Blog Archives

Use Aluminum Foil to Keep Clothes Static Free [Clever Uses]

If you’re not a fan of dryer sheets and the residue they leave on your clothes, but your clothing comes out suffering from static cling, try this simple and cheap trick. More »


The Cleverest Ways to Use Dropbox That You’re Not Using [Dropbox]

Free utility Dropbox is great at syncing files between computers, but it has a lot more potential than just that. Here’s a handful of clever ways you can use Dropbox that you may not have thought of. More »

Buff Out Dings in Wooden Furniture with a Walnut [Clever Uses]

Next time you inadvertently ding or bruise a piece of beloved wooden furniture, head to your pantry. According to all-things-home blog Apartment Therapy, all you need to cover up that ding is a single walnut.

The folks at Apartment Therapy know a thing or two about making an almost-perfect piece of furniture perfect, and according to them, a walnut—under the right circumstances—can buff out a ding in vintage wooden furniture with the best of 'em. The simple method, in, *ahem*, a nutshell:

1. Identify areas of your wooden furniture that are unsightly because they have been bumped or scraped.

2. Get your walnut.

3. Rub the walnut on the damaged area.

4. Watch in amazement as the damaged area begins to darken.

5. Step back and admire your work. Hey, you didn’t even break a sweat!

Ever tried this yourself, or have a better method? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

How to Put Your PC to Good Use While You’re Sleeping [Hack Attack]

The great part about your computer is that—unlike you—it doesn't require any sleep. Take advantage of your PC's insomnia by automating time- and processor-intensive tasks while you're counting sheep.

Photo remixed from Remko van Dokkum and Ian Wilson.

Note: We’re all for powering down your PC to save energy overnight, but you can easily schedule your computer to shut down at specific times using several methods, so there's no harm in putting your PC to sleep an hour or two after you doze off—or an hour or two after you leave for work, or whatever times you might want to take advantage of a few extra CPU cycles while you're away from your PC.

On Tuesday we asked you what apps and maintenance tools you run while you’re sleeping. Below we’ve aggregated our favorite overnight computer uses, including some of your favorite methods of squeezing a few more overtime hours out of your computer along with ours.

Backup, Update, and Clean

Ah maintenance; it's the stuff that boring work is made of. Rather than incorporate it into your regular computing hours—and staring listlessly at your computer while your maintenance tasks complete—make computer maintenance an overnight task that your computer performs without you.

Note: All of the below suggestions, naturally, can be set to run on a schedule.

Backup your hard drive: We’ve emphasized the importance of backup time and again, and even if you’ve already got some form of backup in place, there’s still a good chance that you’re doing it wrong.

The bummer about backup: It can take a very long time, especially when you’re performing an off-site backup over the internet (which you should be doing!). We’ve detailed how to automatically backup your hard drive to an external drive and/or FTP server in the past. Backing up to a second local hard drive—like a connected USB drive—is the most important of these two, since most people don't necessarily have an off-site FTP server they can back up to.

Instead, for your off-site backup needs, we’d suggest signing up for a service like Mozy. An annual subscription to Mozy will cost around $55 a year for unlimited backups (free for up to 2GB), but let’s say worst comes to worst and your computer is robbed, lost to a fire, or your hard drives up and crash. That small cost for insurance will likely seem very much worth the money. I personally use and can vouch for Mozy, but you might want to read up on it and other options in our recent Hive Five Best Backup Tools.

Some command-line savvy readers also opt to do their backups using the venerated rsync command line tool. If you’re interested in taking the rsync route, check out our guide on how to mirror files across systems with rsync.

Make your hard drive repair itself: You can't do much to save a hard drive from dying if it's fated in the stars, but you can do your part to keep your disks healthy—specifically by regularly defragmenting and checking for and repairing any disk errors. Our oldie-but-goodie guide to the self-repairing hard drive will allow you to schedule this maintenance once or twice per week, while you’re sleeping, so you can rest easy that you’ve done all you can to keep your disks running in tip-top shape.

Keep your computer up to date: This one’s kind of a no brainer, but still very worth the reminder. Granted, some power users would prefer vetting each and every Windows update before it’s applied, but for most folks, there’s not much of a reason not to automate this process while they’re out. To schedule updates via Windows Update, just launch the Update tool from the Control Panel, click the Let me choose my settings link, and choose your preferred automated update settings.

