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'
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?
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
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.
Securely wipe your data
Speaking of storage, when you want to get rid of certain data for good -- really get rid of it, so it can never be recovered by anyone -- a regular ol' system delete isn't enough.
What you need to do is securely wipe your drive, and the proper method is something every geek worth her salt should know. If that knowledge isn't already in your noggin, now's your chance to learn it; see these simple guides for PCs and Macs and prepare to celebrate your newfound skill set.
Break out of handcuffs
I'm not gonna ask why you're stuck in handcuffs in the first place -- hey, what you do in your personal time is your own private business -- but if/when the occasion comes that you need a key-free escape, a little extreme geek-knowledge will go a long way.
So go ahead: Learn the basics and research it even further if you want. Think of it as a liberating academic exercise; I promise I won't tell.
Get around Web content restrictions
Web content filters don't have to be full-stops in your Internet browsing adventures. With an arsenal of geek knowledge at your fingertips, a blocked website -- at a public computer in a library, school, or workplace, for instance -- will be little more than a minor speed bump in your path.
There are several ways to get around content restrictions. The simplest is to use a proxy server to bypass the filter altogether; you can find a user-friendly list of free and available proxies at the aptly named Proxy.org.
If you really want to get serious, you can look into virtual private networks (VPNs) or DNS redirectors. Just remember: If content is being blocked, that probably means the owner of your network doesn't want you looking at it and -- go figure -- may become quite cross if he discovers that you're breaking the rules.
Source: patrick h. lauke/Flickr
In other words, proceed at your own risk, homie -- and for the love of children, make sure your computer's volume is turned down.
Root an Android phone
As a platform, Android is like a candy store for geeks: It's chock-full of options for customization and just begging to be tweaked and modified.
There's plenty you can do with the platform as it ships, but if you really want to get down and dirty, rooting is the path to explore. Rooting an Android phone gives you access to administrator-level permissions, which in turn allows you to do all sorts of fun stuff to your device. Most notably, you can install a custom ROM -- a whole new version of the operating system created by third-party enthusiasts and typically jam-packed with advanced capabilities and extra features.
Rooting isn't for the faint of heart (and it might void your manufacturer's warranty -- be sure to read the fine print before making the leap). For a geek, though, it's an experience worth having at least once.
You can find ample resources for rooting most popular phones; if it's something you're ready to pursue, start by Googling "root" along with your phone's name, and it shouldn't take you long to get going.
Get around your computer using nothing but a keyboard
Hotkeys are tremendous time-savers (and great ways to blow the minds of nongeeks, too). Learn the hotkeys built into your OS of choice, then take things a step further and learn app-specific hotkeys for the programs you use the most.
If you really want to get geeky, grab Autohotkey, a free program for Windows users. It lets you set up custom hotkeys for practically any function imaginable.
So long, mousey.
Set up a home entertainment system
This video provides some background for a simple home entertainment setup:
But in practice, you'll probably be connecting various disparate systems together. If you can start from scratch, figure out what cables you need, and get everything running in under an hour with minimal cursing, congratulations: You are officially geek-certified.
You are also officially going to be getting tech support calls from the rest of your family for the rest of your life -- and that, my friends, is the surest sign of solid geekdom.
This article, "The geek skills challenge: 10 tasks worth mastering," was originally published at ITworld. Follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook for the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos.