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Our oddest Christmas present we got this year is a robot vacuum, given to us by a young relative. Bob was hugely skeptical at first, but he has to admit: "It works, but it doesn't hold much."

Go to YouTube to find reviews for dozens of these, from Roomba on down. Ours, the Lefant M300, costs $140 on Amazon. Roomba ranges from about $200 to over a thousand.

We have hardwood floors, four small mats in the kitchen, and a large rug in the living room. It seems complicated, yet the robot vacuum handled them all, traveling from room to room in our small apartment. It is rechargeable.

We dumped the debris by using a tiny Phillips-head screwdriver to open up the compartment where the filters are. One of the filters is washable. The other is a high-efficiency filter that limits dust, smoke, pollen, bacteria and mold. Joy likes it.


We recently mentioned "do not disturb" mode on the iPhone but left out a crucial point. Readers were quick to point this out. Thanks guys!

As one reader writes, with this new iPhone feature, "robocalls hang up before they even get to voicemail. Any human call you miss goes to voicemail, so you can call right back." Another points out that the missed call can be found under "Recents."

We're guessing that the niece of ours who missed an important job interview after turning on "do not disturb" isn't in the habit of checking voicemail very often.


"Museum of lost objects." Search on that phrase to find a BBC website with interesting articles and podcasts. They trace the history of antiquities destroyed or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. has thousands of free movies, including classics. Joy immediately watched part of an old favorite from 1965, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. They also had one of Bob's favorites, the 1973 spaghetti Western comedy My Name is Nobody, and much more recent titles, like the 2007 movie War with Jason Statham. We clicked "browse titles" and didn't have to register on the site to start watching.

"You can still buy $1 homes all over Italy." Search on that phrase to find a fascinating article from It's an attempt to find occupants for abandoned homes and halt rural depopulation, mostly in southern Italy. Though many have been snapped up, you can still get one if you put down a deposit ranging from $2,500 to $6,200. You get your deposit back in three years if you have refurbished the home.


The other day we were listening to Sidedoor, a podcast from the Smithsonian Institution. The hosts were talking about what is frequently cited as one of the worst video games ever: a 1982 Atari game based on the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Instead of the usual eight months, the developer was given only five weeks to create it for the Christmas 1982 shopping season. Users hated the game, and its poor sales helped push Atari Inc. into debt. The company struggled throughout 1983 and was finally split up in 1984.

In the podcast we learned that a group set out to find the old E.T. game cartridges that Atari reportedly dumped in a New Mexico landfill in 1983. Sure enough, they uncovered 1,178 of them.


Joy bought a foot pedal for her sewing machine on eBay for $20, but it was the wrong one. Returning it to China cost $23.50, and involved standing in a long line at the post office twice. The first time she had to step out of the line to fill out a form.

The irony is, the Chinese vendor had already refunded her account on eBay and hadn't asked for the package back. But it felt wrong to keep it.

Lesson learned: Pay attention to where a product is coming from. If it's from too far away, it may cost a lot to return it.


Misleading or fake websites are a growing problem. They now number in the thousands.

Joy thought she was buying a birthday present from Arlington International Racecourse in Illinois, but it was really a site with Arlington in the name. Five months later, she found out that the recipient had not received it.

Luckily, Joy's experience was good. When she contacted the online store, they refunded the money for the original shirt she ordered, supplied a free shirt of a different kind, and apologized profusely for letting things fall through the cracks while they were in a transition period.

The Washington Post did an investigative piece on problems nationwide with drop-shippers who use Shopify. The newspaper gave an example of a photo of a genuine $2,495 coat from Overland Sheepskin that was used to sell a $70 knockoff with uneven sleeves. The fur was described by one buyer as looking like it came from roadkill or a rat.

Around 753 websites stole Overland Sheepskin's photos to sell their own wares. Most of these sites use the Shopify e-commerce platform, according to The Washington Post.

(By the way, the owner of The Washington Post is also the founder of

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at and

Business on 01/11/2020

Print Headline: Robot vacuums don't hold much, but they get job done


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