54 Best Alexa Skills and Commands

Amazon’s Echo speakers that come with the power of Alexa, have really changed the way people interact with devices at home. Personally, Alexa is the only device that my kids interact with on a regular basis. Siri was exciting for a few days for them, but just didn’t work well often enough.

While Siri has stagnated, Google and Amazon have really built devices and services that you can talk too to get information, play games, etc. and use to perform tasks like control your smart devices or order a pizza.

Not only that, but Alexa is incorporated into a bunch of different devices beyond those created by just Amazon. You can use Alexa on your TV, thermostat, in your car and even in some headphones. And since the service runs in the cloud, it constantly gets smarter and there is no need to upgrade your hardware.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most useful commands and skills that you can use with your Echo device and Alexa. Note that you can enable any Alexa skill by simply saying “Alexa, enable the NameOfSkill skill”.

54. Ask Alexa About Her Skills

If you’re not sure what you can ask Alexa, just say “Alexa, what things can I try?” and she’ll start telling you different commands you can speak. If you want to know what kinds of skills Alexa has that you can enable without having to look them up online, just ask “Alexa, what are your most popular skills?“.

If you want specific skills, you can ask about those too. For example, you can ask “Alexa, what are you games skills?” or “Alexa, what are your smart home skills?“, etc.

53. Brew A Cup Of Coffee

Like a good assistant, Alexa is on top of your java requests. The Behmor Connected Brewer is controlled by using your voice, a compatible smart switch and a very basic drip coffee brewer. It also integrates with Amazon’s Dash buttons. As a result, this feature automatically reorders coffee when it starts to get low.

52. Learn A Bit Of History

This Day in History is a skill that’s sponsored by The History Channel. It shares historical facts from the day with the user. Just say, “Ask this day in history what happened on March 10.” They also have a This Day in History Top Story, which is also a popular skill.

51. Can You Say That Again?

Reconfirm what was said by saying, “Alexa, can you repeat that?” or, “Alexa, can you say that again?” This high-tech personal assistant repeats what she said as many times as a user needs. Interested in looking up recent responses? Then check out the Home tab of the Alexa app. The user can also listen to the recordings of all the things that have been said to Alexa to-date.

50. Change The Wake Word

Changing the wake word from Alexa to another name is an option. However, it must be a name that’s included among the choices. Choose from amongst Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo.

First, pick a name from among the choices given. Then open the Alexa app or go to alexa.amazon.com. Next, open Settings, choose an Echo device, tap on Wake Word, select a name from the drop-down menu, and tap Save.

49. ChatBot Skill

Consumers that are active at work when they’re on-the-go will find the Chat Bot Skill pivotal to increasing productivity. By enabling the ChatBot skill, workers can audibly request Alexa to post on their behalf.

Linking an Amazon account to your Slack account makes this feature possible. The user can then post to a specific channel by asking “Alexa, tell ChatBot to post ‘The Future is Now’ to Random.

48. Check Capital One Bank Balance

If the user has a Capital One card, then checking their balance is hands-free. Just by saying “Alexa, open Capital One,” a consumer is able to check their account details: from checking your current balance to viewing available credit and cash on hand to seeing credit card due dates and recent transactions.

47. Check Stocks

Just by saying, “Alexa, ask Opening Bell,” a consumer is able to check the stock market. Furthermore, ask Alexa for the price of a stock using the company’s name instead of its symbol. By and large, the data from this service is provided by Market On Demand. Additionally, TD Ameritrade offers a similar skill.

46. Clean The Apartment or House

Enable the cleaning function along with the Neato Botvac Connected, the iRobot Roomba 690, 890, and 960, or the Samsung PowerBot VR7000 series. In this way, cleaning becomes handsfree. By saying “Alexa, start cleaning,” the high-tech assistant communicates with the wireless vacuum. As a result, the vacuum immediately goes to work cleaning the apartment or house.

45. Connect With Your FitBit

The Fitbit skill lets a consumer ask, “Alexa how many steps have I taken?” or “How well did I sleep?“. Users can also check how they did on other metrics recorded by their Fitbit activity tracker. Alexa is a savvy trainer too that is ready to talk the consumer through their workout.

