Amazon Dot vs Airplay

It seems that Amazon’s Alexa app doesn’t coexist well with my Philips AD7000W/37 units. These are speakers that support Apple’s Airplay protocol.

Last week I picked up an Amazon Dot (baby brother of their Echo product) and liked it so much I ordered another one a day later. I was then away from home to attend a wedding so it took a couple of days for me to realize that my Philips speakers were not regularly showing up on my Airfoil panel any more.

After doing some research on the web it seems there are a small number of folks who are complaining about similar issues (check reddit). But the symptoms vary somewhat from mine. While my issue is exclusively through Wi-Fi connectivity, many of the other reports seem to be for hard wired devices. Also, I have a few Apple TV units and an Airport Express that all participate in my AirPlay ecosystem and none of these seem to be affected.

The issue, where my Philips speakers would just drop off the network, seemed to happen at random at first but I eventually sorted out that it had something to do with the Alexa App’s Smart Home Discovery feature. If I’m using those speakers and initiate discovery manually they immediately disconnect.

I just got off the phone with Amazon’s Alexa department and they were pretty understanding about it. Unfortunately I got disconnected before we could complete (my phone’s fault not theirs – thanks AT&T) and am presently trying to get back to them.

From some of the other solutions I’ve seen out there it seems the issue is some kind of Multicast Broadcast the App (or the Dots, it’s not clear to me) puts out is the actual cause. Whether it’s a poor Airplay implementation or Alexa is doing something it shouldn’t is not clear to me.

I’m asking Amazon to consider an advanced setting to simply disable auto discovery of Smart Home devices. Whenever I add or update a device I manually trigger such discoveries on any devices that interact with them anyway so I gain nothing from having the Discovery feature running in the background anyway.

Maybe something as simple as “Alexa, Disable Smart Home Auto Discovery” and “Alexa, Enable Smart Home Auto Discovery” would be a suitable enough interface for this kind of setting.

I’m posting this in the hopes that other people who are experiencing AirPlay issues since adding an Alexa device to their home find it and can realize what the problem is before they get frustrated with either or both of the technologies.

*Update* I was able to get back with Amazon and we created a ticket, I’m not sure if you can reference *my* ticket but if you can and it can help you here it is: # 0094625730

They will follow up with me on Wednesday (Nov 2, 2016), I don’t have high hopes for such a fast resolution but.. we are in a nimble age so we’ll see what happens.

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on October 26, 2016 at 7:57 pm

Solution for (most of) your Airplay woes – Airfoil

I first began using Airfoil back in late 2012 with my Windows system in order to take advantage of some existing Airplay speakers that I was using with iTunes only. Airfoil allowed me to redirect the sound from my browser-based Pandora player throughout the house.

Later on, when I switched to using an OS X platform (Mac Mini) I encountered the numerous issues that seem to plague Airplay users, random dropouts and disconnects being among the most annoying. On impulse I purchased the Mac license for Airfoil and found my issues were 90% improved.

I’m not sure why but playing iTunes content through native Airplay is still just an awful experience. Airplay devices seem to come and go as they please. While the issue is most notable with third party speakers (I have a couple of Philips Fidelio Wireless Speakers that I came close to launching out the window), it also manifests with my stereo which is attached via an Airport Express router and with my outdoor TV which is connected via Apple TV.

What a difference! I won’t say it’s perfect, anything depending upon home wireless connectivity seldom is, but the improvement in reliability is dramatic!

If that isn’t enough I can also install free add-on software on my Windows and Macbook machines and broadcast music from my primary Mac to wherever those other devices are. If your goal is to have your music available subtly throughout your home rather than blasting it from a single stereo or computer then this is your solution.

So I’m much happier with my setup now. When I am puttering in the house or when I have a party I have my music coming from every room so you can just enjoy it without straining. And very few dropouts compared to before!

Posted under Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools

This post was written by Marc
on December 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Using Google’s Cloud Print with Yosemite (cheating a bit)

Last year before I upgraded to OS X Yosemite I did a fair amount of research and figured out which programs would need to be upgraded and which would work just fine. I missed the fact that my wife uses a Chromebook and was depending upon my running Google Chrome on my Mac in order to print via Cloud Print.

This functionality, of course, broke in Yosemite and nobody can seem to be bothered to fix it. I assume that either powerhouse Apple or powerhouse Google could resolve the issue in an afternoon were they so inclined so I don’t know why they are being obstinate. But this is the world we live in so we need to adapt.

