A First World Problem

Prologue

I am a coffee drinker. I suspect many of you are as well. I also enjoy a cup of hot tea on occasion. However, I very rarely just sit down and drink a cup of one or the other for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. I will consume a hot cuppa with my breakfast but that’s usually just on the weekends as my weekday breakfast is a smoothie. I mostly drink coffee, and that most often while sitting at my desk, either at home (as I work away on one of my Macs) or at my day job (on a “DULL” Windows PC [gagging noise]).

Here’s my problem. I like my coffee hot. The hotter, the better. Just shy of burn-my-tongue hot. If it gets much cooler than that, I don’t enjoy it as much. When I’m sitting at the computer I’ll often get so engrossed in what I’m doing (Mac) or frustrated by the experience (Windows) that I forget to drink my coffee while it’s still hot from the pot. When I do pick up the cup to take a drink, it’s cooled down too much. What to do?

Well, at home I do have a Mr. Coffee mug-warming hot plate, so I can set my ceramic mug of hot coffee on it and the coffee stays hot until the last swallow. But I still had the problem at the day job. And there’s not much that’s worse than drinking cold coffee while using Windows.

Sometime in 2018 I became aware of a new product that would provide a solution to my day-job problem. Yes, I could have bought another hot plate, but being a gadget geek, the new Ember temperature-controlled Ceramic Mug intrigued me.

Ember had first launched a temperature-controlled travel mug in 2015. I saw both the Travel Mug and Ceramic Mug for sale at my local Starbucks. I found them on Amazon and put the Ceramic Mug on my wish list.

I did not buy it right away because I wanted to find out more, read some reviews, and, quite frankly, the retail price of $80 was beyond an impulse buy for me.

Then Jesus made it possible for me to get one. That is, I received enough Amazon gift cards for Christmas to make it possible for me to order one without spending my own dollars.

So, I’ve been using it at work to keep my coffee hot while I suffer through using Windows. There have been many reviews of the Ember Ceramic Mug all over the interwebs, so I’m not going to do another one here. This is just my story and my observations.

Ember Mug sitting on charging coaster on a desk.

My Ember Mug keeping coffee hot on my day job desk.

Act I

As I opened and unpacked my Ember mug I was impressed by the quality of the packaging and product. It reminded me of the experience of opening and setting up many of my Apple products. I later read at their website that Ember employs former Apple designers and engineers.

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There is minimal documentation on paper in the box. What’s there is printed on circular paper. The instructions are a single sheet and easy to follow. There even are stickers! The product itself consists of the temperature-controlled mug, a charging coaster, which I call a saucer, and a power supply/cord combo.

Act II

I inaugurated the use of my Ember Mug at the day job office. After all, I have Mr. Coffee to keep any ceramic mug heated at home. As I began to set it up I immediately ran into a snag, but not one with the Ember Mug. There was not an available electrical outlet under my desk. The closest outlet wasn’t close enough for the saucer (charging coaster) to be on my desk. So for the first week I set it up on a bookshelf a few feet away to the side of my desk. I could charge the mug on the shelf, but it wasn’t close enough to reach while sitting at my desk. This became a good testing scenario for determining how long the mug would keep a drink hot on a battery charge.

As it turns out, I was a little disappointed. The battery only lasted about 30 minutes in my first test. I was only about halfway through the cup of coffee (the Ember mug capacity is 10 ounces).

I thought, “that can’t be right”. The Ember website claims the Ceramic Mug battery will last approximately one hour. Either it wasn’t actually charged all the way, or I accidentally turned it off in the iOS app, or I received a lemon (and not the kind you put in your cup of Earl Gray, hot).

As I was using it at my day job, I didn’t have the liberty to give it the attention of testing, being caught up in all the glorious “fun” that is Windows 7. So the following week I got the electrical outlet issue resolved by adding another power strip under my desk so I could have the saucer (charging coaster) on my desk and proceeded to use the Ember Mug and even got some more “testing” accomplished.

For my next cup of coffee I made sure the mug’s battery was fully charged, filled it up, started the stopwatch on my iPhone, and proceeded to go back to work with the mug off of the saucer (charging coaster). Eventually, I got a notification on my Watch that the Ember Mug’s battery needed to be charged.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug recharge notification.

Time to recharge notification on my Apple Watch.

