A guide to AT&T freebies

With the release of the iPhone on Verizon, it seems that AT&T is doing all it possibly can to keep its customers from jumping ship. But unless AT&T has contacted you directly, you might not be aware of all the freebies you can get. In this post, I’ve rounded up these deals and just what you have to do to get them.

Get 1000 extra minutes

It was widely reported on a number of blogs that by texting the word “yes” to 11113020, AT&T customers could get an extra 1000 minutes. I honestly thought it sounded like a scam, but 9to5mac has apparently confirmed it with AT&T. The deal expires March 31, and applies to all AT&T customers, not just iPhone users.

Get unlimited data

If you had an iPhone when it came with an unlimited data plan, but changed to one of the new restricted data plans, it’s possible you may be able to get it back at the same price. AT&T isn’t advertising it and you can’t sign up for it through all of the normal channels – you’ll have to call customer service and ask nicely.

Get a free femtocell

If you’re in a batch of customers that AT&T has targeted as the “top 7.5%” of customers most likely to receive poor cell reception, you may have already received a letter or email from the company offering a free femtocell base station if you stay on for another year. A femtocell acts like a small cell tower that uses your home’s broadband connection to provide cellular service. While AT&T hasn’t made the offer available to everyone, I have read accounts of customers who have successfully gotten one by speaking with the “retention” department when calling customer service.

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How to remove the iPhone’s new “tamper-resistant” screw

Photo by Daiji Hirata

If you’ve taken your iPhone 4 in for service at the Apple store, you may have gotten it back with 2 new pieces of hardware that were changed unbeknownst to you. Though the iPhone 4 originally shipped with standard Phillips #00 screws, they’ll replace them with an obscure type called a pentolobular screw if you take it in for service (current iPhone 4s come with the screw already installed).

Photo by iFixit

Though pentolobular screws look an awful lot like a standard Torx screw, this diagram by iFixit clearly shows how the pentalobe is more rounded and has one less point. Unfortunately, if you want to find a proper pentobular screwdriver, you’ll need to fork out some cash and be an authorized Apple service provider.

If you want to disassemble your iPhone, but the lack the proper credentials, you can still remove the screws using a TS1 Tamper Proof Torx screwdriver, which is just like the standard Torx, but with 5 points instead of 6 (this type of screw has been employed by some other electronics manufacturers to prevent people from “tampering” with their own stuff). Since the points are sharp instead of rounded, it’s likely to strip the screws and make them unusable, so the workaround is probably only useful to remove the screws and replace them with standard ones. There are a couple sellers on Amazon selling these screwdrivers, but marketing them as pentolobular screwdrivers (they’re clearly not) for $6.99 and $5.99, respectively. Alternatively, iFixit is selling what they call an iPhone Liberation Kit for $9.95 that comes with the 5 point Torx screwdriver as well as a standard Philips #00 screwdriver and accompanying replacement screws.

The iPhone is a complex piece of machinery, and any attempt to make modifications or repairs to the device on your own shouldn’t be taken lightly. You really are taking things into your own hands, and if you screw up and break something, you shouldn’t reasonably expect Apple to fix it under warranty. That said, this move to an obscure, and difficult to remove screw is just the most recent in a series of moves that Apple has taken to make their products less serviceable by the end-user. As Matthew B. Crawford writes, “what are the attractions of being disburdened of involvement with our own stuff?” Are we really being saved the time and effort of trying to understand how our things work, or are we merely becoming more reliant on a corporation for maintaining the things that we own?

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How to get Sprint’s employee discount

If you’ve been in the market for a new smartphone, you might be aware that Sprint recently announced that all of their smartphones activated after January 30 will have an additional $10 per month tacked onto the monthly bill. You can easily sidestep the new fee, however, if you get a referral from a Sprint employee. Don’t know anyone who works for Sprint? Then you might want to have a look at the blog of one Russ McGuire, VP of Strategy for Sprint. On it, he has prominently displayed on the right side all the info you need to get the special Sprint employee referral price.

Just visit www.sprint.com/everythingplus and enter in Mr. McGuire’s email address (russ.s.mcguire@sprint.com) and the last three digits of his employee id (383). The plans on offer give you slightly more minutes and at least a $10 per month discount on the regular plans, but it only works for new customers or existing customers who are adding lines of service.

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How to replace ear cushions on the Koss UR-20 headphone

In this tutorial I’ll be demonstrating how to replace the ear cushions on a pair of Koss headphones, specifically the Koss UR-20. For full size headphones, they’re pretty cheap, but for me they’ve been extremely reliable over the past 8 years or so that I’ve owned them. Their first point of failure, however, was the thin faux leather skin that covers the ear cushions and the speakers.

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Happy New Year!

