Countdown Timers and Self-Stopping Hot Water Kettles Help Writers

I have a long history of spacing out crucial activities when writing at the computer. I’ve forgotten about water filling up the bathtub, which didn’t have a properly working overflow drain. I’ve burned up two teapots on the stove. I’ve left the bathroom exhaust fan run more than necessary at greater expense. And other events I’d rather not remember.

Because of all these untoward events that have taken my time away from editorial work, I’ve begun to convert many activities into timed events.

I no longer use a teapot on the stove. Instead, I use an electric hot water kettle that shuts off automatically when water begins to boil. I love this thing. I turn it on and I know it is to OK forget about it. I have gained tremendous peace of mind and don’t waste time and money hunting around again for another teapot.

I replaced the wall switch for the bathroom exhaust fan with a mechanical count-down timer.

There are scads of different timers to help prevent mental anguish and ruined propery. Two such devices I’ve found useful are 1) the Woods 50030 Indoor Countdown Timer Outlet and 2) the Belkin Conserve Socket Energy-Saving Outlet with Timer. Each provides a different amount of time for count down. Se the time and press a button. whatever is plugged in — such as a heating pad == will turn off automatically.

Overall, these devices are becoming so prolific and affordable that incorporating them into the writing life is easy.

As for drawing water into the bathtub. Well, I’ve switched mostly to showers where I am present most of the time. Otherwise, I have a hard and fast rule. When drawing the water, I can never be near a computer.

— Bruce Miller

Dropbox Drawback with Kindle

My elderly neighbor tried on her own to update her Kindle 2nd Edition. Desparate, she gave me a call. Sure enough, she was having problems because the Kindle was having problems. Once I got those problems resolved, it was time to apply the software update by copying the file from the computer to the Kindle via USB connection. Alas, it would not work. Every attempt at copying resulted in an error message on the Windows 7 computer stating that properties of the file might be lost. Even the Amazon helper on the phone with me was stumped. We both did some fast research and discovered the problem. For reasons unknown, downloading the update file (*.bin) into a Dropbox folder was creating the error. The Amazon helper suggested there is some sort of untoward interaction between Dropbox and Amazon’s DRM (digital rights management). Once I downloaded the file into a non-Dropbox folder the update proceeded without a problem. Could this happen to other files? Maybe. Something to keep in mind if you run into a similar problem.

Wireless Switches For Faster Action

When I’m ready to get down on my big computer I want the dual monitors to be on by the time I get into my chair. The chair is on the opposite side of the room’s entrance.

To fix this problem I spent about $20 for a wireless, remote switch. I have the remote switch next to the door. When I walk in I push a button and the remote switch turns on power to the monitors. By the time I’m in my chair the monitors are on and ready to go.

In the operating system I had to set the monitors to never turn off when on AC power even when not in use. This is not a problem, though, because I click the off button on the way out and the monitors turn off.

In similar fashion, I have an HD radio in the basement tuned to BBC World Service. (In Seattle we can get BBC World Service on a digital FM station). When I enter the basement to work, I click a button on a remote switch to turn on the radio and by the time I’m engaged in basement activity, I’m catching up on world news.

There are scads of remote wireless switches from which to choose. The Woods 13569 Indoor Plug-In Wireless Remote Control w/ 3 Outlets, White is just one example.

A variation of wireless switches are motion detectors. You could replace the wireless switch with a motion detector turn on power to monitors automatically as you enter the room.

Slick Trick for Backup Internet

Being a writer these days usually means living and working online. What if your home Internet goes down? You could always go off to a coffee shop or Starbucks. But that is not always convenient, especially if you also use a desktop computer.

There are multiple ways to have a backup Internet, such as turning your smart phone into a hotspot — if technically possible with the blessing of your carrier.

Other options are to use accessible wifi signals in your neighborhood. Let’s say you live within range of a public library hotspot and you have legitimate access through your library card. That might mean getting on your porch with your laptop computer a usable signal. That is not always convenient if using a desktop computer.

I solved this problem by getting an outdoor device that will connect to the remote wifi hotspot. I run an ethernet cable from the device into the house and plug into the computer (or switch, which the computer plugs into). In essence, I have an outdoor antenna — similar to an outdoor TV antenna — for best reception (and transmission). Power to the device is delivered through the ethernet cable, so there is no additional wire to run outside. (This is known as POE — power over ethernet.)

The device I use is a SunRise Waterproof Wireless Outdoor CPE (customer provided equipment; Amazon ASIN #B00KVWAAIY
). This device has several modes. It could be used as an access point if you wanted outdoor wifi. For backup, I’m using the device’s “Wireless ISP” mode. In this mode, the device works as a wifi client (for sending and receiving) and as a router.

A page that shows signal strength helps you aim the device for best signal strength and quality.

In my case, I’ve made arrangements with a neighbor who has a different Internet source than mine. (I provide some tech support in exchange for access into his protected wifi.) If my Internet goes down, hopefully his has not and I can still do critical tasks.

I consider this method an extension of what I’ve written about extensively in my e-book MobileWriter: Working from Anywhere I focus a lot on infrastructure and power.

— Bruce Miller

xfinity hotspot tip

If you have a Comcast (xfinity) Internet account, you also have access to the xfinity wifi hotspots anywhere you find them.

Once you connect to a xfinity wifi hotspot you typically are redirected to a Comcast login page. However, if your computer or other device has connected before, Comcast sometimes recognizes the device and does not require login.

This Comcast feature is a nice perk for Comcast subscribers. However, some Comcast subscribers have connected to xifnity hotspots but were unable to load any web page, including the Comcast login page. In the Chrome browser this message often appears: “DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NO_INTERNET”.

The solution for a Windows computer and an Apple (Macbook Pro) computer was to remove the Google DNS numbers of and and either 1) allow the DNS numbers to be retrieved automatically or 2) insert different numbers manually. The different numbers that were manually put into the computers where these: and These are the two default Comcast DNS servers.

Not surprisingly, Comcast support was of no help figuring out the solution.