Tag Archives: iPhone

Hack your car

hacker: n.

[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]

1. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.

2. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. (from the Jargon File.)

Now that we’ve got the definitions out of the way, you can see that “Hacking” is not necessarily a dirty word. To “Hack” often means to make something better than the manufacturer ever dreamed of.

You might be able to do this with your car. At the very least, if your car was manufactured after 1996, and you’re willing to make a small hardware (and possibly software) investment, you can get your car to tell¬† you what’s wrong with it instead of paying a shop to do it. You can be like R2D2 tapping in to the Death Star computer! It’s very possible that one use of such a system will pay for itself in lower repair bills.
This is done using the standardized OBD II (On Board Diagnostics) connector installed on all

The OBD II port

The OBD II port

modern cars. The specification puts it within a couple of feet of the driver’s seat; check the owner’s manual for the exact location.
Repair shops use a computer to read trouble codes from this connector, and you can too. You can use a laptop, iPhone, Android phone, tablet, or a specialized reader from your friendly neighborhood auto parts store. You can do a lot more with the laptop, phone or tablet than you can with the reader, though, plus you probably already have one or more of these.
I started out using a laptop and a special cable to connect to the OBD port, (Available from http://www.obd-2.com/) and this method is probably the most versatile, but now I mostly use a nifty little Bluetooth module plugged into the car and connected to my Android phone.
Once connected, not only can you read off the trouble codes the car has logged (Why is the Check Engine light on?), but you can also see real-time data (have a co-pilot read this while you concentrate on driving) on a virtual dashboard that gives way more information than any instrument panel. Things such as oxygen sensor voltage, manifold pressure, engine load, and intake temperature may be meaningless to you, or you may remember them from your backyard auto repair adventures, but the point is, you get access to a whole lot of very useful information to help you take care of your 2nd largest investment.
A lot of the time, just reading the trouble code is enough to point you in the right direction. There are plenty of websites that demystify those codes and offer helpful advice for repairs. Even if you pay a professional to do the repair, you might save some shop time and money.

Bluetooth OBD readers can be had on eBay for under $30 (sometimes as little as $10), and will

Bluetooth scan tool

Bluetooth scan tool

connect to most Android and iPhones (and the respective tablets). The most common is the ELM327, sold on Amazon and by many eBay vendors (Caution: some of the cheapos on eBay may not work with your equipment). They should also work for Bluetooth enabled laptops, however I have had little success finding reasonably priced Windows software to work with them. The ELM327 also comes in a USB version for laptops.

For Windows laptops, OBD scan tool (free from http://www.obd-2.com/) might be made to work on the Bluetooth readers, however it is designed to work with the cables sold by that company.

Torque for Android is the app I use; it has a free version and a paid version. The free version does most of what’s really useful. There are many others for both Android and iPhone. Search the respective app store for “OBD scanner, ” or similar terms. Trying a free version first is highly recommended, to be sure you can actually connect to the car’s computer.

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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I’d love to hear your comments!


Quick, Hit the Kill Switch!

Is This a Good Idea?

The bureaucrats in our country and others are now calling, in their usual shrill fashion, for smartphones and tablets to have a so-called “Kill Switch,” enabled by default, in all new smartphones and tablets. It looks like this will happen by 2015. The idea is that a phone or tablet could be remotely disabled in the event of theft or loss.

The rationale goes something like this: “A large percentage of violent crimes now involve smartphone theft. If the thief knew he couldn’t use or sell the phone because it had been “bricked” (rendered inoperable) by the owner or carrier, he wouldn’t steal the phone.”

Anybody here buy that??

Kill Switch

Given the fact that a lot of thieves are stupid scum, do you really think they would stop stealing phones like magic? Or that the (slightly) smarter ones among them would not find workarounds for the kill switch? Or just sell the parts?

Given the proliferation of recent hack attacks, does anybody think the Kill-Switch system would be immune to outside interference? I don’t.

