Neato vs. Roomba

I had a chance to pick up a Roomba 550 for $75, in really good shape other than a weak battery.  Our Neato does a great job, but we can’t let it clean the living room because it seems all the furniture is just the wrong height.  Poor little Rosie will get jammed under every piece of furniture.  The Roomba is half an inch shorter, so it’s able to get under more stuff without jamming.  So here’s a rare opportunity to see a side by side comparison of the two leading floor cleaning robots…

[Update: I replaced the original battery with a new 4500 mAH NiMH for about $35.  I also installed a new brush, since the one that was in it was pretty worn.  Results are reflected below.]

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A week of Real Appeal

Well, I just finished out my first week on the new Real Appeal diet & fitness plan.  I didn’t have a great increase in exercise.  I got out and walked with the dog a couple of times, which is twice more than the weeks previous.  Figure a little under 2 miles each time, which is not a whole lot of walking.  There’s an app for my phone and tablet that lets me track everything I eat and drink, and I’ve been using that as close to 100% of the time as possible.  That has been a big help in figuring out what foods are better and which ones are worse as far as calories, fat, protein, etc.  It even has a bar code scanner to pull up information on most stuff that’s packaged.

The end result…  I’m down 5# from when I started.  That in itself is not shocking or cause for wild celebration, I’ve lost 5# in a week many times.  Always the same 5#, though.  The biggest change I have noticed is the consistency of results.  Before starting the program, when I was trying to do this on my own, I’d weigh myself every couple of days.  Some days I was down, some days I was up, but always bouncing within a 5-6 pound range.  That’s been going on for a couple of years now.  Over the past week I’ve been down consistently every time I stepped on the scale, no exceptions.

So, so far so good.  We’ll see how well I’m able to keep it up.  The biggest difference is that I’ve got a consistent (but non-annoying) level of motivation and encouragement to watch what I’m eating, keep the snacking down within reason, etc.  The calories set are entirely reasonable, and I don’t feel like I’m having to cut way back on eating.  In fact, I usually eat less than the plan recommends.  I just have a little better and more consistent control.

How much is your time worth?

Lord, I hear this question so often as justification for an overpriced widget or service.  Apparently some people think one should spend any amount of money to avoid doing a few hours’ worth of work.

The latest example is a neat little box for use on experimental aircraft.  It replaces the traditional master battery and starter contactors, as well as a current measuring shunt and maybe a fuse or two.  I think there may even be a diode or two thrown in for good measure.  It would simplify the wiring on the firewall side of an experimental plane, sure.  It might even shave one or two nights off of your build time.  Maybe.  You’ll still need to do some wiring, and of course there’s a nice canon plug on the back side, so you’ll still need a crimp tool and it’ll need to be connected to various switches and stuff on the panel.  All in all, I’d say it would be a nice little $200-$300 box.

The problem is, they’re apparently going to want about $1200 for  it.  Say what?  that’s about $1050 or $1100 more than I’d spend on the parts to do the job the old fashioned way.  On one of the very few online forums I use any more, there is a little bit of discussion about it.  And just as sure as Godwin’s Law it’s only a matter of time before someone chimes in with, “How much is your time worth?” – as if that justifies any expenditure, no matter how ridiculous.

Well, I’ll tell you.  For one thing, my “internal billing rate” — how much time I’m willing to expend to avoid an expense, or conversely how much money I’m willing to spend to avoid work — varies greatly with how much I enjoy or do not enjoy the work to be avoided.  Self-surgery?  Yeah, sure, I’ll pay a professional to avoid doing that work.  Mowing the lawn?  It better be cheap, I’m not shelling out $40 a pop for that.  Wiring work on an airplane I’m building?  Well, let’s just say $1200 will buy an awful lot of hours.  I figure it will probably take about 2 evenings of work — let’s be really generous and call it six hours — to do that wiring, of which maybe half would be saved using the new whiz-bang box.  So that works out to – oh, let’s see, carry the one…  roughly $350 an hour, and if the bloody thing ever breaks I have a plane out of commission for God only knows how long, versus a trip to Auto Zone for parts.  I don’t know how long they will be manufacturing and supporting these, but I’ll bet my airplane is flying for longer than that…  meaning that some day this thing is almost certainly going to cause a time consuming and expensive problem.  Hmm, there goes all that time we “saved” on the front end.

