As originally published in Newsweek, July 5, 1999:
My House Is a Very Fine House... But
Think you have a bug problem in your house? Steve Kirsch, the megamillionaire founder of Web portal Infoseek, spent four years and $10 million building his high-tech dream home in Silicon Valley's Los Altos Hills. The amenities include a rotating sculpture, cascades in the pool that can be activated from the kitchen and enough AV equipment to fill an electronics store. But when the Kirsches moved in last May, they got a rude surprise: their new gadgets are about as reliable as a Windows PC.
Consider the motion sensors in every bathroom and closet: flipping the light switches off produces enough motion to automatically turn them back on. Then there's the homewide stereo system. You can play a CD throughout the house, but it turns on all the televisions at the same time. The front door unlocks when it detects motion inside, which means it graciously opens even if a family member sees that it's an intruder ringing the doorbell. And the back door has the opposite problem: it senses someone's presence and promptly locks. Add to those headaches dozens of remotes to control everything from the garage to the window blinds; an autofeeding fish tank that doesn't, and such a complex mess of audio and video controls that Kirsch's wife, Michele, says with a sigh, "Sometimes I wish I could just push a button and turn on the TV."
Kirsch recognizes the high comedy in his dysfunctional domain. "I thought I could spend a zillion dollars and make our lives simpler," he says. Alas, now he's paying an electrical engineer with degrees from Harvard and Stanford $60 an hour to diagnose the dream house—and exterminate the bugs.
Brad Stone
Newsweek, July 5, 1999