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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Trollface

My rule of tech

The more complex the machine, and the more critical the operation (or outcome) = the greater risk of something going tits up.

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Re: My rule of tech

AKA Murphy's KISS

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Anonymous Coward

Re: My rule of tech

It is the Murphy's Law corollary: "Anything which can go wrong - will go wrong - at the worst possible moment"

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Vic
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Re: My rule of tech

It is the Murphy's Law corollary: "Anything which can go wrong - will go wrong - at the worst possible moment"

I think that corollary is actually "Anything which can go wrong - will work perfectly when you're trying to demonstrate the fault to a service engineer"...

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Fire and smoke alarms and safety

While fire and smoke alarms do save lives, building codes are at least as much of a factor in preventing fire deaths. At least to a casual observer, it appears that the very good fire safety record in the US is in a large part due to the very agressive promotion and enforcement of the fire and CO detector installation. At this point, an average American or Canadian home is pretty much saturated with fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors; in many jurisdictions, there is also a legal requirement of having at least one working smoke dtector per floor. This has so far offset the increasing prevalence of highly-flammable materials, which the home-building industry keeps pushing for. The end result is the fire death rate of 0.75 per 100000 population.

On the other hand, the fire death rate in Germany is considerably lower (0.35 per 100000), but you rarely see fire or smoke detectors in a private residence, and as far as I can tell there is no legal requirement to install them in most situatuations. Most of the reason is due to the much stricter building codes: a new multi-residential building with a flammable main structure would be basically impossible; most single-family houses I see being built use reinforced concrete for the main structure as well. Another factor is the prevalence of district heating and hot water systems in large cities; this eliminates one of the major sources of fire and carbon monoxide.

You can see the fire death rates per country at:

http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/fires/by-country/

It is a quite fascinating table.

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Stop

Re: Fire and smoke alarms and safety

A very interesting table, happily I have only lived in countries at the lower end of the tables. I suspect that clothing style along with open cooking fires and lighting sources plays a part in a few countries.

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Go

Re: Fire and smoke alarms and safety

Its now law in Germany to install Smoke Detectors in new build houses, but there's still no requirement for them to be in existing or renovated houses.

I had a hell of a fight with my fiancée (who is German) over installing one in our flat. She didn't see the point of having one. I won in the end, but it really isn't common here. However like you say building codes are definitely excellent, so fires don't tend to spread very hard or fast.

Still I sleep much better having a smoke detector installed in our flat!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fire and smoke alarms and safety

When reading the upmarket "new designs" features in British newspapers - there is often an open stairwell for more than two storeys. Very pretty - but unsafe in case of a fire.

My house was built in the 1970s when the building regs in England apparently dictated that a stairway for three storeys had to be enclosed and protected against fire in any adjoining room at any level.

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LDS
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Re: Fire and smoke alarms and safety

It's not only the building code, but the materials traditionally used. Look for example at Italy, even lower than Germany. Italian houses are usually built with stones, bricks, and more recently, concrete. Some of them may not stand well earthquakes (they may be too rigid and brittle), but they rarely catch fire, and even when a fire starts, usually it can't expand much.

That's despite of many old buildings, and the large use of gas kitchen stoves (the high price of electricity doesn't make electric ones much used), and gas heaters. The main issue could be a gas leak, and a gas detector would be much more useful than a smoke one. CO became less an issue when heaters were moved outside living spaces, but still claims its victims among the poorest, or people who still live in houses with very old installations.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fire and smoke alarms and safety

I lived for several years in Germany and found it interesting that the Germans have a low rate of fire deaths, considering that many families light their Christmas tree with real candles. The value of using reinforced concrete and/or cinder blocks in their residential construction became clear to me when a neighbor's Christmas tree caught fire -- the only damage was to the interior of the living room and its contents -- including the Christmas gifts under the tree.

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Coat

What, forty-odd comments and no "Emergency. There is an emergency going on. It's still going on." yet?

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If there was a firmware update so the Nest would say that, in Holly's voice, I'd consider buying one.

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"Purple Alert! Purple Alert!"

"What's a purple alert?"

"Well, it's worse than a Blue Alert, but not quite as bad as a Red Alert..."

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But who's going to change the bulb?

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Megaphone

One of the outputs

of the smoke/fire alarm controller will be used to trigger a sound module.

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Anonymous Coward

Warning of the inevitable?

Did they put Samsung batteries in the device, perhaps it was just warning of the inevitable?

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Anonymous Coward

I actually NEED a fire alarm

It's the only comment I get on my cooking..

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Nest

It may be a fault in my own programming but the word 'nest' immediately makes me think of wasps or other unpleasant things such as alien hive minds trying to controll the population.

In a normal house I can't see much reason to have a connected smart smoke detector, the two old fashioned ones I have, have never given me any kind of problem. A 2am chirp to tell me the battery is flat is hardly an earth shaking event, I usually have a drawer full of spare batteries and I prefer a late night chirp to a late night fire. Having to get up to change a battery is maybe a little annoying but nothing more, it amazes me the trite and piffling things that sales droids are able to use as successful sales ploys.

