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Author Topic: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list  (Read 19508 times)

NuclearDruid

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Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« on: September 19, 2007, 09:28:01 am »

In Age of High-Tech, Are Americans Losing Touch with DIY Skills?

Quote
Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

That’s a tall order. Although I can only do some of those things, I approve of the principle. Now­adays, though, we’re specializing more. A popular Internet essay is titled: “I Can’t Do One-Quarter of the Things My Father Can.” Are hands-on skills—building things, fixing things, operating machines and so on—really in decline?

ND
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coloradohermit

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2007, 03:42:54 pm »

Excellent article and way too sadly true.  People have gotten into a mentality of not even considering most DIY activities. Just call someone or buy something.  They become satisfied slaves to Jiffy Lube and Marie Callenda.  If TSHTF they're screwed, but even if it doesn't they have no clue of what a sense of accomplishment they miss out on. 
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Junker

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2007, 04:03:35 pm »

Yup. I lament having grown up in a tool-bereft home. I became tool & task handy only later. In having kids, tools & tasks are part of 'home schooling' I say. I'd thought of trying to get my sister to let me deliver her kid, but she prolly woulda just hit me. :-)
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Bear

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2007, 05:06:55 pm »

Quote
Excellent article and way too sadly true.  People have gotten into a mentality of not even considering most DIY activities. Just call someone or buy something.  They become satisfied slaves to Jiffy Lube and Marie Callenda.  If TSHTF they're screwed, but even if it doesn't they have no clue of what a sense of accomplishment they miss out on.

The sad part is the biggest limitation is their own minds. You could give them all of the tools and
instructions they need to accomplish what they need done, and they'd just give the" sheep deer
in the headlights look."

My father grew up on a cattle ranch. My stepfather grew up on a farm. Both men were handy because
they had to be. It's not possible to be an expert in everything, but somewhere along the line I got the
idea from them that a man ought to be able to do an adequate job in whatever it is he needs to get done.
If nothing else, he can appreciate craftsmanship in someone who can do it better. Now days, that's an
antique attitude.

Bear


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slidemansailor

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2007, 09:23:31 pm »

It is hard for me to find something I need that I can't make or fix myself.

Wants are another matter altogether.
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kirgi07

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2007, 07:57:34 am »

Exactly youse all,I try to do all the handy man stuff myself,there are things I can't do,but I rarely farm anything out.I'll post here for advice on things I can't do.Read the replies and go from there.The one thing I can't do is 'puters other than that I'm pretty much good to go. Ought 7.
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coloradohermit

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2007, 08:28:10 am »

The various professional 'fix-it' people we deal with(car and generator mechanics, appliance guy, solar guy) are generally overwhelmingly busy.  They're usually thrilled not to have more piled on them, so are pleased to just answer questions for us so we can proceed on to do it ourselves.  We're pretty hands on for actual doing, but don't always have the skills or tools needed for diagnostics.  If the mechanic can't tell from a phone call what might be wrong, we schedule just a diagnostic appointment.  Pay for 1/2 hr or so then do the work ourselves after they've told us what's wrong and what's needed.  Some professionals might take offense at this, but if you've cultivated an upfront relationship with them it works well.  We also rely solely on them when we can't do the work, send them referrals whenever possible and pay promptly in cash.
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Shrike

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2007, 09:31:19 am »

Thx NuclearDruid,
Great article. This is glaring testimony to the fact that our society has become dangerously interdependent on one another.
Should anything happen that disrupts that interdependency on both people's skills and the technology maintained by them,
there will be some challenging and uncomfortable times for most of us. I, too, am guilty of not being able to perform all the
tasks on Heinlein's list, but I think I'm capable of getting by on what I perceive to be a respectable mechanical inclination
and, probably above all, a sense of perseverance and determination to solve a particular problem. I'm not always successful.
I'm also reluctant to attempt certain tasks, due either to safety reasons (rewiring my home) or a need to do it right the
very first time (plumbing).
Should our current system be inhibited by economic collapse or otherwise, our need for basic skills will, undoubtedly,  rise.
Of course, if we all know how to perform all the tasks on Heinlein's list, we'd be in a much better position to survive, but
it still wouldn't be enough. There are a plethora of other skills held by individuals for which we will need to rely, such as
how to grow a large amount and variety of foods, how to handle a variety of medical emergencies, how to design, build
and implement any number of mechanical devices necessary to sustained living. The list goes on and so does the interde-
pendency. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but it is a reality, nonetheless.
Nevertheless, we should all strive to learn new skills, especially those skills that will affect us directly.

Thanks again, 'Druid,

Shrike
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jdemaris

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It is worth having many skills in today's society?
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2007, 09:38:13 am »

The various professional 'fix-it' people we deal with(car and generator mechanics, appliance guy, solar guy) are generally overwhelmingly busy.  They're usually thrilled not to have more piled on them, so are pleased to just answer questions for us so we can proceed on to do it ourselves. 

