A little “life hack”… Amazon Echo Dot in our Tesla Model S

So, like many people, we received an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas.

I actually ordered one for us when we decided to GIVE an Echo Dot to my Father-In-Law for his Christmas gift.  I wanted to get familiar with the technology before taking on the role of “Alexa Tech Support” for him.  We also decided to get an Echo Dot for my techie sister, but I didn’t need to train myself to be her “Alexa Tech Support.”

As a result, we now own multiple Amazon Echo Dots. [As I was writing this post, I realized that Amazon has an affiliate program, so many of the links to Amazon on this post is signed up under that program.]

For those unfamiliar with the Echo Dot, it’s basically a stripped down Amazon Echo integrated high fidelity speaker and voice “assistant” that Amazon created to help stream music and is configurable with many add-on “skills.”  It’s basically Siri for your home.  However, rather than wake her with the phrase Siri, you call her by her name “Alexa”, (or configure the trigger word to be Amazon or Echo).  (On a side note, Google saw what Amazon has done and created the Google Home as a response to Amazon’s Echo.  However, the Echo Dot is the less expensive alternative, using a basic speaker as opposed to the high end speakers in the original Echo and the Google Home.)  The Echo Dot’s price point without the integrated speakers make it a less expensive way to get into the genre.  In lieu of high fidelity speakers, the Echo Dot can be connected via a 3.5mm plug or Bluetooth.

To get the full audio entertainment possibilities for Echo and its eco-system, it is best to have a full Prime membership and the new add-ons that Amazon now sell (Amazon Music which unlocks a whole world of music, in addition to what is already included with Prime Music) I have yet to take that plunge and am currently working with just Prime Music.  The base system comes with basic TuneIn included and I find that I Heart Radio can be easily accessed with a free account, the other supported music providers are Pandora and Spotify, neither of which work on Alexa without a premium account, so I don’t use those.  Now, with the original Echo, the sound quality is superior and the little speakers on the Echo Dot will do for the indiscriminate listener, however, if you wish to use better speakers, that’s entirely possible by just attaching them to the 3.5mm or pairing via Bluetooth.

With Prime Music, coupled with my own library of albums, I am able to stream music randomly by genre or artist by default.  Such as when I ask “Alexa, play Sting” when she responds by “Shuffling songs by Sting” or a specific album, “Alexa, play The Police, Ghost in the Machine” and she responds “Ghost In the Machine, Remastered, by the Police” or my favorite, “Alexa, play New Wave music” and she says “Here is a Station for New Wave music, New Wave.”.  I believe that the Amazon Music that I currently don’t subscribe to just expands the universe of albums available.  I like to listen to music in complete albums.  I’m “old school” like that.  I believe that it’s the way that the artists intended for us to experience their work, so it’s great to just listen to albums that I purchased from Amazon directly or the ones provided on Prime Music.

As I started playing around with the Echo Dot, I was amazed at all the little things she can do using voice control.  The audio entertainment options are pretty good, but I found that I like having Alexa with me as my voice assistant in my office.  I can keep writing and just have her read Wikipedia articles, tell me the weather, tell me a joke, give me my Daily Briefing, give me the latest scores for my favorite sports teams, start or stop my lawn sprinklers, etc.

In the meantime, my techie sister received her own Alexa, and we were chatting about “her” to my sister and we briefly talked about the possibility of integrating Alexa into the car.  Considering that Alexa’s Bluetooth capabilities, we thought to give it a try. (Apparently, we were not the only ones thinking about this, here’s a thread on TMC on the same exact thing.)

So, yesterday, I tried driving around with Alexa as my co-pilot.

So, what did I bring with me.

1) Amazon Echo Dot (or “Alexa” as we now call her in our family.)

2) A wi-fi hotspot device

A) A Novotel Mifi Hotspot that I have that uses 3G

B) Enable my mobile’s hotspot function for 4G/LTE.

3) Re-use an existing Micro-USB charging cable in the car.

That was it.  Granted the Amazon Echo Dot that I set up in the car was previously configured at home, so we’re skipping that setup, we’re just moving the device from the office to the car.  (One of the nice things that Amazon has done is when adding an additional Echo device to the home, it already inherits the Skills learned on the account.)

