How to Perform 14 Basic Skills, Part 1

by Michael on July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

It’s true: I cruise the Web on a daily basis to find nuggets to present to you. One of the most common articles on men’s sites (hell, on sites for everyone) is “How to (insert task).” There are even entire sites like eHow, Instructables and Lifehacker to make sure you don’t have to figure anything out on your own. (First tip: if you’re reasonably smart and there isn’t a time or safety issue, try to figure things out on your own. You can always go back and see if you got it “right” afterward, and you’re keeping your mind sharp.)

On the other hand, every once in a while someone tells you what to do, without telling you how. The result is great for whetting the appetite, but it’s missing the meat. One example is 14 Basic Skills All Men Should Possess, from But in the spirit of us all being brothers here, I thought I’d embellish their list with pointers to actually assist you in learning these skills. After all, if you can go out and do something you couldn’t do yesterday, you will build confidence โ€“ the most essential male trait.

Now that's the way to recycle!

Now that's the way to recycle!

In Part 1 you’ll learn five new skills. If you’d like to jump ahead, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 here.

1. Drive a Stickshift

This one takes practice. Lots of practice. Even many of the hordes of tuner dudes with the exhausts that sound like damaged trumpets don’t have the hang of it. I’ll start you with four basic rules:

  1. Shift up when the engine revs high (close to the redline); shift down when the engine revs too low. With experience, you’ll be able to feel this, but at first watch the tachometer.
  2. Press the clutch in quickly, smoothly and all the way, then shift, then let the clutch out smoothly, and then get your foot off the damn clutch, unless you like transmission repair bills. That’s why they make that extra place to put your foot.
  3. Put the car in Neutral at stop signs/lights and let the clutch all the way out (see #2). Then put it back into gear while giving it enough gas to move forward and not stall.
  4. Park the car in 1st gear, so if the emergency brake slips, your car won’t roll away.

This is super-basic, though, and there are far more pointers out there to help you drive a stick more smoothly.

Resources: As with many things, YouTube is a great resource for instructional videos. This one is a good starter, and just funny enough to hold your attention. For a one-page cheat sheet you can tape to your dash, go to

2. Hook Up an Entertainment Center

As the article says, there’s little excuse for this: everything’s coded and labeled. The hard part these days is usually not plugging it all in, it’s configuring the devices to get the signal from the appropriate inputs, and in the case of software-based contraptions like TiVo, getting the hang of programming.

Maybe “Program a TiVo” should be a new essential skill?

The biggest question when hooking up an HDTV is what kind of input to use. The rule of thumb is that if you have a digital source (like a Blu-Ray DVD player or digital cable) HDMI is the best quality connection (that’s the cable that looks like a larger USB plug) because it carries the digital signal, and because it’s the only connection that also includes audio so there’s no need for separate audio cabling. If your TV has DVI (like a digital computer monitor uses) the video will be the same quality as HDMI, but you’ll need to connect audio cables for sound. Finally there’s “component” video, which is three video cables. It’s the highest quality analog connection you can get, and the only type of analog connection that will deliver HD quality.

A good rule of thumb for stereo connections when there’s no “L” and “R” marked on the cables is to make red = right. If the cables aren’t color-coded either, put a small piece of masking tape on the right cable and write “R” on it with a Sharpie. If you’ve graduated to a home theater system, and the cables aren’t coded, you will need to experiment to make sure the right sound is coming from the appropriate speaker. Then code the cables so next time (and there will be a next time) it will all go faster.

Resources: eHow has a slew of tutorials on various aspects of home entertainment installation. eCoustics has a great rundown on the testing you should do.

3. Fix a Toilet

This one should be a “figure it out on your own,” except for the part where the water is overflowing and you don’t know what to do.

There should be a shutoff valve at the wall behind every toilet in America. If there isn’t, quickly remove the top from the toilet tank and look at the float (usually a big ball, but sometimes another shape, but obviously the only part back there that is meant to float). Pulling the float up all the way should stop water from flowing from your pipes into the toilet.

Then look at the bottom of the tank. There will be (or should be) a flap covering the hole (called the flapper valve). It should be connected to the flush handle. Make sure the handle is up and the flapper is covering the hole.

The most common problems you’ll face with a toilet involve the float and flapper, because they’re moving parts, and all moving parts eventually don’t move as well as they used to (just ask your grandfather). Sometimes the fix is simple, like adjusting your float so it rides higher or fixing a kink in the chain to the flapper. Other times something is just flat broken, and it’s off to the hardware store for a replacement.

These kind of problems are just too simple to fix to require paying a plumber $75/hour, or to leave a toilet running and waste many dollars in water.

Resources: has a list of common toilet-related issues you can easily take care of yourself. If you have a little more time and want some schoolmarm humor thrown in, get educated in Toiletology.

4. Navigate a Map and Use GPS

I don’t even know if I can dignify this one by explaining. The reason guys don’t like to use street maps is because we know where Dave’s damn house is, we just need to get to that one street we recognize. You know, where that mini mart is.

And a GPS is just a computer. You punch in where you want to go and it tells you how to get there. Read the instruction book.

I don’t even know if I’d classify these as “skills.” If you want a skill, learn how to use a topographical map and a compass. You know, so you don’t get lost in the woods.

5. Change the Oil

With oil-change vendors cheap and on every other block, I would argue that this is a skill that could actually cost you more in time than its worth in money. Sure, it sounds manly โ€“ who doesn’t feel a bit more masculine with oil on their hands? โ€“ but when you realize that oil is basically hazardous waste, it might be better to leave this one to those who do it for a living.

But if you either want to do it, don’t trust anyone with your baby, or a retiree with nothing but time on your hands, you’re going to need tools, a level, safe place to jack your vehicle up, and knowledge of where you can take the used oil afterward. Here’s a list of necessary tools from

  • a 3/8-drive socket set (metric will work for both)
  • a combination wrench set (closed- and open-ended, metric)
  • an oil filter wrench
  • something to catch the old oil — an oil pan, a used kitchen basin, a kid’s pail (kid’s pail?? -mc)
  • a couple of empty one gallon milk containers with screw-on lids.
  • a funnel and a one quart Ziploc baggie
  • a lot of old newspapers and several dirty rags
  • pre-soiled work clothes and, if you have long hair, a baseball cap
  • two pair surgical gloves (optional)
  • a new oil filter (see vehicle’s owner’s manual for requirements)
  • enough oil to refill the engine

Still want to get ‘er done? Head over there for full instructions. Or better yet, stay here and just watch the French Maids do it:

I do agree that you should replace your own air filter, though.

See you in Part 2 and Part 3 with more essential skills (and some not-so-essential ones).

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