Project Unicorn Mission Debrief

Unified Network Interface for Collaborative Open Route Navigation (UNICORN)

In the early months of 2014, Geek Squad got another request to send a badge where no badge had gone before. Having already explored the stratosphere with the Icarus I mission, the team decided to create a vehicle that would help prepare us for future remote planetary missions.

After months of development and testing, UNICORN was launched on June 21st, 2014 at 9am CDT. The goal of the mission was to put the fate of the badge in the hands of our Agents, using UNICORN to maneuver the vehicle through the Magic Castle (aka Best Buy’s corporate headquarters) and to one of three rendezvous points that would determine the fate of the Agent’s badge.

The Build

The UNICORN vehicle was made up of a few core systems. The heart of the vehicle was a Raspberry Pi (RPI) which was running Raspbian Linux and was connected to a camera and wireless network adapter. The RPI ran a Python script that triggered a vote tally on the control server, accepted the output of that tally, then sent the appropriate movement command to an Arduino microcontroller that was tied in to the vehicle hardware. Once it was moving, the vehicle used the microcontroller to check the vehicle’s health, upload that status data along with a picture to the server, and tell the control website to restart the command countdown.

The vehicle was built on top of a proper 1:10th scale RC chassis. It had a great transmission and differential, independent four wheel suspension, a steering system built for servo control and more than enough room to fit batteries and control components.

The control website was created using the Silex PHP framework and lots of Javascript. The interface was divided into three sections: control, a map and the vehicle status. Once logged in, a participating Agent had until the timer reached zero to submit their vote on the vehicle’s direction. The vehicle then called a tally and moved in the direction that had the most votes.



Qty Description
1 Tamiya M-05 1/10th Scale Mini Kit
1 Raspberry Pi Model B
1 3.3v Arduino Pro Mini
1 Short MicroSD adapter
1 16Gb Class 10 MicroSD card
1 Raspberry Pi Camera
1 Cellphone magnetic lens kit
1 USB wireless adapter with external antenna
1 L298N based motor controller
1 Steering servo with wiper position lead
1 Nokia 5110 LCD Screen
1 Limefuel 13,000mah dual USB output battery
1 6 cell, double stick RC battery pack
3 Tamiya polycarbonate paints (white, silver, black)
1 Misc. electronic components (headers, terminals, wire, etc.)
1 Misc. hardware components (screws, metal stock, wood, etc.)


Project Design

Empowering a community of Agents to determine the fate of a badge via a modified RC car involves careful design and planning, lots of creativity, and, sometimes, an unexpected outcome. The descriptions, materials, and schematics provided here are for educational purposes only.

An interior view of the vehicle under construction

mark1extThe completed vehicle


carschematiccrop Schematic of the vehicle’s power and control systems


missionstats The Agent control page of the UNICORN website


Neither Geek Squad nor the members of the UNICORN team assume any liability for the accuracy of the content on this page or the outcome of any project attempting to replicate our work.


Agent Jackie P. has been in the ranks of Geek Squad since 2008. When she isn’t overseeing a team of remote repair Agents, she can be found riding around on the beach in the sunny state of Florida, or mixing electronic dance music on rainy days.

Free Your Speed: Tips for a Faster Connected Home

The modern family home is more connected than ever to the Internet, and these days that includes everything from multiple computers, tablets, gaming systems, 4KTVs, even network-controlled lights and thermostats. Yet many households fail to realize their expanding collection of hardware – growing to an average of nearly eight connected devices each this year – strain home networks, producing sluggish connections and a real need to free their speed.

The good news is that setting up home network to support all your connected devices is simpler than you thought. Here’s how to free your speed.

Start with your high-speed Internet connection

Not all broadband connections are the same, especially when you’ve got a family of avid gamers or lovers of streaming movies. You’ll want to ensure that the Internet coming into your house is fast enough to support what you’re looking to do.

To start, you’ll want to see how fast your existing connection is. You can do this by visiting our Geek Squad Internet speed test page. This tool measures your connection in Mbps (Megabits per second).

