The geek skills challenge: 10 talents worth mastering

From replacing a hard drive to picking a lock, these are the skills you need to earn the name 'geek'

By , ITworld |  IT Management, geek culture, hard drives

These days, geek is a label countless people wear proudly. In fact, if you're on this website, there's a good chance you're a geek yourself. Either that, or you made a serious typo in your search for porn (in which case you could stand to brush up on your geeky knowledge, anyway).

However you got here, now's the perfect time to step back and evaluate your personal level of geekdom. Geek skills are life skills, after all -- the types of things you never know when you might need. And it's up to you to maintain your virtual toolbox.

I've assembled a collection of 10 geeky endeavors well worth your efforts. Some are easy and may even be things you've already mastered; others are more extreme but could prove equally useful down the road.

So how many of these things can you do? And, more important, how many are you ready to learn?

[ If you've mastered the skills of geekdom, you may need to brush up in some other areas: check out "6 things every IT person should know and 10 business skills every IT pro must master" ]


Pick a lock

Hey, you never know when you're gonna find yourself locked out of an important drawer, room, or box of magical secrets. While I certainly don't endorse breaking and entering, there are plenty of times when lock-picking could have legitimate personal value.

So what's the trick? Ultimately, it depends on what kind of lock you're eyeing. For typical home and office locks, all you need is a little practice and a lot of patience (and also a few special tools). Check out this in-depth guide at WikiHow to check the skill off your list. If you need to see to believe (or understand), this video can help:

But what if you forgot the combination to your gym locker? Fear not; you can get back to your stinky socks and rancid tank top in no time. Practice these steps in advance, and you'll be able to crack the Master Lock combo like a pro -- even while wearing nothing but a carefully placed towel.

Finally, for cars locks, things are a bit different; you'll need to learn a skill known as bumping to break into your vehicle without breaking the glass. Save this link to your to-do list -- and stay the hell away from my ride.


Be a human compass

Sure, you've got your smartphone and its fancy-schmancy GPS sorcery, but a true geek doesn't need Google to tell which way's which.

If you wear an analog watch, getting oriented during the day is a piece of cake: To figure out which way is south, just point your watch's hour hand at the sun. The halfway point between the hand and the 12 is the direction ye seek.

But what if you're watchless or in the dark? Good news, MacGyver: It turns out Mother Nature provides plenty of clues to help you find your way. Watch this video and watch your geek quotient go up.

(When it comes time to find the nearest Whataburger, you may still need your smartphone. The sun and stars can only do so much.)


Beat a lie detector

If George Costanza could do it, damn it, so can you. Strictly in the name of science, of course (or maybe hiding a secret obsession with Melrose Place).

The key to outsmarting a polygraph, according to the outstanding citizens who specialize in such matters, is understanding what the machine is actually measuring: your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. If you can keep those factors constant from the control questions (the easy ones used to establish your normal baseline reaction) to the potentially incriminating queries, you'll be in the clear -- and that's no fabrication.

You might think that the trick lies in learning to decrease your response to the stressful questions, but no: Polygraph professionals say the more important skill is being able to increase your response to the easy ones. When you hear a control question, you want to make your body freak out a bit -- by biting your tongue, for example, or, erm, flexing certain interior posterior muscles -- in order to skew the baseline measurements and throw everything out of whack.


Install a new hard drive

Old drive dying? Just need more space? Almost every computer user has run into some sort of hard drive crisis at some point. But with the right know-how, you don't need to run to the local Geek Squad (or Nerd Herd, even) every time a drive-related issue arises.

Installing a new hard drive is actually quite simple. And once you know how to do it, you'll wonder why you didn't learn sooner. Take a few minutes now and familiarize yourself with the basics, as shown in this video. Rest assured: The day will come when you'll be glad you did.

Laptops are slightly trickier to deal with than desktops, but they're still perfectly doable. Try Googling your specific laptop manufacturer and model to figure out where its drive is located and how to best access it, then move forward from there.

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