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Lenovo users with dodgy power cables can mail them back to the company and will receive a free replacement within seven to 10 working days. IBM's Indian research lab has come up with a nice idea: using old laptop batteries too feeble to power a ThinkPad as off-grid power sources.In a paper [PDF] titled “UrJar: A Lighting Solution using Discarded Laptop Batteries”, IBM and Radio Studio India boffins explain that “Forty percent of the world’s population, including a significant portion of the rural and urban poor sections of the population in India, does not have access to reliable electricity supply.”Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, people are tossing out old laptop batteries at a growing rate. While plenty of countries are finding ways to process the resulting e-waste, the authors cite various sources to explain that lithium ion batteries require rather more effort to recycle than to manufacture. Re-use, rather than recycling, is therefore a preferred option.

The paper proposes a device called an “UrJar” that would be charged when an electrical grid is on and pack enough juice to power a light bulb at night. UrJars are arrays of old laptop batteries, re-assembled into viable rigs that despite being too feeble to run a laptop can, in concert, provide a few hours of power for a light, fan or USB charger.An important consideration in the study addresses whether an UrJar would be cheaper than other energy sources. Based on analysis of some pilots, the authors suggest that the devices would be cheaper than the fuel needed to power lights at night, and would therefore likely have plenty of upside for folks like small shopkeepers who want to trade longer into the evening.The paper notes there's a long way to go to get a batter-recycling ecosystem fully charged, but this paper does at least show there's a noble fate awaiting your old power bricks. These wearables show exercise data on the actual wristband device, with more graphic detail for lifelogging available from the companion app. At this price range, we're not looking at the smartest of the smart but some do feature notifications from your phone when linked up using Bluetooth.

After much fanfare at Computex this summer, the Acer Liquid Leap is now available in the UK. Its features include step and calorie counting as well as sleep tracking and running distance It’s waterproof for swimming too and has a seven-day battery life.With its OLED touch display, the Leap borders on being a smartwatch rather than just a plain fitness tracker, and its rubber wristband wraps comfortably and lightly. Easy to set up for any technophobe relative, the Leap Manager companion app charts your lifelogging activity.The Liquid Leap is aimed more at those wanting to improve fitness levels, however, as a smart device it shows the time, gives notifications of incoming calls and texts. Personally, I find this useful when walking late at night or out running, as you don’t have to grab the phone from a pocket to check on who’s contact you.Like the Garmin VivoSmart, music stored on your phone is accessed on the band and simple to swipe through to change tracks whilst training. But like many on test, there’s no heart monitor or GPS. Still it’s an affordable semi-smartwatch, with long battery life for tracking daily steps, which is all most people want.

The Garmin VivoSmart is no cheap looking device, as it’s classy without the get-in-the-way chunkiness when using a laptop that the Nike Fuel SE suffers from. Like the Acer Liquid Leap, it’s a two-in-one, being both a fitness helper and a fairly well specified smartwatch. It’s waterproof for swimming with a with seven-day battery life and smart notification functions appear on its OLED display.Out-of-the-box it took less then five minutes to set up with the Garmin Connect app. Tap it twice to wake up the watch then swipe through to all apps including music to change tracks when working out. Excellent stuff even if it does constantly nag you from with both the screen and vibration alerts to ‘Move’ if you’ve been sedentary for too long.Athough it lacks built-in GPS and is a rather pricey too, it’s a solid fitness tracker with smart cred and a no faff set-up.It's not just distros either, the variety of great desktop environments continues to grow as well. It used to be that there was GNOME and KDE and then everything else that sorta worked, sometimes. In the last couple of years though that's changed and it really became noticeable this year with great new releases from Cinnamon, MATE and Elementary OS's desktop. At the same time old stalwarts like XFCE and LXDE have evolved to the point that they're every bit as user-friendly as the rest.

