23 August 2020

Small Claims 1

Leigh in pod capsule
“Open the pod door, Hal.”

“I’m sorry, Leigh. I can’t do that.”

“Hal, open the door.”

“Nope, sorry, no can do.”

“Hal, open the ¡@#$%£¢†€‡ door!”

“D’accord, Dave. It’s open.”

“Name’s Leigh, and no, it isn’t.”





“You can’t make me. Nyaa-nya-na-na-nah-nahhh.”

Geek Chic

This was not a conversation from 2001, but one in my own house in 2019. The name Hal has been changed to protect the guilty.

I’ve been upgrading my house with security features and smart home automation. Devices hooked up thus far include several lights and lamps, entry locks and garage doors, ceiling fans, air conditioner, water heater, thermostats, entertainment center, security cameras, a robot, a NAS storage device, and a number of talk-to-the-pod gadgets and displays.

My friend Thrush and I installed most of these as inexpensive, tinker toy, erector set, do-it-yourself doodads. I’ve avoided big, brand name products, which are less fun and très cher. They’re also proprietary– they might reject third party add-ons or charge you subscription fees to maintain connectivity to your products after the first year.

But, for a critical component, I deviated from the DIY rule. It was not cheap. I bought the latest name brand thingamajig from a well-regarded manufacturer, the latter part of a $2.2-billion conglomerate with $2.5-billion in home automation and security sales. Also, *gasp* I paid for dealer installation instead of assembling it myself. I had to wait two months for the initial product to roll off the assembly line. I’m also well aware of ‘bleeding edge’ technology, but with an engineer and a couple of software gurus on the premises, how risky could it be?

As it turns out… there’s a reason I’ve not mentioned the product and brand name– I signed a settlement agreement not to. After a multitude of ‘Hal’ interactions not unlike the above, I sought remedies.

What Could Go Wrong? Wrong? Wrong?

The device would not obey Apple, Android, or Google demands. It often reported contrary information, e.g, it claimed the device was on when it wasn’t, and vice versa. Worse, I couldn’t tell it to turn on the doohickey because it thought it already on, and I couldn’t tell it to turn off the box because it was already off. The only solution was to reboot.

Mashing the on/off buttons often proved fruitless. I pictured some poor schlep in California helplessly watching his kitchen devices cycling on an off, his lights flashing, and his garage door bouncing up and down thanks to a signal routed from Florida.

Meanwhile, lights would go on and doors would unlock and open at three in the morning. Picture Captain Kirk slamming face first into Enterprise doors that abruptly open and close. Fortunately the blast from the rudely awakened entertainment center frightened away any curious burglars.

Internet capability either wasn’t installed or it refused to work. Even if internet had been fully functional, it was poorly designed. If the internet was down (as mine constantly is!), their version of software couldn’t operate the device. You’d have to get out in the rain to open doors and turn on lights, even if you had electricity.

I’d purchased battery backup that of course spectacularly failed. I’m hard pressed to think of anything that did work. Believe me, the situation was so much worse than I’m allowed to describe.

The Consumer’s Fault School of Customer Support

So call tech support, right? Exercise my warranty and call the installer too?

The first techie admitted they didn’t yet have manuals and guidelines, but agreed the unit wasn’t behaving as promised in promotions, including expensive video ads. He'd request a replacement.

Then the second guy I’ll call Dan, but his real name is Butthead. He aggressively began by insisting nothing could be wrong with the device. He said I expected behavior it wasn’t intended to do. Dan dismissed the lack of functionality as a misreading of their advertising. This ‘gentleman’ (Sarcasm cleanup on aisle 4) told me I was annoying, nasty, and abusive. (I never was, but we’ll return to that.) Joining in with the installer, Dan accused me of cheating his company and trying to get something for nothing. From there on out, he fielded subsequent incoming calls and refused to forward me to either the original tech guy or their boss.

People's Court Judge Marilyn Milian
Wow. Not only did I pay out $2500, but failure of the device was sucking $100 a month out of my (personal) micro-economy. Details might violate the settlement confidentiality agreement, but the point is that the device was slowly bleeding me.

Believe me, I’ve understated the problems. So what’s an American boy to do? I sued. I took the $2.2-billion conglomerate to small claims court.

Wait! What is she ➡︎ doing here?

In a subsequent article, I’ll explain my experience and offer tips to anyone considering this route. See you in two weeks!


  1. Makes me think of the story "The Iron Chancellor" by Robert Silverberg. A Kuttneresque tale that brings to mind Alexa and her compatriots as well as "Colossus: The Forbin Project."

  2. Oh sheesh, Jeff. Alexa and Colossus… a marriage made in hell. Colossus scared us silly!

    BTW, the most accurate of the intelligent computer novels (at the time) was The Adolescence of P1.

  3. Hope the pen proves mightier than the corporate sword! Amazing a country so in thrall to the 2nd Amendment is so willing to put up with restrictions on the first!
    Good luck!

  4. Leigh, your "adventure" reminds me of a situation I had with Chrysler (yeah, I'll name them). I was having an issue and called them. They insisted I owned a minivan. I have never in my life owned a minivan. I owned a Jeep. The customer service dick on the other end was a total asshole and i could not convince him that I never owned a minivan. So in essence he was calling me a liar. Eventually, he hung up on me and I couldn't get him back or his supervisor. And the upshot is he subscribed me to a ton of magazines that I would never subscribe to.

    Good luck with your Small Claims case. I hope you beat their pants off.

  5. Alexa question: Which of my friends needs to leave these hi-tech gadgets alone and go back to the old way of doing things?
    Answer: Leigh Lundin.

    Just kiddin. I too love all these Sharper Image inventions, and will continue to fool with them--but you're right that they can be nightmares.

    Wishing you the best, in court!

    (Leave it to Jeff Baker to remind us of Colossus. I loved that book, and movie, too!)

  6. "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do
    I’m half crazy, all for the love of you
    It won’t be a stylish marriage
    I can’t afford a carriage
    But you look sweet
    Upon the seat
    Of a bicycle built for two"

  7. Janice, you're hit on a major concern of mine. We've worked so hard to carve out free speech and fend off assaults, and now the far left and far right want to upend it. They know not what they seek.

    Paul, that's so weird and yet we're no strangers to that combination of erroneous data and clerk mentality. Are you still subscribed to Molar Tooth Monthly?

    John (laughing), can you believe I got hoist on that bleeding edge petard? For a brief while, Sharper Image had a store in the touristy section of Orlando. Now I see their products in the back of Walgreens. Remember a similar company called DAK?

    O'Neil, that's so eerie! My gadgets have been singing that song recently!

  8. Leigh, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe do both. I love tech. When it works. But a week doesn't go by when something doesn't go wrong with a gadget or a program or app. I can only hope you get some satisfaction in court. And am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, the next installment of this sage.

  9. Thanks, Jan. We grew up with telephones and appliances that simply worked and never died. Until a few years ago, I still had a Norge washer and dryer that quietly did the job without complaint. Then TWO LG refrigerators died mere hours beyond the expiration of their warranty. Thank you, Jan.

  10. I have a PC, an Android, and two blu-rays (one for upstairs, one for downstairs). I refuse to get anything else that is hooked up to anything outside my own home. They tried to get me to link my new furnace controls to the internet, and I firmly refused. As for home security - well... wait for my blog on Thursday.


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