Making calls with the Amazon Alexa application and the Amazon Echo

I’m really pleased with my Amazon Echo Plus. I haven’t yet used the hub built into the device, but I got that for future accessories. Today I logged into my UK Apple account on the App Store and I updated the Alexa application. With this update to the application I was able to set up some routines. I can now say “Night Night” and the routine will turn everything off in the house. I set it to turn off all the lights and the television as well. I’ll set up another routine so I can shout out “I’m home” when I get back in the house and the Amazon Echo will turn on a few things for me.

Amazon Echo Pro

Calls through the app and through the Amazon Echo

I also have a new icon to press at the bottom of the screen in the application. This is one for doing messaging and calls. It also does a thing called Drop-In. It has connected up to my contacts list and it now gives me a list of people in my contact list who have an Amazon Echo. If I allow it on a person by person basis, these people can make calls to me through the device. We can also send audio or video messages to each other, depending upon the hardware available. Obviously to be able to make the video calls you need to have an Amazon Echo Show. I’m not planning to get one of those at the moment. They look a bit ugly and I’d rather wait for the Amazon Echo Spot to be available on this side of the pond. It is possible to make video calls with the Echo Spot.

Amazon Echo Spot

My mum has an Amazon Echo Dot, I bought it for her as a present. She likes to talk to it and ask questions as well as using it for turning on the television. Like most old ladies living on their own, the television is on all day long. So she only needs to command Alexa to turn on the television in the morning and she’s done for the day. I suppose she uses it to turn it off as well before going to bed.

So it’s only natural to use my mother as a guinea pig for the messaging and calling through Amazon Echo. It took us a while to get things working absolutely correctly. First of all we sent messages through the application on our iPhones. This worked out okay and my mum worked out before I did that it was possible to ask Alexa to play any messages that had come through. I think my mum was just pressing all the buttons in the application and made a call to me to my Amazon Echo Plus. The only problem was I didn’t know how to answer the call. I had to look in the help to find out I needed to use either the word “answer” or “ignore” to deal with the call coming in. In fact, I think it’s necessary to say “Alexa answer” to accept the call.

Messages in the Alexa App

So between us we got the system working and we can now keep in contact using our Amazon Echo devices. So this will be in addition to using the Messages app which is our usual mode of contact. The system also transcribes the audio but doesn’t do a great job of turning the speech to text.

Using the Amazon Echo to start the day

I have my iPad on the nightstand next to my bed and in the morning I like to say “Hey Siri” and ask about the weather and if I have any new messages. I’ll also ask if I have any appointments for the day. The only thing is that Siri can be quite annoying and not answer me. I don’t know if it’s because my voice is a little bit gravelly first thing in morning or if I don’t say it loud enough. The good thing about using Siri is that I get the weather based on my location in Catalonia. If I ask Alexa to give me weather information she would only give me information based upon the address I’ve given it in the UK. It’ll be nice when the system becomes available in Spain. I only wonder if I’ll have to start speaking to her in Spanish in order to get the information I’m looking for. I’ll be able to do most of morning the things I want to do using the Echo Dot and I’ll just open the window to find out what the weather is looking like for the day. Using the voice computing first thing in the morning is just the job because my eyes are not quite ready for looking at a screen. It’s nice to be able to do all this with my eyes still closed.

Falling in Love with Scrivener 3

Scrivener 3 or Word?

The thing about Scrivener is that it’s full of so many good things to the point where it seems complicated. Many writers are so mentally insecure in that they need to create some sort of writing environment which is the equivalent of blinkers. This is to stop any other distractions from interfering with the brainwaves that create the stories and so on. This can go to levels where a writer might even choose to use pencil and paper or an old-fashioned typewriter rather than take the benefits you gain from using a computer. You still have writers like Lee Child for instance who are technical numbskulls and are still using Word to create full-length novels. I listened to him in a podcast explain how he didn’t know how to use templates properly. What he does is to take the same document he was working on before and delete everything in it so he has the same writing environment as he had before. It’s all part of the same malaise where writers play the primadonna claiming an inability to write unless the muse takes them. Many writers choose to use a plain text editor as their window into their creative world of writing. This stops them from the urge to fiddle with how the text looks on the page and anything else that might distract them. Scrivener 3 is so much better than office software because it is made specifically for writers/authors.

Scrivener 3

Writing And Writers Discipline

Proper writers are disciplined and have a set time during the day when they sit down and start writing. Writing is work. It might be necessary to get into the required frame of mind or thinking for the story. This can be done by reading your creative writing from the day before. Getting into the story by reading what’s been done already is often enough to get the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes what I like to do is to spend half an hour writing in my journal just to get into the writing mindset. Scrivener 3 is a fantastic writers digital environment. Sit down in front of the app and unload the ideas. Be disciplined with your writing work.

Outlining Or Writing By The Seat Of Your Pants

Organised writers don’t write by the seat of their pants and will have a long list of chapters and scenes to be written. Writing with your computer isn’t a question of staring at a blank screen with a blank space in between the ears. Your session in front of Scrivener or whatever writing software you use will merely be a choice of choosing which scene to write from the list you have in front of you. With Scrivener you can split the screen up to have your character notes on one side of the screen or whatever the piece of research you need for what you’re about to write. The other side of the screen will be the area in which you put your words and your ideas. The author only needs to think about what is going to happen in that scene. What does the protagonist want? How is the antagonist going to try and stop that from happening. It’s more productive to be thinking along the lines of how does this scene take the story forward than is to be worrying about your writing software.

