Posts filed under ‘Gadgets and Toys’

LEGO is the Largest Tire Manufacturer

By Chad Upton | Editor

One of the oldest tire manufacturers is Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, founded in 1898 in Akron, Ohio.

A couple years later, Firestone Tires and Rubber Company was also founded in Akron. It’s unclear why both companies formed in the same city, but there’s no question they were the kings of the tire world for over 75 years.

Tire Comparison

If you ask someone which company makes the most tires, they’re likely going to answer Goodyear or Firestone. Goodyear does have one Guinness World Record, although it’s for fuel economy. But, the company that produces the most tires is LEGO.

It seems reasonable once you think about it, but the number of tires they product is absolutely stagering. The first LEGO set with tires shipped in 1962 and that set was one of the top sellers in 1967 with 820,400 units sold. In fact, nearly half of all current LEGO sets include a tire of some kind. That adds up to about 318 million tires per year or 12 tires every second.

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Sources: lego.com, guinness world records, wikipedia (firestone, goodyear)

February 19, 2013 at 2:00 am 2 comments

The Dropped Call Rules

By Chad Upton | Editor

No matter which mobile phone carrier you use, you’ll eventually drop a call with somebody. Even if you don’t have a cellphone, you still have to deal with dropped calls when you’re talking with people who do.

Sometimes you both try to call each other at the same time and get each other’s voicemail. Other times, you try to call the other person and they’re still talking away, oblivious to the fact that the call was dropped.

Rule #1: Whoever initiated the call, initiates the call back after a dropped call.

To some, this rule is obvious. But, it needs to be stated to remove any confusion and prevent the double voicemail dilemma.

Rule #2: Whoever was listening when the call was dropped, remembers the last sentence the other person said.

This is less obvious, but since the listener is the only one who knows exactly when the call was dropped; they need to remember the last sentence or at least the topic — this may be the same person who needs to call the other person back.

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Photo: addicted eyes (cc)

December 8, 2011 at 2:00 am 3 comments

How to Clean Up a Leaking Battery

By Chad Upton | Editor

Most household batteries are “alkaline” batteries. Under normal use, they’re relatively safe and stable. But, they are prone to leaking potassium hydroxide when the conditions are right.

Some causes of leaks are:

  • Trying to recharge disposable cells
  • Mixing battery types (ex. alkaline with nickel-cadmium)
  • Mixing new batteries with old ones
  • Heat
  • Damp environments
  • Leaving batteries installed during long term storage

These conditions put strain on the batteries in different ways that can cause them to leak. This leaky material is often called “Battery Acid” although in the case of alkaline batteries, it’s actually not acidic at all — it’s basic (the opposite of acidic on the pH scale).

But, it’s still a corrosive material that can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Additionally, if a battery leaks inside your electronics, this crystalized material can corrode the electronics and prevent them from functioning properly.

To clean it up you’ll want the following:

  • Eye protection
  • Skin/hand protection (gloves)
  • Face mask
  • Neutralizing acid (lemon juice or vinegar)
  • Q-tips, Paper towel and/or disposable rag

The key thing to remember is that you don’t want to come in contact with the potassium hydroxide, so use a Q-tip to wipe the material away from the batteries. If you have trouble cleaning it off of battery contacts in electronics, you may try a drop of neutralizing acid on the end of the Q-tip.

If the battery is an acid battery, such as a car or marine battery, you can use baking soda (an alkaline) to neutralize the acid (ie. don’t use lemon juice or vinegar in this case).

For information about battery disposal, see: How to Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste

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Sources: Wikipedia (Alkaline Battery, Alkaline, pH)

February 23, 2011 at 2:00 am 1 comment

9 Volt Batteries Contain 6 AAAA Batteries

By Chad Upton | Editor

The batteries in most consumer electronics produce 1.5 volts each.

Different products use different numbers of batteries to achieve different voltage requirements. For example, a TV remote might be designed to run on 3 volts, so two 1.5 volt batteries will provide the necessary voltage when connected in series.

Larger devices, such as radios with large speakers or large kid’s toys, typically have larger batteries, like C and D cells. Smaller devices often use AA and AAA batteries, allowing the devices themselves to be smaller. All of these batteries output 1.5 volts, but the larger batteries have much higher capacities, meaning they last longer. D batteries have four times the capacity as AA’s. So, if you’re going to be blasting music on the beach, you’ll change fewer batteries if your radio uses D batteries.

