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Pogue's Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying Your Day

Pogue's Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying Your Day

by David Pogue


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New York Times Bestseller

Do you know the pinhole-finger trick for seeing without glasses?

Did you realize that booking a hotel room with your phone is cheaper than doing it on your PC?

Do you know how to get the last dregs of ketchup out of the bottle—in one second?

In David Pogue's New York Times bestselling book Pogue's Basics: Tech, the author shared his essential tips and tricks for making all your gadgets seem easier, faster, and less of a hassle to use. In this new book, he widens his focus—to life itself. In these pages, you'll find more than 150 tricks, shortcuts, and cheats for everyday life: house and home, cars, clothing, travel, food, health, and more. This timeless reference book will shed light on priceless bits of advice and life hacks that already exist in the world around you—you just never knew!

Tips include: Insider cheats for cheap air fare, how to read signs in other languages, the three-cent trick for staying awake behind the wheel, how to know which side of the highway your exit will be on, how to quench a spicy mouth on fire, and much much more!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250080431
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 11/24/2015
Series: Pogue's Basics Series
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 555,418
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

DAVID POGUE is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Pogue's Basics: Tech. He has 1.5 million followers on Twitter, has given four TED talks, and launched Yahoo Tech. For thirteen years, he wrote for The New York Times and also writes a monthly column for Scientific American, created the Missing Manual computer-book series, hosts science shows on PBS's NOVA, and appears frequently on CBS Sunday Morning. He has won two Emmys, two Webby awards, and a Loeb award for journalism.

Read an Excerpt

Pogue's Basics: Life

Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying Your Day

By David Pogue

Flatiron Books

Copyright © 2015 David Pogue
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08049-3


The Car

Ah, the car. A two-ton machine made of 30,000 parts. Millions upon millions of earthlings buy them, operate them, or maintain them every hour of every day.

In other words, it's pretty unlikely that you know everything important there is to know about your auto — yet.

* * *

The air-conditioning question, answered at last

Chris, close the window. I'm going to turn on the air conditioning."

"No, don't do that! The AC uses up more gas!"

"I know, but it uses less gas than driving with the window open. The wind resistance means it's harder to push the car through the air, so we use more fuel."

How many times a year is this argument replayed in cars these days?

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, the air conditioner uses less fuel. (Driving with the windows open imposes a 20 percent gas penalty; the air conditioner, only 10 percent.)

The exception: slow driving. Under 40 miles per hour, open windows introduce very little additional drag on the car. So in that case, opening the windows is slightly more fuel-efficient than running the air conditioner.

In other words, you're both sort of right.

* * *

The secret meaning in highway exit signs

This is an exposé of those standard green American highway signs — specifically, the ones that announce an upcoming exit.

Above the sign, you generally see a small, additional sign bearing the upcoming exit's number (EXIT 3, for example).

That number sign is silently communicating which side of the highway the exit ramp will be on. If the smaller sign is on the left side of the larger sign, the exit will be on the left; if it's on the right, it'll be on the right.

Cool, huh?

* * *

The gas-tank indicator you didn't know was there

When you pull up at a gas station, it's helpful to know which side of your car the fuel tank is on. That piece of information determines how you pull into the gas-pump islands.

You probably know by now whether your car's gas cap is on the left or right side. But what if you're driving a rental, or you're driving someone else's car, or you've just bought a new car? In those situations, it's worth knowing about the handy triangle on the fuel gauge of every single car.

See the arrow? It points to the side of the car your gas tank is on!

* * *

Unlock all the car doors remotely

Most new cars can be unlocked remotely by pressing the unlock button on the key fob. Handy.

But that button generally unlocks only the driver's door. What if other people are trying to get into the car simultaneously — your spouse, your boss, your clients, your kids — and it's freezing cold or pouring rain?

WRONG: Unlock the driver's side door. Open it. Get in. Hunt for the unlock button on the driver's door armrest. Look like a self-absorbed jerk.

RIGHT: Press the unlock button on your key fob twice. That unlocks all of your car's doors simultaneously.

* * *

Extend your key fob's wireless range

This one sounds so preposterous, it will surely strike you as nonsense — but it really works.

When you hold your car's remote control against your head, you can lock and unlock your doors from much farther away. Depending on the car model and your body composition, you may gain as much as 90 feet of range (about six car lengths).

When this tip is passed around online, people usually suggest holding the fob under your chin. But you'll probably find that something fleshy, like your cheek, works better than something bony.

That's because behind the scenes — or, rather, inside the scenes — the fluids of your head act as a conductor. Your body becomes part of the antenna — a much bigger one. If you're old enough to remember when TV sets had rabbit-ear antennas, you may recall that you sometimes got the clearest picture when you were touching the antenna. Same principle here.

Now, if only the same thing worked for extending the range of our cell phones....

* * *

Nail polish to ID different keys

There once were two really dumb cowboys. They had a terrible time telling their horses apart.

They tried trimming one horse's tail, but it soon grew back. They tried nicking one horse's ear, but the other horse accidentally nicked its ear in the same place.