OS X users, your Software Update tool isn’t quite as friendly about setting specific times for checking for and downloading updates, but Macworld’s Christopher Breen has some clever tips for scheduling Software Update that’ll do the trick.

Clean house: Whether you’re talking antivirus, crap cleaning, or other general PC cleanup, there’s no better time to run those scans and maintenance tools than while you’re catching some Z’s. It may depend on your antivirus application of choice, but you should have some sort of built-in scheduling option for running antivirus and spyware scans. And for the CCleaner crowd, the How-To Geek details how to set up CCleaner to run automatically every night.

Download, Encode, and Fold

Now that you’ve got your PC taking care of its most important maintenance tasks overnight, let’s look at a few other common overnight uses.

Downloads: When we asked about overnight PC use, downloading using tools like BitTorrent ranked very high among those who responded, and for obvious reasons: Downloads can take a long time, and those hours you're sleeping are hours that big downloads can be completing. But rather than keep your PC on all night long—even after it completes your download—most popular file downloaders have built-in options for shutting down, hibernating, or otherwise powering off your computer when the download in question completes. Everything from the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent (whose options are pictured above) to download managers like DownThemAll have these options built in.

Video encoding: Many of us will never know the time it takes to do some seriously heavy video encoding (we’re none of us Pixar), but if you’ve ever tried ripping a DVD (here are five of the best ripping tools out there), you know how much time and CPU cycles video encoding can take. Outsource your ripping and other encoding jobs to the night so you can actually use your computer the next day.

Share your computing power with researchers: Distributed computing tools allow researchers across the globe to use your extra CPU cycles to run a few algorithms of their own in the background using your computer. That might not seem like much, but with enough computers, researchers can do some serious work with distributed computing. (Wikipedia notes that Folding@home, the most popular distributed computing network, has up to 400,000 active machines running at a time and has reached computing speeds of over 5.0 native petaflops.) If you’re interested in putting your PC to use to help the world while you’re sleeping, you’ve got plenty of options:There’s Folding@home (a project to understand protein folding), BOINC, the World Community Grid, and LHC@home, to name a few popular options.

And a few other smart ideas

Clever (or just less common) overnight uses for your PC suggested by Lifehacker readers included:

  • Updating your applications: Reader Matthew Giacomazzo uses previously mentioned software update tool Ketarin to check for and download software update packages for installed apps. Rather than automatically install them, he has Ketarin output updates to a text file on his desktop so he can review the downloaded updates and decide whether or not to install them in the morning.
  • Compiling code: Compiling code from source can be an intensive process, and reader perlhacker uses his overnight cycles to update and compile software on his Mac and OpenBSD machines.
  • Renaming files: Lifehacker reader prupert runs scripts on his home theater PC to rename and copy television recordings on his MythTV setup, then scans the recordings for advertising, removes them, and converts the files to MKV.
  • Creating local backups for data in the cloud: Reader mojo schedules a Google Docs backup to give a little redundancy to data in the cloud.

Just Turn It Off Already

Okay, fine. Sometimes the best thing you can do with your computer is simply turn it off. You save on electricity, you lose one extra hum and a few flashing lights in your home at night, and you may stop thinking, “Oooo, maybe I should google that” while you’re laying in bed with your pre-sleep mind wandering. Remember, though, very few of the options highlighted above should require an entire night’s worth of your powered-on computer. Check out our guide to automatically shutting down your computer at a certain time for more ideas on how you can make the most of some after-hours computing power without keeping your computer on all night long.

Got a favorite that didn’t make the list above, or want to expand on what we already mentioned? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Adam Pash, editor of Lifehacker, enjoys the god-like power of automation more than is healthy. His work can be found every day on Lifehacker, and he’s listening on Twitter.

Most Popular Repurposing Tricks of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

We're huge fans of repurposing here at Lifehacker—squeezing extra and usually clever uses out of every day objects. Here's a look back at out some of the most popular repurposing posts from 2009.

Rain Gutters as Cable Management Tools

We’re all about creative cable management here at Lifehacker, so we were instantly drawn to reader Seandavid010‘s rain-gutter cable management setup. Granted, you can find other cord-wrangling solutions, like the one Adam used when he made his cordless workspace, but the rain gutter approach yields impressive results. Sean was nice enough to send in his entire step-by-step, check out the full post to see it.