Outlining in Scrivener 3

Do You Need To Learn Everything In Scrivener?

I have seen writers complain about Scrivener being so complicated. Complicated to the point where they use inferior apps and miss out on the benefits of software specifically designed for authors. People really do worry about the silliest of things. With Scrivener all you need to do is to open up the Scrivener project, create a new text document in the binder and start typing. It’s not necessary to think about all the bells and whistles offered by Scrivener. It’s even possible to clear away all of the tools for organisation and concentrate on your writing in a fullscreen experience. Have the digital blinkers on even with a fully featured authors software like Scrivener 3. It would be a bit like being scared to drive a Ferrari because it could go at more than 200 mph. It isn’t obligatory to drive at full speed in a super sports car and it isn’t obligatory to know about every single tool within Scrivener. Open the app and start writing, learn about the rest later when you need it.

Getting Past The Learner Stage With Scrivener

When you’re still using the training wheels you can have one single document within your project and put every single piece of text within that one document. If it’s a short document that’s all you’ll ever need. When the project gets longer you can split the single document into separate scrivenings. With the text split up into individual discrete parts you can organise your work to your hearts content. You have the choice of moving things around within the binder to get the work into a coherent, readable document. Or use keyboard shortcuts to move things around or you can do the drag-and-drop using the trackpad or the keyboard. If you’re more of a visual sort of person then jump into the corkboard. Within this view you can see cards representing each item and they are further visually enhanced with colour coding. The colour coding can denote a character point of view for the scene or chapter. There are also labels to attach to the various parts to tell you at what stage you are at with that piece. Use yellow when it is a first draft, orange when it has received its first edit and green when it is finished and ready to present. Using tools like Scrivener 3 is just what you need to make you treat your writing professionally and in a businesslike manner. You still have to be the same type of creative person to make your unique stories. Using a writers software like Scrivener is not going to make your work just the same as everybody else’s. I suggest you will be a better writer when using software fit for purpose.

Scrivener 3 Cork board

Setting Targets And Getting Work Done

It makes me laugh when I see writers struggling to get out 500 words in one day. People like this I don’t see as being professional writers. Professional writers get the work done and this means writing thousands of words. If you only write 500 words per day is going to take a long time to write a novel. The more writing you do the better you get at the job of writing. The more words you put on the page more chances you have to learn the craft of writing. The first stage is to get the basic ideas on the page in a first draft. It is in the editing and the polishing where the real work is done. Within Scrivener there are plenty of tools for helping you to keep track of your writers work ethic. Set a target for the whole of the manuscript, set targets for the words you expect to have in a chapter or a scene. I love the new capability in Scrivener 3 to see the writing history for the project. Find this in the menu and you’ll see the dates you worked on the project and how many words you added on that day. It’s even possible to export this data out to put into a spreadsheet if you really want to get nerdy.

on target

Great For NaNoWriMo

One of the excellent features within Scrivener 3 is the ability to set a target date for your draft to be finished. Then go into options and say which days of the week you expect to be writing. The software will tell you how many words you need to write during the session for the day so you can hit your deadline. You put a tick into the checkbox for – Automatically calculate from draft deadline – Scrivener works the rest out for you. There are a couple of choices for when the session count is reset. The easiest one to choose is for midnight each day. It’s this capability which makes Scrivener the perfect choice if you’re going to compete in Nanowrimo. It’s just one of the great things about Scrivener which makes it the best authors, writers choice for any long form writing work.

Other Goodies In Scrivener

  • A place to put all of your research.
  • Useful templates for various types of writing.
  • Excellent compiler options.
  • Three different types of outlining tools – Outlining in the binder, the corkboard, and the outline view.
  • It works great with DragonDictate.
  • Use of keywords to help you organise your work.
  • Project bookmarks – Place a bookmark to help you find places within the work you need to go back to to finish or change things.
  • Snapshots – Keep records of your work at various stages and see what changes you’ve made.
  • Use a synopsis for each text document – This helps you to identify what’s going on in addition to the title to help you when you’re organising. Especially useful in the corkboard view.
  • Place images in your text and have controls for the size of the images when compiled.
  • Easy to split a large document into smaller parts using keyboard shortcuts.
  • Scrivener scratchpad – another way to keep notes relevant to the project.
  • There are iOS versions for iPhone and iPad – Synchronise and work anywhere.

Keeping It All Together In Scrivener

In other writers software I use I get to have everything all in one file. I split that into an area for fiction writing and another area for blogging. I then have another section for a writers diary. It is super to have everything all in one place like that. With Scrivener it is project file based where you have a project for each distinct piece of work. I suppose you could have a project which is for all of your blogging. Then just have separate Scrivener projects for each novel. If you’re prone to jumping around from one thing to another, this project approach could be an advantage. It’s possible to have more than one Scrivener project open at the same time. You could keep a project used for collecting ideas for stories and using as a writing diary. If an idea starts to look good and worthy of more attention it could break out into a project of its own.

My Personal Verdict On Scrivener 3

I’ve been using Scrivener for a very long time. For many years I’ve been aware that it’s professional quality writing software for authors. I have been using Ulysses as my default daily writing software because I like the simplicity of the interface. I like being able to use markdown for my writing. Ulysses has a simple but powerful way to organise the look of the interface. There’s also a similarly easy and highly useful way to export work out to a variety of formats. I also prefer the use of iCloud for the synchronisation of work between the Mac and iOS. After spending a couple of days using Scrivener 3 I can see myself getting back into using it instead of Ulysses. Scrivener feels good to use in version 3. I’m not going to miss Markdown because I have super fast keyboard shortcuts to set styles. I can probably live with the Dropbox synchronisation. There’s just so much to love in the new Scrivener 3.