Finally, in desperation, they measured the two horses. And they discovered that, sure enough, the black horse was two inches taller than the white one.

And with that background, you now see the logic of this trick: You can use nail polish to color-code the heads of the keys on your key ring. Nail polish is bright, it's distinct, and it lasts a long time. And it saves you from fumbling if you have more than one car key (or house key).

* * *

The self-pumping gas nozzle

You know how to pump gas into your car, right? Of course you do. You open the little panel in the side of your car, unscrew the gas cap, insert the hose nozzle, and squeeze the handle. Then you stand there, freezing (Buffalo), boiling (Atlanta), or getting rained upon (Seattle), until your tank is full and the handle clicks and shuts off.

There's a better way. Maybe you know this; maybe you don't: On most pumps, you can lock the nozzle handle in the ON position, so that you don't have to squeeze it or even touch it. Look for the little metal tongue on the inside of the handle. It flips down into the lower part of the handle and gets propped there.

Once you've locked the nozzle, you can walk away. You can get back into your car or run into the convenience store for a coffee. When your tank is full, the pump stops pumping automatically, and you can withdraw the nozzle as usual.

* * *

How not to be blinded by oncoming headlights

It's nighttime. You're on some two-lane road, maybe without streetlights. Cars coming toward you have their headlights on, of course — and if you're not careful, they'll make you lose your night vision. Especially if the guy coming toward you has his brights on.

The solution: Focus on the white line at the right side of your lane. (There's a handy rhyme to help you remember: "Look at the white on the right if there's too much light.")

You'll be able to stay in your lane without being blinded by the oncomers.

* * *

An essay on windshield defogging

Frost on the outside of the windshield isn't the only bad thing that can happen in cold weather. Fog on the inside is bad, too.

Defogging a windshield is simple, but it's really counterintuitive unless you know why the fog is there.

Why does the moisture — condensation — build up on the inside of the glass? Because your body heat and breath are making the air inside the car warm and moist, yet the air outside the car is cold and dry. The vapor from your breath lands on the inside of the cold windshield and turns into a fine mist.

You can't do much to change the cold, dry weather outside. But you can make the inside air less warm and wet.

First, draw in fresh air. Your first thought should be about the Recirc control. Switch it so that rather than recirculating the air, your car is drawing dry air into the car from outside. (It might be either a button or a sliding lever.)

That may seem odd, since it's cold outside and you're trying to warm up your body. But if you just recirculate the warm, wet air, you won't defog the windows.

(If you're in a hurry, opening the windows is a really fast way to get cold, dry air into the car — which will defog the windows. It's also uncomfortable and noisy.)

Second, turn on Defrost full blast — and the AC, too. The Defrost control blows hot air onto the glass to warm it up, so it'll stop condensing water vapor. (Yes, the control is called Defrost, which is different from defogging. But in both cases, you want hot air blowing on the glass.)

On most cars, turning on Defrost automatically turns on the air conditioner. If it doesn't, turn on the AC manually at this point.

This is the counterintuitive part. Why would you turn on the AC in the winter? As it turns out, you're not running the AC to make the air colder; you're running it to make the air drier, so there will be less vapor to condense. (Yes, the air conditioner has that effect.) In fact, you can turn the temperature of the AC all the way to hot if you want.

This step produces a one-two punch: It makes the interior air drier with the air conditioner, and it makes the windshield warmer with the Defrost blower.

Incidentally, the opposite effect can happen in hot weather (this means you, Florida): Condensation can form on the outside of the glass. Your air conditioner has made it cool and dry inside, and it's hot and humid outside.

The solution? Run your wipers, or give the AC a rest.

* * *

A treatise on windshield frost

In cold weather, frost may develop on your windshield. In general, driving without being able to see out the windshield is undesirable.

Every car has a feature designed to melt that ice: the Defrost button. It looks like this:

It works by blowing warm air on your windshield. Since it's blowing from the inside of the glass, it takes a while to melt the frost on the outside. You can use your wipers and wiper fluid to hurry things along, but it's still not speedy.

That's why the world has come up with better ways of defrosting:

Pour warm water onto the windshield (the outside) to melt whatever's there; it then wipes away with a quick wipe of your wipers. (Don't use hot water; a drastic temperature change could crack the glass.)

If the ice has built up, use a plastic ice scraper; if you don't have one and you're desperate, you can use the long edge of a credit card.

Incidentally: If you anticipate snow or ice, you can throw a towel across the windshield the night before, to collect the snow and insulate the glass from ice. Pin it in place with your wipers. That'll make life a lot easier in the morning.

* * *

Your car should have a trash can

It's unbelievable that trash containers aren't standard elements of every car. Every driver ingests scraps of stuff to throw away: food wrappers, receipts, flyers, parking tickets. (Joke! That's a joke.)

You can, of course, buy an actual car trash bag that hangs behind the headrest. (Yes, they sell those.) You can use a plastic bag over the headrest, too.

Or you can use one of those clear plastic pouring bins that usually store cereal, with or without the lid.