I checked the stopwatch and it had lasted 55 minutes and 30 seconds. When I checked the battery level in the iOS app, it was at 10%. It probably would have lasted at least an hour if I let it go until it was drained. I had almost finished my cup of joe and it was just as hot as when I started — problem solved.

Act III

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of a hot cup of coffee at my work desk ever since. While it’s great to have every sip be 135°F, the Ember Mug is not without some fiddleyness.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug perfect temperature notification.

The Apple Watch notification that the Ember Mug has reached coffee’s perfect temperature.

The care and feeding instructions are explicit about cleaning — do not immerse; hand wash only. That in and of itself is not unexpected. Common sense would prevent me from putting an electronic gadget in the dishwasher or a sink full of sudsy water. But there are further instructions warning against putting the mug back on the saucer if there is any moisture on the bottom of the mug. The bottom has a double ring of metal contacts that connect with a couple of prongs on the saucer — this is how it charges. Those rings are surrounded both in and out by a rubbery, non-slick material. The potential problem is that the material is either a bit porous or even when hand washing I was getting enough water on the bottom for it to gather a bit in the very small spaces between the rubber and the metal rings. It appeared dry to my eye but after I picked up the mug to get another cup of joe after it was sitting on the saucer for a while recharging, there was a ring of condensation on the saucer.

So I have developed a hand-washing routine that minimizes moisture exposure to the foot of the mug. If I think I’ve accidentally got water on the rubbery bottom, a short blast of compressed air around the metal contact rings forces the water out of the small crevices.

Lastly, I had to get used to trusting the device to manage itself. It must have some smarts built in because it knows when there is liquid in the mug and when it’s empty. It will automatically turn the heater on and off accordingly. At first I was using the iOS app to manually turn off the mug heater when I finished a cup of coffee. Then when I filled it up again with hot coffee I would have to remember to turn it back on. If I forgot, it would not keep the coffee hot. I forgot more than once and discovered it when taking a lukewarm sip. That taught me to just leave it alone once the heater was on and let the firmware manage the heater. Since then, I’ve never had anything but a hot sip, no matter how long the coffee has been in the mug.

Epilogue

I’m not sure I would have purchased this gadget with my own money, but I have surely enjoyed having it on my work desk at the day job. Having hot coffee in my mug no matter how long it sits has made using Windows just a little more tolerable.

Easter Wallpaper for iPhone

Ever since my first iPhone, a 3GS, I have loved creating and setting custom wallpapers for both lock and home screens, especially for holidays. In the beginning I would usually just photograph something I liked or thought would work with the iPhone camera and set that photo as my wallpaper. For instance, a bouquet of flowers from my nephew’s wedding, or a needlepoint table runner with a turkey for Thanksgiving. There were others, of course—Santa Claus and snow man decorations for use as Christmas/winter wallpapers—but I eventually began converting desktop wallpapers into iOS wallpapers (you see, my wallpaper habit actually began with my first color Macintosh, a PowerBook 190c, so I have loads of holiday desktops to choose from). Eventually I began creating my own from scratch for the latest model iPhones I’ve owned (the X and XS).

Three iPhone XS devices, each with Easter-themed wallpaper.

It has occurred to me that maybe some of you might like some custom wallpapers for your iPhones and may not have the chops to create your own or know where to go to find what you want. Even if you do know where to go, perhaps you are not finding exactly what you are looking for. So I’ve decided to share my custom created iPhone wallpapers here from time to time. Maybe they won’t be what you are looking for, either, but maybe you’ll like them enough to use them … or not.

I’m starting with some I made for Easter. There is a lock screen wallpaper with a single Easter egg centered on a black field (I went through a phase of creating a number of lock screen wallpapers that were all black with a single image in the center), another for the lock screen with that same egg centered on grass, thirdly a copy of that same grassy egg but with some shading around the edges, and a fourth—a blurry photo of jelly beans—that I use for my home screen. A blurry background behind the icons makes them pop. They are sized specifically for the iPhone X and XS, and will work for any previous generation iPhone with a smaller screen. I suspect they will work just fine for the XS Max as well, but I don’t have one of those bigger iPhones to see them on.

