Tag Archives: home improvement

Cordless Garden Tool Stress Test

I recently researched the available cordless power gardening tools (string trimmers, blowers, mowers, etc) to see what might be worth buying.  Many companies are now offering 40V and 56V lithium battery systems and Greenworks now has even an 80V system (though higher voltage doesn’t necessarily mean more power is provided in the tool). There were a few reviews here and there and a few video demos but nothing that showed how well these newer, more powerful tools could handle more challenging tasks in the yard, like cutting down yards of tall, thick thistles.

I eventually decided to try both the string trimmer and blower from Ego Power+, based on their 56V battery system.  And so I’ve put together a little video demonstration of a more serious test of their capabilities that might be useful to anyone else considering upgrading or switching over to cordless:

So I read a lot of reviews and settled on trying the Ego Power+ 56V system.  From someone’s takeapart video, they seem to have designed their battery layout well, and they have a very good rapid charger that keeps the batteries cool while charging.  I was going to try the Greenworks 40V system but I came across a number of complaints about build and design issues.  For what it’s worth, I’m definitely happy with the Ego Power+ system so far and I recommend checking it out!

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Robot in the House

For years I’ve dismissed those little semi-autonomous, robotic sucking machines.  It sounded like they weren’t really worth the trouble since they couldn’t really run for very long, pick up much debris in their tiny compartments, deal with furniture without missing spots or getting stuck or trapped. With all the need to supervise, it sounded easier and quicker to do it yourself.  But then recently I stumbled on a review of a new model and was intrigued by the improvements and the possibility of a little machine to help keep up on all that cat hair my two furry friends are always producing.

 A fun video showing my new little helper in action (1.5 minutes, 24 MB)

It’s the BotVac 80/85 from Neato.  Unlike its more well-known competitor (iRobot Roomba), this robotic vacuum cleaner does not just follow a random walk around the room, bumping haphazardly from one obstacle to the next.  The BotVac uses laser sensors to map out the shape of each room and build up a floor plan as it goes about its business.  When it encounters obstacles like tables and chairs, it will actually work to navigate around each leg, vacuuming under and around as much as it can.  It’s pretty amazing (and mesmerizing) to watch it navigate around the house, room after room, following its little internal rule sets to deal with various obstacles as they come up.

  • When the BotVac gets low on charge, it will actually backtrack through the map it built to return to its charging base and dock itself for recharging, even off in another room.  And when it has finished recharging it will return by itself to where it left off and continue the job!
  • It’s got touch sensors in front to help it maneuver tightly to objects and walls.
  • It has a sensor underneath to keep it from running off a cliff (or stairs).
  • It comes with some magnetic strips that you can lay down on the floor to cordon off rooms or areas that you don’t want it to intrude on.  (It’s much simpler than the battery-operated “fence” posts that the iRobot apparently uses.)
  • It has a little edge-cleaning brush on the right side.  (Thus it will always approach walls and make its rounds in a right-handed path.)
  • It’s squared off in front so that it can get into corners much better than fully round designs like the Roomba.
  • It has a larger-than-typical dust bin and it’s very easy to remove and empty out – without even having to turn over the unit.  It makes sense to also vacuum out the dust filter though.
  • You can set a schedule for when it should run but this doesn’t seem practical to me as I would first want to clear stuff off the floor and make sure there aren’t any cat messes that it would get into – and make worse.  (Hera often has stomach issues.)

It’s not quite a replacement for a full-size vacuum cleaner but it certainly does an amazing job considering that you can just start it up and let it go while you go about doing other things.  (You also do need a normal vacuum cleaner to clear out its filter.)  It’s pretty cool though to come back and find everything freshly vacuumed!  And it’s not really that loud (certainly much less than a full size vacuum) and it’s not too annoying to have it going about it’s business while you do other things.

One limitation with the BotVac is that at about four inches tall, it can’t fit under some furniture, particularly couches.  (The Roomba design has a lower profile and can fit under more furniture.)  Also, the BotVac can get itself stuck at times and need help.  This happens sometimes with furniture that offers just enough clearance for it to partially slip under but not quite enough for it to fit entirely under.  Often this goes fine and it will just work its way around, but other times it’ll get itself wedged in and need to be pulled out.  When it does get stuck or trapped, it will cut power to its vacuum and call for help by chiming.  It’ll then sit and wait quietly for a while before chiming now and again.

Here’s a much more mixed review of the BotVac that comes out in favor of the Roomba.  Some more reviews: BotVac 85 vs. Roomba 880 (favors the BotVac) and iRobot Roomba vs Neato Botvac (favors neither).