I’m sure they’ll get some customers, but I’m afraid I won’t be one of them.  And I won’t even feel like a tightwad.


Why I fear for Western civilization

I really wish I could just drop our cable T V service altogether.  I am beginning to think that just having the cable signal inside the house is lowering our IQ.

With crap like The Bachelor and the rest of the voyeuristic garbage on network TV, and the horde of brainless bullshit on the cable networks…  what have we become?  A nation in which Honey Boo Boo (and her circus sideshow of a family) can become cultural icons scares the hell out of me.  We’ve got pageants where toddlers and young girls are made up like street hookers and paraded in front of the crowd.  We can’t forget Dance Moms and now its growing horde of imitators.  And the phalanx of wedding dress micro-dramas.  And I see now Kate is back, minus spouse, but having picked up a few aides-de-camp along the way.  I can think of no more certain way to remain a single mom than to demonstrate on TV just how much of a train wreck you are.  So-called “Gypsy” clans, and the most ridiculous attempts at exploiting Amish culture that I can imagine – oh, to be Amish and have no electricity!  Then you wouldn’t ever see the fake “survival” shows, the fake “moonshine” shows, and the fake everything else shows.  I could go on and on and on. 

Honestly…  if I were of dating age and raised with a TV in the house I’d probably enter a monastery.  :shudder:  The fact that such shows find enough viewers to make them financially viable makes me question our collective futures.


Why am I such a tightwad?

Yesterday in the mail I got a really nice invitation to contribute to an organization whose goals I support.  They even sent me a nice little pocket sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  And these guys are good; I really do like the work they do.  And I won’t send them any money.

Why?  Because it means that they will immediately add me to their list of people to harass constantly and incessantly for more, more, more.  I have had this happen with any organization to whom I give a dime.  I donated a couple of times to the Wounded Warrior Project, with a letter asking them very plainly to not waste their money (the money I donated, in other words) sending me crap in the mail begging for more.  I know who you are, I told them; I know where to find you and if I decide to donate more, I will do so without their prompting.  Furthermore, I told them, if they did decide to waste the money I donated on mailers and phone solicitations to try and get more from me, I would cut them off.

Unfortunately, since then they have wasted much of the money I donated on mailing me crap every week or two begging for more.  Sorry, screw ’em.  Not another penny, since they seem to be more focused on soliciting money than anything else.  I won’t donate to organizations that will simply waste the money.

I told the NRA the same thing.  After I joined I was inundated with junk mail begging for donations.  I wrote them a nice letter telling them that if they continued wasting my dues on sending me junk mail, I wouldn’t renew.  The junk mail stopped, and I’ve been a member ever since.

Most of the solicitations I get, though, go unanswered.  It seems that too many organizations are no longer charitable or activist or whatever their nominal purpose is — they are focused on fundraising, apparently for the sake of fundraising.  If I could kick in a few bucks and be left in peace, maybe I would.  But I hate paying for more junk mail.  Sorry if that makes me a tightwad.


Small business shipping made easy

This may at some point begin to sound like a commercial, but it really isn’t.  I promise.  I receive nothing from anyone in return for writing this kind of stuff; I do it just to hopefully help out fellow small business owners.

I know (and know of) a lot of owners of small businesses who regularly ship packages all over the US and worldwide.  Most of them expend a lot of time and effort on shipping.  I suspect this level of hassle is the norm for small businesses; I have talked to several large dealers and distributors who offer to be my exclusive distributor and relieve me of the crushing burden of shipping and order fulfillment.  The truth is, order fulfillment and shipping take up a very small amount of the total time I spend running my business.

I know people who pack up each order, write the recipient’s name and address on the package (or print a label), drive to the post office and stand in line to have packages weighed and postage added.  Ugh.  Incredible.  I used to do that too, but it was years ago.  And filling out Customs forms for overseas shipments?  Torture!  At one time I seriously considered just NOT accepting any orders from outside the USA – -including APO/FPO addresses.

Others use on line tools like USPS’ Click-n-Ship to prepare labels.  It’s a lot better, but the user interface is clunky, and you either spend time cutting and taping paper to packages, or pay through the nose for expensive labels.  I looked into it, I even used it a few times.  It’s only marginally better than the trip to the post office.

