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Uses for old smartphones and unplugging USB drives

Tech Talk

Uses for old smartphones

Unless you're trading in your old phone or maybe reselling it yourself to help pay for your new phone, or your old phone has battery problems or a cracked screen, here are a few ways you can still use your old smartphone.

Even without carrier activation or a SIM card, you can use your old smartphone to get online and to download apps over your home WiFi. Here are some things you can still use it for:

As a TV remote

Smartphones can make great remote controls for smart TVs and streaming devices like Roku, Firesticks and Chromecast. Head to the App Store or Google Play and pick up the app for your specific TV or streaming device. Using your old smartphone as a remote control comes in especially handy when you're trying to enter usernames and passwords for streaming services.

As a media device in your car

If your car's audio receiver has an Aux-in jack, you can use an old smartphone to play music, podcasts and audiobooks in your car. iTunes is probably the easiest way to get content onto your old phone. Now connect the phone to your vehicle using a standard audio cable (male 3.5 mm headphone jack on both ends) from the headphone jack on the phone to the Aux-In in the car.

As a webcam

Most desktop computer monitors don't include webcams. You can use your old smartphone as a webcam. It's not as easy as it should be, but it won't require any cables or other technical doodads. Go to the Google Play store or the App Store and look for the DroidCam app (avail for iOS or Android) for your phone and download the appropriate (Mac or Windows) app for your computer. Follow the setup instructions to make Zoom or Microsoft Meetings calls using your smartphone as your camera.

Unplugging USB drives

In the dark days before USB ubiquity, fast processors and gobs of RAM, it was considered both impolite and dangerous to yank a USB drive out of a computer. But why?

Back in the old days, Windows used "write-caching" to make USB drives look fast. Write-caching only made it look like Windows had finished copying files. Pulling a drive out while Windows was secretly finishing writing your files was terrible for your data.

So, starting in Windows 7, Microsoft added a "Safely remove drive" icon to the taskbar. If you eject your USB drive using the safely remove method, Windows won't let you remove it until all pending data writes are complete.

Good news! You don't have to "Safely remove" your USB drives anymore. As of Windows 10's October 2018 update, write-caching is turned off by default.

Since it is possible (but unlikely) to turn your write caching back on, here's how to make sure it's off. With your USB drive inserted, right-click the Start button and click on Device Manager. Now click the arrow next to Disk Drives and right-click on your USB drive. Now click on Properties and click on the Policies tab. Make sure Quick removal (default) is enabled. That's it.

Or you can use a USB drive with an LED activity indicator that shuts off when Windows finishes writing to the drive.

Instagram Influencers

The young, insanely attractive Instagram influencer finally found the perfect spot on Tehachapi Willow Springs Road to post an Insta-worthy picture of her shiny new BMW. As she opened the car door, a carrot truck went speeding by and hit her open door, ripping it off completely.

When the Sherrif arrived at the scene, the distraught influencer complained loudly about her car's damage and her ruined photo-shoot. "Officer, what are my followers going to think when they see the damage to my BMW!"

"Excuse me, ma'am, I'm not too worried about your followers or your car. I am worried about the fact that that you haven't noticed your left arm got torn off along with the car door."

"OMG," replied the influencer, finally noticing the bloody left shoulder where her arm used to be. "Where's my Rolex?!"

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at [email protected].