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100 Reasons to Learn Something

Blueprint, September/October 2007

Blueprint's top reasons why it pays to be a smarty-pants this fall.

Subject Matter: Orientation
1. Learning Feels Good
Your brain releases the mood-enhancing chemical dopamine when you select a correct answer.

Subject Matter: Math
2. The IRS Withholding Calculator can tell you exactly how many exemptions to claim on your W-4 this year. (

3. Study "The First Time Homeowner's Tax Guide: An Essential Guide to Preparing Your Tax Return for a Maximum Refund" by Robert Balducci ($17, Sphinx, October).

4. Weigh the value of that upcoming trip to London, Tokyo, or Dubai with a handy currency converter. (

5. Take stock of "The Motley Fools" advice for beginning investors. (

6. Use the personal-finance manager (with pie charts!) on to see exactly where your money's going. (Yes, "accessories" can be a category.)

7. Check your credit rating at, the government-recommended source.

Subject Matter: History
8. Stream videos of oral histories as told by veterans, American Indians, and African Americans, among others. (

9. Take research advice from a United Kingdom National Archives alum. Family History Companion: Fast Forward Your Family History Search by Mark Pearsall ($13, National Archives, September)

10. Find tips for tracing your roots. (

11. Flip through "History: An Illustrated Guide to the Ideas, Events and People that Shaped the Human Story" ($50, DK Publishing, October).

12. Take an oath to buy Thomas R. Flagel's "The History Buffs Guide to the Presidents" and impress your own house of representatives ($17, Cumberland House, October).

Subject Matter: Life Science
13. Find the right type of dog or cat for you (and how to locate a humane breeder, if you have your heart set on a pedigreed pet). (

14. Have a "Sit!-in dog-training sessionat your local PetSmart. (

15. Get schooled at a behind-the-scenes tour of the beluga-whale exhibit at Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium, the newest (and largest) of its kind in the U.S. (

16. Spy on sea lions and birds on a moonlit canoe trip with the San Diego Natural History Museum. (

17. Skip the zoo and go to to find the nearest wildlife preserve.

18. The Carolina Elementary Science catalog has enough nature-centric kits, projects, and kitsch to keep you busy till nap time. (

Subject Matter: Earth Science
19. Get buzzed about the salon-style happy hour science talks hosted by the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. (

20. Ogle "Amazing Rare Things:The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery" by David Attenborough, Susan Owens, Martin Clayton, and Rea Alexandratos ($38, Yale University Press, October).

21. Bring your orchid to the monthly walk-in class for not-quite-green thumbs at the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Orchid Care Clinic.(

22. Read "The Organic Garden: Green Gardening for a Healthy Planet" by Allan Shepherd ($25, HarperCollins UK, September).

23. It's about more than just switching to CFLs: Read tips from the Natural Resources Defense Council for reducing waste and converting to a chemical-free home. (

Subject Matter: Languages
24. Tune into the "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" podcast by Mignon Fogarty to end the which vs. that debate once and for all. (

25. Rediscover some of the grammar skills you left behind in grade school with "Garner's Modern American" Usage by Bryan A. Garner ($40, Oxford University Press).

26. Avoid potential faux pas with the "Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases" ($17, Oxford University Press).

27. Have manageable portions of classic novels e-mailed to you daily -- 332 days to complete Ulysses! (

28-34. Download Language-Lesson Podcasts for the Ride to Work:
"Radio Lingua German" (
"A Spoonful of Russian" (
"FrenchPodClass" (
"Finally Learn Spanish" (
"Japanese Pod 101" (
"My Chinese Pod" (
"Learn Italian Pod" (

35-36. Practice Writing with a Native Speaker:
Click the Society & Culture tab to find potential correspondents around the globe at

Find European e-mail friends and links to language-learning programs abroad on

Subject Matter: Phys Ed
37. Be ready to save the day:Learn CPR at a Red Cross ( or American Heart Association
(american center near you.

38. Consult the Internet's comprehensive guide to health and medicine. (

39. Then go to the online Yale-New Haven Hospital Health Library for a second opinion. (

40. Find a certified exercise instructor on, (Pilates Method Alliance), or

41. Look for a running group anywhere in the U.S. through New York Road Runners. (

42. Sign-up for free introductory seminars in holistic health, body-work and movement, and more at the New York Open Center. (

43. Pick up "10 Minutes/10 Years: Your Definitive Guide to a Beautifuland Youthful Appearance" by Dr. Fredric Brandt ($24, Free Press).

44. Learn from nutritionist and author Marion Nestle about "What to Eat …" and, more important, what not to ($16, North Point Press).

45. Get an introduction to "The Human Body:A Guide to Its Structure, Function, and Disorders" in all its illustrated glory ($30, DK Publishing).

Subject Matter: Art History
46. Explore "The Annotated Mona Lisa:A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern, 2nd Ed." by Carol Strickland ($23, Andrews McMeel Publishing, October).

47. Check for lists of art reviews and exhibitions at major museums and galleries.

48-51. Pop in for a lunch-break art-history lesson in any of these places:
Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Boone, NC (
Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (
Alabama Active Culture, Birmingham, AL (

52. Or have the Art Institute of Chicago's Art Express Program bring a (fun) lunch-hour art-history lesson to you and your cubicle-neighbors in Chicago. (

Subject Matter: Current Events
53. Listen to daily clips from the world-renowned news source on BBC Radio's NewsPod. (

54. Hear experts discuss politics, religion, and more on NPR's "Intelligence Squared." No crosstalk, no screaming. (

55. Get free daily e-mails of top news stories from the "Guardian." (Note: They're generally free of regrettable celebrity antics.) (

Subject Matter: Home Ec
56. Buy "Bend-the-Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to A Whole New Way To Sew" by Amy Karol ($22, Potter Craft).