44. Control The Thermostat

Smart thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat, Honeywell Lyric, and Ecobee are connectable to Alexa. Thanks to which, changing temperatures is simpler than ever. Specifically, Ecobee4 has Alexa built into it.

43. Create Distinctive Voice Profiles

Setting up voice profiles enables Alexa to distinguish who is issuing the command. As a result, it provides personalized results. By listening to a particular voice and asking, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” Alexa replies with upcoming events from the voice profile’s calendar. Then if another voice asks “Alexa play music“, it will then select music based on their voice profile’s personal preferences. Read about how to create a voice profile here.

42. Create Reminders

Alexa, like a personal assistant, helps in reminding the user of their aforementioned personal tasks and errands. Therefore, tell Alexa exactly what you need to remember and it will remind you of that said task and time. To create a reminder, just say the task and its time such as, “Alexa, remind me to workout at 10 a.m. every Monday

41. Create Routines For Multiple Commands

There are strings of commands which encompass particular times of the day. For instance, the user can create a routine for the phrase Good Morning. A string of commands could be linked together into a routine. Therein, when the user wakes up and says “Good morning,” the routine turns on the lights, start the coffee maker, speaks the morning weather, and starts the car to warm it up. Currently, they only work for smart home devices, news, traffic and weather updates.

To create a routine, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, then tap on Routines.

40. Delete The Collected Amazon Voice Data

Overall, everything that is said to Alexa is recorded and uploaded to Amazon’s servers. Delete specific recordings, by going to the Amazon Echo app > Settings > History.

A list of everything recorded appears. To delete a recording from that list, tap it, then tap Delete voice recordings.

39. Exclusive Deals

By asking, “Alexa, what are your deals?” a consumer can review a series of Amazon Prime member-exclusive deals. You’ll need an Alexa-enabled device to order. Additionally, visiting Amazon’s Voice Shopping page briefs the consumer of the appropriate sentences to say to trigger purchases or add items to your cart.

38. Explore Space

The Red Planet poses plenty of questions while igniting a curiosity and the NASA Mars skill keeps users abreast with the goings-on of the Curiosity rover. It also delivers answers to commonly asked questions about the Red Planet.

There are also a couple of other great skills too like NASA Breaking News, NASA News and Daily Dose of Space and Space Facts.

37. Test Your Music Skills

Love listening to music? Well, why not test out how good you are at identifying songs and artists by playing the Song Quiz skill. It plays music from every decade starting from the 60’s. You can also play against someone else for true competition.

36. Get First Aid

Providing basic first aid answers, The Mayo Clinic released a skill checklist for first-aid from minor scratches to CPR. For instructional purposes only, this function briefs the user on vital life-saving techniques. It’s not to be used in a life-threatening or emergency situation though. In that case, it’s best to call 911.

35. Get Help

Tell your loved ones and significant others that you need help. While this is no substitute for 911, it is a service that quickly connects to your support system. When you can’t reach your phone, the Ask My Buddy skill sends an emergency notification by text, SMS or phone call to a preselected person. Another good one is SafeTrek.

34. Get Rules For Board Games

The Board Game Answers skill lets Alexa remind the user of the directions for popular games. If further clarification is needed during a game, then call out, “Alexa, ask Board Games who goes first in Monopoly.” Enabling the Board Game Answers command, Alexa becomes an on-hand digital referee that’s all ears.

33. Get Recipes

The Campbell’s Kitchen skill and command is by far the most popular function to find recipes, along with the AllRecipes skill. Five recipes are featured daily on the Campbell’s Kitchen skill. Most importantly, after selecting a recipe, the ingredients and directions are sent to the user’s Alexa app.

32. Get A Weather Report

The Big Sky skill offers local forecasts based on the user’s street address. Using information from Dark Sky, data such as wind speed and humidity is provided. Overall, Alexa also has built-in support for weather forecasts. Just say “Alexa, tell me the weather.”

31. Get The News

A 5-minute briefing of the day’s headlines, which is updated every hour, is available on The NPR News Now skill. Likewise, CNN, the Associated Press, and the BBC offer similar skill functions as well.

