back to article My Nest smoke alarm was great … right up to the point it went nuts

"I thought it was supposed to talk and tell us when the battery was low," my wife said. In retrospect, that was the first sign that all was not well with the Nest Protect smoke and CO detector. One of the main reasons, in fact probably the reason that the $99 device is on the wall as opposed to one of the many smoke detectors …

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  1. LDS Silver badge

    Just thank that...

    ... it is not yet connected to an automatic fire suppression system...

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    What is 'Smart'?

    Frankly, I am dubious that anything mass produced that is claimed to be Smart, actually is.

    Unless the the item is approaching laptop prices I doubt there is much in the way of either hardware or programming that could be honestly described as smart or intelligent, these things are designed and produced to a price that sounds as though it is offering good value for money. Function may be a bit more than your average smoke detector but for under a hundred quid nothing is going to be that smart .

    1. Steven Roper

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      For me at least "Smart" has become a euphemism for "constantly monitors your behaviour and phones home about it for profiling and monetisation." Perhaps "Connected" or the even more descriptive "Telemetrised" devices might be a more approrpiate term.

      1. LaeMing
        Alert

        I read that as...

        ...profiling and molestation.

        Still fits.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Profiling & monetization

        Given that Google owns Nest now, I think this is inevitable.

        Since it has motion sensors, it probably knows if you get up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night on a regular basis. You'll probably start seeing ads for whatever they give old men to stop them from doing that!

        1. Roq D. Kasba

          Re: Profiling & monetization

          Well, in IoT world, that smoke detector is smart enough to advise your fridge to not automatically order milk seeing as the house burnt down, but you might need some new pans ordering from Amazon.

    2. itzman
      Facepalm

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      I am dubious that anything mass produced that is claimed to be Smart, actually is.

      Like Babies,you mean

      1. Chairo
        Angel

        Re: What is 'Smart'?

        @Hzman

        You are mass producing Babies? Must be a very exhausting job. Can I apply for it?

        Btw: Babies can be surprisingly smart. They understand very well, what is forbidden and to stay very silent while doing it.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Unicornpiss Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: What is 'Smart'?

          Babies can be surprisingly smart. It's only after they learn to communicate with adults, go through our educational systems, and have some angst-y failures in life that they become the idiots that don't use turn signals, 'downsize' companies, work in Apple stores, do telemarketing, and possibly end up on the nightly news. (either as the main attraction or the newscasters)

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: What is 'Smart'?

            I fear that if I am ever forced to live in a smart house I will end up with a load of self-satisfied and chatty doors, an elevator sulking in the basement, and a nutrimatic machine insisting I want a cup filled with a liquid, which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

            Doffs hat (black fedora today) to the late, great Douglas Adams

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: What is 'Smart'?

              > I fear that if I am ever forced to live in a smart house

              ..my next visit will be to the ironmongers for some device disabling tools. A 4lb lump hammer usually suffices.

              Sometimes a large screwdriver might be needed. But mostly a 4lb lump hammer.

          2. DropBear Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: What is 'Smart'?

            "Babies can be surprisingly smart."

            They must be indeed considering they somehow managed to figure out that bawling at 150 decibels 24/7 is no longer likely to get them splatted on the cave wall...

    3. MrDamage

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      "Smart" devices exist for the people who are too stupid to understand how to use the "dumb" versions.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: What is 'Smart'?

        My experience is that the smarter the device the smarter the user needs to be to get the most out of it. I suspect here will be many smart devices that end up being as effective as their dumb equivalents because they are used by dumb (or at least the ignorant in things IT) people.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      They would be "smart" if they used a network of different sensors to rule out false alarms. For example comparing smoke read outs with IR and temperature sensors readouts (of course you'd need more sensors scattered around than a single one....). They could also set up a light path for the safest evacuation route, while calling for help.

      That would be being "smart". A device just designed to gather more and more data about you pretending to be somewhat useful is not "smart" - is "cunning" or "wily"...

