25 Skills Every Man Should Have

My title is the more correct version of Popular Mechanics’ recently published list of 25 Skills Every Man Should Know. Last time I checked, you don’t know skills, you possess them. Another, perhaps more accurate rewording of the title would be 25 Pretty Stupid And Altogether Caveman-like Things You Should Know So You Can Avoid Doing Them At All Costs.

Here’s what I think about these Skills I should Know, taken one at a time. Follow along and keep score. And read the original article only if you want to wade through 25 worthless and banner-ad-riddled pages with hundreds of comments from guys saying, “Yeah, I can totally do number fourteen! Aren’t I super macho?”
  1. Patch a radiator hose: Which one’s the radiator hose? And how do I know it needs patching? And now that I think about it, I’m not sure if this is a car part or has something to do with heating your home.
  2. Protect your computer: Yes, it’s called “Getting a Mac.” But seriously, get some free virus software (don’t waste your money on Norton), some anti-spyware stuff, and stop visiting beast-porn websites and clicking on funny-looking links in emails from banks you don’t even use.
  3. Rescue a boater who has capsized: My question here is, was I in another boat? Or did I capsize, too? Because I know how to rescue myself. Swimming. And wearing a lifejacket. And not tipping the boat in the first place.
  4. Frame a wall: I actually do know how to do this. I can also put shingles on a roof. Both of these skills will come in handy exactly zero more times in my life. As far as I know, apartments in New York City don’t have shingles, nor would you ever want to make a room any smaller than it already is by dividing it in two.
  5. Retouch digital photos: Oh yeah. I have this one covered. My fully-legal copy of Photoshop is put to great use. You can, as a matter of fact, hire me to do this very thing.
  6. Back up a trailer: No way. Never. No how. Nope.
  7. Build a campfire: I was an Eagle Scout, which basically means that I’m in the top 1% of the American population when it comes to campfire-building.
  8. Fix a dead outlet: In theory, yes. In practice, not likely.
  9. Navigate with a map and compass: See number 7. Eagle Scouts are awesome.
  10. Use a torque wrench: What in God’s name is a torque wrench, and why would I need one?
  11. Sharpen a knife: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
  12. Perform CPR: Yeah, sure. Just don’t be mad at me if I can’t save you. It’s harder than it looks.
  13. Fillet a fish: Why?
  14. Maneuver a car out of a skid: This would come in handy if I had any desire to drive whatsoever. Also, if I decided to risk my life by driving like a fucking dipshit.
  15. Get a car unstuck: I laugh at my friends.
  16. Back up data: Yes. While I don’t have a super-awesome network backup with RAID and stuff, I do regular bootable backups of my MacBook Pro, maintain two more external drives with important files, and back up some of the most critical stuff (design projects, etc.) to my various web hosting accounts.
  17. Paint a room: Simple. Buy paint. Open paint. Dip brush. Paint on wall. Repeat.
  18. Mix concrete: Another critical life skill I have in fact learned to do. Comes in handy when I’m considering guerrilla public art projects like attaching a three-foot high concrete phallus to a sidewalk.
  19. Clean a bolt-action rifle: Nah. I like my firearms dirty and dangerous.
  20. Change oil and filter: If there’s one more freaking thing about driving...
  21. Hook up an HDTV: Pie. Easy as pie. Even easier if you know how to read.
  22. Bleed brakes: The people who wrote this list would be the ones bleeding if I had anything to say about it.
  23. Paddle a canoe: Oh yes. I can paddle a canoe. And I can yak a kayak. And pee on a fire. Thanks, Boy Scouts of America!
  24. Fix a bike flat: Sure. Seems easy enough.
  25. Extend your wireless network: Is this Viagra spam? I don’t know wtf Popular Mechanics is talking about here. Their tip? Buy better equipment. Well, no shit Sherlock. Isn’t that the answer to the mystery of life itself? Buy stuff. I’m sure they must’ve had some advertisement stuck in there, too.
In all, it looks like I got 100% (at least of the ones that are actually useful or important). I must say that it’s pretty obvious this list was put out by Popular Mechanics, not GQ or Wired or Maxim, otherwise we’d see more “buy stuff”, “torrent movies and buy stuff”, “objectify your neighbor and buy stuff” on the list, respectively.

