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What Being a Handyman Has Taught Me About Male Insecurity (theatlantic.com)
186 points by wallflower on Mar 29, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments

I was a carpenter for the better part of my 20s. Definitely many stories like this that came up. The one that bothered me the most was how many times they looked at me silly for making a "bad" cut, when of course, I was making said cut because the area wasn't square. I had one guy get angry at me for making a frame that was visibly crooked, so I told him he should probably make it square and hang it up himself. When he put the piece up and saw it didn't fit flush, he apologized and said I was right after all. I then told him that was the last piece of wood. Sometimes the respect is hard-earned.

I just chalked it up to the amount of times they got screwed over by people of lower ability, so in general, there was a lot of defensiveness. The male-role thing was apparent, but after earning respect and trust, they pretty much always got out of my way.

I've had, quite often, jobs where I was more or less helping the home owner build and those were the most enjoyable and memorable moments. Contrary to what this story suggests, it was usually the rich folk who got on their hands and knees beside me and pounded nails. I think it was about perspective. The rich folk seemed more willing to learn it, try it, and logic out the problem. The middle class folk didn't seem to willing to learn or want to get their hands dirty, so usually they weren't present and were more prone to complaining.

Construction is super easy if you can think about the problem from multiple perspectives. I find it surprising how few people have the capacity to view the world in this way.

I also was a carpenter for half of my 20's. We should start a support group. I think the building mindset has contributed greatly to my mentality for software.

Interesting thing mentioned in the article: Men are pressured to know this stuff, and women are pressured to know how to "cook and be domestic." I should add that I'm guilty of it myself. A work colleague got a flat tire, and he and his girlfriend were stranded until help came because he didn't know how to change it. I gave him flack for it before I realized I was being unfair to him. His girlfriend was much worse to him than I was FYI.

Well, the fact is that the pressure isn't equal anymore. Women, especially younger women, are pretty damned comfortable admitting they are terrible cooks. Annoyingly, I'm a much better cook than any woman I've ever dated, which I must admit is a sign of social progress. Their mothers didn't want them to feel like it was their duty to cook, so they were never taught. But rejecting a useful skill outright has its disadvantages.

My twin brother has very little building experience, but lucky for him at least has the aptitude for it. His wife, a professional who is quite possibly the worst cook alive, has hounded him, in front of me, for not being a "real man" because he can't fix something himself in the house, and now they have to pay somebody else to do it. Over time, he's gotten confident enough to take on stuff himself, but I also advised him that everytime she pulls that shit to think of a very complicated recipe and ask her to cook it for him. When she replies that she can't cook it, give her the "you're not a real woman" treatment so she can see how unfair she is being.

so are they still married? :)

Being broke makes you learn things too: for most of my 20s (and 30s, and 40s) I haven't had the money to pay people to do things for me. So I learned to do them myself - not always expertly, but they get done. I think a lot of people have fallen into the fallacy that 'time is money', and spend their time on Mad Men instead of fixing stuff around the house.

The rich folk seemed more willing to learn it, try it, and logic out the problem. The middle class folk ... usually weren't present and were more prone to complaining.

Or, the middle class folks didn't have time to hang around, while rich folk don't always work 9-5.

Or that the rich folk might have gotten that way through being "more willing to learn it, try it, and logic out the problem."

The richest people I know personally are all incredibly hard workers with rather wide-ranging skillsets and certainly a willingness to try new things. But that's just anecdotal so take it with a grain of salt.

I think what we've learned here is that the only thing rich people have in common is that they all have a lot of money.

As a rich person with very little money I am offended ;)

Exactly this. It is all anecdotal. I was just telling an opposing anecdote the the original story.

It does depend on what you are doing and how difficult the particular job is. Cutting wood and hammering nails is easy and somehow relaxing. Tiling walls and roofing are both difficult and easy to screw up, and I don't think I ever had the homeowner with me on those occasions. Painting, laying linoleum, hanging prefab cabinets, etc are all easy to do and easy to take part ownership in. I like the thought that a homeowner can brag to their friends that "they" built something.

Having some sweat equity, as an owner, is really nice. It just gives you a good feeling about your house, car, etc., to know that you built at least some of it with your own hands.

I love to work on my muscle car. To me, just writing a check to buy someone else's muscle car is not interesting, nor does anyone have "cred" with me if they just bought it.

Agreed, it's a hobby. Even if I screw it up I learned something. What I find funny is when I talk to people who say "I rebuilt the engine last year", or "I just painted my car a deep metal-flake blue." I say "That's awesome, I totally want to learn how to do that! What was it like?" just to find out that by "I did" they mean "I paid someone to do". Meh.

I find that to be true of the poorest people I know as well. Which is way-below-the-poverty-line poor.

Unfortunately, spending time with the poorest people I know makes it glaringly obvious why they are poor.

One possible reason for the disparity is that being poor sucks and is really hard in many parts of the world (like NYC I would imagine), however where I live, rents and other expenses are low and it's relatively easy to get government handouts.

Maybe that's true where you live.

I left home at 16, spent ten years homeless and hitchhiking, am told I'm quite good at what I do, and have spent the last 3 years or so exerting the herculean effort required to rise through poverty. I currently live half on a couch of some good people I know, and half in the office of the web shop I work in. I have never had government assistance. I wouldn't have known where to find it, nor been in a situation to be given it in most cases.

As far as handouts go, when you are zilch-zero-nada poor, at least in the US, there are a lot of things in life that will be higher on your priority list than either figuring out that they're there, or going through the process of acquiring them, keeping them, and then becoming self-sufficient. In many places in the US, government handouts are a joke.

I'm not going to try to go into detail, but I can tell you that I know a lot of people whose reason for being dirt poor is not so glaringly obvious as the ones you know, and a fair amount of people who aren't poor because they had the luck to be born to the right people in the right place at the right time, regardless of their work ethic.

I've been thinking a lot about socio-economic disparity amongst technically competent people a lot lately, I should probably try to gather my thoughts more cohesively.

Not in my experience. I usually worked alone and I never had anyone just hand me their keys. I used to work on weekends as well.

