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Specialization is for insects?
October 2, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

100 skills every man (or woman) should know (with videos!) from Popular Mechanics - learn how to split firewood or solder a wire, among others. Before you look, take the quiz and see how you stack up against people like our own Adam Savage. Need more? Esquire offers a more touchy-feely list of skills; the Art of Manliness has a list that includes how to land a plane and how to survive a street fight; and also a (PDF) book listing medical skills for surviving the end of the world. And if you prefer the fictional, there is also the classic list of skills from Robert Heinlein and the skills of a certain TV stuntman.
posted by blahblahblah (96 comments total) 159 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ventriloquism and gun twirling are missing from the list.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:10 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ventriloquism and gun twirling. Now the list is complete.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:17 PM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


this is super fun. nice job!
posted by ms.jones at 12:20 PM on October 2, 2008


solder a wire

He didn't tin one side first. (Pre-coating with a thin layer of solder.) Fail.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:21 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is obviously a USA-centric quiz. If it were British most of the answers would involve making a nice cup of tea.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:27 PM on October 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


My daddy would be so proud. I only missed the snow tire question, but then I live Texas.
posted by bjgeiger at 12:27 PM on October 2, 2008


56/100. I am only half a man.
posted by 517 at 12:31 PM on October 2, 2008


Boy, the Popular Mechanics quiz sure took a long time to load the answers.
Then again, while I waited I had time to design and build a sporty gyrocopter.
posted by Floydd at 12:35 PM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I sent them a comment: "Depends on how you like your grits, doesn't it?"
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:36 PM on October 2, 2008 [9 favorites]


I may not know what kind of tool to use when pruning a live branch that is between 5/8 and 7/8 inches in diametre, but at least I know I'm safe to use a cellphone during a lightning storm which puts me up on the 33% of other people who opted to handle the TV, the sink or the 75ft oak out back.

That's not DYI, that's Darwin Awards.
posted by slimepuppy at 12:42 PM on October 2, 2008


DIY even. You can tell that I get nervous when changing a lightbulb.
posted by slimepuppy at 12:44 PM on October 2, 2008


I sent them a comment: "Depends on how you like your grits, doesn't it?"

Definitely! I sent: "Chunky peanut butter has chunks - i.e., unmixed concrete. Not good. And apparently, you're making your grits too watery, too."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:54 PM on October 2, 2008


Do Yourself In?
posted by notsnot at 12:56 PM on October 2, 2008


gun twirling.

I taught myself how to do this. It's actually a lot harder than you would think, because the single action pistol typically weighs between two and three pounds, and your hands get tired quickly when you are first learning.

The problem is that it also becomes a muscle memory, and your hands will eventually reach a point where, after you confirm that the gun is unloaded, you will spin it on your finger just to test the weight, and when you hand it to someone, you will twirl it, and halfway through curl your index finger so that you are holding the barrel instead of the butt, which you then present to them so that they can take it.

It's almost completely unconscious, and it makes the people in the gun store really uncomfortable.

Though if you do it well, they will probably ask you to do it again.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


yeah, well, how do you fold a fitted sheet? No man can know this.
posted by Auden at 1:00 PM on October 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


I know how I fold a fitted sheet. But I don't let my Mom visit on laundry day, either.
posted by Michael Roberts at 1:06 PM on October 2, 2008


If you have any object to use as a weapon, use it. This can be anything like a chair, a bottle (extra man points homicide investigation for first breaking the bottle and then thrusting the jagged part at your opponent), or a 2X4.

FTFY.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:09 PM on October 2, 2008


I think this can all be summed up as: be curious. I know too many people that would read lists like these not as wishlists but as "so what?" lists. Find something you don't understand or don't know how to do? Learn how to do it, then do it yourself. There's a lot of interesting stuff out there.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:11 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pfft.

I see nothing on that list regarding the following:

Stock kitchen with a month's worth of planned meals for a family, while staying within budget
Track said budget so that all bills are paid on time and in full
Supervise playing children with appropriate level of surveillance
Resolve children's disputes, if not wholly fairly, then at least without the appearance of favouritism
Make a cape or other useful costume for said children; have repetoire of games, stories, comforting techniques
Identify, diagnose, and treat common illnesses
Get all children to activities in time and with least amount of screaming
Do all this while keeping house from becoming overwhelmed with toys, laundry, etc., and also while working either part or full time to pay for it all.

