More Mac Efficiency

by Deborah Shadovitz

Drinking while driving your Mac

Written Feb 2001; published only here

I have a confession to make. I drink at my Mac. (So right about now you're either reprimanding me or nonchalantly saying something to the effect of, "so, who doesn't?")

Of course I know better than to risk spilling drinks anywhere near my beloved Macs. And heck... my Macs are my livlihood! So what's up? The simple truth is, sooner or later we all give in and want that water, soda, or iced tea enough to risk spillage.

Fortunately, necessity being the mother of invention, I found a solution to the drink-spilling worry. I'm sure I'm not alone in the urge to splurge with a drink here and there, so I figure its about time I share my brilliant find.

Deb's Drink by your Mac Solution

Here it is: my brilliant drink solution.
See it? It's that Rubbermaid cup (3123 16 oz Sipp'n Saver™ Tumbler) over to the side.

Deb's desk with Rubbermaid kid's cup by the keyboard.

I had this cup from the days when I picked my friend's young son up at school and always had juice for him. One day it struck me that if it was designed to be spillproof I could bring it into my computer area. When the straw is down (and the lid is on correctly), nothing spills out.

Here's the test.

Rubbermaid sip-it cup on its side.Of course, I tested this cup and its cover on my kitchen counter before ever bringing it near my Mac. You should test yours too. Maybe even each time you refill it.

I'm sure if you've got kids you know the trick. But for those of you who don't, just lift the straw to drink, then put it back down. Of course, you shouldn't move the cup anywhere over your Mac or keyboard and should not be leaning over the keys while you drink. Instead, lean back a bit, rest a bit, let your eyes move away from the screen a moment, and sip.

There are other sip-it staw cups too. I prefer this one because it is easiest to clean and holds an adult sized amount. You can also order extra staws, which are inexpensive and well worth having. I've also tried covers that go on soda cans, but when you open them to drink you're at risk. With this particular cup, even when the straw is up, its spillage is very little or none at all. (And this cup fits perfectly in automobile cup holders too.)

You can find this and other cups at the Rubbermaid site, choosing Kitchen and then Servin' Saver® Litterless® Juice Boxes. I hear Rubbermaid is newly coming to the UK (and more of Europe?) and I'm not sure about other places. If you happen to know of a similar cup by any other company in other parts of the world (I write from the US), please share this information by posting it below.


What to do when you've got a hot drink, like on a cold wintery day? One solution is a travel mug. Not the cardboard kind with the flimsy plastic lid, but the real ones with a handle you press to temporarily open a small sipping opening. I got one of these at the Apple Store. However, I've also seen better. I am not sure where you'd buy it, but here's the only mug I let near my equipment. It has an extra-wide base and non-slip bottom. There's a protective lid with just a tiny hole to drink through. And it has an insulating cover too. (I took this picture on my carpet just so the cup shows up better. I don't normally keep it there when using it. The mug is empty in this shot, too, so it is not a spill test.) I don't fully trust this mug not to leak when sideways; it's just nice that changes are that it won't fall.

Coffee mug top view  Coffee mug side view

Other Precauctions

There are other precauctions I take too. One is that my PowerBook is on a CoolPad, so it's off the table top. If the drink did spill, it might splash the keyboard, PCMCIA slot, or such, but the bottom and media bays will stay dry.

The other is that my desktop Mac, CD burner, Internet Router, and printer are safely under my desk. They are placed so any spillage at either the front or back of my desk shouldn't hit the equipment.

True Spilled Drink Stories

I am proud to honestly be able to say that I've never spilled a drink on any computer equipment. But I've witnessed the effects of several spill accidents. I've seen the effects of coffee, tea, soda, and orange juice spilled on keyboards. I also saw the effect of a drink landing on a PowerBook keyboard. So in case you're not sold on not drinking by your Mac - and aren't inclined to look silly with a kid's sip-it cup, I'm regaling you with spilled drink stories.

One spill shorted out the ADB port on the right side of the extended keyboard. Power came through into the left ADB port, but didn't make it out at the right. As a result, a mouse would no longer work when plugged into that keyboard. This pretty much killed the keyboard's use. (Keyboard cost at least $100.00 back then.)

When another spill on an extended ADB keyboard stopped keys from working, I took off all the key covers and ran it through my dishwasher on the top shelf. That fixed the keyboard but the owner (AKA father of the young spiller) was never happy with the feel of the keys after that.

In one case I received a call from a distraught user whose Mac felt like she was going crazy. She'd double-click her hard drive icon to get to a file and it would take a very l-o-n-g time for the hard drive to open. And when it did open, every folder on the hard drive was opened so there were tons of files to scroll past. All folders had to be closed. Other odd things happened too. After a few phone calls about odd behavior I realized the Mac was acting as if the Option key was being pressed. "Did you spill anything on the lower left or right corner of the keyboard today?" I asked, certain that must be it. Nope, came the answer. Hummm... more thinking. Software to test. I asked again, "are you sure you didn't spill anything?" To make the long redundant part of this story short, this woman finally recalled that she had spilled coffee the day before. I knew it! She was certain the coffee had evaporated and didn't connect the spill to the problem. But the liquid under the Option key was a conductor, so as far as the Mac was concerned that key was pressed. This spill had a happy ending though. I just removed the Option key and one key to either side of it, then sprayed cleaner/degreaser on the bottom key mechanism. (You can get this spray at Radio Shack or your local electronics store. Just make sure it clearly states that it is safe for electronics.) It took a few treatments, but the keyboard returned to normal.

In another case, a user spilled tea on the keyboard. This time though the user knew to take out her can of cleaner/degreaser, remove the keys, then spray. (Well, at least she knew better than to spill coffee again. <g>)

The case of the spill on the PowerBook? No good news there. Dead PowerBook. (Should I mention that the owner/spiller never backed up the files?)

A friend just told me about one of his clients. The man was so frustrated by his no-longer-functioning keyboard that he tossed it at the monitor. "...he laid into the mac with the keyboard, severally damaging both in the process."


I'm not encouraging you to eat or drink near your Mac or other computer equipment. I'm not even saying its ok to. But if you're so-inclined, at least drink safely. One thing I can promise: you will knock over your drink someday - and its not worth the gamble.

Do you have other no-spill tips? Please share them with us below.

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