Diary Of A Digital Homeowner

From: Yakov Horenstein (yakov@planet.it)
Date: Tue Mar 25 1997 - 22:25:31 EET

Some salutary thoughts for all you digital nerds out there:


The (Future) Diary of a Digital Homeowner:

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 SmartHouse 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 SmartHouse 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

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 -- SmartHouse 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 Bay Watch. 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 gigabytes 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 House. I keep
getting an hour glass symbol showing up when I want to run the

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 HomeWrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS ... (Be it ever so
humble, there's no virus like the HomeWrecker...).

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. "HomeWrecker is pretty bad" one 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 SmartHouse 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 SmartHouse sales rep. As a special holiday
offer, we get the free opportunity to become a beta site for the
company's new SmartHouse 2.1 upgrade. He says I'll be able to meet the
programmers personally. "Sure," I tell him.

Yakov Horenstein
Milano, Italy

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