I can't hammer a nail (not if you expect it to be straight). I can barely fix a flat and change my oil (and even then, I have to borrow some wheel ramps). I don't hunt, fish or carry heavy things. I am not what you might call a "man's man".
And yet, every now and then for a few brief moments, I get to feel like a guy that knows a thing or two that other people can use. It happens when I go home and spend 30 minutes cleaning junk off my Aunt's computer or installing the latest browser/OS update/Casual game. She feels delighted and I feel useful.
It happened yesterday (and today) when a former professor needed my advice on his TV problems. He's got a lovely 30" HDTV that he purchased in 2005 (on my suggestion) that has served him faithfully until the last few months. The color went completely haywire. Suddenly Charlie Gibson was a distasteful shade of green and the "NCIS" team was disturbingly blue...and I don't mean depressed.
On my way home yesterday, I spoke with him, running down the checklist of things I imagined it could be. My first guess was slightly disconnected video cables. Our Apple TV is exposed atop our entertainment center and occasionally a little elf (named Judah) will unplug the video cables for us. This leads to new and interesting visuals from our friends on "Word World" and "Sid the Science Kid." Having fixed this problem myself a few times, I was pretty sure that would fix HIS problems too, but it's rather hard to get behind his TV (darn you, built in entertainment cabinet!) so we explored a few other possibilities. Speakers not close enough to the screen to be a problem (it doesn't happen as much anymore, because almost everything is magnetically shielded now, but it can still happen), uniform color issues from all video components (so it's not just a bad DVD player or satellite box) etc. etc. Once my list had been checked and checked again, we agreed that the cables were our last resort. This morning, I got the email back that (after a back breaking removal of the TV from the cabinet) the cables were indeed the issue and beautiful color is once again my friend's to enjoy.
It wasn't really a big deal for me. I was driving home, so the conversation didn't cut into any family/personal time. I don't live within 100 miles of my friend, so I didn't even have to politely offer to help him move the TV! All I did, was listen to the problem and pass on a little technological info I've picked up along the way.
And it made me feel like a useful man.
To whom do I owe my techno know-how? Three parties are largely responsible and all are about to get big props:
1. Mom - Working for the local school board, she was exposed (and therefore I was exposed) to whatever the latest computer tech was. I remember well playing with the menu driven OS pre-Windows. There were 10 options, three of which Mom would ever let us choose (I don't think SHE even knew what the other 7 would do) but I couldn't get enough. A few years later, we got a computer in our home (Win 3.1 Baby!) and a full-on geek was born.
2. Chris - My cousin is several years older than me. When I was seven or eight, he was driving around in a restored 60's Mustang. When I was just getting ready to learn to drive, he had already been installing car stereos and such for years. He taught me everything I know about wiring, clean installation (which applies far outside the car) and acoustics. I was the first kid in my class with surround sound in his room, always had one of the best "bang for your buck" car systems, and was handy to have around if your speaker blew or your amp gave out.
3. The Radio Center - My first "real" job was as a DJ. From running the board and intro-ing country tunes, my job expanded to include voice production and a lot of computer/website/system maintenance. It also included the ability to bring home lots of spare parts. I rebuilt my secondary computer about ten times in the three years I worked at the radio station and learned more about the guts of electronics than I ever imagined I would need to know.
This skill set has been great for me. It helped get me the job at the Radio Center, then helped get my current job. But the number one thing it does for me is keep me from ever feeling useless. When the neighbor is building a porch for his wife or a treehouse for his kid, I don't feel inadequate. I just smile. Because when his network crashes or his stereo goes on the fritz, I'll be there. Then I'll get him to build MY kid a treehouse!