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How-To Geek

From the Tips Box: Recycling Android Phones, Glowing Light Switches, and Encrypting Dropbox

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Once a week we round up some great tips from the HTG tips box and share them with everyone; this week we’re looking at recycling Android phones for use around the house, increasing safety with a glowing LED switch, and how to easily encrypt Dropbox contents.

Recycle an Old Android Phone for Around the House Duties

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Nicole writes in with the following tip:

While you might need a brand new phone to take advantage of cutting edge features, older phones are both cheap and more than powerful enough for around-the-house type tasks. I routinely pick up old Android phones either by asking friends for their old friends or buying cheap ones off eBay. One of the ways I’ve repurposed them is super awesome multimedia remotes for my XBMC boxes. If I wanted a commercial “super remote” I’d have to spend over $100 but using Wi-Fi I can use an Android phone (with a touch screen no less!) for as little as $30 off eBay. Just because a phone isn’t super powerful, super new, or your daily talker, doesn’t mean it needs to get scrapped out! Any of the useful apps you used before, at least the ones that didn’t require cellular service, will keep on working.

Well if ever there was a reader email to make us feel guilty about not turning that old HTC Hero into a super awesome XBMC remote, this was certainly it. We’ll get right on it, Nicole, we swear!

Hack Your Light Switch to Glow Brightly

Mark writes in with a rather clever way to solve an oversight in the electrical design of his office:

I work in a very, very old office. On top of working in a very old office, I work in a basement workshop frequently. For reasons beyond me, no one has ever wired up the basement with a regular light switch at the top of the stairs. The only lights are operated by a pull chain down at the bottom. There is enough light on the stairs to get down, but once you’re down there it’s nearly pitch black. Huge pain to get to the pull cord, let me tell you! A few months ago I stumbled upon this extremely inventive solution on Instructables… a guy ripped apart a solar light and rigged it up to a pull chain on his bedroom light. When the lights are off the pull chain glows, when the lights are on it doesn’t (and it charges the battery in the solar module to boot!). I finally got around to installing it on that darn pullchain and it’s somewhat of an illumination miracle. I’m curious to try and work the design into other things. Maybe my fellow readers will come up with something.

Adding a solar garden light to a inside light’s pull chain is certainly an unconventional way to go about solving the problem. We like it!

Easily Encrypt Dropbox Contents with SecretSync

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Frank writes in with a tip for Dropbox users:

I love syncing files with Dropbox but I’m a bit paranoid. I’ve messed around with manually taking care of sensitive file encryption but it was a hassle. What I was really looking for was a simple way to partially encrypt my Dropbox folder so that the sensitive files were on-the-fly encrypted and the other stuff (like my MP3s) were just sitting there happy and accessible. A free account from SecretSync was just what I was looking for. You install it and it creates a folder in your Dropbox account that is synced across your computers and decrypted locally. Much easier than manually unpacking the encrypted container!

Great tip Frank! Another great service that provides similar functionality is previously reviewed Boxcryptor.


Have a tip to share? Shoot us an email at tips@howtogeek.com!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/8/12

Comments (2)

  1. Jim Ward

    I repurposed my old Droid1 as an mp3 player. Easy to do, just uninstall the apps but leave whatever music app you have on there. Since it has a 16gb sdhc card, you can get quite a few tunes and even some ebooks on it.

  2. Dark Reality

    Nice ideas, but I couldn’t look at my old 320×240 screen after going up to 960×540.

    It was a Samsung Acclaim, so the manufacturer wasn’t supporting it. So i donated it to the leading aftermarket developer for it. It really was a piece of crap, and some people are still stuck with it. He said with one of his own (he has its Sprint cousin, the Moment) he can work on the kernel. So that’ll be cool.

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