Smartphone 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today we look at big and bulky desktop PCs like they are a thing of the past. Our mobile devices pack huge amounts of processing power and they manage to squeeze that into very small formats. Consoles are taking over gaming, but a good desktop PC can still turn heads.
There are many companies that provide “custom” gaming desktops and so forth, but there are some tips you can apply to any desktop PC. Before you invest money into any solution like this, ask yourself what you will use it for mostly. A very basic configuration can cost way under $500 and will still play HD content, provide you with ample storage and many other great ways to make your time worthwhile.
If you are looking for a solid workstation or a beastly gaming machine, things get a lot more difficult.
There are a couple of rules that you can keep in mind for any of the above mentioned choices:
Upgrades – you want your system to support the latest upgrades for as long as possible; a good motherboard is the key to do just that
Chassis – invest in a good computer chassis since this will last you for ages; this also influences cooling, wire management and what hardware you can fit into it
Power Supply – get a certified power supply with ample wattage; a home office/ multimedia PC will do just fine with a 450 Watt power supply but if you want some gaming, go for a 600 Watt PSU as a minimum
Storage – do not go overboard here; despite the massive storage needs today’s multimedia files have and the massive amount of space games take up, there is no point in investing in a lot of storage from the start; save the money since you can add more later
Memory – you can always get more later and 8 GB (2x 4GB kits) are quite cheap and provide you with ample performance
Building a desktop PC isn’t difficult either. Buying the components and assembling the system yourself is very easy and you could finish one easily in one day. Most of these ready-built machines have that added to the price tag, so you can save some money there. Not only that, but you will have the pride of running your own system.
If you are unsure about the entire process, worry not since companies like AVA Direct even offer barebones or DIY systems for just a few dollars. Getting a good desktop PC off the ground can be fun, cheap and rewarding. To help you with the entire process, I will be posting a small series covering all the important aspects of building a PC from scratch.
Upgrading your computer with a solid-state hard drive is probably one of the most beneficial upgrades you could make. Boot-up times decrease tremendously and programs launch almost instantly. I finally made the plunge to an SSD recently and haven’t looked back.
However, many of the how-to guides that I needed in order to properly install my SSD turned out to be pretty vague, which left me in a rut halfway through the installation. So, I’ve decided to write a proper how-to on installing an SSD in a MacBook Pro.
Note: This method can be easily translatable to any other laptop or computer, so if you don’t have a MacBook Pro, you can still follow along with your own laptop and successfully install your SSD.
First thing’s first: Completely turn off your laptop and make sure it’s unplugged from its power source. Lay down your small towel on your desk, table or any other flat surface and put your laptop on top of it with the bottom side up. The towel will prevent the laptop from getting scratched up while its laying on the hard surface.
Next, remove the screws from the bottom plate. These are the ten screws that are placed on the outer edge (pictured below). The screws are very tiny and can be lost easily, so put them in a small bowl — just make sure you know where they all go (three of the screws are longer, and they go in the top three holes to the right. Other than, it doesn’t matter where the rest of the screws go since they’re all the same).
After you remove all the screws, carefully lift up the bottom plate to reveal the innards of your MacBook Pro — it should pop off pretty easily.
The hard drive is located in the bottom-left corner. There will be a plastic tab that you can pull on to get the hard drive to pop out, but before you do that, you have to remove a small black plastic retaining bar that holds the hard drive in place. It’s located directly north of the hard drive and is held down by only a pair of screws (pictured below).
Remove the bar and pull on the plastic tab to pop out the hard drive. Make sure not to get too greedy, since the hard drive is still attached to the laptop via the SATA cable. In this case, the SATA cable is an extremely thin ribbon cable, so be extra careful here when unplugging it.
Once the hard drive is completely out, unscrew the four torx screws on the sides of the hard drive using your T6 screwdriver (below). You’ll need these screws for your SSD, as they’re essential to holding the drive in place while it sits inside your laptop.
