10 essential geek skills

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

geek pillows

Geek is a label people wear proudly, and if you're on this website, chances are you're a geek yourself. Either that, or you made a serious typo while searching for porn.


However you got here, it's time to evaluate your personal level of geekdom. Geek skills are life skills, after all -- and it's your responsibility to maintain your virtual toolbox.


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


So how many of these things can you do?


Related: 6 things every IT person should know

Pick a lock

I don't endorse breaking and entering, but sometimes lock-picking has legitimate personal value.


So what's the trick? It depends on the lock. For home and office locks, all you need some practice and patience (and a few special tools). Read this in-depth guide at WikiHow (or watch the video).


Forgot the combination to your gym locker? Fear not; practice these steps, and you can get back to your stinky socks in no time.


Finally, for cars locks, you'll need to learn a skill called bumping to break into your vehicle without breaking the glass -- but 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 easy: Figure out which way is south by pointing your watch's hour hand at the sun. The halfway point between the hand and the 12 is the direction ye seek.


Watchless or in the dark? Good news, MacGyver: Mother Nature provides plenty of clues to help you find your way. Watch this video and watch your geek quotient go up.

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 measures: your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Keep those factors constant from the control questions (the easy ones which establish your normal baseline reaction) to the potentially incriminating queries, and you're all clear.


Think the trick lies in learning to decrease your response to the stressful questions? Nope: Polygraph professionals say you want to increase your response to the easy ones. When answering control questions, you want your body to freak out a bit -- bite your tongue, for example, or, erm, flex certain interior posterior muscles -- to skew the baseline measurements and throw everything out of whack.

Install a new hard drive

Old drive dying? Just need more space? Most computer users have run into a hard drive crisis at some point. But with the right know-how, you don't need help from the local Geek Squad (or Nerd Herd) every time a drive-related issue arises.


Installing a new hard drive is actually quite simple. Once you know how to do it, you'll wish you learned sooner.


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 is little more than a minor speed bump.


The simplest way to circumvent content restrictions is to use a proxy server to bypass the filter altogether; you can find a user-friendly list of free and available proxies here. If you really want to get serious, you can look into virtual private networks (VPNs) or DNS redirectors.


Disclaimer: If content is being blocked, that probably means the network owner doesn't want you looking at it. Proceed at your own risk -- and  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 customization options and just begging to be modified.


Rooting an Android phone gives you access to administrator-level permissions, which allows you to do lots of fun stuff to your device, like install a custom ROM -- a 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 -- read the fine print). For a geek, though, it's an experience worth having at least once.

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.

See also: 7 days using only keyboard shortcuts: No mouse, no trackpad, no problem?

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 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.


JR Raphael may never appear in the pages of GQ (the magazine), but he has an abnormally large GQ (geek quotient). For more geeky gab, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.