When Goldilocks decided to break into the Three Bears’ house (a felony in many states, but we’ll let that pass), the first thing she did was check out their breakfast porridge.
Daddy Bear’s cereal, history records, was too hot; Mother Bear’s, too cold; while Baby Bear’s was “just right.”
Leaving aside the conundrum of the divergent temperatures—surely it was all cooked in the same pot?—it is to Goldilocks’s credit that she cared about a foodstuff being served at the correct temperature. Too few people do.
Coffee in particular is almost universally drunk either too hot (ruins the flavor) or not hot enough (just unpleasant).
Early in the last decade, Clay Alexander, a California-based serial inventor and self-confessed “obsessive coffee lover,” decided to build a mug that would ensure his coffee was, like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right—and stayed that way. Which in coffee’s case, Ember says, is anywhere in a range of 120 to 145 degrees.
In 2016, Clay—and what a great name for someone getting into the pottery business—introduced Ember, the world’s first temperature-controlled mug.
Once charged up, Ember is able to keep coffee for up to 90 minutes at a temperature the drinker pre-defined on an app. It isn’t an insulated mug, note, but a mug with its own concealed heating element and control system.
Beautifully made from a soft-touch ceramic over a stainless-steel core and packed with hidden electronics, the Ember Mug was—and remains—mightily expensive for a coffee mug, ranging from $130 to $180. Even for a smart mug, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
But in the six years a pair of Ember Mugs have been in use chez Landing Gear, it has not only been one of your columnist’s all-time-favorite gadgets but has wowed dozens of visitors. “Is this mug haunted, or am I going nuts?” asked one. “We’ve been talking for an hour, and my coffee’s still hot. It’s spooky.”
The technology inside an Ember is extraordinary. There are four sensors to ensure accurate temperature control and liquid-level detection, an auto-sleep function that shuts the mug down when it’s empty, a pretty capacious lithium-ion battery, and a microprocessor-controlled heating system—plus Bluetooth.
Perhaps cleverest is that your drink is at a consistent temperature, rather than hotter towards the heating element at the bottom. This, says Ember, is due to “a convection current at the molecular level [that] circulates your hot beverage from top to bottom, so each sip is perfectly uniform.” And so it is.
If there is one downside to Ember, it’s that while a mug—they make a 10-ounce and a giant 14-ounce—is ideal for regular drip coffee, for many people it’s too much and too caloric for a milky brew such as a cappuccino and latte. Italians in particular find mugs of milky coffee somewhat gross, and in the coffee nirvanas of Australia and New Zealand, home of the flat white, serving sizes are also quite small.
Hence this new Ember, the six-ounce Ember Cup, which is the ideal serving, we feel, for an espresso-based drink. While a latte made with whole milk will tend to skin over after 90 minutes of being kept hot in an Ember Mug, the Cup allows for two coffees in a row, at the crucial just-right temperature to the last sip.
The Ember Cup may not be the last electronic crockery from Clay Alexander. We happen to know he hopes one day to introduce heated plates too. Baby Bear’s parents will doubtless be thrilled to hear this.
MASTER & DYNAMIC MW75
Those who really love audio often like to have a range of headphones for different moods or situations. It’s like guitarists with their instruments or aesthetics-minded spectacle wearers with their array of frames.
Landing Gear’s headphone armory includes many of the models we have covered these past several months, from the reliable, lightweight Bose QuietComfort 45 to the quirky British Flare Audio E-Prototype, to the super-HiFi $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909, to, in our first column, the MW08 Sport from the classy New York brand Master & Dynamic.
Now M&D has their best-ever over-ear model, the MW75. At a reasonable, we feel, $599, it is a riposte to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with their previous top model, the retro-styled $499 MW65.
But the MW75 is really something. The styling is the least retro that founder Jonathan Levine has signed off on to date, with a mix of traditional and modern materials—from soft lamb’s leather to anodized aluminum and tempered glass—amounting to a look quite reminiscent of the popular Bowers & Wilkins range from England.
The M&D product is more substantially built, however, and the sound from the custom 40-mm. Beryllium-coated drivers is supremely smooth, refined, and powerful. Glorious. The adaptive active noise cancellation is also a joy, automatically adjusting the level to match your surroundings. The function is based on input from eight microphones.
While writing this column, a construction crew’s gasoline generator was running all day within 50 yards of our desk. Not only did the MW75’s active-noise cancellation effectively kill the all-day noise dead without music playing, but the headphones were comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time.
XGIMI HALO PROJECTOR
There are portable projectors aplenty in this world, but we’ve yet to find one as sharp and bright as this, the Halo, from Xgimi in Chengdu, China.
It’s not a full-on home-theater projector—it’s bright, but not that bright. For anyone, however, who wants a projector to watch content at 4K resolution in a pop-up fashion—in the bedroom, the yard, a hotel room, holiday home, a business meeting, even on a camping trip—we can’t recommend the Halo too highly.
To be able to show a whole movie on one battery charge is remarkable, and the built-in, five-watt-per-channel stereo audio is particularly noteworthy.
The Halo can also project, especially in a darkened room or outside at night, to a screen (or more likely a white wall) as big as 300 inches, which should make any outdoor movie night work.
In the original, 1965 version of The Flight of the Phoenix—with James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger, and Ernest Borgnine—a plane crashes in a desert, after which the survivors build a new aircraft from the broken bits of the original.
The Flight of the Phoenix often comes to mind with Lego. We buy complex models, build them for or with children, only to watch them smash the creations up into hundreds of parts, which then intermingle with the bricks of other models until there is no chance of ever re-creating the expensive construction sets we originally bought.
Theoretically, a kid could keep the parts for each model in a separate box, quarantined from other kits of parts, but if such a kid has ever existed, we would not be keen to meet them.
A few years ago, Leonid Alexandrov, a young I.T. genius in Moscow, working on the equivalent of Google Maps for Yandex, the Russian search company, was one of the hundreds of thousands of parents aware of how Lego sets meld frustratingly into one another.
Except he resolved to do something about it, and started work on an A.I. app, Brickit, which, using your smartphone camera, recognizes the most common 1,500 bricks in Lego’s range and, when pointed at a random pile of bricks, comes up with new models to make with them.
It was an intense feat of I.T., Alexandrov tells AIR MAIL from Tbilisi, Georgia, where, in common with so many Russians, he moved his family and his company in February. Brickit uses A.I., machine learning, and neural networks to do its magic, as well as relying, like other community-dependent apps we have covered lately, on human users to help improve its functionality.
In a few months, Alexandrov says, Brickit has gained an incredible 1.5 million users worldwide. It is aimed at parents with children of three to seven years old, says the inventor, as, past that, kids tend to get inventive enough and have the concentration to design their own plastic creations.
We tried it with a test family with a six-year-old and can report that Brickit certainly works, albeit not flawlessly. Like Cheezus, the cheese-recognition app from France we looked at in the last column, you need to allow for its quirks and be open to the acumen of the tech rather than be too skeptical. But it’s highly recommended for somewhat geeky entertainment. “We think the best feature of Brickit is that it unites kids and parents in creative collaboration,” says Alexandrov.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology