Thursday, October 28, 2010

The value of a handshake

What is it?

This came in as a request from a reader, and it's something I have certainly thought about quite a bit. There's actually a fair bit that can be conveyed in a handshake, maybe more than you think!

Why do it?

We encounter people all the time, many of them we know and others we are meeting for the first time. How you greet them conveys a lot about who you are and what you expect out of the meeting. A handshake can also convey far more than a greeting or departure, having traditionally been used to signal agreement or to lock in a verbal contract.

How did I learn it?

This is something most, if not all of us, learn as kids. There was a time that it was really only boys that learned this, but it has changed significantly over the years. Scouting introduced me to a few variations on the handshake, as did my work at Renaissance faires. Over time I've learned that some people take such things far more seriously than others, often to my chagrin.

How do you learn it?

What you intend to convey will have a big impact here. There are a few basics that almost always apply:
The approach: extending the hand perpendicular to the ground but palm turned slightly upward is an inviting and friendly way to start a shake. It implies a willingness to help. It is always safe to extend a handshake to another man and to most women under the age of 45 or so. Older women may not shake hands as this is a fairly recent change in our society. Allow them to extend first. Often a mutual start of shakes will imply a fairly equal station and eagerness. When unclear, it can be fine to wait for a shake as the initiator will often appear inviting.

Of note, do not extend your left hand unless encountering someone who is obviously unable to shake with their right. This is still considered rude (barring inability) to many people.

The grip: thumb wrapped over the top, fourth and fifth fingers (depending on hand size) below. Grasp their hand firmly, though not forcefully. A soft or lame handshake is often seen as a sign of weakness or lack of interest. Too hard is rather juvenile and unappreciated. Never should your handshake cause pain.

The pump: One or 2 short pumps convey sincerity, especially when punctuating a greeting. These should follow the same rules as the grip, being somewhat firm but not overly vigorous. Don't pump too hard, fast, or often, as this belies a level of extreme excitement which may be construed as rude.

The eyes: this is a handshake, so who cares about the eyes? Everyone. Making eye contact while shaking shows you are as interested in meeting the person as they are in meeting you. It implies sincerity, trust, and an earnest nature. Failure to do so will make you appear uninterested at best and shifty at worst.

The release: Most handshakes will last 2-3 seconds, at which point both parties will release. If pressure is removed by the other party, take the signal and let go. Too long can become awkward.

Things to avoid: aside from the items mentioned above, it is worth noting a few other pitfalls. Greatest amongst them is avoiding a shake. This is considered a serious insult to the other party, implying a lack of interest or outright disdain for the presenter of the shake. If one needs to avoid a shake, perhaps for health reasons (IE, you're ill), this should be immediately vocalized with an apology. Similarly, wiping your hand AFTER a shake (it is acceptable before, especially if you have a dirty or sweaty palm) is very rude, akin to implying the other person is unclean or unworthy in some regard.

Variations: There are a number of uses for the handshake outside of greeting and farewell. When conveying concern or care, a second hand is often wrapped over the other person's hand, thus suggesting support and willingness to aid. this can often be seen at funerals and weddings. It has become popular in recent years for the handshake to be used by men of close acquaintance to initiate a hug, pulling the other person in but often maintaining the handshake. This allows a sense of physical separation while embraced.

Traditionally, a handshake has been used to conclude business and convey a sense of willingness to abide by any agreements discussed. In fact, it may be specifically asked for (IE, "Let's shake on it.") to seal a deal. Such a shake implies a willingness to take each other at your word and honor to follow through on any agreements in lieu of a contract or until one can be drawn. The breaking of such an arrangement signifies to the other party a lack of trustfulness.

What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?

There have been a variety of handshakes over the ages, but many scholars believe it began as a method to show that a person intended no harm. As long as 2 people were gripping primary fighting hands (often the right), they could not fight. During the middle ages when the sword was normally worn on the left, holding a grip would prevent the drawing of the sword.

At some points, the forearm was clasped instead of the hand, further restricting movement, even though it brought 2 people closer into contact.

Feel free to weigh in with other thoughts below!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Preparing the inside of your car for winter driving

What is it?

There's a list of things to be done to your car when prepping for the winter. snow tires, anti-freeze service, lighter weight oil, winter wipers...the list isn't too long and not always applicable to every vehicle. Some of you may be living in areas where winter is what we in New England call "fall". I want to speak instead about the things we can take with us as we drive during the colder months in the event something goes awry.

Why do it?