Then talk to me about skills. Hmmph.
posted by jokeefe at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2008 [37 favorites]


Any real man should know how to trim zig zags into the side of his mullet.
posted by clearly at 1:30 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Specialization is for insects" has always been a staple in my four-word philosophy collection.

And, when our economy collapses, I'll thank myself for learning how to 52. Hang food in the wild and 17. Home brew beer. SURVIVAL!

On a side note, I didn't know how to properly 29. Use a French knife, but it's OK, as I knew how to 18. Remove bloodstains from fabric.
posted by strangememes at 1:35 PM on October 2, 2008


Scarabic still wins.
posted by theora55 at 1:36 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I missed the concrete consistency question. But then again, I'm not really sure how grits should look.
posted by pjern at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2008


14 out of 15. Damned ladder.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:40 PM on October 2, 2008


Speaking of Zig Zags, I can think of one more invaluable skill missing from these lists.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't notice anything on how to vomit neatly, how to be reluctant to express your feelings for good reason or how to comport yourself with crazy old beardos who own the messy used book store and don't want to sell you that Jim McPhee book about birch bark canoes, how to be subject to fits of rage at inappropriate times and how to be a good cook. I guess the point is that opinions vary.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


They didn't teach me how to fight off a bear. FAIL.
posted by educatedslacker at 1:45 PM on October 2, 2008


I meant John McPhee, of course.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2008


What the hell is a grit?
posted by chugg at 1:48 PM on October 2, 2008


Easy as pie.
Still, I gotta 2nd jokeefe.
Only 45% of people know you use a maul to split firewood? I grew up in the wood-cut school (hiee-aah!). Lost art in the age of central heating tho’. But for most folks, I guess you kind of have to go out of your way to cut wood. It’s great exercise tho. I’ve got a nice woodpile. Now that I’ve cut down all my trees I get uncut logs and chop those.
(And I see why a lot of people fall off ladders)
Spreading chunky peanut butter is how I got all these notches in my knife - still, almost blew that. But I don’t know much about grits, and there’s a few kinds of chunky peanut butter.
I like the crazy chunky stuff, but my wife and the kids like the smoother.... y’know, I can’t believe I’m typing this.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2008


Also missing:

How to kill a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
How to make love to beautiful women and/or how to lay down some carpet.
How to bottle up emotions into a tight black ball that lives in your chest, where the pressure builds up and up until one fateful day it all comes pouring out through the liberal use of a semi-automatic at a local fast food chain.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2008


Hmmph. Copycats.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


What the hell is a grit?

Mmmm.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2008


Install a graphics card? Calibrate an HDTV? Those aren't skills they're just reading the manual.

Drive a stick? You don't get to call yourself a driver unless you can even if you don't. Now double-clutching or threshold or left-foot braking, those are skills.

Sharpening a knife didn't make the list?
posted by Skorgu at 1:58 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


These are the grievous mistakes I'm sure I saw. There are probably others, though, as I never
have been much of man.

23 - Soldering wires. No mention of cleaning the wire, the most important aspect of all soldering.
33 - Changing a single pole switch. No mention of turning off the power, the most important...
38 - Sweating pipes. No mention of cleaning the pipe and fitting surfaces, the most important aspect...
52 - Hanging food. Tie off your rope at ground level? Bears eats your food.
53 - Boating. Speed, wake and clearance to other boats ignored.
90 - Circular saw without hearing protection? Right.
93 - Torques are radically different for dry or lubricated threads. Not interchangeable.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:59 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't notice anything on how to vomit neatly

I think everyone knows you're just supposed to hold it in your mouth and then swallow it back down, right?

Right?
posted by inigo2 at 2:00 PM on October 2, 2008


This does seem to be a rather Man-centric post. Not that there's anything wrong with felling trees or buying suits, but I'm not going to be doing either anytime soon.

