Geoffrey the Automower

I met my robotic overlord, and I immediately pack-bonded to it.

Let me back up a little.

I am not a gardener. I hate taking care of lawns. I’m the type of person that likes to do a good job, do it well, get the result perfect – and then it should stay that way. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over. It gets dull, quickly.

A lawn takes a lot of work. It runs counter to my pleasure. No matter how well I do the job, in two weeks I have to do it all over again. So my lawn always looks like crap.

So this year I took my government-issued funny money (the CARES stimulus payment, AKA the COVID relief) and plowed it right back into economy. I bought an “automower.” Specifically, I purchased a Husqvarna 115H.

What Is An Automower?

An automower is a Roomba for your lawn. You set a schedule and it takes care of getting the lawn trimmed and keeping itself charged. During operation it makes random passes over its mowing area and covers every square inch… eventually. It comes with a base station where it charges and “sleeps” when it’s not in use.

The mowing area is defined by a “boundary wire” that makes a continuous loop from the base station, around your yard, and back to the base station. (It is possible to have multiple mowing areas.). There is also a “guide wire” that extends from the base station to help the mower come home.

Automowers tend to be “mulching” mowers, meaning they leave their grass clippings in place instead of bagging them up and dumping them somewhere. Since they run so frequently this shouldn’t leave an unsightly mess; each cut should be millimeters in length.  Mulching and leaving the grass clippings in place is better for the lawn, as well as making the mower simpler and far more reliable.

They’re convenient, but also environmentally conscious.  They’re universally electric, making them quiet, emission-less, and built with a minimum of materials.

My First Thoughts

Setting Up

I purchased direct from Husqvarna.  The mower arrived in just a couple of days. (Going through Lowes or Home Depot would have taken a week longer.) The box is an armload but can be managed by a single healthy adult.

Everything you need to set the mower up comes in the box, except housings to keep the power supply and base station dry.  More on that in a moment.

The instructions were a bit unclear, but not terrible. There are steps that are in the quick setup guide that aren’t in the full guide, which is annoying, you need to read both.

There are diagrams, but they’re useless until you know what you’re doing – at which point you don’t need them anymore because the rules are quite logical.

The manual spends some time explaining complicated setups with multiple zones and islands, which may only apply to a minority of buyers, but no time spent on some of the most basic (and critical) steps: picking a spot for a base station and considerations for a guide wire.

Here’s What You Need To Know

  • There are two wires to worry about: the boundary wire and the guide wire.
  • The boundary wire makes an unbroken loop around your yard and through the base station.
    • The loop may not cross itself. (This is stated in the manual, but poorly in my opinion.)
  • The guide wire connects to both the base station and the boundary wire with a splice. The mower comes with little splice boxes to accomplish this.
    • It can connect anywhere on the boundary loop, so long as the first meter (3 feet) extends straight out from the base.
    • The guide wire may bend after the first meter, but should not have corners. The mower has trouble following at corners, and may run off the guide and get lost when it’s at its most tired and starving, which will make you worried and sad. Gentle, freeway-style curves are best.
    • To save on wire you may bend the guide wire right back to boundary, after you’ve come out a meter from the base station.
    • The quick start mentions that you need  to make a loop of wire somewhere in the boundary, but the main booklet does not.  Neither guide says why you’re doing it: you need to plan where the guide wire will tie into the boundary and leave some slack there. There’s no indication regarding how long to make the loop – a finger’s length is enough. You’ll splice the guide wire into the boundary wire using one of the included splicing boxes.
  • The instructions say this, but it’s not clear enough: the boundary wire should not come near the left side of the base station.
    • “Left” is your left as you’re facing the front of the base station.
    • The boundary wire should run away from the base station at a minimum 45° angle from the left side of the base station, and go out for at least a meter or two. If it’s too close to the base station you’ll get a calibration warning.
    • Since most of the important work takes place behind the base station, it would make more sense to change the point of view and reverse left/right in the instructions.
  • It’s not clear how frequently to put stakes down to keep the wire in place, except indicating that you must space them a minimum of 30 inches apart. I took my best guess on frequency, but I’m also lazy so maybe I didn’t use enough. Time will tell.
  • Finding a good home for the power-brick was harder than expected, as the instructions tell you that it shouldn’t get wet. (That’s an odd requirement for outdoor hardware.) I wound up screwing it under our deck, inside a plastic tupperware bin to protect it from drips.

