Finally, the sharpest knife in the drawer

16 Mar
The Grohmann 8-inch chef’s knife is reasonably price and made in Canada. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Grohmann 8-inch chef’s knife is reasonably price and made in Canada. (Geoff Meeker photo)

I’ve been active in the kitchen since the age of 18 and yet, for all these years, I’ve been chopping, slicing and dicing with inadequate knives.

I knew that my old knives – which I received at a gas station giveaway during the 1990s – weren’t cutting it, but I never felt motivated to spend hundreds of dollars for a really nice set. Until now, that is.

For the last few weeks I’ve shopped around for quality kitchen knives, learned a great deal and can relate a few surprises.

I began my quest by selecting one good chef’s knife, with an 8-inch blade. I was willing to spend up to $150 – possibly more – if I felt the value was there. I visited two different outlets, starting at Big Eric’s on Blackmarsh Road.

Big Eric’s seems to cater mainly to restaurant and institutional clients, though regular folk can purchase there too. It’s a fantastic store and any foodie will swoon upon entering, but be warned: as with most restaurant-grade equipment, it can get pretty expensive. (I could write a full column about Big Eric’s and maybe will, someday soon.)

They did have a wide variety of knives on display, all made by J.A. Henckels, well known for their high quality German steel. And here was my first surprise: You can buy a good Henckels knife for very cheap. I’m talking $23 for a smaller knife and increasing incrementally for larger knives. The steel is not quite as heavy as their premium knives and there is a plastic handle, but if price is your first consideration you can’t go wrong here.

I inquired about Henckels’s premium quality ‘Profection’ chef’s knife, which has a retail price of $150. And here was my second surprise: the good folks at Big Eric’s are always happy to negotiate, especially if you are a regular face there. In this instance, they reduced the price of that knife from $150 to $113. Now that’s pretty good.

You can also buy a boxed set of five Profection knives with block for $560, discounted to $476. I took some notes and went on my way.

My next surprise: you can buy quality knives at the Modern Shoe Hospital on Duckworth Street. (Full disclosure: my brother in law, Kevin Wright, is the chief surgeon there.) This store carries the Grohmann brand, which – and this was perhaps my biggest surprise – is made in Canada, at Pictou, NB.

The Grohmann name was only vaguely familiar, but it sure felt good in my hand: steel that runs the length of the knife, nicely balanced, stainless steel blade, rosewood handle and very obviously sharp. If anything, the steel blade is thicker and heavier than the Henckels (which is not a criticism of the latter brand – Henckels is truly world class).

The Grohmann is also reasonably priced, with a sticker price of $130 for the 8-inch chef’s knife and an in-store special price of $110 – the same range as Henckels. Wright prices lower than suggested retail as an incentive to purchase from him rather than direct from the company’s site (gknives.com).

Grohmann also makes a budget-conscious line with plastic handles but Wright doesn’t carry them, preferring to focus on the high-end knives. (You can, however, order them online.) The store also sells the Grohmann line of outdoor knives, which are praised by hunters and fishers and reasonably priced at $65 (again, well below retail price of $99).

In terms of quality and price, I would call it a draw between the Henckels and Grohmann. However, Grohmann is made in Canada and I do like to support Canadian where I can.

I am now the happy owner of a lovely new Grohmann chef’s knife. So far, it has exceeded expectations, cutting effortlessly through turnip, cabbage, spaghetti squash, whole cooked chickens and frozen pork loin. A quality knife really does improve the cooking experience. My only regret is not doing this sooner.

I’ll have more on Grohmann knives – and Big Eric’s as well – in a future column.

Postcript:

Days after this column was published, I purchased three more Grohmann knives: the 6-inch utility, 6-inch Santuko and 8-inch carving.

The utility is a flexible little knife with a solid heft that feels great in the hand. Its narrower blade – especially near the tip – is ideal for angled or curved cutting, and is recommended for removing the cores of green, red and yellow peppers.

Should one buy a knife for this purpose alone? Well, if you eat as many peppers as we do, then yes. But of course it’s great for other tasks as well – anywhere where the precision of cut is assisted by a narrower blade (such as carving Halloween pumpkins, for example).

The Santuko is short but its wide blade might look like a cleaver to some. It isn’t that at all. The small, evenly-spaced concave “dimples” on the blade reduce drag and suction on whatever you are cutting. That is, sliced carrots are not inclined to stick to the blade and interfere with your smooth chop-chop-chopping process.

