Specialization is for insects
May 2, 2012 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Ten desirable skills you can teach yourself is a nice round-up of terrific guides to teaching yourself new tricks including basic repair skills, learning a language (the Foreign Services Institute has a chart of how hard various languages are to learn), teaching yourself to code, building electronics (starting with soldering), getting yourself up to speed in photography, learning an instrument, developing a basic sense of design, the inevitable cooking tips, and even some starter self-defense moves. Also, a very nicely organized list of free online college courses.
posted by blahblahblah (28 comments total) 306 users marked this as a favorite
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:59 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Metafilter isn't supposed to empower me to pursue dreams instead of zoning out and reloading the Internet all day.

Thank you - I don't read Lifehacker often enough to have stumbled across this. Regaining fluency in Russian and piano ahoy!
posted by catlet at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

To add to that list, I would suggest sartorial style - the basics of how to purchase clothing and present oneself in a variety of circumstances, without blowing a wad of money every six months on "the latest fashions".

(I'd actually like to learn more about this, myself).
posted by LN at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know Lifehacker takes a lot of crap for the occasional lightweight posts (to be fair, maybe "cool things to do with binder clips" shouldn't be considered life hacking) and the fact that they're a Gawker site, but at the end of the day they've got an educational core, and the more views that the linkbaity Gawker style can get them, the more people are actually reading the kinds of articles that are in this FPP. It honestly reminds me of PBS or early TLC/Discovery, the way it presents legit practical knowledge through channels typically dominated by pure entertainment.

On preview: LN, Put This On
posted by jason_steakums at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been fucking around with electronics since October -- well, since I was a ten, really -- and that is a hobby that adds up. Especially when there is apparently no place to get cheap components in NYC. I went to 269 Canal, which everyone raves about, and they charged me $2.50 for a shift register IC, and had nothing else I needed.

Anyone know where/how to get cheap ICs in NYC without ordering from Jameco (whose shipping fees have, admittedly, gotten less draconian but still. I need a hex inverter.)
posted by griphus at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2012

The article about language learning is really interesting, but I don't see how you can just 'start building sentences' as he describes in stage 2. Even with a grammar book, wouldn't you be likely to screw stuff up by violating one of millions of exceptions or rules?

(I say this as a person who has only ever managed to get to A2 fluency in any other language... maybe I shouldn't have tried to start with Chinese.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:30 AM on May 2, 2012

Thanks, jason_steakums, but I am a girl-person.
posted by LN at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2012

I need some basic repair skills. I will soon be the proud co-owner of a house. And, I am a cheap bastard who tries to fix things on my own whenever possible. The problem is that I generally have no idea what I'm doing. Now that I'll be an owner instead of a renter, half-assing it doesn't seem like such a good idea.
posted by asnider at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2012

Any them have <$5 shipping for orders <$10?
posted by griphus at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2012

and that is a hobby that adds up

It does and it doesn't. The trick for me, is that if I need 1 resistor (usually .10 each) I order 200 ($4.00 for 200 from Small Bear). After a few years of doing this, I usually only need to order a few parts at most on any build.

Places like Tayda offer great giant packs of parts, and for more expensive things, I'll usually get in on a group buy with other builders to allow us all to take advantage of bulk discounts.
posted by drezdn at 10:02 AM on May 2, 2012

Is there somewhere I can just buy a grab-bag of assorted ICs?
posted by griphus at 10:05 AM on May 2, 2012

Jameco offers a selection and Futurelec has some.

For shipping... You're in NYC, right? Small Bear offers local pick up, but you still have to pay some handling and state tax. Usually, I try to put off ordering parts until I can order $50 worth. Or, if I need just a single component or two, I'll buy them from the "free" shipping dealers who sell parts from Hong Kong/China. They take up to 14 days to get, but things end up costing $1-2 instead of $6+.

What do you build?
posted by drezdn at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find eBay the cheapest for most components (in the U.K.), especially if you're willing to wait a bit longer for stuff shipped out from China (and gamble on it being fit for purpose, as returns aren't really worth the hassle for low price stuff).
posted by titus-g at 10:15 AM on May 2, 2012

LN - sorry I assumed! My bad, hit me right after I posted. Frickin' systemic male privilege.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:17 AM on May 2, 2012

Wow, shit, how did I miss that Jameco bag. I placed an order with them literally two days ago.

Were any of the dealers the ones b1tr0t linked above? I seriously don't have a clue as to where to get components outside of Jameco, from whom I bought the big grab bag of basic component grab bags, so I have a lot of that sort of stuff. At this point, it's almost literally just ICs that I'm having trouble sourcing affordably.

Right now I'm not building anything particular. I recently got an SNES controller working via Arduino, although 75% of the code was someone else's NES controller setup that I modified for the extra byte of output the SNES controller puts out. I just got my hands on some shift registers, so I can make each button light up an individual LED (I managed to get that working without a shift register too, which was hilariously pointless, but I learned quite a bit.) What I really want to make is noisemakers, so I ordered an old Atari 7800 cartridge with a POKEY in it and I plan to destroy de-solder it and see if I can adapt with this guy's projects (he's also the one who had the NES Arduino code) to use the SNES controller as the control instead of Max/MSP and to output to an 8ohm speaker instead of MIDI.

Also I bought some servos because hey servos.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on May 2, 2012

I've found Digikey to be great for small orders. I just checked, I can order a single LM386 (basic audio amp IC) for $.93 with $2.80 shipping (USD). Their catalog can be a bit... overwhelming though.
posted by Adamsmasher at 10:38 AM on May 2, 2012

This post makes me feel like I have won life somehow by being able to already do these things (well only 2 extra languages but).