Total Set Up Time

From unboxing to the mower’s first run was about three hours of work.

Our yard is basically a square, less than two-tenths of an acre, and it’s all behind the house.  We don’t have any complicated edges or ‘islands’ that require runs into the yard.  Everything we need the mower to leave alone is in the outside edge.

We chose to lay the wire on the soil and stake it down, rather than trenching and burying it. The mower comes with plenty of stakes and wire; we used a fraction of one spool. If there were complicated sections we could easily have used more, but now we have enough leftover to fix mistakes and broken wires for a while.

Laying the wire on the soil was an easy choice because we have very little grass. Our yard was re-graded this spring and there’s still lots of bare soil. (We skipped hyro-seeding so we could customize the mix ourselves – wildflowers on the edge and lots of clover everywhere else.)

We stopped in the middle of set-up to run out and buy a 30 qt plastic tub, to make an ersatz garage for the base station. I’m not counting that time in the set-up time.

I may make a real “dog house” for it later.


Getting the mower itself running was very easy for me. I’m a technical person, your mileage may vary. You push it into the base station to start charging, set a security PIN to prevent theft, fill in some other information, and push “start.” That’s about it for the year, unless you want to make changes.

The unit is quiet. It’s much quieter than I expected. I expected moderate electric lawnmower noise, but I got nearly-silent operation. It’s “guaranteed” to be 59 decibels or less, but as a layman I have no point of reference for that. Suffice it to say, it’s super quiet.

Here’s What You Need To Know

  • There are three small blades that attach to a disc underneath.  They have a short lifetime.  The manual suggests that they will need to be replaced every 4-7 weeks.
    • The mower comes with your first summer’s worth of blades, and replacements are relatively inexpensive.  We found a set of 30 online for ~$15.
    • They look to be reasonably easy to replace.
  • You may schedule the unit to run around the clock – it doesn’t care about day vs night.  Consider nocturnal animals before you schedule it for nighttime, though.
  • You don’t need to shut it off in the rain, though you might want to unplug it during thunderstorms.
  • There’s a phone app that connects over Bluetooth that’s easier to use than bending over the control panel on the mower.

It’s very fun to watch. I immediately started rooting for it to knock down tall sprigs of grass and other vegetation. It’s good to watch it to make sure you set the boundaries properly, leaving enough room for “overage.” It will cross the boundary a little, you can’t make tight margins.

We’ve had it running for less than 24 hours and it’s reached pretty much every point on the lawn.

If the mower crosses a boundary, hits something that activates the bump sensor, or gets confused, it backs up and tries a new direction.  That seems to be a simple and effective solution.

Here’s a video of the mower in action this morning:

There is a stand of taller weeds emigrating from a neighbor’s yard, which took over that side of the yard last year. It has already re-sprouted and grown to a foot high since we re-graded the yard a few weeks ago. If we let it go all summer again, it will grow into two-meter-tall woody stalks. The mower has been slowly nibbling it back until the bump sensor activates, and has already cut down nearly all of it – about 2 square meters (6 square feet). We might have to weed the very edge of the fence, but that’s it.

Considerations Before Trying

Autonomous mowers might not be a good mower for some situations:

  • You like to make patterns in your lawn, like my boss does. He enjoys making checkerboards like you see on professional baseball diamonds.
  • Your lawn is complicated, with lots of islands, special plantings, drop offs, marshy spots, and/or slopes.  The boundary wires will be time-consuming to lay out.
  • There is particularly uneven ground in the mow-zone, with holes, ruts, divots, and/or surface tree roots.  The mower could get stuck and require frequent rescues.
  • Boundary wires could be a tripping hazard in a high-traffic lawn and are more likely to be broken by repeated stepping.  Burying may be a good solution, but complicates installation.