Compile Is Excellent On The Mac, Not So Much In Scrivener For iOS

With Scrivener 3 I like the way the compile settings have been simplified. It’s really useful to have the ability to compile directly for the Kindle format from the Mac version of Scrivener. I’d like to see that available in the iOS version along with export to EPUB. There are only four compile options in iOS Scrivener and it’s not enough. When compiling from Scrivener on the Mac I do like the way that you can set it to open up in an application suitable for the type of file you are making. Have your new Kindle file open up in the Kindle app as well as being exported to a folder. Same thing with an EPUB file and choosing it to be opened up in, for example in iBooks.

Scrivener For Dictators

I write using dictation using the software from Nuance called DragonDictate for Mac. If I’m using Ulysses I have to dictate into TextEdit first and then copy and paste it into Ulysses. When using Scrivener I can dictate directly into the application. I like having one less step in the writing process so that is a definite thumbs up for Scrivener. Dragon Dictate seems to be more accurate while using Scrivener for the dictation and isn’t getting cranky if I need to use the keyboard in the same document.

I Shall Never Be So Organised As I Will Be With Scrivener

I just found out it’s possible to use a keyboard shortcut to move a paragraph up or down within a text document in Scrivener. This organisational facility in Scrivener is a cherry on the cake considering everything else Scrivener can do for your arranging of a long document. There is a definite workflow possible using Scrivener for maximum creativity. I have my own template for novel writing based on a well proven three act structure. It’s a good start to take this template and use it in the corkboard view of Scrivener. Use the synopsis area to tell the basic story. Then it’s just a matter of going into the various parts and adding the scenes. It’s a case of going from the broad strokes of the story and working towards the details in a logical fashion.

Written In Scrivener Of Course

Obviously I have used Scrivener to write this piece for the blog post. I have to say I’m extremely happy to be using Scrivener. I’m impressed with the changes made in this version of Scrivener and it’s a delight to use. There are a lot of menus and settings to help me do a good job of writing using Scrivener 3. At the moment I’m not feeling overwhelmed by the interface even though I know there are more things to learn to get the best from this software. There’s a lot of love gone into making this top authors software and it shows in the quality and capability in it.

Just set up the new Amazon Echo Plus

I can easily understand how a complete novice to this sort of technology could get to the point where they would want to pull their hair out. It took numerous attempts for me to register the device. The way it is supposed to work is, after switching the device on by plugging it in, you open up the Amazon Alexa app on your mobile device. You then connect your phone to the Wi-Fi of the Amazon Echo Plus and then return to the Amazon Alexa application to continue the setup. I must have tried this four or five times before it finally registered the device over the Internet. It takes quite a lot of time to do this because you have to wait for two or three minutes for it to do its thing with every attempt. I knew I was doing it correctly so I just kept trying over and over until it did what it was supposed to do. Someone who hadn’t done it before and was completely new could have started to swear blue murder by this time. I was tempted too. There were a couple of times when I thought I had it set up because Alexa was talking to me, but when I looked in the list the Amazon Echo Plus was not there. These are just first world problems and I was prepared to persevere.

Setting up lights and accessories

The lights I already had set up with the Amazon Echo Dot were already in the Alexa application and were ready to use. I just bought extra Philips lightbulbs, five of them for the living room light. These are just the plain white light bulbs. It would be nice to have the full colour versions, but I’m not too bothered to be quite honest. The messing about continued with the Philips Hue application on my iPhone not recognising any of the lightbulbs. I made sure that the electric was turned on to the lamp sockets and tried again. One of the bulbs was recognised by the system. All of the rest of the bulbs needed me to put in the six-figure code found on the bottom of the bulb in order to have them recognised. Light bulbs which had been found by the Philips Hue application were also available in the Alexa application and in Apple Home.

I put the five bulbs into a group so I could switch them all on and off at the same time with one command. I did this in the Amazon application and also in Apple Home. I also just fitted Philips Hue wall plate switches as you can see in the previous blog post. I added the scene of the five bulbs together to be switched on using one of the available switches on the Philips wall plate. This turned the newly setup living room light on. Then I needed to go back in to the settings and use the other available switch to turn the same lights off. Job done.

Maintenance of the security and home automation system

The Elgato Eve door and window switches all require a battery. It’s an odd sized battery and I recently bought five of them to replace the ones that had run out of juice. I have now used all of those batteries and I still need one more as a battery in one of the windows which has got very low. The switches can be used for proper home automation along with motion sensors. I have a motion sensor in the kitchen which turns a light on for me after sunset. I also have a setting so that when motion is not detected it will turn the lights off. I’ve also got the Philips Hue wall plate switch so it can be switched off almost manually at the wall. Using these Wi-Fi enabled wall switches means the lights are still available for the home automation with Siri with HomeKit and Alexa with the automation settings inside Amazon and its app. The whole system is all coming together and I added another motion sensor by Philips Hue and so far I find it to be a better motion sensor than the one from Elgato Eve. It also has a temperature sensor and a light sensor. The light sensor gives me a reading in Home App. This light sensor can be used to turn lights on automatically when set from the Philips hue app. The automation with this sensor is not very sophisticated. When the ambient light goes below a certain level it will switch all the lights on in a room you choose. It doesn’t seem to be able to choose just a single light or group of lights from within that room.

