Nest, you have failed me for the last time.

I’m a huge proponent of new technology.  I love it when companies create new technology to solve problems.   I appreciate it when old technology is re-imagined, using the best of what’s available to take old technology to a whole new level.   When all of this is accomplished at the same time I almost start drooling uncontrollably. It gives me that feeling that I’m living in the future.

So it’s pretty understandable to those who know me that I was a wee bit on the excited side when I was first introduced to the idea of the Nest learning thermostat, from Nest Labs (now owned by Google).  They took the old mercury thermostat and transformed it into a masterpiece of modern technology.   A thermostat that learns from you,  knows when you’re home and when you’re not, and automatically creates a schedule to heat and cool your home to maintain your comfort level so that you don’t have to ever even think about it again.   On top of that, it sports a user interface and aesthetic appeal that is absent from every other thermostat on the market (at the time – I don’t know if other t-stat manufacturers have corrected that, but I’ve not heard of any).  I was blown away!   I had to have one (two, actually…).

And so I got them.   I pre-ordered and when the time came I was giddy with anticipation.  Over a thermostat.  Never in a thousand years would I have thought I would be giddy at the idea of getting my hands on a thermostat.

Wiring the thermostats went well – both reported “seeing” all of the wires correctly and everything seemed to work.   Later I noted that one of my air conditioner condenser units was running even when neither of the Nests was calling for AC.   After talking with Nest support, they determined that it was because the Common wire I had attached wasn’t apparently working correctly.   The nest was defaulting to “power stealing” mode, which caused the zone panel to activate the air conditioner.  Their solution ultimately was to disconnect the common wire, as they said I didn’t need it, and bypass the zone panel.  I did so, intending to get to the bottom of the wiring issue.  It worked ok.   I got busy and forgot entirely about trying to nail down the weird wiring issue.

Flash forward to December 2013.   While gone for Christmas,  the Nest that didn’t have a common wire ran it’s battery down due to a wifi issue, and dropped off the network.  A massive cold front moved through while we were gone and I wasn’t able to adjust the temperatures remotely (one of the big draws to the thermostat).  I also wasn’t entirely sure the thing hadn’t just gone completely offline leaving me without anything to tell the furnace to power up and heat.  Knowing that typically when something like that happens it can be solved / prevented by having a common wire attached (to give it a full 24vac circuit to power itself and recharge it’s battery without stealing from the other wires).  I decided I needed to get to the bottom of the wiring issue so I could avoid having this happen again.

The first order of business was to check the current wiring to try and diagnose the issue.   Using a voltmeter I was able to determine that the wiring was actually fine.  The R (power) wire and the C (Common) wire (red and blue respectively in my system) are hooked to the two sides of the transformer in the furnace.  When your thermostat goes to say, turn on heat, it will close a connection between R and W (heat) – providing power to the furnace, which then complete the connection back to the common side of the transformer to close the 24vac circuit completely.   Many modern thermostats rely on the C (common) connection so they can complete the circuit and use that to power the thermostats advanced functionality.  This means that when you use a voltmeter and test between R and C, you should see 24vac registered.  So I did just that… and saw the expected 24vac.

A call to Nest Support ended with them telling me that it was definitely the wiring, and that it’s because “your common wire isn’t grounded right so your power is just going out and being lost”.   I called bullshit, but the guy was persistent and it was clear I was going to get nowhere.

I opted for a test to give me more weight behind my claims when I called back.   I removed the nest (including base) that was working flawlessly downstairs, and replaced the problematic nest with it.   Sure enough, it worked flawlessly.   It detected the wiring without issue – including seeing correct voltages and power.   It powered the furnace without issue.   It just worked.

A second call to nest support – relaying this new information – resulted in them agreeing to overnight me a replacement 1st gen unit, as they thought it was the base plate that was having the problem.

After a week the replacement finally arrived (yes, a week – that’s a separate issue entirely, the short version being that their support engineer failed to put a valid address on the shipment.    It just had a street name and city.   The street name was spelled wrong – after I had spelled it out for him twice.) I put it in place and all seemed ok.   It detected the wiring fine.

Last night I pulled this replacement off the wall and put a Honeywell back in it’s place.     The Nest would report to me that it was calling for heat, but our furnace would sit idle,  it’s status light blinking a slow, lazy blink indicating that it’s just hanging around waiting to be told it’s needed.   Meanwhile the temperatures upstairs would drop farther and farther away from the set point as the temperatures outside plummeted (again).   No “tricks” worked to get it to actually call for heat.  I tried all of the things I could find on the Nest forum for this kind of scenario.

I moved the set point below the current temp and back up.   Nothing.

I turned the heat off for a few minutes (10+) and back on to see if it would reset itself.   No dice.

I pulled the unit off the base and put it back on, and waited the 3 minute countdown before it would attempt to call for heat.   Nope.

Desperate for a solution I attempted a factory defaults reset thinking that for sure this had to fix it.   It did not.

