Upgrade your Life: Simple solutions to high-tech problems

Written by Ben Patterson

Can’t work your iPhone with your winter gloves on? Got a scratched DVD that’s skipping? Or how about a work PC that signs you out the moment you step away from your desk? The MacGyver-approved answer may be hiding in your junk drawer.

In this week’s episode of Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News’s Becky Worley delivers some simple, everyday solutions for what might appear to be daunting high-tech problems, starting with:

1. Touchscreen phones that won’t work when you have gloves on

The capacitive touch displays on the latest and greatest Android and iOS handsets are tops when it comes to tapping out messages with a light touch. Winter gloves, however, will block the electrical charge from your fingertips that capacitive screens use to register a tap — bad news if you’re trying to answer a call in a blizzard.

Becky’s solution: Cut a tiny slit in your wool gloves (assuming you don’t mind slicing up your winter wear) to allow a finger to pop out whenever you need to start tapping.

Don’t want to cut holes in your gloves? Try the Pogo Stylus, a pencil-sized metallic stick with a specially made tip that works with capacitive displays.


Pogo Stylus

2. Dirty cell phone cases

That case you bought for your smartphone looked pretty spiffy when you first slipped it on. After a few months, though, you’ll be in for a rude shock when you take the case off and look inside. Where did all that gunk come from? On second thought, don’t tell us.

Becky’s solution: If it’s a one-piece silicone case, just toss it in the dishwasher — done. Beware, though: Plastic cases with multiple, glued-on parts will come apart if you give them the dishwasher treatment.

3. Wet gadgets

News flash: Gadgets and water rarely mix. If you do manage to leave your cell phone, camera, or other battery-powered gear out in the rain — or worse, drop them in a toilet — the prognosis is usually pretty grim.

Becky’s solution: Before you give up hope, try dropping your soaked gear into a Tupperware container full of rice to draw out the moisture. (Check out more details on this method from Popular Mechanics.) Or, as a general preventative measure to keep moisture away, save some silica gel packs (you know, the ones you’ll find in boxes of new shoes or beef-jerky packages) and stuff them in your cell phone or camera case.


How to Save Your Wet Cellphone: Tech Clinic [Popular Mechanics]

8 Clever Uses for Silica Gel [Popular Mechanics]

4. Scratched DVDs and CDs

There’s nothing quite as annoying as a skipping music CD or a DVD that randomly jumps seconds or minutes ahead, without warning. In some cases, you might be dealing with a dirty laser in your CD or DVD deck; more often, however, the culprit is a scratched disc.

The good news is that it is possible to repair scratches in the polycarbonate plastic coating that protects the underlying layer of data on a DVD or CD, as long as the scratch isn’t too deep.

Becky’s solution: Polish the scratches with a little furniture cleaner, perhaps with a follow-up dose of car polish. Just be sure to start from the center of the disc and rub outward, in a straight line; whatever you do, don’t rub in circles.


How to Recover Scratched DVDs [eHow]

5. Work PCs that sign you out too quickly

Code-clearance NSA operatives performing top-secret data entry at secure terminals should probably skip this tip. For the rest of us, however, here’s an easy way to keep your paranoid PC from signing you out the moment you turn away from the screen.

Becky’s solution: Take off your watch (assuming you still have a watch, of course) and lay your mouse on top of its face; the ticking hands will fool the optics in your mouse into thinking it’s still in motion.

6. Not enough D batteries for your flashlight

The power’s out, and you’ve got your flashlight — minus one more D battery. D’oh!

Becky’s solution: If you’ve got a spare C battery floating around in your junk drawer, you’re in luck; just drop it into the D-cell slot and fill the remaining space with a stack of quarters. Sounds crazy, but Becky promises it’ll work. (Just make sure to pick up some more D batteries the next time you’re in the hardware store.)


Quick hack: The $1 C-to-D adapter [Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories]

Bonus: Before you put pics on Facebook, check the background

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