It is a smart play, IMO, to not let random people walk into your house with no one there to protect the fortress, if you get my drift.

Perhaps rich people have held positions of managing people, and know, through that experience, when they can jump in and help and when to let the professional guide them? Whereas someone in the middle class may have always been an employee and don't have the same comfortability taking charge and stepping in to help, unless specifically directed to do so.

In addition to a 9-5 job, some people also have to drive the kids around, shop for groceries at multiple places, and other things that more well off people can pay others to do.

When you make good money, you have the option to learn and try new things. Money doesn't buy happiness, but it does buy you the luxury of not being accused of "not willing to learn, try, and logic out things".

as someone who is "really" middle class, but moved to a country where they ended up being "upper class" (kind-of) just through changing the context - it really does feel different when the person you are paying is charging so little you just don't care. all stress goes out of the relationship - you can truly say "don't worry about time, or cost, just do a good job". it's a real pleasure.

I think that most self-made rich people are over that mental barrier where they know that everything in the world is made by people like themselves. So they aren't afraid to participate in new things.

I`ve definitely have had my share of folks that like the pretentiousness. As it turns out, they are also the easiest to screw with.

Using Fussell's class breakdown [1], it is likely that you haven't worked for any people in the "upper class"; you have met the several varieties of the middle class. Fussell's definitions of the class is more about their tastes and behaviors than about how rich they are.

The upper classes would never get on their hands and knees and pound nails, because they feel that it is beneath them. The uppers are content with who they are, and don't give a damn what the lower classes think. But they are also uninterested in new ideas and would not be curious about your profession.

The rich people that you work for are likely to be upper middle class. They are likely to have earned their wealth by working hard, so they can relate to the hard work you do, even if their work was "white collar" instead of "blue collar".

The "middle class" that you describe seem to be Fussell's "middle" or "high proletarian". They are near enough to your class that they are bitter to you because they feel threatened by you, or because they think that their snobbery makes them better than you (it doesn't — usually this is the mark of a person with low self confidence). They might also not be there when you work, because are also at work.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Class-Through-American-Status-System/d...

As a note, at first glance, this comment seems to be saying that they could not have been upper class because they weren't horribly condescending and close-minded, and that this is the entire definition of upper class.

Looking at the book description, I take it that these are meant to be heuristics for guessing a random person's position in the class system? That seems more useful. I'm still not convinced it makes sense to apply that here, though, as the OP was working in these people's homes, and certainly has a very good idea what sort of people they were.

> Although I've worked for plenty of men who seem to be perfectly comfortable with the arrangement of using the money they earn with their own skills to pay for someone else's expertise, there are three reactions I've grown familiar with that suggest there's often anxiety about letting another guy do your "man jobs."

I grew up here in the U.S., but I still find Westerners weird sometimes. My dad grew up in a village in Bangladesh, and for him it's always been a great point of pride for him that he could afford to pay someone to do "man work."

I feel exactly the same way. Nothing makes me happier than to hire a skilled tradesman and see the great results when the work done. His work is going to be much better than mine, assuming I could even do it. I don't really understand why any guy would be threatened by this. I think of it as working smarter, not harder.

That's pretty much my view - I haven't done any "serious" DIY for years once I found out that a really good tradesman will be much faster, much better quality and often not even that expensive.

Of course, the trick is finding the good tradesmen.

It is kind of depressing to consider,but your wages have been going up by 5%-8% a year and the tradesmen's wages have been flat to to down. I have a great, problem solving carpenter who charges $25 per hour - a whole day of his work for $200. There is no way I can compete with that. The trouble is he is pretty busy and hard to get a hold of. I tell him every time he is at my house he should raise his rates and mark-up the cost of the materials he buys

I think you're entirely correct -- in the US we still have a national mythos of "rugged individualism" and self-reliance.

As others have pointed out in the thread, there really is a feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something yourself, but we seem to have conflated that to mean you should do everything yourself.

> As others have pointed out in the thread, there really is a feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something yourself, but we seem to have conflated that to mean you should do everything yourself.

Yes, and it's not just about building things.

I feel guilty every other day about how much house should be cleaner. I could probably hire someone to come out once a month, do a much better job than I could, more quickly, at a price I can actually afford.... and yet I feel it's my responsibility and that I would be somehow negligent if I were to do that. Different cultures, man...

Which village in Bangladesh out of interest?

I took AP classes in college, and I work in the software industry, but I still know how to work with my hands and I'm very happy to have that knowledge. It's not that hard, if you feel bad about not knowing anything, go learn, go take a class or two, go read a book or two, go ask a friend, or use the internet, there are a million excellent resources out there. Pick a simple project and do it, then do another project. Stocking a basic toolbox is extraordinarily inexpensive, there's really no reason not to have one.

I think the reason so many people aren't as handy as they used to be has to do more with culture than with anything else, here's an excellent TED talk from Mike Rowe (from Dirty Jobs) on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRVdiHu1VCc

" Stocking a basic toolbox is extraordinarily inexpensive, there's really no reason not to have one."

This is great advice, anyone reading who doesn't have at least the basics please get them. I have a few friends who I help out on occasion and it is incredibly frustrating to not have the basic tools available.

Decent screwdriver set

Socket set


Electrical Pliers



Adjustable Wrench

Just these basic tools can get you a long way to solving problems.

I hated it at the time, but I spent nearly every weekend of my 8th and 9th grade years remodeling our house with my dad. Being able to understand the job that needs to be done, even if you'd do a poor job doing it yourself, is invaluable.

> I have a few friends who I help out on occasion and it is incredibly frustrating to not have the basic tools available.

A younger guy at work asked if he could borrow one of the screwdrivers I keep in my desk. I thought maybe he was going to pop open his computer, he said he was going to put a bed together. At his apartment.

He didn't even own a screwdriver. C'mon. I sarcastically asked him, "You're a manly man, aren't you?", then handed him a large phillips screwdriver.

Another guy in the office overheard the conversation and laughed about it with me, and then we went down to Harbor Freight and bought him a $7 screwdriver set.

