As I Was Saying To My Refrigerator...

Mike Charles is tight with his appliances. When the Stanford University history lecturer runs out of milk, he tells his refrigerator by tapping the keys on its door. The machine, made by Whirlpool Corp., contacts the online grocer Webvan Group and gets a fresh half-gallon of 2% milk delivered to his door within hours. Then there's his washing machine. Charles recently sent it an e-mail because he had spilled part of an Italian dinner on his tie. For $2, the washer downloaded a special pesto-on-silk cleaning program from Whirlpool's smart-products Web site. The result? The washer knew what cycle time, agitation level, water temperature, and type of soap were needed to get rid of the spot. That saved Charles a trip to the dry cleaner and a bill that would have run $7 or so.

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