After 20 years of service, the gas fireplace developed a death-rattle sound. Imagine a fork placed in an empty can, and then put into a paint shaker. "That's not so bad," you say. What? It's noisy and annoying. "I'm thinking of a plastic fork," you say. OK, work with me here. It was loud.
It couldn't be fixed because the parts are no longer made. We ordered a new one. I asked the salesman if it could be controlled by an app on my phone, and he was apologetic: "Nope, they haven't gotten around to that with this line. So sorry." No, I said, that's great! I don't want to get out my phone, stare at it so it knows it's me, swipe and swipe to find the app, punch it, push START. One nice, small remote will be fine.
One nice small simple remote.
Our TV remote is simple. Six small buttons. It replaced a remote that was the size of a cereal box and had 4,392 buttons, each the size of a grain of rice. Using it was like waking up in an Apollo lunar module, and you have to find the button that blasts you off the moon. This one? No, that dumped the fuel tanks. Drat.
So I was not particularly keen on a complex remote for the fireplace. Our needs are simple. There are two things we wish:
The presence of fire.
The absence of fire.
Well, friends, the new fireplace arrived, and the remote ... well, the manual has 12 pages. Yes, the remote turns it on and off, but no self-respecting modern remote leaves it at that.
There's a mode button. You may ask: what modes may fire possess? None — it refers to the fan. There are five settings, from "heavy-breathing" to "that fan they drag out in public buildings when there's water on the carpet" to "Boeing 757 lifting off a short runway."
Still, now you can say, "Hon, do you feel like fan setting 3 or fan setting 4?" You get a sharp look and realize she always prefers 3, and really, it's just typical how you can't remember a simple thing like that, and what's more, you always leave it on 4, so she has to turn it down.
Also, every time I pick up the remote to turn on the fire, the screen says "HI." It took me three days to realize it's the fan setting, not a salutation.
There is another set of buttons that control the temperature. I'm just a simple soul without any fancy science know-how, but I figure the temperature of the fire is basically "Hot." While there's a difference between a campfire, a steel mill and the sun, it's not something I can discern.
But it turns out that the fireplace is reading the room temperature. I can set the fire to go up to make the room hotter. Does that mean I can use the remote to turn down the temp so the fireplace makes the room cooler?
Has anyone ever said, "it's too hot in here, take a log off the fire"?
No, the temp mode just turns off the fireplace. The problem is that the screen constantly displays the word OFF to indicate that the temperature guide is nonfunctional, so even when your fire is ON, the screen has the word OFF. The fellow who installed the fireplace noted this function and advised that I never use it.
Another mode controls the light. The fireplace has a fixture that emits photons, like from a light bulb. I do not want or need this. Has anyone ever said, "I can't see the fire, turn on the light"? But there are those cake-eaters out there in billion-dollar mansions who have to have all the options, and the remote must accommodate them.
There's yet another mode for keeping the pilot light on all the time or using it only when needed. Because it's buried in the Mode Menu, this means you'll hit it by accident while scrolling through Fan and Temp and Light, just trying to get the damned thing to ignite, and the screen will say ILPL, or Intermittently Lit Pilot Light, and you'll stare dumbly at it, trying to remember what it means. Is it a word? Ill-pill? Ilp-El? Eye-Lipple?
I now realize that it would be easier if it was controlled by my phone. There would be one screen with a big button that said ON and it would change into a big button that said OFF. All the other granular settings — your five-position fan, your nonexistent lights, your Eye-Lipple — would be tucked away on another page.
On the other hand, I'd hate to be on vacation somewhere, look at my phone at the end of the day and realize that the fire was set at 97 degrees in our empty house because the phone, moving around in my pocket, had activated the gas insert.
"Good news and bad news, hon. When we get home, all the candles will be melted because I butt-lit the fireplace. Good news is, the fan's set on level 4, just how you like it."