Hi-Tech 101: Do try this at home

Check out this list of how-to sites, each with its own special personality.

HandyMan311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
If once the Web was a way for people to communicate, nowadays it’s more about relaxing and wasting time. Once there were comic books and TV sets; now there are iPads and YouTube. They invented those things for a reason. But there’s more to the Internet than on-line games and a “boss button” to hide your perfidy when your supervisor appears; you can actually learn to do stuff on-line.
What can you learn? Almost anything there is to know. There are dozens of sites out there that will tell you (in articles), show you (with video) and instruct you (through audio) in the fine art of doing almost anything, from how to unclog a toilet and paint a house, to how to make your own deodorant and build muscles in all the right places, to how to avoid getting shot by the cops and how to use Coca-Cola to make a “bomb.” Check out this list of how-to sites, each with their own special personality.
1) DIY at homeYour home is a complicated place; you need help to keep it in working order. Of course, you could always call in a professional when you want to tile the bathroom or lay carpeting – and most of us would, mainly because we’re not sure how to proceed on home improvement projects, and because we fear messing things up. But with an on-line professional to guide you and show you what pitfalls to avoid when you build your barbecue pit, there’s no reason not to save some money and do it yourself.
Among the sites in this category is http://www.diynetwork.com, an elegantly designed site where you can learn how to do almost any home maintenance job, from installing an air conditioner to making a vent for your dryer. Plumbing and painting, interior and exterior work, even making homemade crafts to decorate your home with, are all covered here. There are articles, videos, and user forums dedicated to each topic, where site viewers can ask questions of on-line experts and get ideas from other users on how to hammer out sticky problems.
Other sites that provide videos and instruction on http://www.doityourself.com, http://www. hometips.com, and http://www.hgtv.com. If all else fails, search for your solution at the custom Google how-to and DIY search site (http://tinyurl.com/3ah8a3d), which checks all the major how-to sites for instructions, and parses sites like YouTube and Metacafe for instructional videos.
2) Life 101While there is plenty of help available to help you out with work that requires special skills, such as laying a carpet or fixing a roof, there are even more sites to help you with the stuff you already know how to do – or think you do. Can you write a resumé? Fry an egg? Brush your teeth? Well, you probably think you can, after a fashion – but are you doing it correctly? After a couple of hours on WikiHow (http://www.wikihow.com/), you may think twice about how, for example, you position your toothbrush (the correct procedure, according to the Wiki experts, is as follows: “Tilt your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to your gums and wiggle the brush on the bristle tips, working on just two teeth at a time, for 5-10 seconds”).
WikiHow has similar step-by-step suggestions on all sorts of topics – even on how to live a Jewish life (http://tinyurl.com/2bporgn), including how to celebrate holidays, hold a Seder with non-Jewish friends and “How to Properly Slaughter a Cow Under the Kosher Method of Shechita.” WikiHow, along with the other sites I’ll name, has excellent advice on dealing with all aspects of life: Family, work, entertaining, sports, taking care of pets, etc. – WikiHow is like a manual for living life in the modern world. And as the name implies, WikiHow is editable by anyone, so if you have a better way to open those rigid clamshell plastic packages used for electronics these days (http://tinyurl.com/2p433v), by all means post it (according to the how-to article, in 2004 more than 6,000 Americans required emergency treatment for injuries resulting from opening difficult packaging).
As mentioned, there are other sites in this category, each with their own personality. While WikiHow brings you user-generated tried-and-true information from folks who have been there and done that, at the well-known eHow.com site (http://www.e-how.com) you need to have some credentials – and you can get paid for your advice if you’re accepted as an eHow expert. As such, the site concentrates more on practical advice – how to determine a man’s dress shirt size for a surprise gift, how to set up your network router, how to avoid hair styling mistakes, etc. Many of the pages are accompanied by videos (eHow has more than 150,000 of them). Also worth checking out are http://www.sutree.com and http://www.instructables.com.
3) The Wild and the Weird Once there was a genre of literature that was classified as “stuff you’re not supposed to know,” which included esoteric information on such things as how to kick a Coke machine just right so you could extract a free can of soda. That knowledge has moved on to the Internet, and some of it can be found at http://www.tricklife.com, which will teach useful information such as how to make your own fireworks, how to always win at tic-tac-toe and, yes, how to hack a vending machine. Notably, the site places a disclaimer in front of every video, excusing itself from responsibility for injury and/or jail time if you’re dumb enough to actually try this stuff at home.