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Bullet Sunday 539

Posted on February 4th, 2018

Dave!Looking for a Super-Bowl-free Sunday? Then you're in luck, because a Very Special Wish List Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• G Master! Once Sony released their FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM lens, I was pretty much done with collecting lenses for my photography. It perfectly filled a gap that I needed, and 90% of the photos I take are with it. About the only thing left would be to purchase a better super-wide-angle to replace my aging 10-18mm f/4, which is not full-frame. Alas, the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G $1600 on sale. And I just don't take enough photos to justify the cost...

Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G Lens

Still, it sure is a pretty lens.

   
• Curtains! My home is filled to the brim with home automation. Everything from my lights to my locks to my security cameras to my roof heat tapes to my thermostat to my alarms to my vacuums to my television to my frickin' garbage disposal are automated and can be controlled via my iPhone or by voice thanks to Amazon's Alexa. There's still things left I can automate, but the one highest on my list are my window blinds. I'd like to be able to have my home automatically open and close them based on weather and time of day... and it would be great if I could close them all on command when I want to watch a movie. Alas, automated blinds are hideously expensive. Hundreds of dollars per window. And that doesn't include the interface box and installation. To outfit even just the windows in my living room would probably approach $1000. Alas, that's an absurd amount of money to spend on something fairly frivolous.

Still, they sure are a pretty piece of tech.

   
• Speaker! Apple's delayed "smart speaker"... the HomePod... is up for pre-order. From the early review, it features the best sound of any device in its class. It can play music from Apple Music (which I don't subscribe to), interface with Apple's HomeKit (which I fucking hate), and has the Siri digital assistant built-in (a pale imitation of Amazon's Alexa, which I vastly prefer). And yet... I still want one because it can pull my music off of iTunes Match, which is where every piece of music I own is located. Alas, the HomePod is $350. And I just don't want to spend that kind of money on something that basically does what my stereo already does with a little effort...

Apple HomePod

Still, it sure is a pretty speaker.

   
• Super Carl! One of my all-time favorite tech investments is Carl the RoboVac. It's the thing I never knew I needed until I had one. Thanks to my two cats, my dark wood floors are never clean. Cat hair and kitty litter along with crumbs and dust don't get camouflaged like they would on carpeting, and coming home to dirty floors drives me nuts. But, thanks to Carl (my Deebot N79 RoboVac), my floors are remarkably clean when I get home. And now EcoVacs is coming out with an super-upgraded version, the Deebot Ozmo 930. Not only does it have far better room navigation tools, room mapping, and a built-in mop, you can also define areas you want to clean on your mobile phone. But these cool features come at a price. A whopping $599. Which is actually pretty reasonable compared to Roomba RoboVacs. Alas, it's not worth it when the $150 Carl I have now does a very good job already...

Still, it sure is a pretty robot.

   
• Cool! When it comes to future tech, appliances are late to the party. But they've been slowly trickling out... ovens you can control with your phone... washing machines and dryers that can send you notifications... that kind of thing. But the one that intrigues me most is Samsung's "Family Hub" refrigerator. Not only does it have a bunch of cool apps which bring functionality to the space taken up by your refrigerator, it also adds a number of cool (heh heh) features... like being able to see what's inside when you're at the grocery store. The starting price for all this? $3000. Alas, there's no way I'm dropping that kind of bank for refrigerator tech that's going to be obsolete in a year...

Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator

Still, it sure is a pretty refrigerator.

   
And there you have it... Bullets on a Sunday that are too rich for my blood.

   

The Joy of a Mopping Robot

Posted on October 28th, 2017

Dave!As I've mentioned several times, one of my favorite technology purchases of all time has been Carl, my RoboVac. I've had him for almost three months now and I still feel the same. I had anticipated that I would need to "vacuum for reals" once or twice a month to get at the dirt and cat hair that Carl wasn't capable of sucking up... but I was wrong. I haven't had to vacuum once since Carl took over. He does an amazing job, and I continue to be amazed when I open his waste bin each day and see how much crap he manages to find on my floors. Where is it all coming from?!?

Carl is the gift that keeps on giving.

And so...

I decided to take the plunge and get a mopping robot too because... well... the idea of not having to mop the bathrooms and kitchen any more was just too appealing. And the iRobot "Braava Jet" was on sale at Amazon for $169, which was almost completely covered by the $150 gift certificate I had burning a hole in my wallet...

The iRobot Braava Jet!

   
Carl the RoboVac was named after the faithful janitor in The Breakfast Club...

Carl the Janitor!

   
So I decided to name my RoboMop after Joy, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop (and was played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie Joy)...