$5 IKEA Coat Hanger Offers Solid Cable Management

Weblog BitsOfMyMind shares a very simple idea that turns an inexpensive coat-hanger rack into a simple and streamlined cord management solution.

Back when Adam detailed how to go cordless in your workspace, he championed a $10 cable management add-on from IKEA. Many readers wrote in and said they couldn’t find the IKEA wire-manager he used, so this clever hack is a welcome addition to our cable-wrangling bag of tricks.

Open a Bottle of Wine with Your Shoe

Got a bottle of wine on hand but no corkscrew to get it open? You can argue all you want about whether or not the guy in this video really needs more wine, but you can’t argue with the results.

Make Cookies in 90 Seconds with Your Waffle Iron

Baking cookies in your oven is fine and all, but if you want to turn out some tasty cookies in a very short time, consider turning to your trusty waffle iron. Turns out you’re only 90 seconds away from crispy, chewy, cookie-goodness.

Create a Cat Haven from Ikea Shelves

The climbing trees at pet stores are ridiculously expensive and take up tons of floor space. Help your kitty jump to a royal view, Super-Mario-style, without cluttering your floor or wasting money.

Remove Splinters Using a Banana Peel

Bananas are a good source of potassium, but turns out the peels can do more than just store the fruit. Apartment Therapy outlines seven ways to put used peels to work, including removal of those inconvenient splinters. Photo by keepon.

Get More From Cheap Vodka Than a Hangover

Sooth headaches? Clean razors? Kill bees? Vodka is handy for all sorts of uses besides the traditional one. The clear and high-proof alcohol can be used for all manner of tricks. Photo by Carsten Lorentzen.

Coke Can Clean Your Toilet in a Pinch

When your toilet’s got rings and lime scale stains and you’ve got no cleaning gear on hand, grab a can of Coke out of the fridge.

Turn IKEA Cabinets Into a Cordless Desktop Stand

The new iMacs, and similar all-in-one LCD desktop systems, make for a mostly cordless computing experience. Using two pieces of IKEA furniture meant for laptops and modems, you can hide the remaining wires and up the elegance.

Disposable Mugger’s Wallet Gets You Off Scott Free or Gets You Beat Up

A mugger’s wallet is a disposable second wallet that you’re more than happy to give away to a mugger. It contains a few bucks, a non-essential ID, but not much else that would endanger your identity.

DIY Car Dash Camera Mount

Ever wished you had some high-speed chase footage after you finished tearing down the freeway after crooks? Of course you have! You need a quick, cheap DIY camera mount.

Remove Stubborn Batteries and Other Cool Magnet Tricks

As if the sheer magnetism aspect of magnets wasn’t magical enough, weblog Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories points out 17 very cool tricks that put your magnets to great use. For starters, a strong magnet can be the perfect tool to remove batteries from the grips of a stubborn spring.

Use Vicks VapoRub To Cure Toenail Fungus

We’ve heard that Vicks VapoRub can cure toenail fungus before (it’s also helpful when you’ve got a cold!), but the New York Times recently put it to the test. The results: The thyme in VapoRub can in fact do the job.

Repair a Broken Ethernet Plug with Zip Ties

We’ve all been there at some point: You’ve got a perfectly functional Ethernet cord that somewhere along the line had its tab broken off. Don’t buy a new one or re-terminate the cord. Fix it with zip ties.

Open Beer Bottles with Bic Lighters

If you lack for a piece of paper, a ring, or just don’t want to risk bursting another bottle, Wired explains the time-honored tradition of popping the top with a Bic-type lighter.

Outlet-Hanging Charge Station For Your Small Gadgets

If a full-sized charging station is overkill for your single cellphone or iPod, try this smaller gadget cradle that mounts neatly on a wall outlet. Craft blog Zakka Life put together a simple tutorial for making a cradle that's perfect for single, regularly-charged items—the kinds of things you dump out of your pockets upon returning home.

Best Repurposing Trick of 2009?(answers)

Have a favorite post from 2009 that highlights a clever use or novel way to repurpose an everyday object? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Repair a Broken Ethernet Plug with Zip Ties [Clever Uses]

We’ve all been there at some point, you’ve got a perfectly functional Ethernet cord that somewhere along the line had its tab broken off. Don’t buy a new one or re-terminate the cord. Fix it with zip ties.

