The geek skills challenge: 9 talents worth mastering

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

These days, geek is a label countless people wear proudly. In fact, if you're on this website, there's a good chance you're a geek yourself.

So why not step back and evaluate your personal level of geekdom? Geek skills are life skills, after all -- the types of things you never know when you might need. And it's up to you to maintain your virtual toolbox.

I've assembled a collection of 9 geeky endeavors well worth your efforts. Some are easy and may even be things you've already mastered; others are more extreme but could prove equally useful down the road.

Pick a lock

While I certainly don't endorse breaking and entering, there are plenty of times when lock-picking could have legitimate personal value.

So what's the trick? Ultimately, it depends on what kind of lock you're eyeing. For typical home and office locks, all you need is a little practice and a lot of patience (and also a few special tools). Check out this in-depth guide at WikiHow to check the skill off your list.

But what if you forgot the combination to your gym locker? Fear not; you can get back to your stinky socks and rancid tank top in no time. Practice these steps in advance, and you'll be able to crack the Master Lock combo like a pro.

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 is actually measuring: your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. If you can keep those factors constant from the control questions (the easy ones used to establish your normal baseline reaction) to the potentially incriminating queries, you'll be in the clear -- and that's no fabrication.

You might think that the trick lies in learning to decrease your response to the stressful questions, but no: Polygraph professionals say the more important skill is being able to increase your response to the easy ones.

Install a new hard drive

Almost every computer user has run into some sort of hard drive crisis at some point. But with the right know-how, you don't need to run to the local Geek Squad (or Nerd Herd, even) every time a drive-related issue arises.

Installing a new hard drive is actually quite simple. And once you know how to do it, you'll wonder why you didn't learn 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 -- at a public computer in a library, school, or workplace, for instance -- will be little more than a minor speed bump in your path.

There are several ways to get around content restrictions. The simplest is to use a proxy server to bypass the filter altogether; you can find a user-friendly list of free and available proxies at the aptly named

Root an Android phone

As a platform, Android is like a candy store for geeks: It's chock-full of options for customization and just begging to be tweaked and modified.

There's plenty you can do with the platform as it ships, but if you really want to get down and dirty, rooting is the path to explore. Rooting an Android phone gives you access to administrator-level permissions, which in turn allows you to do all sorts of fun stuff to your device. Most notably, you can install a custom ROM -- a whole new version of the operating system created by third-party enthusiasts and typically jam-packed with advanced capabilities and extra features.

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.

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

Set up your 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 start from scratch, figure out what cables you need, and 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.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.