Extending the home automation

I would like to buy a couple of room sensors and a weather sensor. The room sensors test and keep a log of temperature, humidity and air quality. With the sensors I would get more knowledge and with that information I could make decisions to keep things just right. With the air quality it able to sense volatile organic compounds. If you have too many of these then it can affect your health. Knowing the information means you can address the problem sorted out simply by opening a window. It’s one way to avoid the sick building syndrome.

The Eve weather is a wireless outdoor sensor which senses temperature, humidity and air pressure. I do have an old-fashioned thermometer on the wall outside already. What you get by having the electronic version is that you get records shown in the graph in an application on your iPhone. Some people are fascinated by the weather and suppose it could be interesting to see how the air pressure and humidity change over time. Low air pressure can signal coming storms and I wonder if it’s possible to set up alerts. This Eve Weather device works with HomeKit. It would be nice if automation could be set so that if levels went above or below a certain requirements appliances could be switched on or off. Something as simple as turning on a fan in a room or turning on the air conditioning.

High Sierra Clean Install

How to do a High Sierra clean install

Sometimes the iMac behaves a little bit strange. I wonder if I should do a nuke and pave install of the latest operating system. When I got this new iMac I used that Apple facility to copy everything across from the old one. It’s quick, it’s easy and pretty painless. I did think when the new OS came along shortly after getting my new iMac I would do the High Sierra clean install. Then when the time came I just did an install over the top. I went for the quick and easy rather than the long and good way of doing an operating system upgrade. The good thing about having a clean install is that it really does make it feel like a completely new computer. When you add a lot of applications to your computer you are adding in extra complications and settings. There’s a possibility things will slow down on your computer over time which is why it’s good to do a proper spring clean in High Sierra clean install from time to time. Depending upon your computer usage it could be every new major update to an operating system or it could be just every other one.

High Sierra clean install

Sorting through the Apps

Before starting the High Sierra clean install, I’ve started going through some of the applications in the applications folder to see if I can do some pruning before I get started. I also need to go through the list of applications and identify which ones are not from the Mac App Store. Anything from the Mac App Store I can download without any problems whatsoever and without the need for messing with program serial codes. I do have some applications bought directly from the developer and with these I need to make sure I have the serial numbers available. I do tend to be quite fastidious in making sure that I record all serials in 1Password at the time of installing the new software. Even so, it’s always good to to a double check and make sure everything is going to be waiting for me when I start reinstalling all of my applications.

I do have a backup of my main computer hard drive. I think before I take the jump with the High Sierra clean install I will make a second backup of the drive. There is a possibility I might need to buy a new hard drive to use for this purpose. It’s always good to have lots of backups. If you only have got one back up, then it’s just the same as not having any backup at all. If your one backup doesn’t work then you are completely and truly stuffed! All part of the planning to have multiple backups.

The bits and pieces to remember

I’ll have to make sure I have a copy of all of the certificates for security. It’ll be necessary to do a separate backup of things like GPG Keychain. I don’t want to lose the automations created in Keyboard Maestro so those will have to be kept safe too. Then you have the TextExpander snippets to put into a safe place in case they get lost during the update of the operating system. I still worry I have forgotten something with this High Sierra clean install.

Setting up the Photo Library

My photo library is on an external drive so I only need to reconnect that after I’ve got everything freshly set up. My Dropbox drive location needs to be noted. I have already moved my bitcoin to make it impossible for me to lose any money during the operating system upgrade. Not losing any money is vitally important! When we get to the other side of the upgrade process we want to be happy that everything is working properly and that he should be. It is going to take some time to get the job done. Some applications will need to be reinstalled and it won’t be just a case of copying the application into the applications folder. It’s all quite time-consuming, but I think it’s well worth it in the end. I will be able to take full advantage of the new iMac bought in June and if there is any weird behaviour then I’ll have to blame something else.

Blogging on the Move

Blogging on the Move

One of the possibilities for blogging on the movies to use Byword. Another possibility would be to use Ulysses with which you can blog to WordPress and also to Medium. I did try an application called Blogo but that it didn’t really cut it as far as blogging was concerned. It was too buggy to use. I do have occasional problems with Ulysses when I want to send a post to my WordPress blog, but I think the problem is more to the installation of WordPress than is to do with Ulysses. Another possibility to get your words onto a blog would be to use Blogger and to use the specific application for that on your device. The same goes for WordPress, there is a WordPress iOS device. When it came down to it I didn’t really like how either worked out. I didn’t much like blog posting from within Safari either. It’s just kind of fiddly when you want to put in images. This was especially the case if you were working on a longer blog post. It was necessary to scroll up to find the button to insert images and then scroll back down again to make sure you got the image in the right place.

Blogging with byword

Byword is a really good writing application. It’s first and foremost a text editor. It’s available on the Mac and also on iOS. There is a really good synchronisation between the Mac and iOS and vice versa. This is handy if you want to start working on something on your Mac and then continue when you have only your iOS devices with you. I have written this blog post initially on the iMac because I could use DragonDictate for great dictation facilities. My next move was to open up on my iPhone to finish it off. From Byword you can publish to Medium, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and Evernote.

I tried to add this picture in Byword to upload to the website and it didn’t work. The app hasn’t been updated to iOS 11 and sent a HEIC type photo and it should have converted to .jpg.