Being stuck somewhere with a flat tire, a dead battery, or worse is never fun. During the colder months, it can be downright dangerous! A little bit of money, some pre-planning, and you'll be a lot happier. Years ago (OK, decades ago) while we lived in Ohio, my father got stuck on the way home in a massive snow storm. It took him over 6 hours to do a 30 minute commute. Fortunately, he had a full tank of gas and had taken some precautions, many of which I think get ignored by the modern traveler. We expect gas stations on every corner to be open 24 hours, roads to be plowed minutes after the first flake is spotted, and AAA to have response times better than Dominoes pizza. Hopefully, all 3 are always true, but reality is a cruel mistress.

How did I learn it?

I know I keep saying it, but Boy Scouts had a big impact on my urge to be ready for whatever can happen. "Be Prepared" is a motto that tends to stick with you. There have been times in my life where I've forgotten to follow that motto and I've always regretted it. With my first car, a few things always got carried. Now, I'm more prepared than ever, probably over-prepared, but it provides a level of comfort I feel is worth the loss of cargo space. I'm continually looking at how I can better refine my needs.

How do you learn it?

I'll give you some of the key things I carry and why. Hopefully others will weigh in with their thoughts.

To prepare we have to think about what can happen and look at the likelihood and duration of the problem. These will give us areas to tackle. Most will be mechanical, some environmental, and maybe a few catastrophic. We'll begin with a list of everything I carry with me, then we'll talk about why I do it. I'll skip those items that are standard on most cars (spare tire, jack, etc), though I will mention them in some of the areas below.

Motor club membership (I have AMA, many use AAA)
Jumper cables
Tire repair kit
Wagan PowerDome
5 Gallons of gas (whenever traveling more than 50 miles)
basic tool set (metric, as that is what my truck uses)
windshield washer fluid
pre-mix anti-freeze (50/50)*
flashlights (2)
"escape" or rescue tool
ice scraper (2)*
hatchet and small saw
first aid kit
hat and gloves
spare sweatshirt
wool blanket*
winter boots*
rain poncho (2)
cell phone
Nalgene water bottle
trash bags
candle lantern
lighter (2)

Aside from those marked with the *, these items remain in my truck all year long. I actually carry a lot more than this, but these I consider the bare minimum. Many of them reside in a single backpack that can be easily moved around the vehicle, or taken with me into another car, etc. My wife has a very similar setup in her car. It takes up surprisingly little room when all put together, and much can fit into the existing small spaces in your vehicle (glovebox, wheel well, etc).

So, why all this stuff?

Mechanical issues - the things most likely to happen are problems with your car. They can happen anytime, but a few are more likely in the winter. As I mentioned above, prepping your vehicle for winter is a REALLY good idea. Part of the benefit of this is it makes you look at some of the critical areas of your car and make certain it can handle the season. A good tune-up will also help in this. If your mechanic can catch a problem before it happens all the better! Changing tires for snow tires means someone will have seen the tires before you drive on them.
Of course, things still go wrong. A dead battery or flat seems most likely. A flat tire can be dealt with by having a spare in good repair and a decent jack. The battery is a little tougher. In an area with other vehicles, you can likely get a jump, but only if you have jumper cables. What if no one is around? This is why I like the Wagan PowerDome, since it is a stand alone unit. Additionally, it includes a radio and an air compressor, both very useful tools. Finally, the inverter means you can charge cell phones or other devices if your car is dead.
I like having tools so I can deal with stuck hoses, air filters, etc. Even if you don't know a lot about car maintenance, someone may stop to help and not have tools themselves. Having a flashlight or 2 (since one could go dead) to light your way, flares to let others know you have a problem, and extra fluids in case you overheat is further insurance.
If you don't have AAA or an equivalent (I use AMA as I'm a motorcyclist, but the coverage is very similar), get it. It is really worth the annual fee to have a safety net when you need it.

Environmental issues - snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain...none of these are pleasant while driving, but are a reality for many of us. They come with other possibilities like getting stuck, frosted windshields, and slick driving conditions. A shovel for getting snow out from around your tires is invaluable as even a well plowed parking lot may leave your car blocked in a snow bank. Scrapers are great, though often break, so I carry 2. Since I drive a pickup, I carry sand in the bed of the truck, and some of that can be shoveled out to aid in traction on icy spots. And don't forget that trees weighed down by heavy snow and ice can break and block your way, especially on rural routes. A saw or hatchet can make quick work of these obstacles, not to mention warming you up a bit for your efforts.