Imagine waking up one morning to find out that not only was your phone inoperative, making your data inaccessible, but every phone on your carrier, or in your town, was suffering the same fate. Did you have a backup? Yes? Good for you. But what about all those other people that never thought of that? What about police and other authorities that depend on their phones? This could result in something far worse than mere theft.

The proponents of this Big-Brother system think that the carriers are against it because they would lose revenue from selling replacement phones and phone insurance. They won’t, for two reasons: First, people will still lose and break their own phones. Second, a stupid thief, when he finds out the phone is useless, will undoubtedly smash it or otherwise destroy it, and the owner will still need a new phone.

Kill switches can be a good idea, considering the amount of personal data that folks now keep on their phones. But such a thing should always be voluntary, reversible, and only under the control of the owner of the device. There should also be competition among the makers of such programs, so you’re not stuck with whatever the phone manufacturer decides you need, and won’t let you turn off! I want to be in command of my own affairs, and I will always resist this kind of Nanny-State BS.




I’d love to hear your thoughts!

That dog don’t hunt and that phone don’t Float

Almost the worst thing that can happen to an electronic device is getting wet. This is a far worse issue than just dropping your phone and breaking the screen. Today we’ll discuss treatment and prevention of water damage.

Water and electricity don't mix.

Water and electricity don’t mix.

There are several problems with water. First, it conducts electricity. That’s why they make fiberglass ladders for working with power tools. That means if your device happens to be on at the time it gets wet, power can go places it shouldn’t, and that can cause permanent damage.

Second, water is corrosive. It’s not very corrosive, but when you’re dealing with the tiny circuitry in modern electronics, it’ll wreak havoc if not dried off quickly.

Third, water will go places where it’s hard to get it out again without extraordinary measures like complete disassembly.

The survival rate for dunked electronics is no better than 50/50 even if you follow the instructions below, but you do have a chance if you act fast. (If you drop it in salt water, you are most likely up the creek!)

What to do if your electronic gadget gets wet

  1. Don’t press any buttons or switches!
  2. Immediately, right now, remove all power from it. That means unplug it if it’s plugged into AC, take the battery out if possible, and don’t wait to shut down normally. Take the battery out now, whether it’s a laptop, phone, or other device. More damage can be done by leaving the power on long enough to do “Start, Shutdown…etc” than by just removing power now.
  3. If the spilled liquid is sugary, salt water, or sticky, you might try rinsing it off with distilled water, if you have any available.
  4. Dry off the exterior of the device. Turn it upside down and shake it to try to get water out of crevices.
  5. Remove all removable parts such as covers, memory cards, etc. and dry them off.
  6. Place the device in a sealed bag with a desiccant such as silica gel, a commercial “Wet electronics/phone emergency kit,” or, if you have none of these, wrap it in a piece of cloth or paper towel and put it in a sealed bag with a couple of pounds of ordinary (Uncooked) white rice. Leave it in there for at least a couple of days.
  7. There are also specialists that have phone drying equipment. Check to see if any are in your area.
  8. Using a hair dryer or blowing with canned air is not recommended. Hair dryers may get too hot, and blowing may push water further inside the device, where it can no longer get out.
  9. Just in case you’re thinking about putting it in the microwave, NOOOOOOO!

If, after all this, the device turns on and works, you may still have bought yourself only a temporary reprieve. You should back up all data as soon as possible, because it might stop working for good at any time.

If you still get no life out of the gadget, it’s usually possible to get some or all of your data back. A laptop hard drive can usually be easily removed and copied to another device. Memory cards are generally not damaged by a quick dunking, and may work fine after being dried off. Smartphones usually back up to a cloud service, although they don’t always back up everything. If necessary, there are plenty of data recovery specialists in the yellow pages, but they will be expensive. You have to decide how much your data is worth to you. It’s always a lot cheaper to back up ahead of any disaster.

