Embedded Humor: Smart-House 2.0 Crashed My Kitchen
Sunday, December 14th, 2008 | Author: lisaksimone

This is a hilarious set of diaries entries for what can Go Wrong when you network your house. While we laugh now, years into the future when you need to reboot your kitchen, we’ll look back at our innocence and wonder why the heck we didn’t pull an intervention before this could be allowed to happen. (Sadly, or happily, we’ll get here by default.)

Nov 28: Moved in to my new digitally maxed-out Hermosa Beach house at last. Finally, we live in the smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything’s networked. The cable TV is connected to our phone, which is connected to my personal computer, which is connected to the power lines, all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface I’ve ever used. Programming is a snap. I’m like, totally wired.

Nov 30: Hot Stuff! Programmed my VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with the car phone, remotely tweaked the oven a few degrees for my pizza. Everything nice & cozy when I arrived. Maybe I should get the universal remote surgically attached.

Dec 1: Had to call the Smart-House people today about bandwidth problems. The TV drops to about 2 frames/second when I’m talking on the phone. They insist it’s a problem with the cable company’s compression algorithms. How do they expect me to order things from the Home Shopping Channel?

Dec 8: Got my first Smart-House invoice today and was unpleasantly surprised. I suspect the cleaning woman of reading Usenet from the washing machine interface when I’m not here. She must be downloading one hell of a lot of GIFs from the binary groups, because packet charges were through the roof on the invoice.

Dec 3: Yesterday, the kitchen CRASHED. Freak event. As I opened the refrigerator door, the light-bulb blew. Immediately, everything else electrical shut down - lights, microwave, coffee-maker - everything. Carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing. Call the cable company (but not from the kitchen phone). They refer me to the utility. The utility insists that the problem is in the software. So the software company runs some remote tele-diagnostics via my house processor. Their expert system claims it has to be the utility’s fault. I don’t care, I just want my kitchen back. More phone calls; more remote diag’s. Turns out the problem was “unanticipated failure mode”: The network had never seen a refrigerator bulb failure while the door was open. So the fuzzy logic interpreted the burnout as a power surge and shut down the entire kitchen. But because sensor memory confirmed that there hadn’t actually been a power surge, the kitchen logic sequence was confused and it couldn’t do a standard restart. The utility guy swears this was the first time this has ever happened. Rebooting the kitchen took over an hour.

Dec 7: The police are not happy. Our house keeps calling them for help. We discover that whenever we play the TV or stereo above 25 decibels, it creates patterns of micro-vibrations that get amplified when they hit the window. When these vibrations mix with a gust of wind, the security sensors are actuated, and the police computer concludes that someone is trying to break in. Go figure. Another glitch: Whenever the basement is in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won’t let me change the channels on my TV. That means I actually have to get up off the couch and change the channels by hand. The software and the utility people say this flaw will be fixed in the next upgrade - Smart-House 2.1. But it’s not ready yet. Finally, I’m starting to suspect that the microwave is secretly tuning into the cable system to watch Baywatch. The unit is completely inoperable during that same hour. I guess I can live with that. At least the blender is not tuning in to old I Love Lucy episodes.

Dec 9: I just bought the new Microsoft Home. Took 93 Giga-bytes of storage, but it will be worth it, I think. The house should be much easier to use and should really do everything. I had to sign a second mortgage over to Microsoft, but I don’t mind: I don’t really own my house now - it’s really the bank. Let them deal with Microsoft.

Dec 10: I’m beginning to have doubts about Microsoft Home. I keep getting an hourglass symbol showing up when I want to run the dishwasher.

Dec 12: This is a nightmare. There’s a virus in the house. My personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access network. I come home and the living room is a sauna, the bedroom windows are covered with ice, the refrigerator has defrosted, the washing machine has flooded the basement, the garage door is cycling up and down and the TV is stuck on the home shopping channel. Throughout the house, lights flicker like stroboscopes until they explode from the strain. Broken glass is everywhere. Of course, the security sensors detect nothing. I look at a message slowly throbbing on my personal computer screen: WELCOME TO Home-Wrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS … (Be it ever so humble, there’s no virus like the Home-Wrecker…).

Dec 18: They think they’ve digitally disinfected the house, but the place is a shambles. Pipes have burst and we’re not completely sure we’ve got the part of the virus that attacks toilets. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) are confident the worst is over. “Home-Wrecker is pretty bad” he tells me, “but consider yourself lucky you didn’t get PolterGeist. That one is really evil.”

Dec 19: Apparently, our house isn’t insured for viruses. “Fires and mud-slides, yes,” says the claims adjuster. “Viruses, no.” My agreement with the Smart-House people explicitly states that all claims and warranties are null and void if any appliance or computer in my house networks in any way, shape or form with a non-certified on-line service. Everybody’s very, very, sorry, but they can’t be expected to anticipate every virus that might be created. We call our lawyer. He laughs. He’s excited!

Dec 21: I get a call from a Smart-House sales rep. As a special holiday offer, we get the free opportunity to become a beta site for the company’s new Smart-House 2.1 upgrade. He says I’ll be able to meet the programmers personally. “Sure,” I tell him.

References

Origin Unknown. Recently repeated in Jack Ganssle’s weekly newsletter, The Embedded Muse, Issue 170.