How fast should your incoming connection be? For basic streaming video, we recommend at least 3 Mbps or higher. For HD quality video, 5 to 10 Mbps is recommended. You’ll want to compare what you’re actually getting to what your Internet package provides and contact your Internet service provider if you need to upgrade.

Now that you have your Internet sorted out, it’s time to consider what router works best to free your speed.

Newer routers are more powerful routers

If you have an older router, it may not be able to handle the number of connected devices you’ve added and all the new streaming music, movies and games you’ve started using. Now may be a good time to upgrade. When you’re looking at new routers, you’ll want to consider several features to free your speed.

You’ll come across an alphabet’s worth of letters describing wireless networks. You may have heard of “Wireless G” and may be wondering what the “N” and “AC” you’re seeing on boxes means.

Those letters describe what wireless standards the router supports (for example 802.11n or 802.11g). For a long time, Wireless G was the standard for most routers, but this has been largely replaced by the faster, more capable Wireless N. For the latest and greatest, though, you’ll be looking for Wireless AC.

A new router will support more than one standard, usually whatever it’s rated for and the older ones. A Wireless AC router, for example, will support AC, N, and G. That’s important because not all of your connected devices will support the latest standards. A Wireless AC router, however, gets you the most compatibility for all devices, and best performance for Wireless AC compatible devices.

The wireless portion of your network isn’t the only part of the router that affects speed. Inside every router is a processor or CPU that acts like a traffic cop, processing incoming and outgoing data through the network firewall and then transmitting to and from your computers.

The faster the processor, the less time that information spends inside your router and the faster your overall network speeds. Newer routers (and higher end routers) have powerful processors that sort data packets quickly and efficiently.

A router that supports the latest wireless standard and has a good processor will easily handle all your existing devices as well as any new connected tech you bring home in the future.

Keep your wireless router up to date

Modern routers use firmware in the same way that your computer uses an operating system like Windows. Most current routers will be set to check for updated firmware automatically.

Firmware updates may improve how well your devices connect to the network and the router’s overall performance. These updates can also correct security flaws as they’re discovered. You’ll want to log into your router’s administration page occasionally to ensure the firmware is up to date.

Keep your devices up to date as well

Computers and connected devices use software to control their network hardware. Computer operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X will check for software updates automatically, but if you do run into issues with your network, make sure to check for updated network drivers from the computer’s maker as well. This is especially important after an operating system update, including Windows 10.

Tablets and other connected devices may have updated firmware to improve network performance and security, so it’s important that you’re checking for the latest updates there as well.

If your devices support it, connect to your 5GHz network

Most new routers are “dual-band” in that they support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands. The older 2.4GHz band is like a crowded highway, as you not only have your neighbor’s router running on it (important in an apartment building), but also older cordless phones, wireless mice and keyboards, Bluetooth, etc. In some cases, even Microwaves and faulty lamps can put out 2.4GHz “radio noise.”

When switching a device to the 5GHz network, there are fewer devices and more “channels” to choose from, meaning your device can transmit and receive without as many interruptions. There is one downside – 5GHz signals don’t have the range of a 2.4GHz signal.

This isn’t a problem for most homes, but if you have a larger house, there are options to overcome this such as wireless repeaters that work with your existing router.

With amount of wireless traffic generated in the average US household growing by leaps and bounds, your Internet experience can be limited by just how much “attention” your wireless router can share between devices. Applying these network tips we’ve shared will help provide you with my bandwidth to support your always-on, totally-connected family.

Agent Derek Meister has been a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad for over ten years, helping clients reduce their techno-stress in-store, in-home and remotely as part of the Geek Squad Online Support team. When he’s not talking technology with his clients, he enjoys finding new ways to combine tech with a bicycle habit.

Microsoft Intensifies Efforts to Fight Fraudsters

You’re online, watching a compilation video of cute kittens, and your home phone rings. A person claiming to be a representative from Microsoft tells you they detectsed a threat to your computer. The caller tries to frighten you into allowing a remote connection to your computer, showing you a bunch of warnings, maybe even some red error messages on your computer. The caller pressures you to take immediate action and buy their service because you are in imminent danger!

