Menu
Slideshow

In Pictures: Workarounds, kludges, and hacks that will improve your life

Whether you want to lower your cell phone bill or find true love, there's usually a way around your problems

  • Don't let wonky tech get you down! Life would be simpler if every piece of technology we dealt with worked in an obvious and straightforward way. Life would also be a lot duller. Many of us -- especially those who have chosen tech for their career -- enjoy the thrill of figuring out a workaround to the problems that life, people, or wonky tech throw in our way, either through dedicated study of the problem or ferreting out secret knowledge of what's causing it. Whether you're getting around the Wall Street Journal paywall (just plug the article's title into Google and click on the link) or driving across the hacked-together fix for the earthquake-ravaged Miles Glacier Bridge shown above, you'll enjoy the benefits of a good workaround. There are plenty more where those came from.

  • Like a Konami code for your car You probably know about the series of seemingly random button-presses and joystick jiggers that would get you extra lives and other goodies in classic NES games from Konami. Well, there are similar secret sequences that can change the way your car works. No, you won't get superpowers, but if you walk through what seems like an arcane series of actions in, say, a Toyota Prius -- pressing buttons and turning the car on and off in just the right way -- then you can turn off a number of seemingly non-optional features, like the loud beep that happens inside the car when you put it in reverse, which as a Prius owner I can assure you, is both annoying and useless.

  • Translation into freedom As long as governments, employers, and schools attempt to block websites, users will attempt to get around those blocks. These attempts might involve setting up a complicated proxy server -- but assuming your oppressors aren't too strict, you can use some publicly available services in a pinch. For instance, as one Reddit user pointed out, if you plug a forbidden English-language website's URL into Google Translate and then ask for a translation from any language into English, you can see the text in English.

  • Holding onto eternity In the late '00s, the dawn of the smartphone era, we were lured away from feature phones with promises of unlimited data. Phone carriers have spent most of the subsequent years trying to shoehorn us into plans where we pay by the gigabyte. Most of us have acquiesced, but a few diehards remain, using a variety of tricks to upgrade phones but still keep the infinite data funnel turned on. Up until last year, for instance, Verizon customers could upgrade a $10/month feature phone line into a new smartphone, move the new phone over to an existing unlimited plan, then downgrade the first line back to a feature phone. But the company closed this loophole last August.

  • Keeping old software alive iMovie has been part of Apple's iLife suite since 1999, but the software has gone through several top-to-bottom rewrites in the interim, changing capabilities, workflow, user interfaces, and file formats. As is the way with these things, not everyone is happy with the new ways, and want to use the software they're used to even as they upgrade computers and operating systems. A hardy band has gathered in Apple's official discussion areas to fight a holding action and keep iMovie HD, released in 2006, operational under OS X Yosemite; the key, it seems, is drilling down in the application package to find the right file and, for mysterious reasons, keeping a terminal window open.

  • BlackBerry: Last resort of the desperate The people behind the Great Sony Hack of 2014 didn't just leak personal information and embarrassing correspondence; they also trashed company servers, which, among other things, rendered Sony's email systems completely nonfunctional. This obviously left the huge, globe-spanning company in dire straits. In this time of need, some employees found a surprising savior: old company BlackBerrys that had been stashed in drawers and, apparently, never had their plans deactivated. Because BlackBerrys used RIM's email servers instead of Sony's, they could still communicate with one another, and employees with BlackBerrys became the company's lifeline as it slowly put itself back together in the wake of the hack.

  • Hack your coffee People don't like being told what they can and can't do with things they own, and they really don't like anything that gets in between them and their morning coffee. That's why people who bought version 2.0 of the popular Keurig single-cup coffee machine were horrified to discover that the company had implemented DRM-like tech; the new version only worked with Keurig-brand K-cups, leaving many off-brand and reusable cups useless. But fear not, a workaround was quickly discovered: despite rumors that the cups contained RFID chips, they actually just had an infrared-reflective label in a specific spot -- a label that could be peeled off and attached to any cup you'd like.

  • Android teleportation Android devices will dutifully report their current location to whatever service asks -- not the street address, mind you, but the country or region you're in, which has many implications for the kinds of content you can access. But if you enter developer mode, tell your device to only use GPS to determine its location, and then download an app that overrides your device's GPS, you can convince it that you're pretty much anywhere. We're sure you can figure out some interesting uses for that power.

  • Hacking sanctions Whatever reasons you have for fooling your Android device on that last slide are probably pretty mild compared to the motivations of the 2.3 million inhabitants of Crimea. The Ukrainian peninsula was occupied and annexed by Russia in March of 2014, an act condemned by Western powers, who immediately placed sanctions on the region -- which meant, among other things, that Crimean citizens could no longer use eBay, PayPal, or the Apple Store. But the tech-savvy region (estimates are that there are over 3,000 Crimean software developers) quickly found a number of tech workarounds to the electronic sanctions, using GPS hacking, VPNs, and Tor networks to trick outside services and gain access to the Internet's bounty.

  • Hacking the hacks: Gaming Uber Since the explosive rise of Uber and other rideshare apps, passengers have been using workarounds and quirks in the apps that run the service to gain advantages. Riders will use the app to tweak their location outside surge-pricing areas, for instance, or use "burner" phone numbers to get free Uber ride referrals. There's even the dreaded Uberjacking, where you confidently hop into a car and give your destination even if you're not the one who summoned it. Uber drivers, meanwhile, are gaming the system meant to impose order at airports that allow ridesharing pickups, adding and canceling fake ride requests in order to advance in the queue.

  • Working around the Sabbath The sabbath, and the many religious rules that restrict activities on that day, creates an interesting relationship between Orthodox Jews and modern technology. On the the one hand, any activity that activates an electric light violates the prohibition on lighting a flame, according to rabbinical scholars; but on the other hand, technology offers many opportunities for workarounds as well. For instance, Don Greenberg realized he couldn't give his college commencement speech on the Sabbath because talking into microphone would light up a soundboard -- but it was OK for him to record the speech in advance and have it play on projection screens. And the observant will soon find many more sabbath workarounds on their smartphone, because there will soon be an app for that.

  • Hacking love If people are willing to hack God's law, then we shouldn't be surprised that they're willing to use tech workarounds in the pursuit of love. Many men have decided that since the dynamics of the Tinder app encourage women to be choosy, their best bet is to swipe right on every single woman's profile, and then subsequently pick and choose among those who swiped right on them as well. The process has been automated with the Tinder Auto Liker app, which seems to take some of the fun out of the whole process -- but not, perhaps as much as a bizarre Dutch robot/art project that endlessly swipes right on a phone using a slab of actual meat.

Show Comments