      1. NightFox

        Re: What is 'Smart'?

        Well, I'll grant you that it's not quite 'smart' in that it doesn't involve any conditional decision making, but there is IoT integration beyond just the smoke detectors - if one of my Nest smoke detectors triggers, it will automatically turn off my central heating boiler (controlled by Tado) and turn on all my Philips Hue lights in red, which apparently provides better lighting in a smoke-filled environment.

        1. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: What is 'Smart'? @NightFox

          it will automatically turn off my central heating boiler (controlled by Tado) and turn on all my Philips Hue lights in red, which apparently provides better lighting in a smoke-filled environment.

          Cool. Can you choose the alarm sound? Klaxon would be good. Then, don't wash or shave for weeks, and you can act out scenes from Das Boot. Bark orders at the kids, pretend the toilet flush lever actually launches torpedoes, and then lurch around drunkenly pretending that you're being depth charged. You could pretend that your laptop is an Enigma machine, and smash it up to stop it falling into enemy hands, as well.

          And Google are offering you that starring role in your own drama, with free repeats for what, $200 ?

    5. jake Silver badge

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      "smart" is a marketing term, used as a lure to separate people who are not smart from their money.

    6. JDX Gold badge

      Re: What is 'Smart'?

      Unless the the item is approaching laptop prices I doubt there is much in the way of either hardware or programming that could be honestly described as smart or intelligent

      You mean like a Raspberry Pi? Or a £50 smart-phone? The whole driving force behind IoT is that fairly powerful computers are now dirt cheap to the extent you can put them in stuff at little extra cost.

      These things could work great - your smoke alarm raises your house lights (maybe leaving the kids' rooms out for you to alert them).

      1. DougS Silver badge

        @JDX - whole driving force behind IoT

        You say the driving force is "fairly powerful computers are dirt cheap to the extent you can put them in stuff at little extra cost". I think the driving force is adding features no one needs so you can charge more for a product that should be simple like a thermostat, refrigerator or light bulb.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: @JDX - whole driving force behind IoT

          > I think the driving force is adding features no one needs so you can charge more

          And don't forget all that lovely data[2] you can accumulate on the poor saps that use your 'service' for free[1]..

          [1] Which actually isn't.

          [2] Lots of data == loadsamoney from/for unscrupulous vendors.

  3. BoldMan

    Dump it and get some reliable old fashioned devices. Leave the bleeding edge technology to idiots with more money than sense...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      idiots with more money than sense...

      I live in a rental. Owners over here are obliged to put those screaming, battery consuming bastards -the cheapest they can find of course- on the ceiling of every room and/or hallway.

      First thing was removing the batteries from each and every one of them.

      But otoh I do prohibit open fire in the house. (eg. candles)

      Household appliances not in use are not connected to any power outlet, especially the ones without a physical on/off switch.

      You are allowed to smoke, but ashtrays stay on the sink until the next morning instead of emptying them into the bin before going to sleep. Checking if the stove is turned off has become a habit.

      Works fine.

      1. Alfred

        Re: idiots with more money than sense...

        "Works fine".

        Up until the point that a building catches fire, it has a perfect record of not catching fire. As you say, works fine.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: idiots with more money than sense...

          As a current landlord in the UK, we pay to install a mains powered (with battery backup) interconnected alarm system, with CO detector, along with annual gas safety checks and regular electrical safety checks as required.

          I am happy to confirm that seeing everything disconnected at inspection means that your tenancy agreement is not going to be renewed as:

          - I don't want problems with my insurance when you burn the place down, and

          - I don't want you suing me when all the other members of your household die in a fire because "the alarms didn't go off".

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: idiots with more money than sense...

            "seeing everything disconnected at inspection means that your tenancy agreement is not going to be renewed"

            It's actually grounds for tenancy termination. You're being remarkably lenient.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: idiots with more money than sense...