Easter Egg X Parallax iPX     Easter Egg on Grass iPX Parallax     Easter Egg on Shaded Grass iPX Parallax     Blurry Jelly Beans Parallax iPX

You can download the full resolution image by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail of your choice. If you want all four, click/tap here to get a .zip archive of them all.

Let me know in the comments if you download any and how you like them.

Happy World Backup Day!

Please join me in reciting the World Backup Day pledge.

“I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31. I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day — friends don’t let friends go without a backup.”

If, like me, you have a backup strategy implemented, then take this opportunity to make sure it’s working correctly — restore some files from your backup.

If you don’t have a backup plan in place, I can recommend a great ebook; Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, by Joe Kissell. If you’re not a Mac user, sorry, I don’t have a book recommendation for you.

And don’t forget to backup your iPhones and iPads (and iPod touches, if you have them), too. Turn on iCloud Backup or connect your iOS device to your Mac (or Windows PC) and back it up with iTunes.

As some wise guy once said, “Don’t be an April fool. Be prepared. Backup your files on March 31.” All I can add to that piece of wisdom is to continue backing up your files every day of the year. 😃

Black Friday at Apple

Both my wife and I need new Macs. We each currently drive a 21.5-inch iMac; hers is a mid-2010 and mine is a mid-2011 (neither support macOS Mojave 10.14). We were planning on purchasing new iMac desktops sometime in the next few months, but holiday plans put a monkey with a wrench in the way. We will be traveling for the holidays and since both of us have work to do that can’t be completed on iOS, we decided to purchase a MacBook as a satellite travel Mac for us both instead.

I had been looking at the new MacBook Air announced in October as a possibility for a week or so since we made the decision when Apple announced their shopping event for November 23 through 26 where qualified Mac purchases would include a $200 Apple gift card. Even though it’s not technically a Black Friday discount, the gift card value exceeded the local government discount I could get. So we decided to buy on Black Friday.

I opened the Apple Store app on my iPhone early Friday morning and placed the order through the special shopping event links within the app, tapping through Shop, Apple Shopping Event, scrolling down to Macs, tapping on MacBook Air and finding the new models there immediately below the header stating “get a $200 Apple Store Gift Card when you buy select Mac models today.” It appeared as if the new MacBook Air was one of those, since it was listed right below that. So I went through the configuration process, found out it was available in store for pickup that day, and placed the order.

We were visiting relatives for Thanksgiving and planned a bit of a longer trip home in order to pick up our new Mac. After a lunch of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, we headed out and arrived at Apple La Encantada in Tucson, Arizona mid afternoon. The store was packed, as expected, but after checking in with the associate at the door, it only took a minute or so for someone to arrive to help us pick up our purchase. As Carlos, the associate helping us, was finalizing the process, I asked about the gift card.

Customers and associates in a busy Apple retail store.

Carlos helping us check out with our new MacBook Air. My wife Lucinda is in the lower left corner.

He checked his list and as it turns out the only MacBook Air that qualified was the 2017 model that was still on sale for $999. I showed Carlos on my iPhone the way the special event section of the Apple Store app made it appear as if the new MacBook Air was part of the offer (if I had scrolled down to the old Air in the list I would have found the label “Special Offer – See in bag”).

He got his manager and I showed her. She agreed that it did seem to visually imply what I had assumed, based on the way the new MacBook Airs were listed first, and offered to pass that feedback up the chain. But, of course, they couldn’t just decide to ignore the corporate policy and give us the gift card anyway just because I didn’t scroll far enough.

We didn’t want the older MacBook Air, and the lack of the promotional gift card wasn’t going be a deal-breaker. But Carlos and his manager did suggest we could complete the purchase pickup and then immediately return it. They’d refund my credit card and then we could repurchase the same Mac using one of the discount programs we did qualify for (local government employee for me and educational for my wife, who teaches at our local community college). So that’s what we did. But the best customer service of any retail store chain I’ve ever experienced was not finished yet.

After the initial online purchase was completed and “picked up,” and then subsequently returned, as we started the repurchase of the MacBook Air, Carlos looked through all the special discount buying options Apple offers and applied the one with the biggest percentage off—more than what either of us actually qualified for—amounting to almost $150 off the retail price.

Wife and husband happy customers at Apple Retail Store

My wife Lucinda and I are happy owners of a new MacBook Air.