Not sure if thats better of worse than mine. This friend has some tools, but they're all terrible stuff that his parents and girlfriend have given him over the ways for Christmas and stuff. Screwdrivers where the handles turn on you, drill that is little more than a powered screwdriver, etc.

Last time I was at Frys I picked up a multimeter for him, told him it was a shame that he was an Electrical Engineer and didn't have one.

I just shake my head.

All good except the adjustable wrench. These are really awful tools prone to rounding off nuts and slipping off whatever you are working on you will be much better served by real wrenches!

Pfft. A basic toolbox doesn't even get you halfway there. Here's why. Because the basic tools are not the keys to the kingdom. The way it works is this. You NEED to familiarize yourself with all the little connectors, fasteners, bolts screws and materials. Hundreds or thousands of them. Got a nice drill? Great. Guess what you better know what masonry bit is, and that you need to use a smaller bit than what you think, cause you're gonna over drill. Have a few plumber wrenches? Cool, too bad you never learned what rubber washers are essential in your bathtub faucet. And your '50s faucet isn't exactly the ones featured on the how-to PDFs online.

Want to hang a shelf? you have NO idea how many types of hanging fasteners there are. From a single penny nail to a $2.50 self-driving metal compression anchor. Then all the reassurance in the world from the guy at the hardware store doesn't mean anything when you get home because your house will be different. When things start crumbling, (and they will) then you went from 1 task to 4. Big mess, wife gets pissed. You want to die.

How do you find studs? Too bad nearly EVERY single stud finder is a mediocre piece of shit. Most people don't even know that to cut a straight line on plywood, you can clamp a long level and use it as a fence. A circular saw is worthless without a good straight edge fence.

Need to do some wall patching? Guess what. The joint compound you see at the store. That's the gimmicky crap that vendors pay for premium end cap space. Get it home and it's shit. The real handymen laugh because they know the real stuff is the powder and its in 50 lb bags, costs 1/20 of what you paid and is found back in the dusty dark corner.

The handyman business is full of tricks the pros have had time to develop and then taken to their graves.

My battery was dead on my motorcycle. The manual that came with it had NO information on what to do. My cycle is a couple years old, but not old enough to have a 3rd party repair manual. Had I hooked up the car charger, I'd have ruined it. I asked the sales guy at the shop... How am I supposed to know this stuff if it's not in the manual. He said, 'well people just know it from working with and owning motorcycles.' For fuck sakes man.

The world of home improvement shows is riddled with holes in the processes. Sure you see a nice polished tutorial that completely glazes over the clean up process or the variance in materials.

I've refinished wood floors in 3 different houses. I've yet to find a proper tutorial on the process that comes close to what I've had to do. They are all missing tons of important detail on how to do the job right. and guess what, google has been completely gamed with bad SEO sites. So the first million results for the home improvement problem you're facing. Guaranteed to be advertising masquerading as help.

Here's my absolute favorite one though. The solvents and other chemicals you buy. There are NO proper methods of disposal for the average person. So then you're stuck with 25 cans of flammable poisonous liquids in your garage for the better part of a decade. You can only hope that you happen to know when the next chemical disposal event happens at your nearby church or community center. Otherwise, you're fucked if you want to legally and safely get rid of the stuff.

So yeah being a weekend handyman. Fun.

I went through your list and know the answer to nearly all of them. Hell I've run into most of those problems and more. (Except for the motorcycle battery; I have used my charger on my bike battery several times at the 5A 12V setting with no problems. I remove it completely during charging though.)

I was taught by my dad. He was taught by his dad. I learned to rebuild an engine at around 11 and I helped build two houses by the time I was 16. I have rebuilt two cars and fixed (and broken!) countless others. I have done general construction and carpentry.

I'm happy to share my knowledge. But I've found that the people who could learn the most are the most resistant to learning. They get offended when I ask if they did something. Asking questions is how you avoid mistakes. They feel like it's an affront to their manhood when I offer to help. That they should be able to do it on their own.

I don't understand it. I know I don't know everything and am happy to learn from those who know more than I do.

PS, don't forget to use a hammer drill with that masonry bit or you'll be there a long, long time. And to put some plumber's putty behind that faucet flange (but leave a gap at the bottom for water to run out). Your studs are 16" on center unless they're 20" or 24". Tap tap tap. Unless you are working with plaster & lathe. My area has a hazardous waste facility that's open to anyone living within the county. Antifreeze, solvents, paints, etc are all welcome.

I was wondering, how old are you?

At 24 years old I can answer most of the questions you asked, and I know exactly who to ask for advice on the one question I don't know the answer to.

My dad taught me the basics of home building/improvements. I can drywall like the best of them, look for studs, hang stuff without issues, know what type of anchors to use. I've built many a desk from 2 by 4's and plywood, built shelves and a lot of other things.

My friends were always playing and working on their cars, I learned more about cars from them than anyone else. I have rebuilt an engine, I have changed timing belts, oil pumps, water pumps, A/C systems, spark plugs, wires, changed timing on older cars, changed sensors, figured out why a car wasn't running properly. Even today I still have the ability to listen to a car and with almost 80% accuracy know what is wrong with it. I can hear when a car most likely needs an oil change, when a belt needs to be tightened (before it does the whole squealing thing), I can feel when an engine mount is due for a replacement, I know what a failing automatic transmission feels like, or a bad clutch...

Yes, these are all things you learn over time, but to imply that even a basic knowledge won't help, or a basic toolbox won't get you far is just flat out wrong. Not only does it give you the ability to fix things yourself, it is an opportunity to learn and improve yourself. It is extremely satisfying.

Being a weekend handyman/car mechanic? An absolute blast, would highly recommend it to anyone!

"My dad taught me the basics of home building/improvements" ... "My friends were always playing and working on their cars"

You're actually agreeing. You were taught and brought up in an environment where people learnt the skills then you can get by fine.

I certainly wasn't, and I have wasted much time, effort and money getting shoddy results which I'd then have to pay a tradesman to fix afterwards.

The point isn't to be able to DYI your way through any possible home or auto repair or renovation job. If you want to become a professional and do everything that's an entirely different kettle of fish. But you can certainly become vastly more self-reliant rather easily.