Closing Thoughts

Despite some frustration with the setup instructions, the first 24 hours have gone swimmingly and I’m very happy. This might be the first time in my adult, home-owning life that I’ve had a neat lawn for more than a week per summer.

Having a real, autonomous, domestic robot makes the future feel like it’s finally arriving.

In which Mom goes on a wild tear

We’ve all had that moment (or at least those of us who are the “fun,” read “irresponsible,” part of the couple), where our responsible half, they who keep roofs over our heads, food on our plates, and everyone mostly on task, sighs a sigh of wistful desire. Well, mine happened today. Dad’s mountain bike is 25 years old, and in need of so much TLC at this point, it would be cheaper to replace it. This offends his sensibilities, so he’s been effectively without a mountain bike for years. Until today.

Bones3 truck-mount bike rack on an 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Bike, rack, and helmet #3.

I give you his new bike. Its another Specialized Rockhopper, and he loves it. The rack was pretty simple to put on, as far as trunk-mounted bike racks go. That means the swearing was kept to a minimum, and there was no blood spilt.

Keeping an eye on the bikes, because who needs a bike lock?

We took it out for a dry run with Beta. A traditional trip to the Panera downtown to grab some lunch and have some fun. Their kitchen sink cookies are not for the faint of heart, but oh so good if you share.

We hung out for a while, until the whinging from certain parties about going home became too much, got back on our (lovely, new) bikes and headed home. The ride is surprisingly flat (yay floodplain), which made testing out and finding gears so much easier.

After we got home, the statement was made: I want to go to the beach (guess who). After some digging to find a beach with other things to do. Apparently we were not doing bathing suits today. Some pretty slick Googling came up with Castle Island. Beach, walking trail, dog beach, perfect!

After some finagling, browbeating, and the promise to play Minecraft when we got back, we piled everyone (including the dog) into the car and took off for South Boston.

Handful of periwinkles, all still alive. One is poking its head out.

The place is surprisingly pretty. It is right next to the docks for the really big ships, so we got to watch a cruise ship put out to sea. Beta and I walked the beach, while Dad and Alpha walked the dog around the causeway. Beta turned out to be the periwinkle whisperer. We didn’t count how many she found, but they were all still alive. We put them someplace safe to wait for the tide to come back in.

Safe place for periwinkles (we hope)

We had a great walk, and found a couple of live oysters, too. After a while, we started down the causeway towards the open ocean. Beta walked back on the outside of the fence, only having to jump across about half way back (no more asphalt to walk on, and I lost my nerve). We met up with Dad, Alpha and the dog a little while later, and packed up to head home.

Not too shabby a day!

Beta and her oysers

Stargazing At MOS

There’s a small, boring backstory: Meghan renewed our membership with the Museum of Science (MOS), then asked me if we should renew it (she asked me via text, so she may have a different order of events).  I said we shouldn’t, since the girls haven’t been interested in going and we basically did not go at all last year — HOWEVER if we were to actually go just once I would be happy to renew while we were on-site.  Despite talking about this all over text, Meghan’s disappointment was evident as she dutifully cancelled the renewal.

I considered my options carefully, as the couch isn’t a particularly comfortable place to sleep, and gently reminded her that the MOS has an observatory that they open on Friday nights to view the stars — therefore it would be open later that night, and I would happily renew while we were there.  All we had to do was get the kids on board with going, or figure out what they would do while the two of us went.  (The girls thought this was a cool idea.  50 points to Gryffindor.)

Credit to

A few hours later we found ourselves standing on the roof of the MOS parking garage, waiting for our turn at the telescope.  Sadly, I could not photograph the view from the telescope, but it was a surprisingly clear view of Saturn.  A number of other people have taken photographs that are pretty similar to what we saw.  Happily the docent was informative and happy to answer questions, and didn’t make us feel rushed.  The MOS seems to have crowd management around the telescope down pat.

While we were waiting our turns, we took a few other pictures of Boston and astronomical phenomena, and watched the city bustle around us.