This year saw Linux Mint turn out version 17.1 with an updated version of Cinnamon, which offers an amazing experience. Elementary OS Luna is brilliant as well (though only a beta, proceed with caution). GNOME 3.14 still feels slightly incomplete, but Fedora 21 manages to put together a very useable desktop with it anyway. And the often over-looked KDE project has put out some great updates this year as well, which, for my money, look their best in openSUSE 13.2.It's not here yet but Debian's upcoming Jessie release looks great as well - unless you're really, really opposed to SystemD, in which case – hey - there's a fork for you.Then there there's Ubuntu. 14.04 was a very solid Long Term Support (LTS) release that can serve as the foundation for not just Ubuntu's future, but that of Linux Mint, too. Then came 14.10, which felt like perhaps it would have been more appropriately released as 14.04.2, but Canonical never had big plans for 14.10 anyway because somewhere in the Aeron chairs of the Canonical offices the future is being written. Literally.Forgive me if you've heard this one before, but 2015 really could be the year of the Linux mobile device. Or at least the year of a Linux mobile device. Provided of course Canonical can convince one of its hinted at hardware partners to produce an actual device. Bq? Meizu? Anyone? Bueller?

If nothing else, at least the longstanding Year of Linux turns out to have a mobile addendum which should keep the joke going for a while yet. Thanks for that at least, Canonical.Still, even if it is easy to poke fun at the idea of mobile Linux devices, it sure would be great if Canonical pulls it off. I have been critical of Canonical in the past, but I really do look forward to seeing what it can produce in the mobile space. If for no other reason than opening the market for others to follow suit.Canonical is hardly the only company trying to bring a Linux-based mobile device to market. Jolla, makers of Sailfish OS raised $1,824,055 on Indiegogo during November and December with the promise of a Sailfish OS-based tablet. That's 480 per cent of the $380,000 goal. If nothing else there's at least a large market of Linux enthusiasts clamouring for a Linux-based device.As a fitness tracker and simple smartwatch the Microsoft Band ticks a lot of boxes. This strap on will keep you updated with notifications for incoming texts, email, Twitter and Facebook, with the default Me Tile displaying time and steps taken (or your preferred tracker) when the power button is pressed.

The Band works with the Microsoft Health app and beside Windows Phone is also compatible with Android and iOS. Data can be used with MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper too. Battery life is just two days but even less if you take it for a run and use the built in GPS. It's chunky and heavy on the wrist, which isn’t surprising given all the tricks it performs.Other features include: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyrometer, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, choice of workouts and a microphone for Cortana voice activation commands. Just bear in mind that it’s not waterproof for swimming.To use, swipe through the typical Windows tiles to get to app wanted. For example, if starting the running tile, it prompts you to turn on the GPS, then once running the app tracks heart rate, as well as calories burned. While the Band is up and running in the States, Microsoft was unable to confirm if its strap on will go on sale in the UK but at the current price, it’s expensive, and for a little bit extra it's worth considering one of the more fully featured smartwatches.The Samsung Gear Fit’s bright AMOLED touchscreen display conveys plenty of fitness tracking information horizontally but can also be viewed vertically too, which works better when used as a watch. This wearable notches up a five-day battery life and easy sync with a recent Samsung phone or tablet – 17 devices at the last count. Indeed the Samsung tech prerequisite will be the reason you either buy one or you don’t.

The exercise section includes running, walking, cycling and hiking, with the GPS from your Samsung smartphone used to track a session. Activity stats are recorded in graph form on the Samsung S Health app. Currently, your health monitoring can’t be shared with MyFitnessPal but a worthy alternative is Endomondo which can use this data with the exception of the heart monitoring.Messages and incoming calls can be set to provide a vibration alert and you can read texts and emails on the go, but the screen shape makes this a bit troublesome. In landscape mode, it’s awkward to view from the wrist and in portrait mode you only get one or two words per line so there can be a lot of scrolling involved. Incidentally, you can do fun stuff like changing music tracks from it.A larger loose fit wristband than most, the Gear Fit matches the VivoSmart in quality and strap comfort and the Sony SmartTalk in terms of style but remember this device exists in a walled garden for owners of Samsung mobile tech.Truecrypt is the simplest to understand out of all these tools. Your data is protected by the password you enter when you set it up. If you use a good long password, the data it has protected for you is pretty much perfectly secure. It won’t stop you if you insist on using a short, easily attacked password – and if you forget your really awesome password then there is no magic recovery route available.

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