Hello, Oven? It's Phone. Now Let's Get Cooking!


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/ny...bout.html?_r=3 To see a video of this. (hint, enlarge the screen on this video to see it better)

About New York
Hello, Oven? It’s Phone. Now Let’s Get Cooking!

Published: August 21, 2009
First the superintendent and the handyman checked the oven from top to bottom. Then they tested the electrical outlet that supplied ignition power for the oven. Everything worked. Finally, they gave their verdict to the tenant, Andrei Melnikov.

Jim Dwyer
Andrei Melnikov, in images from a video, shows how his smart phone can start his Maytag Magic Chef oven.

Jim Dwyer
Andrei Melnikov.
It was simply not possible, they said, that his oven, a Magic Chef made by Maytag, had turned itself on full blast, as Mr. Melnikov maintained.

“Maybe you imagined it,” the handyman said.

Mr. Melnikov picked up a warped meat thermometer, its plastic casing melted.

“How did I imagine this?” he asked.

“He told me, ‘Probably you don’t remember pushing the button,’ ” Mr. Melnikov said.

Actually, Mr. Melnikov and his wife, Lina, almost never cook in the oven, which was new when they moved into their apartment in Gravesend, Brooklyn, three years ago. Like many people who live with more stuff than space, they store kitchenware in it.

On the day it turned itself on, Mr. Melnikov recalled, his cellphone had rung in the kitchen. He talked for about 10 minutes. Then he smelled smoke. The oven was roaring. The thermometer was in flames.

“Maybe the ringing cellphone turned it on,” Mr. Melnikov suggested to the two men.

They scoffed.

He laid the phone next to the stove. They dialed it. Suddenly, the electronic control on the stovetop beeped. The digital display changed from a clock to the word “high.” As the phone was ringing, the broiler was heating up.

Three other apartments in the building are fitted with the same make and model oven: Maytag Model CGR1425ADW. “My phone turned on all of them,” Mr. Melnikov reported. “One apartment had a General Electric. It didn’t work on that one.”

On Thursday, Mr. Melnikov welcomed a skeptical visitor — me — into his kitchen.

“Will it happen now?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

He reconnected the oven, which he had unplugged from the wall for safety, and turned the gas valve on. I dialed his number. The electronic pad on the oven beeped, the word “high” appeared, and the phone rang. The flames were licking from the broiler jets.

“It goes right to the high setting on the broiler,” he said. “It prefers high.”

He disconnected the oven. I asked him to show me again, and he cheerfully started over. Once again, a call to his cellphone turned it on.

Maytag learned about the rogue oven from a report on WINS 1010, which broke the story last week. A company technician confirmed the problem.

“In our experience, this situation is highly unusual,” said Jill M. Saletta, a spokeswoman for Maytag. “We have offered to replace the unit with a brand-new one, at no cost, and will be taking the old unit to fully test in our lab.” Any other ovens with the same problem will also be replaced, she said.

City fire marshals came to the apartment Friday and saw a demonstration. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has written to Mr. Melnikov for information. Ms. Saletta said all Maytag’s appliances are tested and meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratory and the American National Standards Institute.

The landlord of the building, Arkadiy Eydlin, said he bought the Maytag ovens about four years ago. “Maybe around $500, $400 each,” he said. “It’s not the most expensive, and it’s not the cheapest one.”

Cellphones, which send signals at up to 3 watts, often create electromagnetic interference with baby monitors, computer speakers and car radios, so it’s not surprising that they might also affect an oven’s electronic controls. People with heart pacemakers are cautioned not to carry phones in pockets over the implant. Engineers for Consumer Reports say that it is possible that Mr. Melnikov’s cellphone induced voltages in the keypad of the oven.

Whatever the exact mechanism, the evidence is strong that these Maytag models are vulnerable to cellphones — and not just the one owned by Mr. Melnikov. The superintendent was able to turn on the oven in his own apartment by calling his own cellphone, which is a Samsung. Mr. Melnikov has a Sony Ericsson PDA.

“I couldn’t afford it, but it was a gift, like four years ago,” he said. “It was maybe $700 then. More than the oven.”

Mr. Melnikov, 35, who emigrated from Russia in 2000, runs a company that sets up computers, networks and security systems. His apartment is crowded with electronics gear. The oven fire unnerved him and his wife. “Not for the material things,” he said. “I have three chinchillas.”

The next big cooking holiday in their home will be Thanksgiving. “Actually, right now, cooking turkey, it’s easier than ever,” Mr. Melnikov said. “It takes just one phone call.”