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Friday, May 24, 2013

Can Seniors Find the iPad Useful?


My dad was given an iPad by my sister when he visited her in Chicago last month. Since then he has not touched his desktop or his new laptop at home. He totes the iPad wherever he goes and has been using it at work. When you ask him why he prefers the iPad he would tell you it's the greatest gadget he has ever had. Below are some reasons why my father loves his iPad:
  • It's a good device for reading the newspaper
  • It's a good device to play his favorite games
  • It's a good device to surf the internet
  • It's a good device because it is very portable
My father's day is never complete without reading the newspaper and listening to his favorite news programs on TV. Now that he has an iPad, not only does he read the local dailies, but he has also subscribed to national newspapers like the New York Times. He loves his Reuters app that allows him to read news from all over the world.

If you are like my Dad who reads the news all the time, you can subscribe to your favorite newspapers and read what's in the news on your iPad. Getting newspapers from the App Store is easy for anyone, my dad was able to do it! All it takes is to go to the App Store by clicking the App Store icon on your Home screen. There are two things you can do once you are inside the App Store:
1) You can type the name of the newspaper you are looking for in the search field and it will be pulled up automatically.
2) You can tap on the "All Categories" button on top of the screen and choose "News" in the drop down menu where you will be taken to a page that has two columns. The first column features icons of paid news apps and the second column features the icons of free news apps. The paid apps include such newspapers as the New York Daily News that costs $1.99 to download as well as news programs like the popular show on CBS, "60 Minutes" that costs $4.99 to download. On the other hand, the free apps include an app for CNN, the NY Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
Be mindful that aside from the fee you pay in downloading the app on your iPad, access to the content of the newspaper you choose is not free of charge. You still need to pay the subscription fee for the newspapers that you want delivered on your iPad. For instance, even if you already paid $1.99 for the "New York Daily News" app, you still need to pay $13.99 for a 6-month auto renewing subscription or $23.99 for an annual auto renewing subscription. For the "NY Times," you only have limited access to its content unless you get a digital subscription which could cost around $5.00 to $8.75 a week depending on the access option you want. Most of the news programs that you can download on your iPad however, such as CBS' "60 Minutes" and CNN can be accessed for free once you download the app from the App Store.

I also noticed that dad has some games on his iPad when I borrowed it the other week and I know he downloaded them himself because he used to always ask me to do it for him. I think my Dad especially loves his iPad now because he does not have to bring crossword puzzles cut out from newspapers and magazines and a pencil while waiting for my Mom to finish shopping at the mall or while waiting at the doctor's office. If he gets tired doing the crossword, he can easily switch to being a contestant in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" his favorite game show on TV. He even volunteers to babysit my daughters now because he can entertain them with kiddie games such as "Cars: Numbers and Counting," "Make Up Salon," and "Toddler's Seek and Find."

If you are also into crossword puzzles like my Dad, you can download crossword puzzle apps like the "NYTimes Crosswords" for free on your iPad. All you need to do is go to the App Store. Once in the App Store, type the word "crossword" on the search field and you will be taken to a page with crossword app suggestions. Tap the icon of the crossword you want to download and then tap the "Free" for free apps or the button that displays the price of the app for paid apps. When the button turns green, tap the button again and wait for the app to load completely. You can also look for games from the "All Categories" button and the dropdown menu that comes out when you tap on it.

Just like when you uploaded the news apps, some games can be played for free while others can only be played after you pay a certain amount. For instance, the "NYTimes Crosswords" gives you a week of free crosswords only. After the one-week, free trial period you can only play with their classic crossword puzzles. If you are a crossword puzzle pro like my Dad, you might not be content with the classic puzzle. If you want to play the puzzle printed on today's paper, then you will have to subscribe to get access. The fees are: $16.99 for a yearly subscription, $9.99 for a six-month subscription or $2.99 for a monthly subscription. Of course these fees may change at any time.

So, can seniors find the iPad useful? Oh yes, it definitely is for seniors and my Dad is a living testament that iPads can be used by people of all ages.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to start your car from your phone?