30. Find Your Phone

With Alexa, a consumer has immediate assistance in finding their phone using their voice. According to the reviews, the phone will ring even if it is on silent. It may not work, though, if your phone is in Do Not Disturb mode. You can also add multiple people by name to call different phones instead of just one.

29. Hear Your Horoscope

Daily Zodiac readings are available in several different apps. The Elle magazine’s Astro Twins skill provides one of the most popular horoscope readings. Once the skill is enabled, the user is able to receive personalized horoscopes from the Astro Twins. These identical twin sisters provide daily readings. Other good skills for horoscopes are  Daily Taro Reading and Astral Nina Daily Horoscope.

28. Hear a Motivational Quote

Receive insight and motivation from the Inspire Me skill. Serving inspirational quotes from famous people, from Maya Angelou to Christopher Walken, users are never at a loss for wise words. Uniquely, the quotes are spoken by the individuals themselves rather than via Alexa, which enriches the experience.

27. Listen To A Podcast

Stream thousands of podcasts with the Anypod skill. It’s possible to search by name, subscribe to podcasts, skip ahead or back, and pause an episode. When a user pauses an episode, it’ll pick up right where they left off. The Anypod skill offers a magnificent 3000-plus library of podcasts. With such podcasts like Serial, RadioLab, This American Life, S-Town, The Moth, The Daily, TED Radio Hour, and This Week In Tech.

26. Call Another Alexa Device

It’s possible to make voice or video calls to and from other Alexa-enabled devices. Compatible devices, for example, include the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, as well as the Alexa app on the user’s smartphone.

In detail, Alexa pilfers your address book to find compatible devices, and then it offers the option of calling or texting them. Just say “Alexa, make a call” or “Alexa, send a message“.

25. Make Individual Profiles

To check which profile is being used, ask, “Alexa, which profile is this?” To switch between profiles, say, “Alexa, switch profiles.” Multiple people and their respective Amazon accounts can be added to an Alexa household profile.

It’s important to realize that additional members doesn’t mean there are separate shopping or to-do lists. However, it does allow the ability to share content libraries. It’s also worth noting that this command allows those additional members permission to use the primary Prime account to order items.

24. Meditate

Get aligned with your breath and clear your mind with Stop, Breathe & Think, Meditation Timer. This function starts off by asking how long you want to meditate for. It also plays the sounds of forest, rain, or surf to relax.

23. Mix A Drink

Drink connoisseurs will enjoy the Bartender skill. This command gives the user access to more than 12,000 different cocktail recipes. Plus, by asking “Alexa surprise me with a randomly selected drink“, the user will receive a sporadic drink suggestion.

22. Order Anything From Amazon Prime

Just by asking, a consumer can order millions of products from Amazon prime through Alexa. Order anything that is Prime-eligible. What is not included in this function is the ability to buy apparel, jewelry, shoes, watches, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Prime Pantry, Amazon Prime Now or add-on items.

21. Request A Ride

Once a consumer has set up an account with Uber or Lyft and the payment options are fulfilled, they can request a driver from Alexa. By saying, “Alexa, ask Lyft to request a ride” a consumer is nearly ready-to-go. While your wish is Alexa’s command, the ride fare is debited automatically from your account.

20. Order Pizza

By setting up an Easy Order and enabling the Domino’s Pizza skill, the consumer can order pizza effortlessly. By saying “Alexa, open Domino’s and place my Easy Order,” the pizza is ordered. Furthermore, the consumer can check the status of their order on the Domino’s Tracker updates. Pizza Hut also has an Alexa skill if you want to order from there.

19. Order Flowers

Simply saying, “Alexa, tell 1-800-Flowers to send flowers to Mom,” the user is able to expeditiously send a Mother’s Day gift. First off, a 1-800-Flowers account is required to enable this skill. Once the consumer is connected, they can easily order a bouquet. To be noted, the user needs to tell the company the addresses for the contacts, the arrangement style, and the preferred size. On the whole, payment info needs to be entered ahead of an order.

