Q If I get my phone wet, what's the best way to bring it back to life?
A Even if a wet cellphone seems dead, there's a good chance it can be resuscitated. Just make sure you act fast – the longer the water sits inside, the greater the likelihood it will destroy the phone for good.
This is a DIY moment. While consumers are conditioned to send back broken merchandise, your phone's warranty probably doesn't cover water damage. And you may not have much luck pulling a fast one on your phone company – most of today's phones come with a "water sticker" that permanently changes colour if it gets wet.
The first step: immediately cut the power by removing the battery. I know it's tempting, but resist the urge to power up your phone to see if it works – just turning it on can short out the circuits. Remove the SIM card as well. Even if your phone turns out to be beyond repair, the SIM should retain a lot of its onboard information, such as the contacts in your phone book. With the battery safely set aside, you now have one goal – dry your phone, and dry it fast. If you let the moisture evaporate naturally, the chance of corrosion damaging the phone's innards increases.
Instead, blow or suck the water out. But don't use a hairdryer – its heat can fry your phone's insides. Instead, opt for a can of compressed air, an air compressor set to a low pressure or a vacuum cleaner. The idea is to use air to push or pull moisture out through the same channels it entered.
Finally, use a desiccant to wick away any leftover moisture. The most convenient choice is uncooked rice. Just leave the phone (and its disconnected battery) submerged in a bowl of grains overnight. If you're worried about rice dust getting inside your phone, you can instead use the packets of silica gel that often come stuffed in the pockets of new clothes. But acting fast is far more important than avoiding a little dust, so don't waste time shopping if you don't already have a drawer full of silica gel.
The most important thing to remember is to avoid heat. That means no hair dryers, ovens, microwaves or extended periods in direct sunlight. While heat will certainly evaporate the moisture, it could also warp components and melt adhesives. Those fragile glues are also why you'll want to avoid dunking the phone in rubbing alcohol (an oft-prescribed tip on the Web). Alcohol is a solvent and can dissolve the internal adhesives. (If you drop your phone in the toilet, it's okay to wipe the outside with alcohol to disinfect it.)
One final, perhaps surprising, note: if your phone gets soaked in salt water, you should probably flush the whole thing in fresh water before it dries. When salt water evaporates, it leaves crystals that can damage a phone's fragile components. Just be sure to remove the battery before flooding the device.
Q I want to read my personal e-mail at work without the IT department looking over my shoulder. Is there any way for an employee to browse the Web anonymously on a company computer?
A Your employers have the right to monitor what you're doing if you are using their computer on their network, so you really can't expect any privacy. That said, it is possible to secure your browsing to some degree, but no solution is unassailable. For instance, even if you encrypt your data, keylogging software could still record what you're doing. However, if all you want to do is keep the IT guys from casually snooping on your dinner plans, there are a few ways to beef up your in-office digital privacy.
One path is to run an encrypted Web browser directly off a USB flash drive. The easiest way to do this is to purchase IronKey (www.ironkey.com), which is sold as a secure USB drive preloaded with a version of Firefox that automatically routes your traffic through other servers. The 1 GB version, which costs about R650 and comes with a year of service, is very easy to use and adds some security. You can also load your own USB drive with the xB Browser (www.xerobank.com) – another version of Firefox that conceals your IP address by routing your data through several servers, in addition to automatically wiping your cookies and browsing history.
Still, such steps are mere speed bumps for a determined IT staff. As long as you're using company computers, you're playing on the IT department's home turf. That's why the easiest solution is also the best. Most phones these days have the ability to check e-mail and access the Web. And unless you're using the company Wi-Fi on your phone, it will never communicate with your work network at all.
If you want a car-racing game to feel realistic, you've got to know how to make a decent wreck.
By Glenn Derene
In most car-racing games, you can hit a barrier at 220 km/h and bounce off. That may make it a bit easier to complete the course in record time, but it's hardly realistic. In the just-released game GRID you can pilot virtual versions of up to 50 cars, including the Aston Martin DBR9 and Porsche 911. You can also crash them into a twisted, smoking mess of mashed-up metal.
"Crashes are part of the excitement of motorsports," says Clive Moody, the game's lead programmer. "Without damage, you miss some of that." Here's what goes into making the most realistic race-game wrecks.
The easy way to show damage to a videogame vehicle is to script in a few pre-programmed dents. The better way is to integrate physics into the 3D model of each car. "We give each part a strength value that determines how it will bend or break during a collision," Moody says. A sheet-metal bonnet crumples, while a carbon-fibre wing snaps.
The point of putting crashes in racing games is to show the player that mistakes have real consequences in game play. Assuming your vehicle is still drivable after a collision in GRID, its performance will suffer. Knock your wheels out of alignment? Your car will wobble. Tear off a spoiler? Your vehicle will produce less downforce.
Spectacular crashes may look great, but they can keep the finish line out of reach. GRID makes it a bit easier by giving you a get-out-of-crash-free card. The Flashback feature allows you to rewind through the crash by 10 seconds in order to re-do that hairpin. Okay, so this isn't a realistic feature, but it does allow you to indulge your morbid curiosity by replaying your crash in slow motion – from any angle.
Smoke and mirors
For all of the focus on realism, GRID's designers still understand the value of showmanship. "Would all of the sparks and smoke in this screen shot happen in a real accident? Probably not," Moody says. "But we hype things up in the same way that you'd see in a movie – it adds to the drama of the collision."