As many of you know, we have lived with a Roomba for a few years. He's been a faithful servent, though our cleaning people sometimes unplug the charger and don't plug it back in.
A while back I got an email that said "Looj on Woot!". Woot!, as many of you know, is a website that specializes in selling something different every day. And Looj is a gutter-cleaning robot from iRobot, the maker of the Roomba. A week or so later, the Looj showed up at my door, but I only got around to reviewing it today.
Unlike the Roomba, the Luje is not authonomous. So, strictly speaking, it's a radio-controlled gutter cleaner rather than a robotic one, but I'm willing to cut them so slack on this. It has two parts - there's the main body of the robot, which is about 12" long, 2" wide, and perhaps an inch and a half tall. On the front is the cleaning part, which has rubber flaps and some strong brushes.
Attached to the top is the handle/remote control.
I got up on my roof today to try it out. I have a few leaves, a few needles, a bit of moss, and a whole lot of maple tree seeds (aka "helicopters"). It's all fairly dry because of the time of the year.
To use it, you set it in the gutter, turn it on, and detach the handle. Turn on the auger, and then you just drive it forwards and backwards like an RC car. In most cases, it will clear all the debris in the first pass, but sometimes there's enough that it climbs on top a bit, and you have to reverse and then move forward to clean it all out. Or, you can drive forwards in spurts when you hit a lot of debris.
It works really well. I only ran into two problems. In one of my gutters, the Looj rolled over on its back, but since the tread design is symmetrical, it works fine on the back as well. The second problem I had was when I drove it over a short maple tree which got tangled in the auger and the auger clutch released (this doesn't damage the Looj). I untangled it, pulled out the tree, and finished that section of the gutter (the Looj manual tells you not to try to remove trees...)
So, I did all the gutters - perhaps 120' - in about 15 minutes. Now, I did it from the roof, so I didn't have to move the ladder, but it was still remarkably painless. And it's pretty cheap for what it does - about $100 for the basic model.
After a bit of time to recover from my back-to-back conferences (TechEd 2008 in Orlando and the 2008 HealthVault Solutions Conference in Bellevue), I have a few thoughts to share.
I haven't been to TechEd for a few years, but TechEd is still TechEd. The developer division, however, has seen a lot of turnover, and I was surprised to find how few Microsoft people that I knew were in attendence. I did two "lunch talks", which is code for "we don't know what track to put you in...". You only get 45 minutes for your talk (after which they come in and tell you to get off the stage), but on the plus side, you don't have to go through any slide review process. I did a HealthVault introduction that went relatively well, and a "write lots of code" talk that went well except for some demo slowness (more on that later). There were about 50 attendees in each session, which is pretty good for a lunch session because of the hassle of attending them.
I'm disappointed that TechEd no longer devotes a night to "ask the experts". Instead, the MS people have to do "booth duty", which means you stand at your designated section for hours and hope that somebody will come by to talk to you. From watching and talking with a few MS people, that meant a lot of hours where you just stand around, and even when people come by to talk, the MS person who is best equipped to answer the question may not be there.
I talked with developers at all the meals, and had some good conversations. I ran into 3 developers who worked in the Health area but had never heard of HealthVault. It means we have some work to do to find out why those developers don't know about us, but it also means that we have some nice opportunities to reach a new audience.
Splitting the conference into two sections (dev for 4 days, IT for 4 days) was a positive move for the people I talked to, and made it a bit more intimate (if you can properly apply that term in a conference that big).
Two things I suggest not doing at a conference:
First, don't try to write a presentation for a second conference while you are at a conference. It's really hard to do well.
Second, don't check your bag at the conference center, unless you want to spend 35 minutes to do what will take you 5 minutes at the airport. The shuttles to the airport were nice, however.
After the week at TechEd, I headed back for the
HealthVault Solutions Conference
Which was held Mon/Tue of the next week in picturesque downtown Bellevue (come see our construction) at the Hyatt Hotel. This was a great conference - everybody was uniformly friendly, and because of the partner approach the conference is as much about partner <-> partner interaction as it is about Microsoft <-> partner interaction. Monday featured a keynote and then a very complex demo involving live code from lots of different partners working together, put on by my team (but with very little effort on my part). The demo was nearly flawless, and if anything, they made it look a little too effortless. It was very compelling.
Tuesday started with a keynote by Dr. Oz, a cardiac surgeon and gifted speaker. After a product roadmap talk (that I skipped to get set up for our technical track), we had the following talks:
The talks all went well, with the exception of Eric's. Apparently he forgot to modify his proxy settings to be used outside the firewall, so everytime he made a request it had to time out finding the proxy server before it completed. He is disappointed that he didn't figure this out before the talk, and apologizes to all those who put up with the slowness.
Our goal is to re-use the slides and get them on MSDN in some form. I'm probably going to take the development talk about make a tutorial out of it.
I'm on a break between sessions at TechEd, downstairs in one of the cavernous halls. Something like 400 yards from from to back (yes, I paced it off). I was looking for a comfortable place to sit for a few minutes, and found that the MSDN Zone has a big space with about 20 bean-bag chairs in it. I walk around the side, and am surprised to find that there are a few empty ones. I gracefully lower myself - as gracefully as my middle-aged body will let me right now - and settle in.
Apparently, somebody thought it was important to answer the question "what if I made something that looked like a bean-bag chair but stuffed it with cheap fiberfill instead?", and somebody else thought it was a good idea to answer the question "will people like these better than bean-bag chairs?"
Questions that nobody had every really asked before, but for good reason. The whole point of a bean-bag chair is that the user gets to modify the chair to their own personal support requirements. If you want to flop out, you mush it out flat. If you want to sit up - and perhaps use your laptop - you smush it so that it provides good support.
This "chair" is okay for flopping on, but despite a bit of swelling at one end, provides little in the way of support. After trying a few positions, I'm writing this while I'm in "street luge" position - my legs stretched out in front of me and my head just slightly raised up - which manages to look fairly relaxing without being relaxing at all.
I was really just trying to get people to smile when they read about it.
Last Sunday night (the 9th), I played another game of indoor. I felt pretty good, and though I got run into fairly hard at one point, I thought that the guy who ran into me came away worse than I did. At the end of the game my right ankle was sore, but everything else was fine.
Tuesday morning, I woke up, and my side hurt. I tried to deny it, but by Thursday morning, it was clear. The guy who hit me must have run into me with a knee, because I have another hurt rib (on the lower-left quadrant - one of the short ribs, another new spot for me). I'm not sure whether it's bruised or cracked, but I do know that it's pretty painful. The 30 miles I did on the bike on Sunday were about as pleasant as 7 hills was (ie not much), and I skipped this Sunday's soccer game (it's better to spread the injuries out rather than enjoy them all at once). So, it's another 2-3 weeks of pain, though the only really bad time is when I first get up in the morning and stretch.
The only upside for this is that I've been looking for a good excuse to skip RAMROD this year, and I figure the double-rib qualifies.
If you're at TechEd this week and are bored Tuesday afternoon, I'll be hanging out in the community lounge (in the basement near the online labs area) during the afternoon.
I'll try to make the 3-mile walk to the back of the basement room worth your while.