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The Art of Home Maintenance. Or Not.

Posted on November 7th, 2017

Dave!Checking in on the cats via the security camera system is always a mixed bag.

Most times, they're sleeping or looking out the window. No big deal.

But other times? Not so much...

Okay... let's unpack all that's wrong with what's going on here.

First of all, Joy the RoboMop has violated her "boundary" and has left the kitchen to mop my hardwood... something that's fine, I guess, but not what I wanted her to do.

Second of all... do you see those neatly-stacked, carefully-sorted piles of dirty laundry? Oh... neither do I... my cats tore into it and made one giant mess out of it all. Glad some cats and robots are having fun breaking all the rules today.

Lastly... Where are my frickin' cats? I have checked every camera and haven't seen them! My guess is that there was a loud noise and they're hiding under the couch or under the bed or something. Either that or they've totally escaped, and now I have a new adventure awaiting me after work.

Can you imagine how boring my life would be without cats and robots?

   

Caturday 32

Posted on July 29th, 2017

Dave!My new cat sitter doesn't start until tomorrow, so Jake and Jenny are on their own for another day. Not a big deal, as I've been gone a lot longer than this and they've been fine. Thanks to Litter Robot, Feed-and-Go, and my security system, they are in good hands. So there's no need to worry about them. And, hey, if something comes up, I can always call a neighbor to check in. It's all good.

Except...

It's tough not to worry when you're 2,500 miles away and you've got all this crazy crap going through your head.

Take, for example, feedings.

In the past I'd fill the automated feeder to max levels so I was assured that the cats wouldn't go hungry while I'm gone. But then Jake had to be put on a diet, so that wasn't a good option any more. Now I put the exact amount each cat gets in the feeder so they aren't over-eating.

But then I started worrying that if Jake scarfs down his dinner... and wants more (which he always does)... will he push Jenny out of the way and steal her food? This is a genuine concern. He's a much bigger cat and, while Jenny doesn't put up with his shit, she's also not in a position to shove him back when she's such a petite little lady.

Last night I got my answer. The feeders activated and Jake and Jenny came running to eat...

Jake and Jenny at Dinner

As expected, Jake mowed through the bulk of his dinner before Jenny had even taken a couple bites. Would he force his sister out of the way to steal her food? Turns out... no... he wandered away...

Jake and Jenny at Dinner

That's a relief... but I know for a fact that when he's hungry later on, he won't hesitate to eat whatever food is left, and he doesn't care whose bowl its in.

In other news... Carl got stuck under the media center this morning. I heard three beeps over the security camera, which means he's sucked up something he shouldn't have. Probably a stray wire underneath. Jake was most concerned when his robot pal stopped working...

Jake Investigates Stuck Carl

I asked Jake to pull Carl out and take him to his charging station, but that was apparently asking too much. Instead Jake climbed the cat tower and took a nap.

Which doesn't sound like such a bad idea. I've been up since 4:30am and work is just getting started now at 2:30pm.

I'm going to need a bigger Coke.

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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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