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“Alexa, take out the garbage.”

Posted on July 5th, 2018

Dave!This morning I went to brush my teeth and forgot what I named the light above my bathroom sink. It was all "Alexa, turn on the... uhhhh...

Now, before you think it's insane that I can't remember "Bathroom Light" you have to understand that I have two bathrooms. The downstairs bathroom has "Bathroom Light" (above the sink) and "Shower Light" (above the shower). Since you can't give two different lights the same name, I had to call the lights in the upstairs bathroom names that are kinda esoteric. The light above the shower is "Spa Light" and the fan above the shower is "Spa Fan." The light above the bathroom sink that I couldn't remember is "Throne Light." "Throne" as in "Toilet" because my bathroom has a toilet in it, I guess (hey, it sounded better that "Toilet Light" at the time). I would have named it "Sink Light," but that name was already in use for the light above my kitchen sink.

So... yeah... couldn't remember "Throne Light."

Rather than set my toothbrush and toothpaste down, then try and remember which of the three switches controlled the light above my bathroom sink, I did was any home automation addict would do.

"Alexa, turn on ALL LIGHTS!"

You do not get to judge me for turning on every single light in my house so I didn't have to brush my teeth in the dark.

Well, you can judge me, I'd just prefer that you don't.

It's not my fault that Alexa is not location aware and can't understand commands like "Turn on the light in the room I'm in." Maybe one day she will acquire such smarts, but she's just not there yet.

I'm just happy I can tell her to lock the front door downstairs when I'm lying in bed upstairs and all of a sudden remember that I forgot to lock it after I took the garbage out.

   

Security Blanket

Posted on June 19th, 2018

Dave!I have no idea why I'm so addicted to home security. Probably because it goes hand-in-hand with home automation. But probably not because my home has anything worth stealing in it. I mean... I do have a nice camera and some Sonos speakers, so there's that, I guess... but my television and electronics and other stuff are all old. With the exception of my cats, there's nothing I really care about in my home.

All my furniture is IKEA, for heavens sake.

And yet...

My home is totally blanketed in home security.

I have window, door, and motion sensors everywhere. I have a cloud-based security camera system... and a local battery-backed-up security camera system (just in case the power or internet goes down). I also have door-locks with intruder protection.

For somebody with not a lot worth protecting, I sure have a lot of security. Too much security.

Which is why it would be crazy to keep updating it.

And yet...

I just did. Again.

Over Memorial Day there was a sale on better security cameras, so I went ahead and bought them. Then tonight I finally had the time to install them. The video quality is amazing. A considerable leap over what I had.

Sure it's overkill, but I have cats to protect!

Or so I keep telling myself.

   

A Waste of Time and Energy

Posted on March 26th, 2018

Dave!One of the best benefits of having a "smart home"... other than being able to tell Alexa to control everything... is being able to have a better handle on how your home works. One of my obsessions this year has been to lower my energy bill. This was actually an easy expense to tackle, because the majority of my power goes towards my furnace. During the colder months of November through February, it accounts for 55% of my bill. No other expense comes close (the second largest energy consumption is from my water heater at 7%). So it's easy to see that reducing the heat will reduce my bill at the most expensive time of year...

2017 Power Bill

In January of 2017, my utility bill was around $93 for electricity...

January 2017 Power Bill

   
So I made some changes to my thermostat program. Last year my temperature was set at 72° when I was awake and 68° when I was sleeping or away at work. A lot of this was an attempt to keep my cats comfortable, which was kind of silly once I realized my cats were perfectly happy hanging out in the catio in 34° weather.

This year I set my temperature at 68° when I was awake, 64° when I was sleeping, and 62° when I was away at work. And just in case my cats wanted some warmth while I was gone, I had low-energy heating pads, self-warming pads, and my stereo receiver for them to lay on. The result on my power bill was pretty dramatic. Instead of my graph topping out at 4,000kWh, it now topped at only 3,000kWh...

2018 Power Bill

In January of 2018, my utility bill dropped to around $67 for electricity...

January 2018 Power Bill

   
That's a 28% savings. Granted, $26 doesn't seem like a lot... I'm lucky that power is fairly inexpensive where I live... but I'll take it. If I lived in a region where power was expensive, 28% would be a huge amount.

Over the course of the winter I've saved nearly $85, which is real money. My goal for the year is to save $150 over 2017. Once April arrives, I'll be turning the heat off and coasting on $17 power bills until June or July, then I'll adjust my air conditioner temperature a bit and see what happens.

