Rich Warren: 'Smart' appliances coming ... as if we need them

Rich Warren: 'Smart' appliances coming ... as if we need them

Las Vegas regressed to normal. Visitors once again reverted to losing money on the slot machines rather than betting on the latest hot technology. The overall take on this year's International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month was that it focused on an interconnected world of things.

Sony deserves credit for predicting this at CES sometime around 1980. Thus, the hot new (or not-so-new) buzz is that your refrigerator, stove, washing machine, lights, DVR and everything else in your home that uses electricity will interact and be observable/controllable from your smart phone or tablet via the Internet and Wi-Fi. All you need now is a robot that removes the clothes from your washer and puts them in the dryer.

In 40 years of owning a refrigerator, none failed while I was away (and only one lost its cool while I was home). When visiting Vienna, do you really need to check the temperature of your refrigerator? Would I start or leave food cooking or baking while I was away and control it from my smart phone? Never. Just ask your local fire department.

Right now, timers turn lights on and off in various rooms in our absence, so there is little need to do that remotely. Some proposed "smart" refrigerators will keep an inventory of certain food items if you load them correctly. Then you can check from the store to see if you need eggs or milk.

The one smart, interconnected product that proves its utility is the Wi-Fi-controlled NEST thermostat. In the winter it informs me that the furnace is keeping the pipes from freezing. It also allows me to save energy during a prolonged absence by setting the temperature to 55 or lower and allowing me to reset it to normal a few hours before I go home. The reverse is true in the summer with air conditioning.

Still, the NEST must save a lot of energy over a long period to justify its $250 price tag.

One question brushed aside by the industry concerns computer hacking. Enough miscreants patrol the Internet to infect millions of computers (yes, even Macs are vulnerable). Think what determined demons could do to your home if they hacked your appliances.

Let me know if you think remotely controlling your appliances makes sense. Just send an email to my address below.

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Here's a question we've visited before: "This is a low-tech question for a high-tech column, but do you know of anyone in the area who still constructs the old antenna towers and rooftop antennas? I have been looking for at least two years, and everyone I know has either retired or doesn't do them anymore.

"Not everyone is enamored with the monthly payment associated with both cable TV and satellite subscriptions. I have investigated the indoor antenna alternatives, but being about 35-40 miles from Champaign and farther from Terre Haute or Lafayette, I'm afraid these devices would not pull in very many channels, maybe not even all of the major networks."

A few companies still professionally build towers, but those towers cost more than a cable subscription. The small-time tower builders all became DirecTV and DISH installers. However, Jesse Swinderman, who I have recommended before, does a great job of installing roof antennas. You can contact him at jesse@swinderman.com.

While installing a roof antenna looks easy, it requires time and expertise, so Swinderman charges accordingly. Plan on spending $75 for the most basic antenna and $100-$500 for installation, depending upon how much wiring you require.

The number of stations received by a roof antenna depends upon where you live, since around here we have the unfortunate circumstance of transmitting towers far apart in opposite directions. Adding a rotor to the antenna adds complexity — and expense.

Email Rich Warren at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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