Setting Up Amazon Echo’s Alexa to Alert Family to Emergency

Getting Amazon #Echo's #Alexa to Notify Family of an Emergency Using #IFTTT

Alexa now notifies the family if there is an emergency.

My mom is pretty dang tech savvy for an 84-year-old.  She has an iPhone 6, she texts, and she even has a Snapchat (although we made her promise not to sext!).

So, when she called me up in February and told me she had a new Amazon Echo and wanted to set it up, I wasn’t surprised.  I hadn’t gotten an Echo, but I had watched from the sidelines–reading everything I could about Amazon’s wonderful speaker with the AI assistant, Alexa, available, like a genie in a bottle, to grant your every wish.  You can shop, listen to music, track your packages, and even control a smart home–why wouldn’t I be impressed?

A long time ago, my mother and I started sharing our Amazon Prime account, and so when I went to set up the Echo for her, it was a breeze.  Almost immediately, I wondered, “If my mother fell or had an emergency, could she use Alexa to call for help?”  I Googled the question, only to find that the new Alexa “skills” marketplace had no way to connect Alexa to 911 or any emergency services.  Developers had complained saying that only Amazon engineers could install that capability.

So, I looked for another option.  Yesterday, I started looking at recipes for Alexa in the very wonderful “If This Then That” app (IFTTT) on my iPhone.  I discovered that there was a way to have Alexa call your phone–even an IFTTT recipe for that–but all it would do is call.  It was good for finding your phone, but not much else.

What about texting?  I couldn’t find a recipe to directly text, but I did find a recipe for an app I use a lot:  GroupMe.  GroupMe allows you to create a group of people you want to text.  I have used it a lot with my classes to inform them when I am late, or when class is cancelled, or when we have an assignment coming up. I also have a group for family that I established years ago when my son was seriously ill in the hospital.  It was PERFECT.

In the IFTTT app, I created the following recipe:

Getting Amazon #Echo's #Alexa to Notify Family of an Emergency Using #IFTTT

I set up the “Alexa” part of the recipe by first connecting the Alexa app on my phone to IFTTT (it’s painless, they just ask you for permission), then I chose “say a specific phrase” as the Alexa trigger.  I set that phrase to be “emergency.”

For the GroupMe part of the recipe I already had a group set up, but if you don’t, first establish a group of family and/or friends that you would want to notify in an emergency on the GroupMe app on your phone.  Then add GroupMe to the recipe.  It will ask you which group to connect to. Select the group you established for the emergency notification.

Next it will ask what you want the message to say.  I knew I wanted to test the recipe first to make sure it worked, so I put in “This is a test.  I am setting up an emergency notification for Mom’s Alexa.  If you see this message, it worked!”

Make sure you save the recipe before you test it.  To test it, I called my mother and asked her to say, “Alexa trigger emergency.”  She replied “Sending to IFTTT,” and I immediately received a text on my phone with the message I had typed.

I then went back into the IFTTT app and changed the message to read, “Someone at mom’s house has just indicated there is an emergency.  Please call:  (I added her house phone here).  If there is no answer, please notify 911.  Her address is:  (I put in my mother’s address and zip code.)”

That’s it. Now we have an emergency notification set up and, as I said to my mother, “I hope we never need it.”

ZCast: Live Podcasting

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 8.00.43 PMI just tried a new app called ZCast, and I am so excited about it!  It’s like Periscope or MeerKat, but it is for audio only–for podcasting live to anyone else who has the app.

Tonight I tried listening in to a few of the podcasts, and the quality of the sound was impressive.  I also enjoyed messaging live to the hosts of the podcasts and sharing my perspective with them.

In order to join in the fun, search the Apple App Store for ZCast and download (it was free). Then, connect it to your Twitter account, and you are good to go.  Mostly, I am intrigued by how I can use it in my teaching.

The first thought, of course, was teaching in real time when my classes are cancelled due to weather this winter.  How cool would it be to have my students listening in and chatting while I podcast my class?  It would be a great way to keep everyone moving forward on my syllabus.  The only drawback is that it does not yet support recording those podcasts–so I can can’t archive it for my students to listen to later (I hear that is coming).

Also, I found another drawback as I was trying to participate in the conversation online.  I am lazy.  I don’t actually text–I use the voice to text on my phone.  When I spoke my comments into the little mic on my keyboard, it cut off the audio to the app and I missed what was going on.  I also couldn’t send it in, and ended up redoing my comments.  These are problems that are sure to ironed out, as the app is very very very new.

Meanwhile, I also thought of a great way to use this app for accessibility.  I have a student who is hard of hearing.  In that class, I could use ZCast during my lectures, and my student could listen live on her phone with her headphones–adjusting the volume as she needed.