But the point is, outfit your car with something. Otherwise, it won't be long until your floor mats are a fire hazard/gerbil nest.

* * *

How to get text messages without crashing

Reading or typing on your phone behind the wheel is insanely dangerous; it's exactly as safe as driving with your eyes closed.

What's that you say? "Everyone knows that"?

Then why are 40 percent of car accidents today caused by drivers with phones in their hands? And why do 27 percent of all adults (35 percent of teenagers) admit to having texted while driving in the past 30 days?

Here's a slightly safer idea: When you hear a text coming in, use Siri (on an iPhone). Hold down your iPhone's Home button while you say "Read my new messages." Your phone reads them aloud, so you can judge whether or not they're important enough to justify pulling over and stopping your car.

Siri then invites you to dictate a reply — again, without ever taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.

If you have an Android phone, you can download an app that gives you the same kind of feature. ReadItToMe, for example, is free.

* * *

The correct pressure for your tires

You might have been told, as a wee lad/lass, that there's a number molded into the side of your car's tires, specifying the correct tire pressure.

You've been misled. There is a number on your tire's sidewall, but it's the maximum inflation pressure, not the desired pressure.

To find out the best pressure for your tires, look for a sticker inside the driver's-side door frame, usually stuck on sideways. (It may also appear on a sticker in the glove compartment or in the user's manual.)

For cars, the best pressure is typically from 30 to 35 psi (pounds per square inch); for small trucks, it's 35 to 40. You take these measurements with a tire-pressure gauge; it's about $5 at a hardware store. There's usually one on the air pump at gas stations, where most people go to fill their tires.

Do your testing when the tires are cold — at least half an hour after their most recent long drive — because they heat up, increasing the pressure, when you drive.

The other thing to know about inflating your tires: A little more pressure gives you better fuel economy and less wear on the tires. Less pressure gives you better traction. You can't have both.

* * *

Let your phone remember where you parked

These days, iPhones and Android phones can track your fitness, track your sleep, track your location — so why shouldn't they remember where you parked your car?

That's exactly the idea behind apps like Find My Car (free for iPhone or Android) or the easier-to-use Honk ($1 for iPhone) and Park Me Right (free for Android). They use GPS to remember where you parked — and to guide you back to the spot.

Beats wandering around through a vast landscape of cars, panicking and delaying your bedtime.

* * *

How to buy a car

This is not your father's car-buying era. These days, when it comes to negotiating a car's price, the dealership no longer has the upper informational hand. Thanks to the Internet, you can know as much about the numbers as the dealership does. The research takes time and effort, but you can save a lot of money.

Here's the most effective way to get a good deal on a car:

Find out the dealer's invoice price for the exact car you want. You can find out what the dealer paid for the car by looking it up at or

The truly savvy car shopper doesn't negotiate the car's price, but rather the amount over or under that invoice price.

Of course, the dealer is entitled to make some profit. But often, there are numbers you're not seeing here, such as incentive payments from the car manufacturer. That's why a dealer may sometimes seem to be offering you a price that's actually under what he paid.

Let the dealerships compete. Call a number of dealerships; ask for the "Internet sales manager" of each and for her email address. In your email, let her know that you're comparison shopping. Ask how much over or under the invoice price she's willing to offer you. Also ask what the final, out-the-door price will be.

Compare the responses. Contact the dealership with the worst offer, tell it the best offer you got, and give it a chance to beat it. Work through the other offers this way.

By the end of the process, you'll have a killer deal. You should be able to pull up at that dealership, sign the papers, and drive away.

* * *

When to buy a car

Your ability to get a good deal on a car depends a lot on when you're buying it.

The timings of your dealer visit, salesperson meeting, and test drive don't matter. However, you should call the same salesperson later to make your offer — for best results, at one of these times:

Saturday or Sunday night, an hour before closing time. Often, car dealerships will be eager to make one more deal before the week's end. Especially if they've had a bad week.

The last day of the month. Same logic. Car dealerships earn bonuses if they meet certain sales goals each month. Your offer might be the one that pushes them over the brink.

A bad-weather day. Terrible weather, like snow or rain, can really kill a dealership's sales. Salespeople might be especially eager to talk to you on days like this.

* * *

How to get rid of your existing car

Just so you know: You'll always get more for your used car by selling it yourself, online. If you use it as a trade-in when buying a new car, the dealership's offer will be much lower. In effect, you're buying convenience.

How do you know what your used car is worth? You look it up in the Kelley Blue Book at

* * *

Secrets of the VIN number (or, "How to tell what year a car was made")

Every car and truck made since 1980 has a VIN — a vehicle identification number, which is like the car's Social Security number. You can find it in lots of places: on a tiny plaque fastened to your dashboard, right up against the windshield on the driver's side; on a sticker inside the driver's door well; in the engine bay; on your insurance card; and on your car's registration papers.


Excerpted from Pogue's Basics: Life by David Pogue. Copyright © 2015 David Pogue. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Car




Out and About

House and Home


How to Clean Everything


Your Body

Social Hacks

Life Hack Lies

Customer Reviews