In this article I will show you how to start your car from your cell phone. I already had a car starter installed in my truck years ago but the range was terrible and you had to press the button for a precise amount of time, otherwise it would just ignore it. So instead of pressing a button all day long from 10 feet away I decided I wanted to start my truck from anywhere in the world! I built this a few years ago, and some newer products have come out that integrate cell phones with vehicles, but this still works for older vehicles, and can also be adapted to many other kinds of appliances as well.
This isn't just limited to vehicles. Many DIY types have attached these to their cabin's furnace, aircraft pre-heaters, irrigation pumps on farms, servers, routers, and all sorts of other appliances and electronics.
Parts required:
-GSM activated relay. This device will contain a SIM chip that can connect to the GSM cell phone network. It's relays must be able to be activated by phone call or text message. In my first build I used a GSM-AUTO, but found a cheaper alternative on eBay for the Quad Band version (North America) or the Dual Band (Europe, Asia, etc.). it costs around $150 which has 7 relays. Another alternative is to purchase from the online store called Relay Supply. One relay is controlled by phone call and the rest are activated by text message. The relays can be set as either momentary or latched.
-Car Starter Key Fob (the remote control thing on your keychain).
-12V DC cigarette power cord
-Small plastic bag or ESD bag.
-A few wires.
-A few screw drivers
-Soldering Iron
Step 1:
Begin with canabalizing the key fob. Instead of consuming one of my existing remotes, I turned to eBay. I found the model number of mine on the back. Its an Auto Start 05-A433. I entered this in on eBay and up popped a bunch of used key fobs that are compatible with my system. WARNING: Some of these remotes may look exactly like the one you want but they come in many revisions. Some revisions are not compatible with others. If you are not sure which to buy on eBay, try buying one new online.
You will have to sync your remote with your car starter. As all car starters and car starter installations are different, I won't go into detail on how to do this. Whoever installed your car starter can usually do it for a fee but I strongly recommend you Google for the models manual as its a rather simple process. It usually involves either depressing the hood pin in a particular fashion (a pin that detects if your hood is popped), or pressing a button on the side of the remote starters brain under your dash.
Now remove any screws from the case and pry it apart. The circuit inside and battery are not secured in any way and came out easily.
Step 2:
Find the button that corresponds to the "start" button on your remote. Some remotes can require a combination of buttons to be pressed in a certain order, or multiple buttons pressed at the same time. This can be accomplished by soldering up two connections that are both wired through the relay (for multiple button presses) or a capacitor can be added to time delay one of buttons.
The contact in the center of this picture is already powered. When a user pushes the button, the connection is made between the interlocking contacts (they look like interlocking letter E's) and the starter signal is sent. We will be soldering one wire to each corner of the contact. This takes a great deal of precision to ensure that you do not join the two contacts.
Step 3:
Next, solder a wire onto each connector that supplies power to the remote. Color coding the wires is a good idea. This remote takes a small but powerful 12V battery. Note that if your remote can not handle this high of voltage (some cigarette lighters can pump out around 15V so be sure that the remote can handle this), you will have to continue using the existing battery.
Step 4:
The GSM Relay has 7 relays. The first is controlled by phone call. When called, the relay will open for a set amount of time that can be programmed into the device by text message. Mine is set for 1200 milliseconds.
I would recommend wiring the power cables into the device first. Take the 12V DC cigarette power cord and strip the ends of the cables and slide the cable through one of the ports on the side of the device. These ports can be tightened to ensure the device is weather proof. I fed the wire through the port closest to the power connector, but if your wires are higher gauge this can be difficult. Consider running the wire through the far port. The remote key fob will remain inside the device and its wires will not be run through on of the ports.
GND (ground) is clearly marked as the top most connector. Wrap the negative (black) wire from your remote key fob around the negative cigarette power connector wire and feed it into the GND connector. Screw it down tightly to ensure a solid connection.
Wrap the positive (red) wire from your remote key fob around the positive cigarette power connector wire and insert it into the +12V connector on the GSM device. Screw it down tightly and test both wires for looseness.
Step 5:
Next, run the wires from our "start" button into the relay controlled by phone calls. Each relay is simply a pair, with the first relay being controlled by phone call, and the rest being controlled by text message. Push the wires into each connector and screw them down tightly. Remember, the remote will reside within the GSM devices case, so do not run the wire through one of the case ports.
Once this is done, consider sliding a small plastic bag or ESD bag over the remote key fob to prevent any shorts.
Step 6:
Slide back the metal bracket covering the SIM chip holder to allow it to pop up. Insert the SIM chip as shown and press it down again, securing the metal bracket to hold it down.
The GSM device has 3 LED's on it:
-One for network connectivity. This LED won't turn on for the first 10 seconds, and then will blink quite fast when the device initializes. The rapid blinking means its searching for a network to connect to. Once it establishes a connection (this will only occur if the SIM chip is a valid one and the device is in GSM range), the light will blink much slower, indicating that the connection has been made.
-One for indicating power status (blinks regularly to indicate it is powered).
-One for indicating TX or RX. Whenever the device receives or sends a text message/phone call, this light will flash.
Connect the device to your vehicles cigarette lighter! The power LED should be flashing, as should the network LED. Once the device achieves network connectivity, the flashing of the network LED should slow down.
Step 7:
Programming the device is simple. I have attached a PDF to this Instructable containing the instructions. To quickly add a phone number to the list of valid phone numbers that can call the device (also called a white list), send the following text message to the device:
PWD is the password (which can be changed), and WHL01 is the first position in the white list. If you wanted to add a second number you would use WHL02, etc. and so forth.
The phone number to be entered should contain the area code and regular phone number with no dashes. Occasionally the international country code must be prepended to the start of the number, but try without this first.
Call the device and the first relay should loudly clack open and closed for 300 milliseconds (default length of time). The device will never pick up the phone call; rather it merely checks whether that phone number is in its white list, and then either ignores it or acknowledges it. It usually activates itself on the second ring and causes you to hear two rings to occur quickly one after another when it activates.
To update the length of time to one second, use this command:
Figure out how long you normally have to press the start button for to start your vehicle and then program the relay to open for the proper amount of time.
Step 8:
Time to test our device out. Call the device and watch as the TX/RX LED activates. The relay should loudly flip open, and if you have a small LED on your key fob like mine, you should see this glowing as the "start" button is pressed by our relay. If the timing is correct and the key fob is pressed, your vehicle should start!
The parts I used can be obtained from Rellay Supply. The direct link for the 7 switch device: GSM Remote Control Relay.
If you have any other ideas for projects let me know. I'd love to collaborate or try out new projects!
I found some really useful devices at Relay Supply but there are lots of other sites out there, and eBay has many items like this as well. Google is your friend! Find what works best for you.
Another type of device that can be useful are devices that don't use bare contacts, but instead have mains plugs can also be found on Relay Supply. All units are Quad Band, and are either GSM based, or Wifi based, with multiple options for AC or DC power inputs.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Customize User Interface of Android Device