In a video published on Microsoft’s blog on Thursday, December 18, Kirsten Kliphouse, VP of Customer Service & Support for Microsoft, reported more than 3 million of their customers have been victimized by scammers. Courtney Gregorie, senior attorney for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, said that Microsoft has identified more than 50 enterprises in the US alone that allegedly engage in this type of deceptive behavior. Microsoft is partnering with investigators and law enforcement to aggressively crack down on companies that are trying to scam clients using Microsoft’s name and reputation.

If you receive a call from a person identifying him or herself as a representative of Microsoft and telling you there is a problem on your computer, remember two things:

  1. STOP! – neither Microsoft nor any of its partners will ever reach out to you directly. That is not Microsoft calling. Hang up now.
  2. GO! – Go to and report the situation.

Some additional resources to learn more about phone phishing scams of this type:

Agent Kate B is a 3-year veteran of Geek Squad, currently on assignment at Geek Squad City. Follow Agent Kate on Twitter @AgentKateB.

Pop-up Geek Squad Precinct at Main Chicago Airport

With the holidays nearly upon us, many of our Agents and clients will be travelling sometime during the next ten days. And it’s a good bet that at least some of those travelers will be going through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the third busiest airport in the US in terms of total passengers.

Anyone who has traveled by air lately is aware of the spotty or non-existent airport Wi-Fi and the clusters of people charging their cellphones at the random open outlets between gates. This year, we are trying to de-stress the holiday travel experience for people flying through O’Hare in Chicago.

From Dec. 15 through Dec. 23, we will be operating a pop-up Geek Squad Precinct in Terminal 3, Concourse H at O’Hare. Our temporary presence will be staffed by full-fledged Agents who will be available to help travelers charge their phones and mobile devices, provide reliable Internet access and help relieve travel-related tech troubles. Our site will feature phone charging stations as well as a number of tablets and a desktop machine available to travelers so they can go online and take care of a bit of business before they board. The booth will even have two photo cutouts so all the ‘wannabes’ can get photographs of themselves in full Agent regalia.

image of the Precinct in the terminal

“O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. It’s an ideal venue to give the gift of Geek Squad during what is always a hectic and intense holiday travel season,” said Chris Askew, president of Geek Squad Services. “That’s the idea behind it — to surprise and delight holiday travelers who may need some advice and guidance. If we can be helpful to people during this period, then we’ve achieved our objective.”

Agents will not only help travelers at the booth, but will also wander the concourses of O’Hare, charging mobile devices and dispensing tech fixes and advice to the clients and potential clients as they wing their way to their holiday festivities. If you happen to be passing through O’Hare over the next few days, take a minute and stop by to say “Hi.” We’d love to see you.

If you are planning to travel over the holidays, we have put together a couple blog posts focused on things to think about when you travel with tech. You may want to take a spin through these before you finish packing your suitcase.

Travelling with Your Tech

Americans Abroad: Taking Your Technology With You

Agent Gavin C. has been fighting the proverbial good fight and bringing technological enlightenment to clients since 2006. When not analyzing the series of tubes that is, he enjoys the simple things in life: rock music, football, and freedom. From his perch at the Magic Castle, he ensures that Geek Squad remains a shining light for truth and justice.

Connecting Your Laptop to Your TV with WiDi

With the explosion of video content on the Web, many of us are using our computers, at least some of the time, to just watch TV. Video sharing services like YouTube, Web broadcasting sites like Hulu and Netflix, and pay-for-play services like Amazon Prime and iTunes have made our computers a key source of video entertainment in the modern home.

But anyone who has tried to watch a long video with someone else on a laptop knows, all that closeness is, well, close.

Fortunately, Intel and the television industry have solved this problem for you. Many newer TVs come with a WiDi (wireless display) connection that will allow you to connect your laptop to it wirelessly. I recently teamed with the Best Buy video production team to put together a short instructional video on how to link your Windows 8 laptop to a WiDi-enabled TV. Take a look at the video here:

Send What’s on Your Laptop to Your TV

If you are struggling to link the big screen in your house to your computer, chat with an Agent or visit a Precinct at your local Best Buy store.