18. Pair Alcoholic Beverages With Food

Beverage recommendations based on what you are eating are suggested by MySomm. In sum, hundreds of recommendations in regards to ‘what goes with what’ are available. To activate the function, say “Alexa, ask Wine Gal to recommend a wine for a Pesto Fettuccine.

17. Personal Trainer

Training gets a whole lot easier when the user asks, “Alexa, start the 7-minute workout.” This function suggests reportedly tested exercises that’ll increase metabolism, improve energy and reduce fat. For the consumer who needs to make the most of their time, Alexa’s Personal Trainer function is a great tool.

16. Plan A Get-Away

Just like an assistant, Alexa is capable of helping consumers book travel on Kayak.com. By specifically telling Alexa the budget you’re working with, a more concise search is made. To utilize this travel-savvy feature, a consumer need only inquire “Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400.

15. Play & Stream Music

Using Amazon’s music library, the consumer is able to launch playlists. These playlists are based on specific activities, eras, artists, and even your mood. Stream music using Alexa from a variety of services like Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora, and SiriusXM.

The best-known command of Alexa is to play music which can be done by asking, “Alexa, play Classical Music.” Yet it’s also possible to stream the music. For this, Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited is needed.

If the user has Amazon Music Unlimited, then they’ll also need to go ahead and subscribe to the Family Plan. Then by going to Multi-Room Music section in the Settings menu on the Alexa app, users can follow the directions. After which, they will be able to easily stream the music of their selection throughout the home.

14. Play Games

By asking “Alexa, play Trivia games,” a user transforms into a player. Other games are available like Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock, Chess, 20 questions, Bingo, Jeopardy, and Tic-Tac-Toe. To learn more about the game selection, check out the Games, Trivia & Accessories webpage from Amazon.

Another popular game that is an Alexa skill is Yes Sire, where you are the lord of a realm and have to make many decisions.

13. Pregnancy Advice

New moms will love the Everyday Health’s What to Expect skill for Alexa. In essence, it provides daily and weekly tips, guides, and advice for expectant parents. Moreover, it’s customized to the due date of the pregnancy. In the long run, it’s capable of providing advice for the first year of your newborn’s life, too.

12. Program A Song As An Alarm

Wake-up to the preselected soundtrack of your choice. This is accomplished by telling Alexa to play a song, radio station, or music genre at a particular time. For instance, “Alexa, wake me up to Classic Rock music at 6 am.

11. Send Voice Messages

Any contact of yours who also owns an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show and has enabled calling is displayed in the Alexa contacts list. Send a message by saying, “Alexa, send [name] a message.” The message will send to the respective Echo device and Alexa app on the recipient’s phone.

10. Start Your Car

Start your car and warm it up before you get inside. Select Hyundai autos with the Blue Link feature can be started remotely. Moreover, one can lock and unlock the doors. The driver can change the interior temperature and turn on the horn and lights, by using the Blue Link Skill. Mercedes, BMW, and Ford vehicles offer similar skills too.

9. Get a Good Night’s Rest

The most used function on most Echo devices is playing some kind of music or sounds. If you have trouble sleeping, one of the most popular skills of all time on the Echo is Zen Sounds: Healing Sounds. The audio is of high quality and consists of 1 hour streams rather than short little audio clips.

Another one of my favorites is Ambient Sounds, which consists of thunderstorms, rain, ocean, bubbling brooks, and lots more.

8. Solves Quick Math Problems

Quick calculations or conversions, especially while cooking or dealing with foreign currencies can be problematic. Yet with Alexa, currencies or measurements are easily converted. Even mathematic equations are solved without the need for a calculator. Difficult tasks are solved by asking “Alexa, how many ounces are in a liter?” or “Alexa, convert 10 dollars to pound.

7. Tell A Bedtime Story

Just by saying “Alexa, tell a bedtime story to [child’s name]” parents have an instantaneous storyteller at beck and call. Alexa is capable of helping with story time. Moreover, the Bedtime Story skill is ultimately personalized to the child’s preference.

6. Tune A Guitar

Enable the Guitar Tuner skill to use Alexa like a pitch pipe and tune strings on a guitar. Ultimately, Alexa plays a tune and the user has to tune their strings until its sound matches the note played. This is a clever musical tool.

