How to make a DIY smartphone stand for under $1

7816754688_487dd75457_hSmartphone stands are a great way to watch content on your phone without having to hold the phone upright, and there are a ton of different DIY methods for making them. A lot of them are made so that they’ll hold your phone horizontally, but some users want stands that prop up their phones vertically, similar to an iPhone dock from Apple.

If you want to make something similar, I’ve discovered an insanely-cheap method for building a smartphone stand that will prop up your phone vertically. It’s cheap, but it does take a little bit of assembly. Here’s how to do it.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • MiniDV tape case or a regular cassette tape case
  • A handful of pennies
  • Hot glue gun w/ glue sticks
  • Rubber tape
  • Dremel power tool

How to Make It

Technically, just the tape case will do the trick if you want a barebones solution; just open up the case all way and stick your phone in the slot. A MiniDV tape case is the perfect size for most phones, but a regular cassette tape case will do the trick.

However, if you want to take the stand to the next level, you can add a few things to make it perfect:

1. Take your pennies and hot glue gun and glue the pennies inside the case. This adds weight to the stand so that it doesn’t slide around. Pennies aren’t the best option, since they’re currency and all, so if you have any other tiny objects that weigh a lot, you can use those instead.

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2. Next, use the rubber tape to line the stand so that the phone won’t slip around when it’s in the stand. Since my iPhone doesn’t fit perfectly in the slot, I cut out small strips of the rubber tape and glued them into the slot to add a little padding so that my phone would fit perfectly.

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3. Lastly, take your Dremel power tool and use a small drill bit to carve out a small hole on the bottom of the tape case slot so that the phone’s sound can exit through the speaker without it being blocked by the stand.

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Conclusion

It’s a pretty janky-looking smartphone stand, but it’s dirt cheap and it does its job. Plus, it still folds up just like cassette tape does so that you can toss it in your bag and take it with you on the go.

Of course, buying a pre-made smartphone stand may be a good investment if you plan on using it all the time. Good smartphone stands can cost as much as $30, but that’s a small price to pay for something that you’ll use every day into the future.

Who needs newspapers? Just use Flipboard

In case you don’t know, Flipboard is a newsreader app. I’ve had it on my iPhone for some time now, loving the way that it pools together stories from a range of well-known media outlets and presents them to me using a “flip” interface that’s both intuitive and satisfying to use.

When you first run Flipboard, it asks you for your interests. My personal choices include news, UK news, technology, food, and travel but there’s plenty more to choose from including celebrity news, sport, TV and fashion. Flipboard can also link to Facebook, Twitter and various other social sites, presenting friends’ updates alongside the other content.

Flipboard

After several months of use, Flipboard became one of those apps guaranteed to survive every one of my occasional iPhone app clear-outs. So when I recently purchased my first iPad, it was a given that it would be one of the first apps I would install and check out on the new device.

Flipboard on iPad

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It turns out that the difference between brilliant and perfect is an increase in screen real estate. While Flipboard was great when it showed me one story at a time, it now spreads out mixed media (including video) across iPad “pages,” making the experience just like reading a futuristic newspaper. I’m able to scan the headlines, and then drill down into the stories that interest me.

Creating a Flipboard account is free and very easy. In my case I simply linked it to Facebook – a true “one tap” signup. Once you have an account you can “favourite” stories that interest you and create your own Flipboard magazines. I’m not sure I will find a need for this feature but it’s good to know it’s there.

For me, it’s quite enough to have access to all the news stories in a format that is so much like a newspaper. Picking up my iPad and “reading Flipboard” at the end of a working day now brings me that familiar sense of “it’s time to relax and read the paper.” In fact, I often read far enough back to meet the feed of stories that I finished the previous day.

Conclusion

There’s really very little I can find to criticize about Flipboard, it being one of those apps that’s just slotted neatly into my existence. However, one thing I have noticed is that my chosen subject areas tend to feature a lot of stories from The Economist, which requires a subscription if you wish to read a lot of articles on a regular basis. As such, I often find myself tantalised by interesting features that I’m unable to read as I’ve “hit my limit.”

