If you’re reading this blog- my blog- you probably have at least have a few in interests in common with me. And yes, generally Wirednot is all about Wi-Fi and wireless topics. But as I write this, the snow is pounding down outside and my mind is drifting off to the new year, and what fun things I may fill it with. I know that I’m not alone in having many interests with a technical bent, but there are SO MANY cool things to monkey with these days that it sometimes gets overwhelming knowing where to even start.
In that spirit, I’ve opted to put together the following list of things that you might want to consider getting involved with in 2017 (if you’re not already doing some of these). After you read through, please add your own suggestions in the comments.
My goal here is to also keep my suggestions limited to those that won’t require large cash outlays, and that are often family-friendly. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to use what you already own in new ways. Let’s get started.
Free or Close to It
- Geocaching. If you have a GPS-equipped phone or tablet, or a handheld-GPS receiver, you’re ready. Check out the Mac-Daddy of Geocaching websites (but know that there are others, as well). I have logged hundreds of caches through the years with my kids and co-workers, in many states- and stashed about a dozen of my own for others to find. There are geocaches freakin’ everywhere, in cities, suburbs, and way out in the middle of nowhere.
- AM Dxing. What’s DXing? At its simplest, DXing is catching radio signals from far away. Once you realize that AM is a whole different animal at night and in the winter, catching signals from far away (based on station ID) can get addicting to some of us. Chances are you have a portable radio with the AM band onboard. If not, and you own a vehicle, you’re ready to find a hilltop and see what you can pull in.
- Turn That Old Tablet Into a Multi-Band Radio. Smartphones and tablets have been around long enough that many of us have cycled through a couple of generations. Got an old tablet? Turn it into an Internet Radio, a Police Scanner, a Ham Radio Transceiver, a Walky-Talky and more- all at the same time. There are a ton of free or dirt-cheap apps (heavier on the Android side) that can be loaded up on that old device to make a radio purpose-specific tool.
- Turn That Old Tablet Into a Digital Picture Frame. Get it right, and this is a profoundly handy use for an abandoned tablet. Lots of apps and how-to online.
- Actually LEARN How to Use that DSLR. I looooooove my camera, and lug it almost everywhere. Out and about, I see a lot of other camera-toters and occasionally there’s the inevitable “what ya got there?” dialogue as strangers eye up each other’s gear. I’m always surprised to see top-tier cameras left in “full auto” modes, because the owner probably didn’t ever learn how to use the advanced combination of settings. Let yourself do the thinking for the camera as you manipulate ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance and you’ll become a better photographer.
- Read a Book on Tech Pioneers. It’s easy to get caught up in the here-and-now of technology. And you’ve no doubt at least heard of the likes of Marconi, Edison, Tesla, and Hertz. If you want to broaden your perception of the tech we use today, grab a good biography on one of these early technologists. You’ll no doubt find that what you thought you knew about radio history is way over-simplified, not everybody got the credit they deserved, and that some of our heroes were actually unsavory at times. And the technology itself “back then” is fairly amazing to ponder.
Spend a Little, Learn a Lot
- Do ANYTHING With a Raspberry Pi. For around $50, you can find some nice Raspberry Pi complete kits online. There are infinite number of projects you can do based on the RPI, or you can simply build it as a computer to use. No matter what direction you go with this, you’ll gain an appreciation for how powerful these pocket-sized computing platforms are and you’ll get your eyes opened to an incredible range of potential projects. These little guys are addicting.
- Cut the Cable- Even If Only as an Exercise. I’m a cable-cutter. My mantra on this topic is “Time-Warner can suck it” with increasingly costly monthly bills and just terrible programming. Yet I understand that some people find value in paying for Cable TV and I begrudge no one’s personal choices. Even if you’re a die-hard cable fan, it’s really easy and pretty cool to play the “what if” game. What if you decided to pull in only Over the Air signals? What could you get with just a low-cost antenna? I won’t get into the how-to as there are countless articles online, but those who try it for the first time are often surprised at the variety of truly free channels they can get. When you’re done playing, just plug the cable back in.
- Get a Ham Radio License. Aside from a Physics course, you won’t find a more interesting range of topics in one field of study than in the materials that prepare you for sitting for the entry-level Technician Class Amateur Radio License. It’s cheap to study for with a wealth of free online resources, and with the latest generation of inexpensive transceivers out of China, you can pick up your first rig at ridiculously low prices.
- Go Back to School, Without Going Back to School. Check out Udemy and Coursera for free-to-cheap learning opportunities in a crazy range of topics from real schools and subject matter experts. You may even see some familiar names in the mix as instructors. It’s a really nice way to keep learning without busting the budget or work schedule.
- Discover Software-Defined Radio. This can feel like Harry Potter-grade stuff in a cheap package, or you can go haywire and drop some serious coin playing with SDR. Get started here.
Hopefully these at least prime the pump if you’re looking for something a little different to occupy your free time in the coming year. I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!