I’m also thinking about doing a short edtech broadcast with this app, but I will have to work up my nerve and find a quiet space to do it (not easy with so many rugrats running around!)

 

 

What Facebook Doesn’t Get about Friendships in the 21st Century

It's time for Facebook to recognize something obvious about friendship in the 21st Century.

 

Let’s start with the basics:  there are two types of Friendships:  Virtual and Real-World.

I know this is something that has been brought up before, or I wouldn’t have the proper lexiconic terms to apply to these relationships–but I don’t think anyone has made the oh-so-obvious leap I am about to make within the walls (virtual or real-world) walls of Facebook’s corporate structure.  If they had, we would have a very different way to categorize our friendships in Facebook.  I don’t think about my friends as “friends” and “close friends,” as Facebook now categorizes them.  I think of them as “virtual friends,” and “real-world” friends.

We should be able to shuffle our friends into these two categories, and then have an option to change our relationship status from “virtual friend” to “real world friend” when we have an opportunity to meet.  This is important, because it is a big moment when we can finally meet someone with whom we have only had a virtual relationship.

I’m not saying that virtual friends cannot be good friends, and that “virtual friend” is somehow a lesser status.  I count among my closest friends some people I have only known via the internet–but there is something inherently different about seeing that person in the flesh, speaking to them, and having a moment to embrace them.  That is an entirely different type of friendship, an elevation of status that recognizes a human connection.

In fact, I was thinking to myself, that there should be a ritual to this process.  There is nothing more annoying than standing there with little to say to your newly minted “real world” friend.  I know when Germans move from referring to a person as “Sie” (a formal “You”) to “Du” (an informal and friendly “You”) they perform a ritual known as “Bruderschaft Trinken” (a drink to friendship).  It is a formal process where the older or more respected member of the friendship suggests to the other to drink “Shemollies” to formalize their friendship.  Then, the transition from “Sie” to “Du” becomes formalized, and they refer to one another in the familiar from that moment on.  I have always thought that this quaint custom of friendship is one full of power and beauty.

In this world of increasing inhumanity, it is ritual that makes and keeps the bonds of human relationships.  Wouldn’t a similar ritual, and maybe an exchange of a “friendship token” of some sort make sense when one moves from virtual to real-world friend?  I think I would like to make a collection of those friendship tokens, to treasure them, and to look at them as I age.  It would be a talisman of sorts, a touchstone to represent the friendships that transcend the virtual world.

So, how about it Facebook?  Can we have a “virtual friend” relationship status for our friends, and an announcement to others when we change that status?  Can we begin a new ritual and a new way to look at something that is so obvious in our lives?  Imagine the financial tie-ins!  Friendship tokens could be the new hot commodity — and evolve to include Internet of Things and Virtual Reality tie-ins.  Not only would this make common sense, it would make business sense as well.

Let’s start a movement!  Tweet and post your support and comments with #FriendshipStatus! Let’s design some friendship tokens, and get busy making one of the first social-media rituals.

Do You Love a Free and Open Internet? Then Get Rid of Your AdBlock NOW!

imgresI just removed Adblock from my phone and my computer.  Yeah, I will miss being free of the advertisements, but I also want to make sure that the internet that I love–the one with all the free tools and great advice and wonderful blogs–stays that way.

Every single one of you that still has an adblocker needs to realize that what you are doing is wrong.  You should not be enjoying the free internet if you won’t at least spend some time looking at the ads that support it.  Yes, those ads are annoying, but they are also paying for your right to access free content.  Those businesses, and spammers, and silly cat video promoters are doing you a big favor–so, you should , at least, spend some time looking over what they have to share with you.

I will even readily admit that I do, on occasion, click on the ads I see, just to make sure that my favorite internet blogger gets some traction on the ads on their site.  I want to make sure that the advertisers know that some of us do see those ads, do notice them, and do click.

Like it or not, the world runs on money, and the people who share great tools and advice and great blogs need to get paid at the end of the day.  If you start blocking the very same ads that give those people revenue, you are insuring that the next generation of internet stars are practicing their craft behind an internet paywall.

I think of using an adblocker somewhat like being a petty thief.  Yeah, you may get away with it, but you will, eventually, make everything a lot more expensive for everyone else.  It’s not fair to enjoy the benefits of an open internet if you won’t at least spend a few minutes closing pop-ups.

So, I’m hoping that you will join me.  Get rid of the adblocker on your computer and your mobile phone, and take a stand to protect free and open internet access–an internet paid for by those annoying, essential, and sometimes creepy ads.

 

GTA is Educational, and Not the Type of Education You Think It Is!