5. Turn The Lights Off

By saying, “Alexa turn off my connected lights,” the user is able to turn off the lights without moving. A key point to remember is that the consumer needs a connected device like a WeMo smart plug for this skill to work. Other companies like Lutron, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue and Control4 offer similar skills for turning off the lights too.

4. Track An Amazon Purchase

Track an Amazon purchase by asking, “Alexa, where’s my package?” or stating, “Alexa, track my order.” Although details are not included, it will tell the consumer the expected arrival date of their delivery.

3. Use It As An Intercom

Utilize this intercom option to pipe into Echo speakers that are placed within a house. Providing a direct line of communication to the Echo devices around the house, messages are relayed quickly. Say, “Alexa, drop in on the living room,” then whatever is said will be played through the Echo speaker in the living room.

2. Watch TV

By connecting Alexa to a Logitech Harmony remote, voice-activated commands eliminate the need to push buttons. By saying, “Alexa, turn on my TV” or “Alexa, pause,” the command is automatically sent and received. Additionally, Dish customers are quite capable of controlling their satellite TV box using Alexa as well.

1. Word Of The Day

Learn something new every day with the Word Of The Day skill. On the whole, increasing vocabulary is more interesting with the Word Of The Day function. This smart command shares the definition of the word and it also uses the word in a sentence.

Whew! That’s a lot of commands and skills! I’m sure this list will be out of date within a year, so I’ll be sure to come back and update it with new features and skills that Alexa will gain. Enjoy!

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Sync Any Windows Folder with Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox

As of today, I have a cloud storage account on Amazon Drive, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud Drive and Dropbox. I mostly use Dropbox overall, but I also use Amazon Drive on my Kindle Fire, OneDrive on Windows 10 and Google Drive for my photos and videos. One issue that I always had is that I want to sync my folders with these services, but I don’t like the fact that I have to copy or move all the files to their special container folders.

Instead, I wanted a way to be able to keep my folders in My Documents or wherever I had them and still have them sync with the cloud services. I learned that the best way to do this is to use symbolic links in Windows. A symbolic link is kind of like creating a shortcut to a folder, but it’s more permanent and acts like a separate folder, even though it’s not.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the steps to create symbolic links so that you can sync any folder on your computer with your cloud service without moving it. Note that Google has a separate program called Backup and Sync that allows you to choose any folder(s) on your computer to backup to Google Drive, which I will explain below.

Sync Folders to Dropbox and OneDrive

Before I get into the steps for OneDrive, I wanted to mention that they now have an option called AutoSave that lets you move the contents of the Desktop, My Documents and Pictures folders to OneDrive without having to do anything on your part. Basically, they point the local folders to the OneDrive folders to make it seamless.

However, it’s only for those three folders. If you have a folder saved somewhere else, you’ll need to either move it to the OneDrive folder or create a symbolic link. To get this done for Dropbox or OneDrive, I have created an example to walk you through the process. As you can see below, I have my OneDrive folder on the left and a folder called OneDrive Test inside C:\Test.

So I want to sync the OneDrive Test folder to my OneDrive account folder without moving it. To do this, you have to open an elevated command prompt and type in the following command:

mklink /J "C:\Users\Aseem\OneDrive\Personal" "C:\Test\OneDrive Test"

So let me explain what we are doing here. We are creating a symbolic link (symlink) using the mklink command. It takes two parameters: the first is the location of the symbolic link you want to create and the second is the source directory. As you can see, I don’t need to create the Personal folder in the OneDrive folder, the mklink command will do that for me. Also, you can use any name you want for the folder.

So I am telling Windows to create a symbolic link folder in the OneDrive folder called Personal that is actually just pointing to the C:\Test\OneDrive Test folder. After the link is created, you’ll see the Personal folder inside of OneDrive folder:

If you open that folder, the path will show as if it’s stored in OneDrive\Personal, when it actually is stored in the Test folder. So now you can add files to the folder from either location and both will have the same contents since it’s actually one folder, not two. That’s it!