How to minimize the risk

  • Phones, cameras, music players: Always be aware of where your phone is.
  • There are waterproof phone cases available. If you’re going to the lake, make sure you get one that floats! Resist the temptation to test your waterproof case with the phone inside. Some are only rated for very shallow water, like puddles.
  • Don’t jump in the pool until you’ve checked your pockets (Unless someone is drowning!)
  • Check pockets carefully before doing the laundry.
  • Be especially careful when using the restroom. You wouldn’t believe how many people drop their phone in the toilet!
  • Be careful where you put your phone down. A small puddle of condensation from a cold glass can do as much damage as a dunking.
  • Laptops: Put your drink on the other side of the table, or on another table entirely, so if it does spill, it won’t spill on the laptop.

It never hurts to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and have a plan for how to deal with it.

The $700 mistake!

Don't let this happen to you!It happens way too often. Today’s smartphones are wonders of technology, but there’s one little snag. That screen is made out of glass. Granted, it’s very strong glass, but it’s still glass. Drop it just once, and you may have bought yourself a big problem.
There is good news, though. First of all, most screens can be repaired. Please don’t just throw that phone away if you break the screen! A screen repair might cost you $100 (Varies with phone), but that beats $500-700 for a new one unless you’re in a contract and you’re up for an upgrade.

Gel Phone case

Gel Phone case

More importantly, prevent such things from happening in the first place:

  • Get a good Impact resistant case. Ideally, this should have a hard outer shell and a soft but firm inner liner-like a motorcycle or bicycle helmet. The “Gel” types seem to work well, and they’re inexpensive if you buy them from Amazon or eBay. If money is no object, you could get the various deluxe cases, such as Otterbox or Lifeproof.
    These are also usually water and dust resistant. Get a good screen protector while you’re at it.
  • Don’t try to cradle your phone on your shoulder the way you do with your home phone. It doesn’t work! This may be responsible for a lot of dropped phones. Use some kind of headset, speakerphone,
    Poor man's handsfree adapter

    Poor man’s handsfree adapter

    or just hold it the old-fashioned way. Headsets are not that expensive; Much cheaper than a phone repair.

  • If you carry your phone in a pocket or holster, get into the habit of always putting it in with the screen facing your body. That way, the screen is protected from the things you might bump into.
  • When you set your phone down unattended, such as on your nightstand, place it face down. I know it doesn’t look as cool this way, but you’re protecting it from things dropping onto it.

Remember, if you break your phone anyway, don’t just throw it away. That’s bad stewardship of your stuff. Get it fixed, or if you don’t want to do that, there are plenty of people who will accept it as-is for parts, and they may actually give you some money for it!

But You said I could!

Imagine walking up to a stranger on the street and handing him your personal address book, driver’s license, and email password. Crazy, right? But you might be doing just that when you install that cool new app on your phone or tablet.
If you own a smartphone or tablet, you should be paying attention to what the apps you’re installing want to do to you and your data. It doesn’t take the NSA to compromise your data; sometimes you can do it all by yourself by simply not paying attention.

When you install an app, you’ll be presented with a list of “permissions” before you can install the app. Some of the things an app might ask permission for include:

  • Full Internet access
  • Your Location
  • Read your contacts
  • Read your account information
  • Change system settings
  • Install shortcuts on home screen
  • Read phone identity
  • View network connections

Some apps need a lot of permissions to do their job; The Facebook app, for example, wants to make phone calls, send texts, take photos, and a whole host of other things. This is expected with them, because they are all about social networking.
You have to ask yourself, “does this app really need all these permissions? Recently, an Android app called “Brightest Flashlight” had it’s creators taken to court over the app’s mining data from it’s over 50,000 users.

Screenshot 2014-01-30 12.01.53Screenshot 2014-01-30 12.02.15

All these permissions for a Flashlight??!! Give me a break!
Some of the biggest offenders are games, ringtones and wallpapers. People want to have fun and personalize their phone, and they never ask themselves, “What’s in it for the developer if they’re giving the app away for free?” What’s in it, of course, is using your personal information to target you (and possibly your contacts, as well) for advertising. If you decide to install, say, wallpaper, and it asks for Internet access, guess what? You’re going to get ads, your device may slow down, and it’ll eat up your data! Now, some free, ad-supported apps are okay. These are the ones that only display advertising on the app itself, only when you are using the app. If you can stand that and the app is useful, go for it. Read the ratings others have left for the app to see how intrusive the advertising is.