Seems that only works when the people who answer your questions actually know what they are talking about.  Many "professionals" do not - including many of solar-electric installing people, auto mechanics, etc.
I had a very interesting experience not long ago with solar.  I have the skills and knowledge to design and install myself  - but was not allowed to if I wanted to cash in on State incentives. So  I had to hire a company - and then correct many of the blatant mistakes they made.  And, that is common - not unusual.

Same goes for my daughter's car that broke down recently away from home. The shop where her car got towed to - informed her she needed a new - $700 catalytic converter.  She called me on the phone - and I told her - going by the symptoms described - it was absolute nonsense.  That, besides the fact I can buy a new converter for $78 (which she does not need, anyway).  I told her to put the guy on the phone - but as soon as he found out I am a mechanic - he got angry and refused to discuss it with me.  We towed the car home, and I installed an $89 ignition-controller - and the car is fixed.  This sort of thing happens very often - but it seems many people do not know when they are getting bad advice or bad work being done.

This brings me to the overall subject here of self-reliance - and - is it worth it?

Having many skills is not necessarily a big advantage in today's society.   I grew up in small truck-farming area only 10 miles from New York City - in the early 50s.  This, just at the point where all the small farms were selling out since the city people wanted to build "rural" homes.  These "rural" homes quickly became the suburbs.  At time, a small house sold for $15,000.  Same place now, a small house is $400,000.

Getting to my point . . . I had/have one sibling - a brother four years older - and we grew up with totally different mindsets.  I spent my time in the woods and swamps trapping - or hanging around old WWI and II vets - basically being a little pain-in-the-ass - trying to learn carpentry, mechanics, welding, etc.  By brother hated the outdoors, or getting dirty - and spent his time reading books and "thinking great thoughts."  I hated every second of school and barely graduated. I wanted to go to Viet Nam at age 16, but my parents wouldn't let me quit school to do it.  My older brother had straight As. many academic awards, and went on to Ithaca and MIT tech colleges.  He later dodged the draft and was willing to do just about anything to stay out of the military.  Me?  I worked as a grease monkey at several gas stations, tractor dealerships.  Also worked for a well driller, a house builder, an electrician, etc.  I had been a juvenile delinquent - and subsequently - when I got drafted for military service during the last year of the Viet Nam war - I got rejected due to my police arrest record.  So - at least this once - being a little hoodlum may of saved my life.

Now - to the present - I mean now.  I'm 55, my brother is 59.  I've had many small businesses of my own - but I'm a lousy business man and also get bored very easy.  Subsequently, I tend to due one thing for a few years - get bored  - and then do something else.  I've worked as a licensed electrician, a well driller, a machinist, a house  builder, a plumber, a welder, a diesel mechanic, an auto mechanic, a museum restoration specialist, a real estate salesman, a computer tech person, a website administrator, a dairy goat farmer, a maple syrup producer, a logger, a heavy equipment operator, and . . . maybe a few things I've forgotten.  I can do all those things wells - I'm not just a hack - or as the saying does - "Jack of all trades and master of none."  I am a master of many.  That all being said - where does that put me?  I've had many injuries over the years - and maintaining a life based on lots of physical work is getting tough.  I own several homes and rural properties but have NO retirement coming from anyone, or anything - other than my own savings and holdings.  I AM debt free - never had a car-loan, and only had one mortgage in my life - that was paid off 20 years ago. I've raised four kids, and now have a new fifth child who is four years old.  I look more towards the future now - and to a small degree - get envious of people who have little to no skills - but have all kinds of guaranteed money coming in - virtually forever.

Take my older brother - the egghead and professional student.  He's never owned any property in his life, never owned or driven a car.  He's teaches at MIT - seems he's never been able to break away from the place.
He's never done a hard days work in his life, never got his hands dirty - and is set for life - UNLESS society collapes.  He is also a genius and a complete idiot - all at the same time.  He can do high math all day - but as to the rest of the world - he is absolutely cluless - and - he prefers it that way. According to him - that stuff is for the peons.  With me - I like learning - in fact - when I come across something that I don't understand - I tend to get obsessed with it until I figure it out. Then I get bored and move on to something else.