Like jokeefe, the skills important to me have to do with child supervision, diaper changing, getting out of the house on time with a two year old and a five year old while making sure that everyone has all of their various accessories, are dressed for the weather, and have a supply of various snacks.

I know how to fold a fitted sheet, hang up my towels, change a diaper discreetly in public, make Swedish meatballs from scratch, wrap a birthday present, and many other really useful things that were too "girly" to make the "things men should know" list.

Also, #46 on the Esquire list, "Tell a woman's dress size" : Get this wrong and you'll be needing the how-to list for surviving your own personal apocalypse.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:17 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "MANLY MAN MAN" bullshit of these lists always annoy me, but there are a lot of good skills in here. Is the gendered thing some sort of wish fulfillment because most guys don't get to be as manly as they want, or what?

I dunno. I learned most of my carpentry, wiring and building skills working in the theater tech shop in high school, and there were plenty of girls there who were just as good (or better) than I was.

I do like that they have things like using a sewing machine and changing a diaper on there, since those are more likely to be useful to me than knowing how to carve a turkey…
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, #46 on the Esquire list, "Tell a woman's dress size" : Get this wrong and you'll be needing the how-to list for surviving your own personal apocalypse.

Already in the post.

1. Wake up!
2. Try to defuse the situation.
3. Walk away.
4. Assume a fighting position.
5. Defend yourself.
6. Take punches effectively.
7. Give your best war cry.
8. Make your escape.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:27 PM on October 2, 2008


Oh, how I despise that Heinlein quote. If it weren't for specialization, we'd all still be hunter-gatherers. No, wait. Even that involved specialization. Some hunted, while others gathered. "Conn a ship?" There wouldn't be any ships without specialization.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:30 PM on October 2, 2008


This tragic result of endemic American bad parenting is precisely why I enrolled in Man U. I just wish I could get out of these damn shaving prereqs. and into some of Tom Wolfe's Advanced Cane Wielding lectures.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:46 PM on October 2, 2008


Only 45% of people know you use a maul to split firewood?

That's for pansy men. I use my fist.
posted by chugg at 2:51 PM on October 2, 2008




Seconding grapefruitmoon's assertion that guessing dress size = impending personal apocalypse for guesser. Guys, even if you do master this skill, there will never be an occasion on which it is socially appropriate or wise for you to employ it.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 3:05 PM on October 2, 2008


I don't know about what every man should know, but every codemonkey should know how to code a web list that doesn't split the content over ten pages just to increase your ad revenue and therefore piss off your readers.
posted by eclectist at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Only 45% of people know you use a maul to split firewood?

Well, technically I did know that, but I still picked the wrong answer. For me the right tool is an axe, because that's what I have and it works just fine. In my defense, I don't split much, the wood I get is usually small enough, it's not like I'm ever going to find the time to split all of it.

Tall, narrow tires have more contact pressure than wide ones do, so they’re better at cutting through snow down to pavement.

Right, so the two questions on the quiz I got wrong were exactly the two things I spend by far the most time doing. In this case, when I think of driving in snow, I assume it's going to be deep enough that the tires get nowhere near the pavement if there is any. Wider tires sink in less deeply, meaning less chance of getting stuck when you're trying to drive through 2 feet of snow with a nominal 8 inches of ground clearance.
posted by sfenders at 3:33 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


"there will never be an occasion on which it is socially appropriate or wise for you to employ it."

So not true. The surest way to impress a woman is to buy her a dress that she loves in the right size, with matching accessories and purse.

Granted it might just be a tad easier to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
posted by oddman at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2008


A real man can make a bong out of whatever random shit is in the house.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:57 PM on October 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


OK, I don't WANT my tires on pavement in the snow. That's not pavement, that's freaking ice! You avoid the ruts and try and drive on the fresh snow since it'll give better traction.

And snow tires really aren't necessary unless you live in the boonies.

