Echo now talks to Hue and WeMo

Echo Connected HomeWhile I was asleep last night, Amazon pushed an Amazing update out to Echo. Echo can now talk to my Philips Hue lights AND my WeMo Home Automation devices!

You can now say things like

Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.

or even..

Alexa, turn on the coffee!

I tried out these very commands this morning. The results…? My life is now complete.  The home automation scene NEEDED a device like this… an omni-directional speech recognition device that integrates to existing platforms.  And now we have it. At least, the start of it. I would love to see Dropcam and Nest integration among other things.

Bravo, Amazon.

Phantom 2 Quadcopter with Zenmuse Gimbal

Phantom 2 Bundle is Amazon’s Deal of the Day

Phantom 2 Quadcopter with Zenmuse GimbalThe same exact bundle that I’ve been using to create drone videos lately is on sale for about $400 cheaper than the price I paid. This is the Amazon deal of the day, so the deal only lasts 24 hours.

The DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter V2.0 Bundle with 3-Axis Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal for GoPro
is on sale for $683 (regular $1099).  Great deal for a solid and proven quadcopter.

Here some of the videos made using this set up (along with a Hero 3+ Black):

Plex Media Server Upgrade

Choppy Video Fix for Plex on Xbox-One and Sony TVs

Sony Bravia TV SettingsAfter a lot of troubleshooting, I’ve finally managed to get smooth video and audio out of Plex running via the Xbox One out to my Sony Bravia TV.

My Problem(s):

  • Regardless of file format or container (both mkvs and mp4), the video output from Plex on XBox One was choppy and jittery on my TV.  This was amplified during panning shots, where the camera moves across a landscape or during shots where everything on-screen was in motion.
  • Audio always seemed too quiet and not balanced properly.
  • The video problems were very noticeable on Plex, but they also seemed to affect HDMI pass-through, and even in-game video sequences.

My Set-up: 

  • XBOX One loaded to the most recent beta update (March 29th, 2015 release).
  • Latest Plex app on Xbox One
  • Most up-to-date Plex Media Server: version
  • Sony Bravia TV (My model is KDL-55HX800)
  • My Xbox plugged directly into the TV via HDMI.  No stereo speaker system.

The Fix(es): 

  • For some reason, I had my Xbox set up to pass 5.1 signal to my TV speakers via HDMI.  I fixed this in the XBOX-One settings and changed it to only pass uncompressed stereo.  I also turned off optical audio.  I saw a minor improvement in video, and the audio seemed “normal” again.
  • The BIG fix was to disable anything having to do with “motion” on the TV settings.
    • CineMotion: OFF
    • MotionFlow: OFF

Apparently, the XBOX-One does its own smoothing of video motion, which doesn’t mix well with what the TV tries to do, resulting in a chopping, weird, frame-skipping video output. Turning off these Sony Bravia settings fixed this issue completely for me!


Amazon Echo now does Traffic

Amazon Echo Traffic ReportsAmazon is slowly rolling out new features to the Echo, and today’s update introduced traffic reports. The functionality as it is today is rather limited: You need to configure the to and from destinations in the app before she can give you a report – just ask “Alexa, how is traffic?”

And that is all she can do right now… just report on the traffic between those two locations. I tried asking about the “traffic to RDU airport” and several other locations, and the response was “I can not find the answer to the question I heard”.

I find myself in the camp that appreciates frequent, steady updates (versus huge updates once a quarter), so I’m looking forward to the many feature additions the Amazon team will surely add in the future.

Here’s a quick video of the traffic report in action:

Update (3/13/2015): Just saw the mail they sent out this update.  Apparently, they’ve also added a new Celtic Prime Playlist in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

Echo Traffic Email

Google Shuts down Helpouts

google helpoutsSo long, Helpouts. We hardly knew ya. Google Helpouts,  the service that tried to put you face-to-face with a subject matter expert via Google Hangouts is being discontinued today, as stated in an email going out today.

Hi David,

We have some sad news to share with you today: Helpouts will be shutting down onApril 20th, 2015. While this announcement was just posted on our site, we wanted you to hear the news directly from us.

Since launching in 2013, Helpouts has been a home for people to connect with experts on topics they want to learn about or seek advice and solutions to everyday problems. The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected. Sadly, we’ve made the tough decision to shut down the product.

Starting April 20th, you’ll be able to download your Helpouts history using Google Takeout (available until November 1st, 2015). Until then, you can email us with any questions or concerns you have about your account or take a look at these FAQs.

We want to thank you for your support—both the providers who shared their expertise with the world, and the people who needed some extra help or advice along the way. You’ve had a lot to contribute—and we’ve loved learning alongside you.

Our best wishes,
The Helpouts Team

Can’t say I’m surprised, and I’m glad I didn’t invest any time into this endeavor.

How to Manually Update Plex Media Server on Ubuntu

Since the repositories are not updated often, it is best to manually download and install the updated versions of Plex Media Server manually. You may be forced to do this if you’ve seen the “An update is available. Please install the update manually.” error:

An Update Is available. Please install the update manually.

This is fairly simple (performed on Ubuntu 14.04):

  1. Backup: Consider backing up your metadata and preferences.  Updating this package should not affect either, but better safe than sorry.  Plex wiki on what to back up.
  2. Grab the file and get it to the server: Now you need to get the new package onto the server. You can do one of two things:
    Transfer using WinScp: Go to the Plex Media Server download site, log in, and download the latest version (be sure to check under “PlexPass”), then manually move it onto the server using a program like WinSCP.
    Directly download the file to the server: Figure out the URL for the file to be downloaded, and then just use wget on the Linux server (this is just an example URL – find the current version!):

    plexuser@plexserver:~$ wget

  3. Install: Pretty easy! Just install the .deb file:

    plexuser@plexserver:~$ sudo dpkg -i plexmediaserver_0.

