Home automation

Brief experiment with Apple Music on the Amazon Echo

Read Apple Music is Now Available on the Amazon Echo for the (week old) scoop.

I have played around with this a little and there are still some major hang ups with using Apple Music on Amazon Echos.

In my limited testing, Echo did not always play requested music from my Apple Music account, even though Apple Music was set as the defaul music service to stream through when not otherwise specified.

Problem two: Amazon Echos can not stream to a group of Sonos speakers. This is pretty much a deal breaker as I can ask my HomePod to play music and have it send the output to a group of Sonos speakers via AirPlay 2. Echos can only stream from themselves.

Even the HomePod is early days enough that there are tons of hang ups with grouping speakers. It often forgets which speakers I like to AirPlay to and I have to readjust my groups in the AirPlay settings. This is a pain, but at least I have the option to do it.

I would love to see an update to the Home app and or Shortcuts app that allows me to create an automation that triggers music from pre-specified speaker groups at a specific time or based on my location. This is something that the Echo can do. Fingers crossed.

Last minute holiday gift guide

Looking for some last minute holiday gift ideas? Here are some things I have had positive experiences with in 2017.


Echo Dot:

These are so cheap and useful that we have one in almost every room of the house. In the kitchen it sets timers and does measurements. In the living room it turns lights on and off, plays music, turns on the tv, and changes the HDMI input for us (in combination with other home automated tools). In my music studio, it sets timers for student practice. They are just all around useful.


Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Red Subscription:

These days I am using Apple Music because of its rich integration with Siri and my iTunes library. But I sure do yearn for some of the features of Spotify that I lost in the switch. Things like the weekly music discovery playlists, native integration with my Sonos speakers, and all of the social features. YouTube Red ain’t bad either. It takes away YouTube ads, allows you to play YouTube while the app isn’t in the foreground on mobile devices (which it should do for free IMO), and comes with access to Google Play Music (which is an offering similar to Spotify and Apple Music).


Spire Stone: Stress Management and Activity Tracker for iOS and Android:

You likely own or have heard of a smart watch. These devices are great for tracking workouts, steps, and heart rates. But I have found that more often than not my breathing is more immediately relatable to my health. Spire is a wearable device that tracks your respiratory rate. It comes with a companion app that shows you your breathing trends. Calm is for streaks of slow consistent breathing, Focus is for consistent but elevated breathing, Sedate for moments of inactivity, Active for movement, and Stress for moments of inconsistent breathing. The app displays when during the day you are encountering these streaks and even tells you which events in your calendar are happening during those times. A lot of interesting insight can be gained by this. For example, my stress often occurs during moments of transition, like getting into the car. Spire has helped me to be more more mindful of that. The companion app even comes with guided breathing and meditation exercises. Your active minutes meditating, and respiratory rate, can sync to the Apple Health app so you can see it alongside your steps, heart rate, etc...



If you like games, and a little bit of strategy, this is one of my all time favorites. Dominion is easily a party favorite for us, even amongst our friends who do not care for strategy-rich games. Dominion is a deck building game. Over the course of a game, you try to balance a hand of victory point cards (that win you the game but do nothing when you have them in your hand), money (which can buy you things but is otherwise useless in your hand) and action cards (which can be strategically purchased to allow advantageous chain reactions.) The game is fast paced once you learn it. And by omitting offensive cards it is almost a game you feel like you are playing against yourself, but with others at the table also doing the same.


Anker Quick Charge 3.0 63W 5-Port Wall Charger:

When I pause to think about it, this might be my most used device on the list. This thing provides charge to my watch, phone, and tablet each night. When I travel, gone are the days of packing every charging brick in my surge protector. Just one brick, and I am ready to charge all of my devices in one outlet.



Looking to up your coffee game? The Aeropress is my favorite method of brewing. It consistently makes the most flavorful, balanced, cup of coffee I am capable of making. Of course, your coffee is only as good as your beans and the rest of your process, but as for the brewing, I have not found a better way. The Aeropress is also fast and easy to clean. The only downside is that it produces a small amount. If you are looking to solve that problem, you could try the Chemex, my second favorite coffee brewing method (and also a great gift.)


Philips Hue Light Bulbs:

I love controlling my house with these. I can operate them in the Home app on my phone, command them with Alexa and Siri, and create powerful automations. My favorite one includes waking me up in the morning by raising a subtle red toned light on my night stand lightbulb. It is a natural color to wake up to, and doesn’t bother my wife.


