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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In which I briefly test your patience by just rambling about another of my favorite things

Yesterday, I gushed about The Wirecutter; today, it's something else entirely.

I always felt like there's a fine line between talking about technology and talking about science, in the sense that appreciating one means, on some level, appreciating the other. You really can't love your smartphone, for example, and believe the moon landings were a NASA hoax.

Yet some people do.

So I've become fond of Phil Plait, an astronomer, author and tireless science evangelizer for Slate. Today, he's calling out folks who deny climate change is happening, and/or that human beings play any role in it. He also calls attention to the dangerous antivaccination movement. He's a great follow on Twitter, too (@BadAstronomer — get it?).

Here's my take: Your politics and religion are about your search for personal Truth, with a capital T. But good science is about Fact. It's about what we can actually observe and measure about the universe around us, from the most grandiose scale to the most microscopic. And if your Truth doesn't fit well with the way the universe works … well, it's not the universe that's going to bend to accommodate you.

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The Wirecutter's summertime gear list looks like good advice year-round

thewirecutter.com

I'm a relative newcomer to The Wirecutter, Brian Lam's project that maintains regularly updated best-of lists curated by qualified reviewers — but I'm becoming a big fan.

Despite the intense soldering-iron-and-safety-glasses tone of the site's title, it offers simple guides to finding the best headphones, or TV set or camera, of course, but also guides for finding a good water bottle, weather app (Android or iOS), yoga mat or surge protector. You get a full explanation about the reviewers' preferences, why the top pick was chosen (which often helps you realize you might be better off in your circumstances with their second choice) and what torture they put their gizmos through. They even provide price alerts when one of their picks goes on sale.

Anyway, I was browsing through their "Summertime Gear for 2014" page today, and trust me: the advice you'll find here can help Floridians year-round. Find a great beach umbrella or beach towel. What you need for a good barbecue or picnic. Stuff you can stash in your car and forget about until you really need it. …

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Your phone might take a dive, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's dead

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iStockphoto.com

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Rob Griffiths (@rgriff) posted a story to Macworld early this morning describing the dip his phone took in a 10-foot-deep lake last weekend — and how he brought it back from the dead.

His method was pretty extreme (he eventually completely disassembled the phone, dried everything with compressed air and reassembled it), but it's good to know some simpler ways to salvage a phone that's taken a dunk.

First of all: Act quickly. Get your phone out of the wet as soon as you can. Resist the urge to start pressing buttons. Instead, immediately power it down and disconnect anything and everything that can be disconnected. Remove the battery (if your phone has a removable battery), take out the SIM card and open every socket and door that might be covered. Only after that, take a towel and dry the outside of your phone. …

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How to check your browser for Photozoom malware — and remove it

Macworld posted an item today from senior contributor Ted Landau (@tedlandau) describing his realization that malware on one of his computers was inserting ads into Web pages where they didn't belong. There are likely many folks out there who might see this malware every day and never realize it. His computer was a Mac, but you can likely follow his instructions on any computer you own.

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10 clever tricks you can do with your iPhone earpods

The Unofficial Apple Weblog

That's what Apple calls them, by the way — "earpods." At least, that's what they call their newest ones. But John-Michael Bond's list of 10 things you can do with earpods (TUAW) will work with any of Apple's three-button headphone remotes. Fast-forward and rewind, handle incoming calls and more, all without pulling your iPhone from your pocket.

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Dozens of iPhone tricks you've probably never heard of

Boy Genius Report

Boy Genius Report called attention over the weekend to a pair of articles ticking off tons of iPhone tricks and features that you might not know are actual things — but that would save you tons of time and headaches, impress your friends and family members, make you the life of your next cocktail party, etc., etc.

Many are fairly well known. You can shake your iPhone to undo whatever you just typed. You can set up custom vibration alerts for your contacts, much the same way you'd set up custom ringtones. Others are probably more niche: You can teach Siri the correct pronunciation of words and names that she's been mangling, for example.

