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A man adjusts a home thermostat, which says "Turning up the air conditioning increases the chances your kids will inherit a desolate, climate-shattered dystopia. But hey — don't let that stop you." The caption reads "Passive-aggressive house."

“Hi, HVAC repair? Is there a setting to make it less snarky?”

“Hi, HVAC repair? Is there a setting to make it less snarky?” published on

I’m always wary of carbon-reduction strategies that stress individual over collective action. Give me strong, progressive government policy, a well-organized civil society pressing for change, and corporate leadership that sees the upside of a liveable planet any day.

The whole idea of an individual’s carbon footprint, for example, was popularized by petroleum giant BP through a campaign by their ad firm, Ogilvy.

And once burned (itself a carbon-intensive activity), twice shy: I’m still smarting from years of dutifully washing my plastics and placing them lovingly into blue bins, only to discover that not much of that waste is actually recycled.

But even if promoting the idea of a personal carbon footprint was a cynical attempt to divert attention from Big Oil’s massive contributions to climate change, the carbon impact of my personal choices still weighs on me.

Which is why I’m happy about some of the decisions we’ve made as a household over the past few years, including the new heat pump that’s keeping me cozy as I write this, and the electric bike that’ll supplant a lot of car rides. Our home is far from being a passive house, but y’know — baby steps.

Yes, I’m tossing pebbles onto one side of the scale while boulders are dropping on the other. It’s a little discouraging to know the impact of my choices can be erased a gazillion times over by a single decision in some boardroom somewhere.

But small as they are, I know what side of the scale I want my pebbles to be on.*

* And let’s support the kind of policies, incentives, social movements and initiatives that can coordinate those pebbles, and turn them into a… um… landslide of… (scratches head) You know what, I’m going to go back and work on this metaphor for a bit.

(man outside of the closed front door of a home, talking to two children) Sorry, kids — we can't get in until the house reboots.

Too-smart-for-its-own-good home

Too-smart-for-its-own-good home published on

I grew up in a home where none of our devices had operating systems or smart features. From home entertainment to kitchen appliances, everything was stolidly mindless.

This places me in a slowly dwindling minority of the North American population. I can still remember how disconcerting it was to realize my phone had an operating system, and wouldn’t need to just restart but reboot.

But the generation coming of age today grew up in a world where your thermostat could well have an OS; your TV almost certainly does. The thought of, say, an Internet-enabled dog treat dispenser elicits a shrug from my kids. Of course such a thing exists.

Alex and I embrace this stuff happily. (That dog treat dispenser wasn’t just a hypothetical example, and it solved a problem, okay?) Alexa — and therefore our voices — can now control our home lighting, our projector screen and the charger for my e-bike. The VCR of my teenage years has morphed into a home media server whose capacity and capabilities would have staggered my adolescent mind. And I’m not only comfortable with having an OS on my phone; I look forward to updates eagerly.

But I also know this growing reliance on CPUs and networking is a vulnerability. Where there’s an OS, there’s someone with a yen to hack it — increasingly, for profit. (“Mom, some guy in Belarus says we can’t open the garage door unless we pay him a thousand bucks in Bitcoin.”) Every new networked gizmo is a potential privacy breach, whether it’s to hackers or data brokers.

And then, of course, there’s the charming possibility that the manufacturer will take exception to my archaic belief that buying a device means I own it, and flip the remote switch that renders it inert for good.

In fact, the day probably isn’t far off when builders can do that to your entire house. Depending on the construction materials, that may lend a whole new meaning to the term “bricking.”

The hot new technology

The hot new technology published on No Comments on The hot new technology

Mere hours after I posted last week’s Internet of Things cartoon, news broke that Google had acquired Nest, maker of truly nifty smart thermostats (and now smoke alarms). I’m now wondering how I ever lived without either of them.

At least, the techno-optimist side of my brain is. The techno-grump side (which is a much smaller, wizened little stump that dangles beside my amygdala like some kind of cerebral hemorrhoid) worries that connected devices and the Internet of Things are the first step in our inexorable conversion from customers to hostages.

That techno-grump was also deeply concerned that keying “r-o-b-o-p” into Google yields the autocomplete suggestion Robopocalypse, until Ryan Merkley intervened:

His point is well-taken, although maybe I might have been Googling “robopoop”. It’s only a matter of time before that’s a thing. (Actually, at nearly 4,000 Google hits, I’d argue it already is.)

One last mild FWIW to my inner techno-grump: Google may have taken a little time to implement Do Not Track, but it’s been supported in Chrome for quite a while now.

Meanwhile: my predictive algorithms suggest that: