BOSTON (MainStreet) -- You too can be an office ninja and a hacker of everyday life.
At its worst, the Internet can be a swampy wasteland of time wasters, misinformation and all-caps political rants. In unexpected places, however, the online hivemind can produce some intriguing ways to beat the system, streamline everyday tasks and solve problems. Think Hints from Heloise filtered through Rick rolls and cat memes.
On many sites, comment boards and newsgroups there are tips on how to creatively tackle everyday problems. The Gawker-branded site LifeHacker.com may be among the best known of the genre, but "life hacks" predate it, taking their name from a phrase invented by British journalist Danny O'Brien for his presentation at a 2004 technology conference. Over the years all manner of life hack and "Easter egg" sites have come, gone and live on in repostings. Many of the tips and words of advice are shared, often in infographic form, on sites such as Reddit and the not-safe-for-work (or just about anywhere, for that matter) 4Chan and similar sites frequented by Anonymous.
Not every suggestion works, and few work all the time. If nothing else, however, it is fun (and often useful) to examine the ways life, like video games, has its own set of cheat codes.
The word "hack," once primarily associated with computers and the online world, has taken on much broader relevance in recent years. There are still nastier associations with the word, but its scope is often broadened to fit all kinds of tips and tricks.
Personal finance Web sites in particular frequently spice up tried-and-true money advice by describing them as hacks (a rundown of many are posted here). Even financial institutions are legitimizing life hack strategies as they seek ways to encourage greater savings and improve financial behaviors.
Numerous banks, for example, allow customers to set up automatic transfers that, on a given day or days, shift money from a checking account to savings. In keeping with a financial hack modus operandi, one could transfer $1 a day without even noticing or missing it. Over the course of a year or two, in addition to other savings, the extra money will start to add up.
A similar tactic is found in Bank of America's (Stock Quote: BAC) "Keep the Change" offering. The option rounds up every debit card transaction to the next dollar amount, dropping the extra change (50 cents, for example, after a $5.50 purchase) directly into a savings account. Since its inception nearly two years ago, more than 8 million participants have tucked away an extra $1 billion.
Wells Fargo's (Stock Quote: WFC) "Save As You Go" program shifts a flat $1 from checking to savings each time a debit card is used, as well as with online bill pay.
The following are 10 everyday "hacks" -- encompassing the psychological, technological and trivial -- that commonly make the rounds of the Internet. Urban legends of minimal merit or helpful hints? You be the judge:
1. Faster ups and downs
Tired of waiting as your elevator makes constant stops on the levels below your 17th-floor office?
To force an elevator to go direct from the lobby to your destination, try pressing the button for the floor to which you are heading and the "door close" button at the same time, holding them down for five seconds.
Based on Web testimonials, this override technique works only on certain makes and models of elevators. In glass elevators, you also need to be able to deal with the confused, angry folks you might see as you zoom past.
2. Yawn stars
Paranoid that someone keeps staring at you in a coffee shop? Flattered by the thought someone might be checking you out at the bar? Annoyed by a co-worker you can "feel" snooping over your shoulder?
If you need to determine whether you are in the sights of prying eyes, one quick trick may settle it: Let out a big yawn. The reflexive impulse to yawn when you see someone else doing it will zero in on your spying suspect.
3. Doughnuts -- is there anything they can't do?
If you are late for work, take a quick detour on the way to the office and grab a dozen or so doughnuts. As one commenter suggested when this tip was offered: "Then you're not the guy who's late, you're the guy who brought breakfast."
4. Plastic for your plastic
If you have a credit or debit card with a worn magnetic strip, the finicky scanners at some businesses will refuse to read it.
Place your reluctant card into a plastic bag and swipe the covered strip. For some reason, the plastic shielding fixes the problem and the card is read as intended.
When this happened to us the other day at a local supermarket, we were surprised to see the cashier execute the same remedy we had read about online. It worked.
5. Stashing your cash
One popular bit of wisdom passed around online and in emails suggests you should put $100 in a bank account and try to forget about it -- the assumption being that someday having that secret stash of cash could be a lifesaver.
For those looking to build credit without abusing it, another unique and oft-repeated suggestion is to freeze your credit card(s) in a block of ice. Only a true emergency or unavoidable need to use a card would likely be enough to get most to chip out their credit line. And, while waiting for the ice to melt, a cooler head might still prevail.
6. Using your head
When parking in a garage, one helpful tip we frequently see is to snap a quick cellphone picture of your level and row. If you forget to do that, and can't find your car, a common approach is to hit your keyless entry remote's lock button and listen for the beep.
In a larger parking area, you can extend the range of this signal by holding the device pressed under your chin, tilted upward. You are essentially using your skull as a parabolic reflector to boost the signal. You might not want to try this trick while walking with a client or business associate back to your car; the missing vehicle is probably embarrassing enough without trying to thick-headedly echo-locate it.
7. Sense of direction
A good Cub Scout can tell you that, in the woods, one can tell in which direction they are walking by looking at the moss on trees. The clumps, the story goes, always grow on the north-facing side of the tree.
While driving, moss certainly won't do much good. If your GPS or smartphone is on the fritz, though, you can narrow your choices (if the sun isn't rising or setting, of course) by checking out road signs. There are exceptions, but usually odd-numbered highways run north and south, even-numbered highways and interstates travel east and west. It may not help you find a specific street, but at least you'll know whether you are heading in the right direction.
8. Keyed up
There are a lot of so-called Easter eggs hidden away in programs, operating systems and within Web sites.
Google (Stock Quote: GOOG), for example, has Klingon and Pig Latin search pages, as well as a flight simulator in Google Earth -- activated using Ctrl+Alt+A in Windows and Command+Option+A on an Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) computer.
There are also lesser-known and less entertaining keystroke combinations that can actually help you get work done.
If an errant program refuses to behave in Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) Windows, calling up the task manager by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del is how most people do it. To go directly to the list of running programs instead, bypassing other options, use Ctrl+Shift+Esc.
Accidentally click off a Web page before you had a chance to bookmark it or memorize the URL? Hitting the combo of Ctrl+Alt+T will instantly recover a closed tab.
9. Friends in high places
It may not really be much of a trick or hack, but one of the top bits of advice for vendors, sales reps, employees or anyone else seeking access to the bigwigs in the C-level should start by making friends with their secretaries.
Remembering their name, engaging in pleasant conversation and occasionally bearing coffee and snacks are among the acts of kindness that may help you get the true gatekeepers of the powerful to take your side and lend a hand.
10. For people who live in glass houses ...
When your clumsy co-worker shatters a glass all over the break room, a broom and paper towels may not catch all those tiny shards and splinters.
A better way, according to folks who apparently break more glass than we do, is to use a slice of bread. The pieces will wedge into its soft mass, locked into place by the porous texture.