Markdown in Byword

As ever I am the advocate of using markdown for writing. It is all simple text yet when converted it turns into beautiful HTML, or an e-book or a PDF or whatever the application you’re using will preview and export for you.


Philips Hue Wifi Switch Solved a Problem

Home Automation and Switches

It’s absolutely fantastic when you can use Amazon Echo, Siri or one of the other voice AI systems to control your home. The only trouble is, it falls apart when other members of the household switch off the lights at the wall switch. The next time you want to turn on your lights using your voice nothing happens because there is no electricity going from the switch to the device. My first attempt to get around this problem was to buy some Flic switches to stick on to the light switch in order to turn them on or off with a button. These Flic switches are small, round and work over Bluetooth. It has not been a success! Sometimes the switches work and sometimes they don’t. The switches use either a Mac or one of your iOS devices as a hub. If you are using your iPhone as the hub and you are out of the house then anyone left in the house will not be able to use the switches. This will lead to frustration and your significant others of the house will stop using the switches if they’re not working. So you end up with the same problem as before. I did try to use the Mac which is always running as the hub and I ran into similar problems. When the Mac goes to sleep the Bluetooth connectivity to the switches stops working. So same thing as with using the iPhone as the hub, if you don’t get 100% success they don’t get used. Whichever way you go with those Bluetooth switches you end up with a certain amount of swearing taking place when the home automation doesn’t work. Better off with a Philips Hue Wifi Switch.

The solution to the problem is switches that work over Wi-Fi

There are Smart Dimmer switches you can buy which embed into the wall and I haven’t tried those yet. I think there could be problems with Wi-Fi connections if the switches with the radios are inside the wall. Connectivity to the switches could be difficult because antenna like to have fresh air and to be waving around in the open. (Don’t we all!) There are Philips Hue Wifi Switch devices which magnetically fit to a wall plate you stick on the wall. It’s handy to have the removable switch in your hand and use remotely from time to time. I can attest to the fact that the switches work well when attached by the magnets. It’s not going to be often you need to remove the switch from wall and use it remotely because we have the voice activation available with Amazon Echo or Siri. Even so, it’s a cool feature of the Philips Hue Smart Dimmer Switches.

Philips Hue Wifi Switch

So you go to the Philips Hue app on your mobile device to add the Philips Hue Wifi Switch. I bought the switches together with a Philips hue lightbulb in the packet and they are configured to plug and play. You screw the lightbulb into the light socket, pull the little bit of plastic out of the back of the switch so the battery connects to the contact and it starts working. Straightaway you have the on and off switches working plus the dimmer buttons – Easy as falling off a log! I wanted to have the switches working with lights already in place so it was necessary for me to use the reset button accessed through a small hole in the back of the switch. Press the reset button so the little light on the front starts to flash and then add the accessory with the application. It’s not difficult to do this, it only takes a minute. All you need to do then is to go to the Apple Home application and configure the Philips Hue Wifi Switch to work with the lights you have in your home.

Configuring the Switches in the Apple Home Application

I have two Philips hue light bulbs in my office and they are grouped together in a scene. I can still work them individually, but I prefer it if they both go on and off at the same time. With the Philips Hue Switch I was able to use the button number 1 to switch on the scene and then button number 4 to switch the scene off. The switches work immediately which is a huge improvement over the Bluetooth switches. The Flic switches had a small but noticeable delay so even when they were working correctly they were not perfect. With the Philips Hue Wi-Fi switch, press the button and the light either turns on or off immediately as it is supposed to. I can now put tape onto the old analogue wall switches to keep them in the correct position. I’m happy in being able to control how the system works and my significant other is happy because the lighting system is not tied to one user.

After setting switch number one and switch number four I still had two more switches to play with. Instead of using them to dim the lights up or down, I decided to use them for other lighting scenes. On the switch for the office lights I used switch number 2 to turn on all of the lights in the house and switch number 3 to turn all of the lights off. It doesn’t have to be just the lights controlled by the switch. I have a couple of Elgato Eve plug sockets switches, one of which I use to power my small office electric radiator. This plug socket switch for the radiator is in the same HomeKit scene as all of the house lights, it’s called “Good Night”. When I go to bed at night all I have to do is to press one switch and everything turns off. I still have the option of speaking to Siri and saying “Good night” to perform the same action. (These Elgato Eve switches don’t work with Alexa or Google Home) I will use the Philips Hue Wi-Fi switch on the wall if my wife is in bed sleeping because I don’t get the audio feedback from Siri by using that method. Happy wife, happy life!

Philips Hue Wifi Switch Solved My Problems

Some lights have more than one switch to control them. I have a light to illuminate the stairs to the garage with a switch at the bottom of the stairs and a switch at the top of the stairs. I put one of the Philips hue Wi-Fi switches at the bottom of the stairs so I can turn off the lights as I enter the garage. Don’t need one at the top of the stairs because there’s the option off turning the light off using Amazon Alexa, Siri or one of the other voice systems you might have. What I have done though is to use two extra switches available on the Philips Hue Wi-Fi switch just inside the living room to control that stairway light. So switches one and four control the living room lights while switches two and three (the dimmer switches) are there to turn on and off the stairway light. Excellent, we have a winner!

