It ain't poltergeists: Cell phone activates oven

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It ain't poltergeists: Cell phone activates oven

Post  dwc43 on Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:22 am

It ain't poltergeists: Cell phone activates oven


Ever have that sinking feeling that you left a major appliance running when you left the house? Well you might not be paranoid: It may actually be on... though not of your own doing.

Andrei Melnikov found that out the hard way: Something activated his oven, causing it to turn itself on and melt a plastic meat thermometer which had been left inside.

How did this happen? Melnikov and his Brooklyn apartment building's skeptical super eventually figured it out through trial and error: The tenant's ringing cell phone somehow turned on his nearby Maytag oven when it rang. If you're skeptical, check out the video of this in action at the New York Times website and see for yourself.

Calling the situation "highly unusual," Maytag (and other experts) blame the problem on electromagnetic interference -- basically the same thing that happens when your cell phone gets too close to your speakers and it starts making that beep-beep-beeping noise. In this case, the interference didn't make a sound but rather caused the oven to turn on.

And this may not be an isolated incident: The Times suggests that preliminary experiments have confirmed that different brands of cell phones can activate multiple models of Maytag ovens. And, as the story notes, the oven "prefers high" and activates the broiler when it turns on -- which means anything inside the thing is going to get totally fried. On the other hand, tests with a General Electric oven failed to generate the same response.

Takeaways? It's hard to be a Luddite these days, but mysterious situations like this are likely to become more and more common as advanced electronics find their way into an increasing number of products. There's no special reason why an oven or a toaster needs to have a computer brain so advanced, but microprocessors have become so cheap it's probably easier to include one in an oven than it is to include an old-fashioned, analog temperature control system... and it's probably more accurate, too.

The bottom line: Always keep an eye out for oddball effects like this. If you see something strange happening with the electronics in your kitchen -- or any other room in the house -- consider how close your cell phone is when the antics occur, and try a little home-grown experimentation for yourself. Hey, maybe you'll make the news.

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dwc43
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