The 8-inch carving knife is the only one I haven’t tried yet, probably because I haven’t had a turkey or large roast since purchasing it. Hey, I’m not rich you know! But I will file an update here as soon as I start carving with it. (The real question, of course, is whether it performs as well as or better than the electric knife I purchased back in 1987.)

Happy slicing and dicing folks!

File a claim but manage your expectations

2 Mar
The ad announcing the DRAM Class Action suit is catchy but doesn’t deliver on its promise.

The ad announcing the DRAM Class Action suit is catchy but doesn’t deliver on its promise.

I saw an ad recently on the evening news that grabbed my attention. It was professionally produced with some cool animation, and its message stopped me in my tracks. I rewound and listened again.

Here is the full transcript from the 30-second spot:

Canada: between 1999 and 2002, people weren’t aware that they were paying too much for their electronic devices. Some memory chip manufacturers reportedly agreed to price fix. A class action lawsuit was filed and a settlement was reached. If you purchased a computer, printer, game console or any other device with a memory chip between 1999 and 2002 you can now get your money back. Simply visit themoneyismine.ca and get what is owed to you.

I have a vague recollection about the memory chip price fixing controversy, so this rang true.

I quickly drew up a list of electronics purchased over those four years. This included an Apple iPod, Nintendo 64 game console and two early versions of the Apple iMac computer – one purchased in 1999 and the other in 2002. Altogether, I estimate I paid up to $5000 for the lot.

Was it really possible that I could now get my “money back” like the ad said?

I went to themoneyismine.ca and for a while things looked promising. The headline at the top said:

“YOU PAID TOO MUCH. Some DRAM manufacturers conspired to fix prices. Collect what is owed to you. No receipt required.”

I scanned down the page for further details. There was information about the $80 million class action suit and which products would qualify for the refund. It included anything that contained a memory chip, including DVD players and PDAs (as smart phones were known then). It looked like my list of refundables was getting longer.

So then I moved to the important stuff: the “Start Your Claim!” button. It gave me two options: a simplified claim (no proof of purchase required) and a standard claim, which may require documentation.

And this is where the fine print reached out and smacked me in the face, like the cruel punch line that punishes you for listening to a bad joke. (What was in the package? BS, like the rest of the story!)

The simplified claim would earn me a paltry $20. That’s it.

This didn’t feel right, not when my products had a combined value of $5000. The site has a calculator to help determine if it is worth filing the more detailed standard claim. I entered all four products, but the total refund was still $20. You can imagine my disappointment. I sent an email to the site admin, asking why. Within a day I received this reply from Darlene:

“The $20 is not per computer/item, it is a minimum amount being offered per household in this class action. Several CEUs will be covered under the $20.”

I replied that the amount still seemed small, given the number of products I had purchased. Was the class action even worth the time and trouble?

“This class action suit only covers the alleged price fixing of the DRAM, which is just one of many parts in electronics,” Darlene replied. “We believe it was worth the time and trouble.”

“My only concern,” I responded, “is that the 30-second TV advertisement said ‘…you can now get your money back.’ This sounds deceptive, causing me (and no doubt thousands of other Canadians) to do a happy dance before learning the truth. Shouldn’t it have said SOME of your money back?’

“We are the distribution center,” Darlene wrote back, “but I can certainly pass along your concern.”

I had no further response up to deadline time. In my view, by stating that you “can now get your money back” the ad announcing this class action remedy is almost as deceptive as the price fixing itself. The refund is without question being oversold.

Anyway, $20 is $20, right? I filed the claim. The instantaneous auto-reply cautioned that claims may be paid up to a year after the June 23 deadline to file and refund amounts could decrease based on the number of claims.

Go ahead and file a claim, if you don’t mind waiting 15 months for a refund that may or may not be $20.

Time to tighten your online security

16 Feb
This screen grab from Facebook explains in simple terms how enhanced log-in security works.

This screen grab from Facebook explains in simple terms how enhanced log-in security works.

In my previous column I wrote about online security from a global perspective. This week I take it down to the granular level and examine ways to tighten your personal online security.

Recently, a number of my Facebook friends have complained about getting hacked. How is never made clear, but one thing is certain: getting hacked and trying to get your account back can be frightening and frustrating, not to mention costly if hackers get at your banking and credit card information.

But there are things you can do to protect yourself. Following are some basic steps that you should implement immediately to make your accounts as secure as possible.

