It has been a heck of a week (again) for Alexa. I got my Amazon Show(s) and even older units got the “drop in’ feature. Everyone now has a home intercom system! The drop in feature was a function I wanted to put into Ask Alexa, and I am THRILLED that I don’t…free text from a developer point of view is a can of worms and having this functionality built in is probably a better choice. Message Queues are still a necessity for other messages, and as you can see below, more and more developers are seeing the value of using Ask Alexa to leave messages for their apps. So, without further ado…in the spirit of the new Amazon Show…
Version 2.2.8 of Ask Alexa
I am pleased to announce the 2.2.8 version of Ask Alexa! In this version I continue (along with help from the community) to evolve the application to allow more conversational syntax, along with adding more functionality for existing and new devices. While not a lot of big items in this one, it is more of a FUN upgrade with some cool little items. You WILL need to upgrade your Lambda (be sure to copy your STAppID and Token!).
PLEASE NOTE: Now that this app is rather stable (It is now over 1 ½ years old!) now I will be updating it less frequently except for bugs and new features. I am waiting for Amazon to release their ‘push’ notifications where some amazing stuff will happen with this app. Until then, if you do have a great feature idea for this app, just let me know.
Other additions to this new version include:
- Bug Fixes - The normal things…silly misspellings, logic errors, bug reports.
- Code Optimization - Always finding better ways to do things in a shorter about of code.
- Amazon Show Enhancement - To expand on the new additions I put in 2.2.5. For those that actually look at the Amazon app, you will notice all instances of Ask Alexa Skill’s Card showed the app icon. I have expanded on this by making them context aware…Each icon will have a smaller icon next to it to give you an indication of what was referenced even when you didn’t hear the Alexa. While these are currently static in nature, if the demand is great enough I will see if I can make these items more dynamic (i.e. the lock icon showing locked or unlocked based on the hardware status). Anyway, this is obviously in support of the Amazon Show, which can display these cards.
- Device Health - A user contacted me after looking in her SmartThings mobile app and noticing that after turning on device health that one of her switches were offline. Unfortunately, there aren’t any alarms when this happens so you may be executing a routine that may not work if a device is offline. She asked if I could tap into this information. Device Monitor (by @erocm1231) is a great way to be alerted in real time to these situations, so I recommend that. However, if you simply want to query a device, I have added this to the list of additional attributes for the individual devices, and as a section of the voice reports. This only queries the device status (Offline, online) which is NOT all encompassing with regard to a device that may be unhealthy. This is just another way to be alerted to a device that may need attention. I really recommend Device Monitor for a better device health app!
- Deprecation of items - I haven’t received any notifications that the items I removed from the last release have affected anyone, so I removed them from the code and added the message queue options in the Control Macros, Voice reports and weather reports.
I mentioned this in one of my Friday posts, but most people on the forum know Yves Racine (@yvesracine). He was one of the first developers that worked with me on direct integration with his Ecobee devices. He has added messaging queue capabilities to his other apps, including Ecobee Stats Generation, MyNeurio & MyNeurioAppliance Service Managers and MyAutomatic Service Manager.
In addition, speaking of Ecobee, the genius behind Ask Alexa’s weather reports (@storageanarchy) has completed work on his open source Ecobee Thermostat, Sensors and Companion SmartApps. This has message queue 2.0 compatibility for Ecobee Alerts and Reminders.
All of these apps will be Alexa output compatible as soon as Amazon releases their push notification. This brings Ask Alexa to over 15+ integrations!
For those with IDE integration with GitHub, simply update the repository and you will have the latest code for the SmartApp itself. However, for ALL aspects of the application follow the original instructions for installation to ensure you get everything updated properly:
The wiki for this app is here: http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=Ask_Alexa
All of you have been great in asking very relevant questions and making suggestions that I end up using. Here are some helpful tips on usage and support:
- Sometimes it works best if I can work real time with you. To facilitate this, I have created a Slack channel: https://askalexa.slack.com. Using this tool is easy and will allow for real-time collaboration to solve the problems faster. To use this feature, I must invite you to the Slack channel. This will not be for normal questions; please use this forum for that function.
- The Echo, as it is designed currently, cannot react to switches opening or other actions within SmartThings. She will do things for you, but only at your direction and at the time of the request. The delay timer mentioned in the control macro happens at the SmartThings hub, not within the Amazon Alexa control. See the new Message Queue functions for similar functionality with Big Talker!
- When evaluating new features I will typically ask for a valid use case. If it can be used by others to bring them value I will put it on my list of future revisions. Not all suggestions will be used and many times I add aspects of the request.
- There are no dumb questions, but many of the questions you may have were probably answered in the year since the initial release. Please take some time to go through the forum and the wiki if you have issues. And don’t be offended if I give you the specific area of the manual that answers your question. I have spent almost as much time on the documentation as I have on the app. Finally, there are some big fans of Ask Alexa that know almost as much as I do. They can also help.
- Feel free to send me forks of utterances or even code revisions. As mentioned above, if it adds value to the overall program I will try to include it. This also goes for the wiki documentation…while I have spent over a year creating this document, I am open to it being improved; I know there are probably still grammatical errors or syntax issues…If you find them, fix them…I will include your name (if I can) in any fixes submitted.
- If you find a bug or a consistent crash please help me track it down by giving me repeatable steps to reproduce it. A non-reproducible bug, many times, indicates other areas that may be at fault besides the app. If you watch the live logging and see a red error with a line number, that is very helpful to me! However, I will need a full screenshot and not a copy/paste of the text. But be careful about revealing your OAuth and AppToken in your public posts. People can control you house with that information. You may want to blur that out.
As mentioned above, revisions will be less and less now. And with the code base now unified, I expect less and less additions…especially as I partner with other application developers to ensure their strengths can be brought into the notification model of Ask Alexa . Any and all suggestions are still on the table for addition.
To prep for the next version, be sure to take some good notes about any weather voice reports you have set up…I will be moving the weather piece to it own extension app. However, it will still be able to work in any voice report you have set up. Then, the fun begins with addition another extension after the next one!
As always, I appreciate any public accolades or even donations to my PayPal account: https://www.paypal.me/mstruck . And, if you are so inclined, I also will accept bitcoins (or fractions thereof) if you have any laying around. My wallet ID is: 1CMgaiKgBfojTBCLpHLfa9KvcrW3cNxVpm