I have seen there is a system where you have a switch built into the wall to control one of a pair of light switches and then you have a separate Wi-Fi switch which controls the first one. This makes it easier to work with the wiring built into the house. The main Wi-Fi switch does the job and the secondary switch, switches on and off the first switch. That might sound a little complicated but I assure you it isn’t. For the moment I don’t need those devices as the Philips Hue Wifi Switches are working how I want them to work.

New Good and Geeky Book – SteadyCam Volt – New Amazon Echo

The Good And Geeky Week

I’ve been determined to get finished with the latest Good and Geeky book Dictation Expert Mac and iOS and I have made great strides with it during this week. I’ve made four videos to be included in the book which is about getting good with Mac and iOS dictation. I use dictation extensively and only use the keyboard when I really have to. If my wife’s asleep in the room next to my office I use the keyboard so I don’t wake her. She would definitely hear me talking to the computer as she’s light sleeper and the rule goes that if you have a happy wife you have a happy life. When you have a book of 30,000 words it’s inevitable there will be some grammar mistakes and one or two spelling mistakes. There doesn’t tend to be too many spelling mistakes because of using dictation for writing. DragonDictate is a far better speller than I am. Even so, it’s necessary to read through the writing to make sure that it all makes sense. It’s also necessary to rearrange paragraphs and chapters to try and make it as coherent as possible. I’ve got to the point now where got past the release candidates for the book. This is the process where I export out of Ulysses as an EPUB and I really through in iBooks. I also open it up in the Kindle Previewer application. The Kindle Previewer gives me a look at the book in the Mobi format and it also will give me a file I can send to my iPad for another read through. It’s quite possible to get completely sick of the work in progress when you have to read it so many times. I keep telling myself it’s going to be worth it in the end. So I published the book on Amazon and I will do a promotion next week to launch the book.

Get the Book for Free

For the second week the book is available I’m going to make it free. This is in the hope that readers will leave a review of the book on Amazon. The standard price for the book is going to be around about $3.99. If you’re standing on the fence as to whether you would like to use dictation instead of typing the book could help you decide. In the book I talk about whether it’s worthwhile spending the money on the best dictation software which is Dragon dictation from Nuance. I compare it with Siri dictation on the Mac and on iOS, Google typing, and a transcription app called Just Press Record. There are also online services where you send your audio to be converted into text. One way of using Dragon dictation is to use the transcription facilities. Personally, I prefer to dictate directly into the receiving application on my Mac – TextEdit. I like seeing the words appearing on the screen as I say them which gives me the opportunity to check it as I write. I like being able to make corrections using my voice as I go. The accuracy of the dictation using Dragon is excellent and I don’t have to make too many changes. One of the reasons it’s so accurate is because it learns from you as you have the speech converted into text.

SteadiCam Volt

I received the SteadiCam Volt and because of spending all the time working on the book I haven’t had the opportunity to properly test it out. I spent a few minutes with it giving it a quick run through with the balancing followed by a walk around the house filming things. It is kind of fiddly to get the balance correct, especially side-to-side. Getting the phone positioned in the centre is necessary to make sure the picture is level. Once the SteadiCam Volt is switched on the electronic balancing assists the manual balancing achieved with weights. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube where people have shown some pretty impressive video clips with people walking and even running and still managing to have smooth video. During the next week I have family visiting and I’ll probably have plenty of chance to test out the new video possibilities using the SteadiCam Volt. There’s also a connection on the stabiliser to use a Go Pro camera so that will have to be tested as well. The only thing with the Go Pro is that the audio recording is pretty poor and I’ll need to set up separate audio capture.

Looking forward to the release of the new Echo from Amazon

The new version of the Echo is being released on the 31st of October and will arrive at my mother’s house the day after. Then I’ll have to wait for it to arrive here in Spain. The Echo devices are still not available here in Spain. All of the services are in English and I don’t suppose they expect many people here in Spain speak English. I will be bringing the Echo Dot into the office and I’ll put the new one in the living room. I’m toying with the idea of trying out the £3.99 monthly subscription music service. It only works per device which is why awaiting for the new one to arrive with the better speaker before I give that a try. I’ll give it a month or two and see how much I use the service. Similar services for music are working out at around about nine or ten euros per month.

Amazon Echo Pro

Affinity Photo – Best iPad Photo Editing App

Affinity Photo – Best iPad Photo Editing App

Affinity Photo for iPad is an amazing app with great technical depth. So much so, I recommend watching all the tutorial videos available within the app. You could just try playing with all the menus and options, but you’ll be bound to miss a lot of what the app can do. It’s a Photoshop for iPad type of application. Affinity Photo can only be described as stunning and amazing. Let’s have a look at what can you do with Affinity Photo, the best iPad photo editing app?

Affinity Photo and iOS 11

The drag-and-drop facilities available in iOS 11 are put to good use in Affinity Photo. It’s easy to grab a number of files and bring them in to Affinity Photo for purposes of panorama creation, image stacking or blending with other images.

Dragging and dropping images

You might be the creative sort who likes to punish pixels and while it is possible to do that in Affinity Photo for iPad is also possible to do the fine level tweaking to images. Get images to a popping perfection rather than have them assaulting eyeballs and fly screaming into the viewers brain. Use the nondestructive editing process to apply filters to make fine adjustments to hue, saturation and levels. Work with the brightness and contrast with layers so you can go back later to further adjust your settings to achieve the perfect photograph. There are still lots of tools within the Affinity Photo for iPad application with which you can punish pixels if you want to. You don’t have to be subtle if you don’t want to be with the best iPad photo editing app out there.