Right out of the box, the newer versions of Android have fancy ways to jazz up the background of your home desktop, with the launch of live wallpapers for example, which allow screen interactions and a much more visual way of improving the appearance of your home screen - at a slight cost of battery life.

The Play Store is your main source for downloading third-party software, which can be used to customize the phone. However, there are normally plenty of ways, you can improve the look of your phone without even needing these apps.

Adding items on your home screen is the first step and can be easily done by selecting an icon and pushing down on it. Now you can either reposition the later or dump it in the trash bin (it does not remove the program, just the home screen icon). Finally, pushing and holding down on an empty screen lets you add shortcuts, folders or widgets. The last of these can improve the functionality of your phone immensely, such as displaying weather widgets, status updates or calendar entries.
Heading into the Settings menu provides a few more options you can change. For example, you can adjust your ringtones, vibration feedback (if present), how long your phone's backlight stays on before dimming and locking the screen. Or you can enable alternative keyboards, so if you don't get on with the default Android version, you can download a couple of freebies from the Play store (eg. iPhone keyboard) and enable these instead. Some custom keyboards can even have different skins.
In terms of a performance boost, we recommend Spare Parts (search for it on Play store). Despite reportedly being a root-only app, it seems to work fine on non-hacked phones and it's really handy for adding additional features, such as auto-rotation transition effects, haptic feedback or viewing detailed battery status reports.

Don't Like it? Change it.

Another way to customize your phone is to replace your default software. For example, you could get hold of Documents To Go for editing Microsoft Office documents or download Dolphin Browser, which is a great replacement to the default browser. For a start, the browser feels faster in operation and has gesture control as well, so you can draw on the screen to perform certain actions, such as adding bookmarks.

Of course, you may be sick of your default home theme or the way the icons/widgets look. Here you can head to the Google Play store and download a variety of third-party apps to customize your Android further.
Read more useful android tips on Everything Android which focuses on apps, tutorials and useful stuff for your Android device.
Checkout Everything Android today at
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