So - here I am - with several spinal fusions, several steel pins and screws in my legs and arms - and lots of arthritis.  We still heat totally with firewood - which is getting tougher each year - cut it down, drag out of the woods, cut again, split, stack, etc., &c.  I fix and maintain all our vehicles - and we always have four on the road at any given time. That leaves one "spare" for me and/or my wife.  This way, if one needs repair - there's no down time for us - we just hop into a spare.  Same goes with our farm equipment and escavation equipment (backhoes, dozers, etc.).  Our electricity is all solar now  -  but we still pay a $16 per month fee to keep our lines hooked to the grid - just in case. We are going to home-school our new kid since we are totally disgusted with the public school system. So, for that - we pay in multiples due to school taxes.
 My lifestyle - sometimes - gets hard to justify in my mind. Same with my wife.  She's very skilled, and well educated - but has no interest in making money or getting a "career."  Subsequently, she helps run a living-history museum that maintains a water-powered grist and saw mill (also has back-up steam-engine power). she also teaches wood-cooking, she makes many of her own clothes - and likes it that way.
 Where does this put us?  Well, I worry about making our house and farm more efficient - while the government takes more of our money each year and pisses it away - often to help people that don't attempt to do things for themselves.  Even the case of firewood.  We own four wood-lots totaling around 300 acres. This so we have our own wildlife, lumber, firewood, and a source for maple syrup.   I suspect that now - with all the property taxes we pay - and liability insurance - we'd be further ahead to sell it all and - either buy what we need from some other poor chump - or maybe quit working altogether and go on welfare. Then I'd get the "free" health and dental care.
 The big preventer is . . . we like doing stuff for ourselves, we like owning property, and we love being debt free.  We just don't know how long we can keep doing it - unless something changes in this country - and those that do for themselves don't get penalized for it.

In closing - I have to mention one kinda' funny thing.  I live in a farming region (soon to be ex-farming) in central New York state - usually referred to as the "Leatherstocking" area. That term, I believe - taken from James Fennimore Cooper's book - Last of the Mohicans. Well, his father -  the Judge William Cooper founded a little tourist town near me - Cooperstown - in 1786 -now home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Farmer's Museum, etc.  A real tourist trap that I've never visited as a "tourist."  Old Judge Cooper was quite proud of the town he invented.  In fact -after Cooperstown became an early success - the Judge wrote a handbook on "how to create your own town"  in which he brags about his success - and also gives a few warnings. He states - that if you wish to create your own town - you need dependent people with few skills. This, so everyone is reliant upon someone, or something else - and hopefully it all trickles upwards - so all depend on the big boss.  He warns - that . . . if ever someone moves into your new town who has many skills and does for him or herself - get rid of that person. He will ruin everything.   Hmmm, was old Judge Cooper correct?
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eukreign

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2007, 10:11:56 am »

"fix your government" should be on Heinlein's skill list.
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slidemansailor

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2007, 10:40:27 am »

On my very lengthy list of pet peeves are the coliseums attached to government schools.

With construction and operational costs probably around 20-25% of the total, this is where 40 gladiators earn adulation for something that used to be, and still should be playing and competing amongst the participants.  Meanwhile a couple thousand learn that life is a spectator sport and they had better specialize if they are going to amount to anything.

In the culture we have evolved to, teaching is a specialty - you can't learn from folks doing the job, you have to go to specialists in teaching who have no job experience.

Houses are built by teams of specialists. Hardly anybody builds one from start to finish anymore.

Lawns are watered by professionally designed, installed and automated irrigation systems.

Etc.
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khagler

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2007, 03:27:51 pm »

It's a matter of economics. For many people the value of their time is sufficiently high that the cost of doing the sorts of tasks described in this thread themselves would be too high.
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kirgi07

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2007, 05:04:03 pm »

Well if it does blow up and these people can't change a light bulb they will become a statistic in lifes ever changing gene pool.What the bleep ever happened ta common sense.That's a lost art that may/will doom most of the population.Book smarts is useful,street smarts will keep you and yours alive. Ought 7.
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Roy J. Tellason

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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2007, 03:27:39 am »

"fix your government" should be on Heinlein's skill list.

He wrote a book on that,  too.  The exact title of it escapes me at the moment (it's rather late in here :-),  but it was written in I think the 1940s.  Apparently was re-issued when the whole Ross Perot thing was going on,  with some additional words added by Jerry Pournelle,  that's the edition I have.  Some of it is practical advice on how to get involved in and be effective in politics.  The rest,  in Pournelle's words,  "a trip down memory lane",  most of which applies to a culture that doesn't exist any more and hasn't for quite some decades now.

It was an interesting read,  but hardly applicable to anything these days,  unfortunately.
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Re: Popular Mechanics new take on Heinlein's skill list
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2007, 10:25:03 am »

I remember being a kid and my mother doing most of the repairs because my father worked so long at his job.  He wasn't much of a fix-it type of guy.  As such, most of the things I learn now are from the web, my father-in-law or on my own.  Usually the on my own making a ton of mistakes along the way.  I went fishing with my grandfather years ago, but until recently, I didn't try until I just went out and did it.

I just wish that the local airport offered cheaper lessons....grr!
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