So a big shout out to Carlos and his manager at Apple La Encantada for going the extra mile in the midst of a busy shopping day to make our Black Friday one we’ll remember every time we use our new, discounted, MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018).

Mac geek with new purchase outside Apple retail store

Bazza the Mac geek outside Apple La Encantada.

Get Emojified!

Some time ago a client with both an iPhone and a Mac, who enjoyed using emoji on her iPhone, asked if there was a way to use emoji characters on her Mac. My answer to her was, “Why yes, Virginia, there is a Great Pumpkin!” Well, maybe not in those exact words, but this paraphrased quote is seasonally appropriate and in keeping with the theme of my latest Bazz MacGeek Quick Tip. Here, see for yourself.

Sorry for not posting last week. I was preparing for my local computer user group meeting (the Mountain View Computer User Group) and ran out of time. The meeting, that my fellow geek, Mike McLain, and I ran was yesterday and we covered the topic of “YouTube, why is it worth watching.” I had prepared this tutorial screencast so as to have something to demo how to upload and put into a playlist. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading (and watching). Please post your comments below and I’ll be back again next week with another blog post.

10 Timeless Typing Tips: the Missing Post

I started working on a 10-part series of posts of tips for better typing on a Mac this week. Actually, it began as a single post with 10 tips, but it gradually ballooned beyond my capacity to get it all done before my self-imposed posting deadline. That’s when I changed my mind, thinking I had enough material for ten week’s worth of posts, and decided to break it down to one tip per week.

The 10 tips are from a presentation I did for my local computer user group back in 2004, which was essentially a book review of Robin P. William’s The Mac is Not A typewriter.

The Mac is Not a typewriter book cover

However, as I progressed through the old Keynote slide deck and converted the content into blog posts, I realized after a few hours that I had quoted the book directly a number of times as part of that presentation. So I changed my mind again and decided I didn’t need to go to the trouble of creating my own versions of these tips — and risking plagiarizing Ms. Williams — I could just tell you about the book and provide you with a link. So here goes.

As a graphic designer and a self-proclaimed Mac geek I was already familiar with many aspects of typography that this style manual addresses when I became aware of it. But it was (and still is) a delightful read. Ms. Williams approach to writing about design and technology is entertaining as well as educational. She explains why using the typographic principles outlined in her book will help you create better documents. It’s easy to read and can be digested in convenient “helpings”.

My favorite tip — and my most frustrating pet peeve about text I receive to be put into a design — is “Use only one space after periods, colons, exclamation points, question marks, quotation marks — any punctuation that separates two sentences.” Ms. Williams goes on to explain why in compelling terms while bringing historical and technological context. It may be a hard habit to break, but your written words will look so much better.

It may no longer be in print, but it is still available new and used on Amazon and from the publisher, Peachpit. The tips in the book may be subtle, but they can make a big difference if you spend a lot of time writing for any kind of printed publication and even for the web.

Thanks for reading this week. If you have a copy of The Mac is Not a typewriter or get a copy, let me know in the comments what you think of the book. Maybe share your favorite tip.

I’ve Been Vectorized

Periodically I will share some of my favorite websites, podcasts, videos, and/or blogs I follow to learn about the Apple-centric tech-o-sphere. This is one of those posts. The last time I posted about a podcast was back in October of 2016 after I discovered The Checklist. Today, I’d like to tell you about Vector.

T-Shirt, pin, and stickers with Vector logo

My new Vector T-shirt, pin, and stickers on the dining room table.

Vector is what I call a three-in-one resource by Rene Ritchie from iMore. It’s videos, a podcast, and a blog (or series of articles, if you wish) where Mr. Ritchie provides insight into the world of Apple technology with short, palatable, and entertaining morsels of online media. I say “three-in-one” because his content is provided in any of the three ways in which you want to consume it — as a blog (or article) you read, as a podcast you listen to, or as a video that you watch. I personally subscribe to the Vector channel on YouTube, but you can read, listen, or watch right on iMore.

His latest posts (as of this writing) are reviews of the Watch Series 4 and the iPhone XS and XS Max. They are a little longer than his usual five to 15 minutes, but well worth a look/listen if you are at all interested in the new hardware that Apple introduced on September 12, 2018.

So, check out Vector and let me know what you think in the comments below. As Rene would say, “Thank you so much for reading.”