Dr. Kassorla's Blog

My son is nine, and he loves Grand Theft Auto (GTA).  Now, before you start condemning me as a bad parent and scolding me about how I shouldn’t let my son play a game clearly designed for older players, hear me out.  My son is the seventh of eight boys.  In other words, the game was purchased for older players, but they have since aged-out of my house and left for college and life.  So, what we have is a legacy game, a game he grew up watching his brothers play–and he plays.  But, if you still want to condemn me, I have to say there are a lot of other mothers and fathers out there that need condemning as well because, just in my experience listening on the other end of the game (and I do listen!), I have heard him play with scores of kids his age and…

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Goodbye “Hello.” Evernote has killed you.

I have received several notifications from Evernote lately regarding one of my favorite Evernote add-ons, “Hello.” I am sorry to see that Evernote will stop supporting and updating the app as of February 7, 2015.

I’m really bummed because Hello was such a wonderful concept.  I loved handing my phone to a new person and explaining that Hello was a type of digital card and, as soon as they gave me their contact info, it would magically send them mine.  I loved watching the take a selfie for the Hello directory in my phone.

Yes, I know.  Evernote can scan business cards.  Yeah, yeah, Evernote can keep track of my location and my information.  But, dang it!  Evernote Hello was better than Evernote in the “keeping contacts in one place” scenario.

I didn’t have to go trudging through my voluminous Evernote files to find the contact I met at the ISTE conference because, in Hello, I could just pull it up, browse, and get that contact right away.

Hello was the digital equivalent of a digital Rolodex that was right at my fingertips.

Evernote is more like a filing cabinet.

Yes, I love Evernote, but it’s not Hello!  I can’t just hand over my phone and have someone add their name and contact info into Evernote with a handy little form like I did with Hello.

So, Goodbye Hello.  We had some good times.

Meanwhile, if you were an avid Hello fan, you want to make sure you sync your Hello contacts before Evernote pulls the plug on February 7.  There are specific directions for doing so here.

Flipped Learning Using VideoNot.es Google Add-On

Dr. Kassorla's Blog

Flipped Learning Using VideoNot.es Google Add-On Flipped Learning Image via ctl.utexas.edu

Flipped learning is great, isn’t it?  It is the basis of much of my face-to-face and online courses, and it provides an opportunity to get my students involved and interested in the lesson before they come to my class.

Like most faculty that uses flipped learning, I often use videos that I find online or that I make myself to prepare my students for in-class workshop.  Unfortunately, because students are used to watching videos for entertainment, they lack the capacity to view video in an efferent way.  More often than not, I find my students letting video lessons simply wash over them without accessing or retaining knowledge that I expect them to hold onto for my lessons.  Many students lack the skills to absorb detailed information from videos without specific direction–especially in online courses.

This is where VideoNot.es comes in.  It is useful open source Google Drive add-on (and Chrome extension) that provides an easy…

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English 1101 Annotated Bibliography Assignment

Assignment

Write a prospectus paragraph and a 10 source annotated bibliography on your research topic.

Audiences: Anyone looking for background information on your author or work.


Purpose

  • To develop your skills in using research tools.
  • To expand critical thinking skills by teaching how to decide upon a topic, narrow the topic into a research question, write a prospectus, and prepare research notes.
  • To provide practice in scholarly writing.

Directions

The prospectus and annotated bibliography are commonly used to propose a project and to keep the project notes organized while writing the paper.  It is important that you master the
annotated bibliography in order to plan, propose, organize, and research projects in college and beyond.

1.  Decide upon a research question

  1. Think of some aspect of the author or work you introduced to the class that interests you.  For example, if we had read Moby Dick, you might do a blog about whaling which might include information about different types of harpoons, the ships that were involved in whaling, and some of the environmental damage of whaling.
  2. Do some preliminary research by find out how much information is available on the topic you are considering. Sources you might use for this purpose include books, web sites, journals, audio and video files, and online encyclopedias.
  3. After you have some idea of the quality and quantity of research materials available, and the significant issues within that topic area, create a research question that will guide your search for information.  Think of a question that is narrow enough to answer in a simple blog.

2.   Write a prospectus paragraph (typically about a 1/2 page):  

The prospectus is the plan for your research project that you submit before actually completing the research or working on your project. It should contain the following elements:

  1. State the research topic and your research question: “In my research I want to examine the Whaling. Why was the whaling industry so important, and how did it effect the lives of people involved in it?”
  2. Delineate the main areas of your proposed research: “In order to answer this question, I will look at historical documents, websites, and read some historical journals to pinpoint specific aspects of what it was like to be a whaler.”

3.   Write the annotated bibliography:

  1. List the source in correct MLA format for sources.  Sources should be double-spaced with a hanging indent.  Sources should be organized in alphabetical order. I highly recommend using Zotero to complete this part of the assignment!
  2. Immediately following the source information, include two short paragraphs:
    • Paragraph 1:  1-2 sentences that summarize the information available in the source material.
    • Paragraph 2:  1-2 sentence explanation about how you will use that information to answer your research question.