Go ahead and put the four screws on your SSD. All there is to do now is to plug in the SATA ribbon cable to your SSD, mount it inside, put the retaining bar back on, reattach the bottom plate with the screws, and the hardware portion is all done!
The last thing to do is insert your OS X install disc (or plug in your OS X boot USB drive), hold down the alt/option key during the boot process, and then install OS X like you would with any other drive.
Congrats! You’re all done and you should now be experiencing blazing fast speeds.
A laptop stand is a great thing to have if you’re working at a desk. It not only allows your laptop to breath more easily and run cooler (since it’s propped up), but it also makes your setup more ergonomic by having your laptop’s display at eye level.
You can buy laptop stands pretty much anywhere, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. However, they’re pretty expensive — one of my favorite laptop stands is the Griffin Elevator, which rings in at a cost of almost $35 on Amazon.
I wanted to see if I could make my own laptop stand that closely models the Griffin Elevator, but build it for the fraction of the cost, and I believe I have succeeded greatly. Here’s how to do it.
10-foot length of 1/2-inch PVC pipe – $1.49 (Sometimes you can find 5-foot lengths, but 10 feet is the better deal. Plus, you can use the leftover for other DIY projects!)
Six 1/2-inch PVC elbow joints – $2.76
Two 1/2-inch PVC end caps – $0.52
Kitchen drawer & shelf grip liner – $3.23
Total Cost: $8.00
Putting this PVC laptop stand together is straightforward and easy, and there’s no pre-determined measurements that you need to follow, since all laptops are sized differently. All you need to do is cut your PVC pipe into seven different lengths. One of the pipes should be roughly the length of your laptop, four of them should be roughly the width of your laptop, and the other two determine the height of your stand, which is completely up to you.
After you have your seven lengths of PVC pipe, it’s time to start assembly. Simply just attach the pipes to the joints. Refer to the photo above as a guide. If you want to make the stand really sturdy, you can glue the pipes and joints together with some PVC cement.
After you’ve assembled the stand, ideally you want to add some kitchen drawer grip liner to the base and at the top. This stabilizes the stand and keeps it from sliding around. It also prevents the laptop from accidentally sliding off the stand easily. Cut out small squares of grip liner and glue them on (pictured above) using some super glue or any other glue you have lying around.
You’re done! That was all there was to it. It’s arguably the best DIY project that I’ve ever done because it’s quick, simple, useful, and it hardly cost anything.
Saturday night. Relaxing at a friend’s house. Dinner is over, and we are all sitting around the dining table. The room is strangely quiet. Everyone at the table has a look of intense concentration, and the only sounds are the occasional shrills and pings produced by our various laptops and smartphones.
No, this isn’t a strange vision of a scary post-social-skills future. It was just last week – on the Saturday we all finally discovered the phenomenon that is Words With Friends.
Words With Friends is an online word game from Zynga, available for iOS, Android and Facebook. It’s basically Scrabble, albeit with the bonus squares slightly rearranged. It’s been around a while, but seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity.
For anyone who has lived in a cave since 1938 when Scrabble was invented, the game takes place on a 15 x 15 square board. Each player is given seven letters, which they must place on the board to create a word. Each letter is allocated a certain number of points – a single point for “easy” letters such as “A” and “E,” and up to 10 points for the tricky ones like “Z” and “Q.”
Extra points are given if words are played over special squares such as “double word score” or “triple letter score.” Players take it in turns to lay words on the board until the entire pool of letters is used up, and the player with the highest score wins the game.
Words With Friends is exactly the same…but online. Players invite friends, usually via Facebook, and can play multiple games at the same time. Within an hour of discovering the game, we found that many of our friends were already playing, and each of us soon had five or six games on the go at once.
There are no time limits. For those that only log on occasionally, a game of Words With Friends can be something akin to postal chess, with only a few moves happening each day. For people who spend their lives glued to their iPhones and Facebook pages, playing Words With Friends can be both an enjoyable quick-fire challenge and something akin to a fun full-time job!