Still, given that Flipboard itself is completely free (a wonder in itself), perhaps I should just pay out for a subscription. After all, with Flipboard in my life, I can’t imagine a time when I’m ever again going to feel the need to pay for a newspaper.

Is Chromecast the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?

chromecastBack in July, Google announced the release of Chromecast — its latest pride and joy to come from the billion-dollar idea factory. The device, which is only about two inches long, works to stream video (or simply screens) from a computer, tablet, or phone, onto one’s TV. Basically, any television with an HDMI port can magically be turned into a smart TV of sorts. Easy, right? And unlike some of Google’s other releases, this one is surprisingly affordable. No subscription or ongoing fees — just a flat $35 to enjoy Chromecast for as many hours as the device will last.

The Setup

Chromcast can be purchased at any local electronics store or even Amazon. Then all that’s required is to plug in the device, and set up the streaming medium from a website Google automatically displays on the TV. Once in place, users click a box in the top right-hand corner of the screen (the “cast” button), and can start viewing. Remember that YouTube video you wanted to show to an entire room of people? Size is no longer a limitation. Or when ready to view Hulu Plus’s “computer only” content, you now have the upper hand.

Other Perks

  • Users can give their Chromecast a customized name.
  • Though Chromecast is optimized for specific websites (like YouTube), any content can still be shown through tab mirroring.
  • Content is streamed via the cloud, not from the device itself, so users are free to use the computer, tablet, or phone, for other tasks without interrupting their program.
  • Chromecast can be setup for multiple devices at once — use whichever one’s the closest.

This brings us to the next question: How did we ever live without it? Seriously, think of all the online TV, movies, and clips we could have been watching. If Google has anything to say about it, we’ll no longer need cable subscriptions, and rather just a strong Internet connection and a fully charged computer.

Of course, there are a few flaws with the device. For instance, software developments are still being updated, and Chromecast isn’t compatible with older iOS or Windows versions. Plus, videos stream as they appear on the computer. On HDTVs, that means less than crisp quality, but considering all the perks, a slightly grainy picture seems like a small price to pay.

Rural Internet Options are Slim, Expensive

rural internetFor those that don’t live in the heart of a metropolis, logging into the interweb may just be a timely, expensive process. Rather than free hi-speed WiFi lining the blocks, online access is hard to come by, is slow, and not all that reliable. To the majority of the population, however, this may come as a shock. When web access is so readily available, it’s hard to remember that it’s not a luxury for the entire country.

According to the FCC, 19 million Americans don’t have access to hi-speed or broadband Internet. These figures are purely location wise; the option to purchase isn’t available. For comparison, that’s the same size as the U.S.’s seven most populous cities combined: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Antonio. Can you imagine any of them without hi-speed Internet? Let alone all of them?

Slow to Grow

While steps are being taken to get these rural communities connected, it’s safe to say they’re going nowhere fast. Grants are being awarded for communities to dig cable or obtain broadband access, for instance, in rural Kentucky, while Internet companies themselves are slow to move forward.

In fact, many communities don’t have access to cable Internet – and never will – simply because of their population. Even in communities where cable lines are only a few miles away, companies won’t lay the extra line because there’s not enough business to be gained. To the rest of us, this seems like a no-brainer; once the work is done, there’s steady profit flowing in. But apparently, that isn’t the case.

Some rural communities are looking to broadband connections instead, which works via satellite, however this is a lot slower, inaccessible in certain weather events, and equally expensive at 1/20th of the speed. Personal satellites are also available, but are almost double the price and limit one’s usage; half of paid data has to be obtained between 2 and 8 am (though some companies’ hours differ slightly). Yet because this is many users’ only option, there are growing wait lists, depending on location.

So what will save these rural Internet users? Will enough grants finally come through to grant them online access? Or will Google Fiber upstage every current Internet provider and bring in lightening-fast Internet to those whose current option is dial-up?  Whatever the answer, it’s beyond time. Nineteen million people is just too high of a number to ignore.

