*yawn!* *stretch!*

Posted by on 21 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: General

Ahem! Wow. No posts in a year? What’s up with Betsie?
I don’t even remember…. … …

Well we were doing okay until August last year. I remember because when a bunch of friends came over for the Burger Summit and wanted to see Betsie that was when I first discovered that she had a wobbly wheel and wouldn’t run right.

When I finally found time to take her apart it seemed that the screws that hold the motor to the chassis had stripped out. The loose motor had spun around and that caused some of the wires to get melted and disconnected. So solder! My favorite. I fixed the wires and put the two screws that were still working in with some locktight and superglue. Not the best idea, but it worked for a week or two. Then the motor came loose again, but this time the wobbly wheel would not come off. It was like a joke where they tell you to pull the wheel right off and don’t tell you there’s two set screws holding it on. Except this was without the set screws!

Long story short, Betsie retired for the rest of the season and a plug in electric push mower was purchased. Reminds me of vacuuming. And wow, those branches on that tree are awfully low to the ground aren’t they? Betsie never minded, she’s just so short.

So now, months and months and 3 feet of snow later… I found some new and determined friends who gave the wheel another tug and managed to get it off!

Next we will re-tap the holes, try some slightly bigger bolts and see if lawn-mowing and web-camming can happen again.

Free Bird

Posted by on 17 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: General

Free Bird

Originally uploaded by Southernpixel.

Betsie needs more automation

Posted by on 09 Apr 2009 | Tagged as: General

I’ve enjoyed using Betsie’s Twitter account to notify her fans when they can see her out mowing on webcam…. but this plant that uses twitter automatically is really cool.

A Clover Lawn?

Posted by on 12 Feb 2009 | Tagged as: General

The house we bought 2 years ago had a nice lawn. Good sized with green, thick lush grass. The previous owner had a contract with ChemGreen or whoever… There’s still chemicals and stuff in the shed. But that’s not my thing. So I haven’t done anything except let Betsie chomp at it for the past two summers. And it’s not as green or lush as it used to be.

I think the biggest reason is that Betsie mows the grass so darn short! The max setting is just above 2″.

These days it seems like people are finally ready to think about moving to no-cut grasses or lawn replacement ground covers. I know I’m thinking about it for the back yard (maybe mint). For the front yard my only big plans are some type of vegetable/fruit garden… and they’re just plans. I want to have something for Bets to mow. Right now I’m leaning towards picking up some clover seed. Clover? Yep. Here’s some reasoning:

Ideal Qualities of a “Carpet” for Outdoor Living:

1. It stays a luscious green all summer, without being irrigated profusely (i.e., it’s drought-tolerant).
2. It is free of weeds, obviating the need to apply herbicides. Your carpet competes so well for growing space that the competition is choked out.
3. It doesn’t need to be fertilized.
4. It is also relatively pest-free, so that you don’t have to bother spraying pesticides on it.
5. It aerates the soil on its own, so that you don’t have to worry about counteracting soil compaction.
6. It is soft to walk on.
7. It attracts beneficial insects, including honeybees.
8. It rarely has to be mowed.
9. It doesn’t suffer the discoloration from dog urine known as “dog spots.”
10. And if, despite all these benefits, you should ever want to replace it with a different kind of green carpet, it helps you to do so by improving the soil on its watch. Its ability to aerate the soil and pump nitrogen into it means that succeeding generations of plants using that soil will be better off.
From here: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/clover_lawns_3.htm

The biggest disadvantage to clover lawns seems to be that people don’t want lots of bees for their kids to step on. That’s where Betsie comes in. She’ll cut those pesky bee-attracting flowers off before the bees even know they’re there. This isn’t really a plus for me personally, but I can live with it.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the clover will do – but it should be better than the weeds that I have creeping into the yard from all sides now. The grass that’s there doesn’t grow at all in the shade under the trees, and the grass that’s there doesn’t seem to do well at keeping weeds out when it’s cut really short. Hopefully the clover will do better.

I’m a Mechanical Engineer, but I delve into electronics now and then

Posted by on 01 Oct 2008 | Tagged as: electronics

The type of voltage regulator that I used for the first Lawnbott Live camera was only rated for 8V, so I needed to get a 12V one. I bought the only one I found at Radio Shack. However, it didn’t seem to work for the new camera setup (I’ll write about what the setup is once it is working). I suspected the 1 amp limit on the regulator might be the problem. I only paid for one AC adapter with the new camera so I had to scrounge around the house looking for two more in order to test things out without Betsie’s battery. Luckily 12V adapters are very common (got one from the old Linksys router and another from … something…). I plugged everything into the wall and lo-and-behold it worked perfectly. Nice picture! I went back to using battery power and the transmitter barely made it to the receiver over a 3 foot distance. Hmmm…. The transmitter needs more power.