(I live in Buffalo. My snow can beat up your snow)
posted by Kellydamnit at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gah, the Heimlich picture is worse than useless.
posted by oats at 4:23 PM on October 2, 2008


And I second Kellydamnit--cutting through the snow is how you end up high-centered on a drift.
posted by oats at 4:24 PM on October 2, 2008


Bugger snow. I don't go near it, and it doesn't go near me. Sorted.
posted by pompomtom at 4:39 PM on October 2, 2008


OK, I don't WANT my tires on pavement in the snow. That's not pavement, that's freaking ice! You avoid the ruts and try and drive on the fresh snow since it'll give better traction.

And snow tires really aren't necessary unless you live in the boonies.

(I live in Buffalo. My snow can beat up your snow)


I live in Vermont. Here, we just put 10 inches of salt on the road every hour or so, even when it's too cold for salt.

Actually, they've been doing better with the air temp/salt stuff.

I love the days where it's too cold for salt but too windy for sand.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 5:07 PM on October 2, 2008


Regarding the concrete question, what kind of mustard do you think they mean?
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:13 PM on October 2, 2008


Nobody needs any of these skills.
posted by fire&wings at 5:13 PM on October 2, 2008


I don't think the thinner tires actually "cut through to the ground" but instead offer less resistance to the snow in front of the tire.

You need to remember that a skinny tire and a wide tire inflated to the same pressure are going to have the exact same amount of tread on the ground for any given load (ignoring absurd imaginary tires that are ten feet wide). The difference is that the skinny tire's patch is longer along the travel direction and the wide tire's path is wider across the width of the car.

More resistance is going to equal less traction.

Compacted snow does offer better traction than ice, but fresh snow that's got any depth to it is going to cause problems as it starts to drag on the car's body.

We don't even need to throw out theories here. If you've ever driven a car with old-school skinny tires in the snow, they're pretty easy. Big heavy cars with wide low profile tires are diabolical if they don't have some electronic traction assistance.
posted by maxwelton at 5:25 PM on October 2, 2008


The surest way to impress a woman is to buy her a dress that she loves in the right size, with matching accessories and purse.

Just when I thought the gender generalities had gotten as thick and deep as they could get...
posted by Dreama at 5:32 PM on October 2, 2008


I don't think the thinner tires actually "cut through to the ground" but instead offer less resistance to the snow in front of the tire.

Well yeah, that's the point. In deep snow, you want more of the traction coming from the front of the tire, where it's contributing a bit to keeping you from sinking in deeper. The narrow tire is better at pushing the snow out behind itself, meaning it doesn't float as well over the snow. So I think maybe the wide tire gives you less power for forward motion, because more of it is diverted to compacting the snow instead of digging a hole in it. In a 4x4 with good snow tires, I often found that the limiting factor to getting through deep snow was not traction, but torque. Need quite a lot of it.

But then, I may be worng. Never tested narrow tires and wider tires on the same vehicle in deep snow.

Snow that's not deep enough to have to worry about spending two hours digging out the compacted snow around the rear differential if you bog down, well that's another story and I'll gladly assume that the narrow tires would be better there.
posted by sfenders at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2008


90 - Circular saw without hearing protection? Right.

I never used hearing protection with a skil saw. They aren't that loud. Of course, I probably destroyed my hearing working at a radio station and going to all kinds of rock concerts long before I became a finish carpenter.

Personally, I think a compressor is the loudest thing you'll run into on a carpentry site. I would do everything I could to make sure it was in a separate room when using the nail gun.
posted by robtf3 at 6:08 PM on October 2, 2008


Only 45% of people know you use a maul to split firewood?

I got that one wrong, even though I've used one of those things to split more than a thousand billion logs, by my reckoning.

I guess some of us are out splitting firewood, whilst others are inside reading DIY magazines & memorising the esoteric names for those big-fat-wedge-type-axes-with-heavy-heads-and-oh-so-satisfying-splitting-powers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on October 2, 2008


I love the part where they exhort the wary reader to think of the ironing board as a workbench so as to preserve his fragile male ego. Where's the "not worrying about how 'manly' people you are" skill?

Also, if someone here could explain how to fold a fitted sheet, that'd be great, because I haven't figured that one out yet.
posted by bettafish at 7:27 PM on October 2, 2008


How to fold a fitted sheet.
posted by Floydd at 7:38 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


They forgot:

#101: how to avoid multi-page web 'lists', be they ''best of", "100 things..", etc.
posted by signal at 8:19 PM on October 2, 2008


"Just when I thought the gender generalities had gotten as thick and deep as they could get..."