You don't need to fix anything and everything, that's what professionals are for. Being able to know some simple things like how to jump start a car, how to change a battery, how to put a nail in a wall, how to fix your clogged sink, etc. are all super useful day-to-day. And they give you a little bit of grounding to be able to partially understand more complicated stuff that a professional might do when he or she is repairing your car or upgrading your kitchen.

A lot of this stuff is what you might expect from the level of a craftsman. For those of us who aren't interested in putting in the 10 years to get to that level, we'll make the joint compound and the wrong washer work good enough.

Doing any kind of handyman type project requires just as much preparation as the actual work. And it could be days worth of reading, just so you know exactly which fastener to use. But that's exactly what I do very good for my programming job - learning and applying my skills.

If you approach your projects with that attitude, things become much easier. Moreover, most trades people are not very good at learning or analyzing. They just do things one way or another because 'they have been always taught to do it this way' by some master carpenter/plumber/electrician when they just started. So the whole trades industry is full of misconception and myths.

>How do you find studs? Too bad nearly EVERY single stud finder is a mediocre piece of shit.

Or completely worthless if you have plaster and lathe walls.

220, 221, whatever it takes.

Pfft. You need an oxy acetylene torch, which is the solution to about all handyman problems.

Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) recently did a short podcast about this topic, and they wrote up the results here: http://www.tested.com/art/makers/454389-still-untitled-suppl...

Is it me or are there an extremely large number of front-page stories from The Atlantic today?

There are three on the frontpage right now, with 2 more in the next three pages (all of which frontpaged at least for a moment).

I definitely noticed that as well. It could be a self-propagating cycle? Maybe people see an article from The Atlantic, then while they're there they find another article and post that? The more people post articles from The Atlantic, the more people who go and read other articles there and go on to post them here. And personally, I think it is a pretty good publication. They have some interesting stories and they are generally well written.

The Atlantic was banned from reddit for spamming last year. Wouldn't surprise me if they were doing the same BS here.

Well, the submitter of this article has a 5 year old account. They frequently submit news articles from a variety of sources, and are also an active commenter. (Though, they do seem to like posting quotes.)

The other two atlantic articles on the front page are from 2-3 year old accounts that likewise post a lot of pieces from various newspapers.

You're welcome to dig through their posting history for a conspiracy, but it's not jumping out at me.

I like the fact that you investigated this before posting rather then being "ra ra conspiracy" like the other posters.

It's not a conspiracy, it's a well-known and common business practice for content companies.

I, at least, meant conspiracy in the more literal sense: people coordinating in secret.

Doesn't have to be new accounts. "Pay to post" is a regular occurrence and a lucrative side business for people on high-traffic, user-curated content sites like Reddit and Digg.

Doesn't necessarily have to be the poster, the upvoters are the ones that get it on the front page.

Hmm, you know, my comment defending the Atlantic posters actually does have a weird amount of upvotes. (Not a joke -- it's at +37 right now, which seems high given its placement and late timing in the thread.)

Maybe its because The Atlantic consistently produces high quality content that deserves to be on the HN front page.

Seems suspect. Not sure why this type of content is being posted on hacker news. It's a poorly written article not having to do with this site's prerogative..

"This attitude is certainly built on classism and general obliviousness as much as gender issues...whereas with rich men, haggling seems to be a necessary ritual."

The author makes it sound like negotiating over an estimate is a character flaw.

Stereotypically, men are more likely to negotiate over almost anything. At least that comes up during discussions of pay inequality; I'm not really sure what the facts are.

Also, negotiating is probably a more common, habitual practice among "rich" people (by which I assume he means businessmen, lawyers, etc.). I don't see any evidence that it comes from some kind of classism; rather, it's a useful and important skill in their job.

People who really don't know anything about handywork are likely to use what they do know to attempt to get quality work at a fair price.

Personally, the tension that I have in dealing with contractors is not wanting to be taken advantage of. Much in the same way that mechanics and used car salesmen are 'notorious' for taking advantage of people.

I've seen this played out so many times, it is quite sickening. I generally found that union folk can't pound themselves out of a paper bag.

At the risk of sounding inflammatory, many home owners want everything cheap as humanly possible, so they find people willing to do it for below minimum wage (immigrants) and buy the cheapest, warped material they can find at Home Depot. Sometimes spending a little extra money for expertise is worth the sacrifice. You are, after all, paying for a service that affects the most important piece of property you own, and you may have to live with a regret for 30 or more years.

Now days, you can get references, see photos of prior work, and of course someone with high quality tools (not Craftsman) and a truck is likely to be a better choice. Someone that is willing to say "no" to you is also a good sign.

I know nothing about plumbing. So when my kitchen sink went haywire, I called a plumber. He installed a new waste disposal for me and, according to the Internet price listings for the exact model he put in, overcharged me by about $250. When I implied I knew what was going on, he explained it was for warranties, which... seemed implausible unless he was getting stiffed himself.

I decided not to take him to task for it, since he was probably giving me the price his company told him to, but it was still irritating and something I'd like to avoid repeating.

Parts and supplies (whether for plumbing, auto repairs, etc.) are always marked up about double what you would pay retail yourself. You can buy a water pump for a Chevy Impala for about $50 online. A competent shop will most likely charge you $100 or more, plus labor to install it, but they know it's the right one, they know what other gaskets, seals, etc. they need to replace along with it, they have the tools and knowledge to install it properly, and they will warranty the job and the part against defects for some period of time. That's what you're paying for when you pay a shop or a professional to do something for you.

If you want to take that on yourself (and it's not really difficult, fundamentally) you can save that markup and the shop's labor charges. I used to do this a lot more than I do now, because even though I enjoy working with tools and fixing mechanical things, when I compare spending 3 hours replacing a water pump on my car to the opportunity cost I very often decide its not worth it (this has changed as I have grown older and my free time has become more valuable to me).