Jupiter and moon
Look to the left and up from the moon, that’s Jupiter. High, thin clouds were moving in, backlighting the view and obscuring the dimmer stars. The photo was taken with my cell phone, apologies for the potato-like quality.



Sherlock S4E1One of my favorite TV series is Sherlock, the modern update to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character.  There are three 90+ minute episodes per season, and the seasons are spaced two years apart.

The latest season has been much anticipated by fans, so much so that the first episode, titled The Abominable Bride, warranted a limited cinematic co-release with the premier on television.

Meghan, bless her heart, found out about this release and that one of the lucky cinemas to have some showings is near us.  My Christmas present was a pair of tickets.  Naturally, one was actually for her.  (Though she had the good taste to not point that out.)

Date Night!

Meghan’s mom came up to babysit the girls.  Since we were going to be out late, she planned to stay overnight.  (That plan changed at the last minute: she developed conjunctivitis the same day, and still came up, but elected to drive herself home when we got home — at 10 pm.)

Meghan and I drove into the city a bit early to have a nice dinner.  Not knowing the city all that well, we parked the car around the corner from the cinema and followed our noses.

Meghan at Papagayo
Meghan at Papagayo

We stumbled upon a hole in the wall called Papagayo.  Unlike the nearby restaurants with flashy signs and prices to match, our meal was very tasty and surprisingly inexpensive.

After dinner we had time to kill so we took in some local flavor.  Within a couple of city blocks we had encountered two universities, a handful of theaters, Macy’s, Chinatown, and a strip club.

Alas, it was time for the movie so we shuffled back to the cinema and headed up.  You can already find the episode on television so I’ll not bore with details; I will say that it was good.  My favorite scene was when Sherlock came to (the first time).

Lovesac Sactional: The Review

The Hunt for New Furniture

We wanted — nay, we needed — a new couch.  The old one is sporting a dip so deep that only the dog can curl up comfortably.  (Oddly enough, come to think of it, it is slightly dog shaped. Why that little…)

We cruised the local furniture stores for months but we had a hard time agreeing on a particular style.  Megh kept stopping in the local Lovesac store, though, “just to sit down for a few minutes”.  I eventually got the hint that she was interested in their ‘Sactionals‘.

After much hemming and hawing, I was forced to admit that a) the furniture in the showroom is comfortable, and b) the concept — free-floating furniture that you can rearrange into chairs, couches, lounges, beds, etc. — is intriguing.

Making the Decision

We don’t currently know anyone that has anything from Lovesac.  We even asked all our Facebook friends, but nothing more solid came through than some “I really want one of their fuzzy beanbags!”  At $600 for a beanbag, no wonder that it remains in the want-to-have category.

That brings us to the price.  Sactionals are an expensive way to get furniture.  I figure that compared to a similar-quality couch that doesn’t fly apart, we’re looking at a 30% premium.  Not as bad as the beanbags, but that’s still a steep price to pay for the possibility of sitting on a fabric Optimus Prime.

Lovesac’s business model seems to involve putting their showrooms into malls and other places where you might want to take a load off and sit for spell.  Paying high mall rents may explain the price — that, and the novelty.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if this remained an expensive pipe-dream.  We did indeed take the plunge and buy something.

What You’re Getting

As mentioned before, Sactional furniture comes as pieces, one of two types: bases and sides.  One base and three sides makes a complete chair (or one base and one side for an armless chair); two bases and two to four sides makes a couch; and so on.  Every piece also gets a removable, washable cover so you can purchase the color and fabric style you want.  You can spend a little more (or a little less) on the covers to upgrade your furniture.

We purchased two bases and three sides, to make a couch with an open end (it seems more inviting that way).

We also purchased the standard cover, which is also one of the cheapest options.  We liked the material more than some of the fancier velour- or velvety-type covers.

The Delivery

Your furniture is delivered via FedEx.  Everything comes in flat boxes, Ikea-style, with no piece being too large for an able-bodied adult to man-handle into the house.

Sactional couch, still in boxes
Our new Sactional couch post-delivery and still in boxes, with a cat for scale. The couch it’s replacing stares forlornly in the background.