Note that the BotVac 85 is really just the same model as the 80 but it comes with two extra filters included.   (This wasn’t obvious to me.)  Both the 80 and 85 come with the two different brush types.

Now… what should I name him?

UPDATE (1/28/2015): The BotVac is still running but I have seen more of its deficiencies.  One thing that happens is that it essentially becomes a little senile with a low battery charge: it often has become unable to find its way back to its charge station with its battery runs low.  It will repeatedly and aimlessly search a small area (a couple of square feet) and after a long while finally give up and call for help – this without any obstacles in the way.  My guess is that it lets the voltage level drop too far on the battery now and is unable to sufficiently power its electronics and sensors.  At first it only happened occasionally, then it started happening almost every time.  But then, more recently (April 2015), it’s been working properly again! Weird. Anyway, when it does “go senile”, I have to pick it up and manually dock it at its charge station.  (If I let it continue its search for the dock right in front of it, it will just wander off again.)

The other issue (and this is more annoying) is that its methodical method of covering a room means that it will get into try over and over again (unsuccessfully) to reach some particularly difficult spot (due to furniture) and waste a lot of its battery charge or even eventually get itself wedged in or otherwise stuck.  Bringing it back out again will often lead to it just finding its way right back into that spot.  I’ve since got into the habit of leaving some strategically placed pillows or other items to prevent it from getting into those spots.  This is where I imagine the Roomba might do better with its random walk pattern: it probably won’t get stuck obsessively trying to reach the same spot.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with the BotVac is the little laser assembly sticks up in the center of the unit. This protrusion isn’t accounted for when the unit tries to go under some furniture so it can end up wasting energy trying over and over to get under some furniture or even getting wedged under such furniture.

However, the BotVac does still do a good vacuuming job and it’s great to be able to set it off running while you take care of other things.

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Raining in the Kitchen

Water started coming through my kitchen ceiling on November 21st, after a rain storm.  This is less than ideal.  Apparently something has failed in the tiled deck upstairs that sits above the kitchen.  At least I’m lucky in that the ceiling has various openings for fire sprinklers and can lights otherwise the water might have pooled and collected in the ceiling unnoticed for a long time before eventually failing more dramatically.

Patio deck off the master bedroom, over my kitchen.

Bobby Hultzen is a tiling contractor who has been working with me to try to locate and fix the problem since late November.  He initially identified a bunch of possible trouble spots: how the roof goes right into the wall around the deck (how do you keep *that* from drawing in water?!), the construction of the deck wall, the bedroom door frame, the deck’s overflow drain and of course the deck bed itself.

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My Landscaping, A Year Later

It’s been over a year since Terra Nova started work on my landscaping, replacing my traditional lawn with this no mow meadow garden.  It’s come along nicely and I think it suits this property well, blending in much better with the surrounding wild landscape:

DSC01090 DSC01091 DSC01095 DSC01094 DSC01093 DSC01089

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More fun than watching a lawn grow?

What’s more fun than watching a lawn grow?
How about watching a lawn removed and replaced:

   

This is work-in-progress to transform my front landscape from the usual lawn-centric, high-maintenance, manicured look to a more natural grass/meadow landscape — and save my oak trees in the process.  It’s been taking a while but the end result will be something of a meadow garden using more native plants, lots of ornamental grasses and requiring much less maintenance and even less water once established.

The local company doing the work is Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping.  Here’s their blog.

Here’s some meadow garden examples:

  

 

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Home Theater Rebuild with the JVC DLA-RS55

It’s that time again: upgrade time! I’ve moved to a new home in Santa Cruz and I now have the wall space to do a super widescreen (2.4 by 1) in a Constant Image Height (CIH) setup and do it big: 12 feet wide by 5 feet tall!  Sweet!  And I’ll give 3D a try too with the JVC DLA-RS55.  (My last “home theater rebuild” was going high definition back in 2007 in the loft of my condo in San Jose.)

So here’s a photo journal of the building out of my home theater in my new home in Santa Cruz, starting with the the “before” and “after” shots:

(before)

(after)

The house is laid out with a kitchen and a large living room area on one end and a second living room area at the other end and a dining area and entry way in-between….

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Glenn & Michele’s New Home Theater

Photos from the weekend-long build-out of my brother’s new home theater system in Portland, Oregon:

 

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Stained Glass Warrior

Look what Michele (my sister-in-law) made for me!!  Of course this means that now I’m going to need to buy a house with a big sunny picture window to hang it in… but that’s okay!  (This picture was taken at Michele’s parents house.)

Click here for the gallery of “making of” pictures:

  

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