See if there are any tips in here of interest to you:

CNET: 20 iPhone tips you'll wish you knew all along

Wiki Pac: 21 things you probably didn't know your iPhone could do

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Sooner or later, it all comes down to power

Cobra's CPP 300 SP opens to expose two solar panels. It can also be charged using a build-in plug (left) that fits into a standard USB port on a computer or wall adapter. It can charge three devices at once, with a built-in 5V/1A micro USB cord (right) and two standard USB sockets — one that provides extra oomph (5v/2.1A) for charging an iPad or other tablet, and the other providing enough juice (5V/1A) to charge a phone or iPod.

Cobra Electronics Corp.

Cobra's CPP 300 SP opens to expose two solar panels. It can also be charged using a build-in plug (left) that fits into a standard USB port on a computer or wall adapter. It can charge three devices at once, with a built-in 5V/1A micro USB cord (right) and two standard USB sockets — one that provides extra oomph (5v/2.1A) for charging an iPad or other tablet, and the other providing enough juice (5V/1A) to charge a phone or iPod.

There are a couple interesting posts out there today about gadgets that can help power your phone or tablet when you're traveling or your home Internet during a power outage. I can't vouch for either of them personally, but I'm definitely intrigued.

The Wirecutter picked Cobra's CPP 300 SP as its best solar battery pack: "It gives you more power, faster charging, and a better-designed chassis than anything else currently available. Thanks to its dual-folding panels that you can angle towards the sun, it charges quickly in bright light and continues to charge late in the day, even under partly cloudy conditions and when obstructed from direct light. It also conveniently has built-in cords for input and output and the ability to charge two devices at once. What’s more, it was the only model equipped with a 2.1-amp port capable of charging high-draw devices like a tablet at full speed. Basically, it had the best design and the most complete feature set." …

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If you need something like Dropbox that's not Dropbox, here are a few ideas

Macworld.com

I love Dropbox. I've tried a few competitors — Google Drive, Box.com, SugarSync, SkyDrive (now OneDrive) — and I still use Box.com. But Dropbox is the only one of those services I'm willing to pay for. I just haven't found an easier, more reliable alternative for saving something on one doohickey and opening it on that other one over there.

All the same, Macworld's excellent Christopher Breen offers his thoughts today if you're looking for an alternative. One caveat: iPhone, iPad and iPod users might want to consider iCloud Drive — even though they won't get a gander at how it works until they see iOS 8, Apple's next operating system software upgrade due in the fall.

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World Cup: What you need to see USA-Germany today

Posted a story this morning about what you'll need to watch the USA-Germany World Cup match that starts in about 10 minutes. Not much I haven't mentioned here before, but check it out.

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Old but still so good: Everyday technology we're getting wrong

BuzzFeed Video

This BuzzFeed video is, like, four months old — but @NewsBreaker tweeted a link to it on ora.tv today, makes it worth mentioning. Some are already pretty well known (the BuzzFeed folks would have a lot less trouble with that four-finger pinch gesture on their iPads if they tried a five-finger pinch instead), but there were some I'd never heard before this (OMG HOW TO COIL CABLES). It's short, and I've embedded it below. And you won't lose anything by muting the goofy music:

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World Cup fans: Here's a full schedule with TV listings and legal streaming options

David Pogue just tweeted a fantastic link to liveschedules.net. The streaming options are pretty simple if you're an English speaker in the United States with a cable subscription that includes ESPN, but there's still a lot of useful info here.

Of course, tampabay.com offers the AP's schedule widget at tampabay.com/worldcup.

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'Daily Show' destroys claims of Google Glass 'discrimination'

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears a Google Glass device.

Associated Press (2013)

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears a Google Glass device.

Google Glass is an interesting case. All the buzz these days is about wearable technology, and the concept of a pair of glasses that could minimize distractions while offering useful, relevant information in an unobtrusive manner has some appeal. That being said, there's no question that the way this particular product has been executed has provoked a reaction from people who aren't sure whether Glass wearers are taking photos or video of them. (Understandably so. Would you feel comfortable in a restroom while someone was holding up a camera?)