The beauty of Words With Friends is that it really is the perfect mobile game. The iPod and Android apps can consume long train journeys with ease, but also provide perfect gaming fodder for two-minute waits in supermarket queues.
The game is supported by advertising. In the case of the Facebook game, this involves looking at an ad for 5 seconds in between moves – this can quickly become tiresome. On the iOS app, the ads appear but can be skipped instantly. For those that want to play a lot (probably anyone with a few Facebook friends willing to get involved) the ads can be disabled for a small fee with the purchase of the full game.
Most people playing in our group have paid the money – which goes to prove that this freemium payment model works for compelling games. Who can begrudge a few dollars for something that provides hours of enjoyment at home, on the train, and even queuing at the airport.
The best thing of all about Words With Friends is that it isn’t simply mindless entertainment. If something’s going to keep you glued to your iPhone screen, isn’t it best that it’s something that focuses the mind and increases the vocabulary?
This point seems to be the key to the game’s popularity. All it really consists of is Scrabble, turn based online gaming (that must have been pretty easy to put together), and a bit of brain training. Yet somehow it ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I somehow need to get more than forty points with four As, two Hs and a Q.
Easily the most important aspect of your podcast, aside from its content, is audio quality. Poorly recorded or edited podcasts are impossible to listen to for any length of time, and bad sound quality will drive away your listeners no matter the value of the content you’re delivering. One of the most common problems for podcasters is ‘hissing’ or noise caused by equipment or problematic recording practices. Audacity is a free, cross-platform sound editor that will help you clean up your audio and maintain the sanity of your audience.
Generally, recording hiss is the result of overlapping cords, cheap sound cards, or some sort of environmental interference. Searching for the source of this noise can drive you absolutely crazy, and sometimes you simply won’t find it. Not to worry, here are steps to clean up low-level hissing and surrounding noise (like a blowing fan) quickly and easily.
Step 1. Import your audio
Obviously you’ll need to have Audacity installed to make use of this tutorial. At the time of this writing, I am using Audacity 1.3 (beta). Go to File and then Import to select your recorded material — it doesn’t matter if your file is stereo or mono, this tutorial will work either way.
Navigate your way to a particularly noise-heavy part of the recording where there isn’t a lot of other sound. For example, a few-second pause between words where this is silence plus some evil hiss. If you have chronic problems with hiss, leave a few seconds of baseline silence at the beginning of your recordings in the future.
Step 2. Noise removal
When you’ve found a representative span of noise, zoom in (press Ctrl+2) on the recording to get a clearer view of your stream. Select 1-2 seconds of noise with your cursor.
Now that you’ve selected a decidedly “noisy” portion of your recording, navigate to Effect and then Noise Removal, where you will be presented with a dialog to tweak your filter settings. With your noisy selection made, click Get Noise Profile. This establishes the noise baseline.
Now, use your cursor and select your entire recording. This can be easily done by pressing Ctrl+A. Finally, return to the Noise Removal Dialog and this time click OK. If you feel ambitious, mess around with the parameters for the noise filtering. I suggest just leaving them as the default values because they work quite well in every case I’ve encountered so far. After clicking OK, you may have to sit for a while, depending on the size of your recording.
Step 3. Export your finished file
Your processed file should look considerably “cleaner” after the noise removal process is complete. Fewer oscillations and less hissing will be readily apparent if you give your recording a test run.
Never underestimate the value of post-processing and sound quality in your podcast. Keep your audience coming back and focusing on your content rather than low-level background noise. With Audacity, you have 99 problems but hiss ain’t one. [JayZ achievement unlocked]
If you’re a dedicated user of free and open source software, chances are your dedication goes beyond just software. You probably try to use as many open file formats as you can. Document formats, video formats, and audio formats. Especially audio formats.