Two years of this and my energy monitor will have paid for itself! Score!

   

Good Bye HomeKit

Posted on March 7th, 2018

Dave!I have spent the past 35 years falling in love with everything Apple. It started with the Apple ][ personal computer and continued through the Macintosh then continued right up through the iPhone. I jump head-first into whatever Apple releases, and I've loved it.

But recently things started to change.

After waiting way, way too long for Apple to release a new "Pro" Mac, they came out with a steaming turd in 2013 which looked pretty, but was overpriced and lacking the things that pro users need. Then... THEN... they did the exact same thing with their MacBook "Pro." And it keeps going... they standardized on an expensive Thunderbolt peripheral port, then abandoned it... they developed the brilliant MagSafe power adapter, then abandoned it... Apple TV can't stream worth a crap, even in its 4th generation model, and the remote is horrific... their mice are built to pit and deteriorate... the list goes on and on, and it's nuts.

And the software side isn't much better. MacOS X has developed so many problems that it feels as though it's been abandoned. They dumped Aperture, their photo cataloging software, after luring people into adopting it. They screwed up iMovie so much that a once-joyful program to use is a frustrating joke.

But the final straw for me was HomeKit.

I've long obsessed over home automation, so when I bought a home where I could install home automation devices, I went full-throttle. Apple had been developing their own home automation ecosystem, called "HomeKit," but it was tough to find any devices. And so I held off until HomeKit devices were released.

Then it happened. Schlage released "Sense" HomeKit-enabled door lock. So cool!

Until I got them, that is.

The locks are great, but the HomeKit functionality is garbage. It never works reliably, and half the time I can't even connect... despite having AppleTV's within 6-feet of them (HomeKit uses AppleTV as a hub). But that's not even the half of it. After all my waiting, HomeKit was laughably incapable and feature-poor. Tons of devices weren't supported... or even available if they were supported.

I immediately regretted buying HomeKit locks, and never bought another HomeKit device. And ever since then I've been dying to replace my locks, but couldn't bring myself to walk away from the hundreds of dollars I spent on them.

And then...

Schlage has released a WiFi interface which allows you to control your locks without having to use crappy HomeKit...

Schlage WiFi Interface

If your locks are set up with HomeKit, you have to reset them to factory defaults and start over again. If you don't, you can't connect them to the WiFi Adapter. Also... they will start screeching an alarm if you try, which I found out the hard way (sorry kitties).

Your lock has to be within 40 feet of the adapter (just like HomeKit, since both use Bluetooth connections). This was no problem for me, and I was able to use one adapter for both my locks (it supports a maximum of two).

Annnnnd...

It works as advertised. Once you set up a Schlage account as a gateway between the locks and your phone's Schlage app, you can control your locks remotely and see their status. Access is blazingly fast and reliable compared to HomeKit. Every once in a while I'll get a bit of a lag, but at least I can always connect.

Then there's the ability to ask Alexa if a door is locked... and then lock it if it isn't (for security reasons, you can't unlock a door via Alexa). I don't know how handy this would be, but it's nice to know it's there. Except when it's not. Because no matter how many times I link and unlink and re-link the skill, Alexa tells me the lock can't be reached... even though both locks show up in my Smart Home list. I've sent an email to Schlage customer service for help... fingers crossed.

And so... good bye to the massive failure known as HomeKit. And good bye to the seventy bucks it cost me to rectify this disaster. But, hey, at least I didn't have to spend hundreds to replace my locks!

My hope is that one day Apple will just bag HomeKit and buy out a company like INSTEON so they have an integrated home automation system that works. Heaven only knows they've got the cash. Until then, I'm just glad to be rid of that one piece of home automation that's never worked for me.

   

In Imperfect Harmony

Posted on February 8th, 2018

Dave!Remote control clutter is one of those things that most people just accept. One remote for the TV, one for the Blu-Ray player, another for the stereo receiver, another for Apple TV, another for the cable/satellite box... it's annoying, yes. But still better than having to actually get up off the couch to change the channel or change a setting. The horror.

Universal remotes have been around for a long, long time. Manufacturers have been shipping them with their A/V components for ages. My old Sony TV came with a remote which also controlled my Sony DVD player. Nice. I had a Pioneer receiver with a remote you could program for other manufacturer's gear as well as its own. Even nicer.