I realized that my scrounged adapters came in different two different amperage values, one 500mA and one 1A. I knew my voltage regulator was rated for 1A, and had thought that might be the problem (if you can’t get enough current then you can’t get enough power as Power = Voltage * Current). I switched the transmitter to the 1A AC adapter and powered the camera from Betsie and everything worked great again.

This is when I started researching voltage regulators and came across switching regulators. Similar concept, looks about the same from outside the IC, but inside it’s all different. How it’s different goes beyond this Mech. E’s interest/experience level, but the end result is that it’s a lot more efficient. In a linear voltage regulator the voltage dropped is lost as heat. This really only works when you’re at low powers or small voltage drops. No, I didn’t do the calculation to figure out how much I’m wasting, but I did burn my fingers last time so I know there’s a lot of heat being wasted. The switching regulator is rated for 80% efficiency. Since I know I need more power, it seemed like a good way to go.

Here’s the part I ordered: http://octopart.com/info/Diodes+Inc./AP1512A-12K5L-13

It arrived today, so I might get a chance to put things together.

I’m still operating without a soldering iron and without my own voltmeter so I probably won’t get anything finished tonight. I need to fix this!

Why isn’t the camera working?

Posted by on 26 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: lawnbott live

I started having trouble with Betsie’s on-bot camera after updating the software a while ago. It turned out to be unrelated to that and more due to the lack of robustness of the camera I’d been using. It had been cheap, not waterproof, not shockproof camera of the type you can get on eBay for about $25. I took it apart, wiggled the antenna wire around, got it working again for a few days and then it stopped working again so I kind of gave up.

Of course it hadn’t rained for over 6 weeks and there wasn’t really much need to mow the lawn either.

Since then we have gotten a bit of rain (hurricane season), and the leaves will start falling soon.

I still love the idea of keeping Lawnbott Live as a permanent fixture. Twittering Betsie’s schedule so her fans can come and watch her mow the lawn. And so I have acquired a new camera. I will write more about it soon and I expect you to be able to See how well it is working out in the near future. Just as soon as it stops raining.

No more mowing the sidewalk

Posted by on 29 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: lawnbott live, perimeter wire

After watching Betsie on the live cam from work I decided that mowing the sidewalk might not be the best thing to do. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, but there are still a lot of people who walk by every day, including the neighbor’s grand kids who love to hope on their cars and roll down the little hill and zoom past my yard.

It wasn’t a hard project, I just added a new piece of wire along the house side of the sidewalk, across at a crack, and back up the street side of the sidewalk to connect to the old wire. This gave me some slack to fix the area around that troublesome bush too.

So now the area between the sidewalk and the street is a new zone.

1270 Absolute Unique Visitors

Posted by on 25 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: General, lawnbott live

Lawnbott Live got linked to at Makezine last Friday night. Almost 500 visitors came to watch Betsie mow on Saturday. Now we are up to 1270 visitors for the past 30 days. Pretty cool. The biggest problem? The lawn is so short Betsie doesn’t want to go out to mow.

I’ve let her return to her automatic schedule. At 95% mowed Betsie will go home and schedule herself to return to mowing the next day (24 hours + waiting until the next scheduled window). I’m curious if it ever waits more than 24 hours to go back out? Some features of the lawnbott software are never noticed because us users aren’t patient enough to just let it do it’s thing (or it gets stuck and resets the automation). The rain sensor is an example. Apparently the lawnbott will unpause itself a certain time after quitting for Rain, but I’ve never seen that happen either, I always go out and unpause it.

I’ve been out of town, so presently we are at almost 48 hours of unassisted mowing. It’s fun to watch the cam from Denver! If you like it, submit it to Digg.

Birds-eye view and Betsie-eye view

Posted by on 19 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: lawnbott live

Betsie now has an eye and you can see what she sees. You also get a birds-eye view of part of the yard that she cares for.
Check out the live webcam page tomorrow around 10am Eastern.

The UStream.TV setup should work better than trying to get my own streaming server working. Still, I’d say this setup is currently in ‘beta testing’ mode, so leave a note if you see anything odd…

My Yard Yesterday

Posted by on 17 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: lawnbott live, yardcam

One of the features of the webcam software I am (was) using is to save each image into a Quicktime movie and make a time lapse video for the day. This turned out better than I expected.

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