              Yup.

              However, we normally start people with a 6 month trial agreement before going for longer, with the first inspection 3 months in. Realistically speaking it is going to be quite expensive and take damn near 3 months to actually go through full eviction proceedings, so it's often easier to just wait.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: idiots with more money than sense...

          Three years ago, my neighbour's (adjoining) house went up in flames (due to a malfunctioning massage seat). Turns out there were two fire engines and a ladder, with all the bells and whistles full on, underneath my bedroom window for five hours. Didn't hear a thing since I was asleep. Smoke detectors are of no use to me. The only thing I can do is to avoid it from happening by acting careful. All the rest is bad luck. Karma if you like.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: idiots with more money than sense...

            Didn't hear a thing since I was asleep. Smoke detectors are of no use to me.

            You want a NEST bed: one that tips over when the NEST smoke alarm signals it to wake you up.

            The NEST Bed Super Deluxe Plus will move out the bedroom door and tip you down the stairs to save time.

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: idiots with more money than sense...

              > You want a NEST bed: one that tips over when the NEST smoke alarm signals it

              Does it come complete with a chute that leads to the breakfast table? And a rack for your clothes?

              And is it connected to the toaster, egg boiler and bacon fryer?

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge
                Boffin

                Re: idiots with more money than sense...

                Does it come complete with a chute that leads to the breakfast table? And a rack for your clothes?

                That's an entirely different line of house automation, made by W&G Devices, Unlimited.

          2. Siberian Hamster

            Re: idiots with more money than sense...

            First term in university I got rudely shaken awake by my room mate. After asking why he would do such un-godly thing (may have used expletives too) he rather calmly told me the fire alarm had been going off outside our room for the last 5 mins and I hadn't even woken up. To be honest, it was pretty loud...

          3. Jon 37

            Re: idiots with more money than sense...

            > Didn't hear a thing since I was asleep. Smoke detectors are of no use to me.

            If you're deaf, you can get vibrating pads that go under your pillow, and vibrate to wake you up if the fire alarm goes off. Alternatively, if your hearing is just bad, you may be OK with having a smoke alarm in the bedroom & linking them all up.

            Both options are going to cost more than a cheap battery-powered smoke alarm, but they might save your life.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: idiots with more money than sense...

        However, if you DO pay $99 for something, you expect it to:

        1. Do what it claims to do

        and

        2. Not be a piece of cr@p

        Seems like the author's Nest failed on both counts.

        Re: batteries. Our state has mandated that all new construction (since about 1990) have hardwired smoke detectors. No more batteries.

        // Appropriate icon

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: idiots with more money than sense...

          > Re: batteries. Our state has mandated that all new construction (since about 1990) have hardwired smoke detectors. No more batteries.

          Err - don't they have battery backups inside them for when the fire takes out your power supply before they get a chance to deafen you?

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: idiots with more money than sense...

          > have hardwired smoke detectors

          Which is all very well if they fit decent ones. And not the ones our new house (admittedly in 1997) came with - even opening the oven door while baking a cake set off the smoke alarms.

          And forget about doing toast or roast potatoes - guarenteed hysteria from the smoke alarms.

          Now replaced with less paranoid and more efficient ones.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "If your smart thermostat goes wrong, you could end up roasting or freezing."

    That is exactly what happened to many Nest central heating systems last winter. Apparently it took several weeks for a firmware update to be issued to fix everyone.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/fashion/nest-thermostat-glitch-battery-dies-software-freeze.html?_r=0

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Happened to my last but one car when a temperature sensor failed and the air conditioning system valiantly tried to maintain an internal temperature of 18C by turning heaters on full due to its belief that the external temperature was -40C!

      1. GlenP Silver badge

        You don't need "smart"...

        for that to happen. Many years ago, and I hate to admit this, I had an Austin Maestro (it was a cheap stop-gap buy) with one of the first ECUs, including an electric choke. Since the box thought the temperature was permanently high it would never activate the choke making starting in winter a pain.

