The fantastic Amazon Echo has just recently arrived on UK shores and with this always-listening virtual assistant in our homes there’s plenty of cool automation and fun at our fingertips.
Setting up is easy enough, but there’s some other things to consider…
Connecting to Spotify
Out of the box the Amazon Echo can and will play music for you from either Tunein radio or Amazon Music, but if you have a premium Spotify account you can also connect that so you can listen to all your favourite playlists.
In the UK, we’ve had some reports of people unable to connect their Spotify account to the Echo because of a problem with authorisation (a blank page appearing on the authorisation URL https://layla.amazon.com/spa/partner/authorization-result.html). The good news is there’s a solution to this problem as you can also access Alexa’s settings (and therefore authorise Spotify) via the web on a desktop or laptop via https://alexa.amazon.co.uk/spa/index.html. We found this fixed the issue for us.
Alexa and automation
Echo is pretty smart and if you’ve already got smart devices installed in your home then there’s plenty of functionality here. You can also do a lot more with your Echo by combining it with IFTTT this includes things like getting reminders on your phone when a new task is added to your to-do list, get an email notification when an item is added to your shopping list (handy if you’re out and a family member is adding things to the shopping list at home) and much more. With IFTTT you can also get your Echo to work with smart devices in the house which don’t currently have direct compatibility, like the Harmony Hub for example.
Find out what other services are compatible with Alexa over on Pocket-lint.
Quidco is great. Cashback is great. The concept is simple and if you’re not using it, you’re missing out on what is essentially ‘free’ money. Yes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world, but if you’re spending money, why not make some money as well?
The concept of Quidco is simple enough, you sign-up, search for a retailer and click to ‘visit’ the site for cashback. I suppose the premise is you’ll use retailers you might never have done before (or competitors of ones you would use) simply because you’re going to make more money in cashback. Balance that with a bit of price comparison and you might not only save money but make some back too.
I only discovered the magic of cashback a year or so ago. I wish I’d discovered it sooner. It’s great for saving money for Christmas presents or treating yourself. Plus if you’re buying gifts for other people you still feel like you’re getting something out of it too.
Getting Even More Cashback
The one problem I have with Quidco is I often forget to check to see if a site has cashback, unless it’s somewhere I regularly shop (like My Protein). Then I discovered their Cashback Reminder Extension for Google Chrome.
The idea of this is just as simple as the premise of the cashback itself. When you’re browsing/shopping/surfing you’ll get a pop-up to let you know when the site has cashback available. This is great not only as a reminder, but also to discover sites you didn’t even know did cashback to rake those rewards in.
Pretty simple right? And yet another free way to support your cashback earnings.
But wait, there’s more…
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better there’s even more. The Quidco App includes some functionality to improve your cashback opportunities even further. You can get notified of local deals – but my favourite thing is the ability to ‘register’ your credit/debit cards to your account. That means that when you visit a traditional brick-and-mortar store and make a purchase you might well be earning more cashback (that of course does depend on whether they’re in the program, but you get the idea).
If that’s not enough…
If that’s not enough money for you, there’s also Quidco Opinions – free surveys you can participate in that give you extra cash in your account. They’re pretty straightforward and similar to the likes of Valued Opinions, but it’s worth spending the time on them.
On an unrelated note, if you’re looking to save money as well as earn cashback then install invisible hand. This is a browser extension/plugin which notifies of cheaper prices elsewhere. So if you’re shopping for a particular product then you’ll get a pop-up to tell you you could save £££ by shopping elsewhere.
Good news for anyone that’s bought a Chromecast recently, Google’s got a special offer on. Set up your Chromecast and visit chromecast.com/offers by 31 January 2015 and you can get £15 of Google Play credit! Not bad eh? If you were lucky enough to get a Chromecast in a recent Amazon sale you’ll have got it for £18, so essentially have paid £3 for it with free films/music! Nice.
If you weren’t that lucky, don’t worry, there’s still offers on. I checked my (older) Chromecast yesterday and had 3 months of free Now TV, 90 days of Google Play Music Unlimited and the original X-Men film to download and keep! Nice.
To check it out simply logon to your home PC or laptop in your wifi connection (the same one as the Chromecast), download the Chromecast extension and follow this link https://cast.google.com/chromecast/offers/
The Moto 360 is undeniably a lovely looking watch, but when it comes to watches I’m a big fan of metal straps. They just feel more substantial and a better quality. Alas, the Moto 360 didn’t offer a metal strap on release only the standard leather strap. Now that leather strap is nice enough, but it doesn’t meet my requirements.
Motorola is eventually planning on releasing a metal strap for the Moto 360 and they’re going to be charging around £50 for it. That’s a lot of money for a strap when you’ve already paid £200 for the watch in the first place in my humble opinion.
I Google’d my way around the web and found a suitable short-term solution. It turns out that the fitting on the back of the Moto 360 won’t fit with any old strap, it’s quite narrow but it will work with the metal strap from the Pebble Steel. I found and purchased one from Mobile Fun and it was quickly delivered.
Fitting is remarkably easy. Of course the packaging and manual is designed for and aimed at the Pebble Steel watch, but it does contain extra pins and a removal tool that works perfectly for our task.
You could take it to a jeweler or watch shop, but it’s pretty easy to change yourself.
The first step is to ease the old strap off. Easy enough, turn the watch over and tease at the very edge of it with the tool supplied in the Pebble Steel box. A small flat head screwdriver will do equally as well if needs be.
Tease the corner and ease one end of the pin out. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how to do that, it’s pretty simple. Once that’s done it’ll pop out easily from the other side as well.
Now repeat the process on the other strap.