Passwords

Your first line of defence is always a strong password. Sounds logical, right? But still, there are millions of people who use no-brainer passwords like ‘123456’, ‘abcdef’ and even ‘password’. These people are hacks waiting to happen. Select a password that you can remember, but is not part of popular culture (hackers know that ‘batman’, ‘football’ and ‘baseball’ are popular passwords). Don’t use names of children, partners, pets, or any information that can be easily gleaned from your Facebook profile. Always use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.

Fake Facebook profiles

Last week, I received friend requests from two people who were already friends. In both cases, the real friends got wind of it and cautioned via status update to decline such requests. In this case, the hackers aren’t cracking your own account – they are downloading your pictures and information and creating a carbon copy of your profile, then sending friend requests to everyone on your list. Why? It’s a form of identity theft, in which the fake account holder contacts your friends via private message, asking for money or trying to sell something. If you learn that someone is pretending to be you, report it immediately. Go to the impostor profile, click on the cover photo and then click ‘report’. Follow through to make sure it gets shut down. And if you see that a friend’s account is being copied, tell them right away.

Ignore phishing emails

There are too many phishing email scams to go into here but all have a similar pitch: there is a problem with your account, so please click this link to log in. Of course, the site is a fake and they are ‘phishing’ for your user name and password. Most often it’s a bank account they’re after, but it could also be email, Twitter, Facebook or any personal account. Bottom line: never, ever log on to a website you receive in an email. Just don’t.

But suppose someone does get your password, by hook or by crook? There are steps you can take to protect yourself in that situation, too. They are listed below.

Facebook

In the upper right corner you will see a tiny arrow, pointing downward. Click it and select ‘settings’. In this window, click ‘security’ from the list on the left. Topping the list is ‘Login notifications’ – click it and you get this message: ‘We can notify you when your account is accessed from a computer or mobile device that you haven’t used before’. You can select email or text message for this notification, or both. I selected both. Next on the list is ‘Login Approvals’. Click this, then check this option: ‘Require a security code to access my account from unknown browsers’. It will ask for your cell number and will then send you this code via text. Follow the prompts to complete the process.

Gmail

If you use Gmail you know that it can also access Google+, so you really need an extra layer of security here. Log in, then click on the round blue person icon in the upper right corner. Click ‘Account’, then click ‘Add a recovery phone to help secure your account’. It’s very simple. Just follow the prompts. If you use Yahoo mail, you can do the same thing and the process is similar.

Twitter

Click your little mug shot in the upper right corner to display the menu and select ‘Settings’. From the list on the left, select ‘Security and privacy’, then select ‘Send login verification to cell phone’. You will need to enter your cell number and then confirm it with a text message but it’s not complicated – just follow the prompts.

This is all ridiculously easy to do. So do it now. Then you can relax, knowing that now it is almost impossible to hack your account.

Sony hack is a warning we can’t ignore

9 Feb
Harry Tucker: "The Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet."

Harry Tucker: “The Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet.”

By Geoff Meeker

February 2, 2015 - The cyber attack on Sony’s web site made global headlines late in 2014, resulting in embarrassing email leaks for the electronics giant and postponement of the release of its movie, “The Interview”.

President Obama claimed that North Korea – which took offence to “The Interview” – was responsible for the hack, and that may well be the case.

As ridiculous as that situation was, it unmasks a serious problem we can’t afford to ignore. That’s according to Harry Tucker, a Wall Street strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect who provides guidance on both strategy and technology – including security.

While it may be tempting to blame the Sony hack on sloppy security or bad site maintenance, the truth is that all sites are vulnerable.

“Any web site can be hacked,” said Tucker, who hails from Bell Island and now lives in Alberta. “The NSA (National Security Agency), the CIA and other government sites in the U.S. and Canada have been hacked routinely. There is no such thing as a hack-proof site.”

Most web sites have an ‘air gap’ between their public face and the more sensitive, internal information at the back end but this does not make them hack proof, Tucker explained.

“Let’s say you have a site like Amazon, which connects to order fulfillment, credit processing and other applications. The very fact that you connect to all that because of the way you do business means you are always vulnerable.”

Then there are firewalls, which can also offer a false sense of security.

“A firewall works by blocking specific traffic on certain ports, only allowing authorized traffic in. But even with those, there are gaps. Sony had a firewall on their site and it didn’t matter. There are free utilities available on the web that can scan firewalls to see what ports are open. Some ports allow remote control of physical equipment and if a port is left open by accident, someone like me can come along and it doesn’t take long to get control of that infrastructure…”

There are common sense safeguards that can be applied, such as not connecting email systems to company web sites. “Sony made the classic mistake of connecting their email to everything else. The private emails of senior executives were accessible by channeling through the web site – that’s just ludicrous.”

