Cures for the common tech woes

 

The old plastic bag trick!

The old plastic bag trick!

A bit off-topic from the typical new media post…but the New York Times’ Paul Boutin wrote a great article last week about low-tech solutions to high-tech problems. There are some very cool tricks! His opening solution:

If a credit card doesn’t register when you slide it in a grocery store machine, wrap it in a plastic bag and run it again.

I’m proud to say that I already knew this one, but I was completely unaware of many of Boutin’s similarly wacky tricks. The Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks is “urawaza.” The article contests that these urawazas begin to surface more and more in a weak economy, because people start to think out of the box to solve their problems.

Even if you don’t use these tricks, I think we all know that you could make a slew of geeky friends at your next Silicon Valley happy hour by busting out these tech urawazas! Maybe they’ll work, and maybe they won’t…but won’t it be fun to try?

Here we go, directly from the NYT…thanks Paul Boutin!:

Cellphone Losing Charge

If your cellphone loses its battery charge too quickly while idle in your pocket, part of the problem may be that your pocket is too warm.

“Cellphone batteries do indeed last a bit longer if kept cool,” says Isidor Buchanan, editor of the Battery University Web site. The 98.6-degree body heat of a human, transmitted through a cloth pocket to a cellphone inside, is enough to speed up chemical processes inside the phone’s battery. That makes it run down faster. To keep the phone cooler, carry it in your purse or on your belt.

This same method can be used to preserve your battery should you find yourself away from home without your charger. Turn off the phone and put it in the hotel refrigerator overnight to slow the battery’s natural tendency to lose its charge.

Remote Car Key

Suppose your remote car door opener does not have the range to reach your car across the parking lot. Hold the metal key part of your key fob against your chin, then push the unlock button. The trick turns your head into an antenna, says Tim Pozar, a Silicon Valley radio engineer.

Mr. Pozar explains, “You are capacitively coupling the fob to your head. With all the fluids in your head it ends up being a nice conductor. Not a great one, but it works.” Using your head can extend the key’s wireless range by a few car lengths.

Dry Ink Cartridge

If your printer’s ink cartridge runs dry near the end of an important print job, remove the cartridge and run a hair dryer on it for two to three minutes. Then place the cartridge back into the printer and try again while it is still warm.

“The heat from the hair dryer heats the thick ink, and helps it to flow through the tiny nozzles in the cartridge,” says Alex Cox, a software engineer in Seattle. “When the cartridge is almost dead, those nozzles are often nearly clogged with dried ink, so helping the ink to flow will let more ink out of the nozzles.” The hair dryer trick can squeeze a few more pages out of a cartridge after the printer declares it is empty.

Cellphone in the Toilet

It could happen to anyone: you dropped your cellphone in the toilet. Take the battery out immediately, to prevent electrical short circuits from frying your phone’s fragile internals. Then, wipe the phone gently with a towel, and shove it into a jar full of uncooked rice.

It works for the same reason you may keep few grains of rice in your salt shaker to keep the salt dry. Rice has a high chemical affinity for water — that means the molecules in the rice have a nearly magnetic attraction for water molecules, which will be soaked up into the rice rather than beading up inside the phone.

It is a low-tech version of the “Do Not Eat” desiccant packets that may have been packed in the box the phone came in, to keep moisture away from the circuitry during shipping and storage.

Longer Wi-Fi Reach

If your home Wi-Fi router doesn’t reach the other end of the house, don’t rush out to buy more wireless gear to stretch your network. Instead, build a six-inch-high passive radio wave reflector from kitchen items, like an aluminum cookie sheet.

Follow the instructions at freeantennas.com/projects/template. Place the completed reflector — a small, curved piece of metal that reflects radio waves just like a satellite TV dish — behind your Wi-Fi router. It focuses the router’s energy in one direction — toward the other end of the house — rather than letting it dissipate its strength in a full circle. No cables, no batteries, no technical knowledge required. Yet it can easily double the range of your network.

Dirty Discs

You need to clean a skipping DVD or CD, but as a bachelor you don’t have any sissy cleaning fluids? Soak a washcloth with vodka or mouthwash.

Alcohol is a powerful solvent, perfectly capable of dissolving fingerprints and grime on the surface of a disc. A $5 bottle of Listerine in your medicine cabinet may do the job as effectively as a $75 bottle of DVD cleaning fluid. Also, swabbing your copy of “Lost Weekend” with Stoli instead of fussing with a Discwasher kit is a lot more manly.

Too Much Flash

If your cellphone’s built-in camera flash is much too bright, washing out photos, tape a small piece of paper over the flash. Experiment with different colors and thicknesses of paper to tone down the flash from superbright white to a more pleasing glow for evening photos.

Crashed Hard Drive

If — no, make that when — your PC’s hard drive crashes and can’t be read, don’t be too quick to throw it out. Stick it in the freezer overnight.

“The trick is a real and proven, albeit last resort, recovery technique for some kinds of otherwise-fatal hard-drive problems,” writes Fred Langa on his Windows Secrets Web site. Many hard drive failures are caused by worn parts that no longer align properly, making it impossible to read data from the drive. Lowering the drive’s temperature causes its metal and plastic internals to contract ever so slightly. Taking the drive out of the freezer, and returning it to room temperature can cause those parts to expand again.

That may help free up binding parts, Mr. Langa explains, or at least let a failing electrical component remain within specs long enough for you to recover your essential data.

 

Do you have any cool tricks? Post them here in the comments so we can all benefit from your resourcefulness.

 

-Sharon

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2 Responses

  1. sharon, this oh so cool! i always enjoy reading about macgyver-ish ways to overcome inconveniences, so thanks for posting!

  2. Ah-ha! I knew wearing my phone and blackberry in-holster = good idea. One on each side. Yea, that’s right. Function AND fashion.

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