When I was in college I used to work on my own cars, these days however I am time poor and money rich. For me it has made more sense to go out and buy a brand new car that I can drop off at the dealership for warranty work or anything along those lines, rather than spending 4 - 5 hours dealing with whatever issue has cropped up.

It's a something you have to weigh off, and decide yourself. I'd rather pay someone to work on my car now and be able to spend that time working on projects and making money than work on my car and spend those hours on that (although I do miss it tremendously, that's what getting a project car is for though ;-)).

> Parts and supplies (whether for plumbing, auto repairs, etc.) are always marked up about double what you would pay retail yourself.

See, this is acceptable, but no one told me this.

Does the computer repair guy charge you NewEgg prices to replace a part in your desktop?

I would certainly hope that he charges the NewEgg/Amazon price for the part in addition to a healthy hourly wage, and transport costs if there are any.

If he's keeping a stock of a lot of parts it can be worth a markup. But in general the cost of having someone buy a part and install it vs. buying the part yourself and paying someone to install it should be pretty close.

I've never actually needed repairs to my own computer. I live in a very strange vacuum where things tend to not-fail around me. I've mostly chalked it up to the "developer looking over your shoulder" effect.

many home owners want everything cheap as humanly possible, so they find people willing to do it for below minimum wage (immigrants)

For the record, many home builders also think this way. Unfortunately, most home buyers and owners don't have any sense of what qualifies as quality materials or labor.

This is more the problem. Just because you're paying more money doesn't mean your buying quality anything - someone may just be pocketing the difference.

The general practice I've seen is that the builder has a couple of low-wage teams to come in and throw it together. And then 1 or 2 guys who come behind them and fix their screw-ups, if the homeowner even notices.

That's incredibly inflammatory, because homeowners hire well-spoken American contracters, who buy cheap materials and hire underpaid illegal immigratnts to do the labor.

That's because of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_asymmetry and the cure is more information.

Before undertaking any major project study it intensively, and you'll feel much better about it.

If you can't do the study yourself then find a trusted, disinterested, 3rd party to do it for you. (Of course that entails some study itself...)

I just built a bike from parts after several days research. Most components are incompatible which makes it a minefield. The internet makes it seem like their is unlimited choice when in fact there are 1000 incompatible choices, and only one that works and is in your price range. It is absolutely worth it as I now have a bike I can repair myself.

probably exactly the way someone feels when a non-technical person wants a website made and a google search tells them it only costs $200

Some websites DO cost U$ 200 :) , a company here in Uruguay has more work than they can handle at a flat fee of U$ 320 (Spanish only, and Joomla template-based)

Until I went to college I didn't realize not everyone learned wood and metalworking in school.

Industrial Arts, it was called. We learned to make jewelry, forge with iron, etc. Then in high school I did woodworking instead, and made furniture, which most of us sold as a side job.

I just thought that was totally normal. I'm still not sure why it isn't.

Crawford is touching the subject in http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/...

I enjoyed reading that book and it relates to the topic.

I remember reading that 'industrial arts' were trashed in favour of computers and to prepare for the coming of the 'information era'.

I also came to post a link to that book. I thought it was along the same lines as the OA, but at times I found Crawford bordering on being a Luddite (the remark about bathroom sink sensors IIRC). How'd you feel about it?

(I don't remember the bathroom sink sensors.)

He didn't strike me as a Luddite. I think that's because he spends a lot of pages glorifying manual labor for its spiritual and liberating side rather than mourning the jobs destroyed by assembly lines for economic reasons.

I don't think he is as much a luddite as he is against mindless and seemingly pointless "work". Unfortunately he is walking that thin line along the whole book. He is not against the industrialization of the world or "the machines" although he does states that those events broke men.

In the book, he complains more that skilled artisan were chained to assembly lines while Luddites were replaced by assembly lines. Again, it's a thin line.

Assembly factory workers and data entry monkeys are one and the same for him.

I think his main practical argument against white collar job is pretty weak because he takes it from his personal life and he was a qualified mechanic, not a skill-less minion. So he colors much of the "manual" experience. He is a mechanic, a masculine glorified profession (insert coke adv.), working alone for hours (and for himself) on something deeply engaging and getting some kind of meditating and enlightening and relaxing experience... he's not a wielder working on some tubes along the road with a chief supervising his every actions on the job. Also he's deep into philosophy so I hardly buy it he has the same experience as regular mechanic trained since his teens as an apprentice and whose definition of culture is the latest blockbuster. He isn't one of the typical manual worker he describes in the book.

I wish he had shared his thoughts on software engineering and how it compares with 'code monkeys' and data entry clerks.

What bothers me most is that he didn't expand much outside of the "life of a mechanic" and life of a "mindless encoding drone in the publishing industry". The essay falls short on that.

Personally I read that book at a time of my life when I was fed up with webdesign/webdev and wanted to do something more real. I'm in the process of retraining myself to get a bachelor in industrial and electronic computer science and I am more than happy to deal with real wires and boards and huge factory machines now. I will revisit the book in the future.

To make it short: I believe that industrialization is good because it frees men from mind-numbing jobs, not because it saves money. And that's certainly a naive white-collar opinion :(

I am not sure I was really coherent, I'll clarify if I can and if needed.

Budget cuts. You can't write a standardized test for woodworking, so schools stopped teaching it.

Schools were forced to stop teaching anything "arts", effectively, by NCLB (which is basically designed to destroy public schooling and give that to private industry).

Many schools would love to get more arts back in their curriculum, but their funding goes away if they don't focus on those damn tests to the exclusion of all else.

You mean, NCLB revealed how most schools were failing to teach the most basic things needed for success in the real world, which they somehow were able to convey to the "carpenter-track" students just decades ago?

Seriously, I hear a lot of kvetching about schools burdened by having to "teach to the test". I never very little about which specific parts of the test are unfair or about things students shouldn't be expected to know.

Do you know any teachers or have you spent time recently in a classroom? Test preparation takes a huge amount of the bandwidth. Student assignment to classes is apportioned so there is a good "balance" to testing averages.

To dismiss NCLB as anything but an attempt to sabotage the entire public school system is nieve.

>Do you know any teachers or have you spent time recently in a classroom?

