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August 04, 2005: Stumpy

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Earlier this week the Roomba arrived. I dragged the huge box inside and tore it open immediately, to check it out. It�s a lot bigger than I�d imagined � for some reason I had it in my head it was going to be this cute dinner plate sized contraption. It�s still cute, but much larger than a dinner plate.

The cats were a little startled the first time we started it up. It�s a little on the noisy side, but that�s to be expected from any vacuum cleaner, robotic or not. The fact that it moves around all by itself seemed to be a bit disconcerting to the cats at first, but after the initial moment of skittery panic, they reached a general consensus that it wasn�t really going to try to eat them, and settled back down again to do their best to nap and ignore it. In fact, Sebastian is making such a concerted effort to demonstrate how much he does not care about it that he will sprawl on the floor even when it is puttering around in the same room, and will only get up and move when it is actively approaching him and has come close enough that he has no choice. The only exception to the rule of nonchalant cats is Rosie, who has apparently decided that the Roomba is quite fascinating. When it runs, she occasionally must follow it around and watch it, whiskers fully forward and an expression of avid curiosity on her face, and when it is dormant in its docking station, she sometimes comes dashing downstairs and slides to a halt directly in front of it, then sits there, expectantly, as if waiting for it to do something. We have not felt the need to start it up just to entertain the cat, however, even though the thought has crossed my mind once or twice, just to see what she would do

Richard�s been working from home most of this week, so he�s been able to play with it more than I have so far. I get occasional email updates about what the Roomba is up to throughout the day � things like the fact that yes, its cliff sensors really do work (and it is in no danger of driving merrily off the edge and falling down the stairs when we run it on the second floor), and what happens when it tries to vacuum up one of the cats� toys. We still have the cleaning elves coming in every two weeks to beat the house into submission, but this will certainly come in handy in between cleanings.

We�ve got no carpets at all in the house save for a few small area rugs, so it does a pretty good job of sucking up all the random dust bunnies and cat hair drifts. We�ve discovered that it does not mix well with the smaller cat toys, so before we run it, we do a quick floor check to pick up anything small enough to confuse it. I find it more than a little amusing that when it backs itself out of its docking station to start cleaning, it makes little backing up beeps, much like a large van pulling out of a driveway. I�m not sure what it�s supposed to be warning to get out of its way (and quite frankly I don�t think I want to know), but it makes me giggle every time I hear it. I also find quite amusing the way the little �charging� light slowly flashes when it�s in its docking station, almost as if it has attached itself to the nipple of a bottle filled with electricity and is slowly sucking down nourishment to fill its empty batteries.

So the general consensus, in this house at least, is that the Roomba is quite possibly one of the coolest gadgets we have ever purchased, especially for a house with six cats, no carpets, and two people who really cannot stand to vacuum.

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