Oh please, we're just getting started.
posted by oddman at 8:29 PM on October 2, 2008


*triumphantly holds up somewhat lumpy, yet vaguely rectangular square of jersey* Thanks, Floydd!
posted by bettafish at 8:40 PM on October 2, 2008


That's not DYI, that's Darwin Awards.

Darwin Award == DYI
Do Yourself In
posted by Chuckles at 8:47 PM on October 2, 2008


Myth: Wide tires provide better traction under all weather conditions. In fact, putting oversize snow tires on a car delivers better snow traction.

Fact: The opposite is actually true. Wide tires tend to "float" on deep snow, and the tread lugs never have a chance to "dig" through to the road surface to gain traction. Narrow tires are a better option in deep snow. The tire acts similarly to a knife cutting through butter; the blade works best when using the narrow edge to push through the butter rather than the wide flat side of the blade.

And keeping in mind that driving through snow is a lot like driving through mud, here.
posted by maxwelton at 8:58 PM on October 2, 2008


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying... at the same time.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:19 PM on October 2, 2008


I am super duper manly, and I am not even one.

I only missed the snow tire question - which I also agree is wrong depending on the snow and what's beneath it.

The snow I drive on tends to be in Wyoming and Montana and there is not necessarily a "road" beneath it. It is the most manly thing I do, as it is entirely foolhardy and largely unnecessary. In real life, no snow.

To fold a fitted sheet, you hold the pointy corner seam parts together, and neatly tuck in the baggy parts that will otherwise bag, and then fold normally. You don't need a video or all the snapping and flapping and laying it down on a bed and poking and smoothing. What if you are taking it down off the line and folding it neatly into the basket?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:23 PM on October 2, 2008


I gave up the quiz when the question To prune live branches between 5/8in. and 7/8in. in diameter, use

5/8 of an inch?

WTF?


Get into the 21st century America. Sheesh...
posted by Mephisto at 9:56 PM on October 2, 2008


You need to remember that a skinny tire and a wide tire inflated to the same pressure are going to have the exact same amount of tread on the ground for any given load

Why is that? I realize you are probably thinking that with the same weight and pressure, the skinny tire would deform until it had the same amount of surface contacting the road, but I think what you actually get is less surface on the road but a greater weight per contact area. So with wider tires, you might have (for example, made up numbers) 300lbs/sq inch of pressure but with skinnier tires you would have 400lbs/sq inch of pressure. Thus you are better able to compact the snow down hard enough to gain traction, instead of leaving it loose enough to shear under the torque from the wheels.
posted by inparticularity at 10:35 PM on October 2, 2008


The vocabulary of the quiz is very colloquial:

What is the constituency of "grits"? What the hell are "grits"?

"swing a sledgehammer as you would a baseball bat" - what?

"How to tape drywall" - what??

"Framing hammer." I looked this up: A framing hammer is "used for framing wooden houses!" - All these houses whose price collapse triggered the banking crisis... were they made of wood???

"Many snakebites in the US, especially suffered during snake-handling religious ceremonies..." - what????
posted by mr. strange at 1:46 AM on October 3, 2008


I gave up the quiz when the question To prune live branches between 5/8in. and 7/8in. in diameter, use

5/8 of an inch?

WTF?


A person should be able to convert fractions of an inch to decimals and to millimeters.





In their head.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:49 AM on October 3, 2008


0.625 "

~1.5 mm
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:52 AM on October 3, 2008


Well I don't know about all of these newfangled skills that every man is supposed to know.

Back in my day, a man was a man if he could do just five things:
1) Be polite to a lady
2) Hold whiskey
3) Rope a steer
4) Hide illicit financial gains through an elaborate system of double entry bookkeeping
5) Explain Foucalt's analysis of the discursive and practical conditions of the existence of truth and meaning in order to show the principles of meaning and truth production in various discursive formations which emerged during various epochs on the basis of what was actually said and written during these periods of time.