OneDrive and Dropbox both support symbolic link folders and will sync everything up to the cloud like shown below:

Sync Folders to Google Drive

For Google Drive, start by downloading the Backup and Sync software mentioned above. Once you start the installation, you’ll get the following screen for step 2:

By default, it will select Desktop, Documents and Pictures, but you can click on Choose Folder and pick any folder you want. You can also click the Change link to backup only photos and videos or add file extensions that you do not want to sync.

In step 3, you choose which folders you want to sync down to your local PC. What I normally do is just uncheck Sync My Drive to this computer, since I’m only using it as a backup for my PC.

So there you have it! Now you can sync any folder on your computer with your cloud service. Either you’ll have to create a symbolic link or there may be a feature whereby you can pick the folders you want to sync. If you have any questions or problems, post a comment here and I’ll try to help. Enjoy!

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5 Ways to Automate Your Computer When It’s Idle

If you’re like most people, your home computer probably sits idle most of the day. Maybe you’re at work or watching the kids or grocery shopping or watching TV. Whatever the case, 80% of the time my computer at home is either off or sleeping.

This is good for saving power and money, but most computers don’t cost that much to keep on all the time anyway. Instead, I decided that I wanted to have my computer do something useful while I wasn’t working on it. Well, what can you accomplish on a PC without being around? Quite a few things actually. Here are five things you can try.

Help Mankind

There are quite a few projects out there that are trying to solve really complicated problems in the world, but need more resources. If you want to help with scientific research, there are several programs from universities around the world that can harness the power of your computer along with millions of other computers to create a super computer.

The BOINC Project

This is a project from the University of Berkeley where you can volunteer your computer resources to help cure diseases, study global warming, find objects in space, etc. They have over 172K volunteers with over 850K computers in the network. This gives them a whopping 27 petaflops of computing power. Just download the software and choose the projects you want to support.

Folding@home

The other big project for volunteer computing is Folding@home from Stanford University. Its main purpose is to research diseases by looking at protein folding. It’s all quite technical and way over my head, but you’re basically helping them design new drugs to fight diseases.

Automatically Backup Your PC

If you’re not backing up your computer, you should really take the time out to get a proper backup plan in place. Even if you don’t have any important data stored on your PC, you can still save yourself hours if your computer crashes and you need to perform a restore.

Reinstalling Windows along with all of your programs is a time-consuming process. Why not have your computer backup when it’s idle? You can create your own backup images manually, but you’re way more likely to create the backups if they are done automatically.

The best options here is to use a cloud backup service. The ones I have used personally are BackBlaze and Carbonite. These services obviously cost money, but they are super easy to use and give you the freedom to not worry about manually backing up your computer.

Update Your PC

If you hate your computer restarting in the middle of a work day, then you can easily adjust your settings so that Windows only updated your PC when you’re not using it.

In Windows 10, you simply click on Start, then Settings and then Update & Security. Click on Change active hours and set the time that you work on your PC. Windows will only do updates outside of this time range.

In Windows 7, open Control Panel and click on Windows Update. In the left-hand pane, click on Change settings.

You can choose to install new updates every day or you can pick one day of the week. You can also choose the specific time when you’re most likely not using the computer.

Setup an FTP or Game Server

If you’re someone who likes to share a lot of content with others, then you might consider setting up your computer as a file sharing or game server. I wrote an article about some third-party software you can use to create a home file server.

You can also install IIS in Windows Pro and higher versions to create your own FTP server or web server. Finally, if you enjoy gaming with friends, you can setup your own game server to play games like Minecraft, Counter-Strike, Quake, etc.

These are a bit more complicated to setup, but your friends will definitely think you are cool if you have one of these running from home.

Become a Tor Relay

If you have a powerful machine, an unlimited Internet connection and one hell of a router, you might consider becoming a Tor relay. Tor, if you didn’t know, is a project that aims to help users browse the Internet without being tracked. It’s not full-proof, but works well for a lot of people.

However, the network is made up of volunteers who act as relays. When you visit a website, your request goes through several relays before reaching the final destination. This helps mask your true identity.

Becoming a Tor relay has some technical requirements and legal implications, depending on where you live, your ISP, etc. However, if you can, it’s a great way to make the web more private.