How’d you fare? Ladies, how mannish are you according to this list (in other words, how sexist was it)?

Comments: Go!

Great Artists Steal, Right?

Too funny. Engadget brings us this classic case of marketing “me-too.” Sony’s ad for the new CyberShot DSC-T2 camera looks, uh, just a little bit familiar...

What’s next? Maybe this:

Blogging Tip: Use Real Quotes

What’s one thing that separates a great site from merely good sites?

Great sites use real quotes.

No, I’m not saying that other sites make things up (though I’m sure some do). This article is about the other kind of quotes.

Quotation Marks.

Okay, so what the heck am I talking about? Quotation marks are quotation marks are quotation marks, right? Just press Shift+apostrophe and you’ll get some.

Well, no, not exactly.

If you’re typing anywhere but in Microsoft Word (or another word processing program with Smart Quotes turned on), what you’ll get is not a set of quotation marks. Instead, you’ll be greeted with some of what I like to call Stupid Quotes (more commonly known as Dumb Quotes, straight quotes, or - somewhat incorrectly - a double prime, though this is another mark altogether, used for measurements and usually slanted).

What separates Stupid Quotes from Smart Quotes?

Here’s a comparison in some well-known typefaces:

The easy way to tell the two apart is that Stupid Quotes look like a Dunce Cap turned upside-down, and Smart Quotes look, well, nice. Like they were designed by a font-designer, not some grunt with a hammer and chisel.

Now you know the difference. How do you start rocking the intelligent use of this rather basic but supremely important typographical concept? Easy. Well, it takes a bit more effort than what you’re used to, but it’s worth it.

You can specify Smart Quotes by typing special codes known as HTML entities (don’t worry what this means, just go with me) where the quotes are supposed to go.

Here’s a handy table for reference:
How To Make A Smart Quote
Name Secret CodeVoila
Left Double Quote“ or “
Right Double Quote” or ”
Left Single Quote‘ or ‘
Right Single Quote’ or ’

Now, it takes some getting used to, but when you get the hang of it and start seeing the difference, there’s no turning back.

Don’t be a dummy. Do what the pros do and use Real Quotes. Real Smart Quotes.

It’s the cool thing to do.


A new video by the great Mike Wesch of The Machine is Us/ing Us. This one is a great primer on the concept of tagging, and shares a good deal with (and even credits) David Weinberger’s latest book, Everything Is Miscellaneous.

Worth a watch.

Keeping The Change

Wow. I just found that I’ve collected over $17 in change in my desk at work, from the rare occasions on which I spend cash. Sounds like a nice chunk of change. But it isn’t really.

This is saved over the last two years.

Contrast that with the over $500 I’ve accumulated using Bank of America’s “Keep The Change” program in the same time period.

Big difference, eh?

When I think about the weight that all those coins would’ve added to my life, and the incredible inconvenience of storing/collecting them and redeeming them for more easily-spendable forms of currency, I appreciate the magic of this program. In all likelihood, I would’ve lost or thrown out most of this money.

It does add up, I guess - all those pennies and nickels and dimes.

Using a check card to make all of your small (even large) purchases makes very good sense. Even if you don’t have a program like Keep The Change at your bank, where the virtual spare change from a purchase is automatically transfered to your savings account, you still completely eliminate the possibility of losing quarters here and there and having it add up to hundreds of dollars in losses by the end of the year.

I know that not every place is equipped with card-readers, but when a place is, there is no good reason not to use a check card to make the purchase - even if it’s something as small as a toothbrush.