But ultimately just being able to control one device at a time can be a bummer. Especially if your remotes aren't multi-function where you have to use multiple remotes to do one thing. Grab the remote to turn on the TV. Grab the remote for the cable box. Grab the remote for the receiver.

Which is where the Logitech "Harmony" series of remotes comes in.

These "smart remotes," which have been around for a dozen years, can be taught how to control a vast multitude of devices. On top of that, they are also programmable, so you can chain remote commands together under a single button-press. Press the "Watch TV" button and Harmony will fire up the TV, cable box, and stereo receiver for you. It will then know to use the channel up/down buttons for the cable box and the volume up/down buttons for the stereo receiver. It's all pretty cool, and I've owned three Harmony remotes in the past decade.

But my latest one is a little different. It's comes with a "Harmony Hub" which can not only control your A/V equipment... it can also interface with a lot of your other home automation. Like, for example, Amazon's Echo, AKA "Alexa."

Logitech Harmony Hub

   
Depending on your devices, the Harmony Hub can eliminate the need for remotes completely... which is the whole reason why I bought it last year.

When I get home, I just say "Alexa, turn on the TV" and I'm done. From there I can have Alexa change the volume... change the channel... switch devices... whatever I need. The only time I'm scrambling for the remote is if I want to access shows stored on my DVR or to select something from a menu somewhere (like Apple TV). Sure, it would be nice if Harmony Hub would allow me to navigate menus via Alexa, but it really seems to be more trouble than it's worth right now. Though I'm sure that will change in the future.

There's a lot to talk about when it comes to Harmony Hub, so let's get started, shall we?

