How to Upgrade Your Home Tech Without Spending a Bundle
A smart home — with lights you could turn on and off with a button, remote locks, music piped into every room — used to be out of the average homeowner's reach.
"When you used to think about these systems, it was very much high-end," Mark Spates, a senior product manager for Nest and Google Home told the New York Times. "It was a luxury."
Not so anymore. Prices have come down, DIY installation is indeed doable, and if you're thinking of resale value, homebuyers expect it.
According to Coldwell Banker's smart-home survey, most potential homebuyers want some smart home technology. Seventy-seven percent want smart thermostats, 75 percent want smart smoke detectors, and 63 percent want smart locks.
All you need is a weekend and a couple hundred dollars to bring your humble abode into the 21st century — and it won't cost a mint.
Wouldn't it be so much easier to be able to turn your lights on and off when you're away on vacation, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for best? Or what about coming home late at night alone. With a touch of a button, you could walk into a house that's warm and welcoming.
There are two ways to add this functionality: with smart bulbs or smart dimmers. Smart bulbs like Philips Hue (from about $70 for a starter kit) and LIFX (from about $20 a bulb) are the easiest to install — just screw them into an existing socket — and offer dimming and optional color changes. Smart dimmers are a little more complicated and will require some simple eletrical work. Lutron Caséta (about $100 for a starter kit) and Leviton Decora Smart (from $45 a switch) replace existing wall dimmers and switches.
Both smart bulbs and smart dimmers can be scheduled to turn lights on and off automatically, and they both have lighting-level presets. With a touch of a button, you'll can hit the sweet spot for cocktail hour or a sewing project.
It seems like something the Jetsen's would have used. If used correctly, with remote control over wifi and smart scheduling, a smart thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars.
The Honeywell Lyric T5 smart thermostat ($130) is Consumer Report's pick that features an easy-to-use manual control and plenty of smart features like voice control and what's called "geofencing" — a feature that allows the thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature as you leave and return home.
Remember when multiroom audio that spilled fluidly from the kitchen to the living room out onto the pool deck seemed like the height of glamour? You don't need to win Powerball to live this sonic version of the high life.
Sonos makes speakers (from $149 each) that can be plugged in to any electrical outlet. With wifi and an app, Sonos speakers can play the same music across all rooms or different music in different rooms, with independent volume controls for each.
"We use Sonos a lot, even at the super high-end," Michael K. Chen, an architect in New York, told the New York Times. "Anywhere you have power, you can have music, and I think that's great. Suddenly, there's no need for complex additional equipment to properly zone your apartment or house into different areas. It's just set up to do that well."
Smart Smoke Detector
If only I had the ability to lower my smoke detector's sensitivity when I'm roasting a chicken or when the broiler's on. With a smart smoke detector, I can silence an alarm with a tap rather than waving a tea towel like a white flag. Consumer Reports recommends the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector ($100). It will send a text alert to your phone when it detects smoke or when the batter is running low — which will keep it from making that oh-so-annoying beeping sound when you're trying to get some much needed shut eye.
Your house will feel more like Fort Knox and less like a low-hanging fruit to the lazy burglar when you install smart locks. They're also a godsend for the forgetful type. Did I lock the front door? Now there's no need to double back on your journey or say a prayer. Just tap your phone and you're good.
Consumer Reports recommends the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect ($250) There's the auto-lock and unlock function when you leave and return home that you'd expect, but it can also make electronic keys for your weekend guests and housecleaner.
- The Internet of Things is slowly taking over the Earth - PayPath ›
- Small ways to save big money in your home - PayPath ›
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!