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11 Smart Ways to Reuse Your Old iPhone or Android

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Sure, you can sell back or donate your old phone when you upgrade—but you can also keep that old smartphone and put it to other inventive uses around your home. Here are a few of them.

1. A REMOTE CONTROL

Most of the newer Android devices from Samsung, LG, and HTC come with a built-in infrared blaster, which works with your TV, DVR, cable box, or DVD/Blu-ray player. You just need to download an app like IR Universal Remote from the Google Play Store to turn your device into a remote control. If you have an Apple TV, you can use your old iPhone as an alternate remote for your set-top box.

If you have an older device or one that doesn’t have a built-in IR blaster, there’s still hope. Some companies make external IR blasters that allow you to connect your phone via bluetooth, which then gets transmitted to the TV via a special device.

2. A DIGITAL CAMERA

If your old smartphone has an 8-megapixel camera or higher on its rear, then you have a decent enough sensor to turn it into a dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera—one that can upload photos directly to your social media accounts when you get to a Wi-Fi network. You can even buy lenses from olloclip.com or photojojo to make your old iPhone’s photos crisper, wider, and more dynamic.

3. and 4. A BABY MONITOR AND A HOME SECURITY SYSTEM

Video baby monitors can get pretty pricey; put that cash toward diapers and use your old smartphone instead. All you need to do is download an app like Cloud Baby Monitor or Baby Monitor 3G (which both retail for $3.99), place your old phone so that it looks into the crib, connect it to your home Wi-Fi network, and use another device or computer to watch your child from afar.

The same thing goes for a security system in your home. If you want to keep an eye on your house (or monitor what your cat or dog are up to) while you’re at work, download an app like Presence and buy a robotic viewing stand that can rotate a full 360 degrees. After placing the phone in the stand and connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network, you can use the app to turn the phone in any direction to ensure that all is well.

5. A KITCHEN COMMAND CENTER

A kitchen can be a hazardous place for an expensive smartphone or tablet. Keep your current device clean by using an old phone to store recipes and search for cooking videos on YouTube. There are a number of recipe apps, including HotPot and BigOven, that can help with a big family dinner, while apps like How to Cook Everything guide you through the process of making fresh pasta. With note-taking apps like Evernote and Google Keep, you can sync shopping lists across all of your smart devices. You can also use Siri or Google Now to set timers. 

6. A CAR GPS

As long as your device has GPS capabilities, it can be used as a navigational device—even if you don't have a data connection. Most of the smartphones made within the last five years have GPS built-in, so all you need are the proper apps to get the most out of your old iPhone or Android device on your next road trip. TomTom USA, CoPilot GPS, and NavFree USA all offer offline regional maps and turn-by-turn directions; you just need to download the area map on your home Wi-Fi network before you hop into your car. A map of the entire United States could take about 2 GB of space, so make sure your old device has plenty of room or a microSD card slot for additional storage. While these apps range in price from $10 to $40, Google Maps offers the same offline capabilities for free.    

7. A SKYPE STATION

Set up your old iPhone or Android device as a dedicated webcam for Skype or other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, such as Vonage and Google Hangouts. Just make sure you have steady Wi-Fi and a desktop dock or stand to make video and voice calls to your family and friends. If you have an iPhone 4 or iPad 2 or higher, you can still use your old iOS device for FaceTime with your loved ones over a good Wi-Fi connection.  

8. AN E-READER

Why let a perfectly good screen go to waste? If your old smartphone’s screen is still in good shape, turn it into a dedicated e-reader. Just download apps like Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, or Google Play Books to read books on your device. You can even download apps like Pocket or Instapaper to read articles you saved from your favorite websites to read later.

9. AN ALARM CLOCK

It might not be the most exciting way to repurpose your old smartphone, but turning it into a nightstand clock might get you out of bed on time. There are a number of clock apps, like Nite Time and Night Clock, that are simple and reliable, while apps like WakeVoice and Alarm Clock HD can give you weather updates and the latest news when you awake. 

10. A TOY FOR YOUR KIDS

Your kids already can't get enough of your smartphone, so when it’s time to upgrade to something newer and shinier, give your old one to them. You’ll give them endless ways to play games and watch videos, but be sure you take some time to back up your data and wipe the phone back to factory settings before you hand it over.

For iOS users, connect to your home Wi-Fi network and then go to “Settings,” then “iCloud,” and then “Backup.” Turn on “iCloud Backup,” select your device, then start the backup process. Once that’s complete, connect your iOS device to your computer and launch iTunes. In the “Summary” panel, click “Restore” and confirm factory reset.

For Android users, connect to your home Wi-Fi network, and then go to “Settings,” then “Backup & Reset.” Make sure “Backup My Data” is set to “On.” Once it’s done backing up all of your photos, passwords, and contacts to your Google account, go to “Factory Data Reset” to restore your phone to its original factory settings.

After you reset your device—but before you hand it over to your kid—set the phone with parental control or restricted access, so your child don't spend hundreds of dollars on in-app purchases or access inappropriate content or websites. Make sure you set up a password or PIN for every download on your device, so that he or she has to ask for your permission every time they want to download something or make an in-app purchase. After you restrict access, download kid-friendly games, apps, and YouTube Kids, which can only access videos suitable for children. 

11. A TOOL FOR SCIENCE 

You can donate your old device’s idle computing power to advance scientific research from around the world. The projects include everything from exploring new medical therapies to the discovery of planets and stars.

Research scientists at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory developed an Android app called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), which allows the researchers to tap unused processing power from smartphones and put it toward analyzing data or running simulations that would otherwise be too expensive and costly. BOINC users are volunteering their mobile phones' resources and power to essentially build a large supercomputer for scientific research. 

By default, BOINC taps into your smartphone’s computing power only when it’s plugged in, charging, and not in use. The Max Planck Institute, National Science Foundation, and Google Inc. have funded the BOINC project and app with assistance from IBM. BOINC and its volunteers help popular research projects, such as searching radio telescope data for pulsars and finding more effective AIDS therapy and treatments. Currently, researchers and app developers are working on bringing BOINC to iOS devices

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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