Popular Mechanics

I grew up in a home with two approaches to mechanics. The first was my mother, who could fix anything. The second was my father, whose philosophy is summed up in two words: "call someone." Alas, I take after him. And while I could never be the target reader for Popular Mechanics, a look-see can't hurt. This is one nifty pub.

Take note -- the key word here is "popular." While the stories tackle the big picture, sidebars provide zippy fix-it guides. For example, the stars of the DIY toolbox are perfect for those who can identify a drill bit. Admittedly, it helps if readers have a working knowledge of basics. After all, it's harder to find a good plumber than a good gynecologist, though their rates are the same. What they do is a mystery to me; it's enough they can fix a toilet or restart the dishwasher. Asking for particulars is like talking to the president about the war. Reporters can pose questions, but they rarely receive cogent answers.

Still, I can recognize that those who love science, automotive, technology, outdoors and home -- the key PM categories -- will get jiggy with it. This issue compares minivans and SUVs, offers ways to reduce water impact and showcases snazzy products, like Logitech's MX air cordless laser mouse, currently on my Chanukah wish list. Mostly, the monthly is user-friendly, clearly written and cleanly illustrated.

Plus, the writers pack punch into features, like "How We'll Live in Space," which to me is over-reaching. If The New York Times' "Week in Review" is anything to go by, we bungled life on earth. But for those who long to visit a galaxy far, far away, the next 50 years promise a lunar base and a colony on Mars. The takeaway here, info-wise, is amazing. Astronaut Thomas D. Jones outlines how we'll live on the moon, but without bookstores or good Chinese restaurants, I'm out.

Worse: according to Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne, the first privately manned spacecraft, by 2035, 20,000 people will be in orbit. If we kick off a program reminiscent of Apollo, he predicts "we will see our grandchildren in outposts on other planets." If you don't think they visit enough now, brace yourself. A seder on Neptune? This redefines the word "schlep."

Which most of us, even in this solar system, won't do. That's why I was so drawn to the ROM exercise machine ad. The ROM won the Popular Science award for the "Best of What's New" in leisure products. Why? Exercise just four minutes a day. Four! That's three more than I do now. Then I caught the price tag: $14,615. They say you can't put a price on health. You can. The ROM is $13,615 more than I'm willing to spend -- and I'm an egoist.

Still, it's a reminder that anything worth doing, runs into money. And that's where Popular Mechanics kicks in. It assesses big-ticket items, like cars, the mid-range gizmos that no self-respecting handyperson would be without, and encourages readers to go for the gold (in a strictly green way.)

Eco-mechanics will enjoy Jay Leno's story on his green garage, where he installed a Delta II turbine that harnesses wind power. The goal is to produce your own electricity, use as much as you want, and get a big rebate to boot. Sounds like a plan.

But Leno, like my dad, did it the old-fashioned way: He called someone.

Frequency: Monthly
Publisher: Hearst Communications
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