While we're no stranger making our own Ethernet cables—you can probably find a few RJ-45 connectors hanging out with the dust bunnies under our work bench—sometimes it's not convenient or you don't have the tools to strip an Ethernet cable, strip and reposition the pairs, and re-terminate it. It's an even bigger annoyance when the only reason you find yourself having to do it is a missing plastic tab on the connector plug.

Over at the ever-growing how-to site Instructables, they have a tutorial on how to fix a broken RJ-45 connector using two zip ties, a razor knife, and a pair of pliers—although if you're going full MacGyver you could skip the pliers. When you're done you'll have a functional tab on your Ethernet cable. Check out full tutorial at the link below and if you have your own clever use for zip ties or other inexpensive tools—duct tape anyone?—we want to hear about it in the comments.

Top 10 Clever Fixes for Your Broken Stuff [Clever Uses]

Buying a replacement at Target isn’t always the necessary solution when your stuff goes on the fritz. Fix common problems or altogether broken gear with these clever repair methods.

Photo by jeremyfoo.

10. Stripped screw holes

I’ve moved a wall-mounted magnetic knife block between four different homes in the last three years, and now its screws just spin endlessly in place. This weekend, I’ll be gluing a golf tee inside the holes, then re-mounting that sucker on the kitchen wall. It’s a trick that will only work with screws that are, of course, at least close to a golf tee’s width, but it’s a handy one for those of us who put a bit too much push into our drills. (Original post)

9. Booze-addled brains

A night out for drinks resulting in a rough morning is nobody’s fault but your own, though persuasive friends and the weekend can be a volatile combination. Get a good night’s sleep if you can, drink plenty of water, but while the night is still happening, try a booze-conscious diet. Not entirely easy to pull off, and it lends a less care-free attitude to the night, but it’s far less inconvenient than waking up feeling like a truck tire. The next morning, try a little ginseng, and consider taking up Lifehacker readers on their best hangover cures. Photo by cutglassdecanter.

8. Shattered light bulbs

If it was a completely clean break between glass and metal socket, you could simply kill a circuit breaker and twist out a light bulb with pliers. But how often does anything ever break clean? If you’ve got a bulb to pull out with glass still hanging, or you can’t get at your circuit box, try a potato cut in half to embed the sharp bulb and socket in, then simply turn it left to unscrew the bulb. Now you're ready to replace the bulb, and you've got a reason to have hash browns with your next breakfast—using the non-bulb-removing potato half, of course. (Original post)

7. Constantly loose glasses

The screw that holds your glasses tight against your head? It’s gone the way of seemingly everything on expensive and hard to fix items. When you finally get a miniature screwdriver and restore your snug fit, grab some clear nail polish and dab it over the top of the screws. It’s enough of a bond to keep the screws from coming loose again, but you could still get them out if you needed to. (Original post)

6. Splinter-stuffed hands

A simple tweezer session might free your hands of wood slivers, but sometimes they’re just too tiny, or too many, to try and remove with micro-surgery. If you’re fiending for a fix, try applying some glue to the afflicted skin, then peel it off to take the splinters with it. That’s one of the more powerful splinter fixes, but you might be able to get away with a banana peel or bath and pumice stone to pull out those ugly little remainders of your latest wood project. Photo by furryscaly.

5. Shiny but scratched gadget bezels

Gadgets with shiny chrome finishes look great out of the box. A few days of actual use, however, can give you that Why I Can’t Have Nice Things feeling. Smooth out your iPhone or any other gadget with a polished chrome-like finish by brushing the bezel evenly with a rough sponge. It’s a bug that becomes a feature on your newly-unique phone. (Original post)

4. Failing hard drive

When your computer suddenly fails to boot up or starts randomly deciding it can’t find certain files, the first thing you’ll do is hope for, or confirm, a recent backup. If it looks like mechanical failure is the cause, and you need just a bit more data off that drive before it’s gone for good, try sticking it in the freezer until it’s good and cold, then let it reach room temperature again and give it another try. This passed-around tech geek tip works, as a last resort, because when worn-out mechanical parts fail to connect and align properly, contracting them with cold, then allowing them to expand again, can sometimes restore things to barely-working order just long enough to give you a little more time before the funeral. (Original post)