  • You actually don't need a Harmony remote or Alexa to use Harmony Hub for controlling your stuff. You can use an iPhone or Android phone or tablet.
  • You can use either a smartphone app or a computer app to set up and program your Harmony Hub. Both are shitty, frustrating, non-intuitive, ball-busting asshole apps to use. Setting up the WiFi connection from my phone was a piece of cake because the hub uses Bluetooth to do it. No having to switch networks and all that other annoying crap... just enter the WiFi name and password and you're done. Everything after that point is a horrendous exercise in futility that left me screaming. Seriously, all the Harmony software is utter garbage.
  • Setting aside the shitty UI (which is rage-inducing all by itself), programming simple tasks is a hundred times more difficult than it needs to be. So many times I run across things that make zero sense. If you want your stereo receiver left on all the time, but use Harmony to access it for changing inputs or whatever, Harmony will turn it off regardless. You have the option to tell Harmony you want it left on all the time, but getting it to accept that option is fucking psychotic. First you go to the device. Then you edit the device. Then you select power settings. Then you select "I want this device left on all the time." Simple, right? You'd think. But then you have to tell Harmony whether you use one button or two different buttons to turn the power off and on. My receiver has one one-button toggle, so I select that. At this point Harmony will completely ignore everything you just did and not allow you to save the setting. No... you have to select "I use two buttons" EVEN IF YOU FUCKING DON'T in order for it to accept the command. Which they don't bother fucking telling you anywhere on the shitty smartphone app... I eventually found this helpful hint in the shitty computer app (even though I couldn't get power settings to work on the computer app). And don't think that you can just delete the "power off" command from the "closing tasks" list... you absolutely cannot. You have to use information from one app to do the work on another app... none of which is mentioned anywhere. Assuming you haven't blown your fucking brains out before you figure out all this insane bullshit, your Harmony Hub will then kindly not turn your stereo receiver off. And this is just the tip of the fucking iceberg.
  • If you haven't smashed your Harmony Hub with a fucking hammer and actually manage to get something programmed the way you want, congratulations. You can now use your phone/tablet or app to control whatever it is you just programmed. Inevitably you'll need to make changes though... inserting a pause between commands... changing a command... adding a command... whatever... at which point you have to use the horrendously shitty apps to do it. Once again putting your shiny Harmony Hub in danger of getting smashed with a fucking hammer.
  • Then it's time to get Harmony set up for voice control via Alexa. If you thought the Harmony apps were shit... wait until you get a load of the fucking bullshit required to get that working. Here's a sampler: You can assign voice "friendly names" to television channels. These can be shortcuts... phonetic spellings... or whatever. I have given FOX "News" the friendly name of "propaganda and lies" so if I ever want to torture myself I can just say "Alexa, turn on propaganda and lies" to see what fucked up shit Hannity is spewing. Sometimes it's critical to assign friendly names because Alexa can be stupid. When I say "Alexa, turn on ABC" Alexa responds with "I can't find a BC for this device" (or whatever). So I had to add a friendly name of "como" to get that to work (my Seattle ABC affiliate is KOMO 4). But here's the thing... every time you want to add, change, or delete a "friendly name" YOU HAVE TO DISABLE THE SKILL ON ALEXA, THEN ADD IT BACK AGAIN AND LOG BACK IN TO YOUR LOGITECH ACCOUNT TO DO SO... THEN YOU HAVE TO TELL ALEXA TO "DISCOVER DEVICES" TO ACTUALLY FIND THE CHANGES. Granted, this is all probably Amazon's fault for the way that Alexa works, but it's still not the cakewalk you're led to believe. Fine-tuning the names takes literally hours... days even... as you try to figure out what works, what doesn't work, and what works best.
  • There's so much more I could rage about when it comes to programming Harmony Hub (the fact that it keeps telling you that you need to set up favorite channels over and over and over and over again... after you've already set up your favorite channels fifty times... is enough to drive you to drink), but the take-away is this: Harmony Hub is a fantastic piece of tech marred by shitty apps.
  • Assuming your Harmony Hub isn't in the garbage from all the rage-inducing shit you have to go through to get it working with your stuff, it then works as advertised. And, I must say, that having it paired with Alexa is so brilliant. I absolutely love it. I also love the simple Harmony Remote that came with the unit (I bought the cheapest one and it's great). Using the smartphone app to control things is not as easy as you might like, but it does work.
  • As if controlling your A/V gear wasn't enough, Harmony hub can also interface with other home automation equipment. Thermostats, smart door locks, switches, smoke alarms, window shades... it's all pretty fantastic. Some things I get, like turning down the lights and closing the shades automatically when you say "Alexa, turn on a movie." But controlling your thermostat and door locks via the Harmony app is puzzling. I mean, sure... maybe some people like to have their heat turned up to 90° when they watch a movie, so it's great that Harmony can do that, but huh? It is, I guess, handy to be able to access other controls from the remote or the Harmony smartphone app without having to open a separate app... but to me adding those things just adds clutter. Harmony is compatible with INSTEON hubs, but not yet able to interface with the ISY994i hub which I use to control my INSTEON devices (darnit!). Hopefully one day...
  • If you have Z-Wave or Zigbee devices, Harmony Hub can control them directly with the addition of a small base station that plugs in and sits underneath. It will set you back $100, however.
  • If there's one thing that Harmony Hub does very well... it's get signal to your devices. I have the hub sitting on top of my media cabinet where the IR signal can bounce around the walls and reach all my equipment. I found that my DirecTV box (which is on a low shelf) wasn't getting signal all the time, so I added an "IR Blaster" (included in the bundle I bought) which plugs into the Harmony Hub and can be run to where you need it. I just threaded it through the back of the cabinet... put it in front of my DirecTV box... and now it works without fail. Nifty.
  • Harmony Hub alone retails for $100. You can also purchase it with a bundled remote for extra. Their high-end remotes have lighted displays and other tech goodness, but I just bought the cheapest remote which does not have any bells and whistles. Still, it works just fine for all I want to do. The retail for that package is $130 at Amazon, but you can sometimes find refurbs on Amazon for $80 (less than the retail price of the hub alone).
  • There is a caveat to buying stuff from Logitech. They are a fucking asshole of a company. Their previous Harmony Hub was called "Harmony Link." As of next month, anybody who purchased a Harmony Link from Logitech owns a hockey puck, because Logitech will no longer support the device. Instead they will turn off the supporting servers which will brick it, rendering it useless. So... just know that five years down the line that Logitech could decide they don't want to support Harmony Hub and brick that as well.

And there you have it. The ugly truth about some really cool tech. It's a real shame that there isn't better software, because I enjoy the end result very much. It's the getting there that sucks. I do know that there are other companies who have similar devices, but I didn't research them since I had such great luck with my previous two Harmony remotes. Had I known then what I know now, I might have investigated a few other options before pulling the trigger.

   

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.

   

Your Lock is Unreachable

Posted on November 27th, 2017

Dave!Honestly, I don't condone violence (well, except punching Nazis in the face, because that's what Captain America would do)... but I have a deep-in-my-soul feeling that everybody at Apple who is involved with the colossal fucking failure that is their "HomeKit" home automation technology should be executed.

Publicly.

By firing squad.

Without a blindfold.