Specific Requirements for This Assignment

This annotated bibliography assignment requires a total of ten sources in the following categories that will support your research.

Special Considerations

  1. The annotated bibliography is the first step completing a research project.  Think of this as the information gathering stage.
  2. The purpose of the preliminary research is to get an overview of the topic. The sources you consult during this step are not necessarily the ones you will use in the research for your paper; however, if you find more sources, you might want to include them in this annotated bibliography in order to keep track of them.
  3. Your research question should be narrow enough to answer in 5-7 pages but broad enough to support ten scholarly sources.
  4. In writing your annotations, do not repeat the source title in the description of the source or use the title as the explanation for how the source will help you answer the research question.


Resources to Help You with This Assignment

Interactive exercise on the Web: “How Do I Create an Annotated Bibliography?”(http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/bedfordresearcher/tutorials/Chapter04/index.html).

 

Objectives of This Assignment

  1. Use the writing process to best advantage.
  2. Use technology for writing and research.
    • Select and use appropriate writing processes and strategies to produce academic writing that satisfies the needs of or can be adapted to writing in core curriculum courses.
    • Apply conventions of writing effectively in any given rhetorical context with particular regard for audience and purpose.
    • Display higher-level critical thinking skills (as defined in Bloom’s Taxonomy) in academic work.
    • Use assigned software and technological platforms.

Grading Rubric

Pts Rhetorical Situation Annotations Formatting Use of Language
100to90 Research question is appropriate for assignment; document satisfies audience expectations. Required information is provided and thorough for each source. All citations and all aspects of paper meet formatting specifications. Style, tone, and expression appropriate for academic writing; diction well chosen; syntax and mechanics virtually error-free.
89to80 Research question is sufficiently narrow but the document only partially responds to it. At least ¾ of the sources provide complete and thorough information. Occasional errors in citations and/or oversights in page formatting. Style and tone suitable for academic writing; syntax and mechanics have minor errors;  diction appropriate in most instances.
79to70 Research question lacks specificity or is too narrow or broad for audience and purpose. Half or fewer sources provide complete and thorough information. Frequent deviations from citation and/or page requirements. Style and tone fall short of academic standards; distracting usage, diction, and mechanical errors.
69to60 Research question does not address assignment or meet audience needs. Each source lacks part of required information. Formatting is of mixed styles or inconsistently used. Little resemblance to academic writing in most respects.
59to0 Research question missing or inadequate. Annotation missing or uninformative. Formatting is care­less or lacking. Frequent errors inhibit clarity and meaning.

EMAIL: How to Send It, Write It, Share It

Dr. Kassorla's Blog

EMAIL:  How to Send It, Write It, Share ItI was shocked by a revelation by my friend, Frederick Cope, that many of the students he teaches do not know how to email.  “WHAT?” I said.  (I’m still in shock, really.)

I’m in shock mostly because Frederick doesn’t teach the elderly, and he doesn’t teach K-12.  Frederick is an Assistant Professor of English at a Community College.  He teaches college students.  You know, the “Millennials,” the Wunderkinder of social media.  Yeah, them.

So, what is the deal with email?  Why don’t they know how to use it?  It is, after all, a basic digital skill.  But, as I thought it over, I realized that my teen kids don’t really email.  So, perhaps email passed them by?  Their generation wasn’t taught computer skills in school–so what they know, they know in order survive socially: they use Snapchat, they text, they Facebook Message, they Tweet–but they don’t email.

Perhaps all that…

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Exploring the New Google Drive Add-Ons: Mail Chimp

mailchimp

MailChimp Update (2/11/15): Merge has been removed from the Google Drive add-ons store and is not being actively developed at this time. We’ll update this post if there are any changes to its status.


Many of you are completely unaware that Google Drive has, again, changed dramatically.

If you have been using Google Drive at all, and have been paying attention even a little bit, you probably noticed that little menu item at the top, but many have completely ignored the treasures that await beyond the tab marked, simply,  “Add-Ons.”

Add-Ons act somewhat like extensions in your browser.  They allow you to do things in Google Drive that you couldn’t do before–like accessing some awesome tools without leaving Drive.  Why would these companies want to contribute time and effort to make a Google Drive Add On? . . . for the simple reason that it brings awareness of what they have to offer to an amazingly broad audience that may have never known their product existed, let alone understand why they need it.

I see them as small gifts.  Tiny jewels hanging inside the cave of wonders known as Add-Ons . . . but that’s just me channelling my inner geek (or maybe not?).

One of those amazing gifts from Google’s new Add-Ons comes from an unlikely source: the e-mail distribution company Mail Chimp.  Mail Chimp is a young company, hungry for market-share, and dedicated to service.  They have their offices right here in Georgia, so I was already inclined to support them before I Continue reading →

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