Why is Facebook so inconsistent about removing inappropriate photos?

flagAny Facebook user has had the option – at one point or another – to report a friend’s photo. Whether or not it was inappropriate, hilarious, or even sentimental, the site brought our moral stands to question, and tested us between friendship and appropriate viewing material. Of course, the majority of those times, the pictures were nothing to balk at. They may have been a nice nature scene, or a group of girls giving their best “skinny arm,” but because it’s a photo, the report option was still present.

As for actual inappropriate photos, there are those who report them every day. They click the button, Facebook goes through the necessary channels, and the pic may or may not be taken offline. But what’s the criteria? Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Because, as is, there doesn’t seem to be a sweeping standard. I’ve seen pictures of naked children get flagged (all of the necessary parts were still covered), as well as those with no actual cuss words or inappropriate subjects. But because they eluded to something we shouldn’t be talking about, apparently, the photos were deleted. In some cases, the poster is even banned for a certain amount of time, depending on the seriousness of their crime.

But why are pictures of scantily clad adults – often in suggestive poses – perfectly acceptable? (Then again, if the public began reporting those photos as well, maybe their deleting terms would make a little more sense.)

We don’t get it, Facebook.

Private vs. Public Social Media Accounts

On more private ventures, such as Snapchat, Draw Something, or Words With Friends, users receive little to no guidance by app creators. This anything goes mantra may provide for some private humor, but by the time users log into Facebook, Twitter, or other public platforms, those same rules no longer exist. Because others can see it, whether or not under privacy settings, the site becomes responsible for all content.

Within its fine print, Facebook states that there’s a copy made of each and every post; just because they remove it from the site, doesn’t mean it’s gone. Which brings even more questions into light, such as what the company is doing with all of these discarded pics – hopefully they’re saved for staff training and staff training only. But whatever the rules, it seems to be on a per-case basis, and one that holds no rhyme or reason.

To stay on the safe side and avoid being banned, it’s best to stay overly cautions. You never know what Facebook may find offensive.

Build it on a budget: A $500 workhorse PC

You may remember well over a year ago when we first introduced a budget build guide for DIY PC builders, and it’s long overdue for a refresh. Computer components have come a long way since then, and Intel recently launched their new 4th-generation Core Haswell chips.

As I mentioned in last year’s guide, not everyone needs an end-all tricked out custom PC with water cooling and all the bells and whistles. You most likely just want a computer that can get work done. This budget system will be great for most everyday tasks, as well as more slightly intensive activities like some gaming, streaming movies and music, and editing photos and home movies.

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This budget build assumes that you already have a mouse, keyboard, and a monitor lying around to use with your new system, and that you’ll only need the basic components to get up and running. I’ll also only be listing off my recommended parts, so if you don’t know how to build a computer but want to learn, Lifehacker has a great guide that’s perfect for the computer-building novice. With that said, let’s get to it.

Case and PSU

Thermaltake V3 Black Edition ATX Mid-Tower with 430W Power Supply – $60

We decided to go a bit more expensive with the case and power supply bundle this time around, and we think the upgrade is worth it. The Thermaltake case is way better looking than the Rosewell that we chose last time, and the 430W power supply should be more than enough to handle anything with this machine.

Motherboard

MSI B85M-P33 Motherboard – $65

It’s a low-cost motherboard, but it has all the bell and whistles that you’d need; SATA III, USB 3.0, six total USB ports, and both DVI and VGA connectors. Plus, MSI is a good brand that we trust.

Intel_i3_SB_2011Processor

Intel Core i3-4130 3.4GHz Dual-Core Processor – $130

This is Intel’s latest 4th-generation Haswell chip, and with 3.4GHz of dual-coreness, it’ll be speedy enough to breeze through most tasks you throw at it. The 4130 is one of Intel’s slowest Haswell chips, so it certainly won’t be as fast as other options, but for a budget build, this will be pretty solid.

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 4400

We didn’t include a dedicated graphics card, mostly because we’re trying to keep this build around $500, but the 4400 integrated graphics that come with the Core i3 CPU are actually pretty solid. They won’t be able to play any of the more graphic-intensive AAA titles, but HD video playback will be flawless and casual gamers will still be able to enjoy their selection of games.

