Cooking Home

A shortcut to thickening a gravy or sauce

Today I learned that you can thicken a gravy/sauce by mixing 1 part flour and 1 part room temp butter together and whisking them in, instead of melting the butter and then mixing the flour in. Pretty cool!

Every now and then when making a gravy I don’t use enough butter/flour, and I don’t realize it until I dump the liquid into it. Normally, I’d grab another pot, melt some butter and mix the flour into it. Using this trick will allow me to not get another pot dirty.


Robot lawnmowers, part 2: Robomow is bad now

In my last post about robot mowers, I mentioned that I bought the latest Robomow mower, based on my great experience with the RS630. With the RK630, I could tell that someone had thought through many of the potential issues and iterated on the platform to make it reliable and easy to maintain and even repair. Much of the robot could even be repaired or replaced without using any tools.

So I was excited to receive the Robomow RK4000. I had high hopes, but they were quickly dashed. The Robomow company has been bought and sold a few times over the years, and I think that the really good engineers have left, sadly. Now Robomow is a subsidiary of MTD, which just got bought by Black and Decker. I didn’t realize any of this until after I ordered the mower. It took weeks for the mower to even ship.

When I received it, I started setting it up and quickly discovered that this mower felt cheap compared to the RS630. I figured that I’d give Robomow the benefit of the doubt, though, and proceeded with installation. Then I realized that everything felt cheap. The 10 inch stakes that hold the robot’s charging base securely in the ground have been replaced by cheap plastic, 4 inch long stakes. That’s one place where they should not be skimping, as the robot needs to plug itself in to charge when it’s done mowing, and if the base moves, it won’t be able to dock correctly.

The base felt cheaper too. It’s made of lighter plastic and I was not convinced that it closed securely enough to keep water out of the wiring.

But I kept going. I powered the mower on and it asked me for my country and to set the date and time. Then it said that it was going to test the wire around my yard (most robot mowers require a perimeter wire around your yard that tells the robot where it’s safe to mow). This involves the robot following the wire all the way around the yard, back to its base. I pressed Go and nothing happened. Well, actually something did happen. The screen said that it was testing the wire, but the robot didn’t move. I left it overnight. It never moved. I made a second, smaller perimeter wire circle in my yard and tried that, to rule out bad perimeter wire…nothing.

I opened up an email ticket with Robomow. I got an immediate response from their helpdesk that my ticket was received, but I didn’t hear back for days (in fact, I still haven’t heard back). So I called the support number that was listed on their website, and it was answered by someone who mentioned Black and Decker, not Robomow. Based on my conversations with the guy who answered the phone, I think that their customer support is just one guy sitting in a room with a bunch of manuals for every Black and Decker product, and trying to troubleshoot based on the same information that customers have. Ultimately, he told me to try a bunch of things that I’d already done, and also a few things that were impossible to do, which he did not seem to understand.

So I returned the RK4000 and bought a Husqvarna Automower, which seems to be pretty popular these days. It worked right out of the box. So I guess that Robomow and I are done! It’s crazy how quickly a company that I would have recommended to anyone has lost me as a customer, probably forever.


Robot lawnmowers (The Robomow R630)

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When we moved to our house, we were excited about our big yard. The last house we lived in had a yard that was so small that it took me maybe 15-20 minutes to mow it. This new yard was large enough that it took me an hour to an hour and a half to finish if I cut it with a walk-behind mower. Quite a difference, and a not insignificant amount of time that I’d have to spend cutting the grass. I didn’t want to buy a riding mower, which would cut down on time but would require maintenance and more storage space.

Hiring someone to cut the grass for us would be very expensive. The expense of hiring someone to cut our grass at the house with the tiny yard was so expensive that I just started cutting the grass myself. Honestly, I didn’t even check into how expensive it would have been at this house. So I decided to look into other options, and ended up with a Robomow R630 robotic lawnmower.

The Robomow was very well engineered and very modular, which made it very easy to do repairs/maintenance. In the time that I’ve owned it, it’s reliably cut the grass the entire time. I’ve replaced the blades a couple of times, and the wheel motors once (after the yard flooded a bit and it ended up half-submerged for a few hours.

I also had to repair the perimeter wire a time or two. Similar to an invisible dog fence, the Robomow requires a boundary wire to be laid out around the yard so that it knows where it’s safe to cut. Once, I cut through the wire myself while fighting a snake with a shovel, and the other time my dog got very excited about digging into a mole tunnel.

Other than that, it’s been great. Every so often, it leaves its charging base, cuts the grass, and returns to its base. The yard is always just cut.

Recently, after a little more than 4 years, we had a deep freeze that basically killed the Robomow. It didn’t even power on for about a week, and now it’s slowly come back to life, but I can’t control it from my phone anymore. I looked into replacing the main board of the unit, but it’s been discontinued, so parts are increasingly expensive and I’m not sure that it would fix the issue. So I decided to buy another robot lawnmower. Lasting for 4 years meant that it cost me about $31/month. Not bad for getting housrs of my life back!

For awhile, I’ve had my eye on the Segway Navimow, which isn’t yet available here in the states. The benefit there is that it uses GPS for navigation, so you can just draw a boundary line around your yard on a map instead of relying on a perimeter wire.

Since I can’t even check one of those out yet, I bought the latest Robomow. I went with the RK4000. It seems very much like the R630, just more refined. I’m mostly looking forward to the better tires and better blade system that will hopefully be easier to change. We’ll see how that goes! I’ll report back.