Joy the Mopper!

   
Now let's cut to the chase... was Joy a worthy purchase? Does she do as good a job as Carl when it comes to cleaning?

Well, it's complicated.

To begin with, Joy is not really a "mopping robot." She's more of a "Swiffer robot." That's because she doesn't slop water around with a mop, rinse the mop off, then repeat that until she's done. Instead she spits plain water on the floor then scrubs it with a disposable pad that has some kind of cleaning agent baked in. The pad is on a vibrating head that rubs your floor and "traps" the filth so you can toss it out when the Braava Jet is done.

Much to my surprise, Joy does a pretty darn good job... at least as good a job as my Swiffer.

Her first run was in the upstairs bathroom, which is my primary bathroom. Before she started, I vacuumed everything with a ShopVac, then Swiffered with a wet pad. Not surprisingly, the pad was pretty dirty since I don't have time to mop very often.

After I was done cleaning, I unleashed Joy.

This was the result...

Joy the Mopper Filthy Pad!

Now, most of that dirt and cat hair you see had to be hiding underneath my sink and linen hutch. Which I was cleaning by blindly shoving a vacuum hose and Swiffer under there. Obviously Joy did a better job than I did... I just didn't realize how good a job she did until I saw this.

Like Carl, Joy kind of drunkenly stumbles around cleaning until she bumps into something, then she changes direction. Unlike Carl, whose path seems completely random, Joy actually tries to clean in a pattern. And because she's smart like that, you can create a "virtual wall" so Joy's cleaning area is confined. My kitchen/entryway is shaped in a big "U." To keep her cleaning where I wanted, I set Joy down with her "no fly zone" behind her when I define the "wall." This is a very cool feature and works exactly as advertised in the manual...

Joy's Room Map!

When she's cleaning a bathroom floor, I just close the door and let her go to town. That works too.

Like most RoboVacs, Joy has sensors to keep her from falling down stairs or mopping over something she shouldn't. Like, for example, my heater vents. The raised edge is not that high, but it's enough to deter Joy from running over it...

Joy the Mopper Avoids a Vent!

   
When Joy stumbles across an obstacle, she carefully navigates around them...

Even better, she doesn't spray water onto furniture or places other than the floor. Instead she backs away and squirts in front of it, which is pretty smart. As if that weren't enough, she is surprisingly small. Her diminutive size means she had no problem artfully cleaning around toilets or under furniture, which is exactly the kind of thing you want in a mopping robot...

Filling the water tank is a bit of a pain because there's a microscreen to prevent stuff from getting in there and clogging Joy's nozzle. The microscreen is so good at its job that it's actually kind of tough to even get water through! You have to fill with a slow dribble to give the water time to settle...

Joy the Mopper Microscreen!

   
The Braava Jet has four types of cleaning pads available, and can automatically sense which is attached so she knows how to clean and whether or not to spit water out...

  • Wet Mopping Pad: Has a mild cleaning agent and fresh scent. When attached, Joy will spit out max water and do a triple pass cleaning (ideal for tile and other floors that have great water resistance).
  • Damp Sweeping Pad: Has a mild cleaning agent and fresh scent. When attached, Joy will spit out minimal water and do a single pass cleaning (great for wood floors and less water-resistant surfaces... or quick cleaning on any surface).
  • Dry Sweeping Pad: Single-pass cleaning without any water. Basically just for dusting your floors. Recommended to use these before a wet pad to minimize dirt getting wet. No cleaning agent or scent.
  • Washable Wet Mopping Pad: A more environmentally-friendly option, these wet-mopping pads can be washed and reused up to 50 times. No cleaning agent or scent.

I bought some of the reusable pads but, since I can't fill Joy with a cleaning agent, you're pretty much just wet mopping. The fuzzy head does seem like it might clean grout between tiles a little better than a flat pad, but otherwise it doesn't seem like it can break down dirt as well as the disposable pads? Maybe if you pre-sprayed a vinegar/water solution on dirty spots it would be okay. Since I've only used the reusable pads after cleaning with the regular wet-mop pads, I'm not sure.

Right about now you may be saying "All that's well and good, Dave, but how do your cats like Joy?"

I've said many times how much my cats hate Carl the RoboVac. It's so bad that I am convinced that Jenny is conspiring with Clay the Litter-Robot to kill him. But Joy is a different story. Jake and Jenny don't seem to have a problem with her, and can sit and watch her clean for long periods of time...

The Cats Love Joy!

Jenny Eyes Joy Suspiciously!