We didn’t get a tracking number until the same day everything arrived, which was a little annoying.  I rushed home when Meghan gave me a heads up, so it wouldn’t sit on the front step all day.  At least it wasn’t raining that day.

I got everything moved inside, and drove back to work.

I’m out of work and home before Meghan, so I teased her by sending photos of the of the boxes, one at a time.  She can’t stand the fact that I can wait for things.

Total time from ordering to delivery: about a week.  If we had ordered fancier (custom) covers we would have had to wait longer.

The Unpacking

After dinner we got down to business.  After moving the old couch to an empty corner of the house, we unpacked the first box: a base.

The cushion for the base is stuffed inside the base itself, and held in with a pair of wooden planks (well, sticks really).  You have to slowly rotate each stake until it comes out.  Doing so releases the cushion, which then uncovers the hardware and some instructions telling you how to remove the stakes and cushion without damaging them.

Fortunately for us the process was somewhat intuitive and we didn’t damage anything in our ignorance.  We unpacked the other boxes in similar fashion.  The covers come in their own box.

The Assembly

The first step was to attach feet and stick on no-scratch pads (which are included).  There’s enough pads to adequately cover the “shoes,” which help connect the pieces, as well.

The instructions emphasize that getting the slipcovers on straight is very important, and it is.  Getting them on at all was the hardest part of the entire process.  The covers fit tightly, and there’s no “give” if you get them on crooked.  We had to start over on a couple of pieces because they were obviously wrong, but when you get it right it’s just as obvious.

The pieces don’t clamp together nearly as easily as they seem to in the store.  It’s probably because the floor models are taken apart and reassembled frequently, so everything stretches a little.  I wouldn’t say they were difficult, but they do require a strong hand.

I was pretty satisfied with the whole assemble-your-furniture experience, but then again I like Ikea, too.  I read some other reviews about assembling Sactionals, and we seem to have had one of the better experiences.

Total time, from unpacking to sitting my ass down: about 75 minutes.

The Result

Sactional couch, assembled
Our newly-assembled Sactional couch

I’m only writing this the next day, not enough time to provide an informed opinion about longevity, but the couch feels about as comfortable as the store’s floor model — maybe a little firmer and tighter, but all new furniture does that.

It looks as good in real life as I hoped.  The kids have given it their seal of approval as well.

In the picture is our Sactional couch with one of our old pillows and a Wii-mote.  On the left side of the picture the wooden beam is part of our old futon, with a similarly-colored cover, facing the other way.

I’ll probably revisit this in a few months with our thoughts on it long term – worth the purchase, worth additional purchases, etc.

Sledding in Wilmington

Wilmington sits in region of Massachusetts that is sadly bereft of protrusive terrain.  Coming from hilly Connecticut, I quickly noticed the lack of sledding opportunities.

It’s not all sad flatness, however.  We have a great prominence left by the glaciers at the south end of town, by a local ball field.  I’m not sure if the hill or the field have a name – Google Maps is currently mum.  It appears to be about 100′ high.

From the road, you would never know a sledding track is there, except for the number of cars in the parking lot that appear immediately after a snowfall.

There are two sledding tracks, one steeper than the other.  The flatter one is a favorite of the little kids, but the “ruts” tend to be better defined on the steeper track (ironically, making that one the safer track as you’re less likely to drift off-course).

North End travels

Beta is more intrepid than her older sister, so the two of us go on adventures when Megh is busy and Alpha just wants to stay home.  On Sunday afternoon we headed into Boston’s North End to explore.

I actually found legal, on-street parking (oh joy!) and only had to reverse down a one-way street to get it.

We ate gelato at the Gelateria, around the block from where we parked.  I had chocolate (very chocolate, very smooth) and Beta had mint chocolate chip.


The trip was cut short because she decided that she wanted to home home — it was late, she was tired (it was her idea to come, I wasn’t dragging her anywhere).  I have to admit her timing was pretty good, though.  So we grabbed a few cannoli for after dinner before we headed out the door, two chocolate chip and one nutella.  I’m not a fan but Megh said they were delicious.

