Six hacks for your mobile gear

These six hacks unleash the hidden power in your mobile gadgets.

Control Your Digital Camera With a Universal Remote

Difficulty: Easy; Time: 1 hour

Many cameras, even point-and-shoots, support wireless remote controls, but camera makers charge a premium for those accessories. You can save some cash by using any universal TV remote with your remote-capable camera.

By coincidence, infrared command codes for certain electronics devices happen to overlap with the commands that trip your camera's shutter release. The trick is to figure out which VCR, TV, or other device matches your camera, and to set the universal remote to match. Look online to see whether someone has already tried this hack with your camera model. I found that my Canon Digital Rebel supports the same codes that control MGA VCRs.

If you don't find help for your camera, you can try scanning through the codes. Make sure that the camera has a memory card and is set to receive IR (infrared) commands. (Often a mode or menu setting is involved.) As you go through the remote's options, verify that the camera stays awake and responsive. (Mine locked up once with a certain code but was fine after I removed and reinserted the battery.) Push the remote buttons while attempting to control different electronics brands, and see if any fires the shutter.

Use a Cheap Wired Camera Remote Alternative

Difficulty: Easy; Time: Five minutes

Some cameras include a common accessory port to accept an optional wired remote. The Canon Digital Rebel series, for example, uses a 1/32-inch connector for its wired remote. Instead of the official add-on, just try swapping in a cheap cell-phone earpiece with a mute button. With the caveat that some of these things work best when pushed three quarters of the way in--and that some may not work at all--the earpiece can make a simple, effective substitution out of hardware you can probably find in your household junk drawer.

Transfer TiVo Shows to an iPod for Free

Difficulty: Easy; Time: 30 minutes

Series2 and later TiVo DVRs can copy shows to a networked PC through the TiVo Desktop software, but the company charges you to put those shows on an iPod, a smart phone, or any other device. Though TiVo locks its files with DRM, you can download and use a free tool to unlock them.

Windows users should first transfer the TiVo shows to a networked PC with the free version of TiVo Desktop. After that, run the tool, DirectShow Dump, to enable the shows to function on any video-playing device.

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Zack Stern

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