In a public building or commercial environment with large numbers of people a truly smart system that can control air flow, fire doors etc is a useful thing and in connection with trained staff very useful but as I said before £99 is not going to get you anything that is usefully smart in your house.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nest

"It may be a fault in my own programming but the word 'nest' immediately makes me think of wasps or other unpleasant things such as alien hive minds trying to controll the population."

Caution: Mind bleach time.

I have the same problem with the range of cured meats with the brand name "Unearthed". Always triggers a mental image of something crawling with maggots after being buried in the ground for it to mature.

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Nah, just give me dumb devices, very little that can go wrong.

Granted, I still have to manually switch my lights on/off etc, but what the hey, it is far better than having some electronic device go bonkers in the middle of the night...

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Holmes

This

"If your smart thermostat goes wrong, you could end up roasting or freezing. If your smart lock goes wrong, anyone could enter your home. If your smart lighting goes wrong, you could up in the dark, or with rooms suddenly lighting up. And if your smart smoke detector goes wrong, you could end up in a panic in the early hours of the morning."

Things that pretend to be smart but are incapable of detecting themselves going wrong for the most common failure modes*, just aren't.

* I can accept them being unable to cope with weird edge cases, but low batteries?

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Headmaster

Pucker up?

Why does it always seem like the acronyms IoT and KISS are mutually exclusive?

Or is it just another differentiator between something driven by engineering principles and marketing ones?

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"It raises doubts about whether this smart home tech is such a good idea."

Not for me it doesn't. Those doubts were already there - this just helps affirm them.

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i think the main problem is you guys think your options are limited to a smart or not so smart little white box

a canary or similar, can be used for O detection, you can even recycle the battery detection spring from your old sensor housing, weight detection plate..

for about 25p a day, a cat is a great fire detector, i would sugest one for each room..

this also solves several other problems of xmas/birthday presents for kids, who will push their test buttons daily, be much happier and more interested in fire prevention etc

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Joke

re: Canary

"Arrrgghh - look at the canary! We're being poisoned by CO !!"

"Nah, look - it's just resting!"

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Re: re: Canary

The advantage with a canary is no chirps in the wee hours other than it's last gasp/ chirp when the presence of CO drops it off it's perch ( a pressure sensor in the floor of the cage, designed to react to a canaryweight dropping on it could be used to set off a more intrusive alarm than a last chirp).

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> for about 25p a day, a cat is a great fire detector, i would sugest one for each room..

So I need 3 more cats.

And you have remarkably low-rent cats if they only cost you 25p/day! Our vary, but even the cheapest is roughly 50p/day (based on food consumption, cat litter costs, annual MOT etc etc).

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Re: re: Canary

> "Arrrgghh - look at the canary! We're being poisoned by CO !!"

>"Nah, look - it's just resting!"

Or (when combined with the cat suggestion):

"Canary? What canary?"

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I agree ...

I have some "Smart light bulbs", very expensive WiFi jobbies at £99 a pop.

When they work, they are great.

I must've lost more than an hour in the past year performing software updates (on a lightbulb!!!) and having to re-set/reconnect them to WiFi, swearing at them when they are on but I'm unable to turn them on / off without a diagnostic process.

All so that I can set them to any colour or level I want.

Is it worth it? I'm not so sure anymore...

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Even my basic smoke alrams are annoying

We have 4. They came with the house.

They are mains powered but have backup batteries.

I imagine the batteries last a couple of years but with 4 we end up with one of them chirping at us about every 3 months. Always at night... The old battery powered one I had used to last longer than these mains powered ones...

Also the power seems to occasionally flicker where I am about once a month. The lights imperceptably, occasionally enough to reboot a PC. But without fail it causes all of the smoke alarms to go off for a few seconds. Again, always at night.

These are modern, new alarms and they seem worse in every way than the one I had 10 years ago

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Flame

"And if your smart smoke detector goes wrong..."

" ...you could end up in a panic in the early hours of the morning."

You could also end up very, very dead if it fails in a different way ------------------>

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RAID

Get the defective Nest alarm replaced under warranty and put it on fleabay.

Buy a set of detectors from an established manufacture so that each of the bedrooms, living areas and as much of the house where there is a possible risk of a fire starting (e.g. utility room, garage, attics, basements) is covered.

As for CO detectors, again sited according to risk and need to alert occupants.

Don't forget to test them regularly, Once you know the battery life, replace the batteries pre-emptively - then no more waking up in the middle of the night due to low battery warnings.

The total outlay may well be over the cost of a single Nest detector - but you are not reliant on a single point of failure of a complex device. About the only sophistication that would be good to have is the ability to link them. Redundant Array of Inexpensive Detectors

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I'm coming to the conclusion..

..that the reason they give these Things the "Smart" tag is that the marketing has to be smart to get normally savvy people to buy products that are really still in development.

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Thumb Up

Don't worry

It'll all be fixed in the next version.

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One of the reasons that the UNIX user-space model has ...

... worked as long as it has is because it is, at it's heart, made up of many small tools[0], each of which does one thing as near to perfectly as possible.

