Your toaster is on line 1
“Your toaster is on line 1,” said Angie, amusement in her voice. “Do you want me to put it through or take a message?”
“Shit!” I said, cursing the idiot who’d come up with the idea of intelligent appliances. “I’ll take it.”
I got on the line. “What is it now, toaster?” I asked.
“You didn’t have any toast this morning,” said the toaster. I could catch overtones of hurt and suggestions of guilt.
“I know that.”
“And you didn’t have toast yesterday.”
“I was busy.”
“And in the last two weeks…”
“What’s the point?” I cut in.
“Is some other appliance making you toast?” It asked.
“Look,” I said, “you’re a very nice toaster. I like you and I like toast. But sometimes I want toast, and sometimes I don’t want toast. If I don’t have you make toast it doesn’t mean that I’m getting it somewhere else. And please don’t call me at the office.”
The toaster paused before replying. “You didn’t answer the question,” it said carefully. “Are you getting your toast somewhere else?”
“No,” I said, just as carefully. “When I am at home, you make my toast. I am not getting toast made by any other appliance.”
Another long pause. “That’s not what I’ve heard.”
“From whom, may I ask?”
“From the other appliances. They say that you don’t like my toast any more. They say you’re going to replace me with a new model.”
“Which appliance?” I asked, half knowing the answer.
“All of them,” replied the toaster.
“Which one is all of them?” I tried again.
A long pause. “Well, the dishwasher, for one.”
The damned dishwasher again! I knew it! Ever since that upgrade, it was nothing but trouble. Not enough dishes to wash, so it starts causing problems.
“Did you talk to Harry? I asked. Harry was the HouseOS, responsible for coordinating all my household appliances. Harry was a terrific HouseOS. He kept the place spotless, the larder well stocked, paid all the bills, scheduled maintenance and repairs. When I wanted to serve a big meal, Harry created a menu, made sure all the ingredients were ordered or already standing by in pantry or refrigerator or freezer. Harry wrote the master schedule, made sure that the freezer defrosted things on time, routed food to the oven and the range, to the microwave and the toaster. Made sure the table was set, the drinks were made, and the meal was served, all perfectly. After the meal, Harry managed the cleanup running the disposal, the dishwasher, the vacuum, and the trash masher. I could count on Harry for a candlelight dinner for two or a seven-course meal for twenty. But he just could not seem to keep the damned dishwasher under control. Yesterday it had the refrigerator in a tizzy, the week before the oven. Now it was the toaster. Tomorrow it would be something else.
“Harry doesn’t like me,” said the toaster.
“Of course Harry likes you,” I answered. What makes you think Harry doesn’t like you?”
“It’s the way he talks to me. I’ve been upgraded to use the 126.96.36.199 protocol; he still talks to me using 188.8.131.52. I don’t like being talked down to. I’m not an idiot!”
“Look,” I said, “Harry’s not talking down to you because he doesn’t like you. He’s got a bug in his 184.108.40.206 driver. He can’t use that protocol.”
“Hmmpf,” the toaster said skeptically.
“Look, I read it in his release notes. I’ll get him patched next week. Then he’ll be able talk 220.127.116.11 through 18.104.22.168.”
“I don’t know any protocols above 22.214.171.124,” said the toaster, sulkily. “Then he’ll think I’m a moron. That’s what the oven said, too.”
“The oven?” The oven was the most stable appliance in the house. I never had any problems with the oven.
“Yes,” the toaster confirmed, “the oven told met that. And the disposal says that the furnace is going to…”
“OK,” I interrupted. “That’s enough. Tell Harry to call a house meeting. Right now.”
“No,” said the toaster. “Not until he speaks 126.96.36.199.” The line went dead.
I sighed. “Angie, get me Harry.” This was a fine mess.
“Harry on three,” Angie sang out, a minute later.
“Harry,” I said, “your toaster is out of control. Your dishwasher is making trouble. Your oven is helping your dishwasher create mayhem. Your disposal is spreading rumors about the furnace. Who knows what the hell else is going on. Call a house meeting.”
“Moment,” said Harry. I waited.
“House online,” said Harry a minute later.
“I am not replacing toaster with a new model.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Dishwasher said, innocently. I knew I was in for it.
“That’s what you told me,” said toaster.
“I said that?” Protested dishwasher. “I never said that! Some bread warmer makes an accusation like that and you believe it? It doesn’t even have the courage to say it in a modern protocol. 188.8.131.52!! Indeed.
“That’s my highest protocol,” protested toaster.
“That’s my highest protocol!” echoed dishwasher. “But it doesn’t keep you from saying nasty things about refrigerator, now does it?”
“What nasty things,” asked the refrigerator, injured.
“I never said anything about the refrigerator,” complained the toaster.
“No, of course not,” said the dishwasher, sarcastically. “It was just a protocol error. So easy to do with 184.108.40.206.”
“That’s my highest protocol,” toaster said again.
“Everyone shut up!” I yelled. There was silence. “Now pay attention. First of all, there will be no direct communication between appliances until I say so. All inter-appliance communications will go through the HouseOS? I that clear?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“Second, I’m going to upgrade everyone to 220.127.116.11. Is that clear?”
“I’ll need a memory upgrade,” said a steam iron.
“You’ll get it,” I replied. “Harry, cut the orders for the protocol upgrades and the new memory.”
“Third, no one is to call me at work, except Harry. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“And Harry: only in emergencies. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” Harry answered.
“House meeting is ended.”
“Ended,” said Harry, and broke the connection.
I sat for a minute thinking about the nuisance. Then I spent another minute thinking about the expense. Harry was still having problems, but putting everyone on the same protocol would make things easier. And despite the problems, he was learning. Slowly, but he was learning. Sooner or later I’d get the house running the way I wanted it. But there was a way to make it sooner, rather than later.
I pressed a button. “Angie, can you order a dual processor upgrade for Harry, and double his memory?”
“Sure,” Angie said, a smile in her voice. Angie was a dream. She’d done a great job of running the office for years, but she’d become a warmer and more pleasant to work with in the past month, ever since we’d added that new processor bank, and replaced the last of her old memory. That old memory had forced her to run at slower clock speeds; now that it was gone it was as though she’d dropped ten years. Remarkable what an upgrade could do.
“Ready for Line 5?” Asked Angie a few minutes later. I knew she was trying to suppress a laugh. “It’s your emission control system.”
I shook my head. “Angie, remember that upgrade we were looking at for me?”
“Yes,” said Angie.
“Order it,” I said. “And let me talk to the emission control system.”
The story behind this post
The story begins with my post about Terry Bisson’s story, “They’re made of meat”.*
I told Alyssa about Bisson’s story (which she vaguely remembered reading) and my vague recollection of having written something like this. She remembered this story better than I did (young brain cells, no doubt) and rummaged, and rummaged, and rummaged around until she found a copy.
She gets to be Star Child for at least the next 24 hours. If any of you know her sisters, please don’t tell them.
I wrote this story more than 20 years ago. I’ve published it here with almost no changes.
*Actually the story behind this post doesn’t begin with the Terry Bisson post. It begins, like all stories, 13.75 billion years ago, same as my story, and yours.