Actually, yes. I volunteered weekly in a 4th grade class at a public school for five years. But even if I didn't, and even if I were just now finding out the managementspeak::bandwidth allocated to passing the tests, it wouldn't matter. The fact that it's so hard to get the students to pass simply means the teaching is inefficient and using ineffective methods to teach students the most important, core skills that they need in the real world.

Again, don't tell me the tests take up a lot of resources. Tell me why the tests are unjustifiably hard and why it's acceptable to graduate kids that aren't passing them. Show me, say, a test problem that you don't think an 8th grader or whatnot should be unable to answer and yet be tossed on to high school.

(You'd be the first to try.)

'bandwidth' is a management term now?

It is used in different ways, in different contexts. I was namespacing it to clarify the context. You know namespaces, right?

Yes. What I'm saying is I didn't realize it had entered that namespace.

It exists in multiple namespaces. In the managementspeak namespace it is used a clumsy metaphor for resources, the sense in which the OP was using it. To indicate equivalent usage, I indicated equivalent namespacing.

What ever happened to learning this stuff from good ol' dad, or your grandfather?

I was lucky enough to have a step-father who was fairly handy, had a large amount of tools, and my mother always had him working on a project around the house. Building a deck, remodeling the kitchen, that kind of stuff. I hated being dragged away from friends and video games to help him out with random stuff but I learned quite a bit.

I also had the fortune of learning from my birth father on how NOT to do certain things. He'd always take shortcuts that ended up hurting the end result, which to this day I point out as we work on things.

Too late to edit my previous post, but I'd like to add:

When speaking in the general case, I think it's worth thinking about using gender-neutral language. The attitudes in the article that home improvement and all things handy are "manly" things are worth challenging, and using gender-neutral language is a simple step you can take.

The sentence "What ever happened to learning this stuff from good ol' dad, or your grandfather?" tacitly reinforces the idea that handiness is a man's skill because it is in line with that norm. Phrasing it in gender neutral language makes it clash against the norm, and that clash encourages the reader to pause for a moment, consider the norm, and possibly conclude that there's no inherent reason that a mother or grandmother couldn't be the handy parent. Or that both parents could be handy.

Why does this matter apart from political correctness (which I find obnoxious when it's for its own sake)? Getting over the idea that cooking is a woman's role or that repairing things is a man's role encourages people to pass on knowledge in ways that doesn't reinforce these traditional gender roles.

If a person lives their life without ever having these challenged, and then passes knowledge on to his or her children in a way that reflects the roles, the cycle continues for another generation. Then we have another group of boys who can't cook or sew and another group of girls who can't hang a picture or replace the fill valve in their toilet. If you think those are worthwhile skills for all people to have, please think of how your choice of nouns and pronouns reinforces or challenges the attitudes that lead to people deciding what to teach their children.

In case it matters to anybody, I'm a guy. I can cook, but my sewing skills are self-taught because (in my specific case) my mother didn't teach me. And obviously I didn't pick up on the gendered language before the edit window ran out. It isn't my intention to make you feel called out; rather, writing this was in part an exercise in figuring out for myself why it matters so that I might be more aware of my language in the future.

What ever happened to learning this stuff from good ol' dad, or your grandfather?

I was lucky enough to have a step-father who was fairly handy...

Whether you meant to or not, you've answered your own question. Suppose you lived in the alternate universe where you didn't have a stepfather and learned everything from your birth father. Who would you have learned the skills from then? The problem with relying on passing handiness down from generation to generation is that once it fails to propagate for a generation, it's very hard to get back.

It's hard to find a teacher for adults for handy skills, and a lot of being handy comes from having long term exposure to handiness anyway. Taking a weekend class (if one exists) or reading a book from the library on how to hang cabinets (for example) isn't going to cover all of the possible gotchas that could come up. Some of those gotchas are probably best solved by people with a lot of experience hanging cabinets, but there are probably others that you could probably solve if you've lived a generally handy life.

If this sounds like institutional knowledge, that's probably a fair comparison. It's just that the family is a very small institution that doesn't necessarily have a lot of redundancy in who has the institutional knowledge. Once you lose it, it's pretty much lost, and that's the reason to have a shop class in school. It provides a mechanism to add that knowledge to families that don't have it from a (hopefully) experienced person who has enough time in contact with his or her students to impart more knowledge directly and pass on general handiness as a mindset rather that a specific skill.

What ever happened to learning this stuff from good ol' dad, or your grandfather?

My dad worked nights, so I learned what kind of noise was or was not going to wake up my dad. My grandparents were about 23hrs away by car. So not everyone is that lucky.

Budget cuts, yes, but remember that the materials you're using are basically one-shot and manufacturing isn't nearly as big as it used to be, so there's less justification against cutting it, unlike, say... biology and chemistry.

Our high school had a wood and metal shop (late 1980s), but the classes were positioned as a track for kids who weren't likely to attend college.

The farthest I ever went was metal shop in middle school and wood shop 1 in high school...

I had obligatory wood shop from age 10 to age 15 (late 80's - early 90's). Endless hours of sandpaper, shavers, and various old school tools. It was fantastic!

Still today, if I really want something made right out of wood, I know I can do it.

Only wish there had been obligatory metal working, too.

Our middle school metal shop was amazing, we had a forge and everything! High school wood shop wasn't as awesome because, as luck would have it, we went in exactly 1 year after the old teacher left, and the new teacher knew nothing about wood shop (he was learning from the students). I learned a lot from a couple of the students but a teacher have taken us a lot farther.

I think exactly the same thing of 'critical thinking'.

For me the hardest one to give up was car maintenance. I grew up working on cars, and if I wasn't in IT I'd probably be a mechanic. Unfortunately keeping all the tools and supplies necessary was too much of a hassle for a single late model vehicle that requires practically no maintenance. It doesn't bother me to have someone mow my lawn or fix the way my doors hang, but handing the car keys over for an oil change is painful.

And FYI, women have it significantly worse in this regard. The division between feminism and traditional roles has created a trap. You'll be judged both for having and not-having traditionally female skills.