Heaven only knows how long this friendly relationship will last. My hope is that eventually the cats will just ignore her.

And now the pros and cons of the iRobot Braava Jet...

  • PRO: Actually works! Obviously Joy doesn't have the downward force to really scrub your floor like a human on their hands and knees with a scrub brush, but she manages to pick up surface dirt and cat hair just fine.
  • PRO: Quiet. There's a pumping action when she's spitting water on the floor, but the mopping itself is near-silent.
  • CON: Can only be filled with plain water, not a cleaner. And the micro-screen which makes sure nothing falls into the tank and plugs the nozzle makes filling it a pain since you can only dribble the water in.
  • CON: Disposable pads are expensive and wasteful. Reusable pads don't do quite as a good a job since there's no cleaning agent "baked in" to help break down dirt and leave a fresh scent.
  • CON: Flat surfaces only. Can't really clean grout between tiles.
  • CON: Does not return to a charging base. You have to manually remove the battery and charge it separately.
  • CON: Cannot be scheduled to automatically clean. You have to manually position her and press "start" for operation.
  • PRO: Smart navigation. Does a surprisingly good job of cleaning around objects. Also... the small size and short height means the Braava Jet can clean underneath many furniture pieces.
  • CON: The sensor bar which rams into something is hard plastic, not soft rubber, which could leave marks on wood furniture.
  • PRO: The "virtual wall" feature actually does a good job of keeping the Braava Jet contained.
  • CON: You can only have one "virtual wall" at a time, so it's impossible to keep Joy contained in just a section of an open area unless you use something to block her path.
  • CON: Designed for smaller places like bathrooms or kitchens... not a good fit for larger rooms.

Overall? I'm quite happy with the Braava Jet RoboMop. For what she is and what she's designed to do, Joy is a great addition to my growing robot collection. She makes me want to investigate buying her bigger brother, the Braava 380t, which is designed for larger rooms. That might be a good solution for mopping my open-concept living/dining room's wood floors. The only thing that gives me pause is that my hideously-expensive wood ended up being total crap that slivers and splinters in spots, which causes Swiffer-type pads to snag. I've already gone around on my hands and knees to try and sand them out, but more are always appearing. Carl doesn't seem to have a problem with it, thankfully, so maybe a Braava isn't in the cards. Manually "spot-mopping" might be the way to go. I'm not too broken up about this because the bathrooms and kitchens are the places most in need of mopping.

If you need an occasional light mopping in your home, then the Braava Jet might be the robot for you. Especially if you have furniture that needs cleaning under. I'm giving Joy my Dave Seal of Approval.

   

Robovac 11 vs. Cats: FIGHT!

Posted on July 25th, 2017

Dave!When I returned from Las Vegas earlier this month, my home was a disaster, even though I did a quick cleaning before I left. Between the cats shedding like crazy and their tracking in dirt, leaves, and debris from the catio (not to mention kitty litter everywhere) it doesn't take long at all before my home gets pretty filthy.

And, as much as I'd like to vacuum every day between deep cleaning every-other-month, it's tough to work it into my routine. I vacuum once or twice a week and not at all when I'm traveling.

So... I started looking into robot vacuums. Everybody I know who has one, loves them. They're not meant to replace an "actual" vacuum cleaner, but they are totally capable of sucking up superficial filth that tends to accumulate day to day. Especially if you have cats.

From the time I spent researching them, I learned that my home is ideal for a robot vacuum because it is open-concept, has clear pathways with little clutter, and all floors are either hardwood or tile. Great. So which one to buy? I narrowed it down to three...

  • iRobot Roomba 960 ($700). Coming from the original and most popular RoboVac company, Roomba models are smart, highly rated, and come in a variety of models for every situation. The 960 is near the high-end, but has the features I'm looking for... including network connectivity, brushless extractors for cat hair, and direct-path navigation. If I had $700 to blow, this would be the one I buy because it comes with a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee when purchased directly from the company.
  • Neato Botvac Connected ($700). Comparative feature-wise to the Roomba 960 above, this was actually my first choice... until I found out that Neato does not offer a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee. This is absurd, as I'm not spending SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS on something that offers no guarantee as to whether it will work in my home. Despite some high ratings and nice reviews, the company doesn't have enough confidence in their product to back it up, so I'll take a pass.
  • Eufy RoboVac 11 ($200). This brand/model wasn't even on my radar until I read that it was the #1 pick by The Wirecutter. No, it's not network connected. No, it doesn't have brushless extractors. No, it doesn't have direct-path navigation. But... it's $200 and is said to work well on short-hair cat fur. And I believe it's covered by Amazon's 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee. The major negative? From what I can tell, the battery is not replaceable. At all. Insanity. Hopefully there are YouTube videos out there showing how to replace the damn battery, because I would be very pissed if I had to toss the thing once the battery dies. So stupid that it's not user-replaceable like most other robot vacuums. Or, at the very least, factory-service replaceable.