        Plus point in those days though was it could be solved by disassembly and resoldering dodgy joints.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: You don't need "smart"...

          (ECUs)

          I had a Rover with a K-series engine. Electronic ignition still had a distributor and rotor arm, but the timing was all done electronically. Water got in the distributor and it all corroded and fell apart. At a road junction.

          Fixed with the spring from a ball-point pen.

          Drove the next 40 miles or so better than it had done for the previous couple of weeks :-)

          Same car had this really odd problem where if the petrol tank was less than about a third full, the engine would cut out on left-hand bends. Bloke who has looked after my car for years and years couldn't work out what was wrong but I just learned to deal with it. I ended up selling the car at around 200,000 miles and it was still going.

          I have a bog-standard smoke alarm that cost me about ten quid, and the occasional battery. IT JUST WORKS.

          M.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: You don't need "smart"...

            Same car had this really odd problem where if the petrol tank was less than about a third full, the engine would cut out on left-hand bends.

            A while back we had a car that was converted to run on LPG, with the option to switch back to petrol if you ran out. One day we had to run the LPG tank empty because a valve had to be replaced, and so we did. Driving, the engine dies just a few km from home (and the garage), and I flip the selector switch back to petrol. The engine stays dead. Coast to a stop. Check that, yes, there's petrol in the tank. Try to start again. Nope. Nada. Doornail territory. Call roadside assistance and get towed home. Figured out what the problem was: the tube internal to the tank sticking down into the petrol had dropped off its fitting, and the pump was just sucking vapours.

            And the Vauxhall Viva that was my first car had a pinhole leak somewhere in a fuel line so that when you parked it with the tank filled over two-thirds, the excess petrol would find its way out. Filling up fully, then driving until you were down past the 2/3 mark: no problem.

            1. Skoorb

              Re: You don't need "smart"...

              Is converting a car to run LPG actually worth it? Did you save money overall?

              1. Alien8n Silver badge

                Re: You don't need "smart"...

                Depends on the mileage done and your expectation on lifespan of the vehicle. Assuming approx 30mpg and a £1500 install cost for the LPG and given approx 50% cost for LPG compared to petrol it should pay for itself before you hit 20,000 miles.

              2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

                Re: You don't need "smart"...

                If you do a lot of mileage, it's worth it. It costs about £500/head, if I remember correctly. I looked into it once but I didn't do enough mileage ( even at 16mpg ) to be worth it.

              3. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: You don't need "smart"...

                Did you save money overall?

                Dunno. It was bought second-hand with the LPG kit already fitted. Tends to bump up the price a bit, but not much, really. And while road tax for LPG is higher for private cars, it isn't for business vehicles ("grijs kenteken").

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: You don't need "smart"...

            I had a Rover with a K-series engine. Electronic ignition still had a distributor and rotor arm, but the timing was all done electronically. Water got in the distributor and it all corroded and fell apart. At a road junction.

            Lucas?

            They don't call him the Prince of Darkness for nothing...

            1. Hud Dunlap
              Joke

              Re: You don't need "smart"... @Antron Argalv

              "A Gentleman does not motor about after Dark."

            2. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: You don't need "smart"...

              Lucas? Possibly, dunno. Replaced it (the rotor arm and the cap) with cheap Halfords own-brand which also eventually failed through water ingress, but at a total parts cost under £20 (IIRC) I didn't really mind. The fact that contrary to normal practice, making something electronic and "intelligent" actually made servicing easier (no need to faff with the timing) was a pleasant surprise.

              M.

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: You don't need "smart"...

          > Plus point in those days though was it could be solved by disassembly and resoldering dodgy joints.

          You seem to have misspelled "disassembley with a large hammer[1]" :-)

          [1] I'm sensing a theme for me today..

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