The biggest concern with the Sony hack is not a bunch of leaked emails or the postponement of a movie release, Tucker said.

“Here’s the issue, and this issue matters. Every week, somebody important… in the U.S. government has issued a warning that our infrastructure, utilities and defense systems are vulnerable to cyber attack. So the Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet. There is a dark warning in this that people aren’t paying attention to and that warning is, if a country like North Korea ever successfully invades our power distribution system, for example, they can turn the U.S. off.”

You may be skeptical about that. A lot of people are. After all, how could a dysfunctional and backward little country like North Korea bring the U.S. to its knees? It sounds, oddly enough, like a bad Hollywood comedy.

“When people say it can’t be done I can tell you, I’ve been to meetings with utilities for a while now who are trying to figure out how to shut down some issues they have internally. The utilities by their own private admission dread the day when someone gets in there and turns everything off. They are trying to figure out ways to prevent this, but the way our systems are all inter-connected (presents a challenge). Right now, according to military experts, it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.”

There can be no doubt that certain countries and extremist groups would like to launch such an attack. According to Tucker, we need to anticipate and prepare for it.

“There are 18 key infrastructures in the U.S. and 17 of them run on electricity,” he says. “So electricity is the holy grail of vulnerability. And right now, our entire distribution system is vulnerable to cyber attack. It’s just a question of who wants to do it. So the Sony stuff is in fact a warning. But we have to pay attention to it. We need to go back to our utilities and governments and hold them accountable and responsible. We need to ask them, ‘What are you doing about the things that matter to us?’”

How to get a close shave without getting skinned

5 Jan
The Harry’s shaving kit comes standard with a bottle of shaving gel but this is over-priced at $10. You can remove it from the shopping cart before making the purchase. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Harry’s shaving kit comes standard with a bottle of shaving gel but this is over-priced at $10. You can remove it from the shopping cart before making the purchase. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 5, 2015 – According to some reports I’ve read, razor blades are one of the most popular targets of shoplifters – so much so that Shoppers Drug Mart keeps them behind the front counter.

And no wonder: a pack of eight brand-name razor cartridges at the drug store will set you back from $40 for the basic Gillette Fusion up to $48 for the fancier Fusion ProGlide Power.

That’s a lot of bucks, to scrape a bit of hair off your face. So this week, I’m here to save you some money on your manscaping… though women who use razors may pick up something useful here as well.

First of all, no matter what cartridge you use, you’re probably dumping it way too soon. Some think that little blue strip is a wear indicator and that the blade should be thrown away when it fades to white. This is not true. I use a cartridge for at least four weeks, throwing it away only when it becomes uncomfortable to use.

In the last year or so, a couple of upstarts have given the establishment guys at Gillette and Schick a run for their money, offering cheaper cartridges by mail order on a subscription basis.

The best known of these, the Dollar Shave Club (DSC), got its start with a funny and creative online ad that boosted the company’s fortunes by going viral (view it at dollarshaveclub.com). I’ve been tempted to sign up with DSC but the online reviews of the product have not been great, with many complaints about cheap materials and poor shave quality.

Then, my 22-year-old son announced that he had signed up with Harry’s, another blade subscription service (harrys.com). When the parcel arrived, he gave me one of the cartridges and lent me the razor to test shave quality and longevity of the blade.

That was on November 8 and I’ve been using it ever since. First, an important qualifier: I have a closely-trimmed beard and only shave my neck from the chin line down and part of my cheek, so wear on the blade would be less than with a full face of hair. On the other hand, the neck can be a troublesome zone to shave closely and comfortably so it was a rigorous test nonetheless.

I was impressed by the Harry’s product right from the get go. It delivered a clean, close and comfortable shave, with no cuts. There was a slight drag from the blade, a barely noticeable irritation caused, presumably, by a small amount of friction, though this was minimized by using a quality shaving gel.

I am still using that same blade, more than six weeks later. It’s not as sharp as when new, but still serviceable. And today, just for fun, I did a test shave using my old – and also well-used – Gillette Fusion razor and the Harry’s razor at the same time, alternating one with the other, stroke for stroke. There was no discernible difference between the two.

I decided then and there to sign up with Harry’s. To keep it simple, the company offers one standard shipment of eight cartridges for $15, which you can take monthly, every two months or every five months. By default, they add two cans of shaving cream to the offer but, at $8 per can, this is grossly over-priced – you can buy a good lubricant for much less at the drug store.