So next time you install an app, pay attention to the permissions you are granting to that app, and ask yourself, “Do I really want to share this much with someone I don’t know?” Is it worth it? Sometimes the answer is yes, but at least make an informed decision.

Apple iPhone vs. Android: which smartphone?

When choosing a smartphone, one of the first questions that needs to be answered is which manufacturer’s Operating System (OS) you should buy into. The two front-runners, iPhone (iOS) and Android, have very different business philosophies, and we’ll go into the pros and cons of each. You might notice I seem a little prejudiced toward Android. I am. I find the iPhone to be kind of like AOL or a tricycle – Great if you’re a beginner, but soon you might start to chafe and want to do more.

I think both are equally easy to use, and you can get high-end devices with either. (all of this also applies to tablets – iPads and Androids.)

Google Android: Google is a services company that started out writing search engine software. They make money from your use of their services, which are now too many to list. The Android operating system is “Open Source”, which means anyone can alter and customize it as much as they want. Android is a little like the Wild West – you have the freedom to do almost anything with it – and, yes,¬† there’s a small chance of shooting yourself in the foot.

Google’s philosophy is, “Go ahead, tinker with it! Improve on it! Change it if you want! We love it when you do that!”


  • Integrates perfectly with all the Google services you probably already use.
  • “Widgets” – Icons that display live information without opening an app.
  • “Live” animated wallpapers for your home screen.
  • Freedom of choice: Available on hundreds of phones and other devices, in all price ranges.
  • Almost infinitely customizable — Don’t like the keyboard or the home screen? There’s an app for that!
  • More of the apps are free. Many have free and paid versions.
  • Can connect to a computer without any special software. The device shows up as a removable drive.
  • Standard, inexpensive, micro-usb connectors on most devices for charging and data transfer.
  • If you’re a programmer, you can alter the OS to your taste.


  • Since apps are not vetted by anybody, and you can get them anywhere, the possibility of getting a malicious app is a little higher than with iPhone.
  • Since Android is available on a multitude of devices, some low-priced devices are of low quality, and could be very frustrating.
  • Many manufacturers (Because they can) customize the OS to their taste – which can add a little confusion, because they don’t all look alike.

Apple iPhone: Apple is a hardware company that started writing software to match it’s hardware. They make money from sales of their hardware, and take a cut from sales of apps. Apple products are a “Walled Garden” – A wonderful experience, but you have to stay inside their fence.

Apple’s philosophy is, “It’s perfect as it came from the factory! Why would you ever want to change anything?? As a matter of fact, we won’t let you change anything, because we know what’s best for you!”


  • You will never get a low-quality Apple device, since their software is only available on their hardware, and their hardware is high grade.
  • All iDevices will work pretty much the same way, for the above reason.
  • More hardware accessories that integrate well with the device.
  • High “Cool” factor.
  • Fewer options means fewer things to screw up… Theoretically.


  • Expensive.
  • No widgets or live wallpaper.
  • Very few hardware choices. Want an iPhone with a bigger screen? You’re out of luck.
  • No removable storage.
  • Also far fewer OS customization options.
  • You cannot “Sideload” apps. This means that if an app is not on iTunes, you don’t get it. Period. Any app that Apple doesn’t approve of, even if they just don’t like it’s politics, does not get released.
  • You need iTunes to connect to a computer.
  • Proprietary connectors that cost more.

Bottom Line: Decide what you’re going to be doing with the device the most. If you want maximum options, both in hardware and software, go with Android. If you want a high “Cool” factor and lots of “Made for” accessories, and you don’t mind paying through the nose, buy Apple.