There are many other types of batteries that are not 1.5 volts. One of the most popular is the nine-volt battery, which is technically called a PP3 battery. Smoke detectors, garage door remotes, transistor radios and a variety of other devices use these batteries.

They’re pretty convenient, giving you the voltage of six batteries after only inserting one battery. In fact, that’s exactly what they are — they’re just containers that link six smaller batteries together. Here’s a picture of a nine-volt battery that I took apart:

Each of the six batteries outputs 1.5 volts, giving a total of 9 volts when connected in series. The name brand nine-volt batteries usually contain six quadrouple A batteries (AAAA) which are rather uncommon in consumer electronics but find a home in medical devices such as glucose meters.

Some of the lesser known battery brands may contain 6 flat cells which are not easily reusable. As you can see in the picture above, AAAA batteries are very close in size to AAA cells. That’s worth noting since they could save the day if you’re short on AAAs:

Keep in mind, device manufacturers often use standard batteries in their rechargeable products and you can replace them yourself.

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Sources: Wikipedia (Batteries: D, AA, AAAA, nine-volt)

December 20, 2010 at 2:00 am 6 comments

The Meaning of the PlayStation Button Symbols

By Chad Upton | Editor

We are surrounded by symbols and they’ve been around for a very long time.

In public places,  where people may speak many different languages, we often see symbols instead of words. Some examples include signs for bathrooms and restaurants and even many road signs.

In the West, we have a some common symbols in writing. Check marks often mean correct or yes and an X usually means incorrect or no.  In Japan, they have four symbols that are commonly used in surveys: X, Triangle, Circle and Double Circle (circle within circle). These four symbols make up a four point scale, although sometimes the double circle is omitted for a three point scale. The circle means good or satisfactory and the double circle means excellent. The X means no or bad. The triangle means average (or below average on the four point scale when the double circle is being used). These symbols are just as common as the checks and Xs in the West.

So, when Sony charged Teiyu Goto with designing the original PlayStation, he wanted the buttons to represent ideas rather than label them with arbitrary letters like everybody else. It didn’t take long for him to settle on the triangle, circle, X, square icons.

They were easy to remember because they were associated with meaning. The triangle represents a user’s viewpoint or perspective, making it a great button to launch maps or change the game perspective. The square represented a piece of paper, making it ideal for showing navigation lists and menus. The circle and the X mean yes and no, and they’re meant for navigating yes and no operations.

When asked about the impact of the design, Goto replied, “”Getting to use such simple symbols in a design is an extremely rare opportunity, and it was really a stroke of luck to me.”

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Sources: 1up, Japanese Translator

November 3, 2010 at 1:00 am 9 comments

The White Dashes at the Top of a TV Picture

By Chad Upton | Editor

They may appear as rapidly flashing dots, dashes, lines or boxes across the top of your TV screen.

The white lines are more prevalent on HDTVs, although they can show on older standard definition sets too.

They often appear while watching an HD channel that is broadcasting a standard definition signal, which frequently happens during commercial breaks and shows that are not available in high definition.

The lines are supposed to be there, you’re just not supposed to see them. If you have seen them, they will vary in size and shape depending on your TV.

These lines are like barcodes embedded in the picture. Closed captioning, teletext and programming guide information is represented by these white lines. Your TV can interpret them and display the information in a format that you can read.

Although this primarily affects HDTVs, it stems from variances in old Tube TVs (Cathode Ray Tubes). In the early days of television, there were extreme variances in production of television sets — some would cut off more of the picture than others.

Broadcasters overcame this problem by trying to keep all titles and important actions away from the very edges of the screen, in case they were cut off on some TVs. That extra space that you don’t see is called the overscanned image (because of the way that CRTs would paint an image on the screen by scanning side to side sixty times per second).

The overscan area became a good place to hide extra information when closed captioning data was added to TV signals.

HDTV signals do not overscan. Their signals are newer and were designed to encapsulate extra information from the beginning. But, you may still see these lines on an HDTV if the broadcaster is showing content that has the lines.

Most good televisions have the option to adjust overscan, including hdtvs. You’ll have to consult your manual, but this option will allow you to adjust the picture so the white lines are not visible.