Step 1

Since we’re starting out with an already configured Echo Dot, we have to get it ready to reconfigure. So, after we plug it into the car, we press the Action Button for Five seconds until the Orange Ring comes back on and go back to setting it up for the new Wi-Fi.


Step 2

This setup assumes that you’ve already configured the Echo Dot at home, so I already had the Alexa App downloaded to my iPad.


We connect to the Echo Dot via Wi-Fi so that we can use the Alexa App to configure its Wi-Fi to




After connecting to the Echo Dot, it will ask you for a few things on the setup screen, the important thing to get everything running is the setup for WiFi, find the mobile hotspot and enter the password OR if it’s hidden, enter the information.

Step 3

For the next step, I’m assuming that you want to use the Echo Dot as a Sound Source for your Model S.  I initially started this process on the Alexa App.  I went to Settings, selected the Echo Dot that we brought with us and started the Bluetooth Pairing there…


…then decided mid-way to just use the Model S Bluetooth option…

and selected the only Amazon BT that was broadcasting in the parking lot…

and voila… it worked…


Pay attention to the grayed out Phone and highlighted Media section…  This means that to switch to this input, you lose Phone access. (one of my early complaints about the Model S is the fact that the car only connects to ONE Bluetooth device at a time, my old Active E can connect to several and designate one BT as primary for phone calls…  But I digress.)


Step 4

Next comes placement of the device in the car…  At first, I placed my Echo Dot in the cup holder.


But as ANY Tesla owner can tell you, Tesla cup holder locations are a premium in their vehicles (the Roadster has ONE). So, I ended up relocating Alex down on the base of my car, right beside my Mifi box.


We’re now all set to use Alexa for streaming music while we drove. This worked fine, but I make a lot of calls when I’m out and about and this was not a “safe” way to use it, so I disconnected Alexa from the BT and used her independently of the Model S speakers.

One thing to bear in mind is in EITHER configuration, I had to tell Alexa to go to Volume 8 (maximum) so that I can hear her and the streaming on the Model S Bluetooth can be equivalent to content on the Model S infotainment system.

So, how was it?

Here are a couple of quick 30 second demo videos that I shot.  The first one shows Alexa playing the music through the car speakers… One thing that we lose is the display of the music that is playing, it’s no problem, but we have to ask Alexa for the song title, etc if we want to know what is playing.  Convenient at home, but on the road, I like the Model S Infotainment display information.

In this second video, we have Alexa as a co-pilot/companion on the drive.   So, she has her own speaker, she’s a little faint, but I use the car’s infotainment for the music and Alexa can tell me things that I don’t have to look away from the drive.  Things like what the current score is for the Laker game or tell me a joke.  One thing that I tried, but didn’t shoot on video was to see if Alexa can independently tell me what music is playing nearby (a la Shazam)…  She doesn’t understand that skill.  So, I guess I’ll have to see if Shazam will build that skill for Alexa.


1) The way I had it set-up, Alexa would turn-off and restart everytime I leave and get back in the car. This creates a delay.

2) On 3G and on LTE I got hiccups on the streaming and answers.  So, I chalk that up to network providers.  As this didn’t matter whether I was on Bluetooth or on Alexa’s own speakers.

3) Not an integration issue, but a syntax one.  Alexa currently is pretty picky with syntax, so if you don’t phrase it the same way that Alexa expects, she doesn’t do what you want.


1) Get a battery for Alexa. (luckily here’s an Amazon search for Amazon Echo batteries).

A) I haven’t selected one yet, but I’m leaning on getting this one –
Evo – an intelligent Battery Base for 2nd Generation Echo Dot. (“Alexa” unlimited) (EVO Black)

2) The LTE connection that I had was better than the 3G one, but I wanted to try it out and having multiple providers is useful to see the effect.  In the end, a 3G network will suffice.  However, it is important to get a better network connection.  Also, it will be important to know that Alexa, like the car’s streaming infotainment does require that a network connection be available.  Something that may or may not be available on longer drives.

3) Skills, skills, skills.  And further enhancement of the product.