But those were simpler times.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:56 AM on October 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


Wide tires tend to "float" on deep snow

Ah, so they do agree wide tires keep you on top of the snow.

Searching the web, it seems a fairly well-explored subject by guys who like mud: "Some types of mud have a greasy top layer with a hard baked surface underneath, while other types can be a bottomless quagmire of gooey mush. Different types of mud require different driving techniques, equipment and Mud Tires. Greasy mud with a hard bottom layer is best suited to narrow mud tires ... Thick gooey mud tends to favor wide mud tires as they give some flotation, similar to wide tires favoring sand driving."
posted by sfenders at 4:04 AM on October 3, 2008


WRC cars run snow courses with very narrow, studded ice tires, and there would be an objective result if wider were actually better, namely course times (and trophies). I'd say that if you're driving on something that's recognizable as a road, that other vehicles have driven on in the past you want narrow tires to get at the packed snow. If you're driving on greenfield or very low traffic area you probably want a snowmobile or at least very large paddled mud tires at very low pressures. And I hope you have beadlock wheels and a compressor.

The relationship between tire size, pressure and contact patch size is complicated. At low pressures wider tires seem to offer larger contact patches, but he makes a whole page worth of assumptions so I'm hesitant to call it definitive.
posted by Skorgu at 5:52 AM on October 3, 2008


I'd say that if you're driving on something that's recognizable as a road ...

Well yeah, there's the problem. When your target audience is men who think they need to know everything, if you ask about "driving in snow" you really ought to specify whether it's going to be on something recognizable as a road.
posted by sfenders at 6:43 AM on October 3, 2008


I got 9 out of 15.....
They said I am a danger to myself when I play with power tools >:>(
I have to disagree with them... I am far more of a danger to everyone else.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2008


I'd swear the premix concrete I've been using has instructions on the bag to add water to achieve the consistency of grits. Not that I've ever seen grits, mind you...

Kipling had it right: To bet it all on black, and lose and walk away. Not that there's much option at that point.
posted by lothar at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2008


Mr. Strange:

You use tape to make smooth seams in drywall, putting on the tape and mud is most of the work in putting up drywall.

It's not "a hammer for framing wooden houses", but "a hammer for framing wooden houses" (as opposed to a roofing hammer, a flooring hammer, a finish hammer, etc. etc. etc.).
posted by idiopath at 8:25 AM on October 3, 2008


So not true. The surest way to impress a woman is to buy her a dress that she loves in the right size, with matching accessories and purse.

Tell me this is sarcasm.
posted by desuetude at 9:38 AM on October 3, 2008


What is the constituency of "grits"? What the hell are "grits"?

Coarsely ground corn, boiled into a gritty paste.

"swing a sledgehammer as you would a baseball bat" - what?


Baseball is a popular American sport. It involves a turned spindle of wood, or bat, which is held at a ninety-degree angle with the body and swung from back to front. The player does this in an attempt to strike the bat against a leather-bound sphere (commonly referred to as a ball) thrown by a member of the opposing team.

"How to tape drywall" - what??

Drywall is a man-made board consisting of paper-lined gypsum plaster. It is used in North America to finish interior walls in much the same way workers in regions where difficulty and inconvenience and wasting of time are considered good things would use plaster and lathe.

"Framing hammer." I looked this up: A framing hammer is "used for framing wooden houses!" - All these houses whose price collapse triggered the banking crisis... were they made of wood???

Yes, in North America there are odd things called trees, which are large plants that grow out of the ground. The trees are cut down, or felled, and the inner portion, called wood, is sliced (milled) into standard sized pieces. These pieces are then connected with metal spikes called nails into a vertical substrate over which the aforementioned drywall is affixed. The process of constructing said substrate, or frame, is called framing. The nails are driven into the wood with a special tool called a hammer.

"Many snakebites in the US, especially suffered during snake-handling religious ceremonies..." - what????

Many inhabitants of the United States of America, and indeed the world at large, participate in various activities which can be collectively referred to as idiocy.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:31 AM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Phalene's Useful Skills for Navigating the World

1) Make small talk and practice social niceties such as paying and receiving compliments. Every culture has social standards. Learn yours.

