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Learning to Code is the new Universal Skillset

Once, mechanical skills were the requirement of pretty much everyone that wanted to do anything themselves. If your plow broke down, it was good to be able to know how to fix it. If you needed a pair of pants, it was good to know how to make them yourself or mend your old ones. These were mechanical tasks that although took a little knowledge, didn’t overwhelm the majority of people to learn. Today, we live with things that aren’t so easily repaired or created from such simple beginning materials. Instead, we live in a world where there is seemingly very little that you can do for yourself, and if you can, there is very little that you could do as economically on your own, as you could have it done by someone else cheaper. There is one thing that will get you closer to being that handyman of old than anything else these days though. That is coding.

There is hardly a device in existence today that someone hasn’t made a computerized version of. There are all sorts of devices that, for better or worse, have been made to connect to the internet. Even toasters, can openers, and keychains. Don’t ask me why, but they have done it. The thing is, when someone comes up with good enough reasons to computerize a device, you can bet that ten years from that point, you will hardly be able to buy one without that feature.

People think about coding as being simply the programs that run your hardware. These days though, the line between software and hardware is extremely blurred. Today, you can literally program a microprocessor onto a chip called an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), and have it run faster than the original. You can literally make a radio tuner from about 10 parts, and one of those parts is a speaker. You can do this stuff because tons of hardware can be represented by software these days.

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Why People buy old Audio Receivers

Today, you can walk into a store and buy a stereo receiver that does 7.1 surround sound, is rated at 100 watts per channel RMS, connects to your iPod/iPhone/Android/other audio, connects to the internet to allow you to use Spotify, Pandora, or any number of other audio apps, supports Dolby Atmos to give you that third spatial dimension to your sound, and all sorts of other bells and whistles, and this all at a price under $400. Given that, why in the world would anyone spend $600 - $2000 on a stereo system that was made in the ‘60s or ‘70s that has almost none of the features of today’s systems?

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Making Robots is Easier Than You Think

Many people want to automate a task, but they just don’t know how to go about it. Well, it’s never been easier to make an electronic device to do something for you, and it is getting easier all the time. The cool thing is, even if it doesn’t walk and talk, it is still considered a robot.

Traffic Lights and Music

Recently, I picked up a traffic signal at an auction. I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw it sitting on the table. When I got it home, the problem was getting it to do what I wanted it to do, which was to cycle through the lights and flash to music.

This task might seem impossible for people that have no knowledge of electronics to do, but there is a huge push to get kids interested in computers and electronics, so there are devices out there that are made to be easy enough for kids to work with, don’t cost a lot of money, and make the task of doing automated tasks much easier. In fact, there are companies out there that cater specifically to the “maker”, and they exist for just about every kind of thing you might want to automate. From controlling motors to lights to the temperature, there is a module that plugs into a microcontroller or computer. In fact, if you just want to play with simple things, you can buy micro-controllers from China for less than $3 a piece.

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Sometimes our wireless internet connection just doesn’t have the range it seems it should. Last week we discussed how we could get more range by trading off speed. This week, we will look at ways to extend your range, while keeping a similar speed, by using Wi-Fi range extenders.

Range Extenders, Boosters, and Repeaters

When you go looking to extend your Wi-Fi, you will see things that seem like they all do similar things, but they are called different things. Well, you would be right. A range extender, a booster, and a repeater all serve to make your wireless signal extend further from the main router. The difference isn’t always in the name though. Often the difference is in the way they work.

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Tips for the Best Wi-Fi

Almost all of us have Wi-Fi, and many of us wish it worked a little better. Maybe you want it to be faster. Maybe you want it to get more range. Maybe you want it to be more secure. There are some simple things that can help you get the best out of your wireless network.

Speed vs Range

With wireless signals, you have a trade-off. You can get high speed, or you can get range. This means that when you increase one, you must decrease the other, given the same technology is being used. The good thing is, we are often in an area where our Wi-Fi can deliver both to a degree that is acceptable, and if one is lacking, we can afford to sacrifice some of one to get more of the other. For instance, you probably have more than enough bandwidth to do what you need to do, but your internet cuts out just before you can get to your bedroom. We can, therefore, reduce our speed to increase our range, without really noticing a difference. Other times, you may be 10 feet from your router, so range is not an issue, but you need a little more speed for transferring large files from your tablet to your laptop. Well, you can afford to have less range to speed up your file transfers.

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How to Backup and Print Text Messages From Your Phone

This week, I had two people that had a cell phone emergency. One had broken their phone screen but had been being threatened by someone in their text messages, and the other needed to print out text messages for court from their phone. What happens when you need access to this information, and what can you do to back it up? You might be surprised that it isn't as easy as it seems it should be.

Text Message Backups

The advice you take depends on which kind of device you have. If you have an Android phone, the advice is much different than if you have an iPhone, but you might consider the consequences of not having access to your text messages in either case.

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Most people have heard someone say “the cloud”, and have no idea what is being spoken of. Others hear it and think that it is just something that businesses use. In reality, you are already using “the cloud”, and don’t even know it.

What is the cloud?

The term “cloud”, when it comes to the internet, has been around for quite a while now. It came into popular usage around 10 years ago, and yet there are still many people that don’t know what it means.

There is a popular phrase about the cloud that people say as a joke, but it is one of those jokes that is funny because it’s true. “The cloud is just someone else’s computer.” Whenever someone speaks of the cloud, they are speaking about things that are done by you and for you using other people’s computers. In reality, we could say that pretty much everything you do on the internet is cloud computing, but I think that makes it much too vague, and it is not useful, because that makes “the cloud” mean the same thing as “the internet”.

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We all get fake emails all the time. Some are really easy to recognize, and others look like legitimate emails from legitimate places. How can you spot the difference?

The fake email from a friend

Sometimes, you will get emails that appear to be from a friend, but they aren’t really from your friend. This is because someone has either gotten hold of the contact list of either you or your friend, and is sending you an email that has their name and email address on it, but it isn’t really your friend.

These emails tend to be short little “Check out this site” or “You won’t believe how well this works” emails with no explanation about what the link is that they are sending you to. If you get something like this, you should immediately suspect it as being fake, because that’s not usually how friends send emails to each other, and the link could be sending you to a site that is set up for nefarious purposes.

When you see these kinds of messages, look at the email address. It is likely not from your friend’s email address. If you don’t see the address, somewhere in your email platform you should see something that allows you to see the message header or view message source.