The spring rains have been nice, but you know that eventually we'll see a fortnight of hot sun that will turn the lawn to straw.
For years I've had a sprinkler system that pops up little plastic heads like robot gophers and spits water 8 feet — chicka-chicka-chicka, the hallowed sound of a summer day.
There's been only one problem: I have to remember to turn it on. So I got a controller unit that can be run — you know where this is going, right? — by an app on my phone. Cool!
Let's remind ourselves how we used to water the lawn before smartphones made oatmeal of our brains.
Step 1: Connect the sprinkler to the hose. Step 2: Turn on the water. Done.
Here's the new, improved, modern version:
Step 1: Scan the bar code on the inside of the controller with your phone.
My controller's phone app couldn't grab the image, so I had to enter the model number. It was AD0430roewoWe40-00O0O0O, because this unit replaced DA0430roewoWe40-00O0O0O.
I typed this in and hit enter; wrong. Typed it again and hit enter again; wrong, again. I decided to dictate it, so now I'm squatting in a corner of the basement sounding like I'm communicating a code to the World War II underground, and when they deciphered it, they would be astonished:
"It says 'The parrot sings at midnight!' Do you know what that means? Could it be a message that the invasion is tomorrow?"
"No, he bought the Series 2 sprinkler controller. That one has horrible reviews."
So far this has been like trying to connect the sprinkler to a hose by having a guy in Fargo start running southeast with the sprinkler and another guy in Minneapolis start running northwest with the hose, and they have one chance to connect in Alexandria.
"That's ridiculous," you say. "There's not enough hose to get from Minneapolis to Alexandria."
OK. Then maybe the guy in Minneapolis carries a hose to a faucet in Alex.
"So you're going to water your lawn by watering someone else's lawn in central Minnesota?" you ask.
Of course not. It was a simile. Now, can I please just get on with my sad tale of watering woe? Thank you.
Once I got the code input, the sprinkler controller started to look for a Wi-Fi network, which it eventually found amid all the other local networks. (You can tell you're living in a stable neighborhood when half the Wi-Fi networks are named after long-gone dogs.) The controller promised it would communicate with the network and get itself settled, and this might take a few minutes.
After those few minutes, it admitted that it couldn't connect. "Error, try again." That produced the same result. "How can you not connect?" I demanded to know. "You found the network. It's all around us! It's so strong that when the dog passes gas, it sounds like the Netflix startup sound."
I was forced to go through the troubleshooting protocol: Turn it on and off. The middle portion of the lights should blink blue, then yellow, then blue if I had a Series 2, but the second and fourth part would blink blue and white if I had a Series 3.
Meanwhile I was seeing red. "Why. Do. These. Things. Just. Not. Work?"
The app gave me access to the logs, the series of events the controller was experiencing. Mind you, I was now reading the detailed technical diary of my sprinkler. But there, buried in 250 lines of code, I found the problem: "LocationLoaderController 204 Could not find a controller"
"What? You're the controller!" How can the controller not find the controller?
At this point, I had only one option: I gave up. I used the "contact us" function on the app to send an e-mail to the company and was instantly informed that they would get back to me in one to two business days.
I imagined my wife asking: "Why is the lawn dead?"
Me: "Uh, I have a trouble ticket in on that."
I didn't think that would fly. After some internet research, I learned that the operating system on my phone was incompatible with the controller's updating program. This is like someone telling my dad in 1962, "Your sprinkler won't run because your accordion isn't on the roof playing a C major chord."
There were two ways to fix it: Use a phone with an older operating system — oh, yeah, got a box of those around here somewhere — or activate the controller from my computer. This worked, and the controller slurped up all the code it needed. Victory!
Except I had found something new to worry about: I thought this would be a matter between my sprinkler system and my phone, but if everything has to go through the manufacturer's site, what happens if they go bankrupt? It would be like the old-style sprinkler maker going bankrupt, and your sprinkler's holes instantly sealing shut.
Don't be silly, you say. A high-tech consumer gadget company going out of business? Whoever heard of such a thing?
Anyway, for now it works, and I can control it from my phone, which is great. I no longer need to upbraid myself because I forgot to go in the basement and turn on the sprinkler.
Now I can upbraid myself for forgetting to take out my phone and turning it on. That's a whole different thing.