Light switches… how quaint

Light switches… how quaint

A while back I got an invite to purchase an Amazon Echo as part of a pre-release thingy. I had no idea what the hell an Echo was or how I might use it, but the idea of a a bluetooth speaker I could tell to play music and maybe look for things on the Internet intrigued me, and it wasn’t very expensive, so I bought it.

It arrived and other than use it to tell me the weather, give me some news in the morning, or play music, I didn’t do a whole lot with it. I knew there were things it could do that I wasn’t taking advantage of – shopping lists and stuff like that, but I’m not really all that organized to begin with, so meh. I also was intrigued, but didn’t really have any ideas for projects, by the idea that Echo is programmable.

Then last week I was reading various sites and saw that GE had come out with a smart bulb called the GE Link, and that Home Depot was selling those things for like $15 each for a BR30 “flood” type light. Then I also saw that these GE Link bulbs would work with the Philips Hue system, and there was a discount on a starter kit for Hue…

… And Hue and Echo can talk to each other…

Who HASN’T thought, “Yeah, I want to be able to talk to my lightbulbs and tell them to turn off and on?” And also, I mean, theoretically I’m gonna save money on electricity… So out I go to Home Depot and I grab some bulbs and the Hue starter kid and bring them home.

Hue has a hub that is the brain for all the bulbs. You set up the hub, you tell the hub to find the lights and it searches for any smart bulbs that are plugged in and then you can name them and go from there. This was all super easy – and it was really slick. I plug the hub into my network, put the bulbs in their sockets, and then tell the Hue app to find your lights. The lights blink as Hue finds them, and then when you click on each one individually to name it it blinks so you know exactly where it is. Then I told Alexa to discover appliances and she hooked up with Hue (they’re a cute couple) and now I can shout out “Alexa, turn on the island!” And lo, there is light over the kitchen island!

I spent a couple of┬áminutes telling Alexa to turn the lights on and off and then realized hey, they’re dimmable bulbs… “Alexa, turn island to 50%” – AND THEY DIMMED! EXCITING TIMES!

I had also bought a GE Link BR30 bulb when I got the starter kit with 2 standard bulbs, so I put that one in my master bathroom. I didn’t know if Hue would detect it – I’d read conflicting reports – but it was picked up and then imported to the Echo the same as the others and worked just as well.

This was great, so I went back out to Home Depot and grabbed enough BR30 floods for the rest of the first floor of my place as well as 4 of the Hue color floods for my bedroom. Got those all set up and it’s great – I can tell Alexa to turn on and off various groups of bulbs and she does. Alexa doesn’t work well with what Hue calls “scenes” so if I want to take advantage of the color changing properties of the bulbs in my bedroom, I have to talk to a different computer – Siri.

I set Siri up to be able to set multiple scenes – all deep red (awesome when I was watching Daredevil on Netflix), purple, green, yellow – the whole gamut of color, just to be fun. “Hey Siri, set sexy times” has her make things deep reddish purple and 10% illumination. Yeah, I’m sure someone seeing me tell my phone to turn down the lights will be a real turn on…

This weekend I went out and got more bulbs for my downstairs. I don’t have a second Echo yet, but I do have a Dot on order which should let me do voice control from down there. For now, I just use the Echo remote downstairs and it works just fine.

It’s really easy to set up. The lights are all “soft white” but they are plenty bright and supposedly very power efficient.

I also set up a few IFTT triggers for the lights – nothing particularly special. IFTT’s Hue integration is really limited; you can pick ONE bulb OR ALL bulbs and have them do a thing. I was thinking of a number of things I would want to do – if I could chain multiple actions together, that would be great. For example, “Alexa, trigger sexy times” should turn all lights but my bedroom off, turn the bedroom lights to 10% and reddish purple, and also start playing things from my “getting busy” playlist from Spotify.

So, since IFTT won’t do that, I’m going to try my hand, at some point, with an Alexa skill/service that will let me set up more complex scenes. Something like “Alexa, company is coming over” might set the lighting in my kitchen to all on, 100%, the lights in my living room to all on at 50%, and start playing a party mix from Spotify. Haven’t done anything with it yet, but it’s on my list of projects.

For now, I am just having fun talking to my lightbulbs.

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