About five minutes ago, the beeping stopped.

I was in Texas last week for BBQ, clouds, and a wedding. At some point when I was gone, something in my house started beeping. When I arrived home there was a high-pitched chirp about every 45 seconds to a minute, coming from somewhere in the house. Generally when things beep annoyingly it’s one of the UPSes which like to complain loudly after a power outage. The one at my desk and at the closet both had a weird light on back saying “Building Wiring Failure.” (Probably because I removed the ground plug to plug them into a two-socket extension cord.)

I tweaked the UPSes for a good hour or two trying to get them to stop beeping, I pressed the buttons, reset the circuit, unplugged them, left them off, I even flipped my master breaker. (Which reset all of the thermostats to 62, a chilling fact I realized the next day.)

Eventually, I realized the beeping wasn’t coming from a UPS at all, but rather from the smoke detector in my office. I stood on a wheeled chair and sure enough there was a 9-volt battery in there that looked pretty dead, yet it was still wired into the wall in a way I couldn’t disconnect easily. Now that the problem was identified, I just had to find a 9-volt battery (I didn’t have any) and everything would be okay.

That was three days ago. Since then, I came to live with the beep. I found that if I closed the office door and my bedroom door I couldn’t really hear it while sleeping, any more than a cricket chirping. I took calls in my living room instead of my office. Even sitting at my desk, not 5 feet from the smoke detector, I was able to get productive work done with the beeping like a minutely metronome that was hardly noticable. For days.

Engineers do this all the time. We ignore the high-pitched beeping 5 feet away from us that would drive any normal person insane because whatever gene that gives you the programming knack also makes it disturbingly easy to focus and ignore things we’re familiar with.

This is why releases are so important, they force you to clean up your house like you’re having company coming over.

Your assignment today is to take a walk around your blog, application, website, whatever you work with on a daily basis, and allow yourself to be supremely annoyed with the beeping smoke detector in the corner. Let the nagging details of what you do grind like nails on blackboard and amaze you that you have ignored for months or years something so familiar yet so annoying. Obsess about it until you can’t do anything else except fix it, and take the 10 minutes to walk to the store and get a 9-volt battery.

19 thoughts on “Beeping

  1. Make sure you do get the new battery. The detector will continue to work since it’s hard-wired, but that battery backup should be replaced every 6 months. Mine went off 3 months ago. With a 14 foot ceiling I only wish I could have ignored them.

  2. Pretty funny. My house has the smoke detectors hard wired into the electrical. When they go bad it is unreal. Worse yet, one of my neighbors moved out and all the detectors went wonky. You could hear the cacophony all day all night for about two months until someone came and replaced all the detectors. It’s amazing after a while the sound fades into the background. It was only when you focused on it that the sound became maddening.

  3. Last week my home alarm went nuts. It emitted a loud beep audible throughout the house every 10 seconds (I timed it). Man… it was really irritating, especially during the nights. With doors closed and everything, I can still hear the console beeping.

    Finally got a dude to come over and fix it. Turns out that there was a dead battery, not dissimilar to those you find on motherboards.


  4. Most of the comments are focusing on things that beep and not necessarily on your larger point. I figured I’d give you a vote of confidence and say what I plan to do today to fix the annoying things in my life. Since I’m at the office right now, these will all be work-related.

    1) Our office layout SUCKS. It looks like we’ll have time today to finally rearrange it the way we want. We’re going to spend all day dragging desks around. After that, it’s time to call the carpet steam cleaner people and get them to clean the carpet.

    2) I got the speakers on my desk here in a bankruptcy closing (long story.) They came with a large cachet of other stuff we got. I hooked ’em up to my laptop and found out the right one doesn’t work. I fixed it for a while with a paperclip that crimped the wire at exactly the right angle, but now it looks like it’s just utterly failed…no paperclip will help bring that speaker back to life. I have wanted to buy a new set of speakers for a while, but I couldn’t justify the expense when we had so many “business” things to buy (like, hmm, new server/switch hardware!) Screw that approach. I want new speakers. These suck and they’re pissing me off.

    That’s probably all of the suckage I can clear up in one day. There is always more, but the rest can wait. Thanks for your post… I’ll think of this when my new speakers arrive! 🙂


  5. Nice Erica. I recently tore up my office to move the desk away from the window to try a different layout. Things are still a mess from the move, but I’m a lot more comfortable.

  6. My “beeper” is the mess in the server closet. Four machines just stacked on top of each other (not to mention a pair of switches, wireless router, and DSL modem), and if something needs to be done to the bottom machine, I have to unhook everything above it, move them out of the closet (about 4 feet high, so none too good for the back), do the work, then move the other machines back into the closet and plug them all back in. Ouch. My solution is to finish building a cedar rack for these machines – just four thick posts as corners and four 2x4s on each side to act as rails (and four more to stabilize the thing). There will be before and after shots on me blog when it’s done (tonite, maybe).

  7. Make sure when you replace the batteries in that detector that you get the right kind. They use some weird type that is supposed to have a smaller failure rate if you lose power or something like that. The same issue drove me batty for well over a week after we bought this house. The actual unit should have a warning sticker about the battery type in the slot for the battery. If not, I’ll yank the cover off one of the annoying little bastards in our house so you at least have an idea of where to start looking.

  8. In the amount of time that it took to repair the fire alarm I could have made three sculptures in clay. So I ask myself…Why am I avoiding working in clay? Oh, I’m learning how to blog. A poor excuse. The site is. Check it out, leave me a few pointers if you’d like…such as how to get my blogroll going. I know nutting!

  9. Unfortunately for myself and (more so) for my wife I can totally relate to your post. I have a laundry list of annoying things that need to be fixed up around the house, not to mention all my work items. I think these things never get addressed because it’s more interesting to push forward than it is to clean up what is already built.

  10. I got my new speakers today and am not regretting the $100. Not only do they sound better, but I actually have sound on both sides right now.

    In a sign of how bad my old ones were, none of my employees wanted my old set of speakers. LOL!

  11. On the hard wired smoke detectors thread: I woke this am at 2am to the shrieking noise of one going off. Odd, because it was not my expensive alarm system which has a different sound. ALSO odd, because when you have 2 stories and 2 on the 1st floor with an 18 foot ceiling and 3 on the 2nd floor, when one goes off, it all echoes like when they chirp and makes it hard to tell which one it IS!

    So I went around and took each battery out (not realizing they were not chirping the low battery sound even) and thought that would fix it. 20 minutes later, another 30 seconds of 120 decibel shrieking!!! OK, now I was mad. And I went downstairs to the one I thought was doing it and took it all down then to realize it was hard wired. They ALL are!

    So my question is: Is this caused by ONE of them being bad and if it can be isolated it alone has to just be replaced? Or does it screw up the rest setting them off also if it is some short in the system feeding them? I am hoping it is the one bad one and I can just replace it.

    Another night like last night and I’ll rip them all from the ceiling, except I don’t want to risk a fire with alot of bare wires dangling. I DO have a heat-smoke central alarm system that works fine and would alert me to smoke, but I’d rather not risk it.

    Any input including “Call a dam electrician dude,” would be welcome. Honestly, as loud as they are if you are in the same room when it goes off and dead asleep, it could cause some health issues with some people it is such a startle.

    Thanks folks. 🙂