Catastrophic issues
What if any of the above happens in the middle of nowhere? Or if there's a massive weather emergency that has all the emergency services, including AAA, tied up for hours? Worse yet, what if you have an accident, either alone or another vehicle? These are all things we hope never happen, but we're better off if we prepare.
Certainly you can't expect to fix everything that might happen in such circumstances. This is why I list a cell phone as invaluable. Calling for help is critical, just make sure it's charged and ready to go! A cheap, pre-paid phone that is left in the car isn't a bad idea, either.
If you're stuck in your car (or out of it) when it's cold, extra clothing may be the difference between life and death. I leave gloves, a hat, and boots in the car in case I'm even stuck wearing dress clothes when something goes wrong. Leather-soled dress shoes won't serve me well and may plant me on my butt! If I need to sit in the car for any period of time, a wool blanket helps a lot, and a long-lasting candle lantern will provide light and even some small amount of warmth with little risk of fire.
When you're out of the car and it's raining, a poncho is great and also keeps some heat in. Trash bags can be placed on snow to keep your clothing dry, used to cover broken windows, or as a way to keep either wet things contained or dry things dry.
In the event you need to get out of a vehicle in an accident, I like having a rescue tool within reach to cut the seatbelt and/or break out a window. Cheap money for a little more piece of mind. A basic first aid kit can deal with some of the after effects if you find yourself in an accident.
Finally, I like to have water on hand as you can't go very long without it. During the winter, water goes in and out of the car with me, lest it freeze. It's fine when you run into a store for an hour or 2, but longer than that and it comes with me. I do also carry a steel cup that I could use to melt snow with my candle lantern, but that may be more extreme for some of you. :)

What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?

Various stats show that you're likely to be in an accident every 6 years, with an average of 6 million happening a year. Most of those will be minor, but in the winter even a minor setback can be difficult. Personally, I like to be ready whenever possible and work to reduce risk where I can. Little things like proper maintenance and refilling your tank before you're on 'E' help. Why not take a few more steps to get safely to your destination, even if it takes longer than you expected?

One final word of caution to everyone who thinks 4-wheel drive means you won't get stuck. If you hit ice, it doesn't matter how many wheels have power, they all start spinning. Take some time to practice with it and realize it doesn't mean you should drive faster than everyone else!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Basic sewing

What is it?

Putting needle and thread together to make clothing helped elevate our species up the chain of civilization. Nearly everything you wear has stitching involved, from hat to shoes. For now, we're talking about the basic hand-sewing kind.

Why do it?

Ever lost a button, or had a pair of pants that was just a little too long? Mom eventually gets sick of you calling her for help, and these days you're unlikely to find one of your friends who can stitch for you, so why not learn how yourself? It's a heck of a lot cheaper than throwing away that sweater!

How did I learn it?

Around the time I was 10, my mother decided (as she did with many such things) that her boys should know how to do their own sewing repairs. Thus were we shown how to do basic hand stitches and attaching a button using pieces of old sheets. This certainly wasn't elegant, but it meant we did all our own simple repairs moving forward, making us better at it. One of the first things I did was take my very worn and abused sock monkey and do some serious repairs. When I was done it more resembled a mummy than a monkey, but it helped me understand the basics.

Eventually, mom sat me down in front of a machine and made me learn how to make my own costumes (I was 18 and working at the local Renaissance Faire), but we'll save that for a future post, shall we?

How do you learn it?

Like so much of life, practice is key. But this one is cheap and easy. First, you need a few supplies. Go off to Joann Fabrics, Wal-Mart, or your mom's sewing box, and gather the following:

- Sewing needles (for right now, assume that most needles are essentially the same, but don't get TOO big of a needle. Look for those around 2 inches and you should be fine)
- Thread - pick black or white, for ease. Choose "all purpose" for this
- scissors - sharp is better (not the point, but the blades), standard scissors are fine
- fabric - Old sheets or t-shirts are good for this

First, go watch this video on threading the needle.

Now try making a few stitches. Start from one side of the material, stick the needle through, pull it almost all the way in, then stick the needle back down into the fabric. Do this a few more times, in one side, out the other. Now, even though you've only done one piece of fabric, you've done a stitch! It may not look pretty, it may not bee in a straight line, but you're sewing. It really is that simple.

Now take the fabric, put 2 pieces together, and do the same thing about 1/2" in from the edge. This time, after you first pull the thread through the pieces, go back down about 1/8" further along the edge. Now, run the needle through the small loop of thread prom your first past, right by the knot in the thread. Pull the rest of the thread through that loop and pull it all tight, anchoring the thread in place. Now start stitching along, trying to maintain that 1/8" distance 1/2" in from the edge. When you get down to about 3-4" of thread, push the needle through to the side where you first started. Take the needle and slide it under one of the stitches, then pull tight. Do the same thing under the new stitch you just made, but before you pull it tight, loop under from the same direction creating a loop of thread. Push your needle through this loop and pull everything tight to make a knot. Congratulations, you've just joined 2 pieces of fabric by sewing!

Some other nice tutorials to help get you going:
Sewing on a button
Hemming a pair of pants

What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?

Once you get these basics down, you can do a lot more with sewing. Embroidery, cross-stitch, and other needle arts are really just forms of sewing. Buttons become simple, and you might eventually find you want to take on bigger projects. That's when sewing machines come in handy, but there will always be a place for hand sewing!