Photo by William Cho

I just wanted to take a moment and wish you and yours a happy and prosperous 2011. Starting this website and seeing it grow has definitely been a highlight of my past year, and I owe that to you, dear reader. Thank you.

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Reading an e-book? Turn on the wifi!

In my last video tutorial, I did a demo on loading e-books with Adobe DRM onto an iOS device with the Bluefire Reader app. I’ve been extremely pleased with the app in the month or so that I’ve been using it (aside from its shockingly slow load times), so I was happy to recommend it. Today, however, I hit my first real roadblock in using it – I went through the library checkout process late last night and loaded my ebook into the app on my iPod. When I tried to open up the ebook to read it this morning, however, I was greeted with this message:

Thus, I was foiled in my attempts to read while away from the gentle comforts of wifi. This isn’t a problem with the Bluefire app specifically, more a problem with Adobe DRM in general. Unfortunately, it seems hell-bent on locking you out of the content you’ve obtained, unless you authorize it the application you want to use it in first.

So before you start reading, make sure you’re connected to the internet and launch the app first. Opening it up in Digital Editions is not enough to authorize it.

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How to get and read eBooks from the library

Just like with paper books, your local public library is a great source for free ebooks and other digital content. Unfortunately, thanks to strong digital rights management by the publishers of these books, the process for obtaining and reading ebooks can be difficult and confusing. In this video, I’ll go over the specifics of how to get ebooks from your public library and how to read them.

What you need:
– A library that offers ebooks
– An Adobe ID
– Adobe Digital Editions application

– An ebook reader
– Bluefire Reader (for iOS)

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Hulu on Boxee

The news has been active in recent weeks in the streaming set-top box market, with the release of both the Google TV enabled Logitech Revue and the Boxee Box. Unfortunately, the fanfare that should be accompanying these products has been overshadowed by news that the major networks have managed to block nearly all of their content from being accessed on these devices.

This affects not only the early adopters who have dropped hundreds of dollars on the new hardware, but also users who use Boxee’s software on their own devices. If you try to access Hulu content via Boxee, you’re greeted with this blocking message and a vague promise that you’ll at some point be allowed to pay to use Hulu Plus on the device.

Hulu is still accessible on via the Boxee Browser app, however I find the experience to be incredibly cumbersome and irritating to use.

Thankfully, Boxee has provided something of a workaround, by choosing Fancast (a streaming site run by the cable company Comcast) as its new “recommended” source for most Hulu content.

For the most part, it works fairly well (though at this point there is no fast forwarding or rewinding). HD shows run full screen, but for some reason standard definition shows have bars on the left and right of the picture that prevent it from stretching to fill the screen.

Read more for details on the workaround to correct it >

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A guide to free antivirus applications on the Mac

A lot has been written arguing for or against the need for an antivirus application on the Mac. Due to their small numbers, Mac users have been lucky to go about their business with almost no fear of being targeted by malware and viruses. It’s called security through obscurity, and it’s a sort of security that’s tenuous at best. As Macs grow in popularity, it’s inevitable that more and more malicious attacks will be directed towards them. Additionally, Mac users can act as carriers by inadvertently infecting Windows users when sharing files.

Despite the small number of Mac users, there’s quite the selection of applications on the commercial side, from companies like Intego, Avast, McAfee, and Norton. Features and performance vary wildly, but they all run about $50 per year for a single computer.

There’s also a handful of free options, as well, which (IMHO) takes the steam out of any argument against using an antivirus on the Mac. Sophos is a British security company that has recently dropped the price of their Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition to zero. It not only scans your computer, but also has an agent running in the background that will warn you if you download a malicious file. I found the agent to be fairly unobtrusive and not a noticeable drain on system resources (a major plus). It can detect not only Mac viruses, but ones affecting Windows as well. I did manage to freeze up my computer on the first scan with Sophos, due to a bug in the program that won’t let it properly scan Bootcamp partitions. Once I made an exception for Bootcamp, however, it ran smoothly.

ClamXav is an open-source option (the Mac equivalent of ClamAV for Windows and Unix) that has been freely to Mac users for several years. Unlike the Sophos program, I found it slightly more difficult to use and far more resource intensive (it was impossible for me to do much of anything while performing a scan). Also unlike Sophos, there is no background agent that will monitor downloads or files you open – it focuses more on scanning. You can, however, configure the “Sentry” feature to monitor specific folders, and files added to that folder will be scanned automatically.

Though I’ve never personally used it, iAntiVirus by PC Tools is also available for free. It focuses on being an extremely light and not resource intensive, with most reviews agreeing on its quick scan times. Unfortunately, it only protects against Mac-specific viruses, which still leaves open the possibility that your machine could be used to spread infections to Windows users you share files with.

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