Buy Affinity Photo for Mac
Buy Affinity Photo for iPad

Amazing Selection Tools in Affinity Photo for iPad

There’s a huge range of tools you can use to select any part of your image. Once you have done a rough selection using the tool which selects up to edges, apply further refinement to get even the smallest, finest edges of an image selected. For example, when you have wisps of hair to select you’ll do that with the selection tools in Affinity Photo for iPad with finesse.

best affinity photo editing for ipad

Intelligently Defined Interface

In Affinity Photo there are a huge number of tools and it’s well set up for using with your fingers or an Apple Pencil. There are gestures such as the double tap on the screen to go between full screen and zoomed in selections. Two finger tap to bring up an extra contextual menu. You can use that to remove or invert a selection for example when in the selection persona. You’ll get a different contextual menu when you’re working in the photos persona. It is the intuitive interface which makes Affinity Photo the best iPad photo editing app.

On Screen Modifier buttons

Go in to settings and set the application up to use on-screen modifiers. You could be making a selection and change from add to the selection to subtract from the selection just by pressing on the on-screen modifier key.

Adding text to your design in best photo editing app Affinity Photo

In the photo persona there is a text tool and you can choose from art text and frame text. The art text is for single one-off pieces of decorative text and the frame text if you want to put in a paragraph of text. Whichever of these two text tools you’re using you have a number of character and paragraph typography settings. Not just for setting the colour, size and the font of your text, you also have typography, spacing, justifications and positioning.

Best iPad Photo Editing App has magic

After you have seen the way the In Painting tool works a number of times you will be convinced it is black magic! This is a tool you use to remove items from within a photograph and once it’s been done you wouldn’t know there was anything there before. You just have to paint over the object you want removed with the overlay red colour and hey presto it is gone!

Warping, Swirls and Twirls

It’s easy to get creative with these tools for moving pixels around on the page! You can really go wild and yet still keep the original safe on another layer. You can even turn a frown into a huge big happy smile. The warp tool puts a mesh across the whole of the image and you can see how the pixels have been shifted within the picture.

A wealth of tools for creativity in Affinity Photo

It’s great fun to use the effects tools you can find them in the fx studio on the right-hand side of the screen. Any effects that you add are added to the whole layer and more often than not you use them on text. Some excellent effects with making them 3D, outer shadows, gradient overlays, outlining and others too. Each of the effects has a set of controls so you can get exactly what you’re looking for from the effects. Also on the right-hand side you’ll find the brushes studio. If you start using some of the strange effects brushes on a layer you’ve already added 3D or bevel and emboss you’ll get some interesting results. It’s great for making some weird textures.

Best iPad Photo Editing App

What do you use Affinity Photo for?

If you need to do any sort of professional work with photos Affinity Photo is the tool for the job on the iPad. There are all sorts of filters, effects you apply to the whole of the photo, channels within selections or inside masks. You have a selection of brushes for making subtle adjustments to your photos. The app is not a drawing and painting application as you find with Procreate and yet there is room for creativity in making an image from scratch on a white blank canvas.

Working with photos you’re going to make use of the In Painting Brush, Clone Brush and other tools designed to remove imperfections from your photos. You have various traditional type tools such as dodging and burning, smudging, blurring and sharpening. Affinity Photo is the photoshop alternative to use on the iPad and you won’t be left wanting for photo editing tasks. If you are serious about photo editing on the iPad then Affinity Photo is a must buy.

Buy Affinity Photo for Mac

Buy Affinity Photo for iPad

Get the Book – Good and Geeky iPad Artist

Good and Geeky iPad Artist

Choosing Apple Carplay

I’ve just come back from a long trip in my car. I’ve decided I have good reasons for choosing Apple Carplay. I went to Les Angles which is on the French side of the Pyrenees. It was about 300 km and was basically a drive to Perpignan and turn left on the road towards Andorra. An interesting drive up the mountain to get to the camping site by the lake to rent a lovely wood cabin. It’s like a home from home where the dog gets lots of freedom walks in the forest and we all get plenty of fresh mountain air. During the journey I was able to use my iPhone for the GPS navigation. The last time we went on this trip I wasn’t able to because of the cost of roaming with the phone in France. Since June of this year there are no roaming charges so I could use my phone just as if I was still in Spain. This was also useful because the GPS unit in the car doesn’t have the maps for France. This is a bit of a surprise since we are so close to the border and the car is a French made car, a Renault Clio. So it was really useful to have my iPhone technology to help me while driving. Today I’ve gone one step further and I’ve ordered a Pioneer Carplay head unit.

Installing a Pioneer Apple Carplay in a Renault Clio

In the box for the Pioneer SPH–DA120 apart from the unit and the cradle it fits into, there is a GPS antenna and a couple of other bits and pieces. For the connection to the car it’s necessary to get the wires to connect up the steering wheel controls. Pioneer make a cable specifically for this purpose which you have to pay extra for. It’s another €100, but while searching for this cable I found a company selling the same thing for a little bit cheaper. So I ordered that and hopefully it won’t take too long to arrive after the Pioneer Apple Carplay radio unit arrives this Friday. It will also take an input from a rear view camera so I ordered one of those as well. The rear window of the Renault Clio is a little bit small and so useful to have a good view out of the back with video. Another good reason for choosing Apple Carplay.

Choosing Apple CarPlay

Why get Apple Carplay?