RAM

G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 – $72

While we chose 4GB as the sweet spot with the last time we picked out a budget build, we feel that 8GB is now the new norm. Any more than that would be mostly unnecessary unless you plan on rendering a lot of HD video and such.

Hard Drive

Western Digital WD Blue 1TB SATA III Hard Drive – $75

WDC-Caviar-BlueHard drive prices have gone down tremendously since our last budget build, so we decided to go with a 1TB drive this time around. We feel that this is an ample amount of storage for those who have a lot of photos, music, movies, etc., but it’s also not too much storage that you wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Of course, you can never really have too much storage, so feel free to bump it up to 2TB if need be. You can usually find some pretty good deals on high-capacity hard drives.

Optical Drive

Asus 24x DVD Burner – $20

This one’s pretty simple and easy; find a 24x DVD burner and buy it. They’re stupidly cheap and there’s no reason not to get one.

Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium – $100

Yeah, we know that Windows 8 has been out for almost a year, but we’re still sticklers for Windows 7. However, if you really want Windows 8, it’s the same price as its predecessor. You can also get a copy of Linux for free, allowing to spend that saved $100 on upgrading other components.

Total Cost: $522

That final price doesn’t account for shipping, so you’ll want to make sure you set aside some cash for the guys at UPS or FedEx, but if you can find the parts at an online store with free shipping, then all the more power to you.

Obviously, don’t take my word for everything I suggested here. I know everyone has their own opinions on components. If you have any questions about your own budget build, you can leave a comment below or you can visit the many online resources available to you. Tom’s Hardware Forums is just one place that can provide you with a lot helpful feedback.

Image Credit: kodomut

Review: My first week with the iPad Mini

Even though I’m an “IT guy,” I’ve never been a believer in “technology for the sake of technology.” Before I buy a device, I have to understand how it’s going to fit in with my life and be sure I’m going to use it. I’ve seen far too many clients become hooked on buying shiny gadgets that never get properly exploited.

As such, it’s taken a very long time to convince myself that I really need an iPad. There’s been one in the house before, as my wife had one as part of her job, so I’ve hardly been blind to their desirability, but with an iPhone and MacBook Pro already in my possession, I needed some strong justification.

It came in the form of my signing up to do a degree course via distance learning. The course requires me to read a lot of online content, which is ergonomically awkward on a laptop and impractical on a smartphone. So I finally had the excuse I needed, and went out and purchased a 32GB iPad Mini.

The White iPad Mini

First Impressions

Let’s face it, nobody’s ever disappointed when they take home a box containing new Apple hardware, and the iPad Mini is no different. However, I didn’t fawn over the sleek silver back for long, as I placed it straight into a protective rear cover and clipped on Apple’s own magnetic cover and stand combo.

How the device worked was obviously no surprise either; we’re essentially talking about a big iPhone that’s not a phone, but I was pleased that I didn’t feel myself badly missing a retina display. However, I did notice (and continue to notice) that the touch control isn’t quite as precise as that on my iPhone. It’s not bad at all, but I do sometimes find it hard to tap small “x” icons, especially when they’re near the top right corner of the screen.

Daily Use

As I said above, I was far more interested to find how the iPad slotted into my life than in investigating every feature available to me. After all, most of the functionality is already available on my iPhone.

The first point to make is that it’s given me a greater sense of separation between my working day and my evening. As I work from home, it’s easy to find myself still on my MacBook as darkness falls, in a strange kind of half work / half play limbo. Now I have the iPad, I’m more likely to close the laptop when the work is done, and switch to the iPad. This is a good thing, as it’s a far more sociable way to use technology.

As part of this, I took the decision not to sync my email accounts and calendars with the iPad, supporting its role as a leisure and study device and not a business device.

Despite the separation, the iPad is such a pleasure to use, it’s kept me up long into the night on a couple of occasions: once simply playing around with apps, including DJ software, games and music tools, and the other reading a recommended text for my university course that I found instantly available to me via iBooks.