P.S. Toothbrushes are freakin’ pricy these days. $3-something for a piece of plastic and some bristles? Where can I buy Oral-B in bulk?

How To Organize Your Music: Part 3

Here’s a quick addition to the How To Organize Your Music series. It’s a bit of a departure from the method the past posts have taken, but stay with me.

What if the best way to organize your music is to not organize it at all?

In many ways, search is becoming the new organization. It’s becoming less and less important to know where something is than to be able to access it when you want it. This is how Google works, and this seems to be the direction Apple is heading with Spotlight, which in Leopard will add the great feature of being able to search across a network. Simply type a couple letters and the results come flying into place. iTunes has Spotlight functionality built in, too, so it’s easy to find what you want when you want it.

This is obviously an entirely different philosophy than the one put forth by previous articles in this series, which focused on corralling, controlling, and compartmentalizing your music library. But there’s certainly a benefit to this model as well. It’s less time-consuming, for one, not using smart playlists and ratings and genres lets you focus on constructing playlists of songs, not of the more general sounds. Give it a try - focus on enjoying music, not on devising a system which will hopefully allow you to enjoy music in the future. There is only now. Getting Things Done (GTD) might work great for some parts of life, but when the framework stands in the way of your ability to enjoy and appreciate things, it defeats the purpose.

Resist the tendency to analyze and quantify. Let the computer do the work for you.

And just sit back and enjoy the tunes. After all, that’s the point, right?

More in How To Organize Your Music

New NYC Taxi Logo Design Sucks

The New York Times City Room blog has invited eight designers to critique the new look for NYC Taxis (and offer alternatives). The overwhelming opinion is that the logo chosen for the cabs totally sucks, and there are dozens of comments on each post to this effect. I strongly agree with the majority.

While the logo may (or may not) be an improvement over the original look (more of a non-look, I suppose), it still sucks from a lot of different perspectives.

Among the valid criticisms:
  • The T inside a circle is confusing and stupid. It is extremely similar to the T symbol used by Massachusetts’ transportation agency. It will also conflict with the symbol used for the Second Avenue subway line (which will be the T) when that finally gets built.

  • The new NYC logo (introduced semi-recently) looks bad on its own, and even worse on the side of a taxi. Designing the rest of the taxi logo to match this is unfortunate. There’s no compelling reason that it must be on the cars - I think we know this is New York - and it just makes the whole thing look rather clunky and unwieldy.

  • It’s impossible to read this when the cab is moving. I refuse to believe that a single person in the process ever asked the question, “What is the reason for this logo?” Had they done that, I think we would’ve seen something more legible, or at the very least - if they decided that the point wasn’t to make it legible, but rather simply for branding - far bolder and more risk-taking. Besides, when people look for cabs in traffic, they’re usually looking for a) the light box on the roof of the car or b) a yellow car. No one I know is standing at an intersection waiting for cars to stop so they can read whatever sign might be on the side. I won’t get into the inanity of including super-small-type fares on the doors, but that’s stupid, too.

  • The letter-spacing is just atrocious. It’s easy to mistakenly read the logo as “NYC T AXI,” or even miss the T altogether.
Clearly, this is a design that suffered (as all are wont to do) from the involvement of a committee (in this case, probably several). City Room takes a nice look at the various “Bumps” in the life of the design. To me, the concept was flawed from the beginning, but each iteration brought more issues, until what was at last decided-upon is just awful, has no personality, and is a gratuitous addition to the already-iconic NYC Yellow Taxis that will likely end up having a short shelf-life. If there is a God, that is.

Some pictures for comparison:

The Old

The New

Oooh. So awesome. Love the checkers! Not.

via the inestimable Kottke, by the way.

Everything You Do Matters

This post is part of Blog Action Day, and is my contribution to the event, for which over 15,000 blogs have signed up to participate.