But regardless of where you fall on this particular debate, Comedy Central's Daily Show cut hilariously to the heart of the matter last week, as always (video player below):

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It's probably easier to watch the World Cup on your phone or tablet than you think

Oscar of Brazil fights off Sime Vrsaljko of Croatia during the opening match of the World Cup.

Getty Images

Oscar of Brazil fights off Sime Vrsaljko of Croatia during the opening match of the World Cup.

Most of the time, watching big sports events live online is a pain. Typicallly it involves paying for a subscription or messing with illicit live streams that (rightly) give you the heebie-jeebies. I figured it would be the same way for the World Cup — and as a casual fan at most, there was pretty much no way I was paying for the privilege or dealing with the headache.

But it's really amazingly easy, and pretty much free.

I say "pretty much" because you do need to have a cable subscription that includes ESPN, and it's safe to assume you're paying for that. But if you do, and your cable network is supported by ESPN's WatchESPN app, you'll be able to watch every single World Cup match on your Apple iPhone, iPod touch or iPad (running iOS 4.0 or later) or Android Mobile or tablet device, including the Kindle Fire (running Android 2.3.3 or later) without paying an additional cent. Download the app, sign in using an account you create with your TV provider, and you're all set. On a laptop or desktop PC, go to watchespn.com, and you'll be able to see matches from there, too. …

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If you have an iPhone, iPad or a Mac, Apple just gave you a ton of nifty stuff to look forward to

Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi speaks about new updates to Apple's hardware and software Monday during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center in San Francisco.

Getty Images

Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi speaks about new updates to Apple's hardware and software Monday during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center in San Francisco.

Apple unveiled the latest iteration of its operating system software for Macs today, calling it OS X Yosemite. A major theme of the announcement is a feature Apple calls Continuity, which aims to make your Mac and your iPhone and iPad work more seamlessly together.

The feature aims to make it easier to start an email on your iPad, for example, and finish it on your Mac (or vice versa). Your MacBook will automatically connect to your iPhone, letting you use it as a speakerphone to place and receive calls while your phone stays in your pocket. SMS texts will now appear in Apple's messaging software. (On a Mac, iMessage currently only shows message conversations with other Apple devices.)

The upgrade will be free, and a public beta will be available this summer. More details are coming later today on Apple's website.

Other new Apple stuff announced today included iOS 8 (new operating software to run Apple's iPhones, iPads and iPods) and new features of interest to software developers. Here's the Associated Press's breakdown of today's consumer-oriented announcements:

Read the AP's full article here.

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Important safety tip: Don't track down your stolen iThing on your own

"Sign in at iCloud.com or use the Find My iPhone app to see your missing iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac on a map," reads Apple's description. "And with the Lost Mode feature you don’t just see where your device is, you can track where it’s been. That way you can decide on your best course of action. You can immediately lock your device and send it a message with a contact number. Then whoever finds it can call you from the Lock screen without accessing the rest of the information on your device."

Apple Inc.

"Sign in at iCloud.com or use the Find My iPhone app to see your missing iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac on a map," reads Apple's description. "And with the Lost Mode feature you don’t just see where your device is, you can track where it’s been. That way you can decide on your best course of action. You can immediately lock your device and send it a message with a contact number. Then whoever finds it can call you from the Lock screen without accessing the rest of the information on your device."

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW, for short) makes an important point today, in discussing a recent story of Sarah Maguire, a California woman who tracked down the perpetrator who'd taken her phone (and her roommate's) and persuaded them to return them.

The important point: No one should never, ever do this.

While Maguire says police told her that's what she should do — and to call them back if she felt like she was in danger — common sense would lead one to recognize some horrible advice. The Internet is chock-full of accounts in which law enforcement officials have advised iPhone owners that the Find My iPhone service is too unreliable to get police involved in an investigation; it's also chock-full of accounts in which law enforcement officials have recovered stolen iPhones by doing exactly that.

"Find My iPhone vigilantes aren't a new trend,  and their failings are well documented," Mike Wehner writes for TUAW. "Taking matters into their own hands, individuals have gotten into violent altercations with the people found to be holding their precious gadgets, and have even accidentally attacked the wrong people, ending up behind bars themselves." …

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