Then it’s basically repeating the process in the opposite fashion to install the new strap. Remember to check which way the clasp is going to face based on which you’d prefer (it’s a pinch clasp).
It’s a quick and easy job, just a little fiddly but well worth the effort.
The final result is a much better looking watch with a bit of style and class without a massive outlay.
You may well find that the Pebble Steel strap is a bit long for your use and it’s obviously not as easy to tighten as the leather strap. Not to worry, it’s easy enough to remove links and shorten the strap, you just need patience and a little sweat. This video explains how:
I talked before about Tasker and what amazing things you can do with it. But I only really scratched the surface and recommended a few things, then pointed you in the direction of some videos. I thought it would be worth doing a follow up on other things I’ve discovered since.
So I was reading the various profiles other people had made and trying to decide which ones I liked the sound of. ‘Auto Respond While Driving‘ sounded instantly appealing. Basically it sends an SMS reply to incoming text message while you’re driving – doesn’t sound that impressive on the surface of it, but actually it’s much cooler, especially when you consider the steps the task is taking.
Firstly, the task is working out that you’re driving by using your GPS to determine your speed. Anything over 5mph (worked out by a clever variable) is deemed as driving (so you should note this task will kick in on trains, planes and automobiles). So, any incoming SMS will trigger this task if you’re travelling over that speed. The phone then responds with an automatic message (which you can choose the wording for) that includes a message about how you’ll get back to the sender but also highlights how fast you were going at the time.
Here you can see we did a couple of tests – I got my wife to text me while I was driving and she was sitting next to me. I was in a 40mph then 60mph zone at the time, so no, I wasn’t speeding. But it worked perfectly.
You can optimise the task by telling it not to check GPS if you’re near familiar wifi.
So here, you’ll note the conditions are: if any text is received and I’m not near (home) wifi and not near (work) wifi, then perform task. The task then checks my speed and if over 5mph it’ll carry out the auto text reply.
Neat eh? The best bit is it’s really easy to do because the profile is available to download, you just need to tweak your settings and add your wifi (inverted) as not near to complete it (for optimum battery life).
Last night while sitting happily watching the latest episode of Top Gear with my wife, my pocket vibrated and I got the news that my Twitter account had been hacked. A couple of helpful followers had mentioned me to say they’d received a weird direct message from me. I looked and sure enough, I’d sent out a weird tweet and a few DM’s. I immediately turned on my PC and went into action.
Over time I’ve seen plenty of people hacked, from friends to journalists to tech people. No one is safe, but I was a bit annoyed as I thought I’d be relatively careful. I was aware however that my passwords were lacking in optimal security. But I was being carefree about it, why would anyone bother hacking me? It’s not like I have many followers or popularity. So I left the task of improving my password to another day – typical procrastination. I’m sure you’re guilty of it too. Password security is a hassle. Having to have multiple passwords and remember them all, but not just that, to actually use something that’s secure – not your birthday, your cat’s name or ‘password1’. Obviously I hadn’t been that lax, my password was a mix of letters and numbers and not dictionary words, but it still wasn’t sufficient.
The other usual way people get caught out on Twitter is phishing links and dodgy DM’s. I’ve always taken care to avoid clicking links, especially from accounts that look suspicious, but even from people I know where they’ve just sent a link and nothing else. Not only are my friends not that lazy, they’re more sensible.
Repairing The Damage
Obviously the first step in dealing with the issue was to go and change my password, then go about fixing the rest of the problems – apologising to followers and messages, deleting new follows (the hacker had followed a load of random accounts) and then moving onto securing more of my online presence. I spent an hour on it, but I feel a bit more comfortable now.
I’ve written before about using Keypass to create safe and secure passwords but I’d foolishly not followed my own advice across the board. Now was the time to do just that. So I booted it up and set about generating long, complicated and intricate passwords. Set to 25 characters, with numbers, letters, special characters, spaces and brackets my old password was replaced by a new uber password. I then discovered that Twitter has a two-factor authentication system that I wasn’t aware of. So that’s setup too.
Under security and privacy, there’s a login security section where you can require Twitter to send verification emails to your phone. This means that even if someone does break my new super password then they’ll still fall down as they won’t be able to get the verification code as well.
Once that was done, I checked the apps (and removed any I didn’t trust), checked my profile, links and email address, then moved on elsewhere. I later came back and removed followers and blocked certain people, but I won’t both you with that.
On the basis that Twitter was so easily hacked I thought it was a good time to protect other things rather than get burned again. Twitter was connected to my Yahoo! email address, but luckily I’d already set that up with a good password (and different from Twitter) so I was pretty sure that was secure. But just to be sure I changed that as well. Then Gmail, Facebook, Paypal, Ebay, Amazon, Ebuyer, Steam, the list goes on. Each of those accounts now has a password so long and complicated I couldn’t possibly tell you what it is.
Side note – Keypass lets you generate unique passwords with a variety of settings including length, complexity and more. You can then copy and paste these onto the websites and save to keep your account secure. I used a different password for each and saved them all into my password database. However, Paypal was a major pain, you can’t copy and paste when resetting your Paypal password, so if you want a mega secure password you have to manually type out every letter, character and number. This was a massive hassle, but hopefully worth it. Paypal does have two-factor authentication as well now, so I’d recommend using that.
The moral of this story is to do this before you get into trouble. It doesn’t take long really and it ensures your passwords are secure and unique across the board. So many sites are getting hacked lately, if one gets attacked you’re leaving yourself wide open to getting hacked elsewhere.
If you need a horror story to scare you into action (as mine is a bit ‘meh’) then I’d recommend reading about how @N got stolen by social engineering, stubborness and foolishness (using a domain email address rather than Gmail).