The oil change thing was much easier when I had a garage/driveway/flat street and I had a lifted jeep cherokee (which broke a lot, but was easy as hell to fix and change oil). With my car now, I can't even find ramps that are appropriate for it. Luckily I bought my (Subaru) new in 2009, so I just take it in for maintenance when required.

Also, living in an apartment is weird because it's not your house. I want to replace the kitchen cabinets, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to. I'd love to be able to just own my own house, I even dream of just getting an old house and redoing the electrical, fixing it, getting a 203k loan, but that's not very easy in the bay area.

I don't have any trouble letting other people do stuff for me, but I usually want to be right there talking to the person the whole time, usually learning whatever new things I can.

Tom has finally convinced me that it is less expensive to us to have a handyman fix things than for me to do it myself. Which is a bummer, because I do so love excuses to use power tools.

I've often wondered how many people in tech would probably be mechanics or carpenters (or welders/blacksmiths) if there was no more lucrative occupation. It seems to me there's a great number of people in my network who do these things as hobbies. Scratches an itch.

If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is this: you will be judged no matter what you do or not do. The key is to only care about the opinions of a few - and never give a shit about people who talk laud.

There's always the choice to be made:

The handyman/contractor/mechanic has the skills, and the tools, and probably knows what to do, but in my experience often doesn't give a shit about the quality of his work. (But see below)

I don't have the skills, and may not have the tools, and I don't know what to do, but given time I have proven myself able to learn, and I really do care how things turn out.

Often 'giving a shit' makes up for a lot more of your initial ignorance than you would think.

If there was some great way of finding that rare someone who did have pride in their workmanship (or at least could adequately describe the various tradeoffs that might be made) it would be a lot easier for me to trust someone else to do the work.

Countless startups have tried that... and we still dont have a great way to get accurate recommendations for handymen, maids, mechanics, elderly care, etc... all those where trust and skill are needed.

So far I still rely on person-to-person recommendations. Many suggest that Facebook could hold the keys to that particular kingdom, by providing a verifiable online identity. AirBnB is one of those that uses Facebook for that.

In defense of the modern male, things just aren't as simple as getting on a whim of building "walls and sidewalks, installed woodstoves, laid tile, added electrical circuits and plumbing fixtures, fixed furnaces". There are so many codes these days you can easily do something not to code and it cost you twice as much. Changing light fixtures and faucets is one thing - major construction is another.

As an example, my friends furnace is going out. Not a huge deal, they can buy a new one and have it installed. But wait! Now the AC unit that sits outside isn't up to code - it's too close to the property line (although it was fine back in 1989). That has to move, along with a fair amount of electrical and plumbing to support it. How would he know that?

It's just not worth it if something is done incorrectly. Better to pay a bonded contractor to do something right and spend your time doing something fun. If something goes wrong it's on him.

Also, I think HGTV has screwed us as a nation. Now every wife on the plant thinks it's so easy to tear down a wall and get that open floorplan to the kitchen. What's worse every husband agrees! And it's all done in a half-hour! Months later, when your marriage is on the skids and you've gone to Home Depot 30 times and spent twice what a contractor would charge you finally learn your lesson.

Most construction codes are not all that hard to interpret for someone who deals with 'code' all day(albeit a very different one)

Put me in the camp of someone who has no idea on how to do any sort of handyman jobs, and I'm in my 40s. In fact, 3 months ago I bought a dartboard, and only have a vague idea on how hang it. I'm guessing my wall is drywall (?) and I imagine I'm supposed to drill holes and put those plastic screw-condoms (no idea what the name is) in there that expand into the drywall. But the thing stopping me is 1) I don't know if those screw-condom things are strong enough to hold up my dartboard, which is rather heavy and 2) I have no idea if I will be drilling into electrical wires. This weekend I was going to roll up my sleeves and Youtube videos and probably post on reddit for some advice.

It's sad, but I don't dwell over it, and it's not really a source of insecurity because quite frankly, none of my friends know how to do it either, otherwise I would have asked their help for it.

For a task that hasn't changed much in twenty years, the assistance you'll get from a how-to-fix-it book will probably beat the assistance you can get on the internet, just because the quality of illustration will be much better. Out of date copies are cheap, but the directions for hanging something heavy on drywall will be the same.

I think part of it has to relate to what you enjoy doing. I enjoy few things more than reaching the time of day when work clothes can come off, dirty old shirt goes on, lithium ion tool drill comes out and the circular saw is plugged in. It's the best relaxation I have found, and unlike my real job, I can actually achieve something without other screwing it up and the results are measurable. Don't ask about the accidents, stitches and cost/time blowouts.

I find this interesting, especially since I'm not handy at all but am planning on changing that once my wife and I get a house.

One thing that I have noticed that may be a source of this insecurity is the significant other. I can't even count the number of times my wife has said "You're a man, you should be able to do that" before or after asking her dad to fix something or work on something. It doesn't bother me and I retort "You're a woman, why aren't you making my meals and doing laundry as well as cleaning", which are tasks I do myself and have no expectation of my wife doing those solely on her own. My point being is that gender roles are typically ingrained in both genders and while a male may be comfortable not knowing how to do something, there may be an discomfort generated by the response of the significant other.

"In the course of his career, my dad was an infantry officer, a military attaché, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and an arms-reduction negotiator. At home, he was a wrench. Dude could fix anything."

That is a career. I imagine the work at home was a form of relaxation and a way of spending time with family, as well as seeming natural from childhood.

"It's clear, however, that even though boys these days usually have little opportunity to receive vocational education at school or elsewhere, there is still pressure for men to somehow have absorbed traditionally masculine skills by the time they are grown up."

We seem to have lost the idea of education somehow in our chase after pass rates (UK perspective), so schools are pushing the book learning more. Families have less time these days for informal education by helping.

It's interesting that the DIY mentality doesn't extend to fixing or maintaining computers. I'm not sure if its a generational thing, or the fact that computers are becoming appliances, but it seems like less people are willing to try to fix computer problems on their own.