People intent on producing and/or making use of all-singing, all-dancing IoT things would do well to ponder this. Not that they will, of course.

[0] Don't ask me to explain EMACS ... or systemd for, that matter ;-)

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Coat

Re: One of the reasons that the UNIX user-space model has ...

> [0] Don't ask me to explain EMACS ... or systemd for, that matter ;-)

Neither has an explanation that rational people can accept..

(Mines the one with the link to the vi handbook stitched into it)

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Vic
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Re: One of the reasons that the UNIX user-space model has ...

Mines the one with the link to the vi handbook stitched into it

I think I'm going to have to learn emacs.

The Esc key on this laptop has failed...

Vic.

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Re: One of the reasons that the UNIX user-space model has ...

"The Esc key on this laptop has failed..."

So remap a key or several ... Most folks with a clue have been swapping CapsLock and <ctrl> on PC keybr0ads since time immemorial ... In your case, maybe swap the other <ctrl> key with <esc>?

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Vic
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Re: One of the reasons that the UNIX user-space model has ...

So remap a key or several

Do I really need the "Joke Alert" icon for every single quip?

Vic.

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Bulk battery buy?

I'm pretty sure my Nest Protects take special AA-sized batteries, not regular ones. Lithium ion's or something. That's why they have years of life.

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Anonymous Coward

True to their promises

From the Nest website:

"No one should be woken up by a low-battery chirp at 2:00am."

From the Nest code:

(if (= lowBatt true) (progn (if (= hour "02:00") (sleep 1 "min")) (blare)))

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Meh

Aah, technology...

The most aggravating was when I lived in an apartment and the two other apartments on my floor were empty. On night I began to hear the low-battery chirp of the alarm in one of the empty apartments. While the apartments were well insulated for sound, the chirp carries surprisingly far and well. I contacted the landlord the next day... nothing was done.. Apparently quality control on batteries is pretty tight, as the following night the other apartment's alarm started doing the same thing. Like a chorus of of electronic crickets or locusts. After about 4 days of this I got into the empty apartments (don't ask) and replaced the batteries myself.

The one in my kitchen, which has both photoelectric and ionization detectors in it, has the endearing quality of when the battery gets low, but not quite low enough to warn you, when you stumble downstairs in the groggy hours of the early morning and flip on the light, it will instantly start screaming from the light change. Not fun at 6AM.

A friend with a modern home has all the detectors linked wirelessly---if one starts screaming, they all scream. Unfortunately there's nothing to indicate which one cried wolf. In the wee hours of the morning, they all started screaming, causing pandemonium. After it was determined that no crisis occurred and batteries were replaced, everyone went back to bed... and awoke hours later to a repeat. Eventually the suspect device was found and replaced after several nights of this and the process of elimination.

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Meh

Up To?

'Nest promises that it will "last up to a decade,"'

Well, they didn't lie, it did last somewhere under a decade. They clearly use the same measurements that ISPs do for bandwidth....

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Re: Up To?

Indeed, classic marketing weaselery. "Up to" = "almost certainly less than". As in "this product is up to 100% effective."

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Not so smart

So in this context the smart device is more expensive, less reliable, and more annoying than the non-smart device,....and does the same job.

Why?

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Re: Not so smart

> the smart device is more expensive, less reliable, and more annoying

> Why?

To extract money from you of course. Those CEO mega-salaries don't pay themselves y'know!

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Failure modes

and if your smart smoke detector goes wrong, you could end up in a panic in the early hours of the morning.

That's the best case. Worst case you sleep serenely until you die of smoke inhalation.

To me that's an excellent argument for keeping smoke detectors simple, self-contained and pure hardware. If you also want a motion sensitive light then fine, get one of those too. They are 3 for a tenner on amazon. There's no reason to combine it with your fire alarm.

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"No one should be woken up by a low-battery chirp at 2:00am."

See Nest themselves admit nobody should buy one.

It's not SMART if it just pisses you off. It's not dumb if it doesn't. These are just things. All you can say is my £4 detector does its job admirably whilst your $99 has not. So let's think about this, should you buy another unnecessary $99 product? No, no you should not. As you've demonstrated it doesn't add anything except annoyance. The mains version would have alleviated the battery issue but would have made it harder to remove/replace so no easy win there.

And you know what, screw the app. If my house is on fire, I'd rather find out when I get home than have it ruin my holiday. Now if my house burned down and the smart fire alarm booked me a hotel before it melted.. that might be a helpful feature.

An interactive house needs to be created holistically, you can't just buy some stuff off the shelf, screw them to your walls and hope the app that ties them together isn't buggy.

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FAIL

Idiot

didn't buy the identically priced mains powered version.

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Mushroom

Smart? Right....

1. Retrieve two-pound maul from toolbox.

2. Strike fire alarm until in unidentifiable pieces on the bench.

3. Go to Home Depot and buy a $15 smoke alarm.

Sleep well. And do try not to be fooled into buying something "Smart" in the future, dummy. Replace the batteries twice a year and you probably won't be awakened at night unless something bad happens.

I wonder how many of those Nest devices are sitting in landfills now?

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