It's the only way that tech companies are going to learn that you can't unleash half-baked, non-working, pile-of-shit tech on an unsuspecting public without paying the consequences...

Apple HomeKit Bulshit

I can run my entire home from my iPhone... except my locks. The only thing I can do with my locks is either remote-lock or remote-unlock. Because apparently anything more complex than that overwhelms HomeKit and it just goes non-responsive. My whole lock goes offline until I can get home and hold my phone next to the lock, thus bypassing HomeKit entirely.

The only thing I have that's Apple HomeKit enabled is my locks. The only home automation I consistently have trouble with is my locks. And I don't blame Schlage, because anything you submit for HomeKit has to be approved by Apple.

This is squarely on Apple's doorstep, and somebody needs to die.

And if Steve Jobs was still in charge, somebody probably would.

   

Wreaths and Hair-Trigger Shotguns

Posted on September 16th, 2017

Dave!In order to maintain the illusion that I am a kind, friendly neighbor who cares deeply about how others perceive me, I have been putting decorative wreaths on my door like I see other people do 'round the 'hood. But I refuse to hang cheap, ugly wreaths up... and I also refuse to pay big money for nice wreaths. So I shop the closeouts at Pier One. Quality wreaths at a bargain price! Problem is, closeouts only happen after the holiday is over, so I'm always behind. My Winter Wreath stayed up through Christmas. My Christmas Wreath stayed up through Valentine's Day. My Valentine's Day Wreath stayed up through Easter. And my Easter Wreath has been up until... today.

My plan was to run to Pier One this morning and buy a Summer Wreath on closeout. But I was too late. All the Summer stuff had gone to make room for Fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Since I didn't want to leave an Easter Wreath hanging on my door through the Fall, I did the unthinkable... I bought a Fall Wreath that wasn't on closeout. I did get to take 20% off for some reason though, so I guess that's something.

The benefit of buying decorating crap "in season" is that I didn't have to settle for the lame leftovers. Instead I picked out exactly the wreath I wanted. So now my home looks totally friendly and inviting again!

My New Fall Wreath

Not bad! Since I live in "apple country" I liked that this wreath had fake apples scattered throughout the other crap that was crammed in there.

Earlier this year when I was changing out my Valentine wreath, a neighbor walking by said "Hello" and "That's pretty" and "I'm always afraid that somebody will steal it if I bought a nice wreath like that!" Trying my best to be friendly, I replied with "Oh, I've got security cameras everywhere, motion detectors, a door sensor, a doorbell camera, an alarm siren, and a shotgun with a hair-trigger... so I try not to worry about somebody trying to steal it... ha ha ha ha." The neighbor seemed unsure of how to reply and said "Well, I guess you wouldn't," then shuffled off in a cloud of unease.

Something tells me I was the talk of the neighborhood for a while there.

But it's all true. I have the cameras, sensors, detectors, siren... all of it. Well, it's mostly true... my shotgun doesn't have a hair-trigger. I exaggerated a bit to be funny.

Since moving in, I've only been bothered once. Some kid saw my cats in the window and decided to bang on the door to scare them. Or, at least that's what I was able to piece together from all my security camera footage, which culminated with this...

Punk Ass Door Knocker

Punk Ass Door Knocker

Punk Ass Door Knocker

I was in my garage building something but, since I had my iPhone with me, I was alerted the minute the kid step foot on my driveway. I watched him run up to my door, bang on it, then run away. Then I was able to follow him as he ran through my front yard, past the side of my house, and into the field that's in back of me. At first I found it funny that this kid was so stupid as to ignore the security camera sticker I have plastered on my door. Then I was angry that some little punk was messing with my cats. I was going to print out my camera stills and track down the little asshole, but ultimately decided to be the good neighbor and just let it go.

This time.

Next time I'm going to grab my shotgun and blow his fucking head off.

Just kidding! I don't even have a shotgun!

I have a Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver with custom grip and a fiber-optic front sight.

   

Laborious Bot

Posted on September 4th, 2017

Dave!I, for once, am not working on Labor Day this year. I've been working nights and weekends so I could get caught up enough to take the day off. Probably not as caught up as I should be... but leaving anyway.

Somebody who is not taking the day off is Carl the RoboVac. I checked in and saw him dutifully vacuuming away... picking up all the cat hair that seems to accumulate constantly...

Carl the RoboVac at Work!

Only time will tell if he makes it back to his charging station... or he decides to take tomorrow off by getting lost under a dresser somewhere.

   

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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