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English man spends 11 hours trying to make cup of tea with Wi-Fi kettle (theguardian.com)
126 points by Osiris30 on Oct 12, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

This stream of tweets reads like satire, but it demonstrates an extremely important point: the "Internet of Things" will never become mainstream so long as every appliance is a walled garden.

Without open protocols to allow people to connect together whatever they like, this technology will remain a niche for the minority that know how to write the software themselves - and have the patience to.

I think the bigger point is that smart devices should gracefully degrade to dumb devices.


Light switch not online, still switches lights. Smoke detector not connected to wifi, still beep when detecting smoke.

The "smart" part is for convenience, not to create unnecessary dependencies. I'm a bit tired of seeing things that obviously only need access to local resources fail when the internet goes out.

Very good point. It always disappoints me when I encounter systems that seem to ignore the Fallacies of Distributed Computing[1].

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacies_of_distributed_compu...

I spent 5 years programming around those 8 fallacies for a web-conference company (ok maybe 3 fallacies reworded). Bottlenecks, network topology changes, different rules on different networks. Means you have to measure each connection and code multiple strategies. Probably should open-source that stuff, because its a growing problem and no sign of relief in sight.

The kettle in the story does do that. The user simply chose to continue to try to get it working as intended, rather than pressing the boil button on the kettle base and going on with his day.

the thing I keep failing to understand is: why do these devices need to block while updating? Can't they just use two (small) memory-banks and download the image to bank 2 while working from the first one and do one quick switcheroo in a couple of milliseconds?

(edit: question marks should mark the end of sentences which are questions)

From the security we've seen in these devices, I'm assuming that would be both a financial and technical no-go. The standard practice appears to be buying a minimum-cost board and loading it up with some stolen open-source software - sensible hot-swapping would be far too demanding for that.

(But yes, that really should be the case. It could also support elegant failures back to the previous firmware version.)

IoT devices seem to be the result of putting web people in charge of embedded development. Not to defend emb. devs... some truly horrendous stuff out there as well.

I think it's the opposite; they put the embedded developers, who (rightly) have no sense of the insane challenge of doing security, in charge of talking to the Web.

Does it have to be either/or? You need both types of developers, and they have to talk to each other, and you have finite hiring resources. These are very different cultures, and the failure mode is either broken system software, which will get noticed and fixed, or broken security, which likely won't.

I disagree with that characterization. Engineers working on connected devices, Web or not, should be cognizant of security issues. That many aren't I see as a problem.

For that matter, I don't think most web developers have a proper sense of security challenges, either.

You don't need that. Linux does that without using two separate memory banks.

(You only need to reboot for kernel updates, and that can be reduced with kexec)

Your idea is pretty similar to having a hypervisor running two VMs and switching from one to the another. There's no need to have two separate memory banks.

With an IC, it makes sense to work from two different RAM ICs. I'm not an electronics engineer, however.

Program flash is usually ROM and that is where you are executing the SW. You mostly keep variables in RAM, although you can do a couple of neat tricks with copying and fiddling with code in RAM.

Even more, while you usually can self-program the ROM memory, you can only erase it in blocks that are pretty big relative to the whole memory of the device. If you have a simple system that runs in a flat address space with no MPU and virtual memory, it gets pretty complicated for a running update.

Of course, that's from my experience with microcontrollers. SOrry if I went off-topic, but I just thought the discussion interesting. Embedded Linux computers I bet are more complex than that and probably execute code in RAM. These babies are connected to the internet so they probably have a far beefier SOC running Linux not some lightweight RTOS. It is a kettle, you need a lot of juice for that baby!

But then you wouldn't have to buy another one.

Any examples of devices that don't??

> it demonstrates an extremely important point: the "Internet of Things" will never become mainstream so long as every appliance is a walled garden.

I would say the point is "it is absolutely moronic to put a computer in a tea kettle."

I mean, seriously. What benefit can you possibly get from doing that? "Oh, I can turn the kettle on from anywhere."

Wonderful. For that benefit I would maybe pay $1. It's not like it's going to actually make the tea and bring it to me.

But how much would I pay for the assurance of absolutely perfect, air-gapped security from having hackers burn my house down by boiling my kettle dry, PLUS absolutely perfect assurance that I won't spend a second updating firmware or WiFi configurations or antivirus software on my kettle, PLUS absolutely perfect assurance that nobody is building a dataset about my life based on my kettle usage, PLUS absolutely perfect assurance that my kettle won't stop working because some service shut down or because some programmer mishandled memory...

