A Hacker’s Guide to Alexa

FM Transmitter 2 with Amazon Alexa Echo DotAnother meaning of “hacking” is to “clear a path”. In this case I want Alexa to perform the way I want. I warn you I’m the guy who disabled the annoying “Bixby” button on my S8 android phone by gluing it down with two small dabs of clear silicone. This glue can be removed in the event of some incredible cosmic event where Bixby has something to offer me. Smart phones are only tools.

I am also completely uninterested in smart speakers including Alexa’s even with its extensive abilities except one . . . radio. I have seen oral navigation to a favorite radio station end up in terse arguments with a robot which keeps adding perceived insults to the request. The app that downloads to your phone is a not bad as long as you are willing to press the button a few times until it makes a selection. You can scroll through your history to find your favorite station without opening your mouth. This is particularly good when changing stations in the middle of the night. We keep the Alexa mic off after reflection of some of our home discussions. Question:  Can two people download the Alexa app and control one device?

I tried plugging Alexa close to my CCRadio 2E so I can plug it into the “audio-in” port. Unfortunately, the Alexa’s switching power adapter destroyed AM reception. I prefer over the air radio when I can get it because internet radio advertising is many times more repetitive and demeaning (IMHO). Plugging Alexa into another circuit about 25’ away solved the noise problem. Using an FM transmitter from Alexa to my CC Radio solved the transmission problem and gave me audio clarity I enjoy and an expanded radio dial that has infinite possibilities. There are a few potential obstacles to be aware of before you try an FM Transmitter.

  1. Some locations have a full dial of strong FM stations. You can check https://radio-locator.com/cgi-bin/vacant for a vacant station slot or tune the dial for dead air.
  2. The FM Transmitter-2 is low power so it only goes a maximum distance of about 45 feet line of sight with no obstructions.  In my location I was getting less. You can search “FM transmitter 2 mod” for user solutions if you’re not getting the range you need.

My predominant source of enjoyment is news (BBC), podcasts and late night radio, but I do love good movies and books too. I don’t think I am the only one who has shut off their cable after realizing all they want is keep your eyeballs looking at a screen any way they can in exchange advertising dollars.

Enter to Win: Do you have a smart speaker? If so, which one and how do you use it most? Have you found any useful tricks? Please answer in the comments below and be entered to win the FM Transmitter 2. Drawing to be held February 9th. Thanks! Please only one entry per person.

Congratulations to Charles Arneson on winning the FM Transmitter 2!

A Secret Garden of Music

secretgardenofmusic“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato.

Almost everyone perks up and starts a private inside dance, (or perhaps an evocation of sadness) when they hear a treasured song from their youth. The fact is we are all happy servants to the songs we grew up to. As far as I know, this human peculiarity spans every generation, state, country, continent and probably planet. Don’t feel the least bit slighted when you find out your music is not regarded as the “best ever recorded!”. My wife loves our CC Wifi time machine and says “It gives me the ability to go back in time and listen to something that was (or is) incredibly enjoyable. Good memories!”

Our music palette is not always as limited as I have portrayed. Most people respond to various music genres outside a personal world but may not have had the time or opportunity to learn more about it. As we mature, I think there is a combination of all music we have ever experienced, that leads us to a different kind of music enjoyment potential. I have never seen this theory in a scholarly paper but I firmly believe it is true for at least a large percentage of fellow humans.

How Do I Know? 

I still have affection for and was fortunate enough to see the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix live, among other big name groups. While very talented, I did not think the Rolling Stones or Cream had the same level of creativity. I also liked Buffalos Springfield and the Moody Blues and don’t know exactly why. I became apathetic to music in the late 70’s as it became more commercial. I found a chunk of heaven during that time when I ran across KFAT FM radio out of Gilroy (R rated). I had a disdain for modern country but I grew to love the much older country music (Hank Williams Sr.) and funny modern country they played. Back then 10% of a young Silicon Valley wore KFAT T-shirts and called each other Fat Heads! You can listen to the original broadcasts at KFAT.com including old commercials (you will have to download a player).

OK, What is available?

Beatles 101 RU from Russia:  If you love the Beatles you can hear a considerable amount of their music and off takes that you have never heard before. The Beatles played heavily in Germany and Russia while they were learning and it was recorded! I am not sure today how these stations are able to play these cuts legally.

Rock and Roll 101 RU from Russia:  Cuts are played from popular and/or obscure great artists but I have never heard most of them before. It is quite obvious someone in Russia knows and loves foundational American rock more than many Americans. The sheer quantity and variety of quality music from Russia on the CC Wifi is astounding. If you like classical music you are in for a quite a great ride!

Camara 95.9 from Columbia. This Spanish station plays very high quality music of tremendous variety.

Polka Heaven 24/7:  Yes, after a few hours of listening it becomes obvious the Polka music is recorded to produce pure fun and joy. My mother loves it and can’t stop being happy when she comes over.

Another favorite is African music. The best I’d found was streamed from Germany and disappeared one day and has never come back. See a tiny selection of African spirit music by searching YouTube for Kids of Sitya loss or see Simon and Garfunkle Call me Al Zimbabwe.

I love Cajun music as well but my favorite station disappeared around the time they started enforcing licensing fees. I like cuts from highly skilled musicians that have experience doing live concerts. Please let us know if you find any good stations like this.

Why is it secret/hidden?

Many Internet radio stations are not easily discovered, or do not play reliably from your smart phone or computer. You may find that true with a few of the stations listed above. I have the most success with the CC Wifi but there are a few other internet radios on the market as good or better. The CC WiFi plays the content from one of the original stream aggregators. I know at one point they had unique relationships with many stations and streamers worldwide. The ability to inquisitively play a station by country or genre works best for me.

I recommend you amplify the CC Wifi with a sound system or amplified speakers with generous bass response. The stream quality varies from bad to excellent so you don’t need the finest audio system to discover great new music.