In the end, it was novel to have Alexa with me on my drive and errands yesterday, but there’s still a way to go before she becomes a fixture on our long EV trips (like our Here, There, and EVerywhere or Long Way Round trips.)  Let’s hope that more skills are developed for Alexa that will tie in with the Model S better.   I find myself tempted to buy some Electric Motor Werks chargers because they HAVE an Alexa Skill built for the Juicebox… Maybe some other time…

Besides, if Tesla ever removes Slacker from the Model S, an Echo Dot with Alexa paired might be a good alternative…

Are you in the market for a Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X? Please think of using my referral code. I need one more for luggage and you save $1000 USD or £750 GBP (or whatever currency equivalent is in your country.) Referral purchases are what powered our Gigafactory Party invite and our jacket and overnight bag.

Saving Water on our Lawn?!?!

[edited links 1/1/2017 to product for Amazon Affiliate program, I was NOT an affiliate when I originally reviewed the product, links provided now are through the Amazon Affiliate program]

We live in drought-stricken California.  We try our best to merge green solutions while also saving money.  We’re not the “best” of the environmentally-enlightened, but we do try.  Some have taken more aggressive stances when it comes to dealing with the drought.  We were not willing to rip up our lawn and put in indigenous desert plants for the arid Southern California climate, nor were we willing to rip up our lawn and replace with an artificial one.  So, we figured to do something “drought” friendlier and more convenient than scrambling to turn off our sprinkler the few instances that it does rain.

On March 9, 2016 we decided to pick up a woot.com deal for a refurbished Rachio 8ZULW 8 Zone Wi-Fi Sprinkler.  After shipping and taxes the whole thing ended up costing us $136.24.  This device has been on woot.com several time before (and since we bought it) but what really clinched the deal for us was there was a $119.99 rebate that was offered by local agencies.  (As of this latest edit on 1/1/2017, The Rachio 8 Zone Irrigation Controller is now only sold via third parties, the Rachio 16 Zone Smart Sprinkler Controller or the Updated Rachio 8 Zone 2nd Generation are still available directly from Amazon.)

IMG_20160422_122305 edited

This particular smart sprinkler controller is designed to optimize watering of the end user’s lawn and save the user water on this use.  It adjusts the watering times based on the season as well as shut down the scheduled watering when there is scheduled precipitation based on weather reports. I’m not the most handy of guys, but thought to tackle this upgrade of our lawn watering by replacing our traditional timer with the Rachio 8ZULW. We only had five zones wired at home, so I thought that this was the ideal size.

So, how did we go about replacing our sprinkler controller with this smart sprinkler controller?  Since we were replacing an existing set-up, it was pretty easy.

Step One – Identify what we have

Identify how many zones.  (size controller for set-up).   As mentioned before, we have five zones, so an eight zone system works great.

Step Two – Deinstall existing

De-install existing controller and identify where each zone is on the lawn.

This was our old controller:



Step Three- Install new Hardware

Install each zone to the relevant spot on the new controller.


Mount it on the wall.


Plug it in.


Turned out our wi-fi network won’t reach the garage, so we had to get that taken care of.

Step Four – Make sure wi-fi reaches device

Install our wi-fi extender. (Had an extra one already, had to re-position it to reach the garage.) This is important not just for the sprinkler head, but also for the Model S. It’s helpful to have it over Wi-Fi while in the garage rather than rely solely on the LTE connection.

Here is our wi-fi extender un-synced.


and now synced


Step Five – Connect Device to Wi-Fi

Continue the software setup of the controller to get it operational.  Download the Rachio app (I use iOS devices, so I downloaded that version.  I believe there is also an Android one.)

I set up a Rachio Generation 1 controller (that’s what we got refurbished) and followed the set-up from the App.







It starts a five second count down to allow the user to place the face of the iphone device on the optical sensor on the controller to allow it to configure itself to the wi-fi network.


When done the app will look for the controller via the Internet connection.


Step Six – Configure software

The rest of the configuration is completed in the app.  I forgot to take the screenshots of each section, but it asked for the type of foliage and soil conditions for each zone.  I initially configured it this way, but reverted to a timed base one… For now, I wanted to get comfortable and there is a watering limit in my neighborhood and didn’t want the zones to overflow.

Step Seven – Just run it.

This is what the controller looks when it is ready to go.


Step Eight – Review the screens and reports available.

Configuring the controller was easy.

Here is the Home page, it let’s us know the status of the controller and the local weather.


Give us a look ahead to what the local weather looks like.  (This is Southern California, after all, and rain is not so common, but when it does, we have laws on the books to prevent us from running our sprinklers.)