In reality I expect it just makes me a nerd.
posted by darkfred at 11:06 AM on May 2, 2012

There isn't a person, book or website in existence who could teach me to repair anything more complicated than a blunt pencil. Seriously. I do hate it when people blithely assume that because they find something possible, everyone else can too. It shows such a pitiful lack of imagination.
posted by Decani at 11:13 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get the impression from friends who are into electronics that it's pretty easy to become a pathological parts scavenger/hoarder just because the supply chain is such a pain to deal with.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:56 AM on May 2, 2012

Who likes getting their ass kicked? Probably a very small majority.
Typo, but I read this as "Most people, being quite small of stature, enjoy getting their asses kicked."
posted by LordSludge at 12:08 PM on May 2, 2012

All Electronics was another decent place for parts pre-web days (a la Digikey, Jameco). Not sure how they stack up nowadays.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:31 PM on May 2, 2012

I just want to say that Lifehacker singlehandedly justifies the existence of the Gawker Network and this was the best collection of "Best of Lifehacker" ever collected for MeFi. Bravo, blahblahblah. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to work on the wiring on my old car, practice the ukulele, try some pre-Cinco-de-Mayo taco variations and re-theme a WordPress blog.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:20 PM on May 2, 2012

I guess I'm going to be the dissenting voice here. I have lifehacker on my reader, and I always wonder when it is that I'm finally going to drop it. Lifehacker is a purveyor of what I call the "half-ass class". At this stage of life, I have finally completely had it with the popular or "bestseller" books, videos, and tips which purport to teach you some valuable skill or show you how to "hack" something.

Here's the reality: if you actually know something about the subject - really know - you quickly realize that the books, videos, or "special tip" in this area as they are promulgated by sites like Lifehacker are absolute SHIT. In that they give you a half-ass overview of the subject, frequently replete with errors, myths and outdated information.

And you realize that more clearly in direct proportion to how well you know the subject, that you're given that "half-ass class" treatment. It is notorious in the areas of diet, exercise and weight loss, where the information peddled is clearly a collection of half-truths and arbitrary, untested, unsourced and without foundation. This is not some careful selection based on extensive comparative studies, which is what I imagine a reader thinks - and what I would expect, being a responsible person. Because being a responsible person, it would not occur to me to give advice unless I have actually deeply researched the subject.

And the same goes for any area I know something about - I've seen the same thing happen for advice given on photography, cameras, film, and any area I actually know something about. I soon realize it's SHIT ADVICE, and half-assed. And my thought is of course - isn't it obvious that the same is true for EVERY area? The only reason you don't immediately dismiss some of the subjects, is because you know too little about it to realize that, yes, Virginia, the same laws of incompetence and half-ass effort obtain here... it only sounds knowledgeable, because you know too little to assess the true level of shittiness involved. In fact, it's usually a lazy retelling of anecdata buried in gaseous blather meant to cover the utter lack of any thorough comparative methodology.

What this leads to is a massive waste of time, reading some tripe that doesn't come within a country mile of what it advertises itself as doing. You'd be better off investigating the field from scratch, by yourself. Problem is, you have so little time - and that's where these frauds enter, taking advantage of your expectations wrt. responsible quality, and your hope of saving time.

That is not to say that there aren't books or foundational texts that really are worth it, and completely thorough and worthwhile. It's rare, but it exists. I only wish there were some method of immediately distinguishing between the real deal and the plethora of pretenders.

This collection, which I saw on Lifehacker when it was first posted, is another collection of half-ass class specials. I looked at their "learn a language" thing - as someone who has managed to learn a few, and has an interest in the topic of adult language acquisition, what's served up here is typical Lifehacker garbage approach - based on the anecdotes from ONE reader. Freakin' waste of time. No doubt there will be a horde of defenders who find incredible value in all this, and who will demand I point out all the flaws and then counterattack and defend - as a veteran of many nutrition and "lose weight" discussions, I've seen it all, any approach no matter how counter-evidential and plainly insane, will have its dogged defenders... I decline taking them on, life's too short. If you find value in it - go ahead, I won't argue. But for me - resolved: I'm chucking out Lifehacker from sites I visit - at least I can waste less time reading their linkbait.
posted by VikingSword at 2:11 PM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

> But for me - resolved: I'm chucking out Lifehacker from sites I visit - at least I can waste less time reading their linkbait.

And when we as a civilization move past storing bagel sandwiches on CD spindles and on to the next nifty thing, where will you be?

Enjoy your tar pit, sabretooth.
posted by codswallop at 3:54 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Specialization is for insects. BUT. Speciation is also a lot more common in insects. The more you know.
posted by darkfred at 6:12 PM on May 2, 2012

Thank you, blahblahblah! As an inveterate collector of skills and hobbies, I'm always on the hunt for resources to help me learn the next thing. Piano, code, electronics, Hebrew... So many options.
posted by Lighthammer at 7:00 AM on May 3, 2012

I've gotta say that the free videos at thewoodwhisperer.com gave me the ability to do woodworking at a level far beyond what I would have expected. (I can build things that friends will gladly pay me for.)

In response to VikingSword, above, I feel that thewoodwhisperer isn't half-assed, which may set it apart from pretty much anything on a Lifehacker list.
posted by talldean at 7:20 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vikingsword has a good point. The only advice I usually end up taking from Lifehacker is the very specific, low-level stuff that's proven to work. For instance learning a musical instrument is a high-level skill which it'd be hard to do justice to in a single link, so i'm ignoring that one. But Top 10 Crazy Kitchen Tricks That Speed Up Your Cooking - I'm there....
posted by storybored at 9:02 PM on May 3, 2012

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