2) Ask coercively, using emotional techniques. Form a logical argument. Know when to apply either to a given situation, and know the difference when others seek to prove something to you.

3) Care for children of all ages, from a leaking-at-both-ends-and-screaming infant, to a slightly insecure but mostly adult adolescent.

4) Understand and navigate different social environments than your day to day experience without becoming over reliant on stereotypes or value judgements. Being able to analyze the correct behaviour for an alien situation, from an out-of-faith wedding to an internment camp, gives you great advantages.

5) Cook, with a grasp of basic nutrition and flavour. I cannot stress the value of this skill enough, that from preparation to serving, doing this well makes life go from okay to awesome.

6) Care for a physically impaired, elderly or otherwise vulnerable individuals without treating them like they are mentally delayed. You have no idea how often blind people get treated like they’re stupid. You lose their valuable contributions if they’re marginalized.

7) Handle heat and corrosives safely. Knowing the properties of say, boiling oil, burning candles or household cleaning products can save a world of hurt and property damage. The same skill that lets you light a fire should teach you how to avoid setting yourself on fire and how to put out a fire.

8) Tell a story, either a fictional narrative or a true event, in an entertaining fashion.

9) Sew enough to mend garments and create small useful objects, like pirate flags and felt covers for electronics.

10) Shop effectively. Know the value of objects to price them properly, and recognize when an item is useless. This applies as much to a trip to Wal-Mart as bartering for stone knives by a riverbank.

11) Understand simple machines like the wedge, lever and pulley, and how friction and leverage effect motion. With this you may do wonderful things.

12) Care for and maintain your mental health. You are more likely to kill yourself than be murdered, so forget about street brawling and work on becoming emotionally well adjusted.

13) Know how your government works, who holds real influence and what your rights are. Ditto for how power is structured in smaller organizations like say, your place of work.

14) Manage money, with an eye to making it your servant and not your master. Hint; if you're living from paycheck to paycheck, it owns you.

15) Clean things. From washing floors to sterilizing bedding after someone leaks, you’ll save time, money and plagues.

16) Make music. Any normal person can at least hum, and as a free mood alternant that takes little effort, you can use it to do anything from soothing a baby to co-ordinating manual labour. ‘Hey-heave-to-ho! Hey-heave-to-ho!’

17) Treat a range of injuries and learn to diagnose common ailments and the less common ailments that may inflict people of your genetic line. This can be anything from treating a burn and saving a choking victim, to being able to correctly diagnose funny looking rashes and lumps and the onset of Alzheimer’s.

18) A general understanding of plants. With this you may garden, avoid killing plants unintentionally, cut down trees with primitive tools, find water based on what grows in a particular area, and otherwise exploit the life forms on this planet least capable of running away from you.

19) Knowledge of the scientific method, and a wee bit of chemistry, physics, biology, psychology and meteorology. With this you can make rough weather predictions, prove and test things, know why chemical reactions happen in cooking, understand trends in animal or human behaviour and explain how everyday objects work.

20) General use of numbers. Add, subtract divide and multiply. Use fractions and percents correctly. Calculate compound interest and understand probability. Know the useful formula for calculating area and how measures of distance and weight can be converted from one culture’s system to another, or how units of measure may be scaled up or down (depending on the precision of the measurement you want to make).

21) Learn the language of your neighbouring countries and traditional trading partners.

22) Know how to do basic household repairs: unblock a drain, mend a cord, change a washer, manual flush a toilet, grout a tile, hammer nails, screw things, paint neatly, change a fuse or lightbulb and replace a pane of glass.
posted by Phalene at 11:10 AM on October 3, 2008 [11 favorites]


I went to look at the Esquire list specifically to see how to tell a woman's dress size.
I'm a woman and can't tell my own dress size. I always seem to forget what, exactly, it is. This leads to me having to take at least 2 of each item in different sizes into the dressing room every time and gets quite annoying.
...and the Esquire list doesn't actually explain how to do that one. Pfft. "Never promise what you can't deliver" is a skill that should be added to the list, methinks.
posted by wretched_rhapsody at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the specialization = overspecialization and/or learned helplessness. Sure, we developed into blacksmiths, millers, farmers, etc. But your blacksmith still posessed a wide variety of other skills and could move into another job field. I think the theme Heinlein is going for is being generally useful. Many people actually avoid work by being - or feigning - ignorance (gasp! no!) S’true.


