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The Goods | CYBURBIA

Proof That There Are Some Things You Can Do Yourself

March 04, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We boomers can remember an era, right after the rebellious '60s, that could be termed the self-sufficiency '70s.

When we weren't out at discos doing the Hustle, we were very big on do-it-yourself schemes and pouring through back-to-the-land guides such as the Whole Earth Handbook. I remember my friend Jack and I--two guys whose idea of fine tuning a car meant choosing the best radio stations to lock into the push-buttons--reading to each other from a manual as we learned step-by-step how to tune up our auto engines.

Self-sufficiency has given way to self-preservation, as most of us seem to have barely enough time in the day to keep up with our jobs. And much of the machinery we used to work on has gone so high-tech, even simple maintenance calls for the use of closet-sized, digital gizmos.

But a site on the World Wide Web harks back to those do-it-yourself days, inviting us to at least try to do a variety of tasks ourselves. It's Learn2.com, a free site created by Panmedia, a Sausalito-based multimedia firm. Company officials, who hope to eventually find paid commercial sponsorship for the site, say they have six producers working on the site at http://www.learn2.com, adding an average of 2.5 tutorials a day. At this point, they have just over 100 little step-by-step tasks written out, illustrated and online.

Some of the subject matter is obvious. One lesson is in tying basic knots, including a double-half hitch, square knot and bowline.

For dealing with everyday machines and appliances, there are tutorials on cleaning your computer (including the mouse), changing the oil in your car, installing snow chains and ironing a shirt.

Not all the tasks on Learn2.com are ones that you'd pay someone to do (unless you happen to have a fully staffed manse). Some you can just learn to do better, such as cleaning a just-caught fish, making a perfect pot of tea or wrapping a present (I need to study that one--no matter what I wrap, my packages look as if they contain sacks of charcoal).

Included are very occasional tasks, such as tying a bow tie or setting a formal table. And finally, there are mini-guides for handling '90s-style problems, such as dealing with junk e-mail or parenting skills in a two-career household.

Just how good is the advice? I chose two tasks with which I'm familiar, getting a good fit on a bicycle and the daily male shave.

The bike advice was good, but limited. It repeated some old saws, but avoided numerous fit factors that need to be considered when buying a bike, especially these days when a new road model can cost up to a few thousand bucks.

As for the section on shaving, I was a little surprised. For years I had been ignoring advice about always shaving in the direction of the beard. Drawing the blade against the beard, especially on the neck, seemed to give a closer shave.

True enough, agreed Learn2.com, but the site also went into detail about how going against the beard is bad for the skin and how nearly as good results could be achieved the correct way. I tried it, and it seemed to work.

Now I'm starting to think about doing a bit of my own car maintenance. The Hustle, however, will remain securely in my past.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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