In the world of free and open source software, a popular format is Ogg Vorbis. Ogg Vorbis offers comparable audio quality and file compression as MP3, but without all the potential hassles the come from the patents that apply to MP3.
Just about every free and open source desktop media player supports Ogg Vorbis. But what if you want a player that’s a little lighter, or are using a stripped-down Linux distribution on an older, underpowered computer? The obvious answer: turn to the command line.
Using a command line application called ogg123, you can play back your Ogg Vorbis files without a lot of overhead.
ogg123 isn’t a standalone application. It’s part of a package called vorbis-tools. vorbis-tools comes pre-installed with a number of Linux distributions. To find out if it’s installed in yours, open a terminal window and type the following command:
If the command returns something like the following (/usr/bin/ogg123 in this example), then you’re ready to go.
Otherwise, you need to install vorbis-tools. You can do that using your favorite package manager. If vorbis-tools isn’t available, then you can download and install it manually.
Open a terminal window and change to the directory containing the files that you want to play. Then type the command ogg123 *.oga. This will play all of the files in the directory, in order.
That’s not very exciting, is it? If you want to shuffle the tracks to play them randomly, then type ogg123 -z *.oga.
If you’ve ripped songs off of a CD, chances are the ripping process created a playlist file (with the extension .m3u). You can use that with ogg123 by typing the command ogg123 -@ playlist.m3u, substituting the actual name of the file for playlist.
To jump to the next track, press CTRL+C on your keyboard.
Note that ogg123 has a number of options. You can view them by typing ogg123 at the command line or viewing this reference.
Dealing with Cover Art
Music files, no matter what their formats, contain a number of tags. These tags include the title of the track, the name of the album, the artist, and the like. One of the tags also points to cover art. When you play the file in a graphical music player, an image of the album’s cover appears in the player.
If an Ogg Vorbis file you’re playing with ogg123 contains the cover art tag, ogg123 will try to render the art. However, you won’t get the image. Instead, you’ll get a stream of numbers and letters, like this:
There’s no way to suppress this, sorry.
ogg123 is a simple yet effective media player for the Linux command line. It’s easy to use and does a very good job. It has one or two small quirks, but those are easy to ignore. In fact, once you start using ogg123 you might just wind up using it instead of your favorite GUI music player.
If you use Twitter, then you’ve probably learned how indispensable a URL shortener is. You’ve only got 140 characters in which to make your point, and if you include a URL then you can easily go over that limit.
Shortened URLs aren’t very sexy. They’re bland. If you shorten a lot of URLs, then why not make them a little more personal? If you use the popular bitly URL shortener, you can do just that.
Let’s take a look at how to create your own short URL.
Getting Set Up
The first thing you’ll need is an account with bitly. It’s free and having an account offers some privileges, like tracking how many times your links have been clicked. And, of course, being able to set up your own short URL.
You can either sign up for a new account or log in to bitly with your Twitter or Facebook account.
Next, you’ll need a custom domain name. A domain name is just a web address — like www.techerator.com. You’ll want a domain name that’s as short and as personal as possible. One like myshortendurl.com won’t cut it. Think shorter. For example, technology news network ZD Net uses the domain zd.net for its short URLs.
One of the best sites at which to search for a domain name is Domainr. Domainr not only tells you whether or not the domain is available, but also a list of registrars from which you can buy the domain. Why is that important? Not all registrars charge the same amount. When I was looking for one domain from my shortened URLs, the price ranged from $8.99 (USD) to $24.99 (USD) to register for a year.
Adding the Domain to bitly
So you have your bitly account and you have your new domain name. Now what? Add it to bitly.
Log into your bitly account. When you’re logged in, click the arrow beside your user name in the top-right corner of the page. Then, click Settings. This takes you to the Account Settings page. Find the section labeled Custom Short Domain.
Click the Add a Custom Short Domain link. This takes you to the Custom Domain Settings page. Type your short domain in the field, and then click Add. This takes you to the verification page.
