By Bob DeLaurentis
Senior Wire 

Home automation, personal dashboards, Live Listen

Bob's Tech Talk


March 1, 2019

Q. What is a simple way to get started with home automation?

A. When it comes to home automation, simple is a relative term. Compared to a few years ago, setup is easier and prices are less expensive. But after installing a few devices in my house, “simple” is not the word I would use. “Easier” is about as good as it gets right now.

I wanted to start slow. So I chose to control a few lamps in several different rooms with a 3-pack of WeMo Mini Smart Plugs. These devices plug into any standard outlet, just like old-fashioned timers, and the lamp is plugged into the Smart Plug.

Like most home automation products, Smart Plugs are controlled via an app. Downloading the app onto the phone is easy — just search for WeMo in your App Store of choice.

The fiddly bits begin when you try to set up the app to talk with the Smart Plugs. The instructions are clear, but they involve several steps that must be performed exactly. In my case, I had to repeat the process once or twice until everything connected.

Once set up in the WeMo app, the plugs work very well. I have taken things a step farther and connected to Apple’s Homekit, so I can just say, “Hey Siri, Living Room On,” to turn the lights on. They work equally well with Android and Amazon’s Alexa.

With a little patience and experimentation, WeMo Smart Plugs are a nice addition to our home. They are so convenient that I am looking forward to adding more in the coming months.

Q. Can I set up my laptop to show a to-do list when I open the screen?

A. Check out a browser extension called Momentum at Momentum is a dashboard utility for FireFox and Chrome.

Once installed, every new browser window will present a full-screen image chosen for its natural beauty and inspirational point of view. The screen also displays user-configured text overlays, which can include the time, motivational quotes, a to-do list, and more.

Most of the functionality is free, although there is a paid version as well.

Momentum is a decorative and useful addition to any computer. I have used it for several years and continue to find useful ways to make it part of my daily routine.

Q. Is it true that an iPhone can double as a hearing aid?

A. Most likely you are referring to a feature Apple calls “Live Listen,” which makes an iPhone with iOS 12 into an assistive hearing device.

Live Listen is not a replacement for a hearing aid any more than the light on an iPhone is a replacement for a flashlight. But in certain situations, it can make your life easier.

Using Live Listen is simple, but until you set it up, it is hard to find. It requires an iPhone and AirPods. I wrote about how much I use my AirPods last summer, and they are still my all-time favorite earphones.

To set up Live Listen, open the Settings app on the phone. Then tap “Control Center,” followed by “Customize Controls.”

The next screen has two groups, labeled “Include” and “More Controls.” Scroll down to find a blue icon titled “Hearing.” The goal on this screen is to confirm that “Hearing” is in the “Include” group. If it has a red mark on the far left, good. If it has a green mark, tap it to move “Hearing” to the right place. That completes the initial settings.

To try Live Listen after the settings are complete, connect the AirPods. Open Control Center by swiping down from the top right of the screen. You should see a collection of icons. The icon for Live Listen is the outline of an ear. Tap it, and a control labeled “Live Listen” should pop into view. Tap on the bottom half of the control to activate Live Listen.

Now any sound picked up by the phone will replay at a louder volume in your earpiece.

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:

Global Distortion

Flat maps distort the relative size of countries, especially those farther away from the equator. This map corrects that shortcoming. Use it to get a more accurate view of our world.

Internet Archive

This site rarely shows up in search results, which is a shame, because it hosts one of the largest collections of knowledge ever created. Use the site’s search page to access millions of free books, movies, software, music and Websites.

The Art Institute of Chicago Online

Explore thousands of artworks and never leave home. This site is a rich collection that ably represents one of the best museums in the world.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at


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