Everything You Do Matters

I can’t rattle off facts about the environment like I could in elementary school. I can’t quote data about climate change (or even lines from An Inconvenient Truth, for that matter). I can’t say for sure how much of a climate crisis our world is facing, and in what ways (if at all) our actions have contributed to an acceleration of global warming and its brethren. Will the polar ice caps melt? Will lower Manhattan become submerged? Will hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis and acid rain and fires cause irreparable damage to our precious planet, leading to conditions that are unlivable?

Or are we making a big fuss about nothing? Are the crises we’re observing part of a cycle? Is it possible that humans have an altogether insignificant effect on the health of the planet?

I can’t answer these questions.

And a lot of smarter people than me can’t agree on the answers either (though there are a lot of them who do agree). But what I want to say is that the answers to those questions are more or less irrelevant. What I want to say is that these questions are merely a way to frame the issue of individual and corporate and societal responsibility to life and health and livelihood and humanity as a political one. What I want to say is that taking care of the earth - and, as a consequence, ourselves - is and should not be a question. What I want to say is that politicizing the issue of global climate change leads to far too much fruitless debate, and far too little action.

What I want to say is that everything you do matters.

The world is connected, and each individual action is a world-changing one. In living our lives, we are not merely influencing things on a global scale. We are - in each moment, each choice, each gesture - creating a new world. Every moment life begins again, and in our hands is the ability to shape reality, to make things, and make things beautiful.

God or evolution or something we can’t even imagine has given us the ability to do magic with our hands and minds and hearts. By recognizing our responsibility to act, and, indeed, the impossibility of inaction, we can begin to see the importance of making deliberate, considered, aware decisions in everyday life. Not because you can “save the world,” but because you can increase your quality of life, and the quality of life for those around you and those who inhabit the earth after you.

What does this all mean practically?

  • It means that even if humans have little to do with climate change (indeed, even if it doesn’t exist), you should choose to live better.
  • It means that there is no excuse not the make more environmentally-aware decisions, because the benefits far outweigh the costs, even for large corporations, for whom the danger of failing to innovate and increase efficiency by adopting more stringent environmental standards is real.
  • It means that the littlest change in your everyday routine can make a major difference in your life and the lives of those around you.
  • It means that taking sides in a political debate on climate change is a waste of time, and serves only to increase spending on lobbyists to little end, and strengthen the partisan divide over an issue that intrinsically has nothing to do with the differences in philosophy between Republicans and Democrats.
I’m saying you should be selfish.
Not in the lazy manner to which most people are accustomed. Not selfishness created by lack of interest and motivation. But selfishness in the most proactive sense of the word.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like life to be longer, better, easier - for themselves and for their children. Well, it’s time we started acting like it. Buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, reducing carbon emissions, investing in renewable sources of energy, driving less, walking more, eating better, replacing old stuff with more energy-efficient models - there are countless things you can do that are both unquestionably better for the environment, and unquestionably better for you, with benefits ranging from the financial to the time-saving, as well as increased health and well-being for you and your family and your community and your country and the world.

Be selfish. Not lazy. Choose to recognize the impact of every decision you make.

Everything you do matters. Don’t underestimate the power of one person.

Believe. Make. Imagine. Build. Create. Connect. Inspire. Embrace. Dream.

Life is too short not to care. Really. It’s far too short.

More on the environment:

The Music Revolution Is Definitely Televised (And Radiohead Are Jerks)

So Radiohead did a really cool thing by releasing their latest album In Rainbows on their own website with a “pay as much as you think it’s worth” model. Very cool. Major labels are dead! Woo! And then Trent Reznor announced that Nine Inch Nails are now officially label-free. Jamiroquai and Oasis (ick - Blur is better!) also came out with promises to do similarly. Then Madonna signed a huge contract with Live Nation (not a real record company) to release some albums. The tide is shifting. Amazon and iTunes and EMusic all sell DRM-free music, and more and more people are starting to learn what that actually means. Good things, yeah. The record industry is in shambles! But where am I going with this?