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Sources: Wikipedia (Safe area, Overscan)

August 20, 2010 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Bluetooth Headsets Can Reduce EMF Exposure

By Chad Upton | Editor

Popular wireless devices such as cell phones and wifi transceivers produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

A lot of people are concerned about the health affects of EMFs, so the World Health Organization started a project in 1996 to study their effects on people.

They currently maintain that EMFs, “do not produce any known adverse health effect.”

Operating in the microwave frequency range of EMFs, there is no denying that cell phones induce some of the highest exposure. The UK’s Health Protection Agency claims that 1 year of wifi exposure is comparable to 20 minutes on a cell phone.

The additional exposure with mobile phones is attributed to two factors:

  1. Close proximity to your head
  2. High power output (to reach distant receivers)

Both the World Health Organization and the Health Protection Agency continue to review the effects of EMF exposure in humans.

The amount of energy radiated by each cell phone model is measured and tracked. This measurement is taken in watts of radiation absorbed per kilogram of human tissue (W/kg). The amount of radiation absorbed, varies across the body — it is typically averaged over 1 gram of head tissue.

Canada and the US allow up to 1.6 watts per kilogram of radiation in cell phones, while the UK allows up to 2.0 W/kg. cnet maintains an up-to-date ranking of cell phones that emit the highest and lowest amount of radiation. They range from 0.1 W/kg to 1.6 W/kg. Check your user manual to see if your phone is high or low.

Comparatively, many bluetooth headsets emit ~0.001 W/kg of radiation, making them far lower than the mobile phone itself.

If you use a cell phone a lot, you should probably be using a bluetooth headset or speakerphone instead of holding the phone against your head.

Many new cars include audio systems that integrate with your cell phone for hands free calling, these are great. If you want something similar for your car, you can get a bluetooth speakerphone. I’ve had really good luck with the BlueAnt Supertooth 3, it downloaded my entire contact list for voice activated calling and its noise cancellation is really great.

If you’re looking for a headset, be sure to check the class of bluetooth headset you get. Most bluetooth devices are considered Class 2 devices, meaning they output around 2.5 mW of energy, which is a very small amount. A “Class 2″ device is likely what you want, which should translate to range of approximately 33 ft (10 meters). One of the most advanced and highest rated Class 2 headsets is the Jawbone Icon.

There are also Class 1 headsets, which give you much better range (up to 330 feet/100 meters), but they output more radiation, about the same as the phone itself. The Callpod Dragon is an example of a popular Class 1 headset.

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Sources: cnet, business week, bluetooth SIG, Wikipedia (bluetooth, wireless safety), antiradiation

August 16, 2010 at 5:00 am 1 comment

How to Increase Mobile Phone Battery Life

By Chad Upton | Editor

Sometimes, you’re far from your charger and won’t be back anytime soon. Here are some tips to extend your battery when it’s running low.

Not all of these tips will apply to all phones, so use the ones that match the features on your phone. If your phone, camera or other gadgets frequently run out of power while you’re away from an outlet, consider an economical backup battery charger.

Turn Off 3G and Data

Most data capable phones can operate in different modes. If you turn off the high-speed wireless data mode, such as 3G, you will significantly reduce the power your phone consumes. This is the single biggest thing I find affects battery consumption.

Dim the Screen

The screen’s backlight uses a lot of power, keeping it off as much as possible will extend battery life. On the iPhone, press the top button, on many BlackBerrys, press ALT + ENTER to lock the keyboard and shutoff the screen. If your phone has an option to adjust the brightness, dim it. If it has auto-brightness, enable it. If you can set an “auto off” time then set it to the shortest time allowed.

Text Message Instead of Calling

If you can get away with communicating by text message, this can save power too. Although, it does require your screen, so short messages are better. These messages are embedded in the signals that your phone is already sending and receiving to normally communicate with the mobile network, even when you’re not using the phone, so it’s a very efficient way to communicate.

Turn Wifi and Bluetooth Off

Wifi and Bluetooth are great conveniences, but when you’re away from your charger and worried about losing phone capabilities, they’re a luxury that can go. Most phones with these features, have an option to disable them.