Other Extra Uses

I only listed five ways to use the extra processing power of your PC, but there are so many more that I figured I would add a couple of more.

  1. Mine Bitcoin – You probably won’t be making much money if you use a single computer with one graphics card, but if you have a powerful multi-GPU rig, you could earn a couple of dollars a day (possibly). Or you could join a mining pool. One free and clean Bitcoin mining program is GNUMiner.
  2. Record Movies and TV Shows – If you have an OTA antenna and some extra hard drive space, you can easily record TV shows and movies for free. Download a program like Plex onto your computer, connect a digital tuner and you’re good to go.
  3. Automate Usenet Downloads – Download a program like SABnzbd to automatically download files from Usenet.

There are a lot of other things you can do with an idle PC, but these were just a few that came to my mind. If you have another cool way to utilize an idle PC, let us know in the comments. Enjoy!

The post 5 Ways to Automate Your Computer When It’s Idle appeared first on Online Tech Tips.

How to Create a GIF from a Video using Photoshop CC

Ever wonder how those long GIFs you see on sites like Imgur are created? A lot of times, the creators take a video, convert the whole thing into an animated GIF, and then superimpose text to make it entertaining.

Now this post isn’t going to teach you how to create those fancy GIFs from start to finish, but it will teach you how to take a video and at least convert it to an animated GIF. I’ll write up another post on how you can add text and graphics to your GIF.

I’ll be using Photoshop CC for this tutorial because it allows you to have more control over the final product in terms of size, quality, frames, etc.

Convert Video Before Importing

Before you start, you may need to convert your video to a file format that Adobe Photoshop will support. For instance, I took a video from my iPhone and downloaded it onto my computer. I then tried to import the video into Photoshop, but got the following error:

Could not complete the Video Frames to Layers command because the file has no video frames.

The video was a MOV file, but the codec that Apple uses is not supported in Photoshop. In order to fix this type of problem, you need to download a program like HandBrake to convert the video.

It’s very easy to use HandBrake. Just click on FileChoose Source and pick your video file. At this point, all you really have to do is click the Start Encode button. By default, it will use the Fast 1080p30 preset that you see listed on the right. They have many presets, so choose the one that works for you. Note that you can reduce the resolution of the GIF in Photoshop later on, so you don’t have to do it in HandBrake.

Once it has been converted to an MP4 file using the H.264 video codec, we can now import it into Photoshop.

Import Video and Create GIF in Photoshop

Open Photoshop CC and click on File, then Import and then Video Frames to Layers.

Pick your video file and click Open. This will bring up a dialog with a small preview of the video and a couple of options.

Now if you want the entire video as a an animated GIF, go ahead and leave the radio button to From Beginning to End. If you only need a portion, choose Selected Range Only and then use the trim controls below the video to pick the range.

In addition, to reduce the size of the final GIF as much as possible, you can also limit the number of frames. For example, if you check the box and leave it at 2 frames, that means Photoshop will remove every other frame from the video.

Lastly, you need to make sure the Make Frame Animation box is checked. Click OK and your video should be imported as a bunch of frames in Photoshop. If the program crashes, you may need to reduce the quality of the video even further before trying to import.

Now all we have to do is save the frames as an animated GIF. To do this in Photoshop CC, you need to click on FileExportSave for Web (legacy). Note that before saving it out as a GIF, you can edit and delete frames as desired.

 

On this dialog, there are a bunch of options that you will have to play around with. Most of them will affect the quality of the GIF, which you will be able to see in the preview area on the left. The right pane is where you will make most of the adjustments.

Up at the top, you’ll see a dropdown called Preset. You can click on that and choose one of the presets or you can adjust the values yourself. Choosing one of the presets will reduce the quality of the GIF, but will make it smaller also. Make sure that GIF is selected in the dropdown below Preset.

At the bottom under Image Size, you can adjust the final output resolution for your GIF. So if you video was 1920×1080 or 4K, you probably will want to reduce it significantly here. Under Animation, you can choose Forever, Once or Custom for Looping Options. By default, the GIF will loop continuously. You can use the controls at the bottom to play the GIF to see how it looks.