Intelliroll Terxtured High Density Foam Roller for Muscler Trigger Point Massage, Physical Therapy and Exercise:

The past few years have marked a more health conscious version of myself. Rolling out troubling muscles every day has gone a long way to help me battle some problems I am having with inflammation. Everyone has their favorite roller. This one is becoming mine. The shape conforms to the spine for easy back rolling. The shape also allows for infinite options for getting to all of the difficult spots. The one I linked here is not for the faint of heart. It is VERY hard. But the blue version is much more accessible.


Tile Mate Key Finder:

This thing has saved me so many times. Tile goes in your wallet, bag, keys, whatever, and connects to your phone over Bluetooth. While on a WiFi network, Tile remembers its geolocation. When you misplace something of yours, you can open the app, and Tile will tell you where it was last connected to the internet on a map.

My favorite apps of 2015

I feel the need to defend these apps in a way that I didn't for my favorite albums of 2015 list I posted yesterday. In part, this is because music's role in my life has a certain type of inevitability that makes it difficult for me to immediately understand its value myself. Secondly, the music I experienced this past year is worth so many more words than I could possibly type. Finally, apps, especially paid ones, tend to require a defense; a "why do I need to buy this?" Their value is also often technical and practical, and can be condensed down into a few sentences.


Documents by Readdle

I can't remember what getting work done on an iPad or iPhone felt like before discovering this app. Think of this as the missing Finder on iOS.


My new favorite for setting timers and reminders. I like how persistently it bugs me until I actually complete the task.


Unbelievable automator for creating multi step workflows on iOS.


For getting all physical paper into the cloud as beautifully formatted, text searchable, PDFs. Syncs effortlessly to Evernote, lightning fast, and zero step scanning.

Apple Notes

Stellar update this year to the notes app that comes bundled with Apple devices. I love the rich text formatting, web clipping, and list support.


A great app by the makers of two of my favorites: OmniFocus and OmniOutliner. OmniGraffle has come to replace Adobe Illustrator for me. It is my go-to for designing graphics. Specifically, I use it to design seating charts for my classes.


Amazing service for linking different internet connected services and devices. You can create if-then statements to automate them. Example: If I am tagged in a Facebook post, save that photo to my Dropbox. Another example: When I arrive at home, then turn on the lights in my house.


Cooking game changer! My wife and I clip recipes from the web into this app and it formats them beautifully so we can isolate ingredients, directions, and set timers. It has a built in grocery list and meal planning feature that can send data to Apple Reminders and Calendar apps, respectively.


I have been listening to a lot of podcasts this year. Overcast offers the best experience of all the podcast apps I have tried.



Not a new app to me but I have really taken to organizing my scores on the iPad with this app over the last year. It has truly revolutionized my musical workflow throughout my band directing, private teaching, gigging, and church music directing jobs.


Still my favorite metronome app on iOS.


My favorite tuning app. Features gamified tuning, polyphonic tuning drones, just intonation, and simultaneous metronome and tuner playback.


Using these apps (and more) in combination with the Apple Health app and Apple Watch, I have lost about 30 pounds since late August. Ok, really, I worked out and changed my diet some, but the apps helped.


Helps me set goals for water consumption and see my progress each day. Logging water is easy with the Apple Watch app and all data syncs to the Apple Health app.


This app is fun for tracking work outs and food, but I use it primarily to track the hours I sleep each night. It accomplishes this through the motion of my iPhone.


I have been using this app to track calorie and nutrition data for almost a year now. Really easy and addictive to use once you get into a routine.


This app, in combination with the wearable tracker by the same name, has allowed me to track trends in my breathing for the last few months. The app categorizes my breathing patterns into "focus," "tense," "calm," and "activity." When it senses a streak of tension, it sends my watch a message to breathe slower. It also allows me to set goals for minutes of focus per day, offers guided meditation, and syncs respiratory rate data to Apple Health.


All of these require home automated hardware to be useful. By recommending them, I am recommending the devices themselves as well.


Automated TV remote. No more fuss over HDMI inputs and multiple remotes. This app controls all of the things plugged into my TV and allows me to trigger different things on and off with simple one tap button presses.

Philips Hue

Lights that connect to wifi. These can be controlled from a phone app, automated with services like IFTTT, and commanded with Siri.


High quality speakers that connect to one another over a home wifi network.


Crossy Road

Shooty Skies