Don’t leave the verification page on bitly page or log out. Go to the website of the firm with which you registered the domain. Log in and go to your account settings. Then, go to the DNS management settings for your domain. DNS (Domain Name System) is the way in which servers on the Internet map URLs like www.techerator.com to numerical IP addresses that servers and routers understand.
Where you’ll find the DNS settings will vary depending on who your domain registrar is. I’ve found that those settings are sometimes labeled differently, too. With one registrar I use, it’s DNS Record Management and with another it’s Off-site DNS Management.
Once you’ve found the settings, add a new DNS record.
Configure the following settings:
Record type: A (host) (points to a specific IP address)
Host name: Your short domain name
IP address: 18.104.22.168 (bitly’s IP address)
Save the settings.
Finally, go back to the domain verification page on bitly.
Click the Verify button. The change won’t be immediate. It can take anywhere from an hour to a day. But once everything takes effect, the next time you shorten a URL with bitly it will use your custom short URL.
You have probably noticed something new popping up on your Facebook News Feed over the last week or so. For me it started with, “Which is better: Coke or Pepsi?” This seemed innocent enough, so I delightfully clicked the “Coke” button.
I had originally thought it was some type of advertising – as often seen on the right side of the page – but after a little examining I realized that it was a question posted from an actual person. This intrigued me, but not enough to care to investigate further.
Then it started. Which Backstreet Boy is the hottest? What state is the best? Which Arena Football team east of the Mississippi, but South of the Mason Dixon Line has the best cheerleaders?
Wait, what? Who could possibly care about any of these questions? Furthermore, why are they popping up on my news feed? Thinking I had accidentally downloaded some obnoxious Facebook app, I went to my settings to delete or block it. It wasn’t there to be deleted or blocked. Ugh…
Since I have yet to come up with a way to stop the ridiculous questions from polluting my news feed, I figured I would at least write up a guide on how to ask said questions less ridiculously.
Step 1 – Deselect the “Allow anyone to add options” box
The vast majority of questions are undone by the simple fact that the creator of the question doesn’t deselect this box. For example, a simple, legitimate question such as, “Which Big Ten College is the best?” was completely undone by the creator not deselecting this box. Of the 30,000+ votes that question received, close to half were for colleges not in the Big Ten. The question ended up having over 100 options to choose from.
There are some questions that benefit from user submitted choices. One such question I saw was “What is the best small town in North Dakota?” The results were many and there were only a few indiscretions.
But the overwhelmingly large percentage of questions have become pointless and annoying because the “Allow anyone to add options” box was not deselected.
Step 2 – No middle ground
If your question is a choice between Yes or No, stick to Yes or No. Any middle ground, unless it’s well defined in the answer – “Yes, but with this restriction” – is really quite pointless and doesn’t show any real information. Leave the maybe’s out.
Step 3 – Don’t bother with the obvious
“Which state is the best?” California.. Shocker.
Step 4 – Lose the bias
“Hockey or Basketball?” Everyone in the United States knows the answer to this question (basketball). But, lo and behold, the vast majority of the popular vote is hockey. How could this be? Oh wait, the question was posted by someone living in Minnesota at the start of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament. I can count five legitimate, perennially good hockey teams in that area, and one or two sometimes good basketball teams.
True, over time this question could spread to the rest of the world, but the overall best answer will probably end up being football or baseball. See Step 1.
Step 5 – Leave the hilarity for someone who cares
“What is your favorite book?” Regardless of the choices presented, if one of them is, “I never read books in high school I just watched the movies”, “LoLZ I Luv Fluffy BuNnIes”, or “One that is on fire” guess who wins. My faith in the human race is quickly waning.
So there you have it. Follow those 5 steps and hopefully your Facebook questions will not make most people want to facepalm themselves into an early grave.
As you very well know by now, either being the victim or the culprit, April Fool’s Day is today.