That was the last straw.   I found an old Honeywell thermostat and quickly hooked it up in place of the Nest.   Not long after hooking it up (it has to go through a wait period before it will call for heat) I heard the glorious sounds of the long slumbering furnace rumble to life, followed soon by warm air blowing sweetly from the registers.  Any doubts as to the culprit of the problem vanished – the Nest had failed me.   Again.

And at that moment I felt a little deflated as a geek and technologist.  For, as much as I love to see modernity brought to old technology,  I know it’s ultimately pointless if the resulting product is not as stable and reliable as the old technology it’s meant to replace.

Mercury dial thermostats were very basic, but did their job exceptionally well.  Aside from having to set the temperature you want them to keep manually, you pretty much forget they’re there and don’t worry about whether or not they’re going to work.   They just DO.

I’ve lost faith in Nest, and their ability to deliver a product that I can trust.   I don’t give a whit about any of the features, the aesthetic, the user interface or ability to access it remotely if it cannot be trusted to perform the basic function that is ultimately it’s SOLE PURPOSE for existing.

I’m sad that it’s gotten to this point.   I used to recommend Nest to anyone who would listen.   Now I can’t do that.   I apologize to everyone I’ve recommended Nest to, especially if you’ve had an issue with yours.

(authors note:  As of the time of writing, an email in to Nest support has gone unanswered.   @NestSupport did respond via Twitter when I commented on my problem, but have not followed up since reaching out for – and receiving – more information.)

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RAIN 2013 Recap

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Crossing the finish line

It was an ambitious goal, but I knew I needed to set something agressive to force myself to improve.  I’d heard a lot about Ride Across INdiana (RAIN), and had half-seriously mentioned a desire to do it someday,  but always with the notion that “someday” was not “later this year”.

Then Ann convinced me to sign up.  And I did.

When I signed up, I had not yet joined Team Nebo Ridge and planned on doing it unsupported and hoping for the best. Having experienced and completed the ride now, I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t experience it that way.  I would not have made it.  Here’s a recap on the ride.

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Tour de Cure

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Exhausted and hungry after completing 103 miles.

Last year I got semi-serious about cycling – putting in a lot of time in the saddle and completing some rides that were challenging at the time.  I pushed myself ever further and faster.  I did a winter training program to keep in shape over the winter,  and earlier this year I took up running as a cross training sport to help further strengthen my legs and knees – completing a half-marathon in the process.

On Saturday I took part in Tour de Cure with my cycling team.  We were doing the 100 mile “Track Challenge” route, which was 40 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  We fielded two groups of riders – a group doing a 25+ mph avg pace and a group doing a 20mph average pace.  I went into the ride planning on doing a 20mph avg pace,  but got talked into attempting the 25+mph pace.   The fast group had a goal of sub-4-hour finish time (counting only ride time – not SAG stops).   The slower group was shooting for sub-5-hour finish time.

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Excitement mounting as we wait for the start

As we all got lined up near the starting line I could feel the excitement in the air – hundreds of riders all anxious to get out and put in some miles on one of the smoothest and fastest courses we’ll ever ride on.  When the time came and the starting gun fired we were off in a flash and quickly formed up into a pace line at a blistering 27+ mph pace.  I found myself (unintentionally, and probably detrimentally) at the front of the pack in the first 4 riders – which meant that on lap three it became my turn to pull the group.  And I did – I pulled probably 60 riders at a pace I was not prepared to ride, and I lasted much longer than I expected I would… but it was 3 laps into a 40 lap event and I burned a good chunk of my energy and stressed my legs a lot more than I should have.  When I dropped out from the lead the pack quickly passed me (many offering encouragement and telling me it was a good pull – my teammates are pretty awesome guys),  and I missed an opportunity to swing back in at the end of the pack.   About half a lap later another slower moving pace line passed me and I was able to merge in and ride with those guys for quite a while.   Eventually we merged with the larger fast pack until a wreck took out a few riders and – upon seeing one was a teammate I stopped to make sure he was ok (he was not at the time, but was released from the hospital later that night with no major injuries).

I got back into a pack and rode with it for a while, but found that they were not being consistent in speed – accelerating to 30+ mph out of the turns, causing very wide gaps to open up after every turn and making me work very hard to close the gap.   Eventually my legs just couldn’t do it, and I saw a group from my team at a SAG stop so I pulled off to join them.  At this point I was 42 miles into the ride and it was the fastest 40+ miles I’d ever ridden.   I was sore and low on energy, but some nutrition gel, a banana and a refill on water and gatorade helped.   We got back out and linked up with another group for another few laps.

Around mile 66 I was struggling.  I had used up too much energy at the start of the ride,  and abused my muscles.  I was mad and frustrated at whomever was leading the pack and keeping such inconsistent paces (causing the gaps out of the turns).  I found out later from one of my teammates that it was a rider who didn’t have a cycle computer and couldn’t keep his pace consistent and he kept surging ahead of everybody.  That rider was told that if he did it again they’d let him go and wouldn’t chase, and the speeds became more consistent.  Too late for me.

Some other riders I knew grouped with me and we took turns pulling around the track for a few laps, and we eventually joined another larger group.  I did a number of laps on my own after another SAG stop forced me to drop off the group I had been riding with.   I was finding it more and more difficult to join a larger group, as my legs were just not cooperating – it takes a lot of energy to catch up to the group as you have to go faster than them, without the benefit of a draft.