Agent Gernbacher has been wrangling misbehaving and unruly Home Theater, PC, and Car Audio technology for the last 15 years. When he is not out saving the world as a Secret Weapon for the Geek Squad, he is preparing his little ones to take over the world, making people laugh with his ridiculous eyebrows and personality, pretending to moonlight as a chef or raging to whatever sounds he can find on the internet.

Routers & Malware: No Longer Just Your Computer That's Vulnerable

Warning: it isn’t just your computer at risk from hackers. Some recently discovered issues with wireless routers from two different companies show that they too can be vulnerable to hacker exploits that can leave your data exposed to online evildoers. In one case, the affected routers allowed hackers to access data on the victim’s network, while in the other the router was used to distribute a self-replicating worm onto other users’ networks.

Users of Asus RT routers have reported that a router flaw allows hackers access to data on external USB hard drives attached to the router. Although some security experts believe that only users who have turned on the https service (part of the router’s AICloud feature) were affected, some users have reported their systems were compromised even though they never enabled that feature.

The best way to secure these potentially hackable routers is to update the router’s firmware, make sure all default passwords have been changed, and deactivate any remote access options. For more details on this, check out the excellent article about the situation on ARS Technica.

Dear Asus Router User: You’ve Been Pwned, Thanks to Easily Exploited Flaw (Ars Technica)

Security experts have also identified activity online indicating a persistent attack on networks using Linksys routers, particularly those of the Linksys E series. The attack involves the distribution of malware designed to seek out and hijack other networks connected to the Internet by vulnerable devices. Although experts have not been able to identify the purpose of the attack, it is consuming significant bandwidth in specific IP ranges. Some speculate the attackers may be testing their ability to assemble a botnet (a network of compromised computers) that could exploit the Linksys router vulnerability.

Observers say simply restarting the router appears to remove the malware. However, this does not prevent the router from being reinfected. It appears that routers using updated firmware do not become infected, so it is suspected that the vulnerablity must be part of earlier versions of the firmware. Users with Linksys routers in the E series should go to the Linksys website and look for the 2.1 version of the software.

For more on this router-based vulnerability, check out this detailed article on ARS Technica:

Bizarre Attack Infects Linksys Routers With Self-Replicating Malware (Ars Technica)

If you think your system may have been compromised, we offer a Virus and Spyware Removal Service online, on-site and at Precincts in Best Buy stores.

Agent Williams joined the ranks of Geek Squad in 2007, earning the badge number #13337 and the alias “Agent Leeet Sauce”. Now Agent Williams protects the internetz from the Geek Squad Magic Castle. When he’s not policing unruly technology (or eating cookies) he can be found making music, chasing down his badge (it’s been on a trip to the stratosphere) or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

Online Shopping During the Holidays, Part 2: Scamming in the Wireless World

With the increasing use of Wi-Fi technology and the adoption of social media tools at all levels, we are starting to see some new scams and pirating techniques. Be aware of the following when you are transacting business online.


Fake hotspots

In the wireless world, web access is something we all take for granted. Our tablets and smartphones are able to find available wireless networks so easily that we can get lulled into a false sense of security. One of the dangers of connecting to a public wireless network is that it might be set up solely to give some scammer access to your computer.

It is fairly easy for a criminal to use a laptop to broadcast a fake Wi-Fi hotspot masquerading as the access zone of a coffee shop or the login page of a popular wireless service provider like Verizon or AT&T. Once an unsuspecting user is connected to this hotspot, the criminal can mine the user’s computer for banking, credit card or password information. Fake hotspots are a growing concern for wireless users, especially in busy public spaces like airports, coffee shops and libraries.

The best way to avoid being a victim of one of these wireless scams is to make sure your device is not set to connect automatically to non-preferred networks. That way, you’ll see a list of available networks when you boot up your computer and be able to choose a legitimate one (if one is available). If you have any questions about which is the right network, check with someone who works at the location you are logging in from.  Also, avoid doing any banking or shopping on public Wi-Fi networks. If you absolutely must, make sure the network is secure.