What, you say? Those features are impossible if a kettle is connected to the internet?

People keep using this word "Smart". I don't think it means what they think it means.

Literally, the whole point is to be in Star Trek, to be able to say this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2IJdfxWtPM

... except you still have to manually put water in the kettle, and put the tea bag in the cup, and pour the water on the tea bag, and add and mix sugar and/or milk yourself.

Oh, and it doesn't actually have voice control. You have to pick up and unlock your phone and use an app, during which time you probably could have walked to the kitchen and turned on the kettle.

The Future™, ladies and gentlemen.

    > Without open protocols to allow people to connect
    > together whatever they like, this technology will remain
    > a niche for the minority that know how to write the
    > software themselves - and have the patience to.
That's me, and a good chunk of the HN crowd, but there's also people that will be happy to buy in wholly to a single ecosystem.

And unfortunately, that's actually more justified here than the "I'll get an iPhone/Mac because I have a Mac/iPhone so it'll work better" mindset that I'll never understand.

    > Without open protocols
That doesn't seem to be enough - Apple's HomeKit is... "extensible", shall we say; Amazon's Alexa has an open API; Google's Weave is an open standard, but the schema's pretty lax (vendors are "encouraged" to use standard identifiers like "toaster", but let's be honest, tonnes will use "acme_toaster"). ARM's mbed does enforce standard identifiers - using the LWM2M (`/:ObjectID/:ObjectInstance/:ResourceID`) format [0] - but that's four different systems and only the big players, so... https://xkcd.com/927/ (Standards).

[0]: https://docs.mbed.com/docs/mbed-device-connector-web-interfa...

The remote control for my television was an improvement because I didn't have to get up from my chair to change channels and when I got cable, there were a lot more channels to hunt. But most things don't need to be tuned because they don't create high bandwidth continuous variable information streams.

My smartphone and television are valuable because they're part of the network. My refrigerator is valuable because it meaningfully reduces my odds of death by food poisoning. The general appeal of configuring things like refrigerators and tea kettles is probably lower than programming the VCR ever was.

I'm skeptical that open protocols will change things much. Mostly because tea kettles are stand alone devices; the benefits of networking them are corner cases; and making them smart adds a lot of incidental complexity and that complexity manifests itself quickly because networks are unreliable.

My preferred 'program' for my refrigerator is "get cold and stay that way". Turns out I can write that with a ten cent analog knob the day I buy it!

I can imagine a world where it's worth programming my refrigerator, but the only possible justification would be that it integrates easily with a fitness band, to-do list, and preferably something else I care about. Ideally, I'd give them all some basic rules from a safe and convenient UI on my computer.

I've seen arguments for networking a kettle - usually "hot when you get home" - but I've never believed any of them. The thing takes 30 seconds to boil already, and I have no need to integrate it into my health or planning regimens.

When I imagine the world were I integrate my refrigerator with my shopping list it winds up not containing me. I mean I'd rather integrate my shopping list directly with my grocery store because integrating with my fridge smells like two integrations: there's also the fridge to the grocery store. Adding a fitness band is an n+1 operation in an O(n^2) integration process. And if I consider integrating at the feature level rather than the device level (which is where integration matters) the combinatorials are at the point where the responses can't be canned and the training sets don't exist to tune the integrations to my goals automatically.

> this technology will remain a niche for the minority that know how to write the software themselves - and have the patience to

Or just want that "computer, make me tea!" Star Trek experience. The frustration of getting it to work can easily be discounted by this guy's will just to make this thing work because the end result is awesome. I'd have gone through the same headache just for the delight of being able to say "Computer, make tea." and the computer making it so. Also, being able to do the same when guests come over just to show it off would have been worth every second of the aggravation it took to get it working - "Look what I did!" :D

Reminds me of a couple of weeks back, I went to a new Media Mark (consumer electronics store) near my place in Barcelona. It had some robots in the windows shuffling stuff of shelves for show.

I got in and realized it wasn't actually a normal store but some new high tech version. There were some touchscreen devices where you were supposed to make an order then go and collect it from the desk at the other side (and the robots were getting the stuff from shelves). Tried the two that were available. "Error establishing connection" type error. Tried the one next to it. The same. The few staff that were on the main shop floor seemed busy explaining how the things worked to other customers so I went to the old school department store next door.

Welcome to the future.

This is one of the most British headlines I have ever seen. Up there with "Chutney blew up my fridge"


The English regional press is brilliant for this sort of thing.