Now, typically I would go on a rant as to why this is not a national holiday with mandatory paid time off, but not today. Why? Because what would April Fool’s Day be without an office full of coworkers to prank? I suppose it’s always possible to prank your significant other but, let’s face it, no one wants to go through the repercussions that it brings.
Here’s list of a few fun pranks to pull around the office in honor of the greatest day of debauchery, but remember it’s all in fun (no one needs to get fired!).
These are some pranks you can pull on your office friends – or enemies – when they are away from their computer and are foolish enough to leave it logged on.
Take a screenshot of your target’s desktop and set it as their background and then hide the icons so when the victim tries to click them nothing happens.
First, take a screenshot of the background. To do this, simply push the Print Screen key on the keyboard.
Next, open up some kind of image editor, MS Paint will work fine. Save the image as a .JPG
Now go to the display settings and change their wallpaper to this new image.
Finally, right click and go to view. Uncheck the “Show Icons” option and all the icons on the desktop with disappear, leaving you with just the background image.
If your coworker happens to have multiple monitors, this one can be pretty good.
Switching the monitor order will make going from say, the left monitor to the right monitor, backward (you have to scroll off-screen left to get to the monitor on the right). Depending on your system, it can be done in a few different ways.
Start of by right clicking and going into the personalize/display settings. The monitor order will probably be 1 on the left and 2 on the right. Simply click and drag the 2 monitor to the left of the 1 monitor.
This prank is much the same as the Frozen Desktop, but a little more, well, broken-looking.
You may need a more advanced image editor for this. In Photoshop, play with the blending modes and you will get a pretty good result.
Messing with the Mouse
Try combining these next few pranks with the desktop pranks above for maximum annoyance (if you have the time).
Switch the left and right clicks for the victim’s mouse.
Go into personalize/Mouse Pointers if the victim’s system runs on Vista (I know it’s a little different from Windows 7 and in XP it’s under control panel/mouse options).
Click the “Switch Primary and Secondary Buttons”
While you’re there, mess around with the other sliders and buttons. Try setting the mouse speed way down and changing the double click speed way up.
This one requires you to have a wireless mouse available.
How-to: Plug the receiver into an inconspicuous spot on your victim’s computer. Throughout the day, nudge and bump the extra mouse around.
Office Chair Antics
While your office whipping boy is busy at lunch – and after you have messed with his computer to your heart’s desire – move onto the next most important piece of equipment in the office. The office chair.
Stop the wheels
Ever had an office chair with a sticky wheel? It’s super annoying. That fact is key to why this prank is so funny. As long as you make your victim’s chair a minor annoyance, the prank will go on all day.
This is probably the most common kind of office chair wheel, despite the mass amount of different office chairs in the world of corporate America. Conveniently enough, it’s also super easy to put the stop to.
How-to: The simplest way I found to do it was to simply take a piece of paper, fold it up a few times, and lodge it between the wheel and, what could only be called, the fender.
A Sinking Feeling
Most chairs have a few levers and such that control a whole bunch of stuff. One of which is usually a high adjustment…
How-to: Get some stronger tape (like some duct tape or something similar). Tape the lever up, along with a few other levers for good measure. When the victim sits down, make sure you’re watching because it’s gonna be a good time. I must warn that it would be unfortunate for someone to get injured as a result of this (funny, but unfortunate) so try not to kill anyone.
The Kitchen Sink Sprayer Remix
I love this prank. I’ve done it so many times to so many people, and it never gets old and gets a great laugh.
How-to: Find some clear tape and a rubber band. Next, locate a kitchen sink sprayer. Tape the sprayer handle down. Next – and this is important – wrap the rubber band around the sprayer as well. As soon as the victim gets sprayed, the first thing to happen is they will quickly turn the water off and remove the rubber band. Upon turning the water back on, they will be sprayed again before noticing the clear tape.
Hopefully you can pull off a few – or perhaps all – of the pranks above. Make sure you know how to undo everything though! If you have any luck or good stories, please let me know in the comments! Or if you have any good April Fool’s stories, feel free to share.
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