS update). Change the number of seconds in that file from 10800 (3 hours) to 1800 (1/2 hour), or whatever length of time you want.
  3. Alter the text in DashButton.bat from the first post so it executes KWGSrecord.bat instead of doorbell.bat.

There, wasn’t that easy?

Maybe not.

But it can be done, because I just tested it from both our garage and driveway.

You could also keep the button near your home radio for spur-of-the-moment KWGS recording.

Yet another example of repurposing the Amazon Dash Button.

(By the way, the button’s product label can be peeled off, and replaced with a custom label if you wish. Or you might say it means a “Bounty” of good radio.)

Now it’s a KWGS radio with recorder!

Here is a fun and cheap home automation trick I did last week.

Our house came with a wireless doorbell, which sadly has gone to that Great Electronics Recycling Depot in the sky. What to do?

I recalled reading somewhere that the Amazon Dash button is capable of being repurposed via a hack. (By the way, the first button is basically free).

“Amazon Dash Button is a Wi-Fi connected device that reorders your favorite product with the press of a button. Each Dash Button is paired with a product of your choice, which is selected during the set-up process. When you’re running low, simply press Dash Button—ensuring you never run out of your essentials again.”

The hack involves starting up a .bat (batch) file that “watches” for your button push, then runs any other .bat or .exe file on your PC that you have selected, rather than ordering an Amazon product.

Since I was able to create a batch file that activates our X10 chime module, we now have a free wireless doorbell!

Read more below.


The Dash button hack:

The Readme file for the Amazon Dash Button Hack at GitHub has the full procedure and free software for the hack.

My supplemental notes:

Download the latest version of the software, which is in .zip format. Unzip it into a folder on your PC (I put it into C:\DashButton).

Then connect a new, unpaired Amazon Dash Button to your home wifi network. A smartphone Amazon app is needed to do this. First make sure to update the Amazon app to the most recent version. Subprocedure at Instructables; do Steps 1 and 2 only.

Next, I found that “pushing the button you wish to pair repeatedly” per the Readme file’s Normal Usage Instructions didn’t work that well for me.

You can skip directly to the “If you already know the IP of your button” section for testing if you do the following:

  • Open up a browser on a PC directly connected to your wireless router and type in “http://192.168.1.1” (or whatever the correct IP address is for your particular router’s make and model) to access the router’s management GUI.
  • You will be asked to enter both a username and password. Typically, they are both “admin” if you haven’t changed it previously. Check your manual.
  • Find the “DHCP Clients Table” (on my Linksys router, it’s under Status/Local Network). Look at it or take a screenshot.
  • Push your Dash Button, then refresh the DHCP table and compare. You should see a new “Generic Amazon” device along with its IP address and its MAC address.
  • Copy down the IP address (e.g., 192.168.1.105) and the associated hardware (MAC) address (e.g., AB:78:BF:8C:9D:19).

OR

  • Download the free Fing app to your smartphone. When you hit the app’s refresh button, it shows a list of all your locally-connected network devices.
  • Push your Dash Button, then immediately refresh Fing. You should see listed a new “Generic Amazon” device with its IP address and its MAC address.
  • Copy them down.
  • Try again if at first you don’t succeed.

It’s fine to use the IP address from the above for testing in the “If you already know the IP of your button” section of the Readme page, but it needs to not change over time. To accomplish this, go into your router’s GUI as mentioned above, and reserve an IP address for your button. This is where you use the button’s MAC address you noted above. Look through your router’s GUI menu to find where to reserve the IP address by MAC address.

Our router is set up to dynamically hand out IP addresses to devices on our network (that’s what DHCP means), starting at 192.168.1.100. You should reserve an unused IP in the range 192.168.1.2 through 192.168.1.99, or the equivalent non-DHCP range on your router.

My permanent batch file to execute the hack is named “DashButton.bat”. This is needed if you want the hack to run every time you reboot. Here is the text contained in it:

C:\DashButton\AmazonButton_v4.0.exe 192.168.1.10 C:\Users\User\Desktop\doorbell.bat “Comment: place this file in Startup.”