“what kind of mustard do you think they mean?”

Yeah that almost threw me too. I went with French’s yellow. Always been the goofy part of test taking. Determining the intent of the test designer.


“whilst others are inside reading DIY magazines & memorising the esoteric names”

Well, yeah, but they have a sledgehammer question in there as well. That’s what the flat head on the back of the maul is for. I mean - you’re not sinking the wedge into the log then lifting it up altogether and slamming it down on your chopping surface, right? That’s a good way to seriously injure yourself. On the big logs you sink the wedge on the maul, if it sticks, you hit it with the sledge. And some people use just wedges (that is - loose wedges - just a wedge, no handle) and the sledgehammer to split wood after opening a hole with an axe.
I suspect a lot of people use the gas powered ones too.
I suppose I’m disqualified tho’, since I do it for technique and exercise. And as sort of a meditation. There aren’t too many things I can really hit.
My neighbor (Earl - the insecure guy with the pansy dog - I’ve spoken of him before) came by a while back and asked me why I wasn’t using my nifty Stihl chainsaw - I said it was too easy. (I’ve got some buddies who don’t like some of the Stihls. I figure I’m not taking down redwoods so I can still chop wood by hand. But also - most common type of chainsaw - easy to get parts, chain, etc. etc. )

I think there’s only two requisite abilities for any human being. And they’re reciprocal:

1. Learn quickly.
a. possibly by imitation
b. possibly by study

2. Approach any hands on situation in a dynamic manner without preconceptions dictating your actions.
a. observe effects carefully
b. reevaluate as necessary
c. don’t give up

Do that and you can develop your own space program.
I’ve learned more about everything by simply watching and listening - even to people who aren’t as experienced as I am. You never know ‘your’ way is better unless you see someone else doing it differently and try it on. I gotta go with Socrates on that, you don’t really know stuff until you realize you don’t really know. Then you can learn.
So yeah, I have to go with the folks decrying the pedantry here.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


A person should be able to convert fractions of an inch to decimals and to millimeters. In their head.
0.625 "
~1.5 mm


You're saying a millimeter is about half an inch? WTF? You're off by like 10x.
posted by ryanrs at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2008


units tragedy
posted by ryanrs at 1:24 PM on October 3, 2008


You're saying a millimeter is about half an inch? WTF? You're off by like 10x.

I think he's talking Imperial millimetres, which are 3/16ths of a nautical pizzle.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:49 PM on October 3, 2008


"Everyone should be able to: fire a gun, clean a gun, buy guns from somebody else, treat gunshot wounds, comfort the dying who have been shot by guns, field-strip a gun, construct a gun from spare household items, draw a picture of a gun, write about guns, complain about gun laws on Usenet, collect guns, sell guns on eBay, and write poetry about guns. Specialization is for insects." -- Matt McIrvin
posted by straight at 2:24 PM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're saying a millimeter is about half an inch? WTF? You're off by like 10x.

This has been a test of the Emergency Metric Confusion System. This was only a test. We now return to your normal-sized propormoration.




posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:26 PM on October 3, 2008


I just have to point out that zombie killing is a very, very important skill. Killing zombies with guns, even better.
posted by fiercekitten at 3:31 PM on October 3, 2008


Most important skill: how to locate, read, understand, and follow instructions.
posted by rifflesby at 11:13 PM on October 3, 2008


I know how to Google. I win.
posted by mmoncur at 3:17 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I liked Phalene's list better. Plus I got 21/22. I'd be going out to play music en francais, but I have to cook something nice for the kids.

Oh, and:

23. Know that owning a decent set of all-season radials means never having to think about tire size.
posted by sneebler at 7:07 AM on October 4, 2008


23. Know that owning a decent set of all-season radials means never having to think about tire size.

24. Know that "all-season" does not mean "all year"
posted by Sys Rq at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2008


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