A Roaming Echo
In the past Courtney and I have discussed the value of having a digital home-assistant like the Amazon Echo. Would it be something useful in an RV (or a tiny home) or would it be something we’d purchase if we decided to take root somewhere in a sticks and bricks domecile?
(I’m a geek and the aforementioned home-assistants can be programmed beyond what comes “out of the box” — something that I find to be, well, awesome.)
Last week, Courtney told me she bought me a present and it would require me doing some research (whut?).
That present arrived the other day: an Amazon Echo Dot.
So, just how useful is the Echo Dot in an RV? Well, I’ll tell ya…
The Echo’s abilities are called “skills”. If she doesn’t know how to do something you can teach it by adding said skill. There are a ton of ready-made skills available for just about any app or smart home device such as lights and thermostats — even toasters and coffee makers. Some are commercial (by that I mean a software company or product company) and some are written by people that needed or wanted the Echo to be able to do A Thing.
One of the first things I did was give the Echo the Spotify skill.
A little back story before I continue; sit tight, dear reader.
A typical day of Courtney wanting to listen to music while she worked involved the following routine:
- Take the Bose down from the top of the cupboards, plug it in.
- Pair the Bose with either my phone (if I had the day off) or my laptop.
- Open Spotify, select the playlist that I created for Courtney (her favorite music and songs/artists that over the years I’ve learned she likes or would like).
- If I’m home and Courtney needs music off for a call, pause music. If I’m NOT home, make sure she can either access my Spotify app (disable screensaver/sleep) or easily get to the Bose to turn if off/down.
The routine now that we have the Echo? (not including the 10 minutes tops wherein I showed Courtney how to do it)
- Turn on the Bose now stationed atop Buddy’s kennel and enable bluetooth (it sleeps after so many minutes of not being used)
- Say “Alexa connect” if she doesn’t automatically connect to the Bose
- Say “Alexa play [insert song, artist, playlist here] on Spotify“
- Say “Alexa volume up [5 or 10 or 3 or…]” or “Alexa [pause/resume]”
Another skill that I added primarily for my benefit is a grocery shopping list (entirely separate from Amazon’s own lists).
Originally, I had an OLD family master shopping list text file created by my dad in the
old IBM PC cloneVIC-20 (dad told me it’s been around longer than the PC days!) days that I brought in to MS OneNote as a check-box list. When I got tired (angry is more like it) of the list items being deleted, rearranging themselves by way of any number of fat-finger/pocket touch manglings, I moved it to an iOS note with check boxes. While mangled less often, it was still a pain in the butt.
Enter the OurGroceries app (for iOS and Android).
I spent an hour importing and re-organizing in to categories (the import was a simple copy/paste; the re-org was the time-consuming part).
After adding the OurGroceries skill to the Echo, adding milk to the grocery list involves the following arduous steps:
Saying “Alexa ask OurGroceries to add milk”
(electrons travel across the interwebs)
Milk magically appears on the list.
Courtney asked today if the Echo can buy from Chewy.com. We tried various phrases, nope. I searched the mountains of custom-written skills but nothing there.
Looks like I have found the first skill I’m going to see if something that specific is possible and make it so! (geek note: I’ve taught myself a programming language that just happens to have a number of interfaces to create Alexa skill sets).
Yeah, I’d say a home assistant IS useful for an RVer.
Also of note, I felt our digital home assistant needs to be classy so I set Alexa to UK English.