If you ship more than a few packages per week, you owe it to yourself to go with a postage supplier.  I use Endicia, a choice I made after looking at them, and one or two others.  Pitney Bowes was at the bottom of the list by a wide margin.  I don’t remember the specific disadvantages of, but Endicia was the best suited for my needs.  With any of these services, you pay for postage on line, print your labels with postage included, and drop your packages off or have them picked up.

So why Endicia instead of Click-n-Ship?  With Endicia, I get a slight discount on postage and free delivery confirmation/package tracking.  Their software is installed on my PC, and can communicate with a USB postal scale to automatically weight each package.  I don’t use one simply because I know what 90% or more of my packages weigh, but when I see a good enough deal on a scale I’m buying one.

I use 4×6″ thermal labels.  They’re available for very little money, since they’re produced in vast numbers for UPS, Fedex and others.  I buy cases of 400-label rolls.  They go into the used Zebra LP2844 printer I picked up for under a hundred bucks on eBay.  In its former life it was used in a UPS store, and it’s given me three years of trouble-free service so far.  The really nice part?  I can print ANY kind of postage.  First class parcel, Priority Mail, Express, and international — INCLUDING the Customs form.  It’s SO nice to never have to fill out that stupid non-printer-friendly green form again!  Some forms, like an Express International package, can’t be done on a 4×6″ label.  For those I have the regular printer and USPS-supplied stick-on document sleeves.  Endicia prints all the required forms with postage, ready to go.

For $15.95 per month I get the ability to print labels without the postage amount shown…  so I don’t have to explain over and over to customers why I charged them $2.50 for shipping when the postage was only $1.93 (boxes, labels, printer paper and ink for the packing slip, packing material and gasoline are not free). I can get a refund on labels I don’t use; I can print return labels when a customer needs to return something.  In short — my shipping is as close to effortless as it can be.  And the post office employees love it when I drop off a tub full of packages WITH a USPS scan form so they don’t have to scan each package, just the form that puts each one into the system for tracking and delivery confirmation.

If you’re still writing out shipping labels, or if heaven forbid you’ve got a postage meter, you really owe it to yourself to check out Endicia.  They’ll usually give you a free trial period, and you don’t need anything special to get started — you can use your existing printer and plain paper or a box of Avery labels form Office Depot while you try it out.  Then you can develop your own process and streamline your shipping to take up less of your time and energy.


AWESOME garbage collection job!

Man, the City of Omaha and Deffenbaugh are aces.  What a fantastic job of not only picking up the garbage, but making sure our street stays nice and quiet…  since you cna’t drive down it without zig-zagging around the chicanes.

End of the Straight Talk experiment

I’m letting the Straight Talk Wireless lapse, and will sell or give away the phone.  Overall impression: The service is fine, just not the right direction for me right now.  The phone is not without its faults, but is good as a very basic smart phone.

The only real annoyance I’ve had is Straight Talk texting the phone a few times with upsells, and calling the house number to “remind” me that the service is expiring in a few days.  I suppose I can forgive the reminder calls (though I do wish they could be stopped without calling in to talk to a salesdroid).  The texts were a little annoying, though.

Sheer heart attack

Queen_Sheer_Heart_AttackSo Wednesday I was headed to the airport, minding my own business, when it became apparent that something was really wrong and I should probably find an ER. I was right – something was wrong. In hindsight, I was wrong to think I needed to drive to an ER, I probably should have just parked and called 911. Anyway, I am now the slightly sheepish owner of a little chunk of metal mesh in one of my coronary arteries.

I’ve made some changes to my diet and exercise plans, of course. Lisa and I had already done a lot over the past couple of years to improve our diet, but of course there is always more to be done. Less cholesterol, less sodium, less fat, more fiber, more exercise. I’d been working on making changes, but apparently not aggressively enough and it caught up with me.

But, now I’m home and doing fine. I came home from the hospital yesterday (Friday). We took Buddy for a walk and I started getting used to taking a small array of pills that I’ll be stuck with for a long time to come — some of them permanently. I’m not complaining; I’m alive and still reasonably healthy and will be improving that. I’ll be around for the grandkids’ high school and college graduations, Lisa will have a husband, I can start seriously nagging her about smoking (grin) and I’ll be able to fly again.

Life’s good.