Click Save and choose a location to save your GIF. That’s about it. Photoshop makes it very easy to create animated GIFs from videos and allows you to tweak the settings to get it just right. Also, read my posts on how to create animated GIFs from images using Photoshop. Enjoy!

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Fix Black or Blank Screen and Flash Videos Not Playing

Are you getting a blank or black screen when trying to play YouTube videos or flash content in Mac OS X? Upon searching for a solution online, I’ve run across quite a few troubleshooting steps, but no one solution seemed to fix the blank video player errors. However, upon doing a bit of additional troubleshooting, I found a workaround, which utilizes a few basic troubleshooting steps.

The problem with video or flash games not working in browsers like Safari, Firefox or Google Chrome in Mac OS X mainly revolves around a combination of settings and compatibility issues with Adobe Flash Player, the software that enables these web based videos to play. Using the following troubleshooting steps, you should be able to get flash video and games working on a Mac computer.

Note that YouTube really doesn’t use flash anymore, so no one really should be having this issue anymore. However, there are many other sites that still do rely on flash, so the steps below can help resolve issues on those sites.

YouTube Blank Player

1. Uninstall and Reinstall Adobe Flash Player (make sure you are installing the latest version)

This may fix the flash video issue and it may not, but it’s worth a shot. Start by jumping to the official Adobe website and downloading the flash Player uninstaller for OS X. Launch the uninstaller and simply uninstall Flash Player from your Mac and restart the computer.

Once your computer boots back up and you’re signed in, proceed to Adobe.com to download the latest version of Flash Player. Reinstall and check to see if YouTube videos are working.

2. Enable Flash in Chrome/Safari

In Chrome, click on the three dots at the top right and click on Settings. Scroll down and click on Advanced to expand it. Under Privacy & Security, click on Content Settings.

Scroll down to Flash and then toggle the control so that it says Ask First (recommended).

If you have already installed Flash for Safari, but it’s still not working, you may have to enable the plugin first. To do this, open Safari and then click on Safari at the top and click on Preferences.

Click on the Websites tab and there should be a section called Plug-ins at the bottom of the left panel. Make sure that Adobe Flash Player is checked. If it’s not listed there, make sure to go to the Adobe Flash website and download the latest version of Flash first.

By default, you’ll have to enable it on a site by site basis. You can see the list of sites it’s enabled for and at the bottom, you can choose whether Flash will be enabled or disabled for all other websites.

3. Reset Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Clear Cache

If Flash Player is still not working properly, you may want to try clearing your browser’s cache, exiting the browser, and restarting. Some people have reported that videos will work properly upon clearing cache.

In Chrome, you can click on the three dots, then click on More Tools and choose Clear Browsing Data. Make sure to check Cached images and files and then click the Clear Data button.

4. Enable Javascript and Disable Popup Blocker

A lot of Flash content requires Javascript, so if you have an extension that is blocking Javascript from running, you will need to disable it. You’ll also need to go into the browser settings and make sure Javascript is enabled.

You can also try disabling the popup blocker for the particular site you are having issues on. It’s not a good idea to disable the popup blocker completely as it’ll make your computer less secure.

5. Disable Flash hardware acceleration.

While on the screen of the blank YouTube video that is not working correctly, right-click the area where the video would normally show up to bring up the Flash Player context menu. Select the Settings option from the menu. Unselect the option Enable hardware acceleration and click the Close button.

If you are not seeing the right-click content menu, simply visit this Adobe help page and right-click on the Flash logo. If you don’t see the Flash logo, that means Flash is not installed properly.

Close out of the browser completely, relaunch and test the Flash content again to see if it plays.

6. Check HTML 5 YouTube Settings

YouTube now supports HTML 5 fully and as long as you are running a fairly recent version of your browser, all the features should be fully supported too.

If you go to this URL, https://www.youtube.com/html5, you should see check marks for all the different HTML 5 features. If something is not checked here, that means your browser is very old and needs to be updated.

Hopefully, this post will help you to troubleshoot blank video players and non-working Flash apps in OS X. If you have any other troubleshooting recommendations, feel free to leave a comment. Enjoy!

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