…or, “How to Over-Engineer a Hotel Room”
…or, “Now Microsoft can Blue-Screen your Hotel, too”
I can go on all day…
Anyway, the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco is probably one of the my favorite hotels in the world and does a lot to advance the chain beyond St. Regis’s legendary stuffy image. The property is modern, the rooms are fantastic and the service can’t be beat. I guess you should expect this when you dish out some serious cash for a bed in this place.
One of the more interesting features in the room is a small LCD touch screen command unit that sits next to the bed (pictured below, click for full version):
This little box is the way you control, pretty much, everything in the room, including:
- Turning the lights on/off
- Windows shades
- Making telephone calls
- Setting your alarm clock
- Setting a wake-up call
It also provides things like a world time map, a city and hotel phone directory and direct one-touch access to your “St. Regis Butler” (yeah, OK, so maybe they haven’t gotten rid of all the stuffiness in this place).
So imagine my curiosity when the thing let out a screech and the screen suddenly froze…
I tapped on the screen a few times. It made a persistent, annoying hissing noise for about 2 minutes until it, finally, threw up a screen with some error message. More surprising is what followed: I was suddenly dumped into a Windows CE Desktop (pictured below, click for full version):
The start menu worked, but there wasn’t much there…same with My Computer. It was clear, however, from this point, that my futuristic hotel room control panel wasn’t coming back. I was left in the dark (literally), with no control over my environment. After just battling with my Outlook 2007 for an hour trying to get my INBOX to open cleanly, Microsoft had found a way to infiltrate the coziness of my hotel room.
This is eerily similar to the story about the guy who managed to crash a new NYC Taxi touch-screen system and was able to exit to a Windows desktop from the back seat of the cab (contrary to some news reports, however, no, credit card numbers are NOT stored in the taxi…duh).
I picked up the analog phone on the other side of the room (how 1990′s…) and called the hotel operator. She summoned the Butler to my room to take care of it (we’ll call him Jeeves for simplicity’s sake). Oh his way up, however, the unit rebooted, Windows CE startup screen and all, and I was back in business. Jeeves then swung by and put the system through its motions to make sure it was performing properly – shades up, shades down; lights on, lights off; one call to the front desk for good measure. A regression test, of sort.
As I waited for Jeeves, one of those Ford Edge commercials came on, showcasing Microsoft’s new in-car Sync system. I wondered just what would happen if your Sync decided to blue-screen as you were bowling down the highway at 80 MPH? (Although, as a BMW owner, I shouldn’t criticize – the company’s iDrive system is notoriously buggy)
As Jeeves left he offered his perspective:
“Sometimes technology just doesn’t work”, he said.
Right you are, Jeeves. Right you are…