I don't have $700 to spend on a robot vacuum, as nice as it may be to own one of the top-shelf models. Technically, I don't even have $200. But I sold an old camera body I wasn't using, which meant I had $200 I could spend.

The Eufy RoboVac 11 it is then.

Before the unit arrived I did three things...

  1. I tore out the poor quality shag area-rug I had in the living room. It was a piece of crap from day one, and only served to trap filth. I was not confident that the RoboVac could manage it, so I trashed it. Not a big deal, since I wish I would have done it a long time ago. As expected, it was disgusting, despite having been vacuumed regularly and installed less than a year ago.
  2. I turned the chairs up in the dining room. Because of the airflow dynamics of my home, a big chunk of the cat hair is forever accumulating around the feet of my dining table chairs and sticking to the felt pads. Since I figured that the RoboVac wouldn't have enough room to navigate around them, I just turned them on top of the table so as to create an easy path. Since I rarely eat at the table (preferring to eat while watching TV in the living room) this was just common sense. I'm mad at myself for not doing it sooner! Bonus: The cats can no longer hang around on top of my dining table.
  3. I did a "deep clean" of my entire home. The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm the RoboVac on its first run, so I thought it best to start from a clean slate.

And then... it arrived. Set up was a cinch, though finding a place to put the charging base was a challenge. They require an area a bit larger than 7-feet wide by 7-feet deep... and it has to be against a wall! This is a huge area. Instead of having my RoboVac in my living room/dining room area as intended, I ended up putting it in the guest bedroom... and even then it comes up short from the required space. Doesn't seem to be having any ill-effects, but I find it insane that such a massive footprint is required. Does Eufy think all its customers live in mansions?

Eufy RoboVac 11 Charging Base!

I need about a foot more space on the left side, but I can move it to the right because then I don't have enough space in front. Another worry? Look at that tasty cord. I'm going to have to tape it up so the cats don't chew on it. I may experiment with moving the unit under the outlet (even though it will only have half the required space in front of it there) or perhaps build a cord protector. Or something.

The Eufy RoboVac 11 is completely dependent on the included remote control for anything other than automatic cleanings. Want to set the internal clock? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to set a schedule? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to send it "home?" Point the... well... you get the picture. Is this a deal-breaker? Not for $200. But it does kinda make you long for the network connectivity of the $700 units.

But the real question is... how do Jake and Jenny deal with our new robot friend? The first time it ran, Jenny hid upstairs the entire time while Jake stalked it around the house...

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

But the second day she was stalking it too...

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

A bigger problem than the cats are their cat toys...

CAT TOYS!

If you've got cats that like to leave toys scattered about, that could be a problem. They are certain to get moved around by RoboVac. If they are lightweight and have strings or feathers or other dangly bits, they'll be partially sucked into the unit then get hauled around, stuck there.

Actually, the real question when it comes to robot vacuums probably has nothing to do with cats... and everything to do with how well the thing actually works. Keeping in mind that I had done a "deep clean" the day before I got it, I think this photo of its first run through my home is everything you need to know...

RoboVac Dirt!

Since I had just cleaned, I expected there would be a few bits of dirt and a small amount of cat hair. Nuh-uh. Not even.

The bin was completely full.

Here's day two. FULL AGAIN?!...

RoboVac Dirt!

And day three. Not as bad, but still...

RoboVac Dirt!

Holy crap! Where is it finding all this?!? So gross. But wow does it ever work well! I may only have to "real vacuum" every month or so now!

When it comes to a cleaning schedule, I set the Eufy RoboVac 11 to do a full auto-clean every morning at 4:30am. The results are... weird...

  • DAY ONE (unscheduled): Ran for about 40 minutes. Then the status light turned solid red, the vacuum slowed to a crawl, but continued to roam around, even though there seemed to be very little suction. I thought the battery might be low, but if that were the case it would have gone back to base. The manual said I would hear beeps to count so I'd know what's wrong. It never beeped. I manually picked up the RoboVac and carried it to the charging station. It reset itself, charged up, and everything was back to normal.
  • DAY TWO (4:30am schedule): Cleaned for about 90 minutes, returned to base.
  • DAY THREE (4:30am schedule): Cleaned until 7:10... a full hour past its maximum battery life... then went out of view in my living room. I wasn't home, so I had to learn all this from the security cameras. I speculated that it got lost and the battery died.
  • DAY FOUR (4:30am schedule): Turns out the thing didn't die. It activated from wherever it ended up in the living room, cleaned for around 10 minutes, then went back to its charging base.
  • DAY FIVE (4:30am schedule): Once again cleaned for a ridiculous amount of time. Way, way past it's max battery life. Could not make it stop cleaning and return to base no matter what I tried until I physically turned it off and moved it.