    You’ll get something that looks like this:

    plexuser@plexserver:~$ sudo dpkg -i plexmediaserver_0.
    [sudo] password for plexuser:
    (Reading database ... 198842 files and directories currently installed.)
    Preparing to unpack plexmediaserver_0. ...
    plexmediaserver stop/waiting
    Unpacking plexmediaserver ( over ( ...
    Setting up plexmediaserver ( ...
    plexmediaserver start/running, process 8686
    Processing triggers for bamfdaemon (0.5.1+14.10.20140925-0ubuntu1) ...
    Rebuilding /usr/share/applications/bamf-2.index...
    Processing triggers for desktop-file-utils (0.22-1ubuntu2) ...
    Processing triggers for mime-support (3.55ubuntu1) ...
    Processing triggers for gnome-menus (3.10.1-0ubuntu2) ...
    Processing triggers for ureadahead (0.100.0-16) ...

  4. Verify: That’s really all there is to it. The command above should have restarted your server automatically for you. On your Plex server web panel, navigate to: Settings->Server to verify that you’re on the latest version!
    Plex Version Up to date

Vessyl the Smart Cup

Vessyl Smart CupVessyl: the drinking cup that knows and tracks what you’re drinking. This brand new gadget claims to be able to detect even the brand name of the liquid it holds. But at a price point of $119 dollars,  it has also been making its rounds in recent late-night monologues.

Who would pay $120 for a cup?  Well, out of pure curiosity,  I just pulled the trigger. This product likely has a very limited potential customer base… at first, it will probably appeal only to techies with a passion for life-logging.  But as time goes on, and production costs get cheaper, I’m guessing the price will drop to something more reasonable that the average soda-chugging consumer could afford.

Currently, there are few details available about how it actually works. Some are guessing it uses an absorption spectroscopy technique.

If nothing else, this will make for a fun toy and conversation starter.  If you’ve got $120 of disposable income, reserve your pre-order today. Ships in “early 2015” which I guess is any day now!

Buy one here:


DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter – Travel Tips

After my first international trip with my Phantom 2, I have a few tips to pass on that may save you some headache in the airport or on the plane.

Get a case: 
My choice of case is absolutely ridiculous,  After trying several of the ~$200 cases on Amazon, I ended up finding the PERFECT solution at target: Hello Kitty Child's Suitcase

The Hello Kitty child’s suitcase. Update (3/15): The “Hello Kitty” suitcase is no more, but they have the same shell re-branded for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles now. Maybe only slightly less embarrassing when walking through an airport.

While this case doesn’t provide great support from the top and bottom, it holds form well, and provided enough support for me to feel safe throwing it into the overhead on the plane. Additionally, this little guy can also fit under the seat – so if you have bad luck finding overhead space on a plane, this is a perfect solution.

There is also an elastic strap on the inside that holds it in place – as if it was made for the Phantom II.

Put your batteries in a LIPO bags: 

I breezed right through security multiple times with all of my batteries and gear.  SoLipo Safe Bags from Amazonme airlines have regulations regarding LIPO batteries and how they are transported.  From my research, the safest bet is to bring them as a carry-on, in LIPO-safe bags.

You can pick these up from Amazon for a few bucks.


Don’t split your gear up: 

When going through security, it is best if you have all of your gear with you. Don’t try to have your wife take some of it through the TSA checkpoint. Here’s why:

A guy with a quadcopter, remote, LIPO batteries, and camera gear is going to be less suspicious than someone ONLY taking two or three LIPO batteries onto a plane.  Of course this won’t guarantee that you won’t get hassled a bit, but in my experience, this has helped!


That’s it for now. I’ll maintain this page and add more tips as time goes on.

Your vacation video needs drone footage

The days of our parent’s vacation videos are over.  Nobody wants to watch 25 minutes of unedited, shaky, hand-held video of your kids running around in a hotel room.

I’ve never been drawn to do a vacation video until I bought my quadcopter, and the results were inspiring!  I am a total newbie when it comes to flying the Phantom 2, and this is by far the most video edited I’ve ever done at one time. But for a first video, the results weren’t too bad! The drone footage ups the production value quite a bit! Check it out-

About the gear used:

Locations visited included Sint Maarten (St. Martin),  Île Fourchue (island near St. Maarten), Sint Eustatius (Statia), and Saint Barthélemy (St. Barths).

The best eFax alternative: FaxZero

Fax Zero - The best eFax alternativeIf you’ve ever tried using eFax, you’ve probably learned to hate it by now. Between their unscrupulous billing practices, and their outrageous price for fax services, they are now labeled as nothing more than a huge scam in my book.

These days, I only need to send a fax two or three times per year.  Nobody I know owns a fax machine (let alone a copper telephone line to send it over).  The biggest problem, however, was that until recently, there was no good alternative to eFax.

Now, like a bright ray of light descending from the heavens, we have Not only is their process simple, clean, quick and easy, but it is also…. FREE! No trial periods, no hidden fees… just FREE for faxes that are 3 pages or less.  If you have more than 3 pages to send, the cost is a fixed $1.99 per fax.

I do not make any commision with this post… I am just a happy customer after using their service for the first time today.

I can’t wait for the day that fax machines exist only in museums, but until then, just save yourself a HUGE hassle with eFax and use faxZero.