Links in messages

Most of us have learned to be careful about clicking on a link sent to us via email. With the growing popularity of social media platforms, email is no longer the only way for our friends and colleagues to send us messages. Facebook instant messages, Instagram “likes,” and “tweets” on Twitter allow us to interact with others in new, convenient and immediate ways.

Unfortunately, the scammers are on social media too — and they use it to distribute “bots” to take over users’ computers in order to send spam email. How do bots get on your computer? Well, remember that irresistable link you clicked on the other day? Yep, that’s the culprit. Because messaging on social media platforms is so instantaneous and mobile, many of us don’t think before we click.

Treat links in tweets and Facebook instant messages the same way you would treat a link in an email. The URL-shortening services that let Twitter users share links give the bad guys the opportunity to hide their original URL, making it even harder to identify malicious addresses. If you get a tweet with what looks like an interesting link for a “free iPad” or some other unbelievable offer, go check the profile of the person who sent it out. If that person is following thousands of people and no one is following them, it’s a bot.

You should always be careful with links in Facebook messages. We’ve all had FB friends who have had their accounts hacked. Treat links in instant messages the same way you treat links in emails – confirm the source and make sure the link is safe.

Banks don’t send texts

Speaking of instantaneous messaging, text messages are increasingly used by fraudsters to gain access to people’s financial information. Scammers will send messages out pretending to be from the recipient’s bank or credit card company, asking them to call “right away” to resolve some issue. When the person responds to the “special” number in the email, they are asked to “confirm their identity” by revealing account information that the scammer will then use to access the person’s account.

Other texts may appear to be from major retailer telling the recipient that they have won a gift card to the store. When they call to claim their prize, the scammer asks for an account address or social security number to confirm the winner’s identity. Or, they might ask for a credit card to pay the “shipping and handling” to have the prize sent to them.

These cons are new approaches to “phishing” scams that been around the online world practically since the first email was sent. These “smishing” scams (SMS Phishing) use the brief, ubiquitous nature of texting to nudge the unsuspecting and harried consumer to put themselves in a position to be pressured by the con artist to reveal important information.

Banks and retailers might send your offers by text message, but they would never ask for your account number or personal information as part of that transaction. If you receive a message that says it’s from your bank or a big name store, it is always best to call source directly at a number that is publicly available. It is also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau to see if this scam shows up on their database. The folks at also maintain a list of current scams. Their website is a necessary stop for anyone who suspects they have been targeted by scammers. (Plus, it’s kind of fun to read.)

In general, be very careful about volunteering information about you, your location and any financial institutions you use to make online payments when you are out in cyberspace. And keep an eye on your accounts. Don’t wait for the end-of–the-month statement. Get in the habit of checking your bank account or credit card statement online every day or so, particularly when you’ve been doing a lot of shopping, to make certain all the charges are correct.


Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

Your Tablet Sure Is Handy – But Is It Secure?

Mobile computing devices are letting us access the Web (and take care of business) from just about anywhere. Wireless technology now lets us pay our bills at the coffee shop, check our email while waiting for the kids after soccer practice, or take a conference call while getting our oil changed. Tablets and smartphones make it easy to manage our lives and stay in touch with the office while we are out and about.

All of this mobility comes at a price. Identity theft is becoming a real concern, as mobile devices used on open wireless networks could expose your valuable private data to hackers out trolling for their next victim.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to approach security issues a bit too casually when using our tablets — like leaving it sticking out of our backpack while going to the counter for a refill or on the seat of an unlocked car. The very thing that makes these device so convenient also makes it more vulnerable to theft. If you use it to access your bank account, a resourceful thief could figure out how to follow the path into your account.

Our friends at the Naked Security blog recently posted a very handy article on steps you can take to make your tablet more secure. We think all tablet users would benefit from checking themselves against the advice here:

Securing a Tablet for Web Browsing in Six Easy Steps

If you need help setting up your new tablet or mobile email account, we’re here to help.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Gear

“Cool. I didn’t know it could do that!”

