Fast Fixes for Common PC Problems
Stop Paying for Movies You Already Own
Does Apple really expect you to pay $15 to download Iron Man when you already own it on DVD? Well, yes--but that's not the only way to get the film onto your iPod or iPhone. Instead, you could try firing up HandBrake, a free utility that can rip DVDs (but only the ones you own, of course) and turn them into iPod/iPhone-friendly MPEG-4 files. You'll need to install AnyDVD, DVD43, or DVDDecrypter to allow HandBrake to work its magic on commercial (copy-protected) movies.
Copy Recorded TV Shows to Your iPod/iPhone
If you use Windows Media Center to record TV shows on your PC, you've undoubtedly wished for a way to copy those shows to your iPod or iPhone. After all, they're free, whereas Apple charges $1.99 for every single episode of 30 Rock. Unfortunately, recorded shows are saved in Microsoft's proprietary DVR-MS format, which iTunes can't recognize.
Enter iPodifier, a free utility that converts DVR-MS files to iPod-appropriate MPEG-4 or H264. Just install the program, point it to Media Center's Recorded TV folder (which is usually in the Public folder), and configure any options you want. For example, iPodifier can convert all new shows or just those you choose, and it can automatically add transcoded shows to iTunes for on-demand syncing.
Make Your Own iPhone Ring Tones
Want to turn your favorite Brendan Benson song into an iPhone ring tone? iTunes charges 99 cents for the privilege, and that's after you've already paid for the song. Luckily, you can easily roll your own ring tone using any MP3 file in your iTunes library.
First, in iTunes find the song you want, right-click it, and choose Get Info. Click the Options tab, check the Start Time and Stop Time boxes, and then enter times for each (no more than 30 seconds apart, the maximum length for a ring tone). Click OK, right-click the song again, and choose Create AAC Version. You should see a new 30-second version. Drag it from iTunes into the folder of your choice. Next, delete the 30-second version from iTunes and undo the Start Time/Stop Time changes to the original.
Finally, open the folder containing the 30-second AAC file you dragged out of iTunes, and then change the file extension from .m4a to .m4r. Double-click it, and it's immediately added to iTunes' ring-tone library. Sync your iPhone, and you're good to go.
Recover Lost Photos From Your Camera's Memory Card
Rolls of film (remember those?) are vulnerable to accidental light exposure; similarly, memory cards can be corrupted by, well, lots of things. For example, if you pop the card out of your PC or camera while it's still being accessed, you risk damaging the data and/or the card's ability to be read. And let's not forget accidental deletion, which is often the result of nothing more than the errant click of a mouse.
While you can't do anything to rescue an exposed film roll, several software utilities promise to recover damaged or deleted photos from memory cards. For starters, stop snapping pictures the moment you realize you have a problem. Any extra data written to the card may overwrite the photos you want to recover. Next, install a program such as PC Inspector Smart Recovery or Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery on your PC, and then slip the memory card into your PC's reader. No guarantees, but these programs should find some, if not all, of your photos and copy them to your hard drive.
Advanced users can try CGSecurity PhotoRec, a DOS-based utility that bypasses the card's file system and goes straight for the data--arguably the most effective approach. It's a bit tricky to use, but worth a spin if the other programs can't do the job.
Replace a Failing iPod Battery
It's a sad fact of gadget life: Batteries wear out.
Unfortunately, Apple and Microsoft each sacrificed good sense for stylish design, building their iPod and Zune players so you can't change out the batteries. Consequently, when the battery dies permanently (usually after 18 to 24 months), so does your device--in theory. In reality, you can gently pry open most iPod and Zune cases and replace the battery. Just head to eBay and search for "ipod battery" or "zune battery." We found one for a 30GB Zune selling for just $7, complete with tools and instructions. The entire operation takes about 10 minutes, and it's easy for anyone adept with a screwdriver. Just remember: The key word is "gentle." You can accidentally chip or mar the case if you use the wrong tools or don't follow the instructions to the letter.
Going this route means you should be able to find everything you need for a lot less than the cost of a new player.
Rescue a Wet Cell Phone
So you dropped your cell phone in the toilet. Or left it out in the rain. Or ran it through a load of whites. Hey, it happens. Before slinking into the phone store for a replacement, try bringing your drowned device back to life. First, remove the battery (which may need to be replaced). If your phone has a memory card, take that out, too--it should be fine once it dries. Submerge the phone in a bowl of dry rice, cover it, and leave it overnight. The rice should suck out the moisture from the phone's innards. Pop in a new battery, and you might just be back in business.
Get Driving Directions--While You're Driving
Futzing with your GPS device while driving is just plain dangerous. But what if a client has just changed the meeting location, and you have no idea how to get there? No problem: Dial Microsoft's voice-activated TellMe service (800/555-TELL) and say the name of the restaurant. After TellMe tells you the address, say "text me the info." In a flash you'll get a text message containing the address, the phone number, and a map. TellMe works from any phone (hint: add it to your speed-dial), but BlackBerry users can download the even cooler TellMe app. The service and the app are free of charge (though texting charges apply, of course).