I’ve also enjoyed being able to take the Traktor DJ app to a house party, resulting in a usable casual DJ setup, all in a package weighing 308 grams.

Conclusion

I’ll be honest: I really should have splashed out on an iPad sooner. There really is room for another gadget between laptop and smartphone, even if both of the other gadgets can technically fulfill every purpose.

The beauty of the iPad Mini is in its form factor. When we had a full size iPad in the house, I rarely used it for prolonged Web browsing as it simply wasn’t that comfortable. The iPad Mini is perfect in this respect and very pleasing to use, even with just one hand.

If you’re struggling to justify buying an iPad, it’s time to give in. I promise you won’t regret it.

The colorful iPhone 5C is not just for kids

5cOn September 10, Apple introduced the iPhone 5C. This new line of iPhones strays from the metal/glass design of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 and now 5S and brings a colored shell to the iPhone.

Many people keep writing about how this line is made for kids. While I do think these will be popular with the teenage crowd, I disagree that these phones are just for kids.

Price

When my contract is up next fall on my current iPhone 5, I plan on buying a “C” phone (presumable a 6C). Why? The price is right, for one thing. For $100 less, I can get a 32GB iPhone that is very powerful and has a fantastic camera. The original iPhone 5 works great for me. The camera is fantastic and the phone does everything I need it to. Yes, the camera in the 5S is better and the processor is faster. However, I would expect the next “C” model to be faster and have a better camera then the current one, giving it a boost over my current phone. After trading in my iPhone 5 a new “C” phone might even be free!

The price is not only attractive to me, it will be attractive to many. For those, like my wife, who bought a 16GB iPhone 5 because the iPhone 4 was too heavy and boxy, this phone is perfect. She is a very light user, but wants a new-model iPhone with a great camera. She doesn’t need to spend an extra $100 for features that she doesn’t use. For $99, she can get a great phone that is modern and suits her needs. It isn’t just last year’s model in a new case. (Kudos to Apple for making slight improvements so it isn’t just that.)

Fingerprint Scanning

As for the fingerprint sensor: I could care less. I don’t mind typing in my password to purchase content on the phone and I don’t use a passcode. Sure it makes the phone more secure, but my guess is I would turn it off after a few weeks. I suspect there are many people out there who would not use it either.

Colors

I have been saying for years that I am not a fan of the iPhone design. I thought the iPhone 4 was one of the ugliest phones available (not to mention the fact that it was uncomfortable in the hand). I kept hoping for the return of the curved back of the original iPhone and iPod Touch. When the 5 came out the design was improved, but it still had that boxy iPhone 4 look. I bought it because I wanted an iPhone, but I thought there were better looking phones out there.

While the 5C maintains the boxy iPhone look, it has the curved edges that, in my opinion, look nicer. The colors, while a little too much on the pastel side, aren’t bad. I’d probably cover it up with Gelaskin anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 5S is a great phone. The camera sounds fantastic and the processor sounds very impressive for those that need it (now put that processor in the next iPad and we can talk). However, there is a group of people out there who don’t need those features and the iPhone 5C is going to be perfect for them. It will be a huge hit and is not “just for kids.”

Thinking about getting a standing desk? Here are some tips

You may have heard of a new trend called standing desks. They’re certainly not new by any means – Winston Churchhill used a standing desk, and so did Leonardo da Vinci and Ernest Hemmingway – but they’ve been gaining in popularity recently. It’s becoming more well known that sitting down all day is bad for your health. So bad, in fact, that exercise can’t even negate the effects of sitting all day.

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With that said, I probably scared you enough that you’re wanting to give standing desks a try, but where do you start? First off, it’s critical to point out that a proper, professionally-built standing desk can cost well over $1,000, with the cheapest models costing at least $500, so if you’re wanting to get one without spending a lot of money, prepare for the DIY method. Plus, you don’t want to go out right away and spend $1,000 on a standing desk when you’re just wanting to give it a try.

