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SPECIAL MILLENNIUM ISSUE / HOME & DESIGN | MR. FIX-IT

The Handyman of Tomorrow

As household devices become more sophisticated, the home handyman will require new technical abilities to augment the more tactile carpentry, painting, plumbing and electrical skills. Here's a preview.

May 16, 1999

Digital Vet*

This stethoscope plugs into your plasma screen virtual pet to see why Cheshire the cybercat no longer purrs, or the virtual neon tetras aren't swimming.

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Fiber-Optics *

A coil of fiber-optic cable, for repairing or extending existing lines, which get all the household devices talking to each other.

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Digital Pipe Wrench *

With massive amounts of information flowing in and out of the home for computer, television, telephone, video and other electronic needs, the link to the outside world is through a "digital pipe." Homeowners are billed for the amount of bandwidth of this pipe that they use monthly, just as they pay for water or gas. When the pipe malfunctions, an electronic "pipe wrench" diagnoses the problem.

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Magic Wand *

Remote control operates everything in the house, and in preprogrammed "macro" sequences. With a single touch, for instance, the remote turns on the TV and sound system, rolls the rented movie, dims the lights and starts a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

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Extra Parts *

Keypads and touchscreens run the entire house. When these intricate devices go bad, it is cheaper to replace than to repair them.

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Extra Muscle *

Houses are regularly outfitted with movable walls to allow expansion or collapse of rooms. The walls are powered by a hydraulic system and can be swung outward, for example, to make an extra room on top of the patio when the in-laws come to town.

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Bandwidth Band-Aids *

A computer first-aid kit, for minor malfunctions in the computer-operated house, includes a re-boot disk and network analysis software to perhaps explain why the living room thermostat is stuck at 105 degrees, or why the refrigerator forgot to order milk.

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* I.T. Specialist

If the handyman is stumped by the computer, he turns to the emergency backup: his 9-year-old son. One thing hasn't changed in the new millennium. Kids. They know computers better than their parents.

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* Home Manual

Just as an automobile comes with a manual explaining the car's functions, all devices and equipment in an integrated "smart house" are explained in a single homeowner's manual, stored on a disc in the laptop computer.

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* Safety Net

As the cost of diagnosing and repairing problems grows, homeowners buy home insurance policies, which cover most of the expenses beyond the deductible.

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* Certifications

Documents show certification to repair THX sound systems in home theaters and the Microsoft-powered operating system running through the house.

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