  • Change the text above to include your button’s IP address, and the location of the .bat file on your PC that you want to execute.
  • Change the comment to something meaningful to you, or just delete it.
  • Be sure the quote marks are the straight up and down kind (“dumb”) not the curly type (“smart”).

(I show below how to create the doorbell.bat. You can use any other executable file on your PC for testing, or just to do a different action at a push of the button.)

  • Double-click DashButton.bat to activate the hack.
  • Push your Dash button.
  • If the doorbell batch file (or the file you selected) is executed, then your DashButton.bat is working.
  • Put a copy of it into your PC’s Startup folder. That way, when Windows is rebooted, the it will be executed during Startup.

The batch file to use with the Dash button hack:

You can use any batch or .exe file you have, but I wanted to activate our X10 Chime module.

I mentioned in the previous post that we already have an X10 home automation system, including a CM15A USB Transceiver Module plugged into our desktop Windows PC.

With the CM15A and free AHSDK software in place, any of our X10 devices (including our Chime module) can be activated over our local network.

My doorbell.bat file has this text in it:

start /d “C:\Program Files (x86)\AHSDK\bin” ahcmd.exe sendplc A9 on

  • The folder with my ahcmd.exe executable file is C:\Program Files (x86)\AHSDK\bin. Our Chime module is at X10 address A9 (house code A, unit code 9).
  • Adjust your batch file text to match the location of your ahcmd.exe and the module you want to activate.
  • Again, be sure the quote marks are “dumb”, not “smart”.

So a new wireless doorbell at zero additional cost.

Or, (gasp!) use the button as intended.

Amazon Dash Button

Amazon Music app hooked to sound system

Smartphone with Amazon Music app hooked up to sound system in media room

stereo phone plug to RCA phono plugs cable connects the wifi-only smartphone to phono jacks on our A/V receiver. You can use available audio inputs on your receiver, such as TAPE or VCR. Just don’t use PHONO; it requires a much lower voltage input.

If you have a Chromecast device, cast music.amazon.com from your Chrome browser up to the big screen and sound system.

(See update at bottom for yet another way.)

Amazon Prime membership offers a free music opportunity: the Amazon Music with Prime Music app.

If you have purchased any music in any form from Amazon previously, it is likely to already be in your library. But note, some songs may be missing; see About Your Past AutoRip Purchases.

You can also upload 250 of your own MP3s free. After that it costs you. (That fact, and the internet bandwidth you use when you stream from the Amazon Cloud got me onto free Plex and Emby as ways to use our own home network for music and video at no cost.)

But in addition, a large number of new and classic albums are available for streaming by Prime members on the app. Add any album that tickles your fancy to your library. Free streaming playlists and “stations” a la Pandora are also available.

(There is an Amazon Music Roku channel, but it displays only the AutoRip music and what you have uploaded yourself, not this Prime material.)


Years ago, when I bought an LP album I really liked, I found that it went through three phases:

  • The hot period – Listen to it every day or week.
  • The rotation period – It still gets onto your turntable fairly frequently.
  • The dormant period – Revisit it on a yearly or decade-ly basis (or even longer!)

In the early 1990s, many people replaced their LPs with CDs. I bought a few CDs of my all-time favorite albums, but found that after one listen to the CD, it often returned to dormant status. Not really a good way to spend $$.

I did hang onto my LP collection, and I’m glad I did.


chicag-chicag_51analogjune1971But I traded my copy of Chicago Transit Authority to my brother for who-knows-what decades ago. It had long reached the dormant phase by the time we made the trade.

(I still have the June 1971 issue of Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact I bought with it.)

I got a yen to listen to it again recently after literally decades.

The other day, I listened to Chicago Transit Authority, plus Chicago II, and Blood, Sweat and Tears on Amazon Prime.

(My brother still owns all three albums. We saw Chicago at the Tulsa Assembly Center in 1972.)