3. Wet cellphones and other gadgets

If cellular companies were nice, they’d realize that running water, beverages, and rain are a part of everyday life. As it is, most cellphones these days have paper inside that change color when a little liquid completely voids your warranty. If your cellphone is on the fritz after an unexpected bath, we’ve recommended a bowl of rice, a bit of kitty litter, and, for certain phones in certain dire situations, even rubbing alcohol. They can't save your soaked gadget every single time, but when they do, you'll feel like celebrating—just keep the phone away from the table next time. (Original post)

2. Cables run amok

The cables may still work, but they make your workspace look and feel like an utter mess. We’ve often featured our IKEA-assisted de-tangling technique, but for those unable to locate one of those custom wire baskets, or facing a serious amount of cord length, reader Seandavid010 has illustrated the conversion of rain gutters into cord catchers, using cheap hardware bits and a little time with a cordless screwdriver or drill. Paint the gutters any color you’d like to match your walls or desk, and buy just the right amount to fit your needs.

1. Ugly, in-your-face web ads and annoyances

Pop-up ads, jittery Flash come-ons, auto-playing sound—they don't mean the whole web is broken, just a small, ugly part of it. Using Firefox and its strongest add-ons and settings, you can mostly eliminate the most unpleasant aspects of the web and regain some measure of control over what you see.

What’s the cheapest fix you’ve found for a seemingly impossible problem? Share your uncommon methods in the comments.

Turn a Credit or Membership Card into a Media Player Stand [DIY]

You’re sitting on the airplane, you want to watch some music videos on your iPhone, smart phone, Zune, or other media device, alas you’re stuck holding it the whole time. Unless of course you use this handy hack.

We highly recommend against using your Platinum Visa for this trick, but if you have old hotel key cards, perks cards, or other non-essential plastic cards floating around in your wallet you can quickly turn them into a little portable stand for your iPhone or other small media player—this hack would work just as well for the Android and HTC Touch Pro we've got floating around the Lifehacker office.

All you need to do to turn your plastic card into a stand is make two bends. One bend about three quarters of an inch from the end of the card to create the “lip” for your player to rest on and another bend about in the middle of the card to create the “easel” back to keep it propped up.

If you need step by step instructions, check out the full tutorial at the link below. If you’re all about having a collapsible media player stand in your pocket but you’d like someone else to do the heavy lifting and create it for you, check out the previously mentioned GoGoStand.

Use a Vacuum to Clean Dust Particles Caught Inside a Camera Lens [Clever Uses]

No matter how talented a shutterbug you are, a dirty lens can detract from even the most amazing shot. DIY compendium WikiHow has drawn up a step-by-step guide on removing specks and other dust particles from your camera lens with a vacuum.

As the post notes, you’ll want to proceed with caution before cleaning off your lens with a vacuum (that means use more traditional methods first); the vacuum method should only be used as a last resort, since even the lowest vacuum power could harm your camera.

This trick involves getting rid of [dust particles] with a vacuum cleaner, when all else has failed and the costs of cleaning the inside of the lens are prohibitive compared to the cost of buying a new camera.

If you’ve run into some stubborn particles that you just can’t clean with traditional methods, the six-step cleaning process involves rolling up a plastic wrap (“forming a thin sausage and leaving a section unrolled”), then wrapping it around the opening.

Browse the full post for the remaining instructions, and if you have a safer lens cleaning method, let’s hear about it in the comments.

$5 IKEA Coat Hanger Offers Solid Cable Management [Clever Uses]

Weblog BitsOfMyMind shares a very simple idea that turns an inexpensive coat-hanger rack into a simple and streamlined cord management solution.

Back when I detailed how to go cordless in your workspace, I championed a $10 cable management add-on from IKEA. I’ve since gotten several emails from readers unable to find the cable management accessory in stores, which is why I love this coat-hanger workaround.

It was built by screwing Ikea Antonius coat hangers to the underside of the desk using long enough wood screws. To give it a bit of stability, I used a hollow tube (like piping cut to length) for the hangers to sit on.

You can find the Antonius coat hanger BitsOfMyMind used here, but it looks like you'll have to head into stores to buy it. The point, though, is that you really don't need to buy this particular coat hanger—any similarly constructed coat hanger could do the trick nicely. (Though we do love the paltry $5 price tag on this one.)

Cable management [BitsOfMyMind via Hack a Day]

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