'Sudden appearance of white line in Evesham explained' [0]

'Evesham football club Chairman's says they would have been hit financial [sic] if stolen tractors were not recovered' [1]

'Man stole coffee and spanners from Poundland' [2]

'Former Pershore asparamancer makes her global predictions for 2016' [asparamancy: divination by throwing asparagus in the air] [3]

[0] http://www.eveshamjournal.co.uk/news/14128452.Sudden_appeara...

[1] http://www.eveshamjournal.co.uk/news/14793275.Chairman__39_s...

[2] http://www.eveshamjournal.co.uk/news/14790600.Man_stole_coff...

[3] http://www.eveshamjournal.co.uk/news/14196327.Former_Pershor...

You've reminded me of the Framley Examiner: http://framleyexaminer.com/

I like that the punishment for Man who stole coffee and spanners from Poundland was that he had to stay in court until 5pm that day. Truly that is justice.

"Residents Thanked For Patience Ahead of ‘Big Week’ of Bin Collections"


I expect when it was ready, it was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

I read the whole tweet thread waiting for this outcome.

I actually read the whole thing as an homage to Hitchhikers. It had that "English comedy" tone from the beginning. I think the tweets' author is a brilliant comedic writer.

"Share and enjoy!" - (c) Nutrimatics Corp.

> but now we're eating dinner in dark while lights download a firmware update

His lights probably got the last Windows 10 update and are now updating and rebooting whenever they feel like it.

I just don't understand the concept as you can't fill it up with water through Wifi, so anyway you have to physically handle de kettle.

There is way too much of this shit.


He did check for 418 responses, right?

That would only explain an inability to make coffee, not an inability to make tea.

  2.3.2 418 I'm a teapot 
     Any attempt to brew coffee with a teapot should result in the error  
     code "418 I'm a teapot". The resulting entity body MAY be short and  

Actually as per RFC7168 a teapot may return code 418 to "denote a more permanent indication that the pot is a teapot".

Business idea: Start a tech comedy video podcast network. With the predicted explosive growth of IoT, there should be plenty of interesting material in the coming years.

And of course, https://twitter.com/internetofshit is already great inspiration for one.

We're way ahead of you! See also: why Scottish people hate speech recognition:


Start a store that sells old school manually serviceable stuff after everyone has put the internet where it doesn't belong.

Start a store that reprograms IoT things with a clawhammer, then sells the DRM-free results.

A lot of the time, when I hear about an IoT product (such as this tea kettle or the wifi enabled bathroom Scale my coworker told me about) I think, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should"

I want a smart scale. I've considered bluetooth but would prefer wifi, just waiting to catch a deal on one. Seeing my daily weight charted over a year gets my analytic side giddy, but my frugality has so far beat it back.

I've owned a lot of "quantified self" style gadgets over the past decade and all they've really done is make me realise that numbers along aren't enough to get me to change my lifestyle. The data is interesting, but it isn't information because it lacks context, and as such it doesn't do anything for you. Seeing a pretty graph that tells you that you've gained some weight might sound helpful and motivating but (for me) it was actually just a little depressing.

I can understand that, but I'm not looking for motivation, just statistics. I'm already disciplined in weight management, tracking is just interesting.

Is the effort of connecting and maintaining a WiFi-enabled scale really less than just jotting down the number and putting it in Excel?

The title could also be “data specialist can't get work done without his devops team”. :p

> Rittman was trying to build the integration functionality himself

11 hours is nothing

What's baffling to me, is that this is how almost every single Wifi gadget seems to work for me. I've spent hours trying to get our Fitbit Aria scale to connect to the right network, and reconfigure it, and it almost never works. Same thing with the Anova cooker. It worked fine for a few days and then my phone can't find it anymore. Try doing the setup again and it always fails. There has to be a better way to handle setup and configuration for these types of network connecting gadgets.

See also: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12690121 (9 hours ago, 6 comments)

This is one of the rare parts of the future that makes me want to take up isolationist living.

Time well spent. A good cup of tea is ALWAYS worth whatever time it takes. :)

I enjoy the looks of bemusement I get from my friends used to their '2 minute takeout coffees' when they see me take 20 minutes or more to brew a nice pot of tea...

Of course, he could always have pressed the physical boil button on the base unit...

I've worked as a network engineer, I wasn't able to set up a printer with WiFi after an hour or so (or rather I was able to set it up but settings will disappear)

so IoT DevOps is apparently a thing nowadays ;)

Had to LOL at "Hadoop cluster in his garage"...

@internetofshit right here.

Downloading a cup of tea from amazon.co.uk can't be harder than this.

This is a work of art. :)

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