Like I said, weird. But it seems to be working just fine except for the marathon cleaning sessions. Perhaps eventually it will settle into a more consistent routine?

And now the pros and cons of the Eufy RoboVac 11...

  • PRO: Actually works! I cannot emphasize just how happy I am that my every expectation was exceeded.
  • PRO: Shockingly quiet. Quieter than the Roombas my friends have. I think the reason my cats are seemingly okay with it is that it's not hugely noisy. And it gives them something to watch.
  • CON: You are required to have 1 meter of free space on either side plus 2 meters of free space in front of the charging station. This is kinda insane. How many homes have a 7-foot wide by 7-foot deep space against a wall available?
  • CON: Remote control is a bit clunky and has to be physically pointed directly at the RoboVac to function. At least the RoboVac "beeps" to let you know it "heard" you.
  • CON: Error reporting leaves a lot to be desired. I remain completely clueless as to why the unit suddenly went into red-light error mode then slow to a crawl. The manual says that the red light is an error that you can figure out by the number of "beeps" it issues. Problem was... no beeps?
  • CON: My RoboVac will return to base on its own when its battery runs low... eventually... but never when I use the remote to tell it to stop vacuuming and return to the charger. At first I thought it only ignored me when it experiences an error, but... not so much. Neither the remote "home" button nor the "auto" button on the unit works when in "error mode" or regular operating mode. Frustrating. I have to pick it up and physically take it to the charging base when I want it to stop early.
  • CON: Cheaper robot vacuums (like the RoboVac 11) have a kind of random wandering pattern while running. It's all over the place. One minute the dining room, the next in the living room, the next in the kitchen. More expensive vacuums have a straight-path navigation that runs in a grid pattern. This seems like a smarter way to make sure everything gets clean. Except... as the full bins of dirt and cat hair will attest, the random navigation is actually working. Sure it may miss a few spots on one day, but it will probably manage to get to them the next day.
  • CON: Just like so many other electronics now-a-days, the RoboVac is constructed of shiny plastic that scratches easily and adheres dust like a magnet. That's usually frustrating... but manageable. BUT ON A DEVICE THAT IS SUCKING UP DUST AS ITS PRIMARY FUNCTION?!? The thing is filthy all the time! WHY SHINY BLACK PLASTIC?!? Insanity. Or stupidity. Or both.

My RoboVac to-do list...

  1. Come up with a way of protecting the charging cord from cats who will most certainly want to chew on it.
  2. Build some kind of "tray" to protect the cat food bowls. The RoboVac pushes the bowls and mats around the dining room, which is kind of a pain.
  3. Replace toys that have long strings and feathers with toys that won't get sucked/stuck to the RoboVac.
  4. Change the cleaning schedule from 4:30am to noon. That way if it runs way long, it won't disturb the cats when they're eating breakfast.

CONCLUSION: Ultimately I'm so very happy I took the plunge. I love my new robot vacuum. I love it so much that I've named him Carl (after the janitor in The Breakfast Club) and he's a part of the family now. My Eufy RoboVac 11 is managing to find dirt and cat hair that I never even see. Yes, I'll still need to vacuum with my upright from time to time... a robot vacuum simply doesn't have the same suction power as an upright... but in helping to keep my home clean from day-to-day (especially while I'm gone). It's a fantastic tool and a big help.

Carl the Janitor!

My goal was to eventually replace the Eufy RoboVac 11 with a more expensive model that has all the bells and whistles I was wanting. But if it keeps doing the great job it has been, why would I? Paying $500 over the $200 that Carl cost me probably isn't going to get my home any cleaner. Maybe if I had carpet or complicated rooms it would be a different story... but, for now, I'm definitely sticking with what I got.

UPDATE: When I changed the schedule time, the RoboVac stopped vacuuming on the schedule. I contacted tech support and said I could try turning the power off. Then removing it from the base station. Then turning it on. Then clear the current schedule (hold the schedule button down until it beeps and clears). Then set a new schedule. Worked like a charm! Now Carl won't be interrupting the cats at breakfast.

   

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