Well, where I’m going is into the irony in the perception that Radiohead is leading this artist revolt. Why is this ironic? Because they also just announced that they will be releasing In Rainbows on CD with a major label. But of course they said this after they already got money from their most loyal fans (and other DRM-free advocates) for a low-bitrate version of an album with no packaging.

Die-hard fans may argue that they’d have purchased the online version (and paid the same for it) even if they knew of its forthcoming release on disc, but to the casual observer (and the hardcore DRM-free, labels-must-die revolutionaries), this looks like little more than a (brilliant, yes) marketing stunt.

Let’s pretend like we’re changing the business so that people talk about us on blogs and television and newspapers and the anarchist torrent leechers actually pay for our record on principle and then people everywhere will love us and worship us as the band who changed the world even though everyone knows that U2 is the coolest because Bono is the MAN and isn’t sad what’s happening in Africa then we’ll sell lots of records because our bestest fans will buy it twice or three times at least and we’ll sell concert tickets to kids who weren’t even alive when “Creep” was on the radio which oh god was so long ago and why doesn’t anyone care about us anymore please please care hey look at me look at me we have a new album...

I mean, Radiohead is cool and all, but this move is pretty lame.

Who knows, maybe I’m just bitter than Radiohead refuses to sell their music on the iTunes Store because they are against selling single tracks (on artistic grounds). Of course, they, like everybody, do this anyway when they release “singles.” More hypocrisy? I guess we’ll see if they’ve changed their ways if they refuse to let their record company release a single from In Rainbows.

What do you think?

Why Does The Apple Store Close So Damn Much?

Interesting story this morning on 9to5Mac that poses the question: “Apple Store Outtages - Reality Distortion or Substandard Ecommerce?”

When the Apple Online Store goes down, and visitors are met with the now-iconic yellow Post-It note, and bloggers all over start frothing at the mouth at the prospect of being first to break news about the newest product addition or price change or layout tweak so they set their browser to auto-refresh every 2.5 seconds - is it on purpose, or is it because Apple has a crappy backend system?

I’m inclined to think it’s more the former than the latter. Once upon a time, it was tougher to bring out sweeping updates to an ecommerce site like Apple’s. Nowadays, though, you’d have to be doing things pretty exceedingly wrong to require a complete takedown just to update a couple little things. What I think is happening here is simply an case of Apple understanding it’s place in the business world, and knowing what it means to be Apple. Unlike Dell or Amazon, for example, who add new merchandise to their stores all the time, when Apple introduces a new product it is an event. Closing the store is a way of increasing the weight of the introduction - it’s in the re-opening of the doors that the magic of the new look, the new featured products, really hits home. Apple knows better than anyone how to cultivate buzz, and making people wait in line to get in is a great way to increase the special-ness of the experience.

But how to explain the store going down for incidental changes? Consistency, I think. And because they know that they’re in the public eye, and that hundreds of knee-jerk gotta-get-some-pageviews bloggers will publish a post simply to say the store is down. And then they’ll put up another post to say “nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” Or they’ll do that, and then five minutes later put up another post about some new product or section or layout change, and their readers will reply that, no, bozo, that was four days thirteen hours six minutes and 24 seconds ago. God. And then another post (or update) to say, “Oh. Readers have said this is old. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” Whether or not it was designed like this from the beginning isn’t relevant. What is, is how Apple has turned these outages into huge traffic-drivers, unpaid advertising and word-of-mouth, and, consequently, money-makers.

And so on and so on, and this is how brand mythology works.

Even if the Apple Store really does have a crappy backend, and these outages are out of necessity, there is a lesson to be learned here. What happens when your site goes down, or your business is closed? What are customers greeted with? Do they get a default 404 page, a crappy handwritten sign sloppily taped to the door, or a fancy post-it note?

Which one do you think will increase the chances they’ll be back later?