That’s a phrase Agents hear every week. Most customers spend a good deal of time preparing for their major tech purchases – comparing features, checking system compatibilities, measuring dimensions and reading product reviews. The strange thing is that many seem to forget how their new gizmos can simplify their lives between the time they say “I’ll take it” and they get it out of the box at home. Yeah, it’s all in the manual, but who has time to read the manual?

We do.

Here are some tips and tricks you may have forgotten since the salesperson mentioned them back at the store. Never hurts to be reminded…

Outsmart Your Smartphone

There’s so much more you can do with a smartphone beyond making calls.

  • Most smart phones include a lot of functionality. Apps are available that will let your phone do many things you used to need your computer for – create spreadsheets, edit text documents, even display PowerPoint presentations. Syncing files and data between your computer and phone is very easy, allowing you to work on the same files using multiple devices. You can also back up or transfer all the data from your smartphone onto your computer, so you do not lose all your contact lists and pictures.
  • If you have an iPhone and Apple TV, you can download the Remote app (iPhone/iPad, free), that will let you use your smartphone as an fully functioning remote control. There are plenty of apps for both Android and iPhone devices (DirecTV, DISH Anywhere and Verizon FiOS) that allow you to browse through channels, control your DVR and more.

Making the Most of your eReader or Tablet

So many people said technology would kill reading as a pastime. But e-readers and tablets have only increased our appetite for the printed word. Here are some steps you can take to help your devices help you.

  • Touch screens, MP3 players and WiFi can reduce the battery life. To make your battery last longer, remember to:
    • Turn off the WiFi when you’re not using it
    • Lower the screen’s brightness, and
    • Turn off auto adjust brightness
  • You don’t have to carry all your content with you. Many tablets and eReaders have wireless capabilities, so you can stream content rather than saving it to your device and taking up memory. Speaking of memory, some tablet and eReader brands have expansion slots, so you can add more memory, on microSD cards for example, as needed.
  • Some eBook stores, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have iPhone, Android and PC apps available that will sync eBook purchases Syncing your content allows you to read your ebook on all your devices (smartphone, e-reader, laptop or desktop.)

You’ve Got to See It to Believe It!

These days televisions are for more than watching shows and movies. High-definition displays and internet connectivity mean getting the most out of your TV is a bit more complicated than making sure all the cables are hooked up correctly. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Cables are important. While regular cables may work, HD TVs and Blu-ray players work best when connected with HDMI cables. You cannot get a high-definition picture without HDMI cables.
  • Blu-ray players, gaming systems and other devices will need occasional firmware updates to keep them working their best. Frimware is the software that runs your device and updates are available from the device manufacturer’s website. Devices with an Internet connection can be updated directly. Some older devices may need to have the updates transferred to a thumbdrive and updated that way. For more information on firmware and how to update it, check out the 2 Minute Miracle videos we have posted on our YouTube channel.
  • Connecting your Blu-ray player and gaming system to the Internet will give your access to streaming video and other features not available without a connection. Most of these devices will be Web-ready and be able to connect to your wireless network.
  • Most new televisions can be used to display photos and videos from your camera, computer, memory card or smartphone. Many allow you to easily connect your gadgets via USB or insert a memory card to share your photos and videos instantly on a large screen for everyone to enjoy.

Game On for your Gaming Systems

Web connectivity has made gaming systems more fun than that old Nintendo machine you grew up playing.

  • PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and Wii all have the capability to connect to wireless networks.By connecting to the Internet, you will be able to download special gaming features, play video games against people anywhere, rent videos and access music.
  • Most gaming consoles are designed to make it easy to meet up with other players online. The Xbox 360 with Kinect adds video to the mix – the system allows users to , video chat with other Xbox 360 Kinect owners and PC users running the free Windows Live Messenger program.It’s a great simple teleconferencing system.
  • With all the connectivity, it can be tough to keep track of what the kids are doing when on the system. Be sure to check the parental control settings on the system to make sure the young ones are going places on the Internet they shouldn’t be.