As a recent Mac convert there are still some Windows programs that I have not found replacements for. Despite Macs incredible popularity these days Windows software ported over to Mac seems feature deprived or non-existent. Case in point my financial software Quicken. I’m astonished that the offerings out there for Mac owners are so meager in this arena.

I use the excellent VMWare Fusion product to run Windows in a virtual machine on my Mac. This is practical because the Mac is relatively beefy and has the resources to support the VM with no compromise to any other Mac functionality.

My printer is shared with the VM (you know where this is going) so it’s just a matter of leaving Chrome running in the VM and, lo and behold, my wife can print all she wants to our Classic HP Laser printer.

I know it’s a bit of a cheat and I don’t expect you’ll want to set up a vm just to allow Google Cloud Print from OS X but for those of you already running some kind of non OS X vm who may not have already thought of doing this…

Posted under Chrome, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on March 3, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Has Comcast found an effective way to keep us from bugging them?

** Update September 23, 2014 ***

The conspiratorial side of my brain wants me to point out:

1) The Outage notifications on Comcast’s site ceased immediately after this blog post

2) My service has been.. spotty ever since, including a complete outage that lasted around an hour the following night….

Where my Download / Upload speeds were consistently 50/10, now I’m thrilled if my download is in the 20’s.

Just ran another check and can see that I’m sitting at 23.2/10.4.

Just saying’ . Not that the only available option of our local duopoly would *ever* stoop to vindictiveness… would they?

** End Update **

 

I had a recent dealing with Comcast that had me logging on to their site pretty much every day for almost two weeks at the end of August/beginning of September.

Something that started to bubble up in my consciousness was how many outages they were reporting in my area, none of which seemed to be affecting me.

I decided it would be an interesting exercise to, for one week, log into my account periodically throughout the day whenever I was working on my computer (which I do quite a bit) and check my status.

Of greatest interest to me was the fact that not once in all the times I logged in was there ever NOT an outage in my area.

I will concede that there was at least one day where I was impacted by some issue so these notifications are not 100% bogus. But the continuous nature of the notifications has me thinking what a great way this would be to keep folks from calling in if they *did* have a complaint. After all how often do you log into your Comcast account anyway? I know I certainly wouldn’t (haven’t) noticed the notifications during my monthly visit to capture my billing statement.

Below are the details of when I logged in and what the current outage situation was. You tell me – am I just having a spate of issues or is Comcast saving money by reducing customer service call volume?

Date and Time Outage Notification
9/10/14 9:41 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 1 AM tomorrow.
9/11/14 10:00 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 12 PM today.
9/11/14 1:02 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 4 PM today.
9/11/14 4:36 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 8 PM today.
9/11/14 7:25 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 12 AM tomorrow.
9/12/14 7:52 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 11 AM today.
9/12/14 1:56 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 3PM today.
9/12/14 6:50 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 11 PM today.
9/13/14 10:46 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 2 PM today.
9/13/14 6:28 PM An outage has been reported. We’re working to fully restore service as soon as possible.
9/14/14 12:15 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 2 AM today.
9/14/14 11:51 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 1 PM today.
9/14/14 1:12 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 5 PM today.
9/14/14 4:33 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 9 PM today.
9/14/14 11:27 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 1 AM tomorrow.
9/15/14 7:56 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 12 PM today.
9/15/14 7:07 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 8 PM today.
9/15/14 8:13 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 12 AM tomorrow.
9/16/14 7:41 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 11 AM today.
9/17/14 7:55 AM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 10 AM today.
9/17/14 12:02 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 2 PM today.
9/17/14 6:13 PM An outage has been reported in your area. We expect this to be resolved by 10 PM today.

 

Posted under Retail Experiences, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on September 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Issue concerning access to Netflix (and other bothers) resolved

Shortly before I received my notice from Comcast regarding their data capping scheme, I began experiencing intermittent issues accessing Netflix via my Apple TV and my iDevices… I naturally assumed it was Comcast doing something to filter and otherwise mess with a prime competitor to their own web services.

But after digging into it further I found that I could access Netflix just fine from my Mac computer. I could also access HULU from my Apple TV but Netflix was still a bust and so was trying to access anything through the Trailers app.

Resetting the Apple TV via a restart or unplugging it resulted in it taking an incredible amount of time for it to bring up the apps. You basically stare at the default “Computers” and “System” apps and nothing else for … I’m not sure how long – but definitely over a half hour where it should take mere moments for them to populate.