Before you begin

The most important things to remember when trying out standing desks is to ease into it and don’t spend a lot of money. In fact, find a countertop or other standing desk-height surface that you can essentially “practice” on to get a feel for what standing while working feels like. You won’t be spending any money at all, but you’ll still get to see what it’s like — sort of like test-driving a car that you might want to buy.

Once you’ve officially decided that you’re all-in with a standing desk, it’s time to find one to build (that is, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money). Personally, I swear by the sawhorses and door desk, which essentially is just two sawhorses with a door laid across them to make a desk. From there, you can sand down the door, stain, and seal it to make it look nice.

However, there are literally tons of other ways to make a standing desk, and you’ll no doubt find a DIY project that fits your budget and your style. You can make a desk out of various Ikea parts, use metal piping with a piece of butcher block, or just put some paper reams under the legs of a regular desk to make it standing height.

Ergonomics are key

drafting-stoolBefore you measure and cut, though, it’s important to build your standing desk so that it’s ergonomic to your body. Most importantly, the height of your standing desk should be elbow height, so that when you type on your keyboard, your arms bend at a 90-degree angle. Your monitor should also be propped up on a second shelf so that it’s at eye level.

However, before you go standing all day long, it’s important to note that standing all day is just as bad as sitting all day (just with different effects). Standing all day can cause things like varicose veins, so it’s all about moderation; stand for a while and then sit for a little bit. I usually like to stand for a couple of hours and then sit for a half hour or so, and then repeat that until the work day is over. This is where something like a drafting stool can come in handy, but if you get one of those fancy electric standing desks, you can adjust the height easily whenever you want.

It’s all about movement

What if you work in an office that doesn’t allow standing desks? That sounds like a silly question, but many companies like their office buildings to be uniform and everything consistent, including the desks; a standing desk would pop out like a sore thumb in an office building. So, if you can’t get a standing desk, don’t sweat it. One of the main reasons for a standing desk is movement, so if you don’t have a standing desk, just make sure you get up out of your chair every half hour or so and walk around for a few minutes. Standing desks simply get you moving, and you’re a lot more likely to start walking around if you’re already standing up.

Distributed computing comes to Android with BOINC

Our understanding of the world around us has grown by leaps and bounds since the invention of the computer. The simulation of complex systems in particular involves crunching a ton of numbers, a task computers excel at. Unfortunately, the very best number crunchers happen to be extremely expensive, both to buy and to maintain. Through a system known as distributed computing large, complex tasks can be completed without the hassle of managing a supercomputer.

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Image credit: NASA

In distributed computing, a central server offloads small tasks to the computers connected to its network. Each computer completes its task and sends the results back to the server. By utilizing the spare CPU cycles of tens of thousands of volunteer computers, a project like Folding@Home can complete vital research without needing to buy pricey supercomputers. Distributed computing networks exist for a vast array of scientific pursuits, including disease research, the factorization of large integers, and even the search for extraterrestrial life.

Major distributed computing platforms have been available for the desktop computer for more than a decade, and a Folding@Home app can even be installed on the PS3, but until now the mobile market has remained largely untouched. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) has changed that with the recent release of their Android app.

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Upon first opening BOINC’s app you’ll be prompted to select a distributed computing project to contribute to. A brief overview of each project’s goals can be found on BOINC’s website or by selecting a project in the app. After selecting a project you’ll need to create an account to track your computing progress. Once you’ve created an account, BOINC is ready to do its work.

You’re probably thinking that an app of this nature would quickly drain your phone’s battery, and you’d be right if the BOINC app ran continuously. Thankfully, it isn’t configured to run continuously. By default, it only runs when your phone is connected to power, and even then only when the battery is charged to at least 90%. These settings (and others) can be fine tuned in the preferences menu. I highly recommend changing the max used storage space option to something much lower, as the default setting is absurdly high.

The computing power of a current generation smartphone might not compare to that of even a meager desktop computer, but combined with thousands of other phones that power becomes much more substantial. Every little bit helps.

BOINC is available for Android and can be found on the Play Store. Clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux can be found on the BOINC website.

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