With the standard radio that comes with the Renault Clio I’m able to connect my iPhone using Bluetooth or with the cable. The problem is that it doesn’t really work if I want to use Siri commands to do things. This is why I’m choosing Apple Carplay. Last week, for example I was driving into the city and I wanted to let my wife know I was nearly at the destination to pick her up. I don’t want to pick up the phone and make messages while driving because that’s dangerous. So I should be able to start Siri and do what I need to do. Basically, it just does not work. On the screen of the Renault head unit which comes with a car it shows the screen as if I was trying to make a phone call. I don’t want to make a phone call, I want to send a text message. If I want to make a phone call with the iPhone connected, once again Siri doesn’t work for me with this device.

A Better View of the Maps

A larger view of the maps will be possible with the Pioneer Apple Carplay unit. It isn’t too bad on a iPhone 7+ with a larger screen if I want to see the maps while driving. It will be better though if I have the even larger screen in the dash. I’ll also be able to use Siri to find places and set up the navigation. The only problem I run into will be the ability of Siri to understand the Spanish names of places. We often laugh ourselves silly listening to the English version of Siri pronouncing the Spanish names badly. I suppose at some point in time on have to change to the Spanish version of Siri and speak only Spanish to my Apple AI device. Then it will depend upon whether my Spanish pronunciation is good enough. It probably won’t be considering the difficulty Siri has in understanding my Spanish wife speaking English to it.

Apple CarPlay Maps

Another advantage of having the larger screen with the Apple Carplay device in the car will be the ability to zoom in with a pinch. The device I have in the car presently doesn’t allow zooming in using the pinch gesture. Neither does it allow me to scroll by swiping across the screen. To scroll through anything on the standard Renault radio it’s necessary to press buttons to make it happen.

Listening to Podcasts in the Car

I’ll have to find out if it’s possible to use my preferred podcasting application or if I will have to go with the Apple Podcasts app. I see that Overcast works with Carplay and it used to be my favourite podcasting app before I changed to Pocket Casts. So I just checked on the website for Pocket Casts and I’m in luck it does support Carplay. In the support area of the website it says “if you’re getting a shiny new car, or stereo for your old rust bucket, rest assured you can plug in and go. When you do you’ll be able to browse your podcasts and filters for episode to play as well as control playback at all without touching your phone.” Well that’s good news!

Pocket Casts for Podcasts

A Good Decision – Choosing Apple Carplay

All keep my hands in the original unit to put back in the car if I ever want to sell it. It is a good car and it’s costing very little to run. I would prefer to buy myself an electric car. The new Nissan Leaf looks very nice indeed but too expensive for the amount of driving I do. It wouldn’t save me any money to be using the much cheaper electricity due to the relatively small number of kilometres I drive. Ever since I bought my Renault Clio I have kept a log of all of the petrol put into the car. The cost per month is less than €50 even when I’m using the car more during the summertime when I’m working. For that reason I can see myself keeping the car for many more years and so choosing Apple Carplay as my entertainment/navigation technology makes good sense. At least there’s a possibility of us getting an electric car because my wife’s car is badly in need of upgrading and for the long-term and electric vehicle is the way to go.

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Let’s chat. Tell me about your experience with car play.

Art Photo in Topaz Studio

Messing about with photos in Topaz Studio

I couldn’t resist working with some of the photos I took while away in France in Topaz Studio. The last time I was using Topaz I spent most of the time just working with Topaz impression because I am used to the effects I can get from it. I thought I should spend some time with Topaz Studio to try and get used to it. I found a lot of functionality I didn’t know was there. I’m quite impressed with the masking possibilities available. I can mask each effect separately and it can get quite complicated. There are spot masks, gradient masks and I can also use a brush to get down to the dirty details. On my nice new iMac, Topaz is working fast and the images are working extremely well. I definitely need to spend more time with the application to see what I can come up with. I’d like to send some of the images back to the iPad and work with them in Procreate, Metabrush and iColorama. I wouldn’t mind getting some of the images printed onto canvas and put up around the house. I also have half a thought that I’d like to get some acrylic paints and go analogue painting some of the images onto canvas.

It’s not just about adding filters

Due to there being a range of controls I can delve into the pre-made filter artistic creations. Some of the filters are subtle and some are completely wild. It’s possible to create images based upon a HDR style and get really gnarly detail along with highly saturated colour. There are filters which remove all of the colour and turn into a line drawing. Other filters completely change all of the colours and go more into with artistic creation with a combination of settings and how the filters are applied. It’s like when you have layers and you can choose whether to use normal, multiply, colour Burn, lighten, glow, subtract and various other filter settings. It’s not just a bunch of boring filters you can’t do anything with. You can combine a huge variety of settings to come up with something totally unique. When you have something you like you can save the settings and use it again on other images. Every image is different and it’s safe to say that you’re more likely to use a saved or premade filter as a starting point rather than throwing it as whatever picture you come across next.

What is creativity?

Creativity is all about making choices and decisions. You don’t have to be stuck with whatever application gives you. Use one application to give a certain sort of effect, move into a different application in which you could manipulate by painting and drawing on the iPad with Apple Pencil. Then there’s no reason at all why you could move it into a completely different application to do some finishing off. During the last couple days I have been working with Affinity Photo, Procreate, iColorama, Metabrush and Topaz Studio moving images in between them to get my artwork just the way I want it.

Steel Etching

Black and White Drawing Style

Art in Topaz Studio

Hazy Dream World

Get the iPad Art Book on Amazon

Get the iPad Art Book on Apple Book Store

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