It's for the same reason that people like myself don't do home repairs on their own - because it can be really, really hard to tell what the right solution is without a lot of research and experience. Without that knowledge, it's impossible to know if I will have hosed something beyond repair if I try and fail.

If you can swap out your wife's car alternator, install an electrical outlet in her sewing room, til up the garden and replace the kitchen faucet when it leaks she'll keep you around for many years and she will bake you cookies!

It seems parts of our brains will always be primitive. Tarzan and Jane sort of relationship. I don't mind. As a man, I enjoy doing these things. I like helping my wife, saving money and using my hands to fix stuff myself rather than paying someone else. The only big hurdle I face is finding time to do these things. It's not an ability issue, but a time issue.

Also, manual labor is a nice break from coding and technology and my wife rewards my efforts handsomely as sometimes I get kisses and cookies ;)

My artist life partner had a good laugh when she found out that our male friend is waiting for a handyman to have her painting hanged as if driving nail into a wall was some sort of job for skilled professional.

How expensive is the painting? Does your male friend have a stud finder or know common building measurements to locate a stud? If there's no stud did he buy the right wall anchor to support the weight? I'm saying most of this in jest, but sometimes simple jobs are anything but.

My life partner is not a famous painter (yet :-)). I guess the painting was worth pretty much the same as the canvas it was painted on since you could paint the canvas over (apart from sentimental value of course, which wasn't that high too since she gave the painting away as a present).

Our friends house is not light frame construction, hence no studs (I guess it was build of something along the lines of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoclaved_aerated_concrete ). Also the painting is frameless so pretty light so it should be sufficiently supported by a single nail (although at our home my partner prefers to hang them on wall plugs. She's overcautious with a lot of things).

I assure you that our friend was deservedly laughed at by us (and only by us, we are nice people) and we respect him all the same.

The description of work the author performed growing up in the article is a little more than just what a 'handyman' performs. Where I live most of this work would require (by law and for insurance) extensive permitting and professionals with accreditation's and licenses to perform the work.

I'm not saying the work couldn't be done by a handyman, just that with current codes there are many obstacles for a homeowner to perform their own home maintenance and improvements.

No qualms here. I cook for my family and I'm quite adept at that, but when it comes to getting my hands dirty or fixing things I'm not interested. When I was a teen my stepdad used to try and get me out of the bedroom to help in the yard or in his workshop, but I was happier up there learning C and 68000. Turns out that worked out well for everyone. I can afford to pay someone to do things I don't enjoy.

A friend of a friend once spent 20 minutes verbally beating me up for not knowing how to change the spark plugs in my car. I finally shut him up with: "I just upgraded my PC with a new HD and doubled the ram. When you're done I'm going to Fry's to get a new video board because the new Nvida chip is out and affordable".

I learned to have zero issues with the "man tasks" thing.

Do you ever get the client that wants to learn how to do the improvements? My house is my largest investment. I don't want to screw it up with an amateur fix, but I would love to work side by side with an expert to learn how to do the more advanced stuff correctly.

I get the distinct impression that the writer views the lack of handyman skills as being effeminate (at least intuitively, perhaps not intellectually). I would, therefore, add a fourth class of customer to his list: people who are socially perceptive.

I'm not sure what you're basing that on? While the author indicates that he meets a lot of men who view a lack of handyman skills as not masculine, I don't see any indication that "not masculine" = "effeminate".

Edit: properly moved the original as a reply to abraininavat.

On the topic of your post: I was (more or less) using effeminate to mean "not masculine", with maybe some connotative meaning thrown in. This seems to be standard usage based upon my extensive perusal of the copious amounts of information available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/effeminate

The author is pretty clear that that isn't how he views his clients. He's saying that a group of his male clients view their lack of handyman skills as being un-masculine.

What? You should read more closely closely. I looked specifically for that attitude while reading, and didn't find it.

Our roles in the professional landscape have become highly specialized, and gender plays an ever-decreasing part in them. And yet, in our responsibilities at home, we often cling to the traditional notions of gender segregation and territoriality. As we make progress toward equity in the workplace and fair division of unpaid family labor, we would do well to distance ourselves from the gender expectations at home that developed centuries ago, before contractors, caterers, and housekeepers made them virtually obsolete.

The opening details his father's expertise with all things home-repair related; his mother is mentioned (in an aside) as being able to use a saw and hammer.

Then you have the following (admittedly out of context):

> I looked on in horror as my foreman taunted my friend who seemed to be driving a nail for the first time in his life: "Aw, c'mon, sister! Why don't you just hit it with your purse?"

> Even if their own fathers were in the trades, my male clients, especially those who are younger than me, tend not to have worked alongside their dads, much less taken a shop class. They're more likely to have taken AP classes and played sports.

> While I must admit that part of me sometimes wants to say, "It's okay, little buddy, Daddy's here now,"

I should note: I do not think that he's arguing that lack of handyman skills is effeminate; as I said previously, he might not (probably does not?) believe this intellectually. The impression I get reading the article, however, is that he does believe it at an intellectual level. Obviously YMMV, etc.

I'm not sure how closely tied the "please do this easy task for me" behavior is to gender.

I see it as a pretty common bad habit in lots of people and tie it to ignorance rather than insecurity about gender roles. If you don't know much about an area it's hard to tell what tasks within it are easy or hard, so it's easy to assume that all jobs done by other people are easy.

I've seen it expressed as "this is just a website, so I assume you can have it done by Friday" or "sounds like a 10 line Perl script to me" or "I need a favor. I'm sure it will only take you 10 minutes" or "What took you so long?", but the pattern is the same.

There is a huge gap on how people behave at home and at work. Following our primitive instincts our home has to be defended. That's why we don't like somebody walking into it and doing stuffs we are responsible for. There is a summary available for this blogpost here http://tldr.io/tldrs/5155bc59ccd25bb8600005c1/what-being-a-h....

opportunity cost; get someone else to do it, let me code

half-tongue-in-cheek, half-serious, but ... I wonder if the same thing happens with freelance sysops/devops guys. Most developers like to think they can setup and run servers, so it would be interesting to see the way they respond when they have to call someone in to help them clean up and organize their server arrangements.

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