Is the dryer still running?
Did we leave the coffee pot on?
Will a heavy rain cause the sump pump to fail?
What if the pipes freeze?
Or God forbid, what if we have a break in?
In an age where everything is so smart, one would think a house could be left to its own devices. Well, if one has a Smart House, it can.
We learned all about this from our electrical utility. They called to offer us an intelligent water heater plan. They said almost every appliance these days comes with its own smart card. In fact they claimed, their water heater was so smart it could shop for discount power rates. Of course, we took them up on the offer.
The same week, Mort, our propane supplier, came by with a similar offer. He called it the Smart Furnace Plan. we went with him on that too.
Then Walter, the septic contractor, dropped off literature for a Smart Sewage Plan and not to be outdone, Cyrus, the well driller, dug deep to provide us a Smart Water Plan.
Next Wally, our electrician, stopped by to install smart outlets, smart lighting and smart clocks. His brother, an appliance dealer, sold us two gifted TV’s, an astute dishwasher and an above-average microwave.
All we needed to tie all these devices into a single cerebral community was a smart network. To hook it all up, we hired a local kid, Brian, who recently graduated as an engineer.
That was a few weeks ago.
On Sunday, I got a call at church from my septic system. I usually do not take calls from sewage systems during services so I turned my phone off.
A very bad idea.
While walking to my car, I turned the phone back on and checked my voice mail, it was almost full. The last message came from a neighbor who informed me that my smart house had freaked out.
Later, Brian reconstructed what happened from the network log.
At 10:04:55 a.m. My septic system called to ask for permission to download a critical software patch. Not reaching me, it called back again but my phone was turned off, so it shut itself down and waited politely.
10:12:37 a.m. The well detected that Mr. Septic had gone off-line. It shut down also. (We wouldn’t want the water to back up, dontchya know?)
10:12:42 a.m. A drop in water pressure sent both the water softener and ice maker into a panic.
10:14:01 a.m. The plaintive cries from the softener inflamed a simmering feud between the furnace and the air-conditioner. The two have a long-standing conflict over temperature in the sun-room.
10:14:04 a.m. The HVAC feud boiled over.
10:14:11 a.m. Not to be out done, the surround sound (a truly angst-ridden system if there ever was one) launched into a Lenny Kravitz melt-down.
10:16:24 a.m. The vacuum cleaner coughed up a hair-ball.
10:19:13 a.m. The coffee maker questioned its identity.
10:30:57 a.m. Things not even smart begin to think for themselves and a good old fashioned electro-mechanical donnybrook broke out.
10:40:57 a.m. The rumpus roused my neighbor from his nap a quarter mile away. He phoned me. Failing to get an answer, he called Brian.
It required all of Brian’s technological and diplomatic expertise to get the house back on-line. Still, periodic squabbles erupted throughout the afternoon.
Finally at 05:33:12 p.m., fearing a re-escalation of tensions, Brian reset all my appliances and utilities to manual.
When he told me what happened, I began to have serious doubts about his technical skills. I had to ask, “Just what kind of engineer are you?”
“I’m a test engineer,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, “that mean you break things for a living…”