Visiting the USS Albacore

My earlier plan to hide under the bed not-withstanding, we decided to head out into the weather to do something fun today. What to do?

We could have gone to the Science Museum, or the Aquarium. We could have gone to see the Constitution and the Bunker Hill Memorial (on Breed’s Hill, but who’s keeping track). Nope. We have several submariners in the family, and there is a submarine open to the public in New Hampshire. Here we come, USS Albacore! wpid-DSC_0206.jpg

The guys running the museum are fantastic. They clearly like well-behaved kids. The girls were told they could touch everything, get into the bunks, and drive the boat (who, apparently will veer towards dives).

wpid-DSC_0195.jpg wpid-DSC_0197.jpg

And touch and drive and try out the bunks they did!wpid-DSC_0202.jpgwpid-DSC_0194.jpg

According to both Dad and the girls, this is a much better submarine to visit than the USS Nautilus. The guys working the museum agreed. “We don’t talk about that other boat down in Groton. We clearly have the better boat.” We happily spent well over half an hour poking around, trying out bunks, and getting into mischief in the galley. It was just a fantastic day over all.

And we accidentally visited Kittery, Maine. Not many places you can say you accidentally visited a state just by taking the wrong bridge…

AGSS Albacore

When the weather outside is rotten, the logical thing to do is find some indoor activities.  Today was such a day so we went to visit AGSS Albacore, an experimental research submarine, in Portsmouth, NH.

Alpha child in a bunk
This is one of the more spacious bunks. Some were in dark corners with equipment dangling over the bunk – close enough that if you rolled over you would knock it with your shoulder or hip.

The main museum is the submarine, with a nearly-full-access self-guided audio tour.  By full-access I mean lying in the bunks, playing with the dive-plane controls, flipping switches, and turning dials.  The engine room is completely open (visually, if not physically, since some of the more dangerous bits have barriers).

Crew's mess; Alpha child fixing her shoe
The crew’s mess doubles as a recreation area. Backgammon and checkers; I don’t think anyone had time to play chess (not a reflection on submariners – I’ve known a few that could beat me handily at chess)

It was cool because it gave an idea of how the crew lived.  Tight quarters everywhere and no wasted space.  Fifty guys shared a couple of toilets; I can’t imagine the smell.

Itty-bitty toilet
Why did they tile the floor?

The submarine itself was an experiment and was refit several times over its lifetime with enhancements like new propulsion, including an uncommon twin screw design.

Twin screws
I read up on submarine design before the trip. Twin counter-rotating screws like this are unusual, but several Soviet-Russian submarines sported them as well. This is one of the only examples in the American fleet.

The experience is much better than touring the USS Nautilus.  The Nautilus is ok if you’ve never seen the inside of a submarine, but everything is off-limits so the tour takes five minutes (or less if you have small children).  The guys in the museum office “don’t talk about the Nautilus” and felt quite a bit of pride in the openness of the Albacore vs. the Nautilus.  We were in there for nearly three-quarters of an hour, and another half hour in the museum shop (including a video of how the got the submarine to it’s present location).

Apple Picking

Ah, the prime of fall – days warm and sunny, delicious fruit ripe and… delicious.

One of the simultaneous joys and pains-in-the-ass of moving to a new area is uncovering the “good” places: who is the best mechanic, where to get good chinese food, what’s the bad part of town and how do I get there without my wife knowing.  And, in our case, where to pick your own apples.

Disclaimer: when it comes to apples and Christmas trees, we have specific wants: macouns  (typically pronounced “ma-cow-ann”) and white pines.  They’re both hard to find in the store so we frequent our local farms.

You don’t know how much local knowledge you have ingrained in your brain until you leave your home turf.

Our travels today took us to Drew Farm in Westford, MA.  Not too far, though I kind of thought that a local farm would be even closer to our former-farm country town.  Nice orchard with a good selection of types (including macoun), plus pumpkins.  Free tractor rides to the orchard and baby alpacas rounded out the visit.  The prices were better than the farms in Stow, though not as good as the supermarket (they never are).  But we have a peck of delicious apples and a huge pumpkin.

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