Really, the extra cans of foam are an attempt to upsell and make money on accessories. You can remove these from the cart before clicking the purchase button. I did include the razor handle as well for $10, so with shipping and taxes factored in the order came to $35 US. Going forward, it will cost me about $21 US every five months, which is about half the price of the Gillette cartridges. I’m sold.

You can also purchase after shave/moisturizer from Harry’s, at $10 for 1.7 ozs, but again, you’ll probably find cheaper by looking around. And after shave is a personal choice – you want to shop with your nose before settling on a brand. And if you want something really distinctive, check out the spicy, skin-soothing balms at Fogtown Barber.

If you’re looking for other ways to enhance the manscaping experience, I recommend purchasing a shaving brush and jar of shaving soap. You can get both for a one-time investment of roughly $25, but you will save bucks in the end, get a shave that feels good and send less garbage to the landfill. And if you really want the best, check out some of the high-end shaving accessories at Home on Water.

I will report back on the Harry’s product in several months, after I’ve had time to settle into the service.

 

Tech company is shaking up the taxi industry

8 Dec
The Uber.com web site (screen grab above) offers more information about their services, and the company’s apps can be downloaded on iTunes.

The Uber.com web site (screen grab above) offers more information about their services, and the company’s apps can be downloaded on iTunes.

December 8, 2014 – Perhaps you haven’t heard of Uber yet. If not, that will certainly change in 2015, as the company continues to expand into Canada – and quite possibly into Newfoundland.

Uber.com is a smartphone app and a taxi company rolled into one, in which private citizens turn their cars into unmarked taxis. Passengers download the free Uber app, enter a name, password and credit card number, and they’re ready to ride. Drivers download their own app, which has a built in meter for calculating fares.

When you hail a cab with the app, it locates your position instantly using the phone’s built-in GPS. The app then locates the Uber driver nearest you, showing that person’s rating (out of five stars) and you accept or reject the offer. You can see exactly where the driver is on a map, and observe their progress as your ride gets closer. The fees are lower than regular taxis and there is no cash transaction – fares are charged automatically to your credit card.

Uber is not a small start-up trying to gain traction, it is a global super-company with active operations in 250 cities in 21 countries and a market valuation of $40 billion.

Not surprisingly, the “old school” taxi companies don’t like Uber at all for a carload of reasons, most of them quite valid.

Uber taxis are available now in three Canadian cities – Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto – but their arrival was greeted with controversy and legal problems.

The key issue with Uber is the company’s refusal to comply with regulations governing the taxi industry in cities where they operate. The drivers are not screened as thoroughly as commercial taxi drivers, their training is sketchy at best and they have much less insurance coverage. There are also questions about safety: Are the cars inspected for mechanical condition? Is it wise to get into an unmarked car with a stranger?

In Ottawa, undercover enforcement officials have been hailing the cabs and handing out $650 tickets to the drivers – a penalty that is sure to make many think twice about staying on the road. Toronto has challenged Uber’s legality in court and the mayor of Montreal has declared the cabs illegal.

And really, who can blame them? Existing taxi drivers charge fares that in many cases are regulated, their cars undergo frequent inspections and their insurance costs are through the roof. Uber is ignoring all those regulations and under-cutting existing taxi companies.

Uber defends itself by saying they are not a taxi company, they are a technology company. Yes, indeed. Which is like saying that Domino’s is not a restaurant because you can order a pizza online. With this line, Uber is being too cute by half. They are a taxi company no matter how you slice it.

Uber’s expansion strategy focuses mainly on large cities with populations in the millions, but there are smaller cities there as well; cities like Burlington, Vermont with a population of about 200,000. It is quite conceivable that the company will move into St. John’s at some point. If that happens, how will the city react? I put that question to St. John’s City Councillor, Tom Hann, who sits on the city’s taxi committee.

“I took a quick look at it and I also asked our legal people to have a look at it,” Hann said, in an interview. “We haven’t heard anything about it coming to the city and want to learn a lot more about it, how it operates and so on. I asked them to look at other Canadian jurisdictions where (Uber) has happened…. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on in the rest of the country and taking a look at Uber’s setup and so on, and then figure out what to do. Because I think it would have a major impact on the taxi industry here.”

Hann has a number of concerns with how the company operates, safety of passenger and driver being chief among them.