Good music there, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect after all my listening in the intervening years.

CTA’s “Free Form Guitar” remains excruciating, and Chicago’s earnest early political posturing didn’t wear well, especially in light of their jettisoning it after Chicago V to become mostly hit-making smooth balladeers.

bloods-bloods_02I also might have soured a little on BS&T’s big hits from that album (“Spinning Wheel”, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”), having heard them way too many times in the 70s and beyond.

Plus, I recently saw two Merv Griffin shows circa 1970 on getTV, featuring Vegas entertainers working out on the BS&T hits with cheesy dance moves. No doubt these performers were baffled by the “kids’ new music” and grabbed onto the big band charts like a life preserver.

Nevertheless, the musicianship and diversity of material of both groups is still worth listening to.


georgebenson_breezin_107nGeorge Benson’s Breezin’ is an album I never owned, but whose hits were ubiquitous on the radio. It was too smooth for my taste at the time, but I remember seeing him with Glen Campbell on TV at some point in the 70s and realizing he is a monster guitar player (as was Glen Campbell).

It’s enjoyable today. A lot more was on it than just the overplayed hits, and even they benefited from a less time-compressed treatment.

(I saw him live at the JVC Jazz Festival in Houston in 1990 along with Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. My thought then was “You can take the man out of Vegas, but you can’t take the Vegas out of the man.” But he is still an incredible player, and has returned somewhat to his jazz roots.)


robintrower_rootsandbranches_5gmyMy Robin Trower LP collection stops at In City Dreams (1978). I was disappointed with the next one, Caravan to Midnight, and traded it at a used record store years ago.

But yesterday I listened to three of his more recent albums on Amazon Prime: 20th Century Blues (1994), Roots and Branches (2013), and Something’s About To Change (2015).

Dam’, the guy hasn’t been standing still. I hear nuances and harmonies that are definitely not from his original classic period.

(I saw him in the later 70s. What a massive sound “Long Misty Days” had in the Tulsa Assembly Center! I want to see him again next time he makes it to T-town.)


Crafty Amazon figures this is a good way to get you to try-before-you-buy. Albums available on Prime today may not be there tomorrow, necessitating a purchase if you still want to hear it. That’s OK with me.


This new music source goes well with my LP cover art slideshow on Chromecast, which reminds me of music I have and like.


Update, 11/16/2016: Just realized while writing the free Tulsa library music post that Raspberry Pi/PIXEL with Chromium browser is my best way of playing Amazon Music. No phone needed. Just a wireless mouse.

However, playing albums on the Amazon Music page (but not the Hoopla page) makes the Pi 3 run hot (a little thermometer icon pops up), yet I had attached the little adhesive heat sinks that came with the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 Kit I bought. There is no built-in fan. This is the first time I’ve seen a temp problem on the Pi 3.

Popping off the designed-to-be-removed clear case top improved air flow, but the icon eventually came back. A small external fan solved the problem. I ordered this USB-powered fan from Amazon for a permanent solution. Incidentally, the fan also lowered the temp of my original Pi by almost 30° F!

I learned the following from the Pi forum and Reddit/r/Firefox:

“All browsers are resource hogs. On the RPi you should NEVER open more than a few web pages at the same time. It will soon start swapping, because the browser will need more memory. You should restart the browser from time to time because it is caching a lot and will therefore use lots of memory.

“Both Firefox and Chromium are multi-threaded and use multiple cores. Some web pages are simply programs written in JS [Javascript] which are running all the time. This will take a lot of your processing power although nothing really seems to happen and especially when you are connected to multiple websites of this kind.

“A heat sink won’t help much without a good airflow. With most RPi cases the airflow is terribly bad or there is none at all. For my RPi3 I use a case with open sides and it almost never starts to throttle, even when all 4 cores are running at 100%.”

(And)

There is A LOT of JS loaded with Amazon. Was amazed when I watched my proxy logs and saw Amazon load.”