DEWALT DCST920P1 20V MAX 5.0 Ah Lithium Ion XR Brushless String Trimmer

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The trimmer finally died… I suppose it was at least partially my fault as I did very little to care for it properly though on the other hand I’m not sure it ever functioned well. In any case, when I retrieved the trimmer from the shed and tried to crank it after several attempts I determined that it finally had given up. Gas was leaking out of the engine case.

I detached the trimmer attachment from the motor and tossed the motor. Perhaps some future yard sale shopper will benefit from the purchase of an inexpensive trimmer head along with a tiller and edger.

I wasn’t interested in spending a lot of money to replace it but I couldn’t find many good alternatives based on the various reviews I read. Initially, I looked for something that could use the old attachments but after a while it became less of a concern, especially since it may not be a major concern in the near future (a long story that is still in-progress).

While a gas-powered trimmer certainly has… power I decided to go a different route and instead purchase a DEWALT DCST920P1 20V Max 5.0 Ah Lithium Ion XR Brushless String Trimmer. I simply didn’t want to mess with an engine with moving parts that needs a good bit of maintenance and I’ve seen Dewalt tools in use and knew that the battery-powered tools usually have a surprising amount of power.

I wasn’t disappointed. The first time I used the trimmer (twice now) I quickly learned that it was much quieter and lighter and in terms of power it did not disappoint.

One fully-charged battery had just enough to charge to finish every spot in our yard that I usually hit (and it’s a good sized yard on a parcel of land about one acre in size). It actually died right after I finished the last spot. If you have a larger yard or simply like to trim everything in sight then you might want to purchase an extra battery.

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That’s where the cost really gets you. At the time of purchase this trimmer cost about $199 but the trimmer itself can be purchased without a battery and charger for $99. Dewalt is proud of its batteries though that may be well deserved from what I have seen.

The only real problem I’ve discovered is that I have yet to determine whether or not I can adjust the guard (and I’ll admit that I haven’t checked the manual yet) as its default (and perhaps fixed) position kicks up a lot of debris directly onto myself.

I am very happy with this purchase. It’s effective and easy to use.

 

 

Home Automation: “The dryer has finished drying your clothes.”

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While most of the things that I can do with my home automation setup are only of interest to myself on occasion I manage to add something that my wife also thinks is useful. This is one of them.

A while back I decided to add the ability for the home automation system to know when the washer has finished washing clothes and to make an announcement. This worked well though the module itself appears to have been damaged and is no longer communicating. Before that module failed I managed to find a way to sense when the dryer has finished. This was accomplished using an Aeon Labs Energy Reader.

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The unit is a Z-Wave device with two clamps, which is typically intended to be used at a breaker box. It wouldn’t have been able to properly sense current flow if I had just placed the clamps around the power cable for the dryer; the clamps need to be over individual wires that are normally within the cable sheath. However, on my dryer the three wires are individually accessible for a few inches before they enter the main sheath and are then covered.

It was just a matter of placing the clamps around two of these cables. Fortunately, as with the washer, our dryer is low-tech and doesn’t draw any power while not in use so setting up the sensing thresholds in Indigo was relatively easy (actually easier than setting up the washer). Though the washer module is not currently working the dryer notifications still continue to work.

Using a Zubie Key: A Year in Review

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Almost a year ago I purchased a Zubie Key, which is a device that can be used to track the location, and monitor the status, of a vehicle through a vehicle’s OBD-II port. This device has a built-in cellular connection and requires a yearly subscription fee of about $100. My motivation at the time was to integrate it into my home automation setup, which I actually did by connecting it to the IFTTT service combined with text message notifications that my home automation software can receive and process.

A year later I am uncertain whether or not I will continue to pay for the service. Mind you, it is not bad and has lived up to my expectations. But with daycare and various other child-related costs I’m not sure that it’s worth (that suddenly more valuable amount of) $100.

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Baby Monitor (Temporarily) Killed Z-Wave Network

Late last week I started to experience problems with various Z-Wave modules that began having communication problems. One module refused to work at all and others, including our thermostats, demonstrated frequent communication problems.

This was frustrating because I had never experienced communication issues with my Z-Wave gear; it is one of the reasons that I have come to prefer Z-Wave.

At first I thought it was a software issue and then I began checking batteries and routing. After a couple of days I figured out what was actually causing the problem.

Our baby monitors were creating interference. It turns out that the monitors operate in the 900 MHz range and so does Z-Wave. This also explained why it wasn’t my entire Z-Wave network that had problems; only the devices clustered in and near the nursery.

The monitor that we have provides a button to change available channels. Tapping this a few times adjusted the frequency of the monitors enough to remove the interference. Ever since then the communication problems have disappeared (in fact, the change was nearly instant).

Using a Blacklight Flashlight to Find Dried Dog Urine and Lost Toys

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Yes, you read that correctly. A while back I purchased a blacklight flashlight to find dried dog urine in our house. Why? Because when you have two young puppies it’s not uncommon to identify the smell of urine but to not be able to find the source…

They’ve grown a good bit since I originally purchased it and it’s less of an issue now. That’s not to imply that they don’t “go” in the house anymore but it’s not as frequent and also less likely that we won’t notice.

There was a time, however, when they would frequently sneak off and piss in a corner or under a table and we wouldn’t notice it for a while. On wooden floors can be difficulty to see after it has dried.

Does this work? The short is answer is that yes, it does.

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The Forgotten Role of Technology: One Step Away from Magic

I’ve noticed an increasingly more prevalent theme this year. The core theme is the concept of technology that is so ubiquitous and elegant that it appears to work like magic. For most of us that is rarely our experience. Often technology, whether we’re using an electronic tool that performs some physical work, or a piece of software that executes a virtual action, rarely seems like magic.

Some of this is simply due to the fact that most of us have developed a specific level of expectation over time through gradual changes that occur across the span of decades. There are certainly many things that might be perceived as magical to someone from an earlier time, whether it was someone from five hundred years ago or only a decade ago.  Perhaps magic, in this context, might be defined as something that is done for you that you didn’t even think about when you made it happen. Like turning on a light switch or opening a door, except the level of interaction is subtler.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join a college at a conference where Josh Clark, a user interface design expert, presented along with several other experts. While there we also had the opportunity to speak with him directly at one of the lunches, where he joined our table. Much of our discussion was on this very subject as was his presentation. His topic, of technology functioning like magic, was engaging and, in my opinion, a change heading toward us rather quickly.

I love technology. I enjoy learning about new innovations and gadgets and I have spent several late nights and weekends just tinkering with devices and software, sometimes without a defined goal. Some of those projects were dead ends. Others were successes. I learned from each one.

Yet, over the years, I continue to notice one problem with much of the technology that we have at our disposal.

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Washing Machine Notification (Smart Energy Sensor & Indigo)

As part of my recent dive back into home automation I decided it would be cool (and once again practical) to be able to receive an alert that the washing machine has finished washing a load of clothes.

This wasn’t something I blindly jumped into. There is plenty of information on the Web documenting how others have already done this with various home automation setups. As it turns out, at least with our washer, Indigo 6, and an Aeon Labs DSC06106-ZWUS – Z-Wave Smart Energy Switch it can be remarkably easy.

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