If you aren’t sure that you are getting everything out of your new computer, home theater or gaming system, we can help.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

Cooking & Technology: Making Meal Prep Easier

The digital age has revolutionized everything around us — including cooking dinner. Whether you’re a novice in the kitchen or a skilled chef, there are a number of smartphone apps, online resources and gadgets that can make your time in the kitchen much less frantic, and much more productive and fun.


 And the Iron Chef of the Year Goes to… Your Smartphone Apps

  • What’s for dinner? One too many nights of staring into the refrigerator and dreading another night of leftovers? Fret not, true believers — help is on the way! The Dinner Spinner (a free app for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone and Kindle Fire) can provide you with some inspiration. Just enter your meal type (breakfast, lunch, main course, snack, etc.), any ingredients you have available, and preparation time, and voila! A meal is suggested. (You can even turn on filters to specify vegetarian, non-dairy, non-wheat dishes and more.)
  • Managing multitasking mania. From starting the water boiling, to deboning the chicken, to keeping an eye on the buns in the oven, cooking often involves juggling several things at the same time in order to get everything to come out right. Before chucking it all and heading to the local  drive thru, check out the 5 in 1 Kitchen Timer (Blackberry, iPhone $1.99). This handy tool lets you set up multiple timers for each step in the cooking process, reminding you exactly when to flip, fry, frappé and fricassee.
  • Check your labels… digitally! For calorie counters and health-conscious cooks, the USDA Food Database App (Android, $0.99) helps users find the nutritional information for food items based on serving size, covers more than 7,500 food items and dishes, and organizes them by categories for quick searching.
  • It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Dinner is done, and it’s time to relax with a cocktail. The 8500+ Drink & Cocktail Recipes (iPhone, Android free) is exactly that – a veritable mixed-drink cornucopia, with more entries than you’ll ever need. Pick a new drink to find its recipe or enter the ingredients you have on hand and let it suggest one. Bottoms up!

Keeping Track of Cooking Trends

Keeping up on the latest recipes, techniques and events from your favorite cooking sites can mean a lot of clicking and digging through things. This is where RSS (Really Simple Syndication) comes in very handy. RSS lets you create a newsfeed from the sites you are interested in, letting you keep up on new content from those sites without digging through them one-by-one. Most websites and blogs offer RSS feeds and there are a number of free RSS readers available free.

Another option are services like Pocket ( — a internet browser add-in that allows you to bookmark a page for reading later. Adding Pocket (Android, iOS: free) on your smartphone, tablet, and computer makes it easy for you to check out your recipes wherever you go.

Cooking and Video: The 101 Approach to Cooking

Cooking shows are popular today. So is internet video. Put them together, and bam — you’ve got a world of culinary options.

The old tried-and-true method for finding videos of your favorite cuisine prep is Youtube — and why not, since it has such a huge base of contributors? But if you are looking for something with a little better quality (no shaky cam, lighting, good sound and smooth cuts), then check out HowCast & VideoJug — two DIY based video sites that both have a wide range of recipes & quick, helpful tips demonstrated by experts. And if you want to take a master class in a subject? Check out Craftsy — where world renowned experts like Peter Reinhart and others hold online seminars on artisan bread baking, cheese making, cake decoration and more — for around the same cost as your average cookbook today.  

Feasting with Your Eyes

Want to drink in the latest and greatest of cooking online, before you make the plunge on a recipe? Foodgawker and Tastespotting are here for you, providing colorful rows upon rows of pictures from the latest in food blogging beauty. See something you like? Click through to the food blog, with recipes and ample pictures to guide you through duplicating that recipe in your home.

Cook and Dine With the Family – Virtually

Video conferencing software is making it easy to visually connect with family and friends in real time. So whether you need tips on doing mom’s turkey gravy or just cannot make it across the country to a reunion dinner with your friends from school, it is easier than ever to be there using Skype, Google+ Hangouts and FaceTime.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, and learning how to cook new cuisines.