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Two laps left to go – my teammate insisted I needed a picture to commemorate completing my first Century.

With two laps to go I noticed one of my teammates stopped off the track near a SAG point, but far enough away that I thought maybe he was having bike trouble.   I pulled off to see how he was doing and we chatted for a minute.   I told him it was my first Century and he told me to give him my phone so he could take some pictures of me – that I couldn’t complete my first century without having pictures to show for it.  I’m glad he did – at the time I didn’t realize how happy I’d be to have those pictures.   He also gave me advice on nutrition for longer rides that I’ll be trying on my next few.

And then I did it – I rode the last two laps.   The excitement I felt at being nearly done helped immensely on the last lap and my pace picked up to around 22mph,   and spiking up past 25mph as I came out of turn four and rode through to the finish line.  I got a little emotional upon crossing the finish line.

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Proof (as if I needed it) of my accomplishment.

I made several mistakes in the opening laps of the ride that made things extremely difficult for me later in the ride. At several points I was not sure I could do it – I didn’t think my legs would hold up.  I was frustrated, exhausted and in pain for the last 30 miles.  I wanted to quit.  I probably would have quit, too… except every time I passed pit row I heard a cowbell ring, and Ann’s voice telling me I could do it.  And then a teammate would ride by and tell me I was almost there and to keep going.  Then a guy who was in my winter training program would hop in front and let me draft for a while or help me get into a group where I could draft. And a teammate would take my picture and congratulate me on doing my first Century.  The support I got from the people around me was staggering – and something I didn’t fully appreciate until after it was all over and done and I could reflect.   That cowbell ringing,  and people telling me I could do it, and my teammate’s support made all of the difference in the world.

I completed the ride in 4:57:38,  successfully meeting my goal of a sub-5-hour century ride.  I shattered my previous records for every distance I’ve ever ridden (beating my previous best time for a 50 mile ride by over 30 minutes), and averaged 20mph for 100 miles.  Despite the pain and frustration, I absolutely killed this ride.  By all rights this was the best ride I’d ever done.  It was also the hardest physical accomplishment I’ve ever done.  It was harder than running a half-marathon.  It was not just combating physical exhaustion (5 hours of high intensity cycling is a new level of exhaustion that I’ve never experienced before), but mental exhaustion, and emotional turmoil as well. Now that I know what to expect I can better prepare myself to deal with it.  I learned lessons and know what not to do and what to keep doing next time.

 

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Keeping it simple

The past couple of weeks I’ve been tackling a variety of projects around the house – from installing new faucets on the sinks in the master bathroom to doing minor plumbing work on my pond to get the waterfall working again.   As I’ve been doing these projects I’ve been taking the time to clean things up a bit – cleaning out the clutter under my bathroom sink (and on the bathroom counter),   weeding around the pond and cleaning up the yard (still a work in progress), etc.

Through these efforts I’ve begun to notice a greater appreciation of clean and minimalist ideals.  Put simply, I like it when things are clean and not cluttered.  This goes for not just my bathroom sink and landscaping – but for everything.  I get frustrated at the cluttered, slow, clunky and sometimes confusing interfaces on most TV / Cable providers.  I get annoyed when I see marketing materials that try to cram in every buzzword possible instead of being clean, clear and concise.  I abhor applications that eschew clean and easy interfaces for the sake of cramming in unnecessary (and ultimately unused) features and options.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a proposal for a remake of Adium, the popular IM client for Mac.  Titled “Adium Reborn“,  I instantly fell in love with the clean and minimal interface.  There would be nothing to get in the way of using the app – exactly as it should be.

The more I think about and consider this line of thinking, the more I realize that when I go through periods where finding motivation is difficult, I allow clutter to pile up around me.  The clutter makes it ever more difficult to be motivated and to find inspiration.   It frustrates me.  I avoid it like the plague, and in doing so allow it to get worse – perpetuating the cycle until something gives and I can’t take it anymore.

The solution for me – inasmuch as there is one – is to recognize this cycle and identify it when it’s happening.  I need to deal with the clutter early and with a vengeance to short circuit the cycle and – with any luck – find further motivation and inspiration to do more.

Professionally, as a product manager,  I should strive to push the teams I work with to produce products that are clean, simple and effective.  The product should never get in the way of doing the work.

If it does, we’ve failed.

 

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My First Half-Marathon: A Recap of the 2013 Mini

On February 25th, 2013 I took the first steps towards achieving something great.  For a little over 2 miles I huffed and puffed and thought I was going to die.  I ran some and walked a lot.   I questioned whether I really wanted to do this. I did not have fun.  I had no idea what lay ahead.

Shortly thereafter,  Ann convinced me to give it another shot and go for a run with her.  This time I had someone helping me to keep a reasonable pace, and for the first time in my life I ran a mile without stopping.  Then I ran two, and a third.   I remember the feeling of elation at having done something so basic as running a mile without stopping.  I wasn’t running particularly fast… but I was running, and not walking.

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