Technology TEDTalks

25 life hacks you didn’t know you needed, but do. Probably.

Posted by: Helen Walters
David Pogue outlines 10 computer/smartphone tricks everyone should know, but man don't, at TED U during TED2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

David Pogue outlines 10 computer/smartphone tricks everyone should know, but many don’t, at TED U during TED2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

David Pogue is a member of a very select club. As of today, he’s one of the few people with four talks featured on TED.com.David Pogue: 10 top time-saving tech tipsDavid Pogue: 10 top time-saving tech tips (Two others who’ve reached this mark: Julian Treasure and Juan Enriquez.) Yes, we’ve shown you his talks on simplicity in tech design, cool phone tricks and the downloading wars. But we just couldn’t help but add this charming talk that The New York Times technology critic gave at TED University during TED2013. Genuinely useful technology hacks for the whole family? Sign us up.

Watch the talk – it’s Pogue’s delivery that’s half the brilliance. But below, find a condensed version of the 10 tech basics everyone should know:

  1. Use the space bar to scroll down a page. Hold the shift key and the space bar at the same time to scroll back up again.
  2. Tab between boxes on online forms. When there’s a pop-up menu to input details of your state, type the first letter of the state to scroll through options.
  3. To make web text larger, press control +. Mac users, make that “Command +.”
  4. Don’t bother with punctuation on your smartphone. Hit the space bar twice for a period and the next letter will be automatically capitalized.
  5. Hit the call button of your phone to redial the last person you spoke to. No need to go into your contacts.
  6. Speaking of phones, carriers have keystrokes that let you bypass the “15 seconds of fricking instructions, like we haven’t had answer machines for 45 years.” Sadly, each shortcut is different. “I didn’t say these were going to be perfect,” Pogue allows.
  7. Use Google as a dictionary by typing “define” followed with the word you want to understand. You can also use it as an FAA database for flight details.
  8. To highlight a word, don’t drag across it with the mouse. Double click it. And don’t bother deleting text; just type.
  9. Avoid shutter lag by half pressing down the button of your camera before you take a picture. For folks who still use cameras.
  10. Press “b” to black out a slide (or “w” to white it out). And make sure people are paying attention to your wonderful presentation.

So, sure. These tricks help you get the most out of your technology. And what with our recent TED@250 salon on spring cleaning your life, we here at TED Towers have been thinking about neat tricks to streamline other parts of life. So below, I’ve collected some favorite tips from the TED staff for a better, easier existence. It’s true, you might not have even realized some of the things being solved were actually issues, and it’s possible you might be right in suspecting that these are the very essence of “first world problems.” But there it is and, well, here you are: 15 more life hacks you likely had no idea you needed.

  1. “My father hangs a tennis ball from the garage ceiling so he knows exactly where to park the car so there’s ample walking room on all sides. We later saw this on TV but my father definitely invented it.” —Thu-Huong Ha
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  2. “You can use a piece of dry spaghetti to light candles that have burned down inside their holder.” —Nick Weinberg
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  3. “If you have kids, you know two things: 1) they fill reams of paper with “artwork;” and 2) you will be going to a lot of birthday parties. Use their “masterpieces” to wrap presents; it saves money and it’s more personalized.” —Michael McWatters
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  4. “Empty the dishwasher bottom rack first, so that the puddles of washwater on the top of all your mugs, in the top rack, don’t drip all over your plates on the bottom rack. Don’t even MOVE the top rack until you’ve emptied the bottom rack.” —Emily McManus
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  5. “A trick I learned from a co-worker just yesterday: Facial cleansing wipes do an amazing job of getting mud off of nice shoes.” —Kate Torgovnick
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  6. “Lay out all your credit / bank cards from your wallet on the copy machine and email yourself scans of the front and back. That way you have all the card numbers and the 800 numbers for customer service. If your wallet gets stolen (especially when on the road) you have quick access and a way to remember which cards to cancel.” —Gwen Schroeder
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  7. “Here’s a great one for removing oil stains from anything (including the leather seats of your parents’ car…): generously cover the stained area with flour or cornstarch.  Let it sit for a while and it will miraculously soak up your oil stains.” —Roxanne Hai Lash
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  8. “Stop using spoons for your coffee. Simply add your stuff (sugar, milk, rum, what-have-you) to your empty coffee mug, then pour your coffee in. It mixes just as well, and you don’t have a dirty spoon left over.” —Michael McWatters
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  9. “Pour coffee into an ice tray, so you make coffee-flavored cubes that don’t water down your iced coffee.” —Nick Weinberg
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  10. “Crack an egg on a flat surface, not on the side of a bowl. This minimizes the likelihood of pieces of shell getting into your egg.” —Becky Chung
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  11. “Use an empty plastic bottle to separate egg yolk from white. My mom does this. It’s pretty awesome.” —Thu-Huong Ha
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  12. “To call your voicemail from another phone, dial your own number, and when your message picks up, hit # and your password.” —Morton Bast
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  13. “Change your contact lenses on the first of every month! That way you don’t wear them for eons, which is bad for your vision and for your eyes in the longrun.” —Kate Torgovnick
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  14. “Every time you use up a household necessity (box of spaghetti, carton of milk, bag of chocolate chips), take a photo of the empty package with your mobile phone. When you’re in the store, just review your photos to see what you need. Delete the photos as you add things to your shopping cart.” —Michael McWatters
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  15. “Honey and olive oil make a cheap face mask. The acid in the honey removes dead skin cells and brightens. Olive oil moisturizes.” —Becky Chung
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Special thanks to Sam Potts, who also helpfully directed us to a separate source of all the life hackery you could ever wish for: 99 Life Hacks to make your life easier.