Write and print out an operations manual for your smart house

My father, who is in his eighties, is a retired systems engineer. Twenty years ago when he retired, he decided to create a smart house, so he and my mother would never have to go into a nursing home, he said.

He started with motion sensors, and a heat sensor near the oven, and something that detected humidity around the washing machine. He had circuit boards, then it ran off Raspberry Pis, and now it is an impenetrable mash-up of Alexa, various apps on his smartphone, and my father’s custom coding. There may still be some Raspberry Pis involved.

The garage door opens when their cars approach. Alexa announces the arrival of the mail in the box at the end of their drive. Alexa turns on some lights when you ask, some lights when he programmed it to, and some lights, he says, for reasons he has not yet debugged. (He told me not to be alarmed if their bedroom light turned on after midnight, if I was in the house alone.)

Last fall, my father had to go to the hospital for surgery. (He’s doing well now.)

I drove to rural, upstate New York to help my parents out. At the hospital my mother said, “Did he tell you how to change the temperature? I don’t know how to do that.”

My mother is flustered by technology and keeps saying she should learn how to “do things on computers.” She has said this for forty years.

I was flustered by realizing that my mother may or may not be able to get in to their house by herself (the door unlocks if she has her cell phone with her, and it is charged, which is sometimes but not always) and that she would not know how to adjust the thermometer if she made it indoors.

He stayed in the hospital, which was seventy miles away, for a week. We stayed in a nearby hotel for a couple of days, and then went back to my parents’ house. Luckily, we were able to get in.

The first morning we were back, my mother got a text from my father: “Want me to turn on the pellet stove”

My mother replied with a paragraph studded with strings of emojis.

Then we heard the pellet stove whoosh into life. We basked in the blast of heat from the blower, admiring the ring of flames for a moment.

He had turned it on with his cell phone, from his hospital bed, 70 miles away.

I burst out laughing. “I knew he could control the thermostat, but I didn’t know he could do that!”

“To be honest with you,” my mother said, “neither did I.”

Write and print out an operations manual for your smart house.

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