Don’t Play Games or Music

Well designed mobile phone processors have a low power mode that sips power when the phone is waiting for incoming calls in standby mode. Playing games requires the processor to work at its limit, which requires a lot more energy than standby mode. The same goes for playing music, especially if they’re compressed, high bit-rate or encrypted or drm protected music files — extra processing is needed to process these files and power the headphones or internal speaker.

Stop Background Apps

Some background apps use more power than others, it really comes down to the hardware in the phone the app is using (ex GPS) and how processor intensive the activity is.

Generally, if you’re trying to save power, closing the apps you don’t need can save power. This mostly applies to BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices.

It isn’t as important on iPhone since background apps aren’t true background apps, they have limited capabilities and therefore don’t consume a significant amount of battery power. That said, if you have a GPS tracking, VOIP or a music playing app running in the background, it could use significant amounts of power over long periods of time and it should be closed.

If you have any other ideas, drop them in the comments. Thanks to Kraig Brachman for suggesting this secret.

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August 4, 2010 at 5:00 am 58 comments

Inactive Cell Phones Can Still Call 911

Over half of 911 calls originate from cell phones. This number will only increase as traditional phone service declines and cell phone adoption rates continue to rise.

In the US and Canada, wireless phone operators are required by law to connect all calls to 911 services, whether the customer account is active, past due or even canceled.

Even if you don’t need a wireless phone for your social life, it may be a good idea to keep an old phone in your glove box in case of an emergency. There is even an organization called AmericanCellPhoneDrive.org where you can donate an old phone or request a free phone for this exact purpose.

If you have a disabled phone without a service contract and want to use it for 911 service, you may want to test it. DO NOT just dial 911 to test it, they will likely send help, even if you say it was just a test. The proper way to test 911 service is to call the non-emergency number for your local public safety answering point (PSAP) office and schedule a 911 test. That way, they will be expecting your call and know for sure that it is a test. In the US, there is a list of non-emergency contact numbers for PSAPs listed here.

When you call 911, you should be aware that your location will also be transmitted to the operator.

Some cell phones have built in GPS receivers, allowing them to receive radio signals from space and accurately determine a very precise location on earth. But, GPS is rarely available when indoors and obviously many calls originate indoors. Calls to 911 may not use GPS location data, because the phone does not support it or because a GPS signal cannot be found (typical when indoors).

When GPS is not available, the wireless provider can get a fairly accurate location of the phone by analyzing it’s signal and the location of the towers that are receiving it. Current regulations require that a phone carrier can pinpoint a cell phone within 300-600 meters, depending on the technology the phone is using. By 2012, phone carriers should be able to pinpoint you location within 50-300 meters.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: 911 Wireless Service, FCC

May 25, 2010 at 5:00 am 6 comments

Free Text Messaging on iPhone and iPod Touch

By Chad Upton | Editor

Update: After many problems with PingChat!, I’d be hesitant to recommend it any longer. WhatsApp seems to be the best alternative at this time. It’s available for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Nokia (Symbian).

I know this is pretty specific to iPhone and iPod touch users, but with 50 million iPhones sold and 35 million iPod touches, there are 85 million of you out there.

Ever since the introduction of the iPhone 3GS and the 3.0 Operating System last year, push notifications have been available to iPhone users. Basically, these are real time messages that can be sent to your phone from Apple’s notification server.

The best part about these messages is that they’re free and your iPhone or iPod touch can be on standby or in any application when you receive them.

There are lots of applications (“apps”) that use this feature. For example, the facebook app (free) will buzz your phone with a notification when someone sends you a message or comments on a photo…etc.

The associated press (free) app will give you push notifications when breaking news is happening, allowing you to tune in and catch the car chase live or see the story as it’s unfolding.

One of the most practical uses for this feature is instant messaging. My favorite text messaging application for iPhone is PingChat! (Ping! Lite is also available for free). This app is great if you text a lot but don’t want to pay for it.

PingChat! works just like the native text messaging application on iPhone, except all your messages are free. With the paid version, which only costs $0.99, you can send pictures too. This app also works for iPod Touch users, so you can text message them when they are on a wifi network.

PingChat! is like Blackberry Messenger for iPhone — users within the blackberry network can message each other for free with Blackberry Messenger.

Since I have a lot of friends outside the US, this is a great way for us to keep each other up-to-date with the little things and avoid the $0.50/message SMS cost for international texts.

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May 20, 2010 at 5:00 am 43 comments

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