Furthermore, during the non-Summer months, we’re limited to two days of watering per week.  In the Summer months, Thursday is added on.  However, the screenshot was of April and we only water Saturday and Tuesday.


The next screen shows the status of which zones were watered and when the next one will be watered.


Finally, an estimate of how many gallons of water were used to water our yard.


Reports of how long the sprinklers ran in previous events.


As well as when rain happens and the sprinklers are shut down.


There are some interesting community stats as well as individual stats.


And then estimated charts of water use.  This is important to note that it is not actually measuring the water flow, it is just estimating it based upon when valves are opened and closed and the average flow of water in average households.


So, did it work?  It’s been several months since we’ve added the controller to our system and though we expected more precipitation this year due to the El Nino effect, we’ve had very few instances of rain to initiate a skip of a scheduled watering event.

One of the things that we did see during the summer is the Smart Cycle that split some watering sessions to minimize run-off by splitting the session in half.

Step Nine – Receive Rebate Check and deposit.

On the financial side, however, we received a rebate check for $119.99 on May 16, 2016, so after all this, we picked up the sprinkler controller for $16.25.  Considering sprinkler controllers for five zones that are NOT intelligent are at least $50, still a great deal.

One thing that the controller does is report status via in app notifications to my connected iOS devices.  I often get notifications from the Rachio application when the controller starts the watering cycle and when it ends.  Additionally, I have created a second schedule to accommodate the additional day allowed by the city to water during the Summer months.  Furthermore, in the instances when the controller is knocked off-line, it reports this error as well.  I’ve found this to be helpful feedback.

Hopefully the device will “earn its keep”.  I think that it’s good to be aware of what we’re using, but not quite sure if we’ve really saved much water…  Yet. Perhaps with the Smart Cycle, but I’m not sure.

[Update 1/1/2017, I have successfully integrated this product with Amazon’s Alexa and it is definitely “earning its keep”.  The smart skip feature alone helps save water as it checks for rain and the wet 2016-2017 Early-Winter has been good.  I’ll probably have a follow up post on using it with Alexa.]

Apple takes away Google Maps, but gives you MAP on the other hand!


I haven’t yet enabled iOS 6.0 on my wife’s iPhone (have a few more challenges before I take that on.)  But one thing that I did read about (aside from people complaining about Apple’s Maps versus Google Maps) is the launch of MAP (Message Access Profile) support on iOS 6.0…

I am upgrading my iPod Touch to see if I can get the ActiveE to read my mail on the iPod Touch, but won’t know until later.

[Update: 4:00 pm, tried to get my iPod Touch to read on the ActiveE, no joy.  It may just be the fact that it is an iPod Touch and not a phone.  The car sees it as a phone over bluetooth as I was able to pair it, but could not get music to play over the connection.  I tried to see if Show Notifications on the device setting under Bluetooth (default off, I turned it on) would do anything, and still no joy.  I had the iPod Touch connected to the Internet via a MiFi that I carry, so it had Internet access.]

I found the following articles to be helpful

I will report further once I have tested it out.

[Update: 9/27/2012 Noon PDT.  I borrowed my colleagues’ iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s that were both running iOs 6.0.  No joy on either.  I was able to pair both phones to the ActiveE.  I went into each one’s bluetooth configuration for the car and told each phone to allow Sending messages over that specific bluetooth link.  I then sent text messages to both phones.  Waited a couple of minutes and no messages were notified or viewable on the car.  Messages were received by the respective iPhone.  I wonder whether or not this is an iPhone 5 only feature or if it is user error or my impatience.]

Even though Apple may be removing the built in Google Maps and supplementing their own maps in iOS 6.0, they are at least giving you MAP access.


Yes,  I’m still here.

I’ve been busy with our ActiveE and have been on vacation on top of that…  I promise at least two more ChargeIt! articles for two really great food AND charging facilities (here’s one of them – Gjelina at Electric Avenue in Venice). [Here’s the other Church and State – Mateo Street Charger, now caught up for the Great Food series.]  However, trying to decide on whether to do the next article on joining the Solar powered movement.

Still haven’t received my “official” PTO, but I did notice an off-cycle close to my SCE account this past Friday (August 17) (when I logged in to my SCE account on Saturday) and followed up with a call to SCE on Saturday morning.  According to the telephone representative my permission to operate (PTO) letter went out last week and I am now generating my own energy via the Solar Panels on the roof of the house.