57. Try "Fresh Coat (DIY):Simple Painting Makeovers for Walls,Furniture & Fabric" by Shannon Kaye ($15, Lark Books, October).

58. Live in a "Material World: Home Decor Projects for the Fabric Obsessed" by Cat Wei ($20, Quarry, September).

59. Get experimental with ingenious user-submitted home how-tos. (

60. Consult "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home" for foolproof advice from our founder ($45, Clarkson Potter).

61. See for ways to treat everything else that needs a scrub.

62. Is the state of the environment making you blue? "Green This!, Volume 1:Greening Your Cleaning" by Deirdre Imus ($16, Simon & Schuster)

63. Check out "The Self Sufficiency Handbook" by Alan Bridgewater and Gill Bridgewater ($13, Skyhorse Publishing, September), an off-the-grid guide to everything from husbandry to heating your home.

64. Look for new signature dishes or even a career change at the Culinary Institute of America. Campuses in NY, CA, and TX. (

65. Many local food co-ops and international-food stores offer specialized cooking classes to customers. ¡Que delicioso!

66. Head to a Williams-Sonoma store for lessons in themed and seasonal menus-no kitchen-gadget purchase required. (

67. Find eco-friendly food resources. (

68. Experience a new variety of tasty licks courtesy of "cool-kid" bands: Find favorite recipes from Animal Collective and Black Dice, to name a few, in "Lost in the Supermarket: The Indie Rock Cookbook" by Kay Bozich Owens and Lynn Owens ($16, Soft Skull Press, November).

69. Peruse recipes, definitions, and cooking tips from the self-professed food freaks on (And check out the sister site,

70. Gary Vaynerchuk's video wine-tasting blog,, is no pretense, all enthusiasm. (Witness the New York Jets dump bucket.)

71. Locate tastings, tours, and courses in most major cities on

Subject Matter: Shop Class
72. Practice framing and furniture restoration at North-west Woodworking Studio in Portland, OR. (northwest

73. Strap on your tool belt for Home Depot's free weekly home-improvement clinics, including some just for women. (

74. Focus on the big picture with classes in Ecological Planning, Design, and Construction at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, VT. (

75. Enroll in beginner carpentry classes at 3rd Ward, in Brooklyn, NY, and get free access to workshop space. (

76. Pick up "Collins DIY Manual" by Albert Jackson and David Day ($48, Harper-Collins UK, September), an encyclopedic reference for the die-hard do-it-yourselfer. (Note: You may need to brush up on your metric conversions.)

77. Seek help for all kinds of around-the-house jobs, including just hiring a professional, already. (

78. For free advice on keeping renovation costs low, go to and download podcasts of the popular home-improvement radio show.

Subject Matter: A/V Club
79. Follow free, instructor-led online classes in PowerPoint, Publisher, and Photoshop, courtesy of Hewlett-Packard. (

80. Finally discover all the ins and outs of your iPod, iPhone, and iBook with free work-shops in Apple stores nationwide. (

81. Watch video tutorials on taking better photos, using IM on the DL, and scrubbing your hard drive…not that you have anything to hide. (

82. Get Web-design tips from women like you. (

83. Pique your interest in "Graphic Design: A New History" by Stephen J. Eskilson ($65, Yale University Press, September).

84. Got an aural fixation? Scan the Index of educational podcasts and audio-books on

85. Overachievers can download Massachusetts Institute of Technology lecture notes, reading lists, and assignments in subjects from literature to chemical engineering. (

86. Go to to view instructional videocasts on a variety of entertaining topics such as fishtail braiding, replacing a lock, and making butternut-squash macaroni & cheese.

87. Buy (and actually read) "Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive,Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs" by Ken Jennings, and best your local "Bar-Trivia Trebek" next Tuesday night ($25, Villard).

Subject Matter: Arts & Crafts
88. Attention, aspiring design stars: Enroll in continuing-education courses in clothing construction and jewelry-making at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA. (

89. Soak up some indie cred while studying blockprinting, sewing, and more with local designers and artists at New York City's Make Workshop. (

90. Spark Craft Studios offers supplies, support, and space for picking up all kinds of crafts in Somerville, MA. (

91. Learn old-time crafts like blacksmithing and spinning on the John C. Campbell Folk School campus in bucolic Brasstown, NC. (

92. Get crafts advice from the hipster forums on

93. Try your hand at monoprinting, crochet, and, yes, collage at Collage, an art-supply shop in Portland, OR. (503-249-2190)

94. Find a "congregation" near you that hosts friendly knit-togethers in Athens, GA; Austin; Los Angeles; Montreal; New York; Phoenix; Portland, OR; San Francisco; Seattle; or Toronto. (

Subject Matter: Extracurricular
95. Read the rules for every card game under the sun, and practice your poker face the next time you ask for a raise. (

96. Get on the list for Willie Mae's 2008 Ladies Rock Camp in Brooklyn, NY, to learn merch production, recording techniques, and even, believe it or not, how to play an instrument. (

97. Hey, beauty-school dropout: Learn some new brushstrokes at your local Sephora, while a pro fixes you up with dozens of products you may not already own. (

98.Sign up for Bumble and Bumble's model-call program to get a free blowout or chignon and a free styling lesson of your own-take mental notes while an aspiring Ken Paves does your 'do. (

99. Learn how to crack up your own personal Breakfast Club (without taping anyone's butt cheeks together) at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre's improv courses in New York or Los Angeles. (

100. And realize how far you still have to go with "The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong" by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd ($20, Crown).

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