“What kind of impact would it have on the lives of taxi drivers who put themselves out there every day servicing all demographics of the population? And how do you vet people so that they are safe and how do you know people who use the service are in a safe environment while they get from point A to point B? Technology or not, they are providing the same services that the taxi industry is doing but without the constraints and regulation that the taxi industry has. It’s going to be a complicated issue that the city had better be prepared for.”

The core of the issue is regulation. If Uber does get a foothold in this market, would the city consider deregulation of the taxi industry to level the playing field?

“The city would have to review its by laws if Uber should happen. It would create a situation for sure… But I don’t think deregulation would happen.”

Hann said he will raise the matter with the taxi committee at their next meeting.

A lawnmower that works on a go forward basis

10 Nov
The Honda self-propelled mower cuts a fine figure, even as it mulches the thickest of lawns.  (Geoff Meeker photos)

The Honda self-propelled mower cuts a fine figure, even as it mulches the thickest of lawns. (Geoff Meeker photos)

November 10, 2014 – After 10 years of reliable service my old Briggs & Stratton lawnmower finally bit the biscuit, sputtering and croaking right before my eyes. Suddenly, I was in the market for a new machine – and curious about how the technology has evolved over the last decade.

People had been telling me for some time that I needed a motor-propelled mower, so this moved to the top of my checklist.

Then a friend posted on Facebook that he was selling a new Honda HRR216 mower – purchased in May of this year for $650 – for substantially less than the showroom price. It had the motor-drive feature I was looking for and more, plus it’s a Honda… so I purchased it on the spot.

I obtained the mower in the fall so I haven’t used it extensively, but my first impressions are largely good.

I read the owner’s manual front to back before using the machine – you don’t want to mess around with lawn mowers, as they can do major damage and even kill you if used improperly.

The Honda started on the first pull. The motor drive is controlled by a thumb-manipulated lever that takes a little getting used to, because if you accelerate too quickly you almost have to run to catch up.

That said, it’s a pleasure to follow this baby around the yard while it does all the heavy lifting.

I prefer mulching the grass when I can because it saves time and deposits nutrients back into the soil. And I was intrigued by the “Micro-Cut” twin blade system, which features a smaller, apparently sharper blade mounted directly above the cutting blade, to shred the grass even more as it flies upward.

On my first use, the lawn had not been mowed in two weeks so it was quite dense in places. On my old machine I would have been forced to use the bagger, but the mulch setting on the Honda breezed through everything, including a light layer of leaves in the corner of the yard. At no time did the mower protest. Heck, I think you could mulch a field of ripe cabbage with this baby. (That’s a joke. Do not attempt this at home.)

One feature I like is the gas control switch, which allows you to drain fuel from the motor for long-term storage without having to wastefully suck the whole tank dry.

There are some downsides to the machine, most of them minor.

The mower weighs a hefty 90 lbs., which makes the motor propulsion a necessity – especially going up an embankment – and can be challenging on sharper inclines, such as the 40-degree downward slope that connects my property to the lot next door. I had to give the machine a running start boosted by a strong push to get it up the hill, and strong back and shoulders were needed to ease it back down. If you have a lot of steep hills on your property, a machine this heavy probably isn’t for you.

It’s also a bit of pain having to disengage the motor drive to more carefully approach trees, flowers, downspouts and other garden obstacles. Though it works exceptionally well, this mower is best suited to wide open, fairly level lawns with minimal obstructions.

The 5.5 horsepower motor and brand new blade makes for excellent cutting power that gives no quarter to any uneven ground you encounter. Little bumps in the yard are leveled to brown dirt instantly – not good for the lawn – so you need to be wary of such inconsistencies (especially if that bump is a rock).

Cause for concern: the drive belt that connects blade pulley to motor is completely exposed to flying debris inside the mower deck.

Cause for concern: the drive belt that connects blade pulley to motor is completely exposed to flying debris inside the mower deck.

I discovered my biggest concern with the mower when I flipped it up to check the undercarriage. The drive belt that connects the blade to the motor is clearly visible through a gap about eight inches wide, exposing it and the pulley to whatever is flying around inside the deck. Is this wise? We all know how grass pulp can accumulate, not to mention the flying twigs, rocks and other flotsam that might go flying up there.

I can only assume that Honda knows what it is doing; that they have studied the aerodynamics of spinning blades and flying debris in a closed compartment and can promise that nothing could possibly go wrong with this design.

To borrow a pompous political cliché, I will monitor the mower closely on a go forward basis.

 

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