Thanks to BMW and its partnership with Real Goods Solar, I was able to get a system at a bigger discount than I had originally negotiated with Solar City.  But that will have to be the subject of a subsequent post.  As well as updates to my Back of the Napkin Math series (1) and (2).

As those that have followed this blog, I’m not an “environmentalist”, I just like to save money.  As long as one has a “long” view, the money savings will follow those that do things that are “environmental.”

Speedometer video test…

There have been numerous reports on the ActiveE forums about the speedometer of the ActiveE (and other German vehicles for that matter) as being grossly overstated.

I wanted to see this for myself, so to test this, I went ahead and installed my portable GPS in the ActiveE and compared the velocity that it showed on the GPS with the speedometer of my ActiveE.

So, the first test was to do this on surface street speeds.

As you can see from the video, there is a discrepancy at lower speeds. So, I figured to try this on the freeway…

It looks like the folks on the BMW ActiveE forums were right. The car does overstate its speed to the tune of 3-5 mph.

Sirius radio tips… or… things to make the commute easier…

Hi all.

Been traveling this week, so I’ve been away from my ActiveE. I did take a few hours on Wednesday, in between flights to take the car out of “free” parking at LAX lot 6.  So far, saved $68 for parking at LAX (1 $3 stay and the second a $65 stay.)

For those that don’t know. One of the side benefits to driving a fully electric car is LAX offers parking in two lots at the airport at no cost (Lot 1 and Lot 6). Additionally, charging is free. As of Wednesday, April 18, 2012. They were still the old style L2 chargers, BUT as I was leaving on my flight out that day, workmen were replacing a good number of these pictured to new Clipper Creek L2 chargers. (Lot 6 is pictured, ’cause I fly mainly United and American).


I’ll post an update later with pics of the new chargers if their upgraded when I get back to LAX tonight… (writing this blog entry in the air between NYC and LA).

As cool as those benefits are, I started writing this post to demonstrate some cool Sirius tips.

Tip 1 – Timeshifting of Sirius Radio –

Take a look at the video below –

It’s kinda cool. I use this feature when I listen to talk radio and I miss what was said…

Or, if you have music that you want to keep playing over and over.

Tip 2 – Favorites lists…

One of the nice things about Satellite radio is you can keep favorites lists so that if something you like is playing, it’ll pop up for you. I like to listen to NBA games while I drive home, so… I made a favorite for it. Additionally, I keep track of home teams, so I added the LA Kings as well. Just in case.

Of course… You have to start in Satellite Radio…


If you’re not on a channel that has your favorites on it, move the iDrive control to the left and then select favorites, and the items that are tagged with your favorites will pop up.


These icons on the left pop up, when you move to the left.


Once you select the favorites menu, then all these that match your favorites will pop up


You can then listen to whatever game or program you’re interested in…

Now, to STORE your favorites, you get that by going deeper into the program selected…

Here is what it looks like when you expand the selection –


You could select to store the channel (as indicated in the top portion) or select the various categories that are provided (as indicated in the second portion).

I selected and stored the NBA below.


Now, I repeated the process to store the LA Kings…



So, now that we’ve stored the NBA and LA Kings as favorites, the choices look like the following:


Needless to say. The included one year of satellite radio provides us with very good entertainment options during long commute home. Especially when traffic forces us to drive more “efficiently”…

BMW ActiveE features – MAP access and Text to Voice Email

A quick how-to video on accessing the Text to Speech functions on the BMW ActiveE.  This uses the Bluetooth MAP (Message Access Profile (had to look this one up, I thought it was Protocol) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth_profile#Message_Access_Profile_.28MAP.29

My wife’s BlackBerry Pearl 8100 does not support MAP, so no access to text to speech functions.

Via Flickr:This is a How-to video on how to access the text-to-speech functions of the 2011 BMW ActiveE.  It was run between my BlackBerry Bold 9900 and my BMW ActiveE

[Update September 9, 2012 – for Apple iPhone users, iOS 6.0 supports MAP integration now, check to see if you can use it by upgrading and enabling it.  I will post this once I upgrade my wife’s iPhone 4 to iOS 6.0.  Here is my update on this.]