Other pieces of the constellation of symptoms soon started manifesting (or at least being recognized), I was having occasional glitches when using my web browser (Safari mostly these days) where a URL would populate in the address field and the progress bar would advance about a quarter of the way across the  field and pause. Often just clicking on the field and hitting enter would get it to reload properly.

It turns out that there must be something going awry with OpenDNS. I went to my router and removed the OpenDNS IPs and restarted the router and allowed my provider to populate them and *poof* it appears all my symptoms have disappeared.

Of course the proof will be if the issues stay gone as to whether this is a permanent solution or just something that’s masking another issue that I have yet to stumble upon. But I wanted to post this in case there are any other folks with resolution issues who use OpenDNS.

This doesn’t guarantee that Comcast isn’t somehow messing with OpenDNS, but that’s probably a stretch. As much as I distrust Comcast I’m not sure how much benefit they would have in controlling their customer’s DNS resolution capabilities. And I’m still ticked that they are doing the metering thing so … anything is possible.

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on November 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Netflix and other issues since Comcast decided it needs to cap my data usage

Immediately on the heels of Comcast notifying me that they want to cap my access we began experiencing issues accessing Netflix. We absolutely could not get it to work on Thursday and I couldn’t get it through Apple TV on Friday (although I was able to get it on another i-device and mirror it over to the Apple TV).

All yesterday and today I’ve been having odd issues where websites are delaying in loading or loading part way and then quitting on me. It doesn’t matter which computer is being used.

Comcast has actually been *over* delivering for the past few months with download and upload speeds just slightly greater than promised. I had thought that they had finally figured out how to make their customers happy or at least not feeling ripped off with every interaction.

Now all of a sudden I see that they realized the error of their ways. I suppose they were drifting away from the bottom of the customer service ratings and decided they needed to implement new strategies to get back down there?

Posted under Retail Experiences, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on November 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Looks like Comcast has begun introducing data caps

I just received this email this morning. My plan was formerly unfettered. I note the spin placed on the data cap they are introducing.

I expect that if you choose to use their streaming service you’ll find the cap doesn’t apply to that data?

When I check my current usage, it tells me that “Note:enforcement of the 250GB data consumption threshold is currently suspended”

Which is it? 250 GB or 300GB?

 

Comcast Service Announcement

Important information regarding your XFINITY® service.


Dear XFINITY Internet Customer:

At Comcast, we recognize that our customers use the Internet for different reasons and have unique data needs. Starting December 1, 2013, Comcast will trial a new monthly data plan in this area, which will increase the amount of data included in your XFINITY Internet Service to 300 GB and provide more choice and flexibility.

What this means for You

The vast majority of XFINITY customers use far less than 300 GB of data in a month. Based upon your recent usage history, it appears this new data plan will have no impact upon you, and you won’t need to do anything, or change your Internet usage. If you are not sure about your monthly data usage, please refer to the Track and Manage Your Usage section below.

We want our customers to use the Internet for everything they want and your service will not be limited to 300 GB. While we believe that 300 GB is more than enough to meet the Internet usage needs of most customers, Comcast will automatically add blocks of 50 GB to your account for an additional $10, should you exceed the 300 GB included in your plan in a month.

In order for our customers to get accustomed to this new data plan, we are implementing a three-month courtesy program. That means you will not be billed for the first three times you exceed 300 GB included in the data plan during a 12 month period. Should your usage exceed 300 GB a fourth time during any 12-month period, an additional 50 GB will automatically be allocated to your account and you will be billed $10 for that data and each additional 50 GB of data in excess of 300 GB during that month and any subsequent months your usage exceeds 300 GB.

Please note that this is a consumer trial. Comcast may modify or discontinue this trial at any time. However, we will notify you in advance of any such change.

For more information on all our data usage plans, please visit www.xfinity.com/datausageplan/expansion

Track and Manage Your Usage

Comcast provides you with several tools to easily track and manage your data plan:

 

 

  • Data Usage Calculator – Estimate your data usage with this tool available atwww.xfinity.com/datacalculator. Simply enter information on how often and how much you typically use the Internet, and the calculator will estimate your monthly data usage.

 

 

  • In-Browser Notices and Emails – We will send you a courtesy “in-browser” notice and an email letting you know how much of the data included in your monthly plan you are using.

If you have any additional questions about the new data usage plan, please visitwww.xfinity.com/datausageplan/expansion

Thank you for being an XFINITY Internet Customer.

Sincerely,

Comcast

Posted under Retail Experiences, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on November 8, 2013 at 8:24 am